The sun had retreated behind the bank of low clouds that had rolled in. In the distance, a faint rumble of thunder could be heard. The wind was starting to pick up and the sea was becoming choppy. A light drizzle of rain began to fall.
Kynnaly and Glix trudged up the mountain trail, their robes whipping in the wind. From here, the village of Cabeiri could faintly be seen off to the east and the endless gray stretch of ocean just beyond it. The trail, if you could even call it that, was rocky and full of twists and turns that took the pair closer and closer to the summit.
"Whose idea was it to have the meeting on this blasted rock pile?" Kynnaly hissed at Glix through the wind.
Glix stopped abruptly and turned to face her. "Yours," he said with somewhat amused disdain. The two continued in silence. Thunder clapped more closely now and the rain was beginning to fall heavily. Glix muttered a few words and a translucent sphere appeared around the two, which the rain did not penetrate.
They were traveling up the rocky and desolate Daroq Mountains; mountains that few people from the small town below dared to enter. Those who climbed its slopes never returned and rumors buzzed around the village of vicious goblin tribes, pirate ghosts, and demon spirits, but so far, as on all their trips up the mountain, the pair had seen nothing more than a few pitiful, starved goblin wretches hiding in cracks and gullies.
The trail continued to wind seemingly endlessly up the rocky and jagged slope. The two plodded on in silence. A dazzling bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, followed shortly by another and an almost defending bellow of thunder. The two Drows rounded a bend and stopped abruptly.
They had reached a small and relatively flat ledge. There were strange markings on the ground and cliff walls as well as an abandoned fire pit. Kynnaly scanned quickly about the area and then walked up to the cliff wall.
"Ssussun," Kynnaly hissed and a ball of flickering energy formed in her hand. When she tossed the small orb in the air, it returned and floated an arms length in front of her face, bobbing inconsistently in the air. Glix followed suit and the two slipped behind some rocks and ducked into a small cave opening.
The inside of the cave was dark, except for the glowing spheres made by the two light orbs. The wind howled outside, making an eerie hollow noise in the cramped cavern. Kynnaly motioned with her hand, her orb following her finger around the confines of the cave, bobbing farther away at times to see in the dark corners. Suddenly there was a light thud behind them.
The two whirled around to find a figure kneeling on the floor, silhouetted by the light from the cave entrance. Immediately, two light orbs zipped over and hovered around it. It was an Artrell: a half-insect, half-man creature with four arms, each equipped with pincer-like claws. It stood and looked over the two newcomers, a thick, slimy liquid oozing from its gaping maw.
"You wished to talk to me," it stated using the language of the Drow in a raspy, hissing voice. Rather clearly it spoke, considering the shape of its mouth and the fangs that were lodged there.
"Ah. Nishimoto," said Glix evenly. "Punctual as always. Forgive our lateness. Kynnaly found a new playmate down in the village."
Kynnaly grinned and the runes on her staff flashed briefly.
Nishimoto eyed the staff. "One of these days you'll have to keep your promise and teach me to use that thing, Faern Kynnaly."
Kynnaly twirled the staff, its runes making tracers in the dark cave. "Of course, of course." She waved her hands and suddenly the staff vanished, leaving Kynnaly smirking.
"I trust all goes well in the Hive," she said.
"Indeed. The Queen is doing well."
"And yourself? Business going good?"
"Same as always," he smirked, and it took on a distinctively evil appearance. "There's been no lack of demand, but you know that's all I can tell you."
"All too well," she said, narrowing her crimson eyes at the assassin.
Kynnaly then turned abruptly and walked deeper into the shallow cavern. She turned slightly to speak. "And the trip here. Were you seen?"
Nishi grinned. "Am I ever?"
Her tone still steady, "Good. We have matters to discuss."
"I anticipated as much," he hissed in reply, "though it is unusual that I should acquire a contract from a mage of the Drow."
Kynnaly snapped back to face Nishi. "No," she said sharply. "Nothing like that." Here she paused a moment. "Something of much more...importance."
"But first," Glix cut in, shooting a sideways glance to his companion. "From our Queen to yours..."
Glix reached into his robes and pulled out a knife made of shiny, black obsidian. The blade gleamed in the flickering orb light.
"A gift," he said, handing it to the Artrell. "For the Hive."
Nishimoto took the dagger and turned it over in his claws. "The Prismatic Dagger..."
"Only a replica, of course. Not good for combat," Kynnaly said.
"Of course..." hissed Nishimoto, placing the dagger in a satchel at his waist. "The Queen will be pleased."
Glix nodded. "A token of our good will and hope of continued friendship between our two kingdoms."
Nishimoto nodded. "Of course, Faern Glix."
"Now," Kynnaly said, looking up at the ceiling. "On to more pressing matters..."
A light breeze caught the ship's sails and carried it over the clam blue waters. The sea breeze was warm, but carried a sharp bite of cold to come. Clear blue skies were overhead, but foreboding storm clouds could be seen rapidly building off to the west. The wooden ship, being of moderate size and common make, proudly flew the colors of the Queendom of Jewel atop its mast.
A single figure stood on the deck, staring blankly at the distant land in the east as if in deep thought. He was fairly tall for a goblin, but that wasn't saying much, and had grayish-green skin that showed scars from battle in addition to various lumps and warts. He wore ornate silver armor that shone brightly in the noonday sun. To his waist was clipped a sword.
A tapping on his shoulder disturbed his thoughts and he let out a grunt of surprise. Turning, he saw a young teen dressed in tattered clothes and a bandana. He was one of the ship's crew and wore a very nervous expression.
"My Lord," the boy said bowing deeply. "Your presence is requested in the hold."
The goblin nodded and waved his hand to dismiss the cabin boy. Taking one last look off to the east, he followed him over to where a portion of the deck had been swung up. The boy stood aside, allowing him to descend the steep and creaky steps down into the dark hull of the ship. The boy followed after him, closing the hatch above them.
The armor-clad goblin stepped down the last few stairs and into the hold. The lighting was sparse, but his eyes quickly adjusted. It smelled of lamp oil and mildew. There were a few boxes laying about the area. A small group of three was standing nearby, intent on some parchment lying on a box. As he approached, one of them looked up.
"A message, Mish-Rak," said the elf. "From the Queen."
The one who spoke was a tall and lanky elf with light green skin and the traditional pointed ears. He was dressed in robes of varying shades of blue and held a strange glowing sphere in his hands.
Mish-Rak walked over to him, nodding to the others gathered around, a human navigator and a kobold page. Both were dressed in tattered clothes just like the boy. They returned the greeting.
"Good news, I hope?" he asked taking the glowing ball from the other.
"That remains to be seen."
Mish-Rak grasped the sphere in one hand and held it up in front of his face. An image slowly appeared inside, surrounded by a swirling pattern of colors. It was the face of Simoriah, the ruler of the Queendom of Jewel. Simoriah was a stout-looking dwarf with long hair that was tied behind her head. She wore jeweled armor that sparked slightly. The goblin bowed his head.
"Ah. Greetings Mish-Rak. How goes your voyage?" said a sweet voice that seemed to come from inside his head.
"It goes well, my Lady. The winds are with us and our supplies are still plentiful."
"Wonderful. You are all in good health?"
"And what of the negotiations?"
Mish-Rak took and deep breath. "I regret that I must once again report no progress, my Lady."
The image looked down in disappointment. "Ah. We'll keep trying then. Continue back to the Jeweled City. You and your crew deserve a rest. We'll send out another voyage in a month or two, to give King Lockheart time to cool down." She grinned.
Mish-Rak nodded. "Aye."
Simoriah smiled and clapped her hands once. "Excellent. How much longer will you be at sea?"
Mish-Rak looked over to the navigator who pointed to some charts on the box. He examined them for a brief moment. "We shall arrive before nightfall, m'Lady."
"Very well," came the voice. "We look forward to your return. Pleasant seas to you." With that, the image disappeared and the ball darkened. Mish-Rak handed it back to the elf.
He sighed and looked around at all present. "May I talk to you, Cye'Ren?" He paused. "Alone."
After only a moment's hesitation, the others bowed and retreated up to the deck. A bright gleam of sunlight blazed into the hold as they hatch was opened, forcing the two to shield their eyes. When the hatch was closed and they were alone, Mish-Rak spoke.
"I'm tired of these blasted 'negotiations'. Can't she see that they're getting us nowhere?" he said in an even tone that was clearly forced. "Simoriah still thinks there will be peace. We have peace. But that never seems to be enough. No. Not until all the kingdoms are united." He slowly turned his gaze over to Cye'Ren. His eyes betrayed his true feelings as he slowly shook his head. "That's impossible."
Cye'Ren hesitated a moment. "Perhaps."
"The negotiations have been going on for over a year now and Lockheart still refuses. My patience is wearing thin, and his must be as well. I fear the next voyage will not be turned away on as pleasant of terms."
"I agree. I did sense more anger from him this time. Another voyage so soon would not be wise, lest our hopes of peace turn to war. But we should not give up so readily." He paused in thought and then continued slowly. "His mind may be swayed if we can manage to convince Xenora to join us. Even Hiemelia cannot stand alone with Jewel and Xenora in cooperation."
Mish-Rak shook his head. "That's not likely to happen. We're on no better terms with the Xenorans."
"True," Cye'Ren cut in. "But they have more reason to accept. They are not as strong as Hiemelia." He paused and licked his lips. "Perhaps we've been going about this all wrong. We've been going for the mighty kingdom, and hoping the smaller one will follow along. Maybe we should concentrate on Xenora first. Then, combined, we would pose a potential threat to Lockheart, perhaps pressuring him into joining too. Then, with the three kingdoms united..."
Mish-Rak turned away and sighed angrily, his silk cape rippling behind him. "I don't know. It just seems to me that we're wasting valuable time and money shooting for an impossible goal. I'd love to see the Confederation formed, but I'm doubting its feasibility at the moment. The whole thing seems too...too...unstable."
Cye'Ren nodded silently. "Simoriah wishes to pursue it and I will obey."
Mish-Rak lowered his head and nodded slowly.
"Will you support me in presenting my idea to our Queen?" Cye'Ren continued.
"Aye. It's the best hope we have as of now. We shall talk with her when we reach port."
Cye'Ren bowed slightly. "Thank you. And may the gods help us to succeed."
The sun had dipped low on the horizon when the ship at last pulled into port at the Jeweled City. Most of the vessel's crew was up on the deck, scurrying around and shouting commands. In the midst of the chaos, Mish-Rak stood, as solemn as ever, gazing over the city that stretched before him. The slow bobbing motion of the ship was almost hypnotic.
A faint thump vibrated through the deck, stirring him from his trance. A wooden ramp had been pushed up to the ship and some members of the crew were already beginning to descend down to the crowded and noisy docks. Mish-Rak felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Cye'Ren standing beside him. Cye'Ren nodded and he returned the gesture. With that, they both walked over to the ramp and followed it down to the bustling crowd below.
People of all ages were rushing about, the majority of them trying to buy a fish or two for the evening meal. The breeze was cold and carried a strong smell of the sea. As the two walked down the wooden planks of the dock, the crowd parted around them. Two such people from the Royal Guard were both respected and feared by common citizens.
Night was beginning to fall and a number of pages were running about with torches, lighting lamps along the streets. It was a large and grand city with a large palace near its center. The streets were lined with shops and stores of all kinds. There was a sweets shop near by and a wonderful smell drifted into Mish-Rak's nostrils. Nearby, the sound of a blacksmith's hammer could be heard as well as the sound of bartering merchants. The streets were made of stone and were well kept. The crowd had begun to thin out.
Cye'Ren muttered a few words and suddenly rose into the air, followed shortly by Mish-Rak. The second grunted in surprise.
"Next time warn me before you do that," he said, grinning.
Cye'Ren chuckled. "But that takes all the fun out of it," he said, using his best whiny voice.
The two continued to rise over the rooftops. The view was amazing. The city stretched on in all directions before being swallowed up by the forest that surrounded it and the sun's golden reflection rippled on the boundless sea. Smoke was rising from the chimneys of many of the buildings, filling the air with a very distinctive and somehow warming smell. Ahead of them, the palace sparkled magnificently. The two drifted slowly towards it, as if walking on air. It was rapidly getting colder.
"Will you propose your idea tonight?" Mish-Rak asked.
"No. Not yet. Not until everything is worked out and perfected," Cye'Ren replied. "I want everything to be flawless."
Mish-Rak nodded. "Then I will mention nothing of it in my report to Simoriah. You go on and get some sleep."
"I thank you once again for your support. If we can rally just a few more, we might be able to persuade her of its merit."
"Aye," grunted Mish-Rak absentmindedly.
They continued on in silence until they reached the walls of the Jeweled Palace. Taking step to the ground in a wonderful smelling garden, they walked up to two men in full armor who were guarding the gate. The men bent a knee in recognition, to which the two nodded before continuing inside the palace walls.
The gates closed behind them and the guards continued their usual watch. Night had indeed fallen and more and more people were retiring from the streets to the warmth of their homes. In the sky, two moons, a large red one and a small green one began their nightly trek across the starry night sky.
In the street, a lone figure stood, silhouetted in the moonlight. Dark robes hid most of its figure, but behind a dark mask, two narrow eyes burned like hot embers as they scanned the street. Slowly the figure's gaze drifted up to the palace. Here its gaze lingered slightly. Then, it was gone, vanishing into the shadows like a phantasmal apparition. All was quiet as the cold of night descended upon the Jeweled City.