Dollarith stood on the launch platform and looked out, away from the city. Several skyships floated in the air around the city, pull-boats moving between the ships and the dock-towers. He spotted the skyship that he was to take, the Silver Griffon, a few hundred yards south and up. She was spell-powered, capable of much more speed than traditional skyships that relied on wind and sails.
He heard feet shifting on stone behind him and turned to look at the first mate, standing beside the pull-boat that would take him and his “companions” to the skyship. The mate was a human, clean and sharply dressed, with brown hair lightened by the sun and brown eyes framed by squint-formed wrinkles. He was impatient, Dollarith knew, to get back to the ship and make sure everything was prepared properly for the journey. The Silver Griffon was a cargo ship, not used to taking passengers. Dollarith’s superior in the the Order, Akar Goun, had told him that the Order had “procured” passage on the ship. Clearly, the arrangement was not to the crew’s liking, at least not the first mate’s.
The wizard was also impatient to be on his way. Not that he was looking forward to mucking about some backwater hamlet in Nuermah, but he wanted to get it started so he could get it finished and get back to civilization. The South Tower, the twelfth floor launch platform of which he stood upon now, sat on the southern rim of Kalys Ei and opened away from the city, preventing him from seeing the hour-sigil that burned in the air above the trilithon in the center of the city. He was sure, though, that the hour approached six, the appointed meeting time. Hopefully, his “companions” would not be late.
As the thought of how to deal with the first mate in the event that they were held up further by late arrivals found its way to the front of the alzaen’s mind, to be examined and considered, he heard footsteps coming up the tower stairs…loud, clanging footsteps. When the door to the launch platform opened, Dollarith was greeted by an unexpected sight. He had been told that Inilan University was sending along a pair of “field-scholars” to add credibility to the cover story for his mission, a skarn and a kenku. Thus, he had expected a couple of bookish types, relatively capable of handling themselves in the field.
The clanging footsteps on the stairs had been made by the skarn, Akar had said that his name was Ogava, who was outfitted in full plate mail armor. Dollarith could tell it was skarn, even fully encased in steel, by his prodigious size and the way the plate mail was designed to allow him to flex his spines. Two wands hung from a belt at his waist and no visible weapon, not unusual for a skarn. He was otherwise outfitted for travel. but the plate armor made it hard for Dollarith to reconcile the moniker of scholar, even field-scholar, with the man before him.
The kenku, on the other hand, was the personification of every stereotype ever attributed to the crowmen. His clothing was dark and concealing, his steps were light and furtive, and the gleam in his eyes was calculating and the very epitome of avarice. Dollarith had no trouble believing that the crowman had a driving interest in recovering “lost artifacts.”
The wizard stepped forward to greet his new associates, “Ogava, I presume? Greetings, I am Dollarith.”
Ogava had Hekar had been told that the wizard they were meeting was an alzaen, but they were still caught off-guard by the man that met them on the platform. His severe demeanor was not surprising, they’d dealt with agents of the Order before, nor were his garments, immaculate and arranged just-so – travelling attire that looked as if it had never traveled more than a hundred yards from the wardrobe.
What caused the skarn and kenku to share a quick, wide-eyed glance was the wizard’s gauntness. Alzaen were taller and thinner than run-of-the mill humans, but this particular specimen was so thin that Ogava was afraid he might get blown away by the wind as soon as the left the cover of the tower. Evidently, Hekar had a similar thought. The kenku made a low, quiet sound imitating a gust of wind, followed by a high-pitched scream that faded into the distance.
Ogava chuckled inside his helmet, hoping the wizard had not also heard. Even after the years they had been working together, he was still amazed by his friend’s facility for mimicry and remarkable comedic timing.
The wizard stepped forward from his spot next to the pull-boat and greeted them, “Ogava, I presume? Greetings, I am Dollarith.”
Ogava was slightly impressed. Dollarith did a better job than most Order mages of masking his attitude of superiority toward those who were not so affiliated…better, but not perfect. The skarn lifted the mask on his helm and reached to take the wizard’s proffered hand. “Greetings, Dollarith. Indeed, I am Ogava and this is my partner, Hekar.”
The kenku stretched out a talon and spoke in a perfect imitation of Ogava’s voice and manner, “Greetings, Dollarith. Indeed, I am Hekar and this is my partner, Ogava.”
Dollarith rolled his eyes while the skarn stifled another chuckle. There were a lot of reasons that Ogava and Hekar worked well together, but their senses of humor were perhaps their strongest bond.
“So, you are the…scholars that Inilan has sent to accompany me. Very well. When the raptoran gets here, we will be on our way.”
It was Ogava’s turn to roll his eyes. It certainly hadn’t take long for the alzaen to assert his authority and leadership over the mission. He took a breath and reminded himself that they were being well-paid and that he might actually learn something of value on the trip, though he was skeptical of finding any worthwhile clues to the cause of the Warping in Nuermah.
Hekar, meanwhile, had wandered over to the pull-boat and seemed to be inspecting the vessel. Ogava hoped the kenku would keep his wandering talons in check. He didn’t know if there was anything valuable that could be easily be removed from a pull-boat, but if there was Hekar would find it.
Dollarith, apparently following the skarn’s gaze, turned and saw Hekar checking the boat. He seemed to have the same thought as Ogava and opened his mouth to speak when they were all interrupted by the fourth member of their “company” swooping in and landing on the platform, bow in hand.
Keth’ryl watched the twelfth-floor launch platform from his perch on a nearby tower. He was too far to make out fine details, but his eyesight was certainly good enough to identify an alzaen waiting by the pull-boat with the stiff posture and obvious self-assuredness of an Order mage.
He also had no trouble identifying the bulky, armor-clad skarn and shifty-looking kenku. The raptoran decided that he’d have to keep an eye on the crowman, he was sure that the kenku’s fingers were as light as his step.
One last time, Keth’ryl considered his decision to join this expedition. It was true that he had been seeking passage to Nuermah anyway, and the pay was certainly good, but taking a mission for the Order, one that was clearly more than it seemed on the surface, was very much out of character for the raptoran.
I’ve seen the results of the Order’s actions across the Outer and Inner Stands, and walked the streets of the Seven Cities, he thought, maybe it’s time for direct interaction. After what he’d seen in Kelet, Keth’ryl had become determined the truth about the Arcane Order…and his own people.
With a final, deep sigh, Keth’ryl spread his wings and launched himself off of his perch. He had seen the wizard and the others meeting, and there did not appear to be anything to give him cause for suspicion, more suspicion than he already felt, at least. As he glided down to the launch platform, he took reassurance in the feel of his footbow gripped in his hand. He had to fight the urge to transfer the bow to his feet and nock an arrow. This meeting was likely to be tense enough, flying in with arrow readied was unlikely to make it better.