Jyl managed to find her fellow members of the Queen’s Guard through a process of clever deduction. Her thought process went something like this; They need somewhere to go, it’s late, they’re foreigners, and I have their travel papers. Clearly, they’re at a tavern. Where else could people posing as sailors new in port blend in? It hasn’t been that long either, so the tavern’s probably still intact.
It wasn’t that Jyl knew Dae or Mayleena to be trouble makers, or likely to burn buildings down in their wake, but after the sinking of the Fearless and running into a trio of giant sea serpents, Jyl felt comfortable in assuming that their mission was under some kind of curse and that nothing was likely to go according to any of their original plans.
Armed with the guess that they’d be at a tavern, Jyl then followed a process of elimination that started and ended with “I’ll check the closest one” and ended with “Oh look, there they are!”
Instinct, more than deduction or cleverness, caused Jyl to pause before joining them. The crowd was loud and boisterous, a good celebratory revel for those who’d survived another voyage on the merciless seas. As Jyl listened though, the tenor of the celebration changed. Boasts and uproarious laughter quieted and were replaced by snarls and taunts.
With the skill of someone who’d practiced being unnoticed since childhood, Jyl shrank back, disappearing into the crowd around the bar. The servers were busy filling orders, but there was a hitch in their steps, as though they’d sense something was off with the world too.
“The Talons’ll be here soon,” a woman in the canvas overalls of dockworker said.
Jyl didn’t respond. There was no sense drawing attention to herself yet.
“You’ll want to vanish if you can little elf,” the woman said. “Even if they’re not here for you, the Talons won’t like finding a Gallagrin spy here.”
That caught Jyl’s full and undivided attention.
“They’re not going to care whether I am a spy or not I take it?” she asked, looking at the woman and searching for a sign of how much the woman knew of what was going on.
The dockworker was a dwarven woman, which complicated Jyl’s appraisal of her. In Gallagrin, dwarves were a reasonable portion of the population, just not anywhere that Jyl had lived for long. By Jyl’s best guess, the dwarf was likely in her mid fifties, so just barely middle aged by dwarven standards, but the guess could have been twenty to thirty years short and Jyl would have easily believed it too.
The dwarf stood slightly taller than Jyl, in part because Jyl’s family naturally ran on the small side of elvish heights and because Jyl was short even by her family’s standards. Jyl always countered claims that her height was a disadvantage by pointing out that she packed more muscle per pound than anyone else in her family, including her brute of a sister. In that department she also came up short compared to the dwarven woman, whose light grey skin and thick solid muscles made her look like she’d been carved directly out of steel, rather than born to any earthly mother.
“Better safe than sensible, that’s the Talon’s philosophy,” the woman said, and shifted away from the bar to let someone else crowd in and get the server’s attention. In the process she also hid Jyl even better from the line of sight of the people entering the tavern.
Jyl peeked out as conversation slowed and quieted throughout the bar. In her gut, she felt a creeping terror take root and start to grow with alarming speed.
“Did they bring a dragon here?” Jyl said, forcing the words out through teeth that were starting to chatter together.
“There’ll be a rider overhead,” the dockworker said. “You can feel it already though? That’s impressive.”
“It’d be more impressive if I could stab the damn thing,” Jyl said.
“You’re not the first one to want to do that,” the dockworker said. “Or the only. My name’s not Zana. Who aren’t you?”
Jyl took a second to process that through the edge of dragon fear that was crowding into her thoughts. Whoever “not Zana” was, she at least recognized that Jyl wasn’t in a position under the best of circumstance to reveal information about herself. Names were still useful though.
“My name isn’t Jaan,” she said. Which was true, and had the advantage of being a name she was likely to react to and remember easily since people had been mistaking Jyl for her twin since they were born.
“We’re close enough to the kitchen, would you like to go visit my friend who cooks here?” Zana asked.
Jyl felt herself being split in half. Escape, at this point, was of utmost importance. She had the forged travel papers for the three Queen’s Guard. If she was caught with them and the papers were scrutinized too closely, Jyl was certain that the forgery would be spotted. She was an expert at slipping into places undetected, which had made breaking into the Harbor Master’s office blindingly easy. She was less practiced at forging perfect copies of someone’s handwriting, in the dark (since she couldn’t light a candle without risking being seen), in a foreign language (since the travel papers were all written in Old Paxmerese, rather than modern Realms Common) and under a time restriction (since she had minutes, not days to pull off the whole caper).
From the samples she’d had to work from it hadn’t appeared that there was anything special about the text of the papers and that the official seal that was pressed into the bottom was the most important identifying mark. Just because she didn’t know of anything important in the text though didn’t mean she was willing to gamble their lives on that assumption.
So she had to escape.
But she couldn’t leave Dae and Mayleena behind.
Zana, apparently being a frighteningly perceptive sort, noticed Jyl’s flinch of hesitation and the glance that she cast towards the table where Dae and Mayleena sat.
“Looks like we’re going to have a scene here after all,” Zana said. “It’s a shame, I liked this bar.”
“Will the dragon land if a fight starts?” Jyl asked. In her mind that was the worst case scenario since it meant paralysis and the elimination of any options for dealing with whatever was to come.
“They usually stay in the air,” Zana said. “The Talons are tough enough to take care of themselves. They didn’t need the dragons until a few months back.”
“Last fall?” Jyl asked.
“Around then,” Zana said.
Which would place their arrival shortly after the decapitation of the Consort-King. Jyl doubted it was a coincidence, but she had more immediate problems to resolve.
The Talons wore blood red armor adorned with worked pieces of bone in the shape of fangs, and claws and full skulls. There were an even half dozen of them who walked silently in through the door and as they passed through the crowd, silence descended.
“Thanks for the offer to see your friend the chef,” Jyl said. “If this goes poorly, I’ll forget it entirely.”
Jyl felt safe in making that promise as, if things went as poorly as they imagined they might, she was likely to be ashes blowing on the wind. Despite the paralysis that she felt creeping down into her fingers and toes though, Jyl was fairly certain she could wrestle a better fate for herself than that. The dragon fear was distant and if it approached she could hide. There was no ocean trapping her here after all, and while she didn’t want to abandon her companions, she for damn sure wasn’t going to throw her own life away when she could live and avenge them instead. It was what she would demand they do for her if their situation were reversed.
“If it goes well, I’ll remember that,” Zana said, and tugged her sleeve back to reveal a bare forearm. Or it appeared bare at first. As Jyl watched a silver tattoo rippled into existence and then vanished just the same. The tattoo had been the image of a dragon in flight but in place of horns on its head, there had been a halo.
Zana nodded to Jyl and pulled her sleeve back down.
Jyl, for her part, was bewildered. She’d never heard of magical tattoos in Gallagrin, and unlike Dae, she was unversed in the traditions of the other kingdoms.
Or at least mostly unversed. From what Jyl knew, the dragons of Paxmer were the partners of the Paxmer nobility (not property, even as an “ignorant Gallagrin savage”, Jyl knew the tales of people who’d mistaken dragons for property or pets, and those never ended well). What connection a dockhand might have with a dragon, or dragon cult, was something Jyl couldn’t begin to form a guess about.
She desperately wanted to turn the matter over to Dae, both to dump it on her superior officer and because Dae was the only one Jyl knew who might be able to make sense of what was going on.
Unfortunately Dae had problems of her own. Though she and Mayleena sat at one of the side bars and were heads down in their drinks, they still drew the Talons attention. That was likely Mayleena’s fault Jyl guessed. The daughter of the Telli clan had an aura that was arresting and unmistakable. Her veil did nothing to help her hide or distract attention from her. At best it insulated people from the worst edge of the disquiet she emanated if you didn’t know her well enough to see the woman underneath the magical aberration she’d become.
Jyl watched one of the two Talons reach out to grab Mayleena’s arm. The other Talons were harassing other patrons but Jyl saw how that was no more than a handful of seconds away from changing drastically. The destruction of the Fearless jumped into her mind with vivid clarity and Jyll paused a second to consider whether she was in the path of destruction that Mayleena was sure to unleash.
Surprisingly though, it wasn’t Mayleena who responded to the Talon.
Jyl was too far away to hear what was said, but she was close enough to see Dae’s features when the Queen’s Knight looked up from her drink and spoke to the Talons.
It wasn’t a woman speaking to the guards. It was an unrestrained Pact Spirit. Metal and fury twisted Dae’s features and the Queen’s Knight seemed to swell in both size and power. She spoke again and the Talon’s turned away, visibly shaken and confused.
Elsewhere in the tavern, the Talons rounded up a pair of the patrons and growled the rest out of their path as they led their quarry out of the tavern in conjured chains.
“Well, that was intriguing,” Zana said. “And unexpected. I didn’t know someone could do that.”
Turn into a Berserker at will? Jyl thought. Yes, we don’t tend to do that because now we’re all going to die.
Except when she looked back, Dae was not long an uncontrolled Pact Spirit. She was a normal, if very tired looking, woman.
What in the Sleeping Gods Hells did she just do? Jyl wondered.
“I would very much like you to come meet my friend the cook,” Zana said. “I believe we have concerns that are closely related.”
“That sounds like an invitation I may not be allowed to pass up?” Jyl asked, wondering if there was an implied threat lurking under Zana’s words.
“If this is a bad time, then we can arrange for some other appointment,” Zana said.
Dae finally looked over and saw Jyl speaking with an unfamiliar dwarf. She tilted her head as an open ended question for Jyl. Jyl replied by shifting her gaze to the kitchen door and then shrugging, asking wordlessly if it was ok to follow the lead Zana offered. Dae nodded and tapped Mayleena on the shoulder, who rose from her seat in response to the prompt.
“I think now will do just fine,” Jyl said. “But I may need to invite some guests.”
“The more, the deadlier,” Zana said. “And in this case, that’s a good thing.”