Lyrrin was lounging in his office, one leg draped over the arm of his leather armchair, plucking idly at a lute. The song was one he had learned years ago, detailing the exploits of some barbarian hero, known for running off with maiden sacrifices, and aggravating all kinds of nasty monsters. Eventually all the monsters he'd robbed of their virgin tributes got together and decided they had had enough. They ganged together and pursued the hero into the dead end of a box canyon.
But the hero had planned for that. It was all a ruse, and when they came to him, far from their places of power, he had a rockfall prepared and dropped about half of a decent sized mountain on their heads. Rocks fell. Monsters died.
It was an uplifting song.
Most versions left out the bit at the end, where Storlos the Brazen died of venereal disease later in life. Apparently at least one of those sacrifices had been no maiden.
He had 'delegated’ most of his work to his deputy headmaster, Cosgrave, so he had plenty of time to practice. Teaching had never been his strong suit, unless you counted music, and he wasn't master at a music college, more’s the pity.
The Unseen Tower had a lot of things going for it, but music wasn't really one of them. The illusion master was pretty good with a bass cittern, but that was one other person out of close to 1000, counting the students, faculty and staff.
The city was calling to him, he needed to cheat at dice and get into a knife fight. Shake loose from songs about derring do, and do some daring. There was a quick knock at his office door and then his deputy sidled in. Cosgrave was cadaverously thin, wearing black robes with glittering red runes embroidered along the hems, and looking like someone had peed in his morning oatmeal.
Lyrrin figured Cosgrave would have been more comfortable on the necromancy staff, and the man spent a fair amount of time down in the catacombs. The man's hair was slicked down in what looked like it was supposed to be a formal style of some kind. Cosgrave was trying to look his best, despite his face.
“What have you got?” Lyrrin asked.
Cosgrave cleared his throat pompously. “There's a… man to see you, headmaster. He insisted. I tried to make him wait for an appointment but—”
There was a brief scuffle at the door, and the guardsman from out in the hall stumbled in empty handed, staggered, windmilled his arms and just managed to avoid running into Cosgrave from behind.
A dark elf sauntered in, holding the guardsman's halberd tucked under his arm. The guardsman whirled around once he regained his balance, clawing for his sword.
The newcomer tossed the halberd to him, and the guardsman got tangled up, halfway through his draw. The haft of the halberd wound up between his legs and he tripped into Cosgrave, who barely managed to dip aside.
“Careful, man,” the newcomer said. “You dropped this. Can't go around losing valuable equipment like that. Especially not in front of the boss.”
Lyrrin fought back a grin. He supposed he should be angry, or even gathering for a fight. Cosgrave had darted aside and was digging for components. But the break in the tedium of the day had him more curious than alarmed.
“Quite,” he said. “Cosgrave, see to it that corporal Dibbs has a refresher on weapon retention. I'll be happy to speak to our guest.”
Cosgrave and the humiliated guardsman both opened their mouths to protest, but Lyrrin shook his head, and made a quick cutting gesture with his hand. He called on one of the enchantments he had woven into the chamber when he soundproofed it, and silenced them.
After a few seconds of silent gum flapping they shut their mouths, glared at each other, then at the newcomer, then finally back to Lyrrin. He made a shooing motion with his hand and waited until they finally were in the hallway to proceed.
“Welcome to the Unseen Tower,” Lyrrin said, offering brief introductions. “Please have a seat.”
The dark elf nodded, and gave a half bow in return. “Derrick Al’tarion, at your service, headmaster,” he said, before pulling out one if the guest chairs and seating himself.
Lyrrin got a better look at the visitor's face now, and reassessed. Though he had the dark skin and white hair if most dark elves, he also had a full beard, neatly trimmed. And the points of his ears were less pronounced. A half drow, then. Al’tarion wasn't any drow clan name Lyrrin ever heard though, in fact it had the sound of one of the elven clans of far off Ibn-sarkan, if he didn't miss his guess.
Al’tarion was dressed in a long sleeved coat of green wool, with gold embroidery at the lapels and the cuffs. The pattern certainly wasn't one from that far off city. A pair of black gloves were tucked behind his belt, and a rod was tucked through a loop at his left hip, both ends carved in a gold lion’s head.
Al’tarion wore an embroidered armband with runes Lyrrin didn't recognize at first glance on his left arm, and an obsidian vambrace on his right upper arm. A black silk scarf with silvery traceries was tied at his neck and tucked under the coat.
Now that he had a moment to focus, the magical aura given off by the visitor's gear nearly overwhelmed the detection field mounted in the ceiling. One of those items was extraordinarily powerful.
“And how may I be of assistance?” Lyrrin said finally, trying not to let his curiosity get the better of him.
“Actually, it's how I may be of service that has brought me here,” Al’tarion remarked. He snapped his fingers and produced a small card—from the sleeve of his coat, if Lyrrin had caught the sleight of hand correctly—and leaned forward to place it on the empty blotter on Lyrrin's desk.
Lyrrin slid the card over and read.
Artifact and Fugitive Recovery
He tapped the card with a fingertip idly.
“I'm afraid I don't have any lost artifacts that need finding at the moment,” he said.
“Well, in fact,” Al’tarion said, with a grin. “My services have already been engaged. I'm not here to make a recovery for you. The recovery is actually from you.”
Lyrrin tensed, and Al’tarion put up a calming hand. “Oh, not you directly. One of your staff, a car’lortho’gormzx’tlo—thlblxzmt’p, by name, I believe.”
Lyrrin blinked in shock at the string of nonsense syllables that had just spewed from the dark elf’s mouth. Unless Lyrrin was much mistaken the strange dark elf had just pronounced a name that was supposedly unpronounceable. He tried to hide it and recover quickly. “I don't believe we have anyone on staff by that name,” he laughed. “I'm pretty sure I'd remember.”
“Of course, few can manage such a torturous tongue twizzler,” Al’tarion said. “You likely call him Carlos, for simplicity.”
“Normally, when I'm hired to retrieve an item from a beholder, they aren't on faculty at a mages’ college, you understand. So, I figured I should speak to the headmaster, before I approach him directly. However the Divination master appears to be on holiday, and no one else was having office hours today.”
Lyrrin put on his best 'thoughtful headmaster’ act, steepling his fingers over the card Al’tarion had given him and nodding. “Quite.”
“Most of the time, when I'm retrieving items from an aberration, abomination, or otherwise I don't get to sit and have a rational discussion about property rights. Usually it's just 'who dares enter my lair uninvited’ and they start with the eyebeams, or the fire breath or what-have-you. But given his position here, it seemed to me perhaps I should avoid open conflict to start. A little discretion might be warranted.”
“Discretion. You assaulted one of my guardsmen.”
Al’tarion shrugged. “I'd hardly call it an assault. He must have tripped.”
Lyrrin struggled to keep a straight face. Al’tarion didn't show even the hint of a grin damn him.
“So, I take it you don't plan to assault a member of my faculty?”
“I would hope to avoid any unpleasantness,” Al’tarion nodded. “My client in this matter seeks the return of an ancestral sword. A weapon of not insignificant enchantment, which they believe was taken by a beholder some years ago. My research leads me to believe they are correct, and that the blade is in Carlos’ possession.”
Lyrrin thought about this. “It's possible.”
“One thing you should understand. I work by a very simple code. Rightful ownership, or rightly charged. I don't just go around seizing items, or bounty hunting on my clients’ say so. The item must rightly belong to the client, to my satisfaction. Or in the case of a fugitive, must be proven guilty of the charges of which they are accused, to my satisfaction.”
“And if they aren't?”
“Then I find who it does belong to, and return it to them instead. Or, in the case of fugitives, I bring in the true guilty party.”
“And why is this relevant?”
“My client in this matter is… less trustworthy than I could wish. And it could cause some diplomatic headaches.”
“Who is your client?”
“Normally, as part of the service I offer, my clients insist on strict confidentiality. But in this case she has made an exception. You may have heard of her. She is commonly referred to as the Queen of Air and Darkness.”
“So, we just give him the sword to carry back. I certainly don't want to start any hostilities, especially when her forces can seemingly waltz into the tower anytime they please. You never did figure out how they got past the wards at festival, Ridcully.” Thranduil wasn't pleased by their visitor. Partly Lyrrin guessed it was bigotry. Dark elves didn't have quite the same reputation as they had suffered back in the old world, if the stories were to be believed, but there was still an enmity there between elves and drow.
Lyrrin himself was fairly skeptical of those old stories, given the number of old stories and songs he'd discovered to be little more than cow patty disguised as heroic epic. And he felt himself a good judge of character. Al’tarion struck him as an honest man.
“I don't know,” Ridcully said, playing with his pipe and stroking his beard. “It strikes me as dangerous precedent to force our faculty to divest themselves of riches. I'm sure quite a few have the odd bauble hidden away that has been obtained by less than squeaky clean methods?”
Lyrrin figured that was aimed at him. “A point indeed,” he said. “Before we make any promises, we should probably talk to Carlos about it. Al’tarion seemed like a reasonable fellow. He may be willing to strike a deal.”
Ridcully and Thranduil looked at each other, and both looked at him and placed a finger on the tip of their nose. And he realized his mistake. He let out a sigh. “Ah, I guess I’m elected then.”
Carlos’ chambers were in the Divination wing, though he was one of the college's multiple-specialties, being quite talented with evocation and enchantment in addition to divination. He raised his hand to knock, and the door swung in on its own. “Showoff,” Lyrrin grumbled under his breath.
“What brings you here, master Kilomere?” Carlos said. Lyrrin was glad he wasn't trying the whole mysterious seer routine some diviners tried on. Especially since his office and the council chamber were both heavily shielded against unwanted scrying.
“Please, Master Kilomere is my father. Call me Lyrrin. Well, Carlos,” he said. “We've got a bit of a diplomatic pickle. You remember what happened around festival?”
“With the wasps? Bad business. They shouldn't have tried that. I talked to a buddy of mine in the nine hells. Apparently the powers that be down there have been having trouble keeping them in line. Breaking up hives before they become a threat, and so forth… if they miss one before it hits critical mass, it could be a regime change down stairs.”
Lyrrin blinked in shock. He hadn't realized Carlos still had those kind of sources. “No not— actually wait, I though the wasps were from the other side. The abyss. Demons, not Devils.”
“Technically,” Carlos waved an eyestalk dismissively. “But they're more orderly than most demons among themselves. They may try to cross over. The blood war is always like that.”
Lyrrin grimaced. A problem for another day. He shook himself back on task. “That's not why I wanted to talk to you,” he said. “Its the other thing that happened around festival. I had a visitor today. Someone working for the queen of Air and Darkness, says you have a sword used to belong to her.”
Carlos’ maw dropped open in shock. “Certainly not! Mama c’lortmplx didn't raise a dumb-holder!” If I have something of hers, of course I'll return it. But… swords… nothing is coming to mind. It's been awhile since I've been to the vault, you understand, but…”
“So you've no objection to returning it?”
“Yes, no objection, I don't want her minions after me, even here. And I don't even know what it looks like!”
“I have a picture of the sword,” Lyrrin produced the drawing Al’tarion had provided, and passed it over.
“Hmm… no, I don't recognize.” Carlos said. “But, I have treasure room full of things I haven't categorized yet. You mind coming along? Twelve eyes better than ten!”
“Um, where exactly would we be going?”
“Vault is under big ruin in Bereth Logor,” Carlos said. “But we can be there quickly. Five minutes tops.”
Lyrrin tried to hide his shock. “Teleportation doesn't work. I don't want my legs to wind up in starfall and the rest in the world sea.”
Carlos laughed. “No, is fine. I know shortcut.”
Before Lyrrin could offer further protest, Carlos wrapped an eyestalk around his wrist. Another eyestalk touched a small bonsai tree on the Beholder's workspace, he felt a sudden pulling rush through his belly button, tingling with magic, toward the tree. He thought for a moment about resisting the pull. But curiosity won out over caution. He'd never seen Bereth Logor. Perhaps he would write a song about the trip.