Kaelis looked around the room one last time. It looked naked and lonesome now, all his things packed away, the candles extinguished, everything tidily put back in place as it was when he arrived. It was a shame he had to go, he would miss this place. The amazing things he’d seen in such a short time would be fuel enough for a hundred songs… if he hadn’t been sworn to secrecy… Kaelis grumbled at the thought. Still, he would remember all his life… it was an honour, actually. So, it was hard to whine about little details. His distant but warm host had been so gracious, so accommodating, and careful to take care of everything in these last short weeks, leaving Kaelis wanting for nothing, leaving nothing to chance.
Kaelis lifted his Haversack over his shoulder, his quiver over the other. With a regretful sigh, he closed the huge oak door behind him and looked either way down the black marble hall. So dreary! He could never remember which way; “This place keeps changing!” he laughed under his breath, but he knew it was half frustration, half excitement. This place was a bloody playground!
A few minutes and many twists and turns later, Kaelis found his host in one of the libraries, which Kaelis swore wasn’t where it was a few days before. Kaelis looked on as he stood, stooped over a huge marble dais ten feet wide, arms planted supporting his weight. With his head bowed, he stared at one of the dozens of books and scrolls scattered in front of him. The room was warm, a hundred candles and torches were lit; some hanging outwards from the pillars on the second floor, some only small candles pouring their wax onto the marble workbench where he stood.
“Have you gathered your things?” he asked without looking up.
“Yes, I’m all ready to go, thanks. I left the room just as when I arrived, but I didn’t bring much in the first place.”
Mordenkainen looked up at Kaelis. “And you were able to find all that you needed after I left you in the store room?” His gaze was honest but stern; that was one of the things that Kaelis noticed about Mordenkainen… he was always stern.
“Yes, thank you very much. You were more than generous. I didn’t have use for some of those things, and I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store. I think I won out in the trade, however. I’ll have to find a nice trinket for you back in Greyhawk!” Kaelis shifted his bag and tried a little smile realizing how ridiculous the offer was to a man such as this – as if he could evoke a crack in the veneer of his host.
Yep, no luck.
“Don’t worry about that,” Mordenkainen stood upright. He was a tall man, always richly dressed and regal in his posture. His goatee did give him a bit of a devious look, but Kaelis knew if he could grow one like that, he probably would have. “It is the least I could do for your services, I feel as though I’ve come out the winner in our little arrangement.”
Kaelis immediately thought of the highlights of the last few weeks, specifically about the council Mordenkainen hosted with Philidor. Kaelis still remembered how thick in the air the tension was; he could think of no story or retelling of a more influential gathering in all of history! All were invited to a secret location to discuss the coming of the Dark One. Kaelis let loose an unconscious shiver. His friends were there: Griften, J’afrock (Kaelis still loved that J’afrock hated him), even Tiemel and Talen, all brought by the strange and enigmatic Archmage Philidor. What a cast! The heads of the church of Banaalikron, the foul Karoolck and his charge Khaal Wraath, the princes from the Great Kingdom… oh, to be able to tell that story! But Mordenkainen had been quite clear on that point. Kaelis‘ role was clearly defined and he was strictly forbidden to recount the story until a time of Mordenkainen‘s choosing.
“Even trade, though.” Kaelis thought to himself.
Kaelis looked up at his host, “Yes, thank you. I’ve enjoyed myself wonderfully, but I do miss the noise and commotion of the big city. There is much on my mind, and I’ve been somewhat remiss of my responsibilities. Is that all you require of me?” Part of Kaelis wanted him to leave, but the other part wanted to stay. Yes, it was lonely in Mordenkainen‘s Citadel, with no contact at all with anyone who wasn’t summoned or being talked to through a Crystal Ball. Despite how different it was from Kaelis‘ life in Greyhawk, he knew as soon as he left, he’d miss it.
Mordenkainen nodded once. “Yes, thank you. You have proven most useful, and…” he paused and looked down, then quickly up again. “Far too seldom do I play the host, and more often than not, the circumstances are not… pleasant.” He curled a corner of his mouth to emphasize his point. Kaelis swallowed hard.
“I took the liberty of sending word ahead of you, that things might be prepared. It has been some weeks since you’ve been home, and I had a feeling that things might not be quite as you left them.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it. You know, you really should have a way for your guests to contact others outside of your Citadel.” It was Kaelis‘ turn to try another grin at Mordenkainen. Yes, he was kinda’ scary, but he did have a sense of humour, Kaelis felt like he was uncovering it a very little bit every week.
Kaelis shifted nervously, “Yes, sir.” He couldn’t help but squint a bit.
“Your villa in Greyhawk City then? As I remember it?” Kaelis nodded. “Then farewell, Kaelis. Until our next meeting…” Mordenkainen turned back to his marble workbench of books and scrolls, and with a casual gesture, snapped his fingers.
Kaelis was gone.
The next thing Kaelis knew, he was back in his living room. “Back!” he quickly exclaimed. Kaelis turned around a few times, taking in the familiar décor of his entertainment room. His instruments, his paintings, his comfortable chair. “Back!” Kaelis tossed his things onto one of the plush, leather chairs in the room and walked quickly to open the doors. They let out a familiar squeak as he opened them wide, and in came a waft of air that Kaelis had missed all too much.
Ah, the familiar smell of the city. The dusty, dry city air mingled with the light scent of the sweet spices that always drifted into the western district from the Market Square. The earthy, cold smell of the cobblestone walkways after a morning of rain. “Ah… ” Kaelis let out a sigh of contentment.
“Okay, enough procrastination.” He said to himself. Kaelis found that in the weeks he’d been away, he’d taken to talking to himself a bit. It made sense, considering it was pretty much just him and Mordenkainen cooped up in his citadel, but Kaelis wondered if he’d not gone a little crazy with the isolation. He listened quickly for anyone in the house; but realized that all things had been taken care of already, and everyone had long since left.
“I wonder if Mordenkainen disguised who he was when he told them I was coming.” Kaelis chuckled to himself. “Probably not.” Kaelis walked down the corridor to the front foyer and saw a stack of letters on the stand by the door. Shuffling quickly through them, Kaelis looked for something worth reading. “Invitation from another Bardic Guild, Anton invitation again, Dunnel Theatre, performance, performance, commission…” There was much work for Kaelis to catch up on! “… performance, another invitation, blah, blah… Ah! A letter from Celene.” It had been months since he had last heard from his mother, and to think he had nothing to write in a reply; his last weeks would have to remain secret indefinitely!
Kaelis tore into the envelope with much earnestness. The letter had arrived some days earlier and was light-hearted and packed with news of the family. Aleesta never failed to include all the details, despite how one-sided familial efforts to keep in touch really were. Stories of his brothers and their studies, and word that his sister Eilhana had been sent on her first trip as an aid to the Ambassador to Ulek – she was meeting with her first great success in the Great Assembly of Celene.
Kaelis thought of his home. For a long while, he had been feeling a growing sense of urgency to see again his old life. Not to visit, not really to send word, just to “catch up” it seemed. It was a strange, hollow feeling that he had ignored in large part, but now it seemed to grow a little with this letter.
Kaelis folded the letter and threw it on the table with the rest of the mail; they would have to wait. He climbed the dark mahogany stairs and unbuckled the sword at his side, laying it against the wall outside his room. He walked in, and slowly took inventory, ensuring that everything was as he remembered it.
“Damn, Mordenkainen is good.”
From within the pocket of his jacket, Kaelis took out a steel scroll case. He uncapped it and slid out the scroll within. Tossing the case on his bed, he unrolled the scroll and held it up to the light that streamed in through one of the big windows in his room.
Kaelis breathed deeply and thought to himself, “Hope you’re listening…”
Focusing his eyes, Kaelis began to read the arcane symbols etched on the parchment. The words seemed incoherent and unfamiliar, but Kaelis knew what he was doing. As he read the words, they smoked slightly and disappeared from the parchment, a sign that Kaelis had cast the spell properly. He cleared his throat and spoke clearly into the empty room:
Lord Melf. I wish to travel to Celene to help put to rest the rumor that deceit thrives there. Should you have need of me instead, I will be departing in three days.”
Kaelis let out a deep breath and crumpled the used parchment in his hand. Turning to his notary desk, “OK. Time to do some RSVPs.” He said under his breath.
But then there was a quick and staccato rapping at his door…but who would know he was home so quickly?
Kaelis‘ ears perked up. Was that the door? Wow, not a moment’s rest! Kaelis dropped his quill back in the flask of ink and walked down the stairs. Any excuse not to return “thank you, but no” RSVPs was a good excuse for him.
Kaelis swung around one of the pillars as he reached the bottom of the stairs, a child-like habit he’d grown to enjoy after he purchased the house. Reaching for the huge iron latch on his door, Kaelis gave it a heave and pulled it open.
“Good afternoon,” he said as the midday sun streamed in and washed over him.
A beautiful woman with flaming red hair wearing red silk garments stood there in the morning sun with a wild look in her green eyes. “Hi. I’m Ember. I’m an assassin, and I’m here to kill you.”
Without a second’s hesitation, the strange woman drops back from the door and with an outstretched hand, dumps a huge fireball in the foyer of Kaelis‘ villa. Kaelis dropped as soon as he recognized what she was going to do, dodging the effects of the blast. Unfortunately, the house didn’t and burst into flame – this smoke thick in the air in an instant Through the haze and the doorway, Kaelis could see her rise into the air, laughing at the pyrotechnics display.
Kaelis coughed as smoke filled the room. Still in shock, he dove into the living room where he threw his gear. Grabbing his Haversack, Kaelis glanced up to see the fire tear down the hallway of his home as fire erupted outside behind the house, the explosion blasting inwards shards of glass.
Completely unprepared, Kaelis knew he was trapped.
This was no time for foolish bravado – Kaelis reached into the pack and brought to mind what he wanted – the magic placing it in his hand for him. A blast of heat as the fire reached the kitchen scorched his face, but Kaelis held the scroll firmly and recited practiced words.
With a last glance at his home in flames, Kaelis disappeared with a pop.