Come fa la volpe
The Man Who Sold the World
Bolin awoke at the bar in the Warren Tavern, as a mug of coffee, a shot of whiskey, and a fresh stack of books were set down beside him. Thea, proprietor of the tavern and Naeris’ mother, smiled pityingly at Bolin as she set the drinks down and assured him of a hearty breakfast on the way. Il'an’s long and lanky arms pushed down on the bar as the old wizard hefted himself onto a seat next to the hungover dwarf, then cracked open the spine of the first book, peering at the lettering first at a distance, then drawing the book closer to his nose until he gave an “ah ha!” of recognition, then began thumbing through its contents.
“These book copies Bodi'ka procured for the meadery’s library will come in useful,” Il'an said loudly to himself, or to Bolin, as he forgot his volume as usual. “Probably. Maybe. If anyone can read all of them. This one here, though, is just completely wrong and forgets all hundred of the Oaths with its ‘physics’!” The old wizard licked his thumb and forefinger to carefully grasp the next page, then ran a long finger behind the page with an irritatingly sandpapery sound as he gave a sideways glance to Bolin. “You done sleeping off your indiscretions or are you spending the whole day lying on the bar?”
Bolin groggily downed the shot of whiskey then brought the warm mug to his lips, inhaling the aroma with a flutter of his eyes. “Oh, I love moms,” Bolin announced as he sipped at the coffee. He looked Il'an up and down, the puffiness of sleep and the lingering effects of their adventure still giving a dizzying and unfocused gloss to his gaze. He slammed the empty mug back on the bar once he finished gulping down the hot beverage. “My plan is to keep drinking, to be quite honest.”
Naeris cleared her throat as she came up behind the two, and took a nearby stool. She bade her mother a good morning, and once she provided two fresh mugs and hurried back to see to the meal, Naeris turned to the men beside her. “I met Astrid at the meadery last night, along with Bodi'ka and Pthalo. She has a task for us, as soon as we’re ready to meet her.”
The morning light casts itself gently on Freeport’s face in his room at the keep. Though the tiefling had already been awake, he imagined the sunlight meant it was past the time he could politely remain in bed, so he washed up and dressed. As he caught his reflection in the mirror, he was confused for a moment, half-expecting to see the demon he’d seen in the Piper’s realm, but found himself staring at his own familiar face, with his broken horn suddenly regrown since the events of yesterday.
He cleared his throat and looked to the three foxes lounging in a basket on the floor. “What is it that you three need for me to do for you?” he asked gravelly. Dai, the prose fox, suggested that Freeport seek answers with Gabriel, so Freeport gathered up the foxes and began exploring the keep. Finding that the carpenter had spent his time wisely seeing to repairs, the keep once again seemed whole and defensible. He found the carpenter in the dining hall, and sat down next to him as he began to work at his own plate. Gabriel noted that it had been some time since Freeport had come to visit him, then turned to glare at the foxes between them.
“I’ve been a bit preoccupied,” Freeport rasped dismissively. “And I’ve lost my voice. What is your problem with my foxes?”
Gabriel bobbed his head and cast his gaze elsewhere, demurring from the challenge in the tiefling’s tone. “It is less a problem with them and more a problem with her.”
Gabriel pressed his lips into a thin line, then said finally, “Those foxes are part of her, but they aren’t Daikitsu. Daikitsu...was my master. She is ‘The One Who Sees’, the Goddess of Music, the Patron of Foxes. Long ago, she taught me to play the lyre...but she wasn’t the best of masters. I could help, but….” Gabriel stood from his seat at the dining table and held out a hand for Freeport to follow him. “I can explain better with an example,” he says as he leads the tiefling out of the keep and into the clearing. “Repeat after me: I wish it was raining.” As Freeport repeats the phrase, Gabriel snapped his fingers together and dark clouds immediately gathered, darkening the sky. With a distant rumble, rain began to fall across the forest sending the villagers who had been outside scurrying for shelter. “I can put her back together, but consider that she sacrificed herself for a reason. The scourge killed her before, so it’s not as though she could tip the scales in your favor. The scourge isn’t even a god.”
“What about you?” Freeport asked, gesturing around him and looking up to let the downpour wash over him.
Gabriel rubbed his fingers together, and the color seemed to wash away from his skin in the rain, revealing glistening gold metal, and eyes made of green gemstones. “My name is Gavreel, and I am a shaitan. I can effect the world around me, but I am no god. Wish her back, if that is what you want.”
Freeport narrowed his eyes in suspicion, wiping the wet hair from his face in the rain. “And what’s the downside? Or could I just wish the Scourge away.”
Gavreel shrugged. “There isn’t a trick to be had, but change doesn’t come out of nothing, just as I brought these rainclouds here from somewhere else. That being said, the Scourge would have to go somewhere, and any change I make has to be more...localized.”
Freeport chewed at his bottom lip as he thought, then finally said, “I wish my throat was healed and for my voice to be back.” Gavreel snapped his fingers once more, apparently unaffected by the slickness of the rain, and Freeport cleared his throat with no trouble this time. “Why did you come here?” he asked, testing his voice and finding it strong and unwavering once more.
“I left the land of the Fomorians because of a vision. Daikitsu can make prophecies from visions and since I had a vision I thought--I didn’t know anything was going on, I just...I saw your face. I knew I had to leave the Tor and find you. And I like it here. Being trapped underground isn’t for me.”
Freeport shuffled his feet, then pulled out a map as he sought for a change in topic. “Can you tell me where to find the Tor? If you didn’t know anything was happening here, can you tell me anything about the war?”
Gavreel tapped a point on the map, in the southern mountains of Iskander. “There is a way through the mountain in a cave that leads downward to a large amber door. Don’t touch the door, and keep moving past it, and you’ll find a set of stairs leading further down.” The shaitan takes a long breath and turns away. “The king of the Fomorians was assassinated, but this Jarl Magne...he’s unrelated. I don’t know who he is representing.”
Rather than face the other topic at hand, Freeport holds out the papoose and the skulk of foxes, and wishes Daikitsu back. Gavreel snapped his fingers, and the three bells on each foxes’ collar shatter with the peal of a bell that rumbles the ground beneath them. A shadow looms behind Gavreel, and suddenly a sword pierces through his chest and twists. His expression frozen in place, Gavreel falls forward, revealing the Piper behind him. “That’s one,” his voice echoed as he slipped back through a portal.
A woman clutches Freeport’s shoulder from behind, then steps forward and bends low to examine the shaitan. After a moment, Freeport realized the woman was covered in pearlescent fur beneath a white and gold kimono, and had the elongated snout of a fox, with purple feathers trailing down her back leading to her three fox tails. Freeport fell to his knees and pulled a diamond from his cigar-box of holding, beginning to cast a spell on the corpse. The fox woman laid a hand on Freeport’s, stopping his gestures, and said, “He can’t be brought back by your magic. I don’t have the power yet to save him, but I could put him in stasis for now.” Freeport nodded, rising to his feet as he pulls the volcanic blade of the sword out of Gavreel’s back. Daikitsu touched a clawed hand to the ground then began to draw a circle around the body. As she finished, vines shot out from the ground, forming a latticework of vines that grew a glass-like barrier beneath it.
Freeport shook his head, the shock still wearing away. “I think I need to find my friends. Will you go and fight the Scourge?”
“I think I shall accompany you. My power will be slow to return, and as the Scourge is remembered in so many stories and the imaginations of so many more than my own follows, his power far outstrips mine.” Freeport nodded solemnly and led the fox woman back to the keep, and through the portal to the meadery.
Pthalo spent the night in the temple of the Raven Queen. Aruun, the priest, had said Pthalo would need to undergo a ritual to begin his journey along the way of shadows, but what exactly the ritual entailed is anyone’s guess, as may be the case when anyone tries to divine visions from dreams. Pthalo returned the next morning with long-healed scars of burns and blunt damage that hadn’t been on his face or arms the day before, and there seemed to be a darkness that clouded his gaze now -- much like that of Halor’s before him.
When Pthalo left the temple in the morning, making his way back towards the portal door, he ran into Freeport and the kitsune trailing behind him. Freeport introduced Pthalo to Daikitsu, and Pthalo told Freeport of Astrid’s request for aid, so the three set off through the door to the duck-carriage outside the Warren Tavern in Storasta.
The kitsune moved forward and placed a hand on Bolin’s forehead. Her eyes flashed a gold light as she closed them, then opened her eyes once more with concern. “You fought the Beast. I’m surprised he still lives.” Bolin placed a hand on Daikitsu’s hand in turn and said, “You’re so soft.”
Freeport took a sharp breath and stepped between the two, dipping a finger into gemdust and whistling as he touched the finger to Bolin’s temple. Bolin’s eyes brightened as the mental scarring from the battle in the Piper’s realm fell away, only to be replaced with the caffeine-addled hyperactivity of the five cups of coffee the dwarf had drank in an effort to cure himself. The dwarf immediately took out a sheaf of paper and began writing note after note, unrolling Freeport’s map on the bar as he took note of different landmarks, before running off through the duck-carriage to send off his messages.
Noting the exchange that occurred as Daikitsu read Bolin’s condition, Pthalo pulled out the Eye he took from the Apocalypse Vault and handed it to Daikitsu. “Can you tell me what this is?” The kitsune’s eyes flashed once more before she described the object as the eye of a god from another realm. The group pulled out the remainder of the objects taken from the Open Hand, asking kitsune to tell what she can of those items, as well.
When Bolin returned, he pulled the kitsune aside and asked, as a patron of nature, if he should remain with Kraken Knuckles. Daikitsu told him that while his current goals are his own, the Natural Order is working towards something that aligns with that of Kraken Knuckles.
Il'an, unsure of the direction of assisting Astrid or the Jarls of Iskander with their war and instead wondering about the challenges facing Storasta, turned towards Thea and asked how to get to the main city of Storasta. After explaining the size of the island and that it would take him four weeks of walking to get there, Il'an walked outside and turned toward the road.
Kraken Knuckles followed the wizard outside, intending to head for the carriage to return through the portal to Iskander. When the wizard declined to follow, Freeport pulled out his rope and tied it into a lasso, quickly ensnaring the wizard and dragging him into the duck-carriage’s portal as the wizard yelled his displeasure.
As the group once more found themselves at the meadery and met with Astrid, Daikitsu excuses herself for a moment and returns as a human woman with white hair, joining the group in the cart as Astrid drove them south.
Bolin sat with Astrid at the front of the cart, discussing their differing paladin orders, and Astrid noted that Bolin did not appear to be wholly dwarven. After several days of travel, the group passes the old druid tree of Knotted Hill, and Freeport joined Astrid at the front to navigate the way towards the Ice Devil Mountains. Astrid pointed out the field near the foot of the mountains and said that the war will occur there and last from sunrise to sunset. As Iskanders, both the Jarls and the Fomorians are bound by the laws of the land, and when Iskanders fight each other, such conflicts must be resolved after one day of fighting. Whichever side has taken the least losses by sunset will be declared the victor. Freeport asked why the Jarls aren’t out preparing the battlefield and peppering the ground with pit traps. Astrid appeared confused and simply said that that would be dishonorable, and that Iskanders may not conduct battle as the Spider would.
The air grew cold as the cart wheeled along deeper into the mountains. Freeport handed his wolf pelt cloak to Pthalo, as the tiefling seemed undisturbed by the wintry air. Freeport easily navigated the way through the desolate mountains, leaving Astrid to wonder how he knew the paths so well. Freeport merely shrugged at her and said he had memorized Jarl Habiek’s campaign map.
As Kraken Knuckles neared a hot spring waterfall, the sound of music was caught on the wind, drawing them to drive the cart towards the warmer air. As they pulled the cart along the spring, they caught sight of a familiar naked man playing music beneath the waterfall.