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Magic Man

Midsummer Festival

Silent Image (Illusion). Focus: a bit of soft, cuddly fleece. You may create a visual illusion (as opposed to the other kind) of an object, creature, or force (unless it's an invisible force, which defeats the purpose), as visualized by the spellcaster.

"I should be out there, looking."

"Magnos, will you please stop saying that?" Kylie Moonbrooke says, her elven eyebrows sharpening in disapproval. "We've already established that your best place is here, out of sight, so you can search for Hedwig through your empathic link without being spotted."

"Out of sight, yes, but here? Terro's store room of Stinky Smokeleaf?"

From the front of the tent we hear Terro yell, "That's Antkiller's Emporium of Exotic Herbs! Get it right!"

"Even if I could fashion an empathic link, I probably wouldn't be able to think straight enough to get anything useful out of it. Not here."

"Still not getting anything from Hedwig?" she asks.

I shake my head. "She's either not here, or…or worse."

"Don't think like that." She puts her hand on my shoulder. "Selcar has nothing to gain by hurting Hedwig. Didn't he say that he just wants you out of the way?"

"And out of Susan's way," I mutter.

"Oh yeah. Susan." Kylie sits beside me on a long hay bale. "Far be it from me to question your taste in women, but I don't know if Susan's worth all the worrying." She hurries on before I can interrupt. "Sure, she's pretty, rich, and talented, but--"

"You're not doing a good job of persuading me she's not worth my time."

"Look. I've seen her. You can't miss her just floating by, hair glowing in the sun, and she's surrounded by a gaggle of admirers, and new ones every week."

"Still not seeing the problem here, Kylie."

"What happens to the old ones?"

"What old ones?"

"The ones who were admiring her last week? Or the week before?"

"Are you saying that she gets around?" I smile. "I get it. You don't like her. That's okay. Maybe you're even a little jealous of her. Perfectly understandable. Like you said, she's gorgeous, quick-witted, and has the taste to appreciate me. It's no wonder she could be a little intimidating. But you don't have to worry; she puts her dress on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us…or is it two legs? I can never remember…"

"Magnos," Kylie shakes her head. "For such a bright wizard, you're an idiot sometimes. Have you heard the phrase 'Breg tuiyo, breg narcho'?"

"No, but you're going to tell me all about it, aren't you?"

"It means 'Quickly grown, quickly torn.' It's why we elves take so long to make friendships."

"Is that why it took three months for you to start saying 'Hello' back to me?"

"That and because it was amusing to see you with that disappointed look on your face," she smiles.

"What?"

"Never mind that. My point is that girl leaves a trail of broken hearts behind her a mile long. She probably doesn't mean it, but--"

"But what?"

Kylie shakes her head. "I don't know. I know you're not exactly a stranger to women, so you're not going to listen to me anyway. I just don't want to see you get hurt."

I stand up. "Don't worry about me. I can--"

"Take care of yourself," she finishes, exasperated again. "Yes, we all know about the great and powerful Mag--"

"Hey, you're a wizard, aren't ya?" The rough voice comes from outside the tent.

Terro replies, "Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not. But the real question is how I can afford to sell you the finest Dalelands Masterwork Leaf at such incredible prices. It can only be…magic!"

"Never mind about the leaf. Have you seen a wizard goes by the name of Magnos? Magnos a' Rel Astra?"

Kylie and I exchange looks.

"If he's a competitor, I can assure you that his prices and quality are no match for ours. We offer a complete satisfaction guarantee that--"

"Enough already. Lousy wizards…" The rough voice fades.

Terro rushes into the tent, arms flailing. "Magnos, they're looking for you!"

"We heard. Can you possibly yell my name any louder?"

"Sorry."

"What's taking Jonah so long? He should have been back by now."

"Quiet!" says Kylie, hands at a ready spellcasting position. Someone is approaching the tent.

Jonah steps through the entrance and we relax. Except for Terro, who releases an electrical beam that nearly ignites a nearby stack of Luskan Blue.

"What in Toril are you doing?" cries Jonah. "You nearly hit Scamp!"

Terro doesn't reply, as he is occupied with stomping out the flickering slips of flame that dance on the grassy floor.

"No sign of Hedwig at Selcar's?" I ask.

"Signs, yes. Hedwig, no. Scamp and I checked the entire place."

"Did anyone spot you?" asks Kylie.

Jonah begins to shrug.

"Shh! I thought I saw him go in there!" This voice is male and urgent. It is also not coming from one of us.

"That answers that. We'll cover for you," Kylie whispers.

"Go!" adds Terro, who, having finished stamping out the last of the flames, walks out the front of the tent. "Ah, customers! Might I interest you in some of Neverwinter's finest--"

Jonah and I are already wriggling under the tent fabric away from the voices.

We scramble to our feet, shaking the dirt off our robes, heedless of the curious stares we draw.

"Split up and meet by the food stalls!" I say.

"Take Scamp with you. The empathic link will help us stay in contact," says Jonah.

"Good call." Scamp hops onto my shoulder and curls around my neck obligingly, and we dash in opposite directions.

Behind me, I hear Terro yelling, and an unfamiliar voice shouts, "There they are! Get them!"

I rush between a couple holding hands, prompting an angry "Hey! Watch it, kid!" and I overturn a display of gnomish clocks as I turn the corner.

Into an even more crowded thoroughfare.

"Sorry! Sorry! Excuse me! Very sick animal with me! Highly contagious!" At this Scamp nips my shoulder. "Ow! He's very aggressive! Keep clear! Hellooo, are you here alone?" This last is directed toward a wide-eyed young brunette who flinches when I talk to her. Pity I'm being chased by Selcar's thugs, so I resume running.

Right into a haughty elven matron carrying a number of satchels and bags laden with newly-purchased clothes, parasols, and even more bags.

"Well I never!" she sputters.

"I know! Your husband told me! Very sad!"

Scamp, having leaped to safety on top of a nearby stall, clucks urgently and flees into the crowd.

"Scamp, wait!" I pick myself up and follow, oblivious to the apoplectic elf's protests.

Ignoring me, the ferret clambers onto stall tops, leaping from post to post as I struggle to keep up at street level. He dashes onto a tent, then clambers through a seam along its edge, and I follow through its main entrance.

The interior of the tent is lined with carts and shelves bearing loaves and sweet rolls and pastries. Figures that the little weasel would think of his stomach when we're being chased. Still, the smell here is heady, redolent of honey and cinnamon, recalling Katherine and Mother bustling in the kitchen, and yet…

Movement from behind one of the tall carts returns me to the present.

"Scamp?"

"I'm assuming you mean the ferret here?"

The voice is so close to me that I jump. A young half-elf holds Scamp by the scruff, while the wiry little bugger munches contentedly on a sweet roll.

"Yes, unfortunately. C'mere, Scamp. You know you're not supposed to be eating grains!" I take him from the stranger. "Crazy guy's always finding new ways of getting into trouble. What's a law-abiding guy such as me supposed to do, right?"

The half-elf smiles slightly. "He's a beautiful animal. You don't see too many silver ferrets in Silverymoon."

"I guess not," I say, placing Scamp firmly on my shoulders. "He's all right. When he's not running away and stealing stuff."

This elicits a laugh. "Are you his owner?"

Glaring at Jonah's companion, I say, "I don't think Scamp thinks of himself as being owned. Ownership's a weird word where familiars are concerned."

"Ah! You're a mage!" He seems impressed. Why shouldn't he be? I do cut a pretty dashing figure when I aim to.

I bow as best as I can with a ferret clinging to my head. "At your service. Here is some coin for the trouble Scamp has caused."

The half-elf smiles again, but the smile doesn't seem to reach his eyes. "Oh no! I couldn't accept that from the owner of such a beautiful animal." Scamp preens. Maybe I was just imagining it.

Returning the coins, he says, "Keep them. A token for having brought a measure of happiness to me today. A bright Midsummer's Day to you, good mage."

This has to be the nicest stranger I've met all tenday. The coins feel heavy as I slip them into my money bag; maybe he refunded me a little more than he intended. Who am I to refuse such kindness?

When I reach the corner stall owned by Bred for Breading, Scamp's nostrils quiver, and he leaps forward before I can grab him.

"Not again!"

He darts between the legs of a constable, behind the skittering feet of two little girls, and up and into the arms of his waiting master.

"What do you mean by 'Not again'?" asks Jonah, stroking the muzzle of his pleased familiar. "Did you run into any trouble?"

"Only of the baked variety. What about you?"

"No, they were mostly interested in catching you, Magnos. You're a wanted man."

"A burden I bear willingly for the sake of women everywhere. Speaking of baked trouble, look yonder."

Across from us stands the outpost manned by Heavenly Queen Bakery. Though "manned" was doing its proprietress, a pale-skinned beauty with raven hair and luscious lips, a disservice.

"Ooh. That is trouble," declares Jonah. "I love their cream horns."

"Yeah, I could definitely look at those cream horns all day."

"Look at? I'm going to do a lot more than just look at them, I can tell you that," he says, walking toward the stall.

"Jonah, wait!" I grab his arm. "Aren't you being a little too forward? I know, coming from me, that doesn't mean much, but Azuth's wand, man! You're verging on the lewd there."

"For a cream horn?" He narrows his eyes. "I don't know what you do with them, but here in Silverymoon, it's customary to consume them. With one's mouth. Like so." Jonah demonstrates a chewing motion.

"Oh. A cream horn. Well sure, everyone knows that."

"What were you thinking I was talking about?"

"Nothing. Cream horns. Mmm! Flaky pastry products!" I join him in line.

The lovely bakery girl looks at us expectantly. Jonah starts to order, but I interrupt. "Pardon me, but do you like pineapples?

She looks confused. "I'm sorry. What?"

"Don't worry about it," says Jonah. "He says that to every girl he meets."

"And this is what you say to every girl you meet." I stare at him, wide-eyed, my nails to my mouth like I were biting them, and hold that pose for five seconds.

I turn back to the girl. "My friend and I were having an argument, and we were hoping you could settle it for us."

"We were?"

Kicking him, I say, "Regarding the consumption of the cream horn, what is the best way to eat one? Because he believes the most efficient technique involves going for the middle, directly to the delicious cream filling, like some hillside savage, whereas I maintain that the proper method involves--nay, demands--that one start from the tip and work down."

Hesitantly, the dark-haired girl says, "Well, I like to start from the end--"

"Aha!" To Jonah, I declare, "You see? Reason and civilization triumph!" To her, I say, "Please. Demonstrate."

"Excuse me?"

"The proper technique. Go on. It's for my friend's education."

"Magnos, that's really not necessary. I'll take one cream horn, please," Jonah says.

Blushing, she takes his money and hands him a cream horn. "And for you?"

"The same. But if you ever want to share my cream horn," I hold the pastry between us, "All you have to do is ask."

Jonah grabs me by the shoulder and tries to drag me away. "Stop harassing the poor girl. We have work to do, remember?"

I sigh. "Very well." As I start to turn away, the girl looks around to see if anyone's watching, then dips toward the cream horn, giving it a quick lick lengthwise, followed by a slower enclosing of her lips around its tip, and finishes with the most delicate bite. Furiously blushing now, she looks me in the eye and smiles.

Uh, Magnos? Jonah's voice is coming from very far away. Magnos?

"Magnos!"

I shake myself, willing my jaw back to its usual closed position.

"C'mon," he's saying. "We have to keep moving."

"What? Yeah, okay."

Jonah starts to guide me away. I look back and the bakery girl offers a quick wave and a smile. I manage a wink and, I'm sure, the most dazed grin by way of reply.

As we walk away, Jonah asks, "What's wrong with you? We're out looking for Hedwig and you're busy trying to get a serving girl to bite your cream horn."

"Oh, she did take a bite out of my cream horn. And it was delicious. So very delicious."

"Be that as it may, we're still missing your owl. She wasn't at Selcar's place, although there was a new birdcage that had been recently used."

"So she's got to be near," I say, coming to a halt.

"What is it?"

"She's near. I got it."

"What?"

"The empathic link! I can sense her; come on!"

We cut through the dwarven workshops, their shouted ire curling and angry like their forge fires. We skirt sideways past the glass-blown wares reputedly shipped from far-flung Evermeet, their flutes and handles tapered like a girl's waist. When we clear the last glass-laden table, we break into a full-out sprint, crashing through a display of scrolls, their imbued magic flaring and dissipating as the torn paper consumes itself from within. The shopkeeper shakes his fist to our laughter.

"Dancing Lights?"

"I know!"

"Who buys Dancing Lights?"

We're through the spell shop and outdoors again, running roughshod over a merchant's cabbage cart. At the next intersection, I stop, listening for that shred of consciousness.

Jonah drops his hands to his knees, puffing. "Where…where is she?"

I turn to my right and point toward a flash of brilliant blonde hair. Resplendent in finery, Susan and Selcar, stroll toward the concert area arm in god-forsaken arm. Susan is wearing a strapless petal-pink dress that both clings to her torso and flows in the breeze. Selcar has on a foppish waistcoated thing with a lute slung over his back. And a broadsword that looks bigger than him strapped to his waist.

"Shouldn't that be peace-bonded?" asks Jonah. After a moment, he adds, "And no, I am not talking about her breasts."

"Thanks for clarifying."

Selcar notices us and nods at two burly humans, one bearded and one not, who start striding toward us.

Jonah groans. "More running?"

"Unless you think we can take these guys in a straight fight."

My friend straightens as if ready to flee.

"I think we can," I say. "You with me?"

"Let me see. We're spellcasters. All combat spells are neutralized on account of the spell wards that protect Silverymoon. Our collective hand-to-hand combat knowledge is pathetic. Well, I have a ferret who can probably outfight me."

Scamp perks up.

"But not them."

Scamp lowers his head.

"So other than retreating, I'm out of ideas, Magnos. What have you got?"

I reach within my cloak and withdraw a wand with a dramatic flourish that startles some nearby pigeons into taking flight.

Selcar's men pause, cautious now.

"That's your Wand of Mending," Jonah says, disgusted.

"They don't know that. Follow my lead."

"This is a bad idea," he says, but he draws a crumpled scroll from his sleeve.

"Dancing Lights?"

He nods glumly.

Selcar's men have picked up their pace, moving carefully now, dipping behind displays, using the crowd as cover.

Jonah mutters the incantations on the scroll, which begins to curl and brighten as the spell activates. Bright lights encircle our bearded opponent, who tries futilely to beat them away. Nearby patrons scatter from the strange man swatting the light orbs, giving me a clear shot.

"Mend!" The bearded man's trousers begin to knit together at the hem, effectively tying his legs.

While he topples over, his partner sprints past Jonah, knocking him aside to charge at me. Before I can repeat my trick, he reaches for the wand and snaps it in two. "Gotcha!" he grins.

Behind him, his bearded companion, having managed to tear his leggings free, has Jonah in some kind of restraining hold, keeping my friend's hands held together. A curious crowd gathers around us.

"It's okay, everyone," a sonorous voice calls. Selcar breaches the crowd's perimeter, Susan a little behind him. "It's okay. These two hooligans are wanted for breaking and entering, property damage, and wanton destruction across the festival."

"Hear! Hear!" calls a wrinkled old shopkeeper. "They's the ones what trampled my spell scrolls!"

"And they ran over my beautiful cabbages!" chimes in someone else.

"First off, it was only one spell scroll, and a weak one at that," I begin, ignoring Jonah's frantic motions telling me to shut up. "And secondly, since when did you join the High Guard, Selcar? You're not exactly an enforcer of the Realms."

Smiling, Selcar whips out a parchment from his waistcoat. Snapping the scroll open, he reads:

"To Whom It May Concern,

"The bearer of this note is an esteemed guest of the city of Silverymoon and has been granted the rank of Deputy Knight in Silver and is entitled to the esteem and privileges associated therein. On behalf of the authority granted me by High Lady Alustriel, please confer all respect and deference to Selcar Galacia, honored friend of our city.

"Signed,

"Taern Hornblade"

"Squirrel nuts," mutters Jonah.

"Come quietly, Magnos," says Selcar. "You've caused enough trouble today, haven't you?" Behind him, Susan stares at me incredulously. Selcar's clean-shaven cohort begins to drag me away.

"Not as much trouble as you," Jonah retorts. "Why don't you mention the part where you kidnapped his familiar?"

"You did what?" says Susan.

"Nonsense," replies Selcar. "I realize you wizards look down on a lowly bard such as myself, but…"

I'm not listening to him. Hedwig's very close. I can practically hear her hooting, but from where? No backpack on Selcar, just the frippery outfit, very shiny boots, and that ostentatious sword. Is she on Susan? There's no way that dress could hide anything. Although I wouldn't mind checking…Focus, boy! Master Fenris's voice lashes at me. It's right there! Magnos! Magnos?

It's not Fenris. It's Terro, whispering, but he's not beside me. The Message spell always produces an echo-like effect that's impossible to produce in an outdoor setting such as this.

"Magnos?" he says again.

I nod.

"Kylie's figured it out. She says he's using an illusion spell, probably Silent Image. You got that?"

"I got it," I say.

"Huh?" grunts my captor.

I check with Jonah. "You got it?"

He nods. "Scamp, now!"

The ferret scurries into the clearing, hops up Selcar's leg onto his shoulder, and dives for the lute, which comes slightly undone from its owner's back.

And then transforms into a trussed and groggy snowy owl.

"Hedwig!" I say.

"Selcar!" yells Susan.

"Get it off me!" cries the bard, reaching for Scamp to no avail. Jonah's familiar expertly nips at the remaining bonds, sending my indignant owl sprawling to the grass.

Hedwig wriggles free from the last of her binds and soars aloft.

Go home, Hedwig, I command empathically, hoping she's alert enough to pay attention. She shakes herself as if to squirm out from some last invisible snare and turns, wobbling, toward the city.

"I'll stop her!" yells Jonah's captor, tearing a crossbow-like mechanism free of its peace-bond from his back. He aims it and squeezes the trigger just as Scamp leaps headlong at it. Netting explodes from its stock, wrapping around the struggling ferret and knocking him to the ground.

"Scamp!" cries Jonah, as the bowman swears and tries to reload.

The clean-shaven man starts chasing after Hedwig, but trips and hits the ground hard. Behind him, Susan withdraws a graceful leg. Hedwig recedes toward the horizon and I breathe easier.

The thug picks himself up and whirls at Susan. "Why you--"

"Stand down!" commands Selcar.

"But sir, she--"

"Silence! Remember your orders and…" Selcar trails off.

His lackey is mumbling a slack-jawed response but he's not listening. And neither am I.

Silverymoon possesses an intricate spell ward system to protect its citizenry from the malicious and the reckless. Combat-grade spells are subject to the equivalent of an anti-magic field throughout the city. It feels slightly different to every magic user. Jonah says everything feels more humid, while Terro claims it makes his leaf lose most of its taste.

For me, the biggest difference is color. When Master Vihuel releases the safeties at the College so we can practice the Art, it's like where there had only been shades of gray, now the whole world blazes, reborn in color.

Like it is now. The spell wards of Silverymoon are down.

Selcar's henchman is repeating his question when we hear the screaming. A nearby stall explodes as a mottled green troll tramples through it. It grabs the nearest human, the man who had accused us of ruining his cabbages. "Nooo!" he screams, before being thrown into a large wooden house-sized cage that the troll's dragging.

As people panic around us, Selcar raises his sword, ordering, "Protect Susan!"

"What?" she snaps, but his men obey immediately, charging at the creature. It swats the bearded one aside, knocking him into a thick oak tree. The other man has a little more success, bashing its leg with a club, but the troll doesn't seem to feel it, and it simply plucks its assailant and deposits him in the same manner it did the cabbage vendor.

"Stay behind me!" Selcar cries to Susan, keeping a careful distance from the troll.

She brushes back a lock of hair from her forehead, glaring at him. "Oh, for crying out loud!" A fiery beam erupts from her hand, engulfing the monster. It screeches, stumbling blindly past us, but two more of its kind approach, perhaps drawn by its cries.

One raises its hand as if to swat Susan, but Jonah shouts in warning, diving to knock her out of harm's way. The troll's fingers grasp his ankle, swinging him aloft. "Magnos, help!"

I gesture at his tormentor, "Grease!" The resulting pool causes it to lose its footing, flailing its arms in an attempt to stay upright. Jonah is sent flying from its grip.

Straight at me.

When next I open my eyes, we're splayed inside the wreckage of a haberdashery. Jonah's wearing a brilliant bejeweled and feathered headdress worthy of the finest Mulhorandi queen. I hear distant crashes, but I can't tell if they're from the battle or from my head.

"Thanks for breaking my fall," Jonah is saying.

"Thanks for breaking my ribs," I groan.

"Did we beat the trolls?"

I shove him off of me and peer in the direction of fresh shrieking. Susan has cast Burning Hands on top of my Grease spell, igniting two more creatures.

"No," I say, "but we provided a valuable distraction."

The roof above us is ripped away. A pair of slimy hands reaches in and grabs us.

None too gently, the troll drops us through the opening at the crown of another gigantic cage. We tumble in front of a wizened dwarf who peers at me from behind a cracked pair of spectacles. "Hmph," he shakes his head. "From your high-pitched screaming, I expected some girls."

"That was Magnos," Jonah points at me. "My screams are much more masculine."

"They are not."

"Are too."

The dwarf cackles, "Ye both be beardless wenches!"

"And you're small enough to make a bite-sized troll meal," I say. That shuts him up and earns me a scowl.

"Look." Jonah motions to the prone figure on the floor.

Selcar.

"Oh, the gods love me," I say, drawing near. "Why you smooth-talking, owl-napping, dirt-eating little wretch…"

The old dwarf is back, placing himself between the bard's still body and myself. "Easy, lad. Yer in a large enough mess without makin' things worse for yerself." This draws nods from the other cage occupants.

"But this slimeball stole my owl!"

"I dinnae know about any fowl play, but this man's a hero, and ye best be treating him as such."

"Hero?" scoffs Jonah.

"Aye. He wielded a ferocious sword to keep the beasts at bay from us."

"He didn't do too great a job, considering you're here. Did he even hit anything with that sword?"

"Well, no," admits the dwarf. "But that was 'cuz his glorious stand came to a premature end when a troll fell on him. Dinnae know where all that grease came from…"

"Yeah," I say. "I hear his stands tend to end prematurely."

"C'mon," says Jonah. "We can deal with Selcar later. Let's figure out a way out of this cage."

"No problem," I answer. "This stuff's made out of wood, right? I can Burning Hands through it."

"Too dangerous. The fire might spread to us before it weakens the wood sufficiently."

"Okay, how about Enlarge Person? I'll cast it on you, and you could come ripping through the frame like a raging storm giant! That would be awesome!"

"And what if you miss my clothes and I end up like a really naked storm giant? I don't think so, Magnos."

"That was only once."

"And they still remember it. No. Way."

"Fine. You think Knock might work?"

He shakes his head. "Where's the door, genius? Besides, I used it up getting into Selcar's place. Let's just burn our way out."

"Fine."

I begin the incantations to summon the fire when the world goes flat again. "Damn it!"

"The spell wards are working again!"

"No kidding? Look at the genius now!"

"Don't start with me, Magnos!"

"If I'd started, you'd be a hulking beast of destruction busting us out of here in a blaze of glory right now."

"I told you, I'm not running around town naked!"

"Will you two ladies shut up?" cries the dwarf.

Scowling, we take seats at opposite ends of the cage, arms folded.

"What was that?" says one of the other captives, holding his hand to his ear.

The sounds of battle have diminished, and the horns of Silverymoon's defenders resound through the air.

Selcar moans and stirs. He rises to his elbows, rubbing his head. His eyes focus on me, and he tries to rise, snarling, "You!"

He falls down again, and I bow courteously.

"Steady, lad," says the dwarf, easing Selcar to a sitting position. "Ye don't want to try yer feet too soon. Ye've had a rough day."

"Yeah, Selcar," says Jonah. "Listen to your friend. You're a hero now, after all."

"What?"

"That's true," I add. "Not many could have fallen beneath a troll the way you did. Bravo." Jonah and I clap.

"Where's Susan?"

I shrug. "Doing your job for you, protecting herself. Quite capably, too."

Selcar scowls. "Very funny. You're trapped in here, too, same as the rest of us."

The clopping of horse hooves causes all of the cage's occupants to stand and press near the bars. Soon, Silverymoon's finest are working at the cage, shouting in reassuringly officious voices, "Coming through! Stand back! High Guardsmen here! We'll get you out shortly!"

As soon as they cut an opening, the officers block it so we can't leave. "One at a time, please!" We need to check you for your own safety. Please cooperate!"

Selcar shoves his way up front. "Please. I'm a deputy Knight in Silver. You have to let me out. Here's my identification." He reaches inside his torn waistcoat, then checks the other pocket, goes through the routine again, and moans. "It must have fallen out during the battle."

"Wait your turn, sir. We'll have you all out shortly."

The dwarf guides him back to a seat.

While they interrogate and free us, one by one, Scamp squeezes in between the bars, clucking excitedly at Jonah.

"Scamp! You're all right!" Jonah nuzzles the ferret, while Selcar makes a gagging face.

The reunion catches the attention of the officers. "You there! Come here."

Jonah walks over with Scamp in his arms.

"You're Jonah Goodman of the Spellguard?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good. Do you mind if we check you?"

Jonah looks dubious, then shrugs.

One of the officers pats him down, checking his arms (while Scamp hops onto Jonah's shoulders, scolding the officer), his torso, his belt, and around each leg.

"Remove your cloak and boots, please."

Jonah looks even more dubious, but the request is delivered very firmly, so he complies. The officer double-checks his cloak, looks inside and beneath each boot, then turns each one upside down and shakes them.

The man exchanges confused looks with his cohorts, then hands Jonah back his belongings.

"Mind telling me what that's about?"

"Sorry, Mr. Goodman. Just being careful. You have a nice day."

"If it's all the same to you, I'll wait until you've released my colleague there." He nods toward me.

The officer shrugs and motions to me. "Next!"

Expecting the worst after their treatment of Jonah, I begin kicking off my boots and shrugging out of my cloak.

"What do you think you're doing?" the guard asks.

"I'm getting searched. Do you need me to remove my robes?"

"Uh…no. You can put your cloak and boots back on, too."

"You sure?"

When he nods, I put them on again. He searches me quickly, almost carelessly. When his hands reach the bags hanging from my belt, he asks, "What's in that pouch?"

"Spell components."

"Can I check?"

I hand it over, and he glances perfunctorily through it.

"The other one?" he points.

"My money pouch."

"Anything in it?"

I pass it to him. "Never enough."

He laughs, emptying its meager contents into his hand.

My heart drops into my stomach. A small shiny silver trinket shaped like a shield glints among the fell dull coppers in his hand. Why would a lauthaul token be in my pouch?

"Put your hands on top of your head where I can see them!" he orders.

His partners, who had been standing around in the bored manner of men assigned to menial tasks, snap to attention and surround me. I'm conscious of the stares from the cage's occupants, most notably Selcar's.

Hands roughly reach for the cloak I had just re-donned, tearing away wands, parchment, and owl treats. Somebody rips my component bag off my belt, while someone else forces my hands behind my back, where they're bound at the wrists.

Jonah protests, "What are you doing?" trying to push toward me, before his progress is blocked by two barrel-chested guards.

The officer points at me. "Take him to the prisoner transport!"

Jonah yells, "Where are you taking him? He hasn't done anything wrong!" followed by "…that I know of."

"You're not helping!" I say, getting pushed out the cage past him.

"Sorry! What do you need me to do?"

"Get home and check on Hedwig before Selcar can." A guard's hands shove me toward the nearby road.

In the cage, Selcar presses against the bars, triumphant. "I always knew you were trouble, Magnos!"

Behind him, the old dwarf hops excitedly. "I knew it, too! Yer trouble, young one! Trouble!"

I should have set the cage on fire when I had the chance.

The prisoner transport turns out to be little more than a glorified cage on wheels, just tall enough for me to enter standing if I hunch. The driver's seat outside the cage consists of a bench covered in worn leather. The interior, where I am unceremoniously admitted, is less comfortably furnished, with naught but a bare wooden bench barely large enough for two. At least they had freed my hands before pushing me in, sparing my teeth the indignity of catching my fall.

Outside, the sounds of battle have disappeared entirely, succeeded by the sounds of people going home.

A child's voice inquires, "Who rides in that carriage over there, Mama?"

"Bad people, Garen. You mind yourself so that you don't end up there one day."

"Bad people should get the gallows, Mama."

I grab the bars lining the nearest window and shout, "Some of us are innocent, you know!"

The boy and his siblings shrink behind their mother, who glares. "You awful, awful man! Come along, children!"

A guard bangs the carriage with his club. "Quiet in there, prisoner!"

"Bad people should get the gallows," I mimic. "Little monster. If only Hedwig were here to aim for his head…"

I hope Hedwig is okay.

Perhaps a quarter of a bell has passed when I hear activity outside. The guard warns, "Keep away from the door!" so I obligingly slide to the farthest spot on the bench.

The door swings open and a red-headed elven girl is tossed inside.

"Hey!" she protests, stumbling and falling backwards onto my lap. She smells nice, sweet but not cloyingly so. Familiar even. Fancy dress, but torn in places, leaving a lot of skin exposed, especially from the thighs down. I like.

Suspiciously, she looks back at me through windswept strands of hair. Her eyes widen, panicked. I wink, hoping to calm her. "Haven't we met before?"

She jumps off of my lap as if it were aflame, which is only partially true. Her hand grasps at her side for (a weapon, I think) something that's not there, her stance alert, dangerous. This is a girl who could dropkick Selcar three ways without breaking a sweat. I really like.

"N-no," she stammers. "I don't think we've ever met."

"Well then allow me to introduce myself. I am--ow!" Forgot how low this ceiling is. I sit back down, rubbing the offended part of my skull.

She arches an eyebrow at me, then turns to the door. "Guard, there appears to have been a mistake."

The reply was swift. "I already told you. I don't care if you know Lord Methrammar. You're still under arrest!"

"It's not that." She hesitates, then looks back at me. "This carriage is already occupied. I think you meant to send me somewhere else."

"Did you hear that, Griggs?" the guard says. "This carriage is already occupied! The lady was meant to be sent somewhere else!"

"Tha's 'orrible, it is," says a second guard outside. "Ya fink 'ere's been some sorta mistake?"

"Undoubtedly. Summon the royal stable. A princess shouldn't have to share her carriage with the common lowlife."

"Hey!" I yell, aggrieved.

The girl has her hands on her hips. "I know when I'm being mocked, you know."

"A thousand-and-one apologies, your 'ighness," replies Griggs. "Won't 'appen again."

"They're a helpful lot," I comment. "Industrious yet clean-smelling."

She ignores me, scanning outside intently.

"What are you looking for, anyway? There's nothing worth seeing out there. Last time I looked outside, a little kid made a face at me."

"You probably had it coming," she replies, then stiffens as if she regrets having spoken.

"Only if it were a nice face."

When she doesn't answer, I ask, "So you're a friend of Methrammar's?"

Her tone is deliberately neutral. "And if I am?"

I shrug. "That's great. I hear he's a great guy."

"He is."

"Well, actually, I hadn't heard that. But I heard his mother is great."

No reply.

"Looking," I add.

"What?" She turns and faces me this time, her eyes narrowing.

"Nothing," I say. "I just heard she's a looker. You know. Attractive. In the face. And the rest of her body. Well, I didn't hear that, but from what I could tell. By the pictures of her. Around town. Because she's…famous" Her eyes are practically squinting now, and my voice falters. "She's kind of…hot."

"You should stop talking now," the girl says.

"Oh, I get it," I stand, hitting my head again. "Son of a…'Zuth's balls, that hurts!" When the stars clear, I continue. "Look, clearly you think I'm some sort of ill-mannered brute, but you're wrong about me."

"I don't think you're an ill-mannered brute."

"You don't?"

"I think that would be unkind to ill-mannered brutes," she smiles archly.

"You're not the only one who knows when they're being mocked."

"Then let me know when such a person arrives, so that I may commiserate with them."

"So it's like that, is it?" I call outside. "Guards? Has the princess's carriage arrived yet? Us lowlifes are getting pretty crowded in here!"

"Keep it down, you!" comes the reply.

Before I can respond, she's grabbed me by the ear. "I'm not a princess, you boorish lout! But I do have the common decency to not embarrass myself around others! That's a lesson you would do well to learn." She releases me.

"Ow!" I rub my reddened ear gingerly. "Looks like your common decency has really taken you far, hasn't it? Oh wait, no. You're still locked in here with me!"

She starts to speak, then scowls. "A temporary condition, I'm sure."

"Look," I sigh. "We got off on the wrong foot."

"Got off?" she says, looking aghast.

"What? No! Not like that. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with the notion…" I see her hand start reaching for that invisible sword again. "Unless it bothers you. In which case it's very wrong. Extremely wrong."

She relaxes a little.

"I just wanted to say, 'Hey, you look pretty tired. You can have a seat if you want.' " I gesture to the cramped bench. "You don't have to sit next to me. I’m a man; I can stand up. It's completely okay."

"Thank you," the elf says. "That's kind of you." She doesn't move to accept my offer.

"Truce?" I offer her my hand.

She hesitates, then accepts my hand. "Okay."

"Great," I smile. "Please, take the seat."

She shakes her head. "No, that's all right."

"It's okay. I don't mind at all."

"You've already bumped your head twice. You should sit."

"I'd feel terrible if you stood," I say, tugging her gently. "I insist."

The girl looks irritated by this. "I told you already. I don't want to sit!"

"I'm just trying to be courteous. You don't have to lose your temper!
"
"I'm not losing my temper. Will you just sit down?" she yells, shoving me into the bench. Surprised, I grasp her wrist as I fall, pulling her with me. She twists away, but she's too small to keep her feet, and she lands seated on my lap again.

"Quiet in there!" the guard calls. "Keep clear of the door!"

The door opens, and a small figure, not much larger than a ten-year old child, but womanly in shape, steps in.

A drow.

She looks surprised at the sight. Her mouth curls upward. " 'Ledra, am I interrupting something? Because I can come back." She turns as if to exit. "Guards?"

They slam the door closed. "Shut up, you lot!"

The redhead springs up from my lap. As do I. "It's not what it looks like, May," she says.

"You know her?" I ask the redhead called "Ledra."

She looks at me warningly. "Don't you dare start--"

"Yes," I tell the drow girl, who's wearing a lavender, low-cut gown. "It was what it looked like: a beautiful shared moment between two souls, trapped by circumstance, or what some would call fate. But since you two know each other, who's to say it shouldn't be…three souls?"

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