Three Quest Deal (Tales of Former Dragons Book 1) (8 page)

BOOK: Three Quest Deal (Tales of Former Dragons Book 1)
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CHAPTER 11

“Why are there so many soldiers on this road?” Toshen asked Tess as six riders on horseback approached in the distance. “This is the fifth group we’ve seen in the past hour.”

Tess shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never been this far east before.”

The soldiers rode past the group in formation, two by two, at a fast trot, only glancing briefly at them. They wore suits of shining armor and carried shields on their backs. Each shield was decorated with a side profile of a lion’s head wearing a crown, a red silhouette. The king’s coat of arms.

“They’re ignoring us, so it doesn’t really matter,” Drakor said. “Let’s hope it stays that way.”

“Do you think they’re looking for whoever killed Nellis’s patrol?” Xan asked.

“No,” Tess said. “We would have been questioned by now.”

“How much longer to Greffenvale?” Aesus asked.

Tess pointed at a wooden sign on the side of the road and said, “Welcome to Greffenvale.” She spotted a building down the road. “Let’s see if someone in that inn can tell us where to find the mage tower.”

The inn was a large oak structure with a steep roof and a smoking stone chimney. The group dismounted and tied their horses to the hitching rail.

Aesus read the sign above the inn’s entrance. “Welcome to the Four Mages Inn and Tavern. Do you think it’s safe to go inside?”

Tess looked at Aesus. “You say the oddest things sometimes. It’s just a name. I don’t expect we’ll find four mages inside.” She led the way, and opened the door to the inn.

A large, bearded bald man in a beige shirt, brown pants, and knee-high dark-brown boots stood just inside the entry. “Welcome to the Four Mages, friends,” he said with a smile. “I’m Jobe, the innkeeper. What can I do for you this morning? Some food perhaps?”

“Yes, we’d like something to eat,” Tess said.

Jobe extended his arm in the direction of dining area. “Sit anywhere you’d like. As you can see, you have the entire place to yourself.”

The inn’s dining hall had an open beam ceiling, fireplace, and several tables of assorted shapes. There was a large map mural on one wall, and stag horns of various sizes on the opposite wall. The group sat on simple wooden chairs around a circular table.

Jobe brought out bread, berries, and wine. He pulled up a chair, turned it so the back faced forward, and sat with his arms crossed on the top of the chair. “So what brings you to Greffenvale on this fine morning?”

Tess frowned at his intrusion. “Do you always sit—”

“We’re merchants passing through the area,” Drakor interrupted in a louder voice. “What can you tell us about Greffenvale?”

Jobe glared at Tess and smiled at Drakor. “There’s much to tell, for the right price.”

“Perhaps we can find someone in the area who has more than gold on his mind,” Tess said. She stood and looked at the others. “Let’s go.”

“I’m not interested in your gold,” Jobe said. “I’m interested in your cloaks.” He stroked Drakor’s cloak. “Such fine workmanship. Would you be willing to sell them to me?”

Tess gave Jobe a contemptuous look, but sat.

“Our cloaks?” Drakor asked. “No, they’re not for sale.”

“Where did you get them?”

“They’re from Shen, east of Darvish.”

“Ah, Shen. I see. That’s quite far from here.” He looked around at the others. “Are you all from Shen?”

“I’m from Melhorn,” Tess said. She made sure Jobe wasn’t looking her way, and then caught Drakor’s eye and shook her head ever so slightly to warm him not to say too much.

“The rest of us are from Shen,” Drakor said. “We’re merchants looking for goods to take back and sell.”

“How fascinating,” Jobe said. “There isn’t much in Greffenvale except for the king’s soldiers. They’ve taken over the grounds of the old mage tower and made it their southern outpost.”

“That would explain why there are so many soldiers on the road,” Toshen said.

“Quite fortunate for me. This place is filled every night. We offer certain comforts the outpost doesn’t provide.”

“You mean this place is a brothel,” Tess said.

“Quite perceptive of you. It’s not so bad, really. As long as I don’t serve too much ale, things are actually quite civilized.”

“Is the whole army here every night?” Tess asked.

“Of course not,” Jobe snickered. “I couldn’t possible accommodate five thousand men every night.” He burst out laughing, slapped his knee several times, and then composed himself. “Lord Ruben only allows the knights to frequent this establishment. We never get any foot soldiers. They’re too filthy. Too vulgar. No manners whatsoever.”

“Sounds like you have an arrangement with Lord Ruben.”

Jobe nodded. “Nothing I can discuss, of course. My family’s had an arrangement with the Rubens ever since their family took over the grounds of the mage tower.”

“What happened to the mage?” Xan asked.

“Legend has it he was killed by Baldazar the wizard some two hundred years ago.”

“What was the mage’s name?” Aesus asked.

“Grand Master Mage Verick. He was a powerful fire mage, from what I’ve been told. Well, at least that’s what’s been passed down through the years.”

“Is it possible to see the mage tower?” Xan asked.

“Oh no. The outpost is surrounded by a high wall that keeps the army in just as much as it does others out. Only the army may enter and leave.”

“If only the army can enter, how do they get their supplies?” Tess asked.

“All the food is brought in by carts from Offen to the north. The carts are left outside the gate, and someone goes out and brings them in. The king is worried about spies and saboteurs.”

“Spies and saboteurs? I thought all of us were under one kingdom now.”

Jobe looked around as if concerned someone would overhear him. “So we’ve been lead to believe. But there are those from the east who think they should be ruling the kingdom. Some say the king’s decisions are benefiting the lords of the west at the expense of the lords of the east. The eastern lords who challenge the king’s decisions usually end up dead. But you didn’t hear any of this from me.”

“Since there’s obviously nothing for us here in Greffenvale, can you think of anything in the region that might be trade worthy?”

“From what direction did you come?”

“West.”

Jobe pointed to the map mural. “If you continue riding east, you’ll pass the outpost and get to the crossroads. There’s nothing for you in Offen except for food and livestock. If you go east, you’ll get to the salt and gem mines of Ulden. If you go south, you’ll end up in Wessor. They do a lot of silk trade with the orcs. You’ll find orc copper there too.”

Drakor looked around the table and saw that everyone had finished eating. He stood, and the others followed his lead. “Thank you for your hospitality, Jobe. It’s time for us to go now.”

“So soon?” Jobe asked. “Are you sure you don’t want more food? Maybe some eggs or ham?”

“No, but thank you.”

Tess paid Jobe what they owed. Once outside, they mounted their horses and followed the road east.

 

Toshen pulled up next to Drakor. “We should be able to handle five thousand soldiers, eh, Drakor?”

Drakor looked at Toshen. “I don’t think we can fight our way to the tower. We need to come up with a better idea.”

Tess overheard their conversation and pulled up on the other side of Drakor. “Perhaps we can hide in one of the food carts to get inside.”

Toshen frowned. “And then what? Just walk to the tower? I think not. They’ll see we don’t belong there.”

“It’s just an idea,” Tess snapped. “I can’t think of everything.” She pulled back on the reins of her horse and waited for Aesus to ride up alongside her.

“Everything all right?” Aesus asked.

“Yes,” Tess said. She gave Aesus an angry look, and then smiled. “Why can’t I lie to you?”

“Because you’re not allowed to lie to me. What’s wrong?”

“Toshen’s what’s wrong.” She glared at the back of Toshen’s head.

“You will stop being angry at Toshen.”

Tess nodded. “As you wish.”

Drakor looked at Toshen. “I think she’s on to something.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s observe how food carts are brought into the outpost. That might give us some idea as to how to get inside the walls.”

CHAPTER 12

The group rode east until they came to the junction that led to the outpost, which was visible in the distance to the north. The wall was high and made of vertical tree trunks. Dense forest on each side of the gate made it impossible to see how far the wall extended in either direction. They continued riding past the road that led up to the gate, and ducked unseen into the forest, where they dismounted and led their horses by their reins.

“Where do you think they leave the carts?” Drakor asked Tess.

“I say they pull up to the gate in single file,” Tess said. “That makes the most sense to me.”

The density of the forest quickly swallowed the group, and they found a small clearing that wasn’t visible from the road to tie up the horses.

“What now?” Toshen asked.

“We need to watch what happens when the carts come,” Drakor said. “Anyone have a better idea?”

“I think I’ll walk along the wall and see if there’s an opening we can get through.”

“Just make sure no one sees you. Be back before sundown.”

Toshen motioned for Aesus to follow him.

“I’ll stay with Drakor,” Aesus said. “In case there’s trouble.”

Toshen nodded and disappeared into the forest. The rest of the group crept through the forest, watchful of any activity. They found a spot to observe the gate without being seen.

“Now what?” Xan whispered.

“We wait,” Drakor whispered back.

“What if they already came today?” Aesus whispered.

“Then we’ll come back tomorrow.”

 

A caravan of food carts arrived mid-afternoon. Four horses pulled each of the twelve fully loaded carts, with two cows tied up behind. One person drove each cart, accompanied by a passenger. As Tess predicted, the carts pulled up to the gate in single file.

“See, I was right,” Tess whispered to Drakor.

The gates opened, and twelve empty horse-drawn carts came out of the gate, each with a single driver. The empty carts pulled up next to the full carts, and the drivers and passengers traded carts. The full carts entered the outpost, and the empty carts were driven in the opposite direction. The group waited for the full carts to go through the gate before they headed back to the clearing where they had tied up their horses.

“I don’t think we can sneak in on the carts,” Tess said as she walked alongside Drakor. “The cargo is stacked high and tied down. There’s no place for us to hide.”

“Agreed,” Drakor said, “I hope Toshen had better luck.”

 

Toshen was standing next to the horses when the group got back to the clearing. “Are we sneaking in on the carts?”

“That’s not going to work,” Drakor said. “Did you find anything?”

“I found a rotting tree trunk in the south wall. The wood is soft enough to cut away with a blade. When I peeked through, I saw bushes growing behind that are thick enough to hide a hole in the wall.”

“What’s beyond the bushes?” Xan asked.

“An open field with some buildings in the distance,” Toshen said. “I didn’t see a tower.”

“It’ll be dark soon,” Drakor said. “Let’s eat and rest, and then cut the hole at sundown. We can use the cover of darkness to cross the field.”

 

Toshen and Drakor cut through the bottom of the tree trunk as the sun set over the trees. The group cleared the pieces and shavings of wood, and carried them into the forest so that unless someone knew the hole was there, they would walk right past it. They squeezed through the hole, and made their way across the open field.

From a distance, they saw that the buildings Toshen had mentioned earlier were unlit. Five structures, each one story in height. When they reached the buildings, they understood why the buildings were unlit. They were burned out and no longer habitable.

“What now?” Toshen asked.

Drakor gestured to the building with the most walls. “Let’s hide in there until we can figure out what to do next.”

The building had a stone floor, crumbled brick walls, and no roof.

Toshen looked north, and saw the lights of a large building and smaller campfires around it. “I still don’t see a tower.”

“Jobe said these are the grounds of the mage tower,” Tess said. “He didn’t say the mage tower was still standing.”

Aesus looked around the room. “I think we’re standing in the remains of the mage tower.”

“What makes you think that?” Drakor asked.

“The walls are curved. Aren’t towers curved?”

“Most towers are curved, but some are square,” Tess said. “This could be the mage tower, but perhaps not.”

“If this is the mage tower, we won’t find any books here,” Xan said.

“If the tower were still standing, where would we look for the book?” Aesus asked Tess.

Tess reflected for a moment. “It would be on a bookshelf or a desk. A book of value might be on a lectern or locked away in a chest.” Tess scanned the floor and saw what looked like a burned bookcase lying face down. She walked to the bookcase and reached down to pick it up. “Help me.”

Toshen, Aesus, and Drakor helped Tess lift the bookcase to an upright position. The area where the bookcase had lain was black, with descending rectangular stones at one end.

“Is this a staircase?” Tess asked as she stepped down on two of the stones. “It is.”

“Wait,” Aesus said. “Let me go first.”

He extended his hand and helped Tess out of the opening. Then he disappeared into the floor.

In the darkness Aesus lit a small fire in his hands to reveal a square room with passages that led north, south, east, and west. The walls were made of polished white stone, and the top halves of the passages were arched. Cobwebs hung from the walls and ceilings. He put out the fire and came back up the staircase.

“There are passages leading in four directions.”

“Lead the way,” Drakor said.

The group descended into the room. The air was stale and smelled damp. The floor was covered in a thin layer of mud and mold. Aesus slipped but regained his balance.

“Be careful,” Aesus said. “The floor is covered in something slippery. Which way?”

Drakor looked at the four passages and noted the orientation of the stairs. He grunted. “I don’t know. Let’s go east. How do we not get lost down here?”

“I’ll get charcoal from above and mark the way we go on the walls,” Tess said. She disappeared up the stairs, returned with a stick of charcoal in her hand, and drew an arrow on the wall. “The arrows will always point in the direction we came from, so we can easily follow them if we have to run out.”

“Good thinking,” Drakor said. He turned to Xan. “Can you create a light like Aesus?”

Xan nodded and created a small fire in her hand.

The group followed each other in single file through the narrow passage. The east passage led to a thick wooden door. Behind it was a room with four barred cells. Two of them contained dressed skeletal remains.

“What a terrible way to die,” Tess said.

The south passage branched into several smaller rooms furnished as bedrooms, and eventually led to a rectangular room that contained a large wooden table with ten chairs. A framed painting hung at the far end of the room. When the light from Aesus’s flame lit the painting, Tess gasped.

“That looks like you,” Tess said.

Aesus looked at the painting and then at his companions. “Do I really look like that?”

“That looks exactly like you,” Xan said. “I wonder if we all look like someone from Baldazar’s past.”

“That would also explain why Aesus is a fire mage,” Toshen said.

The west passage led down a flight of stairs to a large empty room with a door at the opposite end. Behind it was a medium-sized room lined with bookshelves. It had a wooden table, two chairs, and a large chest in one corner. Candles and candle stands dotted the room.

“This must be the library,” Tess said. “Light the room.”

“Light the room?” Drakor asked.

Tess rolled her eyes. She picked up a thick candle from the table, held the wick in the flame above Xan’s hand until it was lit, and placed it back on the table.

Aesus and Xan lit the rest of the candles. The light revealed that the shelves were filled with books.

Tess grabbed a book from one of the shelves. The cover felt slimy and the book slipped from her hand and fell to the floor. “The books have mold on them. I think they’re all ruined.” She flipped open the book with her boot and saw the pages were black.

Xan inspected two books on the desk. They were covered in mud and mold as well. “These books are ruined too.”

“Maybe there are books in this chest,” Drakor said. The chest was waist high, and made of wood and iron. Elaborate engravings covered its sides and flat top. He pulled on the lid, but it didn’t open. Looking at the front of the chest, he spotted a keyhole. “Anyone see a key?”

Toshen spotted a glass bottle on one of the bookshelves with a large key in it. He grabbed the bottle, emptied the key into his hand, and offered it to Drakor. “Maybe this one.”

Drakor inspected the key. He had seen keys as a dragon, but never actually understood how they worked.

“Tess, come and open this chest,” Drakor said.

“Why me?” Tess asked as Drakor handed her the key.

“Just open it.”

Tess unlocked the chest and partially opened the lid. A bright light shone from inside the chest for a brief moment. Tess froze.

“What was that, Tess?”

Before she could reply, the lid flew open and a skeleton in a purple hooded robe sprang up. Its boney hand reached for Tess and grabbed her by the throat. Tess opened her mouth to scream, but she made no sound. Drakor took several steps backward and drew his sword.

“Where is he?” the skeleton demanded in a deep voice. It squeezed its hand tighter. “Where is that treacherous Verick?”

The skeleton looked at the others, and when it saw Aesus, it pushed Tess away and pointed a finger at him. “You treacherous weasel.” The skeleton fashioned its hand in the shape of a claw and aimed it at Aesus. Dark energy that looked like a thick stream of black liquid came out of its fingertips and struck Aesus.

Aesus shook violently and fell to the ground. Xan reacted immediately and healed him. Toshen drew back on his bow, but before he could release the arrow, the skeleton directed a burst of black energy at him that sent him to the ground. The arrow flew from Toshen’s bow, hitting the ceiling. Xan healed Toshen.

The skeleton shouted, “All of you will—”

Before the skeleton could finish its sentence, Drakor swung his sword as hard as he could and shattered the skeleton’s skull. Bone fragments flew in all directions, and the skeleton collapsed into the chest.

Aesus and Toshen stood up slowly. Tess was trembling and holding her hand against her throat.

“Is everyone all right?” Xan asked.

Drakor removed the skeleton from the chest and looked inside. Two books lay on a layer of dirt at the bottom. He picked them up, brushed them off, and examined the covers. He offered them to Xan. “Is this what we’re looking for?”

Xan took the books from Drakor and inspected the covers. The first cover featured an embossed image of a split hexagon that was unevenly broken into multiple pieces. On the second cover was a solid hexagon with lines that matched the shape of the broken hexagon on the first cover.

She opened the books. “The pages are blank, so I can’t be sure.” She held up the book with the split hexagon. “But this cover looks like it means to separate. And this other cover looks like it means to put back together.”

Tess looked at the covers. “If you break something apart, there’s no way to put it back together again.”

“What is fusion, Tess?”

Tess shook her head. “I don’t know what that means.”

Aesus looked at the covers. “How are we to know if either is the
Book of Fusion
?”

Drakor noticed light was leaking from his satchel. He looked inside, pulled out the scroll with the glowing gold band, opened it, and read the text out loud. “Obtain the staff of the orc known as Grand Master Shaman Raah.” The letters on the scroll burst into tiny flames and set the scroll on fire. He released the scroll and it disappeared before it reached the floor.

“Baldazar said the scrolls would know when we’re ready to do the next quest, so one of those books must be the
Book of Fusion
,” Aesus said.

“Agreed. Let’s take both of them and get out of here.”

Xan put the books in her satchel and they left the library.

 

The light of the crescent moon met the group as they stepped off the staircase. The fresh air was a welcome relief from the dungeon below. They found their way to the hole in the wall and back to the horses with the light of Aesus’s and Xan’s hand torches.

Drakor asked Tess, “Have you heard of this Grand Master Shaman Raah?”

“Raah defeated Baldazar during the siege of King Wolford’s castle,” Tess replied.

BOOK: Three Quest Deal (Tales of Former Dragons Book 1)
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