The Great Ones, being triumphant in defeating the Foul Spawn, set ourselves upon the tasks of repairing the ship and taking care of our wounds from the fight. Eclipse and Petra began speaking with Soul about the ship repairs while Oromis, Luna, Hebo, and I began sorting through the spoils from Renshato’s body. Ezio, feeling restless from the fight still, began discussing exploring further parts of the island. Before he could leave, we all heard rustling from the nearby trees. Twelve kobolds approached us, unarmed and cheering. Their leader was in a large, feathered headdress. He said something in their strange language and his followers stopped at the tree line. The leader stepped onto the beach and approached us, altogether without caution.
Petra went to meet him, evidently understanding their language. The exchange between Petra and the kobold chief was strange. Petra later translated for us.
“Who killed the master?” he asked.
“That was us,” replied Petra, hesitantly. Near the ship, Ezio and I readied our weapons. I still remembered the wounds I received from a kobold spear just a few hours earlier. Ezio grumbled under his breath, aiming at whichever kobold appeared most like a spell caster.
“Then… you are our new master!” said the chief. He and his followers cheered wildly and swore themselves to our service.
Making friends with the kobolds led to both our benefit and horror. They were beneficial in helping Soul and his sisters repair the ship, fetching lumber, supplies, and food. The kobolds lacked intelligence and constantly hurt themselves, but even the hardened Ezio began to feel badly for them whenever they approached with a fresh wound after stupidly falling trees onto themselves.
The horrors of the kobolds came much later. In passing, the chief had mentioned to Petra that Renshato (their former master) had a cave and was guarding something great. The kobolds assumed it was gold, and Petra agreed. “Dragons usually have hoards of gold and magical things!” she told us.
Soul informed our party that the repairs to the ship, even with the help from the kobolds, would take roughly a month. The storm had been far more damaging to the hull than we anticipated. My magic could no longer help with the repairs, so I set myself towards the pirate cave and began working in the artificer forge, creating a better suit of armor for Luna. Petra and Hebo assisted with the repairs and helping the kobolds. Ezio, Oromis, and Luna set out into the forest to find Renshato’s den. Eclipse helped me with some of my cleric oaths to the Wonderbringer before going with them.
Over the course of a month, repairs on the ship were complete. We intended to explore Renshato’s den and see if he had any treasures. Hebo, Petra, and I stayed behind with Soul, Gift, Cloud, and the kobolds. Eclipse had spent the previous night praying and had prepared the spell Dispel Magic. Earlier in the week, the group had found Renshato’s den, but the end of the cave was blocked by a powerful magic spell that injured Oromis and Luna greatly.
Eclipse was able to dispel the magic, granting herself, Oromis, Ezio, and Luna access. A staircase led down into an extremely dark room apparently built by dwarves some time ago. But the group could not explore further. The shape of a twisted, shredded, and heavily damaged Warforged stepped into the torchlight. He spoke to them. He… he spoke to my friends…
How dare you.
How dare you?! How DARE you speak to them like that!
I will KILL YOU!
I am happy to write that they had the sense to run. Zero is too imposing for them to fight, especially with Eclipse being weakened as she was with her magic. But it became apparent to them as they fled. The kobolds lied to us. Perhaps they did not know what Renshato was guarding. Stupid as they are, I am certain they could not know what was imprisoned in the cave. But it did not matter. We released Zero. And he was still hunting me.
Eclipse caught up to Hebo and I in the jungle. She was out of breath but relayed to me what happened. I was floored. It had to be Zero, I was sure of it. Hebo sent a note with Spoink back to Petra. We had to launch the Cat’s Eye immediately. We could not tarry on this island anymore.
Hebo and I ran to Oromis, Ezio, and Luna, who were fleeing from Zero. They were ragged and exhausted, but Hebo roused them. They looked to me and asked what we should do.
“You all should run,” I told them. “Zero only wants me. His mission is to kill me. If I die, he will leave you all alone.”
I was fully prepared to lay down my weapons. Zero could kill me and his mission would be complete. He would return to that cesspool that he came from, and my former masters could finally sleep at night knowing that a worthless scrap of metal like myself was dead.
But my friends are… I cannot describe it. They are friends in every sense of the word. They drew their weapons. They told me that they would stand by me and fight for me.
You fools. You do not know what he is capable of. My love, I am so sorry.
And so, we ran. We returned to the beach just as Eclipse and Petra were helping the sailors launch the Cat’s Eye. Petra quickly dismissed the kobolds and told them to hide (though I suspect they did not understand the urgency). As we loaded, I felt that familiar Uplink, taunting me again as it did that night.
“Hello, Number Nine. Number Eight sends his regards.”
YOU DEVIL! I WILL KILL YOU!
The ship sailed away from the mysterious island. As we left the beach, I saw him. There stood Zero, a menacing silhouette against the trees. He did not follow. He did not speak. He did not Uplink again. My Thunder Cannon was aimed at him, but I could not pull the trigger.
Instead, as the island faded from our view, I collapsed onto the deck of the ship. My companions did not say anything to me or each other. Soul and his sisters were quiet, avoiding my gaze. I looked at each of them but I could not speak. I pulled out Eight’s book and stared at it.
No. Number Eight does not send his regards. He will never speak again.
My companions rejoiced when, not two days later, Soul told us that we were fast approaching Everdusk in the Moonrift Orchards and would arrive in the early hours of the morning. He thanked us for rescuing them from the dragon and told us that he would be very happy to have us on the Cat’s Eye should we ever need his services again. Petra offered to pay Soul for the cost of additional repairs once we were in port, but Soul kindly declined the offer. “You were just passengers. You could have run when that dragon came. But you saved me and my sisters. I am in your debt for this.”
Ezio quickly told us about Everdusk as a means of preparing us for what we would encounter. The city, he said, was run by the Dark Suns Guild, a branch of the Court of Owls. People often called Everdusk the City of Danger because of this. The Dark Suns Guild ran the Court’s labor system, which was a nicer word than the correct term: slavery. When debts could not be paid, people were given to the Dark Suns Guild to work of their debts, something that apparently very few would ever achieve.
To this end, Ezio told us to stay low and out of sight as best as possible. The fewer waves we made, the better. Hebo and I cast spells to disguise ourselves. We both turned into variants of Oromis (that Hebo dubbed “Boromis” and “Thoromis”) to blend in better with the dwarven population. Hebo made Ezio invisible entirely. Oromis, Eclipse, and Luna stayed close together. Moving through the crowds, we came to an inn called the Sailor’s Chateau, run by a kindly dwarf named Tabarn Hammerhand.
Hebo acquired room and board for us before we decided on what we should do now that we arrived in the Moonrift Orchards. Oromis and I decided we would head to a place called the Menagerie, a hunter’s guild who had evidently had a bounty out for the Foul Spawn. Hebo and Luna wanted to go shopping (Hebo’s chocolate stash had run out on the island), and Eclipse and Petra wanted to see more of the town. But Ezio was nowhere to be found.
Oromis and I (still disguised as Thoromis) found Everdusk’s shopping district. I made a quick mental note of a strange tower that appeared to be shaped and functional like a lightning rod. I thought I would inspect this the next day after Oromis nudged me to move on. We found the Menagerie easily enough. It was like strange castle, I suppose, surrounded by a large wall. We heard rumors that it was a kind of zoo for strange or exotic creatures. An aarakokra was taking money for tickets to enter the zoo when we approached. We said we came for a bounty and excused ourselves to a private room to discuss. Producing Renshato’s eye and heart, we informed the bird man that we intended to collect the bounty due. This aarakokra paid us a hefty sum, but said that his superiors might be interested in purchasing the heart and other parts of Renshato if we returned the next day. We also learned of a new bounty: a Roq was terrorizing caravans a few days from here. With coin in hand, Oromis and I left the shopping district.
Hebo, Luna, Eclipse, and Petra found the chocolate shop. Hebo later told me that the shopkeeper was not terribly happy with him because he had apparently eaten all of their samples. The concept of a sample of chocolate eludes me, but I confess I found the story amusing. Hebo and company returned to the Sailor’s Chateau with sweets barely fitting in their pockets. Hebo offered to play and perform for the inn as part of his arrangement for our rooms for the night.
Oromis and I returned to the inn as Ezio reappeared. He seemed very bothered, but somewhat resolute. He brought the group together to give us an update. Apparently, as he was invisible and moving as quietly as he could through Everdusk, someone from the Court had spotted him. He did not give us full details, but said that contacts from within the Court were eager to meet with him to discuss the bounty on Harama Stonefist. We felt that there was something more that Ezio did not share with us, but we did not pursue the matter further.
Then Ezio told us something else Spider had mentioned: Someone was looking for Luna. This person was nondescript, according to Spider, except that he was perhaps an Eladrin as she is, and Spider believed this person was extremely dangerous.
The Great Ones were disturbed, but like Ezio said: we should not make waves. We decided to stick together as best as we could. No one would go alone in Everdusk. He told us that a Gladiator’s Guild was running a fight later in the night, hopeful that someone would accompany him. Oromis was all too eager to go, wanting to clear his head.
I excused myself and went up to the room to prepare it for the night. I cast Alarm rituals on the window and door and sat in the corner of the room, hunched on the ground, with my weapon armed to the window. Zero is hunting me after we released him from some dwarven prison. Now, some strange dangerous creature is after Luna?
As I thought about this, Luna entered the room, despondent from the news. She sat next to me on the floor. For a while, neither of us spoke.
“I am sorry, Luna,” I said after several minutes.
“For what?” she asked.
“I have endangered you all. Traveling with me puts you at great risk now that Zero is after me again. And I am sorry for what you are going through. I know what it is like to have someone dangerous after you.”
“It’s fine,” she said. I did not believe her. I could hear the concern in her voice. “About Zero-”
“Zero took my love from me,” I interrupted. I clutched my artificer book again. “Number Eight, I mean. Zero killed him.”
“He seemed very dangerous.”
“I cannot lie. I am terrified of him. I am not sure I am strong enough to defeat him, or even face him.”
Luna paused. “Maybe not. But that’s okay, right? You might not be, but we are. We are strong together.”
I shook my head. “You could have left me on the island. You should have left me on the island. If Zero kills me-”
“Stop that,” she said, interrupting me in turn. “We aren’t leaving you behind to die. You’re going to live. And so am I. That’s why we are sticking together. We will protect each other.”
“You are a good friend.”
We sat in silence for a while longer. After a moment, we heard Hebo singing in the common room downstairs. He sang about the Great Ones and our travels, and the tale of the Foul Spawn’s defeat.
“Do you know who this person is? The one looking for you?” I asked as Hebo’s song finished.
“I don’t remember anything,” admitted Luna. “I don’t know who he is.”
“I will do everything in my power to protect you,” I said. “You know, I would die for you. And all of them.”
“So would I.”