Several days had passed since the hobgoblin had rejoined Herad’s band. He’d spent most that time lying around, healing, and stuffing his face with food.
It was just after noon and the roads were crowded. Crowds of of bustling people were everywhere, so Blacknail wore his long dark brown cloak. With the hood up it completely concealed his form, and prevented him from drawing unwanted attention. The two of them still got the occasional second glance though. They made for an odd looking pair.
Mahedium was dressed up to impress. He wore a set of fine clothes including a red shirt with long loose sleeves. He had also shaved and gotten a haircut, which made him look much different than the disheveled and distracted man he usually seemed to be. Most importantly, he wore several pouches around his waist, and was carrying his staff.
Even though everyone on the street was armed, and half of them were thieves and killers, no one bothered them. A mage was more than the nearby thugs and pickpockets were willing to tangle with, and they didn’t know what to make of Blacknail.
The crowds grew thinner as they neared the Central Quarter of the city. The border was obvious in the daytime, but Blacknail had only been here at night before. Not only were the houses larger and better maintained there, but there were far less people on the street.
Several men with helmets who were holding long spears and wearing steel breastplates watched everyone who passed. Their choice of equipment made them stand out. Spears and shiny metal weren’t popular with most the other humans in the city, probably because they made it harder to run away.
The metal wearing humans didn’t stop anyone from passing into the Central Quarter, but only a few people seemed to want to walk past them anyway.
Blacknail noticed that the shiny men got a lot of hostile looks from other people on the street. Even though they were badly outnumbered by the nearby crowds no one tried to start anything, though. Obviously, the spearmen weren’t very popular, but they were respected warriors nonetheless.
As they were walking Mahedium turned to Blacknail, and pointed at the steel clad humans.
“Those are the Governor’s men, and we’re entering his territory. He allows anyone entry, but they have to obey his rules. Mostly, they involve keeping the streets orderly and clear. Stick by me, and don’t draw attention to us,” the mage told the hobgoblin.
Blacknail gave the mage an annoyed glare. That had been his plan anyway. He had obviously been doing that the entire way here, so why did Mahedium feel the need to mention it? Humans, other than his master, must just really like to hear themselves talk.
As they crossed the border Mahedium started to look nervous. He was very obviously staring at the guards out of the corner of his eye, and he’d grown twitchy. Blacknail on the other hand just strolled casually by; he didn’t see a reason to be nervous. There were already plenty of humans around, and these were just a few more.
The mage and the hobgoblin made it past the Governor’s men unimpeded; the spearmen didn’t try to stop them. As they headed deeper into the inner part of the city the houses and buildings began to get larger and fancier.
There were noticeably less people out and about as well. The humans here were better dressed, but the occasional group of thugs and miscreants still could be seen wandering around. The crowds were also quieter, and there was a lot less shouting.
As Blacknail observed the surroundings, a patrol of half a dozen of the armored men from before came down the street. These ones had swords instead of spears, but they were obviously from the same tribe as the border guards.
“We should be near the right place. Keep a look out for any signs that mention our destination,” Mahedium told the hobgoblin as they walked.
“I can’t do-ss the reading thing,” Blacknail pointed out.
“Ah, of course you can’t. I should have realized that; you’ve obviously never had a chance to learn. Maybe I’ll teach you the basics sometime,” Mahedium replied as he looked around.
Blacknail snorted. Why would he want to learn to read anyway? All his time was spent doing chores and learning useful things, like cooking and sword fighting. There were so many things he had to practice already. Reading seemed useless to him anyway; he would be better off burning books for warmth, or clubbing people over the head with them.
“Ah, there it is,” Mahedium exclaimed as he pointed to a building up ahead of them.
It was a large mansion surrounded by a wrought iron fence. The inner section of the city was where all the larger and better maintained homes were located, which in Daggerpoint just meant they were more than one story and weren’t in immediate danger of falling down.
This home however looked to be in good repair. There wasn’t a single shingle missing from the roof. The only obvious flaw was that the grounds were overgrown, but the fact it had grounds at all was impressive. Most the other buildings just had a large patch of mud out front.
The yard behind the iron fence had several large trees scattered across it. A long wild looking row of hedges ran along the path; up from the gate to the front door of the residence. There were also a few overgrown flower beds full of weeds. All the unkempt greenery cast a lot of shadows in the afternoon sun, and gave the building a sinister air.
Blacknail barely gave the house and yard a second glance though; his attention was focused on the large rough looking man standing on the other side of the gate. He had a sword at his hip and a mean look in his eyes that reminded Blacknail of the more dangerous bandits from Herad’s band. The man was without a doubt an experienced killer, and not one of the Governor’s men.
The hobgoblin eyed him carefully as he and the mage approached, and he couldn’t help but growl softly. The fact that such a human was being used as a guard made him more than a little uneasy. The owner of the house wasn’t messing around when it came to security.
The guard wasn’t looking their way, but Blacknail wasn’t fooled. He could tell by the man’s posture and movements that he’d noticed the two of them approaching. The man was good… not great, but still good. Mahedium didn’t seem to notice Blacknail’s concern, because he walked right up to the man and announced himself.
“I’m Mahedium Loggart and I have an appointment with your master. As per the agreement I have come armed and with one escort,” the mage declared confidently.
The guard gave Mahedium and Blacknail a brief look over. His stare was intense, but also indifferent at the same time. Blacknail had to stifle another growl; the man’s condescending attitude raised his hackles.
Without a word the man then stepped over and unlocked the gate, before throwing it open.
“Enter,” he told them emotionlessly.
Mahedium hesitated and an uneasy look flashed across his face. He was clearly thrown a little off balance by the guard’s attitude. After a few seconds though, he unfroze and walked through the gate. The hobgoblin shadowed him closely while keeping careful watch on the guard. He already didn’t like this place.
“He certainly wasn’t a cheery fellow. The master of this abode should really consider getting some friendlier staff. There’s something to be said for basic courtesy after all,” the mage muttered as he walked up the path to the house. “Why would anyone want such inhuman thugs around?”
Blacknail met Mahedium’s gaze. The mage blinked and stared at the hobgoblin for a second before sighing.
“Right, never mind,” he then muttered to himself.
The hedge loomed to their right as they approached the end of the path. When they got to the entrance Mahedium knocked politely. It was a massive wooden double doors. Almost immediately they began to swing open. The mage looked nervously through the entranceway. Another guard similar to the first one stood on the other side, and had opened the doors.
“Please take a seat,” he told them before stepping aside.
The room on the other side was huge and dark. It was two stories tall and large enough to fit dozens of people. A pair of staircases ran up the walls on either side of the room, and led to the second floor. The windows were few in number however, and had curtains on them that blocked the light. As a result, the corners of the room were dim and shadowy.
Mahedium threw Blacknail a nervous glance, but the hobgoblin just shrugged. The mage had been the one that had wanted to come here, and hobgoblins could see in the dark. With another sigh Mahedium stepped into the house.
“A flair for the dramatic is pretty common in mages, but this seems like overkill, even to me,” he muttered to himself.
Plush red furniture lined the room, including several couches and chairs, so Mahedium headed for the nearest set and sat down. Blacknail sat down beside him, in a chair that was as comfy as it was ornate and red.
Just as he was settling down, a casual breath brought an unexpected scent with it. The building smelled of human blood. Not just one person either, but many different humans. Blacknail was unsure of what to make of it, so he decided to ask.
The hobgoblin casually leaned over towards his companion, and whispered in his ear.
“It smells of human-ss blood here. Many different people-ss,” Blacknail told the mage.
Mahedium looked rather uncomfortable and wary of having Blacknail so close, but after the hobgoblin finished speaking his eyes narrowed and he frowned uneasily. He appeared to be thinking something over.
“It’s probably nothing; don’t worry about it,” the mage replied after a few seconds.
Blacknail shrugged and sat back down in his chair. He could tell the mage wasn’t being entirely forthcoming, and was somewhat concerned about something, but he didn’t really care. It was probably just some pointless human thing anyway.
After a few minutes of waiting for something to happen Mahedium began to scowl impatiently, and Blacknail grew bored. The hobgoblin could only amuse himself by examining the contents of the room for so long.
The guard by the door was particularly boring, as all he did was stare straight ahead. The hobgoblin was tempted to throw something at him, just to see what would happen. He doubted Mahedium would approve though.
Blacknail shifted restlessly in his seat. At least the chair he was sitting in was very comfy. As he moved the plush cushions made him spring up into the air slightly. He smiled at the unusual sensation, and did it again on purpose.
Soon the bored hobgoblin was bouncing up and down on the chair and snickering to himself in amusement. The chair was just so soft and springy! He needed to find a chair like this to borrow when no one was using it, or around to see him.
Blacknail’s antics finally caused the man by the door to turn towards the visitors. He began scowling at the hobgoblin in annoyance, and with more than a little disbelief. Mahedium noticed as well.
“Stop that, it’s impolite. Just sit still,” he whispered to Blacknail.
The hobgoblin sighed but did as he’d been told; it had been getting old anyway. Once Blacknail had settled down, they only had to wait a few more minutes for their host to arrive. A set of doors across the room were thrown open and two men stepped out.
The first was an older man, even older than Saeter. He wore immaculate black clothing with silver lining, was bald, and sported a neatly trimmed short white beard. His face was wrinkled with age, but his eyes were sharp and his movements swift and full of purpose.
Behind him came another man who looked to be another one of the house’s guards. Like the others he was a large man with a cold focused stare. He also wore the same black and grey uniform. Blacknail could tell by the warrior’s body language that he was subordinate to the white haired elder.
The pair quickly crossed the floor of the room, and drew near their guests. Mahedium politely rose to meet them and Blacknail followed suit, mostly because it made it easier for him to fight or flee.
As the mage stepped forward the hobgoblin fell in behind him in mimicry of the old man’s guard. By doing so he made his role obvious, and was thus much more likely to be overlooked.
“Welcome, you must be Mahedium. Thank you for waiting. I simply had some other business I had to attend to. I’m known as Master Avolus, and that is how you may address me,” the older man told the mage.
He then reached out and extended a white gloved hand. After a second of hesitation Mahedium extended his own arm and they shook hands.
“Ah, it’s a pleasure to meet you Master Avolus. Pardon me, but you must be the mage I corresponded with, then?” Mahedium asked respectfully.
“Indeed I am. I must say that I’m also glad to meet you. It’s been a while since I’ve had an opportunity to converse with a colleague. Rogue mages with an interest in thaumaturgic research are very rare. The guilds are usually very successful in weeding us out, and of course they’re not the only ones who benefit from monopolizing magical knowledge,” Avolus said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
Mahedium’s eyes narrowed slightly at the other man’s words and tone. They were more than a little suspicious, and Blacknail was sure he detected a hint of threat in them.
“Yes well, I’m a skilled combat mage with quite a few powerful crystals at my disposal. I could show them to you if you like. I was also very lucky in coming across Mistress Herad, and in being allowed to join her band. In fact she expressed interest in this visit herself, and wanted me to tell her all about it as soon as I got back,” Mahedium replied dryly.
“Well then I’d better be on my best behavior, I’d hate for her to think badly of me,” the older man said with a faint smile.
Blacknail didn’t like the older man’s grin. He looked like he knew some secret joke no one else was aware of. The hobgoblin hated not getting a joke.
He also didn’t like what the body language of the old man’s guard was telling him. The huge thug’s face was calm and unreadable, but his posture betrayed his contempt for his master’s guests. Yet, the bodyguard was also looked ready to act at anytime, as if he expected a fight of some sort to break out.
“I feel like sitting,” Avorlus then remarked.
He snapped his fingers and pointed to a small nearby table. Instantly, the guard by the door hurried over and picked the table up. He rushed over at put it down in front of the older man. Avorlus then pointed to a nearby chair, and the guard brought that over as well.
Mahedium nodded and both mages sat down across from each other at the table. Avorlus’ guard took up position standing behind his master’s chair. Blacknail copied him again, and stood behind Mahedium.
“Well then, now that we’ve been properly introduced, feel free to make yourself comfortable. We have much to discuss,” the older mage told them.
“This is a rather nice home you have here, your business must be quite profitable,” Mahedium politely commented.
“It certainly pays the bills and keeps me fed. There’s always a demand for elixir in Daggerpoint, and the city is short on suppliers. What about you, how are you finding the city?” Avorlus replied with a smug grin.
“Well enough. It’s nice to be out from under the guilds, and take destiny into my own hands. There are no lords or guild masters here to exploit me, and tell me what I can and can’t learn,” the other mage answered.
“Very true. I myself found them quite stifling as well. Daggerpoint of course is not without its own dangers,” Avorlus replied.
“Obviously, you’ve managed to prosper though,” the younger mage remarked.
“You seem to know a fair bit about my own operations, but I know next to nothing about you. May I enquire as to your own knowledge and background? Your note was intriguing, but severely lacking in detail,” Avorlus asked.
Now it was Mahedium’s turn to smile knowingly.
“I’m sure there’s not much I could tell you that you don’t already know. A man so obviously as intelligent and successful as yourself would have already looked into my history as soon as my note arrived. It’s also not like my past is a secret. You, on the other hand, are quite the enigma though,” the younger mage replied.
“Straight down to business it is then. When you first contacted me you suggested an exchange of knowledge would be to both our interests. That seems unlikely to me, but I’d like to know what you have to offer anyway. As you’ve already correctly determined I’m a maker of Elixirs,” Avorlus said.
“And you’ve amassed yourself a fortune, by secretly selling them to bandit chieftains using intermediaries,” Mahedium remarked.
Avorlus nodded in response, so Mahedium continued speaking.
“My own area of expertise lies in a different area of research. I specialize in creating spell crystals. I have the skills and knowledge to grow them from scratch,” Mahedium told the other man as he reached into his coat.
The old mage’s guard tensed at Mahedium’s movement, but didn’t act further. Master Avorlus barely reacted. His fake looking smile didn’t falter at all.
The younger mage then pulled out a small pouch and emptied it onto the table. Half a dozen transparent crystals rolled across the table. Avorlus’ white eyebrows rose slightly in surprise.
“They are a gift, from me to you. A token of my respect and an offer of friendship,” the younger mage explained.