“Are we there?” Asha asked.
“No, we haven’t left yet,” Abassi explained. “Something just occurred to me: We’re about to travel through time and space with you INSIDE an extradimensional pocket. There have been reported mishaps with that specific set of circumstances throughout history that have always ended… unfortunately.”
“So what we’re about to do is dangerous?” Asha asked. Abassi nodded. “And everything we’ve done so far has been so very safe?” she said with a slight grimace. “Still. Just in case.” She pulled out the Primary Control Rod and handed it to Abassi.
“Are you sure?” he asked. She shrugged.
“If something happens to me, you can still deliver the Rod to the elders,” she says. “Someone has to get through.”
“I understand,” he said, thrusting the rod into a pocket. “I’ll let you out as soon as we get there.” And with that he cinched the bag shut.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to no one in particular. He closed his eyes and envisioned the vast metropolis of Yeo, the palatial gardens of the Paladins of Gaebrellan main stronghold, formerly the royal estate. Then, he activated the ring.
When he opened his eyes, the very vision he had seen in his head lay sprawled out before him with one major difference: It was on fire. He stared out at the conflagration for a moment, but then shook his head. “Ten minutes,” he murmured.
He ran to the stronghold. The gates were closed, as usual, but were not guarded, which was strange. Abassi gave the sentry door a pull and it opened without resistance. “Strange,” he murmured to himself, but pushed onward, closing the door behind him. The corridors were dark, but that was not unusual. The odd torch lit the way, which provided just enough light for Abassi to avoid serious injury on the various armor and weapon stands that stood against the walls of the interior.
He wound his way through the labyrinthine hallways until he found the innermost chamber. Inside, a cacophony of voices awaited him. He breathed in a deep sigh, counted to ten, and then pushed the door open. The room quieted as he did so, and the top staff of the Yeonan armies stared at him intently.
Then, the Master of the Paladins of Gaebrellan spoke.
“Abassi Abelo,” the pale man rumbled with his impossibly deep voice. “Have you come to make your report?”
“That treacherous little-” Miles finished his thought out load in the dwarven tongue, cursing vilely.
“Now now, raetin,” said the elderly halfling, sipping his tea. “There is no cause for such language. Adalai, who spoke a small amount of the halfling language, had explained that raetin was not a subtle insult but translated literally to “unusually tall and odiferous” which was the halfling word for “human.”
After their arrival, Miles was too angry to speak, so Gray had explained who they were and why they were there. The halfling druid had released Miles from the vegetation and invited them to tea so they could tell their tale from the beginning.
They had just reached the part where Abassi was supposed to have brought Asha and the Primary Control Rod to this very place when Miles had found his voice again.
“Forgive me,” he growled, sounding not at all apologetic. “But now he could be anywhere…. If only I hadn’t tried to be cleaver and just smashed his face in when I first started suspecting hi m-”
“It is to your credit that you did not,” said the elderly halfling. “It means that you were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, which speaks well of your character. This is the reason I am choosing not to be offended by your anger.”
“But now he’s just gone,” Miles grumbled, trying to rein in his temper. “And we have no way to find him.”
“Actually,” interjected Adalai, “that isn’t true. Remember how I altered the magic aura of the Primary Control Rod?”
“Yes,” Gray replied. “That was brilliant.”
“Well, I didn’t do it to trick you guys, or even Belladonna,” Adalai said. One of the younger halflings shied away from the name and made a protective hand gesture. The elderly halfling glared his protégé, but said nothing.
“Then why did you do it?”
“I did it to mask my arcane mark,” she replied. The elderly druid smiled, then laughed, clapping his hands.
“Apparently I don’t understand the significance. What is an arcane mark?” Gray asked.
“It is a magical signature,” the elderly halfling replied gleefully. “But more importantly, it will allow her to locate the Primary Control Rod without a lengthy search.”
“There is one problem,” Adalai said. “If the PCR is in the bag of holding, I won’t be able to detect it.”
“PCR?” Miles asked, but the elderly halfling ignored him as he pursed his lips.
“That would be an obstacle, yes,” he agreed. “And if he extricated the Rod to turn it over to his masters, he would undoubtedly have killed Asha to procure it.”
Miles bristled once again, clenching his jaw. “Find him. Now.”
Gray put a hand on his arm. “Calm down.”
“No,” Miles replied softly. “If there is one thing I cannot abide, it is treachery. So when we find him, we must go to him. And if he has indeed killed Asha, then I will end his life with extreme prejudice.”
“Yes sir,” Abassi said, keeping his tone even. Four minutes, he thought to himself. “But it is imperative that you tell me one thing first.” Abassi nervously toyed with the ring on his finger.
The man’s flat gray eyes stared into him. “I do not have time for this Abelo. The dragonforged are acting without orders. Make your report and begone!”
“I know they are acting without orders, sir; that is why I am here!” Abassi insisted. “But before I can give you my report, please tell me where the main concentration of the dragonforged forces are.”
The man again stared at him. “You know already? How is that possible?”
“I have it on good authority that Belladonna the Wicked walks among us again. Now please: Where is the main concentration of the dragonforged?”
The man stood and glared. “You will tell me all. Now!”
Abassi felt the man’s will exert itself over his consciousness and fought against it. “Not until you tell me what I want… need to know.”
They stood, staring at each other for a long minute before the Master spoke again. “Fine, but you had better tell me a tale worth hearing or I will have skinned alive. The dragonforged seem to have gathered in what remains of Riverview in Corvan.”
“Thank you,” Abassi said, and activated the ring once again.
“No!” was all the Master of the Paladins of Gaebrellan could say before Abassi winked out of existence.
“There!” exclaimed Adalai. The others crowded over her shoulder, looking into the scrying bowl. They saw nothing but gently rippling water. “I don’t know where that is. Oh wait, he’s just teleported again!”
The elderly halfling imposed himself next to her.
“That is Yeo, the Yeonan capitol.”
“Traitor!” Miles said the word as if it were the vilest curse. “He must have gone there to give the Rod to the Yeonan government.”
“I don’t know,” Adalai said doubtfully.
“Of course he did,” Miles snapped. “Why else would he go there. We’ll have to get it back. The Yeonans cannot be allowed to wield that power.”
“Agreed,” the elderly halfling. “But if you get it, you must destroy it.”
“What?” Miles sounded shocked. “Why would we do that?”
“Because nobody should wield that power, Corvan or Yeona. Promise me you will destroy the Rod when you find it, or I will not send you.”
“I swear it will be done,” Gray said immediately. And then she whacked Miles in the arm. “And so does he.”
Miles sighed. “Fine.”
The elderly halfling nodded. “Then I will send you forthwith, but not without protection.” He reached out and touched them both, murmuring softly in the secret language of the druids. Miles and Gray felt and saw their skin toughen to the consistency of tree bark.
Gray looked down at herself. “This isn’t permanent, right?” she asked with some disgust. The elderly halfling laughed.
“Vain, just like your kin,” he murmured. “No, it is not permanent. Now hold still… this will not be like teleporting, and it will take a little longer.”
He stood back from them and closed his eyes and softly began to sing. Adalai glanced up from the scrying bowl.
“Good luck,” she called. Miles gave her a broad smile.
“Don’t worry, Adalai,” he said. “It’ll be done before you can miss us.”
The ground beneath them suddenly opened up and swallowed them both, closing over their heads. The elderly halfling’s song finished and he looked up and around at Adalai.
“How will they get back?” she asked. The elderly halfling smiled sadly.
Abassi appeared in the tavern where he and Adalai had spent much of their time before the dragonforged attack It was mostly a charred ruin, but three walls still stood, giving him some cover from the street. Which was good, considering the street was filled with dragonforged. He set down the bag of holding and quickly opened it.
Asha gasped for air. “What in the Nine Hells-”
“Sshh!” Abassi hissed. “Sorry for the delay. No time to explain, but we’re in the middle of a city filled with dragonforged. Take this,” he quickly passed something to her through the bag’s opening. “I’m going to leave the bag open just enough that you can get out, but for right now just listen and follow my lead.”
Not giving her time to react, he tightened the bag’s opening to a few inches across and stepped away from it. He took a deep breath, knowing full well it would be one of his last, and stepped out onto the street. A thousand pairs of eyes turned to face him as he held his hand aloft.
“Good afternoon!” he called cheerily, walking into the middle of the street, amidst the dragonforged. “My name is Abassi Abelo and I have the Primary Control Rod in my hand!”
“Don’t move,” came a feminine voice from behind. Abassi froze.
“Take care, Belladonna,” he said carefully. “I have but to give the order.”
“What order could you give that I could not countermand once I’ve killed you and taken the Rod?” Belladonna asked.
“How about ‘self-destruct?’” Abassi inquired smugly.
“The next words out of your mouth will be your last,” Belladonna informed him. “I have an arrow aimed directly at your eye. Your left one, specifically.”
Abassi frowned. “You’re behind me.”
“Ah good, you take my meaning,” she said sweetly and loosed her arrow. The arrow penetrated the back of Abassi’s skull and burst out through his left eye.
To be continued…