The darkness and silence of the void dropped and they were hurled back into reality.
Sprawled on the floor, Jalana was unconscious and not breathing.
“Jalana!” yelled Vuvu as she rushed over and began trying to bring her back to the world of the living, whispering sweet songs of healing.
The rest of the group looked around, stunned and disorientated to find themselves removed from the presence of a god and plunged once again back into civilisation.
“HALT!” a cry from their side brought their attention from Jalana’s prone frame and to their surroundings proper.
They were in a very large audience hall, smooth sandstone and carved arches covered the walls and ceiling, the hall was bedecked in glowing torches, and wide and tall windows made of clear glass, which the midday suns were pouring their light through.
At the bottom end of the room giant doors were closed, and many resplendent guards stood with their spear levelled at them with hostile looks on their faces. Amongst the room were scattered groups of very prominent looking people. Some with strange wrappings about their head, some with others chained about the neck holding their drinks and food. Some with tribal tattoos on their faces, some with long hair braided past their hips. The assortment was varied, but the mood was the same. Shock and fear.
At the top end of the room there was a large dais, with intricately carved steps leading up to, predictably, a throne. In front of the throne. In front of the throne was a priestly looking man holding a simple crown, and standing up from a kneeling position in front of him was Marjora.
“Lower your weapons! Now! They are friends!” Marjora called with a voice of a growling tigress.
Jalana sucked in a giant breath and brought herself suddenly to a sitting position with her hands on the floor behind her, and took a few more breaths as the silence covered the room.
Grash stepped forward, looked about at the guards raising the tips away from them, and spoke. “We are friends of the queen, we’ll see her now. I assume it’s okay for us to bring plus two to the party?” he pointed his thumb behind him at Vuvu, who was helping Jalana to her feet, and Shun, who stood with them, hands on his staff.
Marjora came down the steps towards them, laughing, the sound like a cat purring loudly. “Grash, I am no queen. And I am not emperess, yet. Your entrance seems to have come at a very inopportune time. Please, I am eager to hear the story of how in the world you got through the magical defences straight into my throne room, but that is for a later time. Right now I have some business to attend to.” and Marjora motioned around the throne room, where were coronation was taking place.
Marjora waved over a man from the side of the room, with light brown skin, a local that hadn’t seen much work in the fields, shaved and oiled head, two gold earrings and a dark twinkle in his eye. Dark purple robes hung from his lithe frame and he came forward with his hands in his robe, and bowed to Marjora.
“Please, Rama, take my friends to the side to witness the coronation, they will be at the forefront, as is their right as the saviours of Dharma.” she said, and the man ushered them to the side.
The coronation was simple, with few words said and polite clapping at the end. Marjora was ushered from the room and the remaining guests were brought to an antechamber for celebrations.
As the group mingled with the nobles and the powerful members of society they saw that a lot hand changed since last time they had been here. Marjora had kept the presence of generals and freedom fighters last time they were here. Now there were little of those to be found. The majority of the crowd were merchants, land barons and aristocrats. The flamboyance of many was astounding and the stench of their perfumes offended Jalanas nose.
The one called Rama came to them, seemingly forming out of the crowd, and bowed in front of them. “Garam-Mashala, friends. I hope that you are enjoying the festivities,” he waved his hand slowly behind him and the small pockets of nobles quietly sipping on tea in the room, “alas, we must also not forgot our duties. The Empress of the Sands and Holder of the Jewel of Dharma has requested your presence at an impromptu meeting of the Council of the Sons.” he trails off for a second, “We might need to change that name, but! We will send a messenger to collect you soon. Please be ready.” and after another bow he leaves again.
Shun stands, observing the nobles, studying their clothes and who is talking to who. Baer is looking for Marjora, but cannot see her in the room, Grash is drinking the expensive rum, Vuvu is flirting with a group of young nobles.
Jalana is at the back, leaning against a room with her arms crossed. Vuvu notices this and approaches her. “What’s wrong Jalana? Why do you sulk like this?” she asked.
Jalana, scowling, looks across the room. “I don’t like it.”
Vuvu, unsurprised that Jalana felt uncomfortable in the presence of so much society, put her hand on Jalanas arm, “What don’t you like, dear?” she asked, half distracted after she was the new drinks trolley that was rolled in. She spied a very expensive bottle of Veranian Blood Wine.
“This feels wrong. I don’t know why, and I’m going to have a look around.” replied Jalana.
“That’s nice dear, don’t get in trouble now.” said Vuvu as she went to follow the bartender with the trolley.
Jalana slipped away from the group, walking out into the corridor and down the hall a little, out of the sight of others. She let her thoughts flow into those of a cat and on the walls of the smooth sandstone brick wall a little shadow of a tabby cat replaced that of Jalana.
As she made her way down the hallway she met up with another cat who indicated that it was off to the kitchens so find a few scraps to eat. Jalana followed the cat and into the kitchen they went. The staff there tolerated the cats, but did not speak of any political issues or divulge any secrets in front of them. Jalana got bored and began chasing rat through the kitchens.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group was following the messenger who eventually came for them, bringing them to the Council of the Sons. They followed the multiple stairways and hallways deeper into the citadel and they eventually came to a large barred door with a guard in front.
‘You must be Flagonmop Bumblebee, or whatever. You’re fine to..wait..where’s the dark one?" he asked, scanning them.
They looked about and realised he was talking about Jalana.
“She will be here shortly.” said Grash, and made to pass the guard into the room.
“No, her eminence has requested all of you. Where is she and why isn’t she with the rest of you?” the guard seemed to be of some rank, which would be obvious as he was guarding the room to a high level council meeting.
As they spoke a small cat came sauntering down the hall with a rat in its mouth. A fast and hard kick from one of the guards sent the cat smashing against the opposite wall.
“Get outta here you flamin’ cur!” and cocked his leg, ready to give it another one.
“Wait! That’s our cat, cease kicking it you bufoon!” called Vuvu as she went towards the guard and the hissing cat in the corner.
The guard relented and allowed Vuvu to pick up the cat and cradle it in her arms.
“Look, they’re all waiting for us,” said Vuvu between strokes of the cats fur, “best not keep them waiting, aye?”
The guard seemed annoyed, but also relented and opened the door and announced them as Dragunship Suddenly!. Proving that he did know their name.
In the room was a large seven sided table, able to sit about 40 people, and sit them it did. A wide array of nobles and leaders occupied the room. Vast and high ceiling, the torches banished the darkness of night and the guards around the perimeter banished any thoughts of trouble making. The suits of armour cladding the larger than normal humanoids were shining with gold lacquer and bristling with seals and scrolls with writing on them. Large spears were held in their hands and the comfortable air of confidence that surrounded them was as worrying as if they were charging into battle. The group knew restrained violence when they saw it.
As they entered they also noticed Marjora. Standing amongst a group of merchant looking types she spoke calmly yet passionately. As they approached they heard that she spoke of food supplies and the trouble coming from the desert.
“…for we cannot take from one hungry mouth just to feed another. If the raids don’t cease then the city will need to…” Marjora noticed them approaching and turned to them.
With a wide smile on her face she looked at them in turn as they stood in front of her, still seeming to them the same girl they met in the cave where they thought Leo was sacrificing her, and the same one that spent countless hours healing the sick and injured after they besieged the city to oust her evil father.
“Friends..” she said, smiling. As her gaze passed Baer she paused, her smile slipping an almost imperceptible fraction and her eyes widening a little more. “Baer..”
“Hello…your…majesty…” Bear attempted.
Marjora stood, looking at him and seemed to catch herself and spoke to the others as well, speaking small pleasantries and asking of their health and travels.
After a few minutes the meeting was called and they all took a seat at the table, and with no discernible head to the table they were sat at one side with their back against the main entrance to the room. Marjora sat to their right, again at no discernible advantageous point.
The conversation began after Marjora signalled for a group of merchants representing their farmers from the southern water farms, advising that the droughts were getting worse and that the crops were failing. This seemed to be old news to everyone, but they did come up with more trade tariff leniency and more open trade with the Silver Isles to the north.
After some time the group got a little bored. Drinks and snacks were brought and after a little more time Rama joined them, the guard at the door introduced him as Adrin Duneshadow. The man sat down at the table after coming to give Marjora some information and shared a small smile with them from across the table.
The conversation moved to the missing shipment of Sapphire Weed, and how there was no word from their agents as to its whereabouts. They discussed it’s importance to the work they were doing and how they could try to find away to get the work done without it. The general concensus was that it was not possible to complete without the Sapphire Weed.
The group sat there, not mentioning anything, and when one of the merchants advised that that shipment was the last of the plant, as the fields of Sapphire Weed outside Corundum were destroyed in the latest attack when the city was razed.
“You were there? At the breaking of the Sapphire City?”
The group came out of their slumps in their chairs. Baer was half asleep and drooling on the table.
One of the Nobles, a taller man with long wavy hair and a very noble face and voice, asked them the question again.
“Yes, we were there, and what a sight to see it was.” said Vuvu.
Marjora looked at them, and she seemed interested. “Please, tell us of what happened, we are so lacking in information from that part of the world.”
Vuvu stood, climbed onto the table and took out her lute and began to play them a song explaining of the army of giants approaching Corundum, how she met with Wyne in the city and his officers, and how they enlisted her in the fight against the following goblin army. She explained how she met the others and then took shelter in the cities catacombs, where they found the Anahata and then came out to find the city destroyed.
Her audience, as much as her song was catchy and well structured, were not as impressed as her usual audience in the inns and taverns of the land. As Vuvu stood on the table, and the last note carried off, she cleared her throat into the silence, gave a curt bow, and went back to her seat.
’Thank you for that…colourful rendition, Madame Vuvuzela." said Rama.
The group of nobles and merchants continued their discussions, and Jalana thought it best to become a human again so she got up off the small bench and made for the door. As she approached a guard looked at her, then at the other guard, shrugged and opened the door. As the door opened Grash turned around to look, as he did every time the door opened.
He caught a glimpse of a suit of armour, blazoned in steel and a very familiar sapphire colour trimming. The enclosed and heavy looking helm turned as the door opened just wide enough for a cat to go through and it seemed to Grash that the eyes behind the slit in the helm was looking at him. And the door closed. Grash turned back and advised the others of what he’d seen.
“What are the Paladins of the Sapphire Throne doing here?” asked Grash after a moment.
A small group nearby him kept their discussion going, but Marjora stopped and looked over to him.
“Why, they are good friends of Dharma and have sought refuge here since their city was destroyed and their throne has gone….missing.” answered Marjora.
As the conversation was wrapped up and they are shown to their apartments some distance from the meeting room. They learn from the guard that there’s a curfew, and they’re told not to go outside past sundown due to the increased presence of rogue groups of desert elves operating in the city. It is only temporary, but is there for their protection.
The group decide to rest, in real beds, for the first time in a long time. In the morning, they all meet up in the main hall for breakfast, and when they arrive they meet Rama.
Rama Duneshadow says that he has been tasked by Marjora herself to show them around the city, they are hesitant but he insists that Marjora has implored him to do so. He brings them about the city, to the carnival and massive trade areas where they sell anything and everything. Vuvu decides to try out a small merchant that is selling random prize boxes, she chooses one and finds in it a magical cloak with badges on it. She is pleased.
Rama brings their attention to the slave markets. He advises that they are publicly run and that the slaves at this months market are quite interesting. As the group looks at the slave marker they see a few Olarge Orcs, a few malnourished ones, a couple of Humans with brands on their faces (Rama explains that they are criminals), and also Ahmisa is up there.
They decide to get some breakf-
“Wait a minute!” says Grash and goes up to the slave stocks, pretending to peruse the slaves.
“How much for the dwarf?” he asks the merchant.
“What? That one? oh sir they are trouble makers, this one will be no good for your ship and I do think it might be…outside your budget.” the merchant replies, looking Grash up and down.
“How much?” repeats Grash. He does so hate repeating himself.
Grash is stunned, and goes quietly up to Ahmisa as the merchant calls to the crowd again selling his wares.
As Grash gets closer Ahmisa flinches away and rattles the chains, he then looks up and his eyes go wild. “Mr Grash sir! Mr Grash!! Please help me! Get me out of here! I did everything that you said!”
Grash looks about, not wanting people to think he had a personal relationship with a slave, and put on his Hat of Disguise and disappeared into the throng of people.
As they go about the market, Grash has taken off the hat and is looking at a stall when he senses a presence behind him, the unmistakable gait and smell of cinnamon, he sends his mage hand to curl around him and behind the person sneaking up on him, and the mage hand taps the other on the shoulder, and the person turns around to see who it is. As the person does, Grash himself turns around. The other person then turns around and sees Grash looking at him.
“Well, when I thought to myself that I’d try sneak up on Grash, I was obviously not thinking right.” said Jimmy.
“Hello Jimmy, it’s nice to see you again.” replied Grash, turning back to the stall, and continuing to pretend that he was perusing its wares.
“I saw you looking at your old mate Ahmisa up there. Poor bugger, he got ‘imself in a bit of mischief didn’t he? You going to get ’im out?” asked Jimmy, pretending to also peruse the market stall.
“I don’t think we have the spare capital, old friend. You wouldn’t happen to have ten thousand gold on hand, would you?” Grash picked up a small vial and examined it.
“Look mate, when you got skin in the game, you gotta play in the game. We go way back, and I want to help you.”
A noise from behind them made them both turn, a slave merchant was calling to the crowd and explaing why he was about to behead one of his slaves.
The two of them stood in the crowd watching. Grash remembered Captain Khazeem. The sword fell.
“Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it just takes and takes and takes.” said Jimmy quietly under his breath.
“I know a group, Grash. They call themselves the Kage Suna. A kinda group of miscreants, if you will. They have the means to help you. I’ll be in touch.” he said as he left and melded back into the crowd.
“There you are,” said Rama, with the rest of the group behind him. “You know that I was worried about you. There are many unsavoury types about here, and Marjora expli-”
“Shut up.” said Grash and began walking.
The rest followed and they made their way to the area near the Sand-Docks, and there they found not the first, nor the second, but the third Skewered Goose.
They of course decided to go in for a drink. Rama said that he would wait outside and he did not like frequenting these types of establishments.
Inside it was decked out like the other two, with the traditional trappings of society like tables and chairs, but also with nice paintings on the wall and sold work carvings. Behind the bar was a buxom women with long blonde hair who called to them and took their orders as they sat.
As she brought them their drinks they asked if Sven was about. She said that he was and that she would get him as soon as she was able.
“Tell him Dragunship Suddenly! are here.” said Jalana, “He’ll want to know.”
She raised her eyebrows and left to go find him.
A large crashing noise came from the back room and a muffled “well why did you tell me tha-”
He came out, the Sven that they’d last seen leaving Corundum, in which town they had sought precious refuge and been able to infiltrate the city at first.
“What…what are you doing here? I mean, Friends!! Welcome!” he cried, and opened his arms towards them. Hugs and shaking of hands were shared and all felt welcome. They had a few drinks and the times were merry. Meat and bread were brought out and they didn’t need to pay for anything. They explained everything to Sven, as he was a long time friend. They told him of Michi’ini and her now freedom and how she told them of the Pillars and the Gate Breaker and everything. As they spoke Sven got more and more solemn.
After some time, Sven looked over to the girl behind the bar and said “Yassim, please, turn off the lights.” his voice gave them pause, as he seemed very serious all of a sudden.
The woman began to usher out the remaining patrons and as they left she locked the door and then began mumbling under her breath and raising her hands. As she did a light blue glow infused everything in the room. When the room was covered completely the group felt a kind of quietness enter their thoughts.
Sven stood. “Friends, we are now free to talk. Everything is different now, and I have something to tell you.” and he made his way behind the bar. “Please, follow me.” and he opened a trapdoor behind the bar.
The group stood, excited but worried about what in the nine hells Sven was talking about.
They made their way down the stairs into a regular old storage area, and Sven turned a small key in a door and made a series of knocks and then spoke a password and the next door opened. Inside was a group of about a dozen very interesting people, reading maps, looking at lists, and going about what seemed to be preparations.
As they entered they saw a very familiar lilac coloured skin mage coming up to them. “Darlings, it is good to see you again!” said Lilac and gave them all a proper greeting as was fit for each.
“I’m sorry Lilac, we have much to discuss so a proper hello will be done later.” interrupted Sven, and Lilac acknowledged and bowed away.
“Dragunship Suddenly!, what a name you all have. And a few welcome newcomers, too. We are a group with a few names. What we do here is try to fix the damage that was done to the heavens a long time ago. You say you met a god, and she explained how the heavens were ransacked? Well, more are trying to get through those gates now, and we are determined to stop them. We cannot have another Breaking.”
As Sven went to continue they all heard a voice from the other side of the room, a tall man was hunched over one of the maps with a hood over his head. “Oh no, not them again.” the voice said.
As the group looked to see who spoke the hooded man turned and, as he did so, he lowered his hood.
“We have a lot to talk about.” said Wyne.