Entry 3 Part 2: Riloth 19th the 3rd
The rest of the journey was uneventful. We walked and chatted, and as always I tried not to reveal anything about my past that would draw Daulf’s suspicion.
We ate trail rations as we walked, foregoing the break to avoid sleeping outside for another night. Well before dusk the tower of the Crystal Dragon Parlor became visible over the tops of the trees. The building stood tall, a stark pillar of white stone and glass with accents of gilt that shined in the sun.
Every kobold in the region must flock to the place.
Shortly after spotting the tower we heard the bustle of a crowded market. The trees along the road ended, revealing a clearing between the forest and the town walls in which a refugee camp was beginning to take shape. Tents, carriages, and wagons were set up haphazardly and amongst the mass of ragged people stood a few men in the armor of the Landing guard, trying to inflict order on the chaos.
I see Mobear's men spared no time getting to work.
To call the city perimeter a wall was generous. For most of its length, the wall was five feet tall and made of mortared field stones, more to keep wildlife out and livestock in than to serve as a fortification. Far from the gate, near the wealthier areas of town, the high garden walls of private residences replaced the fieldstone fence. These sections of the wall were patrolled by guards in what looked like private house uniforms.
Daulf froze at the sight of the camp. Never had I known him to turn a blind eye to suffering of any kind, and by this point we all knew the futility of trying to stop him.
Daulf turned to us with a nervous, knowing smile and said "I'll be back shortly, I'd like to see where I can lend aid."
We knew we would not be seeing him for some time.
Spellbook, I don't make a habit of meeting Tower Seekers—for reasons I hope are obvious to you by now—but from my limited experience, Daulf is an anomaly. Illunia, being the goddess of knowledge and ingenuity, does not often grant her followers with Blessings of flashy divine magic. She tries to enable, not empower. The more common Blessings she grants are sensory of a sort, such as Blessings to detect lies and enhanced sight or hearing. I’ve heard of rarer Blessings with combat application and even seen Daulf exhibit a few, like the ability to imbue attacks with magic and resist the magic of others. The rarest of all of her Blessings, which as far I know has only been granted to Daulf, is the ability to heal wounds.
I should mention that, not only is Daulf a Seeker of The Tower, he is also Illunia’s Chosen, but even still I‘ve never heard of another of her Chosen with the ability. I don’t know his history, or how he gained the title, and I don’t want to risk him returning the interest in my own past if I ask.
While Daulf was off providing aid, the rest of us stood about feeling in the way amongst the bustle. Watching the camp, I could see as the soldiers from Landing imparted order on the mess. The ragged soldiers directed the placement of new tents in orderly rows and sent wagons to the edge to form a perimeter. At the center of the emerging tent city rose a command tent, with people running to and from it constantly. A line of refugees waited to go in and each refugee that left the tent had either a piece of parchment and headed towards the gate or was directed towards the growing tent city.
After a few hours and a couple rounds of chips on a stump—which I won—we decided to look for Daulf before he started another orphanage.
Walking in the general direction we had seen him leave, we split up and searched with an agreement to meet at the gate in a half hour.
I could hear Roland from a few tented rows away ask, "Any of you fine lasses seen a big old grumpy man around here with a stick up his arse? The stick is real hard to spot unless you know where to look."
I could almost hear him wink with that last sentence. His voice became distant amongst the giggles his new friends gave off as they agreed to help him.
I instead chose the tack of asking if anyone had seen a healer at work. I considered asking one of the Landing guards if they’d seen Daulf, but I didn’t want to risk being recognized. They’d certainly help find Daulf if I asked, I just didn't want the attention. My mother instilled in me a strong desire to blend into the crowd, and approaching a guard who would recognize me was anathema to my upbringing—even if standing out in this case meant being hailed as a hero and not being killed on sight. The first refugee I asked directed me to a work party raising a wooden structure. After a few minutes of looking around for a medical tent I noticed that one of the shirtless workers had a back full of scars.
We made eye contact when he turned, and he gave an embarrassed grin and shouted, "They are building a school for the children."
We gathered at the meeting point, and Daulf led us to the queue for the gate. The gate guards wore stark white uniforms with gold colored accents in imitation of the Parlor. They interviewed each group as they tried to enter the town. Most groups were admitted when they showed papers. Some few didn't have any and made a fuss. The guards escorted these away from the gate back to the camp
As we approached the gate the guard asked in a bored yet official tone "State your names and purpose in entering Crossroads."
As arranged beforehand, Daulf spoke on behalf of the group, "We are a group of adventurers in search of our friend. We hope he passed this way and ask that we may spend a few days in your town looking for signs of him."
I really didn’t like to be identified as an "adventurer." The word contains so many negative connotations. I’m just a guy on the run from a dragon’s cult, in hiding from a powerful organization, in search of a friend who's gone missing and the mysteries my parents left me. Riloth’s Rains, maybe I am an adventurer. That definitely sounds like one. Claiming to be an adventurer is sure to grant admittance into any town, but it does come with some notable drawbacks. For one, the town guard, watch, or constable—whichever means they employ—will keep a keen eye on you, both to make sure you stay out of trouble, and to know where to find your aid if they face any trouble beyond their capabilities. Any town or settlement that still stands has a force to defend themselves from the frequent threats of the wilds, but it's the infrequent ones that give adventurers work.
The gate guard looked us up and down. He pointed to Roland while looking at Daulf and asked, "Is this one going to be making trouble?"
Roland laughed and gestured towards Trish "This is the one you'll want to be worrying about."
As one, Trish, Daulf, the guards and I all turned to Roland.
"We will be perfect guests," Trish answered through clenched teeth.
The town of Crossroads was just that, a town at a cross in the road. From there you could head west towards Edgewater, South to Lakeside, East to Orinqth—our destination—or North to Landing. The town is small due to its location; it's about as far from a river as you can be without being in The Ocean. With the risks of overland travel, most would prefer to take a boat to the Great Lake in the center of the Continent, and then back out another river—even if it cost them two days on the water for each saved overland.
Being at a crossroad, the town mostly subsisted on taxing the rare traffic and the visitors that pass through. No one seems to know why a luxury gambling parlor exists in a forest in the middle of nowhere, but here it was. Strangely, the Parlor existed before the town which grew around it. Some speculate that there was once a city or town nearby, but no one has found its ruins. The presence of the Parlor and its powerful patrons created an isolated pocket of civilization in the wilds that by all means should not exist. I think this is a mystery my father would have liked to pursue. He'd spend a month reading ledgers on grain shipments, until he’d declare he’d figured it out and walk blindly into the wilderness and stumble on the remnants of a lost city.
The gate road led us to the town’s market square. The Crystal Dragon Parlor loomed over the square to the north. Shops, homes, and inns lined the three sides of the square that were not dominated by the Parlor. This late in the day, all the vendor stalls sat empty, and street urchins picked through the abandoned wares.
Daulf approached the children, and they scattered before he could get out a word. He left the remainder of his travel rations on the table of a stall for them, and the rest of us did the same. When we left the square, the children returned, like chipmunks inspecting a campsite after the travelers had left it.
The first inn we tried had a sign tacked to the door that read, “No vacancies." This trend continued with varying degrees of scholarly accuracy, for the next four inns. “No vacationsies” and “no occasioncies” were my favorites and elicited a chuckle, but Daulf only shook his head in disappointment at the poor spelling.
I poked my head into the “No Vacationsies” inn to find the building packed. The tables were full of weary travelers. While those outside looked tired, ragged, and poor, the ones inside appeared only tired and ragged. The upper crust of Landing that made their way free of the destruction, got out with at least some of their wealth intact, if not their wardrobes. The humbled nobles and merchants that crowded the inn wore the tattered remnants of clothes that had once been expensive, but were now soiled from the road and battle. The inn bustled, but not with the rowdy ruckus crowd of a typical packed inn. The energy of the crowd was that of people taking shelter from a storm—on-edge people, too exhausted to panic but fearing the next crack of thunder. Seeing that it truly was full, we set out to find lodgings in the wealthier-looking district.
We followed the road that ran through the market. The buildings became taller, grander, and further apart as we left the square. The shops changed from bakers, butchers and wheelwrights to pastry shops, private restaurants, and boutiques for exotic goods. We stopped in front of one building, taller than the rest but still dwarfed by the Crystal Dragon. Set atop the door sat a delicately carved wooden sign that read "Dragon’s Den Hotel" with a relief of a dragon’s head sticking out of a cave. Outside stood two men in the livery of house guards. Not one I recognized, but with the insignia of Landfall sat below the house crest—a golden quill on a red field.
The presence of a hotel here in this small town surprised me. I had seen them before, but only in larger cities. A hotel is like an inn, but they cater to wealthier travelers. While inns have a common taproom and dining area that serves simple meals to guests and locals, hotels cater exclusively to wealthy travelers. They have dedicated bars and restaurants on the premises and far more rooms. While an inn’s meals are cooked by the proprietor and his family with no options, the restaurants in a hotel are the best outside of a royal court, with menus that change daily. The rooms of a hotel are to an inn’s as a knight’s warhorse is to an elderly plow horse. The last hotel I saw even had running water in every room.
Upon entering, we were greeted by a well-dressed man standing behind a podium. A ledger sat in front of him.
As he looked up from the book, he began to say, "I’m sor—" but paused after looking us up and down with a disapproving stare.
Finally his eyes fell on you, Spellbook, in my hand. I hated carrying you around, but my pack had no room, and rare was a wizard who would part from his spellbook. His face turned from polite curiosity, to disgust at our appearance, and then became visibly confused at the sight of a spellbook. His eyes looked our group over once, and finally settled on Daulf’s pauldrons, with the eye of Illunia emblazoned upon them. At the sight, he relaxed in relief, finally finding a mental foothold on the sight before him.
"I’m sor... so happy to welcome you to the Dragon’s Den Hotel most honored Seeker!" he tried to recover. "Unfortunately our rooms are all booked for the foreseeable future, but we would be pleased to have your patronage in our restaurant. Today’s menu is broasted dire sparrow paired with a twenty year old red wine pressed from the grapes of the Assuine Conclave."
Roland’s face wrinkled in irritation at mention of the wine, but before he could reply Trish cut in.
In a refined noble accent that contrasted her travel worn look, she said, "Alas we must decline—though Conclave vintage is tempting. It seems that there is a marked lack of lodging in this town, may you do us the service of directing us to an establishment where we may find beds?"
The man, again taken aback by the incongruity of Trish's manner of speech and her dirty appearance, answered "Ah. Yes, yes good my lady. I fear the only lodging available is in that of the Crystal Dragon proper. All the other hotels and inns in town are packed. The rabble—" He noticed Daulf’s face at the word and corrected himself "—Err, the refugees—tragic, terrible occurrence Landing was. Yes. They arrived in force a few days back, but before that the private guard of house Barion arrived and booked the whole building with no check out day declared."
"Why is it that the only lodging remaining is in the Parlor?" I asked.
"Well you see, master Wizard, the Crystal Dragon Gambling Parlor is—for lack of a better, politer term—a rip off. Here at the Dragon’s Den we offer the finest accommodations you will find outside of Lakeside, and we only charge ten silver a night." Upon hearing the price, Roland laughed aloud, but before he could protest the man continued "And at the Crystal Dragon, the room rates start at twenty silver a night."
"No way I’m paying that!” Roland shouted as he turned around to leave. “I’m going to sleep in the woods. Have fun getting fleeced."
It was getting late, so we decided to take the man at his word and not check for vacancies elsewhere. We backtracked towards the market and the Parlor’s front gate. The tower loomed over the marketplace like a sword rammed into the dirt. It gleamed in the setting sun and looked out of place among the unpainted wooden shops and stalls that ringed the square. The building's entrance was atop a grand staircase of white marble stone that rose to double my height.
Once more we were greeted by a host upon entering. This time there was no hesitancy, only open—and a little excessive—hospitality.
"Greetings honored guests and welcome to The Crystal Dragon Gambling Parlor! We offer the largest selection of games of chance on The Continent. If we don’t have the game on our floor it does not exist. Our dining options are world-class, from gnomish rock oysters to the regular—but not plain—seafolk variety. And of course, our fully stocked bar with the finest vintages from all Kaltis. How can we entertain you today?"
Daulf spoke for the group, "Thank you, but my two companions here are looking for lodging."
"Two?" I interrupted. "Why aren’t you staying?"
"I cannot in good conscience spend this much money on lodging when it could be used to help those outside the town. I will go out there and find a place to sleep amongst the refugees or with the Landing guard. I have already received many such offers while I was out there earlier today and I know the guards would welcome me. But do not let this taint your enjoyment, you have gone through much these last months, use this time to rest."
He always did things like this. Acted all noble, and then tried to make you not feel bad about not doing the same. It was so annoying. Twenty silver was an obscene amount, but not outside our means. We had been rewarded generously for aiding Edgewater. Daulf had refused most of it, but Roland, Trish and myself each walked away with five-hundred silver coins and enough provisions and horses to see us to Orinqth. Daulf accepted the horse, provisions and a small amount of silver but instructed the rest be used to set up a school.
I looked to Trish, and she shook her head, “I’m flooding done with tents and sleeping on the ground.” She took out a handful of coins and slammed them on the table. “Two rooms please.”
The man smiled, and pushed the coins back towards Trish, “You pay upon check out. You can hold onto that for now.”
He turned to the wall behind the counter, and returned with two gilt keys in hand. “Just this way please.”
Trish and I were escorted to our rooms and Daulf made his way out of the Parlor. The Parlor’s ground floor had a large entry hall that led towards the gaming floor. On the left side of the entry hall stood a grand flight of stairs that led up to the rooms. The right side of the hall opened to the dining area and bar, which looked out onto the gaming floor. The floor and walls matched the same white stone as the exterior and expensive rugs and tapestries covered both. Up close, I saw that it was like marble, but with a distinct lack of the veins which give marble its "marbleness."
The host escorted us through the gaming floor. Immediately upon crossing the threshold I felt off somehow. It's difficult to explain and I still feel it upon entering and leaving the ground floor. It's as if something fell out of my pocket that I hadn’t known was there. Now that it's gone, I’m aware of its absence, despite never having known of its presence before. When I leave the ground floor I once again feel whole, but when I try to concentrate on it, I can’t find what returned. To continue the metaphor, when I check my pocket, now comfortable with the weight returned, I find it empty.
I walked through the floor, looking around in confusion, trying to identify what was off, and as soon as we left the carpeted area of the floor to head up the stairs, the feeling vanished.
What was that?
That was all for that day, after that I went up to my room and passed out. I didn’t even think to put on the complementary pajamas. I simply passed out fully dressed on the bed. Being alone, I didn’t need to pretend to study you.
I suppose I should describe the room for completeness’ sake. I didn’t look at it closely that night, but I'm sitting here now writing on an ornate plush chair that, despite its carvings and frills, is extremely comfortable. How many hours have I spent in this chair already? I’m sure nothing compared to the hours I will, trapped in these resets. I must say though, there are worse prisons to be trapped in. Not to be cliche, but the bed is like sleeping on a cloud. One of these resets I should rip it open to see how anything could be that soft without magical aid. I’ve heard of enchanted beds, that are stable gravity fields, but the costs are well beyond the means of any but the wealthiest nobles.
The window in my room is quite large and takes up half of the wall. It overlooks the square, but is enchanted in some way to prevent sound from the market disturbing the occupant. Also, the sun is never blinding when viewed through the glass, even if I look directly at it. There is a bell on the nightstand that, once rung, summons room service. The attendants used to rotate depending on the time or day, but today Simon must be pulling a double shift since he’s the only one I’ve seen since the resets began.
I can see why they have the audacity to charge twenty silver a night. Luckily for me, we pay at checkout.
To do list (in no particular order)
- Find a way out of these resets
- Find out if I am alone here
- Find a way to wake up earlier
- Cure this hangover
- Learn the capabilities of this book
- Learn the language of the spellforms
- Learn how to read spellforms
- Discover the secret protected art of spellform writing
- Figure out time of reset
Some of those might be possible. Maybe.
While I was writing about that first day, I kept an eye on the square. Years of transcribing books into my own notes without watching my quill has finally paid off. I doubt my father thought I’d ever use it to journal while on a stakeout. Tomorrow should be easier. I won’t need to write as much, just make sure everything happens the same.
I can’t stay awake any longer. Near the end of the recounting, the split awareness was losing its effectiveness. I can’t stay up any longer, but I know sleep won’t bring any relief.
The market square positioned in front of Crystal Dragon was already packed when I woke. The merchants far outnumber the three dozen stalls set up around the square, and improvised tables were set wherever they could squeeze them in. The crowds are a mix of refugees and Crossroads residents. The town guard has a strong presence.
9:49: I got the clock, a looking glass and lunch delivered to my room.
10:12: A young girl stole a purse off of a wealthy man as he browsed spices. No one seemed to have seen it.
10:28: The giant goat escaped the tent and fled for the edge of the town. I didn’t catch what caused it but the owner ran after it. I suspect that a twiggy looking kid with a patchy beard did it based on the way he and his friends laughed as the owner ran after it. I’ll make sure to watch tomorrow.
11:26: A woman spoke to two hunters hauling a deer into the butcher’s. She pleaded with them, gesturing frantically. They pointed to the guards, but she shook her head. They shook their heads and walked away. The woman collapsed sobbing.
12:57: A caravan showed up at the gates.
2:10: The caravan tried to set up in town, couldn't find a stall, and headed back out to the camp. The guards recorded all the entries and exits into the town.
2:42: A wizard and his Seeker guard emerged from the market and entered the Parlor.
3:11: A fight broke out in the market between two refugees and a shopkeeper. The guards ended it quickly and arrested one man. They brought him towards the Parlor but I couldn’t see what door they entered through from my vantage point.
3:27: The goat keeper packed up his tent and left the square.
5:12: Three of the house guards from Landing refugees enter the Parlor.
8:16: The last stall packed up his wares.
8:21: The children scavenged for left behind wares and food.
9:36: The children played a game with a ball among the empty stalls.
10:14: A group of five in the garb of ship clansmen entered the Parlor with a lot of luggage.
10:34: Another group of five entered the parlor wearing the fashions of Lakeside.