Remembrance Moon 2, AS 632. City Gates, Apotheosis City, Sulmon Magocracy, The Sundered World.
Several more days of travel had passed. The Sunviewers and Cyton had not encountered any notable threats on the journey, although the weather had been miserably rainy. Now, their journey seemed like it might finally be at a close. At the evening of Remembrance Moon 2, they stood in front of the gates of Apotheosis City, the capital of the Sulmon Magocracy. A steady trickle of people entered and left the gate, overseen by a group of watchful soldiers.
“This is it, everyone,” Cyton reminded them. “The King of Farrus, who was willing to negotiate for peace with Sulmon, was assassinated. If we don’t convince the Archmage Ruler of Sulmon to push for peace, the whole continent will be dragged into a war.”
“Yeah, yeah, we remember,” said Appraiser. “Let’s get this over with.”
Apotheosis City looked quite different than Aphysbia. The Farrus capital that had begun the adventure had been large, blocky, and monochrome. All the buildings were constructed in the same style. The high wall that had surrounded the city felt ominous, like it was ready for danger at any time.
As the the group passed through the gate into Apotheosis City, the contrast was noticeable. The street was lit with streetlamps that glowed with a continuous light that could only be produced by magic. It was lined with buildings of all conceivable types and designs. One low building was constructed of bricks; next to it was a narrow four-story wooden house; next to that was a large tent. Hawkers and carnival booths lined the street. Cyton explained that Apotheosis City had a festival of some kind every single month, although he couldn’t remember what the festival for this month was.
Erenata, eyes sparkling, ran to the nearest booth: a fortune-teller’s tent. Descartes followed after her. From behind them, Rachel halfheartedly called out “don’t run off, you two,” but the sparkle in her eyes indicated she was excited too. Soon, all three of them were engrossed in the carnival, spending large chunks of the 100 gold they had taken from Sin-Dee. The three moved from the fortune-teller to a target practice game to a candied apples vendor.
Cyton and Appraiser hung back, watching the other three have fun. “Should I get them?” Cyton said.
“Nah, let them have their fun. Besides, this carnival is a good chance for me to get to work.” She pushed away a drunken gnome who got too close.
“Get to work? Don’t tell me you’re planning on stabbing someone.”
“Hey now, did you think I got the nickname ‘Appraiser’ because I was good with knives? I’m going to use this carnival to gather information.”
Appraiser lowered her voice. “Haven’t you noticed? Something’s off in this city. There are too many soldiers marching around for a festival. Not city guards, fully-armed soldiers.” She pointed out the soldiers she mentioned. “I’ll check out some of the shadier parts of the city. Low-life types like to talk when they’re full of booze and winning at cards.”
Cyton nodded. “Want me to come with you?”
Erenata excitedly rushed over. “Friends, see this!” She held up a rock. “I won in a game of strength. It took merely 21 gold pieces to achieve such a feat!”
“21 gol-what even is that?” asked Cyton.
“The gamemaster told me tis a ‘Rock of Detecting Gravity,’ a most powerful magical artifact. Behold!” She dropped the rock, which fell to the cobbled street. “The gravity points that way.”
Appraiser slapped Cyton on the back. “No need to come with me. I think you’ll have the harder job: babysitting these girls.” She pointed to a nearby fountain in an adjacent plaza. “Let’s meet in front of there in three hours.” Before waiting for a confirmation, she slipped into the crowd, her cloak swishing behind her. Cyton sighed but allowed himself to be pulled into the festivities with the remaining three girls.
During those three hours, the four carnival-goers exhausted most of the options available in the city streets. They stuffed themselves with carnival food, listened in appreciation to various bards playing, and lost lots of coin at game booths. It was well into the night and the festivities were dying down when Erenata pointed at a large tent they had not yet visited. “‘Honest Dan’s Arena,’” Rachel read from a sign hanging outside. “‘Tonight only, open ring. Challenge the champions to win big.’ Oh, there’s fine print: ‘the owner accepts no liability for mortal injuries’”
Erenata said “A chance to prove ourselves against the best in the city. Sounds fun, does it not?” She looked eager.
Doubtfully, Cyton said “Erenata, I don’t know if this is a good idea…”
“Oh come now, be not a spoilsport! Descartes, you wish to prove thyself and thy magic, no?”
Dinah nodded. “I want to burn them. Burn them all...”
Cyton said “uh, Descartes, you’ve got a dangerous look in your eyes…”
“That settles it,” said Erenata. Without waiting for more input, she pushed open the tent flap. The inside was brightly lit with torches. A roped-off area in the center of the tent was surrounded by several chairs filled with people. The entire tent smelled of unwashed bodies and, curiously, of ozone, like a small thunderstorm had just happened in the tent. Erenata addressed a dirty-encrusted halfling standing to the side behind a counter. “Excuse me. Art thou the proprietor of this establishment?” As she spoke, Descartes, Rachel, and Cyton entered the tent behind her.
“Thas’ me,” the halfling said. He spoke in a voice that sounded like an undergrown teenager fluctuating between a Scottish and Irish accent. “Ya want to fight or to watch? Spectator seats cost ye.”
“I desire to fight,” Erenata said confidently. “What are the rules, good sir?”
“Any weapon, any magic. Try not to kill, but I understand accidents happen. Oh, the current champ’s a team of three, so ye’ll need two friends.”
“Friends!” Erenata called out to the other three. She explained the situation. “Who wishes to join me in this contest of strength?”
“I can’t stop you from brawling, but I certainly won’t support it,” said Rachel. “I’m not fighting.”
“Very good. Dinah, Cyton, ye are with me.”
“I really don’t know about this—” Cyton began, but he was interrupted by Erenata shoving him into the ring. Descartes followed, clutching her staff. The lights all went dim as if controlled by magic.
The halfling spoke into the darkness, his voice magically magnified. “Ladies an’ gents, we have another fight for ye. As the challengers, we have three young folk, known as, er. Oi! Half-elf girly! What’s yer group name?”
“The Sunviewers!” Erenata called back.
“Right then. For our challengers, we have the Sunviewers!” The magic lights focused on the three. The audience hooted and jeered, a few catcalling Erenata. “An’ for ye reigning champions, all the way from the Kingdom of Farrus, we have…the Thunder Trio!” As the audience loudly applauded the champions, the magical spotlights now focused on three familiar figures on the opposite of the ring.
These were bare-chested human men. They wore yellow tights that left little to the imagination that were embroidered with a “TT” in silver lettering. All three were shaved bald, which only highlight their many missing teeth. The leader, who looked slightly less stupid than the other two, immediately pointed at Descartes and Erenata. “I remember you two! Ha, this is gotta be fate, giving me the chance for a little payback!”
Descartes said “um, who are you?”
The man who had spoken looked hurt. “Don’t you remember? In a tavern in Aphysbia, just a few weeks ago?”
Descartes shook her head. “Sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.”
“Your little group might have gotten the better of us last time,” the man continued. “But we’ve gotten stronger, eh? We’ll destroy you with our new technique!”
“Still don’t remember.”
Erenata spoke up. “Yes, we are all thrilled to hear of this cathartic moment for ye, but shall we begin the fight?”
“All right. Boys, let’s show these girls what we’ve got. Thunder Trio…Combo Blast!” As he spoke, all three of the men posed together, forming a crude circle with their arms. In the middle of the circle, crackling energy coalesced. Using one of his feet, since both arms were occupied, the leader pointed at Descartes. “You’re first, little fire mage!”
“Descartes, look out!” cried Cyton. He jumped in front of the frail wizard with his hands outstretched to protect her. A moment later, with a massive boom of thunder, a bolt of lightning erupted from the center of the Thunder Trio’s arms. It slammed Cyton in the chest, flinging him clear out of the arena. He landed hard on his back, smoke rising from his clothes. The crowd cheered.
The leader of the Thunder Trio only looked surprised for a moment. “You’re next, girl,” he said. The three men posed again, and the crackling energy began to appear once more.
“That’s not very impressive magic. Here.” It was Descartes who spoke, her quiet but firm voice somehow carrying throughout the entire tent. She pointed her staff at the Thunder Trio. Accompanied by a smell like burning oil, a ball of fire, with a radius of about ten feet, exploded out of thin air right in the midst of the Thunder Trio. The blast of heat caused everyone nearby to shield their eyes.
A moment later, the flames vanished. The Thunder Trio were still standing, although they were seriously charred. Coughing up smoke, the leader said “not bad, fire girl.” He started flexing his muscles, slowly approaching Descartes, who stood alone. “But unlike you, we got both awesome magic and awesome muscles!” As the smoke cleared a little more, he suddenly frowned. “Where’s the other one?”
“Great Cleave!” shouted Erenata from behind the Thunder Trio. She swung her wooden sword in a flat line at head level, banging each of the Thunder Trio on the back of their heads with one strike. As the sword connected with all three, it made a nasty crunching sound. As one, all three of the Thunder Trio fell to the ground.
The magic spotlights focused on Erenata and Descartes. The announcer halfling said, a bit unhappily, “the Sunviewers win.”
Erenata and Descartes high-fived each other. “Are you all right?” Descartes called out to Cyton, who was now being healed by Rachel’s magic. He groaned but gave a thumbs-up in confirmation.
The halfling brought Erenata a heavy bag. Inside was the equivalent of 30 gold pieces in a combination of silver and copper. He explained that it was their winnings. After he had left to begin cleaning the scorch marks off the stage, Descartes squeezed Cyton’s hand. “That was really brave,” she quietly said.
Rachel smiled at the comment. “You would have done the same for any of us, right?” Cyton nodded.
Rachel’s healing magic complete, Cyton sat up. “It’s about time for us to meet Appraiser,” he said. Erenata looked disappointed that they couldn’t have another fight but didn’t complain.
As the group walked to the fountain, Descartes grabbed Cyton’s hand. “Thank you,” she said quietly. The pair were walking behind Erenata and Rachel. Descartes persistently held on to his hand for the short walk, although she refused to make eye contact with him.
When they reached the fountain, they found Appraiser already there, tapping her foot impatiently. Her eyes darted to Descartes and Cyton, still holding hands. Embarrassed, Cyton removed his hand, but Appraiser didn’t say anything.
Rachel said “Appraiser, how was your night? Did you find out what you wanted?”
“Yes,” she said. “Bad news. We can’t negotiate with the Archmage Ruler to try to stop the war.”
“Why not?” asked Rachel.“Because the Archmage Ruler is dead, and they think someone from Farrus did it.”