There was a riot going on, alright, an all-you-can-steal sale, and people seemed to be having fun looting. One might expect this to tick Reek off, but he seemed to have other things on his mind; he kept prattling on about the light and how it had gone out. I tried to alleviate the tension with a joke – “It’s called the sun setting, buddy!” but it didn’t land. Nothing seemed to, actually; old Red was feverish and wasn’t making a lick of sense. He answered the question whether he would like a health potion with a hearty: “Lethander no longer watches over us!”
I might have been feigning ignorance as usual – a clown’s instinctive reaction to trouble – but I could piece together what was going on reasonably well. We had obviously been down in those tunnels for quite a while, since night had fallen; but even at night it wouldn’t be this dark, not with a giant beaming lighthouse sweeping its spotlight all over town. Said lighthouse – the Eye of Lethander- must have gone out, either causing or resulting from the quakes, explaining the sudden darkness. Being that the Eye of Lethander represented his god’s favor, it was no wonder Reek was upset.
We lost one health potion to the quake, but the second one went down the hatch, giving Reek some semblance of his former wit back, which he immediately employed to once again express his desire to get his leg fixed. Seeing as I wasn’t exactly feeling peachy myself – the toad pox getting worse and my limbs feeling like dumbbells – I found myself agreeing to escort our chaperon to a healer.
The most obvious place to look for a healer would be the garrison, which would take us straight through the riot. Since we were now a party of seven – three criminals, a botanist, a goat and a shopkeeper – this would take some careful planning and plenty of guile; so of course Babbin just hauled Reek onto her shoulder and charged right on, kicking the bolted door open, allowing us out and the looters in.
I couldn’t let the pirate lay claim on the title of most reckless adventurer uncontested; to protect my image I followed in pursuit. Outside we were greeted by a civilized gathering of looters, who politely asked us if they could please enter the shop in order to pillage it. Why, by all means! Why did you think we opened the door for you? Loot ahead, boys! Of course I didn’t mention that the whole placed was wrecked, anyway; all of the precious glass-work had already been smashed to pieces. Have fun with that; hope you’ve got glue on you.
We pressed onwards, zigzagging through ravaging packs of looters, Babbin supporting one side of Reek and me supporting the other. The quakes had really done a number on this town. There were collapsed buildings everywhere, small fires licking at what little woodwork there was, with wailing survivors digging through the rubble, looking for lost possessions or family. I think we swung by Stillstone Asylum – the place where they take young wilders like William to be tamed – and there seemed to be some sort of party going on, crazy lights zapping everywhere and robed figures zooming around all Hush-like. We didn’t have time to waste on any of that, though; Reek was still getting worse.
We arrived at the garrison in front of a locked door. It took some time for our knock to be answered, so we were forced to take a breath and look around. what I saw made my over-sized head spin. Where there was once water there was now…well, nothing; blackness and maybe the tips of an odd tree or two. In fact, the whole vista seemed to have tilted somehow, like we were on the heavy end of a seesaw, pressing down. It was weird and normally I like weird, but not this time; the horizon looked off.
The slit in the garrison door opened and two very shifty eyes leered at us suspiciously. Once they recognized a comrade in Reek, however, they lit up, and the doors opened to us. It was at this point that the rest of our party – sans the dragonborn, who seemed to have gone missing – came charging up, yelling desperately at us to please keep the door open. I was so busy hauling the big guy around with my buddy Babbin that I hadn’t even noticed that the rest had been lagging behind. What had they been up to, anyway? Had they gone looting without us? For shame.
The door-woman revealed herself to be a gnome in heavy armor. She had a cute little step-ladder she used to reach the manyobolts and latches on the door and I would have fawned over that with a great many squeals if not for the pressing matter at hand; we still needed a healer for our wounded comrade. The gnome explained that all of the City Watch’s healers were out in the field – which made sense, since there were riots going on and worse – so we would have to take Reek to the chapel at the top of the city. This was all highly unorthodox, however – nobody was supposed to just go up there, least of all a bunch of criminals – and the gnome was afraid that she and Reek would lose their jobs if we made any trouble for them. I wouldn’t know what that was like; it’s not as if I had been threatened to be sold to actual slavers if I got into trouble, while simultaneously being super-glued to the most potent trouble-magnet this side of the Pridelands, miss Babbin the barge-hopper, wall-breaker and door-kicker. Nope. Wouldn’t know what that was like.
I was ready to heckle this gnome something fierce; it’s a good thing we had kindly Reek with us, who assured his colleague of our best intentions. If it hadn’t been for us, he said, he wouldn’t be here right now. Well, he wasn’t exactly wrong, but I doubt he would have been in this condition if it weren’t for us, either, so let’s call it even. The gnome put her faith in Reek, whispering to him the password granting entry to the upper levels, and left, leaving us to haul her colleague through a maze of confusing corridors and up many flights of stairs.
Guess who we bumped into on the way there, on the threshold of the final staircase?
I’ll give you a hint, Thaliar: It was probably the worst possible person we could have bumped into.
Yep. It was the Humorless One Himself: Albus Hush. I thank the muses for Deesan being there, who did all the talking, for I was too exhausted to say anything. I’ll try to recall as much of their conversation as I can.
Albus opened, saying something along the lines of: “WHAAAAAAT IS THIS?!”
“Calm down, friend!” hushed Deesan. “We completed our mission; here’s the goat,” he added, without actually handing over the goat, “we ran into some trouble, Reek got hurt and now we’re trying to get him fixed up. We’re helping! You can ask Reek, yourself.”
A convincing case, I thought; and Reek agreed. “They’re telling the truth. Without these criminals, we wouldn’t be here – they saved my life.”
At this point, Arnold interjected. “I don’t really want to be lumped in with these criminals, I happen to be a very law-abiding botanist, thank you very much.” A fair point, to be sure; yet one no one seemed to notice. Poor Arnold. It’s never easy escaping a lump. I should know, I’ve been in it longer than you; I, too, happen to be a very – well, mostly – law-abiding citizen. We have Babbin to thank for getting us into this predicament.
Hush still wasn’t impressed. “You don’t have clearance, mongrels.”
Mongrels? Now that was just taking it too far. I could handle being labeled a criminal – criminals have an air of romance about them – but a mongrel? Nobody likes mongrels. Not even the mothers of mongrels like mongrels.
Thankfully, Deesan wasn’t quite done. “We’re not from around here, sir,” he continued to plead, “we’re not actually criminals, we just didn’t understand the customs – and now we’re just here trying to help get this poor fallen soldier some healing-”
“BALONY!” bellowed Hush. “You’re using the chaos to undermine our work!”
“We just arrived here and spent most of that time in prison! We don’t even live here; I didn’t even plan on staying; I’m just passing through! What possible undermining could we be planning? We don’t even know what your work is, so how could we be undermining it?”
Deesan made a lot of sense – at least to me – but Hush still didn’t seem convinced. That paranoid old coot wasn’t going to be convinced by logic, that much was becoming obvious.
It seemed Reek still had an ace up his sleeve, however. He nudged me to bring him closer, so that he could whisper something in Hush’s ear. I didn’t quite catch what he said, but it must have been something powerful, since Albus straightened his back and stared daggers at Reek in silence. He left in a huff, without a word. Reek…winked at us. Deesan gave him the double finger-guns. Babbin audibly said “wink” without actually winking.
…WHAT WAS GOING ON?! Was I being left out of some joke? I want in!
With the Humorless One having being banished by Reek’s inaudible quip, the way had been made clear. There was just one final staircase and I thank the muses it only had a few steps, for my long legs felt like thin stilts reeling, about to topple over. At the top of the stairs our way was yet again blocked, this time by a rather expensive-looking set of doors, presumably the one that lead to the fancy fortress on top of the hill. It was guarded by men in ceremonial armor. They looked very proper, all things considered.
For some reason I still cannot explain Reek whispered the password into my ear. Why? Why didn’t he just say it, himself? Why did he need me to deliver it? An intriguing question, one that would need answering later; for now knowing I was armed with a powerful password was enough. I lowered my jangly hood and wiped what little remained of my face off, and delivered, without irony, the words: “Pickled parsnips are the bee’s knees.”
Not exactly “Open Sesame,” but it did the trick. The doors opened up to us, allowing us to cross the tall sky-bridge that connected the corridors from the garrison to the upper levels. This gave us our first good look at the chaos unfolding below. The horizon had continued tilting; the shipping quarters and the docks had completely fallen off. One side of the town seemed to be sinking, while the other was rising. Out in the far distance, what looked like an enormous rock – or a very low-hanging, dark moon – obstructed the horizon. It didn’t make any sense when I first saw it, but when Arnold later explained what was going on it seemed all too obvious.
My feet touched proper green grass for the first time in weeks; the whole upper floor was carpeted with it, like an idyllic pasture. Less idyllic was the Eye of Lathender, which had indeed collapsed and fallen onto the chapel. Besides the busted sanctuary there were several other fancy-looking buildings, all of which were fairly short, quite a contrast to the clusters of tall houses below.
A flock of fancy people was swarming around a pseudo-dragon, but I didn’t really have the energy to investigate. Fatigue had robbed me of my curiosity. I saw Arnold , Lynea and Deesan split off from the group to investigate, while Babbin and I took Reek into the church.
The monks were very busy scurrying around, trying to fix the damage, but the arrival of a wounded brother of the faith took precedence even over the threatened collapse of their sanctuary. We were taken to the head priest, who showed us to some nice and quiet quarters where Reek could get the medical attention he needed and the rest of us could rest. I dragged myself to a bed and slept in relative peace.
When I awoke, Arnold explained to me what had been going on. Are you ready for this, Thaliar? Are you comfortable? Good. Now take a sip of water or any other liquid, if you’d please – I need you to do a spit-take. Ready?
We were on a giant turtle.
The whole of Dryfoot Hill was built on a giant turtle.
And it was on the move.