The slightly ephemeral figure looks over my shoulder at Kargat and makes a “tsk” noise. “Really? You brought the brat with you?”
“Hey, he probably saved my life after I got taken by that cult… I owe him one,” I reply without skipping a beat.
“Is he real?” asks Kargat in a whisper to me.
“Of course I’m real… I’m just dead, you moron!” shouts Theridon.
“Then how are you here?” asks Kargat.
“Good question,” I add. “For that matter… what’s so blasted important about getting Constance to the Castle at the End of Time? Why is everyone trying to kill us to stop it?”
Theridon to all of us and then back to me. “If Constance achieves her inheritance, it’s going to put a snag in the well-laid plans of many a fiend that have been put into motion. And… you all should get used to calling each other ‘Cousin.’”
“Doesn’t explain the Harmonium,” I say. “Why would they want to stop us?”
“Because they are a rogue splinter group for hire, and not official representatives of the Harmonium.”
“Crooked cops… ok I can buy that. What do you mean about the ‘cousin’ thing, though? I mean… other than the obvious.”
“Constance’s grandfather, Ionius, was originally from Karigmoor… his daughter, however, liked to explore jungle areas and married a Jaguar Knight from Maztica… and they happened to have a child that became an Oracle and travelled the stars.” Constance’s eyes light up with the information as he continues. “Ionius’s sister, however, dallied with fiends.”
“Ah crap… I see where this is going.” I say as I run a hand down the side of my face and sigh.
“Oh it gets better,” Theridon grins. He walks to the door and leans out to holler. “Anika! Bring in the sack!”
Illustration by Syreene
A red-headed tiefling with curving horns on the sides of her head comes trotting in wearing a hide coat and towing a large sack over her shoulder. Theridon takes the bag and reaches into it before preceding to hand out magical items to each of us.
“You need to find the Silver Sword of Fedefensor in order to get to the Castle at the End of Time… and it was last seen in Baetor after the paladin who had it got mugged in Sigil. These Rings of Fire Resistance and that staff of Spell Storing should help you on your journey. In the meantime, I’ll charter your ship and keep it safe.”
Wait… wait…could this be the same impending doom that we were warned about when we visited Area 51? They told us we’d need the sword too…
“I still don’t get why you’re helping us. What’s in this for you?” I ask suspiciously. “As far as I know you could be sending us on a wild goose chase in order to get us killed on purpose!”
“Let’s just say I have a lot to make up for,” replies Theridon.
“Yeah… doesn’t answer my question,” I mutter to myself.
Theridon bends over and pulls another weapon out of his sack… this one giving off a strange aura that I just can’t seem to place as he tosses back and forth from hand to hand. It’s almost like the mace leaves trace images as it moves…
“You’ll find this Impossible Mace to be fairly useful and essential.” He tosses it into the air and it lands pointing straight up and now solid on the floor.
Hodey’s eyes light up. “When it strikes it has the potential to hit the same subject/object multiple times in multiple realities!”
“It’s also a very important key to certain locks that you will recognize when you see them.”
“I think I’ll keep a hold of that one,” says Constance as she picks up the mace lovingly.
“That’s going to be like painting a big target on your back,” warns Hodey. “People are going to want that rare item.”
“It will go well with the target she’s already wearing on her front thanks to her relatives,” I reply with a wry grin.
“I’m still not sure how I feel about this,” Constance states as Theridon and Anika finish handing out scrolls and various magical items to the group. “I’m the long-lost granddaughter of some mystical time wizard in a castle at the end of time? It sounds a little far-fetched to me.”
“No more so than the rest of what’s been going on…” I mutter as I scan a scroll of spells regarding Psionics. What have we gotten ourselves into?
“Deliver this letter to the address on the back at the docks,” Theridon continues as he hands an envelope to Constance. “They will provide security for your ship and keep an eye on things while you’re gone.”
As I look up from my scroll and Hodey fiddling with a set of tools that make me shudder, I can’t help but notice a trickle of sweat running down Theridon’s temple.
“Tell me…” I ask quietly. “What would make a supposedly dead person sweat?”
“YOU try this sometime lady… it’s not easy!” he grunts before pointing at the mace tied to Constance’s belt. “Now don’t lose that thing… it’s an important portal key that you’re going to need. Go to Ribcage and seek Tonat Shard of the Harmonium… he will help you with your next step in your quest.” He turns and points to Wayland, who until now had been sitting quietly in a corner and nursing his ale. “You…your Uncle Oswald wants you to know… if you fuck this up, he’s not paying for the ship.” Everyone is so caught up in the rarity of seeing a Giff blush that we miss Theridon fading out completely.
“Well then… what’s in the other scrolls he gave you, Constance?” I ask as I roll up mine and slip it into my pouch.
“Oh my… this looks like a map of Scro conquests as well as The Radiant Triangle!”
“Fantastic… he’s putting us in the middle of an intergalactic war!” I moan.
“You’ve got no idea, sweetling…” Anika smiles as she walks past me to…wait a minute… did she just pat me on the head?!? My braid lashes out around her hand with a whip-crack and pulls her wrist behind her back as I snarl into her ear.
She chuckles and I let her go before stomping off to my room to check my wards and gather my equipment. I wonder how a lightning spell will work in my new magical staff? It’s definitely worth a shot…
“Now remember, magic operates differently in Hell,” Anika warns the group as I come out again. “Summons requires elaborate binding rituals, and divinations…”
“Always give you bad news. You know… because you’re in Hell,” I snort. “Don’t forget to exchange any gold you want to take for bribes (and you WILL need it) into gemstones. They don’t have much use for gold, and trading in silver is taken as an insult.”
As we head down the gangplank we’re greeted by a squad of Dwarven warriors, one of whom steps up and eagerly shakes the hand of Wayland before saluting and getting back in formation.
“Well… looks like I’m staying here with my new squad,” Wayland says sheepishly to Constance.
“I couldn’t trust the ship to better hands, my friend,” Constance smiles as she pats the Giff on the shoulder. “Take care of it and be safe.”
That gives me an idea… “Hey Kargat… considering there’s a bounty on my head in Ribcage after what happened to mother… maybe you should stay too. I wouldn’t want harm to befall you just because of me.”
“If you’re sure, cousin… I will stay and help the others defend this ship till the end.”
“Indeed… I hope it won’t be necessary… but better safe than sorry.” I turn to the others and pull out what looks like a piece of coal from one of my pouches. “Now you’re going to need one of these to get into Ribcage…”
“Good news, everyone!” I announce as we meet up at the Singing Sword in Sigil. “I sent out some inquiries and found out that there’s a particularly stubborn spice merchant named Dermot who has been trying to get trade permits so he can get into Dis. He’s currently holed up in Ribcage… so we could probably get hooked up with one of his caravans as an excuse to be travelling around Hell.
“Sounds like as good as a plan as any,” Constance replies as a large Troll-like woman opens up a door and hand a bone key to Hodey. We follow him up the stairs where it opens up into a room with a particularly nice (and shimmering) window frame.
“Are you sure we can’t prepare in Sigil longer?” asks Constance as she bites her lip.
“Time’s a wastin’,” Hodey replies as he uses the key and activates the portal.
“Whoever said you can’t go home again… they lied.” I mutter as we walk the half mile trudge up to the gate of Ribcage. Twelve bodies hang from chains with signs around their neck… and I can’t help but smirk as I read one signifying a hapless soul who told Sergeant Brusstuckle that his buttons looked tarnished. Brusstuckle was such an ass to me and my mother when we were growing up… the bastard deserves every insult they can throw at them before their eternal torment.
“Katya…if I could have a moment…” Annika steps up to me and looks at me with a sad expression. “Is it… is it true about Magda? Is she really dead?”
“She disappeared not long after that fateful day…” I reply as I activate my Chameleon Ring and disguise myself as a blonde demoness with curved ram horns. “I suggest that you make your last name disappear too… at least while we’re in Ribcage.”