"Well? What shall we do now? I mean, we are stuck here in this... Cluster space..." complained the elven mage, scornfully spitting out the last words. His companion, a young human knight, took another sip from his drink and pointed a finger accusingly at the wizard`s face. "If you hadn`t insisted on using that weird magical scroll in the first place, we wouldn`t even be here. But don`t worry Polkor, we will be hiring on a new ship and then we`ll be leaving this sphere faster than you can say ‚home sweet home`. Believe me, everything is going to be all right, you`ll see."
At that moment a lizardman, who was wearing an expensive ornamented cloak and a chainmail underneath, entered the inn. He was looking around and saw that the only two vacant seats were at Polkor`s and Murx`s table. Smiling he walked towards them, bowed formally and said: "Good evening gentlemen. My name is Captain Bont. May I join you?"
The knight Murx looked from Polkor to the lizardman. "Bont, eh? Sounds familiar... Sure, have a seat." He motioned for the lizardman to sit down.
"And you two are?" Bont asked, while signaling the barmaid to serve a round of ale for himself and the two strangers.
The two outsiders did not know what to make of this nosey lizard, yet politeness required the knight to warily answer Bont`s question. After a while, the ale might have had something to do with it, they began to relax though and were exchanging tales of their adventures with the lizardman.
"That`s fantastic!" Bont exclaimed. "And you know what? I myself just started adventuring on my own. My father told me about other lizardmen tribes that might live in the Cluster and so I set out to find them. My ship is just outside and I sure could use a knight and a wizard, so if you two..."
"Hold on, you own a spelljamming vessel?" Murx interrupted the all too talkative lizardmen.
"Why yes... I thought the title Captain implied as much..." Bont almost seemed to take offense in Murx`s words, but then he cheered up again. "So, what do you say? Are you going to travel with me?"
This time the mage, who had been quietly following most of the discussion, bent forward and grasped Bont`s hand. "Sir, you`ve just hired wildspace`s finest!" Of course he was more than just exaggerating a little, but Polkor always liked to boast – probably even elves had flaws these days.
A few minutes later another lizardman entered the inn and when he saw Bont, he came rushing to their table. "Ahhhh, it is so good to see another member of my race! Do tell, where have you been and what did you encounter in your travels? Oh, forgive my rudeness, my name is Ara Thay. And..." The two lizards were now engaged in a rapid speed discussion, ignoring their surrounding entirely. Polkor sighed and looked at Murx "I thought the barkeeper said that lizardmen were quiet and shy. Either he wasn`t well informed or we`ve just met the two most chaotic and loud lizards of the Cluster... Cheers mate!" They both clanked their glasses together and downed their ale.
Suddenly Bont turned around and exclaimed: "My friends, I have got good news – this is captain Thay, another bold adventurer. He is escorting a convoy of four civilian ships with his lance ship and since we do not have an exact route to follow, I eagerly accepted his offer to join him. My wasp is an excellent ship and lending a hand in protecting the convoy can only be beneficial for us, since a fleet of six ships will scare most individual pirates away. And besides, it is more fun to travel with others – the more, the merrier!"
They all had another drink together and then Murx and Polkor left, leaving the lizardmen to themselves.
In the morning they all met back at the port and while Bont proudly gave Murx and Polkor a guided tour around his wasp ship, Ara Thay instructed his men to load additional supplies onto his lance ship. The wasp was a fine ship, even though it was just manned by a skeleton crew – every sailor and the helmsman mage was a lizardman and at least they lived up to Polkor`s expectations as they merely nodded a silent greeting and carried on with their duties, not wanting to start any conversation.
"Ok, we`re all set. If you do not mind, we could get moving." Shouted Ara Thay. Bont, Polkor and Murx walked down to him in order to inquire about their destination. Just after they met in front of their ships, two figures approached the party. Murx had the odd sensation of cold water running down his back, he shivered as he sensed the evil aura surrounding them. It was a woman clad in a black robe with a pale skeleton mask, which obscured her face, and a man, who was dressed in fine cloathing, wearing an expensive mask himself.
"Hold on. I am judicant Esteemia and this is my assistant Supervisor Turmalis of the Sunmages. We have received a tip that you are smuggling weapons to be used against the great Antilan empire... That`s why we have to search your ships, I am afraid." the woman stated.
"Well, you are in a neutral port and have no authority here, judicant!" It was Bont who stepped forward to challenge her.
"And besides, your accusations are ridiculous!" Thay took a position beside Bont and tried to look tough, despite the grip of fear that almost paralyzed him.
"Oh, is that so? Well, legally you might be right about my authority, but then again, who is going to stop me? Supervisor Turmalis, we are going to search these ships now."
"You have got one hour!"
She looked back at Bont, obviously with an arrogant remark on her lips, but then she reconsidered and just walked towards the "iron claw", the lance ship. Murx and Polkor, who had watched the whole conversation, now followed Esteemia in order to keep an eye on her.
Swiftly she turned around and watched them coldly. "If you take another step, you are going to die." Apparently Esteemia did not like to have anyone interfere with her task and she figured that a threat would be enough to keep the two men in line.
Much to her surprise the knight did not stop, but walked another pace and taunted her "What were you saying exactly?"
"Now there is no need to get..." Bont came rushing to his side, trying to calm the situation down, but Esteemia already whispered a few words of magic and Murx began to slow down. Bont quickly closed his mouth after he regained his composure – the young knight had been turned into a stone statue right before his eyes.
"I warned him not to intrude into my personal space, it was his own fault." Esteemia told him.
"Ah, yes, but when... When do you think the spell will wear off?"
"It does not wear off. But you know what, today is your lucky day and I will turn him back. After my investigation!"
With that she continued her way to the lance ship, nobody else wanted to get into her way now.
After 30 minutes Turmalis leaned at the rail of one of the civilian ships and watched Esteemia. "We have searched all the ships now and haven`t found the slightest trace of any weapons. Are you sure your sources were correct?"
"Oh, my dear Turmalis, but of course there aren`t any weapons on board. I just made that up."
"What? Why did you do that for?" Turmalis was a bit annoyed to have wasted his time with a futile search. This in turn seemed to amuse Esteemia. "Well, the council has kept a close look on every major fleet in the inner ring and... – not that this is a major fleet, mind you – Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, this lizardman, this Captain Ara Thay, well, he is looking for something. Something important, something that could finally spell our victory over the Illithids and the Varan."
"And what exactly is that?" Turmalis asked.
"We do not know that... Yet. And we do not know whether this is not a wild goose chase, but that`s where you come in. You will accompany these ships and will report any unusual occurence to me. Okay, let`s wait another few minutes and then we will return to the lizardmen."
After 55 minutes the two Antilans returned to the group and Esteemia announced: "We have not found any weapons, but you are not off the hook yet. I will leave Supervisor Turmalis behind to watch over you in my stead. And there is no arguing that!"
The group grudgingly accepted her words, not that they had much of a choice anyway, but at least Bont managed to convince everyone that it would be best if Turmalis were to accompany Ara Thay.
Esteemia turned around and walked away, wishing them a safe journey.
"Please wait. What about my crew man?" Bont shouted and Esteemia looked back again. "Oh that. Alright, he is restored." She waved her hand and Murx changed back to his former self, a smug look on his face, which turned to confusion when he realized that Esteemia was gone.
After that incident everyone was eager to leave the port and head off into space. They did not fly very far though, because Ara Thay landed on a different asteroid.
"What`s the matter?" Bont asked.
"Oh, I need to stock a few additional supplies. And some good wine we can drink to celebrate our partnership!" he said.
When Murx and Polkor saw the merchant, a neogi with quite a few tatooes, showing his relatively high rank in the neogi hierarchy, they immediately readied their weapons. "He is doing business with THAT?" Polkor was shocked, but Bont just shook his head in puzzlement "What do you mean? Everyone is bartering with the neogi. Oh wait, now I remember what my grandfather told me. Is it true that the neogi outside of this sphere are bent on enslaving every non-neogi? Well, you better stay close to me, in the Cluster, many things are different from what you are used to."
"Apparently. So we`ve noticed." Polkor said and reluctantly sheathed his dagger again. "So, this neogi is trustworthy then?"
"Not for an instant." Bont chuckled. "But if you need to acquire anything, the neogi are definitely the ones to ask. However, you should watch them carefully, they will try to rip you off given the chance."
They watched from a distance as Thay haggled over the price, but it did not take long for him and the neogi to reach a mutually satisfying conclusion. They loaded the wares onto the iron claw and finally left the inner ring. "Oh by the way Ara, where are we going?" It was a question that Bont had meant to ask all day. "I need to consult Golotaire, an elven wisemen, about a few urgent matters. Have faith, I will inform you in due time, friend." A mysterious answer that left Bont wondering what his fellow lizardman was up to.
Their journey to the asteroid where Golotaire was supposed to live took about two days, not too long considering Golotaire was not one to live in a crowded region of the Cluster. The asteroid was not very big, Golotaire`s house was a mere hundred meters away from their landing site. Murx, Polkor and Bont left the wasp and soon Ara and Turmalis joined them.
"Something is not right, I can feel it." Ara warned the others. Cautiously they approached the front door and formed a semi circle around it. Murx took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
"Who is there?" a voice from the inside asked.
"We are friends and we seek an audience with Golotaire."
"Golotaire? He does not live here anymore, please leave."
Murx looked at Ara Thay, who frowned at the voice`s statement, and tried to door, but apparently it was locked. Bont pushed Murx gently aside "Let me try it." Then he threw himself against the wooden door and the weak lock shattered upon impact.
The room was very dark as all the windows had been barred. On the far side there was a bald person lying on a bed and beside the door stood a blonde elf. Apparently the one on the bed was an elf from the Cluster, while the elf at the door was a stranger to this sphere, as his long hair indicated. Ara rushed past Bont and examined the body on the bed. He turned around and informed the others that this was the sage Golotaire, but that they had come to late for he was not alive.
Bont faced the elf at the door and proclaimed "You are under arrest!"
"Huh? What? What do you mean?" The elf gasped. "I did not do anything."
"Let`s see, you are in Golotaire`s house and the man is dead... I am afraid the circumstantial evidence are against you."
"But I tell you, I did not do anything. Golotaire was my friend, my mentor. I have been studying his life for a while now and then he died of old age. It happens, even to elves." The young elf claimed.
"Sir, I cannot sense any evil here. He might speak the truth." Murx quietly informed Bont.
"Very well, we believe you... For the moment. What is your name by the way?"
"Hmmm? Oh, I am Bespa Distel, a travelling bard. I have heard many odd stories in my time and since my presence here is no longer necessary, I would like to accompany you on your travels. At least until we reach one of the major ports of the Cluster."
Ara`s interest was suddenly peaked: "You said that you heard stories and that you studied alongside Golotaire for a while. Just how long was that? Maybe you can help me with an old lizardmen prophecy?"
"It was not very long, probably just thirty years or so. But yes, I might be of service to you. What exactly did you want to know?" Bespa offered.
"Well, let`s just discuss this under six eyes so to speak. I would like to talk to you and my friend Bont in private."
"There is no need for secrecy, my crew is loyal." Bont stated and looked at Murx and Polkor. Then his view drifted to Turmalis and he hastily added. "Then again, these matters are of concern to the lizardmen only and should not be discussed in front of others. Let us take a walk, Sir Distel."
Outside the house Ara produced a scroll from his pouches. "This is an ancient prophecy I have found in the old library of Ssthakal. It foretells a time when we lizardmen will be the most important faction of the Cluster. However, I could not discern if this age is yet to come or lies in the past. The document contained the seal of the keepers of wisdom an extinct order of lizardmen sages. I was hoping that you could help me to find out more about this mysterious prophecy." Ara was very excited about this and Bont, who had been hoping to find other settlements of his race in the Cluster, quickly adopted his anxiety.
"Hmmm, interesting. I am no expert on lizardmen history, but I believe I know something about this order of the keepers of wisdom. Let me think for a moment. Ah yes, there are ruins on one of the nearby asteroids. Golotaire wanted to explore them, but he was afraid of any traps the lizardmen might have set and in the end he was too weak to leave this asteroid, so we never managed to go there. I could show you the way."
"Ok, but what about that supervisor Turmalis? He might pose a threat." Bont pointed out.
"Well, I say we should tolerate him for the time being. And if he decides to make trouble then we shall deal with him in the appropriate way." Ara soothed him, as he despised any physical confrontation.
He was extremely grateful for Bespa`s information and immediately ran back to the ships in order to inform the other captain`s about their next flight route. Bespa and Bont walked back to the other`s and Bont informed them one by one that they were going to seek out an old library of the lizardmen in order to find out something about other tribes that might live in the Cluster. He did not want to alarm Turmalis and decided they did not need to know everything.
Before they could leave in search for the library, Bespa insisted on giving Golotaire an appropriate funeral. Murx, the knight, was elected to hold the ceremony, since there was no priest on board of the ships.
A few days passed until they finally found the building they were looking for. The s-shaped pillars in Front of the structure clearly identified it as an old masterpiece of lizardmen architecture, even though none of the humans and elves seemed to appreciate it as much as the rest of the crew.
The "away" team consisted of Bont, Murx, Bespa, Turmalis and Polkor. Ara pointed out that it might be best to have one of them remain at the ships in order to keep them ready for a quick dust off and naturally he volunteered for that responsible position.
It took some effort to force open the great double doors of the building, but finally they managed to do that and entered the library. The building was designed pretty straight forward: It was basically a large hall with several rows of book cases. At the far end there was a platform and upon it were two huge stone tablets, a large chest along with six skeleton guardians. The group searched the whole room without entering the platform and when Bont deemed that the place was safe, he ordered his crew to load the books onto the cargo hold of his ship. Unknown to the others Turmalis examined a tiny hole in the eastern wall of the room. It was a simple, yet effective fireball trap and he wondered whether it had been turned off delibaretly, perhaps due to the presence of the lizardman, or if it had just been a dud. Either way, good fortune was apparently another companion of the group.The five heroes cautiously assembled in front of the platform.
"Ok Turmalis, why don`t you cast a lightning bolt and get rid of those skeletons?" Bont suggested, but Turmalis looked the other way and pretended not to hear him.
"Excuse me! I demand that you employ magic to destroy these skeletons!" visably angered, Bont shouted at Turmalis.
"Oh really? Well, you seem to forget that I am not one of your lackeys. And besides, I am just an observer and have no combat spells at my disposal." The latter was an outright lie and nobody believed him after what Esteemia had done at the spaceport. Turmalis did not want to expose himself though and end up in a hostile group without the necessary means to defend himself.
Meanwhile Bont had developed a different plan. He had knotted a lasso out of a rope and tried to haul the skeletons off the platform. However, once the rope was thrown onto the platform it seemed to hit some sort of resistance. The air seemed to have the consistancy of water and the rope slowly wobbled back and forth and drifted to the ground.
"It is no use, there is some sort of magical barrier on this platform. I am afraid we have to go in and see what happens." He spoke a short prayer to Sstasa and then entered the platform. Murx and Bespa followed close behind, while Polkor pretended to guard their rear and Turmalis watched everything with scientific interest. Shortly after they sat foot on the platform the skeletons` eyes began to glow with unholy life, they raised their weapons and engaged the party. Polkor stepped onto the platform and started throwing daggers at the skeletons. He always managed to hit a skeleton when one of the others cut it down and in the end Bespa approached him, shook his hand and approved of his support "You fought very well, brother!"
When the last skeleton fell, Turmalis walked over to the chest and wanted to open it, but Bont held him back. "What do you think you are doing? You did not help us fight, so you won`t get to open that chest. And besides, you are just an observer, don`t you remember? You don`t really need the spoils of battle."
Turmalis looked hard at the lid of the chest and said: "The chest is worthless to me, you may have it. Those stone tablets on the other hand look intriguing. I will see to it that your henchmen don`t break them when they carry them back to the ship."
Turmalis was pleased to see the shocked expression in response to his bluff. Of course he was not able to see through the material of the chest, but it was good to have the other`s believe in his limitless power. One thing was not a hoax though, the stone tablets indeed seemed to be important. Some ancient indecipherable language was inscribed on them, but he was intent on getting a translation.
The group carried the chest back to the ship after the whole library had been stripped of its contents and Bont wondered how they should go about opening it.
"Let me open the chest. I wanted to try this spell out for a long time. But we need to lift off from the asteroid." Polkor said. Bont signaled him to go ahead and ordered the helmsman to ascend a few meters. Polkor spoke some magic words and made a few gestures and then he threw the crate over board. "Nooo..." the others cried out, but Polkor waved their fears away. "Don`t be afraid, I have cast a feather fall spell on the contents of the box. While the box will break like an egg on the ground, everything else will be in top condition."
They landed on the asteroid again and Polkor`s plan worked perfectly. The Chest contained a few items, which he identified as being magical. Polkor, Murx and Bont each donned a magical ring. A few of the other items went into the ships treasury.
After they set off into space again, Turmalis, who had insisted to travel with Bont and the tablets from now on, entered the Captain`s quarter.
"I do not want to disturb you Captain Bont, but I demand that we bring these stone tablets to the conclave of the Sunmages, which is located in the golden girdle. Besides, anyone but the Antilans wouldn`t be able to decode the writings on the tablets."
"I totally agree supervisor Turmalis." Bont said. "You do?" Turmalis was startled to hear that. "Yes, of course. And we will bring them to the Sunmages. If my people cannot help us to translate the tablets, that is. Certainly you don`t mind that we are going to try to find someone proficient in the ancient lizard tongue on my homeworld first?"
"No, of course not. Have a good evening, Captain." Turmalis was genuinely pleased with this agreement, he never expected as much cooperation from the lizardman. Turmalis was content for the moment and returned to his quarter.
On the second day of their journey to Ssthakal several dragonflies were closing in on them. The crew assembled on deck. "What`s the matter? Who are they?" shouted Bont.
"Those are Pirate ships." Supervisor Turmalis answered in a bitter tone.