Minnow contemplated the whip fastened to her belt with distaste, personally she couldn’t conceive of a more useless weapon for a sea elf. It would be totally useless underwater, but she had to admit Mother had read the drow correctly; they were all admiration for a goddess that issued such a cruel weapon as the demarcating symbol of her priests and priestesses.
Then there was this pretend firewagon, this, what had Mother called it, oh yes a ‘IAG Armored Anti-Riot Truck’. And it had ample room for twelve. Well maybe not ample. Compared to a firewagon it was heavily armoured, fast, quiet and the rapid-fire gun in the turret on the roof was already beloved by the drow.
Silver-Blade the ambassador and his aunt the priestess knew they were being insulted by the Council not offering them transportation and an honour guard but it tickled their fancy to use the Balancer’s gift as it was so much better than any firewagon they had ever heard of.
Then they were being presented to the Fordoran brothers, Magister Kee-an the first councillor and head of state and Kee-a-ran the high priest of Holistos the Tinkerer. Standing among the witnesses was Wingfane Hazel of the wood elves. Minnow could feel his incredulous eyes on her.
The ceremony was brief; Silver-Blade’s credentials were presented and accepted. Honeyed barbs and insincere smiles were exchanged. Then they all retired to the ballroom for refreshments and mingling.
“Excuse me lady Delphine, may I ask how you ended up the priestess of the Balancer?” asked Wingfane quietly.
Minnow regarded him with a smile. “She chose me. I had no say in the matter, but then she is and was a Sea Goddess before she woke the Spider Queen and became the Balancer.”
Wingfane looked shocked. “You’ve actually met...”
= = O = =
“The Queen of Hearts Inn you say, humph, I’ve never heard of it.” Daaras Bolgrado sighed feeling much put upon, “Very well Clerk, arrange for one of the firewagons to be made ready. Be sure to fetch all relevant documents and agreements, and alert the on duty truth reader.”
Clerk XIX bowed low and restrained himself to a curt “Yes sir.”
Daaras Bolgrado was feeling distinctly annoyed as he clambered into the chuffing firewagon. He had better things to do than chase after self-important would be adventurers. It had taken Clerk XIX hours of valuable time to track down this irritating woman. The city’s agreement with the useless guild was clear. They should always have a guild master and assistant guild master available for emergencies.
Daaras smiled sourly to himself as he settled himself on one of the comfortable leather covered seats. The agreement he had with Bartold Kennings was profitable, but he hadn’t counted on the man’s insatiable greed. Not paying the woman had been an error. He sneered with contempt. But then who would have expected an otherwise competent mage and city councillor like Rufus Calitroglia to loose control of a new dungeon. He smiled, mind you Calitroglia’s potential heirs were already sniffing around, if he played his cards right it could be very profitable.
The Queen of Hearts Inn turned out to located near the East Gate. It had obviously been recently built as the blank exterior was designed with the prevalent fog in mind. It even had adjustable airlocks to allow its guests to step from a modern firewagon in complete comfort while avoiding letting the firewagons into the pleasant gardens in the central courtyard. Daaras found himself taking note of the more practical points of the design.
The lobby was comfortable. Nice if rather understated and the staff was odd. They seemed all to be dogmen of some breed he was unfamiliar with. “Clerk, what type of dogs are these?”
“I find out sir,” replied Clerk XIX. He bowed respectfully to Daaras, then he made his way to the reception desk whilst his master gazed around disdainfully.
Clerk XIX was soon back, accompanied by one of the inns footmen. “Sir, a meeting has been booked, with suitable refreshments. Mage Cinders Lockdown is being informed, and the dogmen are of the coonhound breeds.”
“This way gentlemen, pray follow me,” said the slightly mournful looking footman. They were shortly ushered into a comfortable room with a view of the central garden. A pair of waters arrived on their heels with refreshments, which were set out on the scattered tables. Daaras, while not showing it was impressed.
About fifteen minutes later, which proved to be more than sufficient time to irritate Daaras, Cinders entered the room. She regarded Daaras and the truth reader with a raised eyebrow.
Daaras Bolgrado leaned back in his chair, “Mage Cinders, I am the assistant to the minister of public order. I am here because the council is unhappy with the performance of the Adventurer’s Guild. The council has allowed the guild to continue to exist in return for certain considerations.”
“So? I don’t see what that has to do with me anymore,” stated Cinders.
“You are the designated second in command of the guild for a very good reason mage Cinders.”
“Not any longer. By not paying me for three months that contract lapsed. It is no longer valid. I am now the well paid bodyguard of Rich Burton. Paid in advance at that.”
“The city has an agreement with guild master Kennings, and yourself. We need a competent adventurer to lead the effort to subdue the dungeon.”
Cinders leant against the wall by the door. She looked down at the seated Daaras. She noted the clerk was taking notes at one of the tables. The truth seeker had been the only one to rise to his feet when she entered.
“Your agreement was dependant on my being paid. I wasn’t. For three months at that. It is no longer valid.”
“The city has paid Kennings every month. The city is not at fault.” Snapped Daaras.
“The city did not ensure I got paid. The contract has lapsed. Make use of Kennings, he’s the acting guild master, not me. I’m just the bodyguard of a foreign noble.”
Daaras snorted. “Bartold Kennings has proved himself to be, less than successful. The city needs the Arena of Blood subdued. It is willing to pay you a substantial bonus to undertake the task you are in any case contractually bound to do.”
“That’s a nasty little contract you have there. I never signed it. And anyway by not paying me for three months it is not valid. I will not help you with your little problem. I do hope you are aware the local guild just doesn’t have the resources to subdue any but the weakest of dungeons.”
Daaras glared at the truth reader who just spread his hands. “She believes what she said to be true boss.” Clerk XIX looked up from his notes briefly then looked down again.
Cinders smiled sweetly at Daaras. “I can not say it has been pleasant to meet you Bolgrado. In fact I find your company to be unpleasant. So I’ll leave you and hope we never meet again.”
Cinders opened the door and left.
Daaras glared at the closed door, then he glared at his truth seeker. “What good are you? Anyway I can always say what I want and you will keep your mouth shut. Understand!”
“Err... She works for a truth reader. Um,” Diretus Folgadus squeaked looking worried.
Darras gave his truth reader a disgusted look, then said, “Be back at the firewagon in about three hours, now I’m here I might as well go and have lunch.” And Daaras stamped out fuming leaving Clerk XIX and the truth reader behind.
= = O = =
Captain Bordal Vitrius was conning the Silver Sparrow as they rose above Conimbriga. His passengers had come abroad shortly after dawn. They had arrived in a strange looking firewagon that seemed to lack a chimney and was being driven by a grinning drow.
Bordal nerved himself and asked for half ahead. He staggered back two steps as the Silver Sparrow accelerated rapidly. Cursing at the incompetence of his new engineer he rand for quarter speed. What was the stupid aggravating wolf man up to?
Muttering under his breath Bordal asked for a further reduction in speed. The big props at the ends of their outriggers turned smoothly and he strained his eyes while Gutripper kept an eye on the radar screen that was now mounted next to the wheel.
“Careful captain, this thing says there is a flyer dead ahead.”
Bordal found it hard to believe that anything could see through the fog but just in case he edged the Silver Sparrow to one side. And sure enough one of Conimbriga’s patrol flyers showed up just where the radar contraption said it would. He eyed the blocky looking pedestal speculatively. If it proved reliable it could massively increase their security.
“Anything ahead of us Dercat?”
“Not according to this captain.”
“Time to see how the new engines and rig perform.” Bordal rang for full ahead, and the Silver Sparrow jumped forward as her props whined. The city’s patrol flyer seemed to vanish as they shot forward. Bordal gazed in shock at his speedometer as the needle jumped and hit the limit. They were exceeding eighty knots and they were still picking up speed.
With a shaking hand Bordal moved the engine room telegraph to cruising speed and noticed the sound of the props ease slightly but his speedometer continued jammed against the stops. “Blimey Dercat, this is unbelievable. Those weedy looking engines... Wow!”
“Charlie did tell me he thought our standard cruising speed would be something in excess of a hundred and fifty knots. Now I believe him. We need to get an engineer that can tolerate Charlie for him to train. No way can we let those boilers go.” Dercat Gutripper examined the radar repeater, “Selford is coming up captain.”
= = O = =
Rich leant against the rails next to Minnow as they gazed down at the rolling sea below. This far from the shore the air was mostly clear. They had passed over a handful of barren looking sandy islands an hour ago. Rich could make out a vast ring where the sea looked lighter.
“This is the place Rich. Under the surface there is a vast ring of mountains that fail to break the surface. Many of the peaks come to about fifty yards from the surface. As you can see they form a circle about fifty miles across.” Minnow looked down with longing. “We are not really that far from my original home now. We could visit couldn’t we?”
“Yes Minnow, we could and we will. But first let us go down and see how Mother likes this place.”
* * *
Captain Bordal Vitrius watched bemused as his employer and the elf girl stripped down to virtually nothing and dived into the trackless sea. He had tried to see what was so important about this tractless bit of ocean but hadn’t been able to.
The elf carver had followed his employer into the sea. “Tell me Gree— Eldaan, what are we doing here?” Bordal looked closely at the youth. “You have changed kid, you look well.”
“Yes captain. The goddess fixed me. She assures me I’m going to have a human lifespan now. You can see I’m less green, and taller. The Mother of Monsters is a sea goddess first and the balancer second. Minnow and the Boss are here to see if this spot will suit her.”
Bordal cocked his head to one side. “Huh. And how long are they going to remain under the sea?”
“As long as they want. Didn’t you note their gills?” grinned Eldaan.
“We serve a sea goddess, are gills that strange?” laughed Eldaan.
Bordal decided to take a quick stroll around his deck grumbling all the while.
* * *
Minnow and Rich reached the floor of the huge crater. The sea tasted sour to Rich. They regarded their talisman. Looked each other in the eye and evoked it. Slowly a shimmering surrounded the talisman and a portal formed.
Jerica darted through. She clearly didn’t appreciate the taste of the water. Jerica placed a small diamond in a patch of sand and concentrated. Rich soon felt Mary’s domain sweep over him. He relaxed and smiled. Merrow felt herself relax.
Mary and Mary spent the energy they had been stockpiling and spread their domain widely. Even as Rich and Minnow swam slowly towards the surface they could feel the water being partially cleansed and various monsters swam through the portal by the anchor point of this new extension of Blue Lagoon.
The surface was choked by a mass of plankton and other microscopic plants and animals.