Wizard Tim sat puffing on a long stemmed clay pipe, the milky white smoke a halo around his extravagantly red wizard’s hat. He mumbled around the stem, attempting to look at the ember in the bowl. As I stood there, dumbstruck, he pulled the pipe from between his teeth and examined it. He didn’t look over at me, just retrieved a silver reamer from his sleeve, tapped the glowing dottle from the pipe and began to vigorously ram around inside the bowl.
A sweet voice spoke from my left. “You’ll damage it if you aren’t careful.” I turned to see the cute young halfling who had previously shared our adventures. I just didn’t know which personality was dominate at the moment; Sparkle or Lilith. She sat on top of one of the seven remaining merlons, her feet on a large pack stuffed in the crenel closest to Tim. She wore her trademark purple leather boots, her twin blades and a new set of leather armor that sported a few silver studs along the sleeves. At least this suit was dark green. The first time I had seen her, her armor was bright green snake skin that practically glowed in the dark. This set of armor looked like it may possibly allow here to hide a bit easier.
“How?” I asked, thinking to run back down the half a staircase.
Tim did not look up, but the halfling lass did, giving me a cherub’s grin and a little wave. “Hello,” she said.
I waved back. “Um, hi. Lilith?”
She nodded and smacked Tim on the back of his head. “If you break the bowl we won’t be able to use it again, Patience.”
Tim hunched his shoulder and continued to ream out the pipe bowl, scattering ash at his feet. But his movements were a little less frenetic.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
Lilith shrugged. “Bored, mostly. I only came on this trip because you were going to be here.” She blushed at that, but did not look away.
I smiled, considering my exit strategy. “Well, I’m happy to see you. Just an unexpected surprise.”
She snorted. “I bet.”
“So, if you don’t mind my asking, why are you here?” I mean, seriously. Tim had all but said he would kill me on sight due to the bounty from the Order of Nightshade. I gripped my mace and thought the best way to tackle him before he could throw one of those spherical exploding balls of fire at me.
Lilith rolled her eyes and pointed to Tim. “Ask him. It was his idea.”
Tim glanced over at me as he slipped the pipe into his robe; the metallic rod he slid back into his sleeve. Then he stood, straightened his hat, and turned to face me, his hands tucked into his robes.
“We teleported here,” he said, as if it were obvious.
Lilith coughed into her fist and I distinctly heard the words, “show off.” Tim did not seem to notice, instead he just stood there, watching me, his nose twitching from time to time.
“Funny meeting you here,” I said, desperate to break the silence.
Tim just pursed his lips and wriggled his mustache.
“Oh for the love of Pete,” Lilith said.
“Who is Pete?” Tim asked, feigning interest. Then he stepped aside. “Ah, they are here.”
Directly to my left a ball of light appeared and two figures emerged onto the top of the tower: Calladil, the mercenary, and a tall red head beauty that I thought I recognized, but could not place.
“What about the others?” Tim asked, looking at the newcomer.
“They are in place,” she replied, grinning at me. “You never cease to amaze me, boy.” She turned and strode toward me, her bright red locks bobbing with each step. When I looked at her, dumbfounded she laughed and hugged me. “Beatrice, you ninny. I’ve been freed of my curse thanks to you.” Then she threw her arms around me and hugged me. “You know I could feel everything you did to Johann, right?” She squeezed my back side and stepped back, her laughter a raucous bray of mirth.
Oh. See Father Mulcahy, the last time I’d seen her she’d been a mole on her sister’s face. Wizards deal with such strange things.
“And your sister?” I asked.
She winked at me. “She sends her love,” she said, then stepped to Tim, her arms out for a hug.
Tim unwound and held out a hand, awkwardly taking hers in his own. “Took you long enough,” he grumbled. I won’t swear to it, but I think he looked both shy and annoyed. Was it possible that Wizard Tim fancied the elusive Beatrice?
She laughed. “I had to get past that cranky dryad we left back in the valley,” she said, turning to me and winking. “Her pregnancy is making her a bit shy around visitors.”
“And old friends,” a gruff voice boomed from my right. I spun to see Alfred leaning against the tower with Rufus Weasel Gnome on his shoulder. “Sorry we are late,” Rufus said with a grin as Alfred lowered him to the roof top. “We had to stop and see Bob before coming here.”
Now I was more than a little baffled.
“How did you all find me?” I asked.
Tim rolled his eyes. “Open you pack.”
I slid it off my shoulders and opened the top, glancing up at him for further instructions. “Feel around in the bottom.”
I did as instructed and came out with the red stone he had used to communicate with me. “How?” I asked, spinning to look at them all one at a time. “I tossed this into the swamp.
The wizards laughed and Lilith punched Tim in the thigh. She walked over to me, and took my hand. “Tim is not the most open and honest fellow we all know,”
— the others all grunted in assent —
“but he does do a few things very well.”
“Besides the hats, you mean?” Calladil asked.
“And the beer?” Alfred added.
Lilith sighed and squeezed my hand. “You fed the stone blood when you were exiled,” she said.
I didn’t want to go into my time in the Stronghold of Kithri’s Fist so I didn’t try to correct her about the whole exile thing.
“It’s tuned to you now and forever.
They all nodded as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“And they each have one of my tokens,” Tim said. “Now that we are all here, we must get a few things straight.”
The rest groaned, but Tim ignored them. “Just Jacob and the frogs have held the Hallowed Fortress since you left against a siege of gnolls. My own keep has been besieged as well. Bob remains there for business of his own, but suffice it to say you have caused quite a stir in the hobgoblin community.” He shook his head at me, but I sensed more than saw the grin beneath his shaggy beard. “Far Spire has beaten back one attack, as you well know,” he nodded at me, “and the attacks at the other points seem to have sapped their march along the western road.”
“Now if we only knew what they were after,” Rufus said. “Though my money is something you’ve done, boy.”
I grew dizzy spinning to see them all and finally just sat down. I was exhausted and all this was overwhelming.
“Give him the thing,” Lilith said, waving her hand at Tim.
Tim looked at her, perturbed and handed me a small box. “Take that over to the side of the tower and open it,” he advised. Everyone else scooted away, giving me half the remaining tower top to myself. I looked at them once more, catching a friendly nod from Lilith, and opened the box.
No matter how crazy they are, Wizards can do the darndest things.