Cothram, the 5th Tier [Dark Blade] who the king sent to assassinate me dodged the strike by leaping to the side. The man was agile, I’ll give him that. That wouldn’t save him. When we last met, he destroyed my only couch! I had that couch for seventy-five years! I had been forced to use Mirktallean long chairs! I went couchless because of this miscreant, the rogue, this—this—I couldn’t even think of good insults for the man!
Despite the calls from the others and the pleas from the man, it took me more than an hour of me flying and him dodging for me to calm myself. My spells weren’t trying to kill him, just express my displeasure. When we both finally returned to the festivities, I found that the rest of the party was drinking and laughing in jovial spirits. Seeing them like this brought a smile to my face, and I couldn’t help but be proud of them.
I took time to speak with them all in turn, using the same order that they arrived in to do so. Except for Mena, that is. She had continued to drink and had reached unintelligible gibberish that I simply smiled and nodded at. Leslie proudly shared with me the requirements of her own class, although slaying the avatar of a god was something that I doubted could be easily replicated. Not that I wanted to.
She was the first to detail to me how they traveled north into Mirktal, hiding from bands of slavers, slave-soldiers, and slaver-priests to reach the Cathedral of Binding to stop the ceremony. It made for a harrowing tale of narrow escapes, magical duels, and fortuitous encounters.
Interestingly, she spoke of an attempted raid against one of the Mirktallean wizard towers to gain access to a magical device that would hide them from detection by holy magics, only to find that most of the tower was already defeated and Diedre was in a duel against the current leader of that tower. It struck me as odd the way she described how many apprentices and mages in training they encountered until she mentioned that the mage towers in that country also served as academies of a sort, wherein the pupils were enslaved to the master of the tower.
I abhorred that structure, but was also mildly enticed. Such a method would be much more efficient at dealing with unruly students or those that weren’t putting true effort into learning their craft. After winning the battle, Diedre had not been eager to share the spoils of their victory or join them on their quest until Tond had talked her into it. According to Leslie, Diedre was truly afraid of my wrath at her departure, and only Tond’s promise they would speak to me on her behalf swayed her mind.
Meathead had also ascended to the 5th Tier, and classed up from [Champion of Bi] to [Chosen of Bi], something I noted for future reference, but he couldn’t clearly articulate what that truly meant other than he was now best friends with his new “boss”. He had been busy speaking with Rolf and Rolf’s new bride. I avoided an in-depth conversation on either matter, as I felt apprehensive enough in garnering the attention of other gods, nor did I have much to say on child-rearing. Instead, I prodded him more on an offhanded remark about a freed slave named Qultan who had joined them only to die happily flinging himself on the god’s avatar as a distraction.
My former guard, Tond, had also ascended from his 3rd Tier class [Elemental Archer] to a 4th Tier [Elite Elemental Archer], and then again to [Elite Elemental Archer Captain], as he specialized in the planning and execution of their great adventures. He and Diedre were standing before a group of Froom’s mages, all women, who seemed to be paying more attention to Tond than was normal. I first suspected some kind of charm artifact or skill, but as I listened to him speak more about several parts of the adventure that seemed very unlikely to occur, I concluded it was just a natural charisma.
Diedre apologized profusely for her departure, but I waved the matter off. In comparison to a lost couch, it was a tiny slight. I did use her guilt to get her to agree to share any of the 5th Tier mysteries she had gained during her departure, something she was all too willing to do. I willingly accepted her return, after that.
[High Priestess] Shaelra was more radiant than I remembered and exuded such a calming and peaceful presence, I ended up speaking with her the longest. She was still concerned about the orphans and her sisters she’d left behind, eager to catch up with both. Moreso, she detailed the many trespasses against family and love that she observed amongst the slaves of Mirktal and was eager to spread the news across her church that their presence was needed now by those lost souls.
Eventually, though, as the party stretched into the night and many began to go their separate ways for the evening, I found myself standing in front of Cothram. At first, he refused to meet my gaze. Then he shriveled before it. Without speaking a word, a tense silence grew between us that slowly spread out into the crowd. Eventually, he found his courage.
“I apologize. I—I will replace your couch.”
I raised an eyebrow.
I tilted my head forward.
“…Three couches…?” he asked hesitantly.
My brows furrowed.
“Four—no—five couches! I will bring you five couches to replace the one you lost.”
I snorted. “I lost?”
“That I destroyed.”
I nodded my head once. After my answer, not only he, but several more around us seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and the party continued after as if nothing had happened, and lasted long past when I retired.
The next morning, we regathered downstairs in a much more subdued atmosphere. The other revelers were nowhere to be seen, and only a few hungover servants lethargically served us leftovers from the feast.
I hadn’t slept that past evening, rather I spent my time enchanting new gifts for Leslie’s group. What had begun with the idea that I needed to give her something to celebrate not just her victory in the task I had given her but also a way of acknowledging she was beyond the realm of serving in an assistant position had expanded to include the other members. The consideration that Meathead might feel a childlike disappointment at not having a gift either, had then expanded to Mena and then Tond.
Before I knew it, I had crafted for them seven different items of profound and unique powers. For Leslie, who skipped over the [Elementalist] class during her adventures, I crafted a warstaff of mithril with a four-prong top shaped like how I envisioned a dragon’s claw might look. Each finger of the four in the claw was shaped from head-sized gemstones that belonged to each of the major elements with 3rd Tier elementals summoned to serve within. The base of the claw wasn’t a gem itself, but rather the cage around one of the dungeon cores I had gathered on my travels.
I was so satisfied with how I made the warstaff, that I made a second for myself and secreted it away in my Magic Bag. I don’t think any mage had ever received a staff this powerful before as a gift, and I suspected that it was the type of artifact that would stand the test of time to maybe one day become one of the ancient weapons that noble houses held in their vaults. That idea didn’t leave me pleased, but I couldn’t very easily control what Leslie chose to do with it after I gifted it to her. It was already bad enough that I secretly hid spellwork inside to ensure that it couldn’t ever be used against me.
Meathead’s gift was easier to construct, even if I had to discreetly measure the man’s head while he slept. Another head-sized crystal, this one solely of emerald to match the ring he possessed, would summon a 3rd Tier earth elemental shaped like a stone bull as tall as a tree. I hoped that the god Bi wasn’t affronted in that I had taken liberties with the shape of the animal’s head to enlarge the horns and give it an angry look, but I reasoned that if the bull was summoned it wouldn’t be for a parade.
Mena was a bit trickier to create a unique artifact for. I had known her for a while, but she had made some significant changes in her life since the quest began. The first being, that as I observed her throughout the evening, I found that her inebriated state was an act. One that came to light in the small hours of the morning after the party had ended and she snuck off to see her friend Michael who was now one of my head guards.
I had watched them carefully with a scrying spell when she left, fearing that she too might be plotting against me or spying as Rhaela had only to discover that she had a secret deal with the man to ensure I was protected. The entire conversation caught me off guard, but when their rendezvous turned in a romantic direction, I stopped my observation. I wasn’t certain why she felt the need to pretend to be drunk, but I wouldn’t pry any further.
For Mena, though, only when I cast analyze on her did I find that she had ascended from her previous [Elemental Guardian] to a sword and shield combat style that was a 4th Tier [Elemental Vanguard]. I don’t know why only she of all the others wasn’t at the fifth tier, but again it wasn’t my position to pry. Instead, I took the shield she had left on the first floor when she snuck her way out to the guardhouse and constructed one from mithril with an inner base of sapphire.
With it, I summoned a 3rd tier elemental that would take the form of either a wall of ice or a wave of water. It wouldn’t offer any powerful offense, but it might save her life. On the handle of the shield, I also snuck in several rings that could be used to cast Rock Armor, though they were of finite uses. I also, somewhat shamelessly, engraved the image of my tower onto the front.
For the [High Priestess], who I assumed would turn down anything too ostentatious and gift it to her church instead, I took several small beads of moonstone onto a necklace and wove in enchantments that would allow her to summon illusionary birds of light once a day, or twice at night provided it had access to moonlight. It wasn’t something that could necessarily function as anything more than a brief distraction in battle, but it would pair well with any religious ceremonies that she might undertake.
Tond’s gift was a circlet, similar to a crown with small topazes embedded around it. I made it from normal copper, as the man’s grandstanding was already at a barely-tolerable level. Gifting him a crown fit for a king might push him beyond what anyone could stand. The stones in this circlet had summoned air elementals that would carry whispered words to anyone nearby, something I assumed would be of great use to a captain.
Diedre I almost didn’t craft anything for. She had already slighted me once, and I felt hesitant to allow her the opportunity to do so again. Yet, the opportunity to tie a scrying spell onto her gift in case she vanished again was too much to let pass. Rather than craft anything for her, though, I simply selected an old grimoire from my library that detailed several unusual 4th Tier [Pyromancer] spells and rituals. I no longer had a use for it other than the novelty, and illusionary fires were not something that would be of any risk to me or others.
Cothram’s gift was almost haphazardly crafted. A part of me felt that until he provided the couches promised, that he was still courting death. Another part of me reasoned that I already had more than enough couches in my sitting room and truly didn’t have space for more. A third part of me recognized the role he played in their adventure—that of using the holy artifact I had provided to stab the god’s avatar in the back when they nearly lost the battle. An enormous risk to himself, entirely selflessly made, that proved to be the difference between success and failure.
That particular holy spike, of course, was destroyed in the process, but I was glad to not have it returned to me. Beyond the hesitation to make him something unique as a reward was also the fact that I truly didn’t know the man. I didn’t know his likes or dislikes. I didn’t know what magical items he already possessed from his adventures. I didn’t want to gift him something like a magical cloak when he already had one, or an enchanted dagger he might be tempted to try to stab me in the back with.
In the end, I used a piece of amber to craft a belt buckle. It would only summon a 2nd Tier nature elemental in the forms of either entangling vines or a flower that sprayed sleeping pollen, but—given the elemental’s duplicitous nature—I thought it a fitting gift for the man.
It was as I stood in front of the mostly attentive eyes of my sleepy guests, gifts readied in my Magical Bag, that I realized I hadn’t prepared a proper speech. My mouth twisted in a grimace. I had been irritated at their lack of courtesy last evening, and now found myself tired, grumpy, and about to present gifts to them without any ceremony.
It was at that moment, I turned to see my former assistant, Alderman Kine enter and give me a bow.
“Lord Fargus, the children are ready,” he said the words nervously and followed with an awkward bow.
“Yes, Master. I spoke to you before about this. I had hoped they had forgotten, but the festival yesterday reminded them.”
“Reminded them that they wanted to present to you a hat.”
I recoiled at his words, remembering a hat that was crafted by orphans that not even monsters would wear. I, too, had forgotten their intentions in the midst of experimenting. I couldn’t keep the apprehension from my voice, “I—I see…”
Behind me, I heard Mena chuckle. “This I hafta see.”