Chapter IV. Aramari's Gift
Quillion's narrow eyes opened wide as he looked at Aramari in surprise. "Deliver it to me? Why me? What is it?" His mind raced with the implications of someone knowing he was going to be here this night. He was sure he had been so careful about keeping the messages to the companions regarding the meeting a secret. Had one of the companions told someone about the meeting? No, they would never do that. Especially after he had asked them specifically not to tell anyone. Even as concerned as he was with Aramari's condition, he could not help stealing sidelong glances at the pile of oily cloth on the table. "What could be so important that it had to be delivered to me tonight?"
Aramari sighed wearily and said, "I'll explain in a second. I just need a moment or two to rest."
Quillion, feeling a bit chagrined, sat back in his chair while Dealyon quietly glided over from his chair to take a look at Aramari. Other than the Cleric of Meyasha, he was the only one of the companions with true healing powers. Dealyon carefully placed one hand on Aramari's forehead and the other in the middle of her back as he leaned his own head back. His lips moved as he whispered a prayer to his God. His voice became strange, as if echoing faintly, and Quillion heard a soft rustling sound, as if leaves were being blown in the breeze. Aramari suddenly sat ramrod straight in her chair, her eyes open as wide as they could go. Her breath caught in her throat and her hands gripped the table top so hard that Quillion thought her nails would dig holes in it.
Then, just as suddenly as the spasm came upon Aramari, it left her. She relaxed back into her chair as Dealyon removed his hands from her. The druid looked up at Quillion. "I have done a purge on her body. She was being affected by some type of outside force. My best guess is that it could only be that," he said, indicating towards the cloth-covered object sitting on the table. "She seems to be in fine health now. Only her closeness to Meyasha saved her from being completely enthralled by whatever was affecting her. She should be fine in a couple of minutes."
Quillion looked at the druid's calm face and said, "Good work." He thought for a moment before continuing, "This thing that was affecting her, does it feel magical or spiritual in nature?"
Dealyon pursed his lips in thought before answering, "It is hard to say, the two forces are, more often than not, inter-related. I would venture say that its nature is not divine. It appears to be a bit more elemental than that."
Quillion glanced at the object again, "Could you be more specific?"
Dealyon calmly looked at him from underneath the folds of his hood and responded, "If I were to guess, and you know how much I do not like to, I would say that it is of a mischievous nature."
Quillion stared back at the druid for a minute, attempting to read something from his face. Dealyon was not always the most forthcoming of people, and Quillion had learned long ago to try and divine a bit more from the druid's face. He could read nothing from Dealyon's black eyes this time.
Quillion waited for the wine Dealyon ordered to be delivered to Aramari by the serving wench. He gave the slightly plump woman a smile and pressed a few coppers in her hand before she left. He then squatted back down next to Aramari and said, "Can you tell us now what happened?"
Aramari took a sip of the wine, feeling its soothing effects calm her tattered nerves and nodded. She told the gathered companions of the meeting in her shop between her and the lizardwoman. Sparing them no details of the poor woman's death and her own subsequent trip over to The Sinner's Cove. Every step to get here had seemed like a leap across a gorge as her own will and that of her Goddess fought the will which came from the cloth covered item now sitting on the table. The continuing fight for herself with this object had drained her completely by the time she had reached the inn. That was why she had seemed as haggard as she did.
Quillion looked up at Malaryn and Ephirea, who were standing next to each other alternating back and forth between staring at Aramari and the object. He said, "You two keep a look out for anyone paying any type of close attention to us. Whoever killed that lizardwoman could easily have followed Mari here."
Malaryn and Ephirea nodded and immediately set themselves slightly apart from the companions, positioning themselves between the group and the rest of the crowd. Anyone looking at them would only see two lovers flirting with each other. If one were to look closely, however, one would see their eyes never rested on one another. By facing one another slightly askew, they had assumed the ideal positions to scan the entire room for any undue interest and still maintain their guise. It was a ruse that had worked well in the past and Malaryn and Ephirea slipped into it now in a practiced manner.
Quillion saw that their position was being guarded well and looked back at the object on the table. "Now what to do about this little mystery?"
Tersiano had been staring at the cloth heap on the table ever since Aramari had removed it from her pouch and placed it there. He could feel the aura of power radiating from the item. That was one of the gifts a practitioner of the wild magic arts had over someone who studied traditional magic: the ability to sense magic power without relying upon the use of any spells to accomplish it. His senses had been captured by this powerful item. He desperately felt the need to see what it looked like, but was too enthralled to move. He could almost hear the item calling him, all he would need to do is reach out with his will and he could....
A touch on his shoulder snapped Tersiano from his trance, and he recoiled as if he had been struck. His eyes were bleary, and his head cloudy as if he had awoke from a dead slumber. He blinked in the harsh torch light and saw Preosha standing with her hand on his shoulder. She nodded her head forward and Tersiano followed her glance to see Quillion and the others staring at him.
Quillion said, "We've been calling your name for ten seconds. Didn't you hear us?"
Tersiano shook his head rapidly and opened his mouth to reply when he saw Scintara reach as if to remove the cloth from the object. "Hold, Scintara!" he commanded in a hissing, but forceful whisper.
Scintara yanked her hand back as if it had been burned. She looked like a small child that had been caught with her hand in a cookie jar. She shook her head rapidly and said, "I just had to see it. I mean I just had to. I've never felt such a temptation." Her words trailed off under the scrutiny of the others and she looked at Tersiano for support.
Tersiano nodded his head indicating he understood the temptation, and looked at Quillion, "This thing is far more seductive than any magical item I've ever run across. We need to find out what it is so we can study it. Don't you feel its calling? Its nigh irresistible pull?"
Quillion shook his head no. Tersiano thought to himself for a moment. That did not make sense! Quillion was a magic user as well as Tersiano. Why was he not tempted by this infernal thing? Of course! How could it escape him? Quillion's partially Elven blood will sometimes render him immune to magical spells that affected the mind. Almost all Elves were immune to magical temptations such as this thing was giving off, and Quillion had a bit of luck on his side to have inherited that gift from his father. Tersiano had no such natural protection from this mystical thing.
Tersiano motioned for Quillion to come beside him. As Quillion moved to stand there, Tersiano explained, "This thing needs to be examined by magical means and I cannot trust myself to cast the proper spell to divine its nature. The seductive nature of the thing would prevent me from keeping my mind clear of abstract thoughts as it must be for a spell of knowledge. Only you can do it."
Quillion shook his head slowly, looking at Tersiano, "I haven't learned the correct spell to do it. You know that I focus more on combat oriented spells than divining ones."
Tersiano frowned at the object and said, That's where I can help you."
The wild mage reached into his robes and pulled out what looked to be some type of map case, a long bone cylinder fashioned from the thigh of a thunder lizard and carved with mystic runes along every visible amount of surface. This case had an enchantment cast upon it so that if any hand but his own opened it, an explosive ball of fire would consume the would-be thief. He carefully pulled out a piece of parchment with some type of illegible script written over the front, the language of magic. He carefully handed it to Quillion, placing it in the Half-elf's strong hands. "Here is a scroll of magical detection. It is more powerful than most as it should let you know exactly what the nature of this item is." He grinned as he added, "Theoretically, anyway."
Quillion walked to the far side of the table, away from the other companions. Tersiano overheard him whisper to Ephirea in passing, asking whether there was anyone watching. She replied drowsily back that everyone here is either drunk or rapidly becoming that way and would not care if a dragon dropped waste on them.
Tersiano watched Quillion steady himself and close his eyes. Tersiano knew full well how difficult it was to cast a spell from a scroll that you did not write yourself. Scrolls were much easier to work than a true spell as they required very little or no hand movement and no material components, but one slip up of the verbiage and the scroll was gone forever, burned up in its own magic. He watched Quillion's lips as the warrior-mage repeated the phrases silently to himself, perfecting the chant. After a moment Quillion opened his eyes and nodded to Scintara, who promptly removed the cloth from the object.
Tersiano's eyes widened as he saw perhaps the largest diamond he had ever seen or ever even heard of. This thing would be worth an entire room full of gold! Well, at least a kingship in a small country. Tersiano took a closer look and remanded that thought. It would be worth a great deal if only it was not composed of such ugly colors. Violets and fuchsias and chartreuses swirled through the facets of the gem in a stomach wrenching pageant of light. Tersiano's queasiness at the sight of the spectacle faded after a moment, though, and his eyes glazed over once again as he felt the pull from the gem, that irresistible urge to reach out with his consciousness and merge with the diamond.
Dimly Tersiano could hear Quillion chanting the words from the scroll. Those elusive words of magic that another mage could hear and understand briefly before they slipped away from their conscious mind. The chanting repeated itself, Quillion's voice growing louder, stronger. Suddenly the ravenous hunger for the gem disappeared from Tersiano and he quickly took control of himself. He looked up at Quillion who was uttering the final words of the spell with his hand outstretched over the gem. Whatever intelligence inhabited the gem must have recognized that it was being examined and had turned its attention towards Quillion. Tersiano hoped that Quillion's resistance to it would continue to hold.
The letters on the scroll in Quillion's hand began to writhe about on the paper, twisting and blurring until finally they burst into flame. Quillion absent-mindedly dropped the scroll from his hand, his concentration still focused on maintaining the spell. The scroll fluttered to the floor, unsinged, but with not a letter of writing remaining on it.
Tersiano watched Quillion's face for any signs that he was being tempted, but the Half-elf's furrowed brow showed nothing but intense concentration as he studied the gemstone. His face began to reflect light as the gemstone started to glow a bright blue, momentarily overriding the swirl of colors emanating from it. Tersiano knew this blue light was common when an item was being examined by a spell caster. At least the nauseating color patterns were gone. Tersiano looked around and noticed the blue light was getting brighter and soon the people in the common room would take notice of it.
He said tersely to the companions, "We've got to find something to shield this light or we're going to attract a good deal of unwanted attention."
Preosha nodded her head and immediately began digging in her oversized pack. She quickly pulled out an assortment of metallic rods. Her hands began to move faster than the eye could follow, the metal rods twisting and clicking as they flew through her fingers until she had fashioned a framework of them. She quickly placed it on the side of the gem between it and the rest of the room. She reached up and yanked one of the scarves that Ell had wrapped around her neck and began to drape it over the frame.
Tersiano forestalled her before she finished, saying, "Be careful, do not block Quillion's vision of the gem in any way or the spell will be lost."
Preosha nodded her head in understanding and carefully laid the scarf over the framework, taking great pains not to disrupt Quillion's sight of the gem. The light radiating from the diamond immediately was muted by the scarf's dense weave. The light reflecting off the wall from the gem could be attributed to Tersiano's staff, which the denizens of the common room were already familiar with. A stroke of good luck there.
Quillion began to speak softly and the entire group gathered close to him, except for Tersiano, who remained at the other side of the table. Quillion's face was a mirror to his mind, displaying a variety of emotions as he spoke. "It's not just an enchanted gem. It's got a consciousness. It's looking for someone, and is unable to find them..... They're close... so very close. Why can't I find him? Where is he?" Tersiano's concern grew as he realized that Quillion was echoing the gemstone's thoughts. "He's part of this group. If only I could...." Quillion's eyes regained their focus as he continued. "Whatever is in this thing is scanning us for signs of who it's looking for."
Quillion's eyes suddenly grew wide and he shouted "Look out!" just moments before an intensely bright light flashed from the diamond. The light burned at an unbearable intensity for a brief second, and then faded. The companions were covering their eyes with their arms, but most had been too late. Only a slowly fading afterimage of the light remained in their vision, except for Tersiano, who had heard Quillion's warning in time to shield his eyes from the light.
Tersiano looked around and saw immediately that the others had been blinded by the flash, and that most of the nearby crowd had the same problem. This was not going to bode well for us trying to stay here, he thought. He heard Quillion to his left saying, "Tersiano? You might want to take a look at this."
Tersiano turned and looked at the table, and his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. There, hovering cross-legged above the gem, was a man. He appeared to be of a youngish age, but Tersiano could not quite put a year to him. He was clean shaven and had his shoulder length brown hair hanging in tight curls with the tips of his pointed ears sticking out of the sides. He was small, but not in a Dwarven or Halfling way. He was proportional, just short. He had remarkable light gray eyes that seemed to twinkle mischievously, but that was not the most remarkable thing about him, though. That distinction was reserved for his clothing. He was draped in a tunic of the brightest pink with inordinately bright purple cuffs. His pantaloons were easily the strangest articles of clothing Tersiano had ever seen, as they were colored in deep mauve and garish chartreuse tiger stripes. His bright white, calf-high boots only completed the eye-wrenching ensemble.
The man saw his Tersiano's appraisal of his clothing and turned to him and smiled, extending his hand, "You must be Tersiano. Glad to meet you. The name's Thimellan. I'm looking for a man named Quillion."
© 1998 C.A. Lutke