As we were climbing back down to the laboratory, we heard the sounds of the approaching dwerro. I retrieved the rope (it can untie itself on command) and we started heading towards the surface exit as quietly and as quickly as we could. We eventually lost the dwerro, but stayed as silent as possible until we reached the surface again, just in case. This meant we had little time or opportunity to talk along the way.
We were bone tired by the time we reached the surface and it was night, but our sense of security was greatly replenished. “OK, Epikydes, it’s ‘later’ now,” Fadeyka started. “Tell me about the badge.”
We were walking through the surface ruins above the dwarven halls. The ruins were a mixture of old human and dwarven architectural styles with trees and shrubs growing rampant around them now. The old dwarven roads resisted the grass growing through them, but anyplace the road had been damaged was now a thick clump of shrubbery.
“I found it with Aurelius’s remains, along with his journal, this coat, and the star blade,” I answered. “A group of us were dealing with a goblin uprising that turned out to be a front for a cult working out of an old keep, something Aurelius had been looking into as well. Apparently Aurelius was discovered and heavily wounded in a fight, but escaped, only to die in a side passage under the keep, where we found him. I didn’t know what the badge was at first, but held onto it until we dealt with the cult.”
“Afterwards, I started reading through the journal and found all these extra notes and passages written in a dagger-script. I was curious and spent time deciphering the dagger-script. It took a while, but it was worth it. Aurelius was the last surviving Guild-Captain, entrusted with the continuation of the guild.”
“Then why was he traveling up here in the north?” Fadeyka asked. “Why not use one of the guild vaults and establish a new guild hall somewhere where there are plenty of people?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “The journal starts with his travels north, but never gives a reason for them. I think at some point he either had to or wanted to leave the south, but he never states why.”
“Hmph,” was Fadeyka’s reply. “What about the dagger then?”
“Somehow they either grant access to or lead to the main guildhall, I’m not certain which,” I replied. “I do know there are eight of them and they need to be together to do whatever they do.”
“So you plan to find all eight?” Fadeyka asked.
We walked a bit further while Fadeyka thought something over. She seemed to come to a conclusion and then said, “Count me in. This is exactly the sort of thing Armea Gris would assist in.”
“Really?” I asked, somewhat hopefully. “You don’t have to.”
“No, I don’t have to,” Fadeyka replied, “But I want to. Until now I haven’t really found my calling here in the north and was starting to think I’d have to return to the temple having merely traveled. This is much more of a real adventure and Armea Gris is the Adventuring Goddess of Magic, not the Traveling Goddess of Magic. So,” she turned to look at me as we kept walking, “Where to next?"
I thought about it before answering. "As far as I can tell, Aurelius's journal places the next nearest dagger in the tombs at Upal Molotok," I replied.
"In the tombs," Fadeyka said.
"Yes," I replied.
"At Upal Molotok," she continued.
"Yes," I replied.
"The closed dwarven city of Upal Molotok."
"Yes," I replied, drawing out the syllable a bit peevishly.
"In the tombs at Upal Molotok, home to the ghosts of Upal Molotok, the undead citizens of the closed dwarven city of Upal Molotok." Clearly Fadeyka was skeptical about this plan of action.
"Yes, all of that," I said gesturing my hand to indicate all of what she had said.
"And how do you plan on entering the sacred district of a closed dwarven city? I suspect they will take exception to us telling them we're only there to desecrate a crypt and take a long buried dagger." There was clearly sarcasm and disbelief in Fadeyka’s voice.
"I know a paladin who can get us in," I said lightly.
Fadeyka quickened her step to get in front of me and then turned and stopped in my path, one hand out. "Wait. You know a paladin who...no, never mind that. What kind of paladin would help us break into a crypt?" She put her hands on her hips.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "He's a paladin in the service of the Queen of Winter Twilight."
"The Queen of Winter Twilight..." Fadeyka said half to herself while looking down, mulling over the unusual attribute. It took her a moment as I had translated the goddess’s elven name into the common tongue. Then Fadeyka took in a short breath and looked up at me. "That's Marsuda Wasala, Goddess of the Underworld," she said accusingly. "There are no paladins in Her service. Paladins tend to fight people in Her service. Just thinking about a paladin in Her service makes my head itch." She was actually scratching her head.
"Actually, there is at least one," I countered, holding one finger up in lecture mode. "He was part of a group I worked with last year."
Fadeyka stared at me, arms still on hips, clearly trying to determine if I was making this up. After a minute or two, she looked down and said to herself, "Travel takes us to new places to learn new things." I'm pretty certain she was quoting scripture from her faith. She sighed, looked back up at me, and said, "Fine. Let's go meet your friend. The paladin. Who serves the Goddess of the Underworld." She turned and we resumed walking to the edge of the ruins where (hopefully) our horses were still corralled.
After a couple of minutes, she turned and asked, "Where are we going to find this paladin?"
"If he's still in Aldmerrow, he’ll probably be at Markel’s Taphouse," I answered.
She stopped again. "We're going to find a paladin in a tavern." It wasn't really a question, more of a statement of disbelief.
"Yep," I said, a bit of glee in my voice at her reaction. "In a tavern." I did my best to hide my grin as I caught up to her, but I could tell it was leaking out a bit.
"You're buying the first round," Fadeyka said as she resumed walking. "And if there is no paladin of the Goddess of the Underworld there, you're buying all the rounds."
"Agreed," I replied. "But if he is there, you buy all three of us the steak dinner."
"Deal!" she said, stopping walking just long enough so we could shake hands on it. We then continued walking to get to our horses, each satisfied with the bet we had just made.