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Chapter 2: Of books and birds.


“A dragon?” Alistair asked with an eyebrow lifted quizzically. “In town?”

Brother Menlow nodded. “It seems that there is a small specimen of green-scaled dragon just flying over town, spotted not an hour ago.”

“Did you see it?” Alistair said wryly, snapping closed the large tome he was reading.

Menlow hesitated, his normally unreadable calm turning sheepish. “I did not. The report came from the weaver’s son. A guard came to us asking what we advise.”

“We should need to see this ‘dragon’ before we can say anything.” Alistair said astutely. Menlow eyed him curiously. “There is no way for us to know whether this dragon is real or just an albatross that is colored strangely. Or a bat with a unique silhouette. Or someone’s kite that blew away.”

“But, haven’t you always said you wanted to see a dragon?” Menlow said. “You have at least dozen books about dragons, and you own at least ten paintings commissioned by the town painter.”

“What point do you have?” Alistair growled, somewhat irritated.

“I would have thought the idea of a dragon so close to our Monastery would be just what you wanted,” Menlow explained.

“There is no point in getting my hopes up when they could be dashed to the ground like so much priceless art.”

“That reminds me; Brother Jacobs wanted to talk to you about the incident in the library…”

“Nevertheless it could not hurt to probe further.” Alistair responded quickly, standing up his desk and making for the door with more haste than he intended. “You’ll see, Menlow. This will be nothing but a hoax. Hopefully this will be resolved hastily; I have an appointment shortly with the acquaintance of a friend.”

Menlow looked confused. “From outside the abbey?”

“Of course,” Alistair said indignantly. “I happen to have a contact in Harkenal who lends me hard to find books. I agreed to help a friend of his with something as part of a trade for a particularly scarce discourse on draconic social conventions.”

Menlow scratched his chin. “You mean their mating rituals? Dragons don’t really get together for much else.”

Alistair shook his head. “Dragons are far more sophisticated than you think, Menlow. They are much more than the solitary creatures tales portray them as. The nuances of their psychosocial habits are intricate and layered, as unique as the rings of a tree.”

The two priests made their way to the court of the abbey, all the while Alistair regaling Menlow about dragons and their culture.

“Did you know, for example, that dragons have two larynxes? One is capable of mimicking the speech of lesser creatures, and the other, much larger organ, is where they produce their incredible roar!” Alistair said, almost as much to himself as to his companion.

“That is interesting, brother, but …”

“And they can use both at the same time to affect their voice when they sing!”

“Marvelous, but …”

“Imagine being able to sing two tones at once, Menlow! You could be a choir unto yourself!”

“Alistair!” Menlow implored insistently.

Alistair paused in his rant to berate Menlow for interrupting him, when he heard a series of loud squawks come from beyond the door to the courtyard.

“I think there is something in the aviary!” Menlow said, rushing toward the doors. Alistair followed as quickly as he could, unable to keep up with the more athletic monk. He regretted now not more frequently taking Menlow up on his offers of combat practice.

Menlow threw open the great door of the abbey into the courtyard, turning swiftly to the tower where all the messenger birds were kept. Two of the senior monks were restraining a young man by the door, though he did not struggle much.

“What is the meaning of this?” Menlow demanded as he approached.

“I’m very sorry for the disturbance,” the young man said polite despite his situation. He was dressed in traveler’s clothes and a simple leather jack, and had swept back medium length light brown hair and slate gray eyes that seemed not to miss anything.

“We found this ruffian standing at the foot of the aviary, shouting up at something,” one of the priests said to Menlow, just as Alistair was catching up. “There is someone else up there, but Brother Trevor went up to take care of it.”

Alistair frowned, “You are aware, sir, that this is the Skyward Abbey, a place of learning and culture?”

The young man seemed to give a smirk at first but nodded. “Yes, I am aware. I do apologize. We didn’t mean any harm.”

As soon as he said this, a startled shout came from the aviary above. The gathering looked up in time to see Brother Trevor come hurtling out of the westward facing window. Alistair watched in horror as he plummeted earthward, and with a tremendous thud landed on a pile of downy feathers that had been collected for stuffing pillows. The feathers scattered all around in a halo of grace with a very shaken and amazed Trevor in their middle. Some twenty or so birds fled the tower from all four windows.

“Ioun be praised!” one of the priests holding the young intruder exclaimed. “Brother Trevor, are you alright?”

Trevor shook his head in surprise and then scrambled out of the remains of the feather pile. “Call the town guard! It’s a monster!” he shouted, dashing for the gate.

Alistair and Menlow glared at the newcomer and bolted for the tower.

“No, be careful! He didn’t mean it!” the intruder shouted from behind them. Alistair paid him no heed, striving to keep up with Menlow’s frantic pace going up stairs. He did not like that his peaceful abbey was disrupted so, and would see whatever caused such havoc be escorted out the door with all haste.

The two priests barreled through the door to complete chaos. Dozens of fluttering wings barely muffled the sound of childlike laughter from within. The high ceilinged aviary suddenly disgorged another dozen of its winged denizens, and Alistair became aware of the sound of much heavier wings among the lighter flaps.

From the shadows of the ceiling dropped a cackling green scaly figure, about the size of a small Labrador following a flustered and frightened carrier pigeon. A flurry of feathers, fangs, and claws scrambled about the floor for one furious moment, ending with the hasty departure of the poor bird through one of the windows, leaving the small green dragon cackling madly at its own antics.

A moment of stunned silence followed, with Menlow and Alistair staring in blank horror at the creature still giggling about the chaos, who just turned to see the priests watching him. It seemed to dawn on the beast that he was not supposed to be where he now stood, and shrunk somewhat from their view.

“Wh … what are you doing?” Alistair managed to breathe.

“Just chasing!” the creature said hurriedly. “No eating! Promise!” the creature noticed then that there were big tail feathers stuck in its teeth, and it quickly tried to pull the errant plumes free by swatting at them with its paw.

“Nuanced,” Menlow grinned. “Like the court of the fey.”

“I … suppose it was a dragon they saw in town,” Alistair admitted, somewhat sheepishly to Menlow.


Loran cursed his luck. He did not want to be kept for long but the priests insisted that he and Keereth were questioned for their actions. He found himself in the great library of the abbey, sitting at a table with the two priests that had discovered Keereth in the aviary. One was a larger, athletic looking man, his head clean shaved and his face a mask of stoicism. He had given his name as Menlow, and Loran guessed that he was a Student of the Third Eye, a group within Ioun’s temple devoted to searching within for the answers, adept at using meditation for all manner of mental practices. Currently, this one was examining Loran’s guild badge, the bronze crest that designated him as a Harker. He was still wont to carry it despite the need for secrecy. As long as no one found out where he was going, it hardly mattered what his identity was.

The other was pacing back and forth across the table from him, clearly suspicious if not more than a little intrigued by the dragon sitting quietly (for now) next to Loran. His eyes were blue, and his hair was long and black, neat but loose. He was not as tall or broad as his companion, and had more than a slight fey look to him that made Loran suspect he had some elf in his background. This one had been called Alistair by his companion, and Loran figured he was not much more than a scholar with more books than absolutely necessary. He thought it sad, because there was an inquisitive air about him that the young explorer felt would have made him a great addition to the Harkers. Even more sadly, he would probably get along well with Delyra.

“No mistaking this badge,” Menlow agreed, handing the young man back his crest. “He is certainly a member of the Harkers.”

“Then what is an upstanding member of the Explorer’s Society doing in the company of a dangerous creature like that,” Alistair said, pointing at the much subdued green dragon sitting next to the traveler. The beast seemed taken aback by the accusation, glowering quietly at the scholarly priest.

“That ‘dangerous creature’ just so happens to be my friend you’re talking about,” Loran said indignantly. The dragon straightened up at his words. “He just likes to chase birds. One of the birds he found in the wild flew back to its home here and by the time I noticed he was already on his way over.”

“Just seems like strange company for the folks at the Harkers,” Alistair said, casting a suspicious glance at the increasingly irate traveler.
“What are you doing near Praidus, Mr. Loran?” Menlow said, steering the conversation back toward productivity. “We are somewhat out of the way from the main roads.”

“I was going to meet some people at the Gray Horizon, for my next expedition,” Loran replied, getting impatient. “It is somewhat urgent, you see.”

Alistair hesitated. “You’ve come directly from Harkenal?”

“Yes,” Loran said. “Actually I suppose this is not so big a detour; I meant to come here after, as I have another person to meet with in the abbey.”

Menlow furrowed his brow, and looked back to Alistair, who now appeared very nervous. “Didn’t you say your friend in Harkenal was having you meet someone this afternoon?”

“I did,” Alistair managed meekly.

“You?” Loran said, surprised. “You’re the adventurer I came to meet at the abbey?”

“Adventurer?” Menlow said, shaking his head. “No, Brother Alistair has been a scholar of history, artifacts, and the occult practically since he came to the abbey.”

“I … I did happen to mention to Sir Klask that I would enjoy applying my knowledge to fieldwork,” Alistair said.

Loran grinned. “Well, there may be hope for you yet.” It was Alistair’s turn to give a curious look. “Loremaster Klask and I are both of the same mind when it comes to knowledge for its own sake. I think he wants you to come with me to find a practical application for your talents.”

“What about your pet?” Menlow asked.

“Keereth!” the dragon shouted, making the priests jump in surprise. “Not pet!”

“Keereth is my friend, and an official Handguard of the Society,” Loran explained, petting Keereth’s scaly head to calm him. “Handguards are the personal bodyguards of the Scripters.”

“You’re truly a Scripter?” Menlow said, intrigued. “But I thought Scripters were the foremost researchers of the Harkers, scholars of renown and erudition.”

Loran just smiled. “I am the youngest one, if that’s what you’re getting at. I have a talent for fieldwork, or so I’ve been told. The truth is I just want to learn all I can about my world.”

Menlow nodded his understanding solemnly. “You might have made a fine disciple of Ioun, had your heart been given to the goddess of knowledge.”

Loran took the compliment for what it was worth. “Thank you, brother Menlow.”

“Well, it would seem serendipitous that you arrived as you did,” Alistair said. “What is it you would have of me?”

“Loremaster Klask wants you to join me on my quest,” Loran explained. “If he did not mention much to you, I can explain it on the way to the Gray Horizon in Praidus. We will meet the others there.”

“What, right now?” Alistair asked. “Just like that?”

“Yes,” Loran said. “I don’t know that this was explained to you, but the quicker this mission is undertaken the better.”

Alistair sat quietly for a moment, deep in thought. A moment later Loran noticed that Keereth was leaning on the table, staring intently at the priest as though his next move would make the dragon pounce.

Alistair returned his gaze briefly, and nodded. “I will never get such an opportunity to be so close to a dragon will I?”

Keereth seemed to not understand, and cocked his head in bewilderment.

“That settles it,” Alistair said decisively. He turned to his companion. “Do you thinkyou could explain to the Abbey Headmaster my absence?”

Menlow regarded his friend, and said, “You mean, if they notice you are gone at all?”

Alistair sighed. “Just because my research is independent doesn’t mean my absence will not be noticed.”

“Certainly breakfasts will be quieter,” Menlow admitted, allowing his stoic mask to break in a smile.

“More time for you to reach enlightenment,” Alistair said sardonically.

“Yes, friend, I will tell him.” Menlow reassured him. “I will make sure that your latest report finds its way to the Headmaster as well.”

“There are four months’ worth already prepared, actually,” Alistair mentioned. “You’ll find the latest one on the top of the stack to the left of the desk.”

Menlow shook his head. “Mister Loran, you have my gratitude for taking Brother Alistair on this journey. It will do him well to be away from his work.”

Loran exchanged a knowing glance with the monk. “My pleasure.”

After leaving the library, Loran turned to the scholar. “Are you certain about this?”

“Of course,” Alistair said. “This is my chance to see what all my knowledge has gotten me, an opportunity to see a part of this wide world!”
“I …” Loran started, and then sighed, at a loss. “Well, at least you have the right mindset, I’ll give you that. I don’t suppose you have your own traveling gear?”

“Actually, I do,” Alistair said proudly. “I’d always planned to go on a pilgrimage, this just moves it up on the schedule.”

Loran nodded approvingly. Perhaps this would not be as bad as he feared. “You gather your things, Keereth and I will meet you in the courtyard.”

About twenty minutes later, Alistair entered the courtyard, his monk’s robe replaced by a sturdy yet still traditional hooded traveling robe. His backpack did not look weighed down by Loran’s eye, and he held a walking staff in one hand. However, one part of his gear did not meet with the experienced traveler’s approval. He shook his head disapprovingly.

“Is this not alright?” Alistair said, gesturing to his garments.

“It’s not that,” Loran said, and pointed to the bundle in the scholar’s left hand. “That needs to stay.”

Alistair hefted the large book. “Are you mad? This is the most important part of my accoutrements!”

“It’s heavy, it’s awkward, there’s no room for it, and there will be no time for it,” Loran insisted. “Leave here before you lose the bookmark.”
“You don’t know what this is, do you?” Alistair asked, almost smugly.

Loran gave him an off look. “It’s a book. That’s all that matters.”

“This is a Librimense,” Alistair said, holding it up for Loran to see the eye and staff symbol of Ioun emblazoned in silver on the cover. “It is the single most important tool at my disposal as a priest and scholar.”

“This is your priestly representation?” Loran asked.

“Much more than that,” Alistair said. “When I came into the priesthood, this book was linked to my mind. All my knowledge, the sum of my experiences, are kept within this tome.”

The traveler looked dubious. “The mind cannot be confined to a book.”

Alistair gave a sly look to the other man. “You are right, at least in the fact that the mind is not merely knowledge. But the fact remains that the memory of mortals is not perfect. Stored in these pages are the thoughts that might have escaped. Even if I can’t remember every detail, I could find those details here.”

“I don’t see where that’s relevant,” Loran started to say, then paused. “Wait, what is it you study here again?”

“History, geography,” Alistair responded. “My independent work, though, is centered on the extraordinary and supernatural, with a focus on lost magic and … well, creatures of a magical nature,” he added, giving a sidelong glance to Keereth, who was twisting blades of grass around his claws.

Gregory Klask, you cunning bastard, Loran thought. “Fine then, the book can come.”

“Librimense,” the scholar corrected.

“Doorstop,” Keereth mumbled. Loran stopped himself from laughing as the scholar huffed and fumed at the little dragon, unsure of how to reconcile with the small beast.

“Let’s just be on our way,” Loran said quickly. “We have another stop before we’re on the road, and it will be a long road indeed.” He cast an unfavoring glance at his scaly companion, who cringed. “We will all need to get along.”

Here is your chance to decide the fate of the Treasure Hunters. Loran, Alistair, and Keereth are about to head to the Gray Horizons Tavern to meet the other two adventurers that Loremaster Klask has hired. But someone else will happen to be at the bar, and they just might be interested in the activities of our little band.

1: A cunning mage hears their discussion, and is intrigued by the magical gains to be had in such a venture.

2: The local law enforcement gets wind of their doings, and becomes suspicious of their activities.

3: A strange being from parts unknown is party to their words, completely by accident, and makes their quest his own.

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Treasure Hunters is a copyright of darkfiregraphics.com and Tyler Clapp, All rights reserved. November 12, 2010