"Tell me something, Ivory." Ivory suddenly felt more at ease than she had moments earlier. She couldn't explain it. "How familiar are you with the different types of magic?"
"Familiar enough." She could feel her confidence returning. "I know of healing magic, obviously. I know about the cooking magic Loro uses, elemental magic, the golems are an important part of Delteria, then there's teleportation, deception, nature-"
"So plenty. Have you ever seen magic that does this?" Xen's eyes widened and his nostrils flared. They appeared more red than before, and his skin a ghastly shade of gray.
Ivory's confidence disappeared. She instinctively stepped back and looked around her in a panic. Nothing's wrong. Is this...?
Life on the high seas was nothing to write home about. The oceans of Y'vera were actually fairly calm, with the prevailing winds always going southward. It wasn't until after the Cynthia Wars that the Fae had enough influence to develop the magic-current riding sails in use by a majority of sailors. While winds always blew south, the "Fae Winds," as they've come to been called, have a much more complex pattern. Unfortunately for sailors who often lack magical ability, it's impossible to see with the naked eye. It's difficult to see even for a trained magician. That's where Aspen comes in.
Aspen is a Pixie. Pixie's aren't not Fae, but they're far enough removed that they don't like to associate. A Pixie's had her wings pruned, or even removed entirely. Grinding them up into a dust creates what may well be Y'vera's most potent drug: the effects unpredictable, but always guaranteed to be a trip. The more ruthless and superstitious pyrats of the sea, however, decorate their sails with whole wings intact, believing that they grant them favorable Fae Winds and enhance their sails' effectiveness.
Ivory hadn't yet learned the specifics of how Aspen came to be aboard the Cerberus. The Pixie didn't care to talk about her past, but Ivory gathered that, as with most of her kind, she had been a slave once. Was Xen so kind as to harbor a slave? It didn't seem like it. Regardless, as the ship's navigator she was now an integral part of her crew.
After leaving Calhearth, the Cerberus and her crew headed south to the port of Lothair. They dropped off one of the humans Ivory didn't get the chance to meet, then left to the Fae port-city of Tarver. After that, it seemed a blur with how many destinations they visited in such a short time. Ivory had no idea ships could travel as fast as they were. "It's the Fae Winds, lass," Aspen explained to her in the crow's nest one day, "Not just any ship can do what the Cerberus does." She let the moment linger, a proud look on her sparkled face. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't hide the way sunlight glinted off her body. "Look at the sails," she pointed below, "There's two sets, if you look carefully." Indeed, there were two sets. On the main mast, in front of each sail, was a second, thin sail. Until now, Ivory had mistaken them for tattered damage to the primary sails. "The primary sails catch the wind, as you'd expect. The second set, though, catches the Fae Winds: the flux that flows through our world in a predictable manner thanks to that crystal on ithica." Ivory knew the crystal well, thanks to her heritage. "The Crystal of Balance," she recited the story, "bestowed upon us by The Goddess of Nature, forever watched over by the Archaeon and their Lady..." She trailed off, knowing the risks of mentioning Cynthia to the crew.
"Lady Cynthia," Aspen finished her sentence. Ivory had a surprised look on her face as Aspen attempted to explain, "My kind aren't particularly religious, but we were once. Tarver has churches and idols the same as anywhere else." Moments like this were few and far between among pyrats. It was even a bit uncharacteristic of Aspen. She partook in the same pleasures the rest of the crew did at each port, even using her size to her advantage in thieving and pranking. Xen was awake, but the pounding on his door still startled him from his work. There were maps, floorplans, diagrams, letters, and sketches scattered across his desk and hanging on the walls. He didn't bother putting them away as he annoyedly opened the door...
The veiled reference to Cynthia made his blood curl. As the progenitor of mankind, she was hailed as a god. The only one keeping her in check during that first Eon was Elk. When Elk disappeared, however, Cynthia went mad. She became a tyrant. The demigod Coyote used her tyranny to his advantage, spreading his lycanthropic disease to Y'vera's new dissenters of all races. Storxx and Rolark, rulers of ithica, united the races of the plane against the demigods, under the belief that mortals should govern themselves. This conflict ultimately culminated in the bloodbath of the Cynthia Wars.
In that Eon, Xen went by Celderon. He worked closely with the guilds and royalty of Delteria, contributing to the boom of technology the Fae had brought with their crystal based machinations. He had stumbled upon the most important discovery of their time on a recent expedition to The Grand Barrens: thistlization. The species there seemed to live forever. He kept it secret, however. He suspected demigods wouldn't like others joining their immortal ranks: it was the most important distinction between their followers and themselves. The truth eventually emerged in the chaos surrounding Elk's disappearance. Mortals rarely noticed Celderon's lack of aging, but to Cynthia it stuck out like the Spires themselves. To say it was the catalyst to her tyranny would be disingenuous. She always had the potential for the vile acts she committed in the years to come; Celderon's immortality simply caused it sooner rather than later.
"No mention of Cynthia. Don't pray to her on my ship, don't bring her relics anywhere near here, and don't herald her 'grace' to my crew. Otherwise, welcome aboard." Xen lead the way onto the ship with a flourishing bow and a rare smile.
"It's a small vessel, but the infirmary is yours. Grimmsley!"
"Yes Cap'n?" He was still nearby, overlooking the crew getting ready to set off.
"Introduce our newest recruit to the crew. And now that you don't 'ave to handle the medical supplies, I expect a bit more from the first mate."
"O'course, certainly Cap'n." He turned to face Ivory. "Knew ya'd come along eventually. Ya like the a'venture a bit too much to resist." He gave a wink before shouting to the crew. "Cap'n's aboard! Pack up 'n' cast off! An' Loro!" The ogre stopped and slowly turned at the mention of his name. He had a large shipping container full of various meats in his hands. "Dinna' for ten tonight! We've got ourselves a new recruit!" Normally Loro would be displeased with extra mouths to feed, but his discontentment changed to a pleasant surprise upon spying 'Ivy' on the deck. "Aye-aye!" he slowly responded as he squeezed through the doorway belowdecks.
Xen stopped at one of the stalls. "Three thistle leaves." Xen showed the medallion he had lent to Ivory the day before. The shopkeeper quickly procured three leaves with jagged edges and thick veins still full of some red substance. Xen handed them to Ivory.
"This is what you were looking for. As for compensation, you've got two options." They continued their walk towards the Cerberus. "One, you could leave. Consider it a gift. Getting you out of my hair is compensation enough, and I imagine you'll have a hell of a time finding your way back to your shop in Delteria." Ivory was a bit taken aback. She had never mentioned she was from Delteria, let alone that she ran a shop there. Just who was he?
"Door number two, however, is a continued partnership. I have need a of a healer, and I get the feeling you have need of more information on the content of those journals. You work for me, you get the information you seek." Grimmsley didn't know what Xen was talking about, but he learned long ago not to stick his head where it didn't belong in matters concerning Xen. Maybe he would ask Ivory later. If she joined them, that is.
Xen finished just as they arrived at the Cerberus. He gave Ivory a moment to consider her options, or rather her lack thereof. "What'll it be, sunshine? Want to be a pyrat before returning to that life of faux religious royalty?"
Xen emerged from the tent. He was lost in thought at his new revelation. The tent behind him seemed to disappear as he returned to the cellar doors. The sight of Ivory and Grimsley entering the cellar in the distance pulled him back to reality. He cursed at himself silently. He shouldn't have showed them where and how to enter. He'll have to hurry before the time difference becomes too great.
While it felt like seconds to him, the pair had clearly been in the cave for a couple minutes. He rushed past them, then turned abruptly when she called his name. Great, she's getting curious. It was only a matter of time.
"Ask while we walk. We don't have much time. Let's go."
Xen walked alone now. The caverns were entirely dark, but Xen found his way through the twists and turns effortlessly. He had taken this route enough times to know it by heart. The caves opened up to a room lit by a soft glowing light coming from nowhere. In the center was an egg carrier, made of ivory, gold, and crystal, expertly crafted in elaborate Fae style. It carried nothing.
He took out a journal, this one his own. Its pages, filled with writings and drawings, were glowing without Xen channeling flux through them. They depicted the nature of Lycans, Vampires, Dragons, and the complex relationship they shared. Detailed drawings of Naga and their eggs were put alongside those of thistle. One depicted a gruesome dissection of a fully transformed Lycan human with the word “Werewolf” written across the top. Another had a map of the maze-like tunnels behind him, not that he needed it. He dwelled on one page, featuring three large, head sized eggs, each with a red, thistle-like structure wrapping around its shell. He sat down at a nearby desk, took out a writing utensil, and began taking notes and adding to drawings. After he was satisfied with their detail, he pulled some scrolls off a nearby shelf, packed them in his coat, and left just as quickly as he arrived.
When Xen emerged from the caverns to see Ivory and Grimsley walking away, talking about getting some food. She’s in good hands.
Mystics, like pyrats, were servants of the underworld. Normally, precognizant mages worked for guilds and royalty, or spent their days writing manuscripts in the Arcane Heights. Some believed mystics had equal capabilities to those celebrated mages, able to sense the future with such accuracy so as to build their lives around their predictions. Others called them frauds. The reality was probably more muddled than either party wanted to admit, with mystics being incompetent individuals, never afforded the opportunity to refine their craft to the same degree as those in the Arcane Heights.
“Oooooh, three of them?” A fae-naga mix looked curiously at Xen, momentarily distracted from her crystal ball. “That’s right. And I know exactly where to look.” “Where-where? Do tell!” She focussed her attention back on the spherical crystal, hands on each side. “Veracity.” The halfbreed froze. “They’ll know I looked.” “I know. I need this as a favor…”
One could hardly call it a city. “Town” would be too gracious, even. Calhearth was a bazaar of scoundrels, filled with criminals of all persuasions. Stolen goods, crafted poisons, medical supplies, weapons and armor, slaves, illicit substances, and sex. If it can’t be found in the cities, it can be found in Calhearth. Lawless as it was, however, it presented a danger to anyone in need of its services. Without the proper protection or reputation, visitors are likely to lose their coin on the best of days, and their lives on the worst. Brawls, turf wars, and the like broke out regularly, but trade carried on.
As the Cerberus came into port, its crew moved like clockwork. The ashen tying up sails, the humans picking up cargo, the naga tying them to the docks, and the pixie already out of sight, having slipped through the crowd unseen.
“Stay close” were the only words Xen said as he walked with purpose off the vessel. The crowd seemed to make room for him, as if they knew who he was. After a short walk through the crowded streets (streets is being generous), he knocked on an unassuming cellar door. The moment after seemed to linger on for too long, with a sense of fear beginning to overtake Ivory, until suddenly it ended and the door opened. He entered the dimly lit cavern and breathed a deep breath, relieved to be inside. Ivory wondered who opened the door, but her attention quickly shifted as she entered the room.
The walls were crystalline, but only just. To the inexperienced mage, they would seem no different from the slick walls present in the Delterian underground. But to a mage, they afforded a type of comfort. Flux echoed between the walls, amplifying itself as the cave deepened. Xen had already disappeared out of sight, but Ivory continued on...
The inn was positioned right at the mouth of the Delthair River. Ivory had already checked in and was waiting in the pub with Caeleo. Tarkus and Tavren had gone to the shops during the day, wheeling and dealing with the various merchants of the Delthair Strip. Just as Ivory returned to her and Caeleo's table with a drink, Tarkus came bursting through the door.
"Tarkus!" Caeleo exclaimed, happy to see someone else had found their way here.
"Not so loud, you git." Tarkus spoke in a hushed tone, glancing around the pub before sitting at their table. "The whole damn order is here in Lothair, not just Tavren. He tells me they have an interest in ithica as well. They've sworn allegiance to Rolark."
Ivory sat silent. She was more preoccupied with her egg than with the politics of Y'vera at the moment. Caeleo's metal face was emotionless, but his tone of voice betrayed his uneasiness, "That's not good. If an order like those clerics have sworn allegiance to Rolark, he must have promised them something. Something powerful."
"It gets worse. In a few hours they're planning on burning the port. They don't want anyone getting on that island."
"Then we have to go!" Ivory stood up. She wasn't about to lose access to ithica, the crystal, and Elk when she was this close.
Caeleo and Tarkus stood in agreement, "Where's Tavren? Igneous? Sapphira?"
Tarkus began walking towards the door to the streets of Lothair, "I sent him to the port to get a ride ready. I haven't seen the other two, thank the gods."
Ivory headed the opposite direction, calling back to the pair, "I'll be right back. I have to get my things." Tarkus rolled his eyes and took the opportunity to finish the drink she had left on the table. He gave Caeleo a devilish grin, "Shame you can't enjoy this stuff, Caeleo. Some men live for the taste of good drink."
Caeleo kept his composure, even though he was a bit disappointed he couldn't enjoy the pleasures of good food, "And what do you live for, Tarkus?"