First Ones 7-13, 6105 RTR (27 Feb 2002) Alptraum finds himself captive aboard a barge.
(Alptraum) (Ashdod) (Spheres of Magic) (Ur)
In a Cage in a Dark Place
As there is no light to go by, the surroundings are described more by noise and smell and feeling. There is a wooden cage, fashioned of some sturdy relative of bamboo, with a layer of straw upon its floor, not tall enough for a normal-sized Eeee to stand up in, nor wide enough to lie down. It is in a room with dimensions difficult to sound out, for it is cluttered with many crates and other cages, some of which contain wild animals, judging by the stench and the noises they make at infrequent intervals. The whole room is located aboard some sort of sea vessel, judging from the sounds of water against the walls, and the way the chamber bobs now and then, but it seems to be merely afloat, without any sounds of being propelled across the water, or a crew stomping about above decks.

The comfort of the cabin aboard the Princess of Stygia is surely missed by now. Alptraum awoke with a throbbing pain and a tender lump on his head to find himself stuffed into an animal cage, without enough room to stand up or to lie down properly, forced to just either sit or squat in what space he could manage. The cage has a sturdy lock positioned so that Alptraum cannot reach the opening to pick it – if indeed it is that sort of lock at all – and besides, he has been deprived of every possession save for his most basic clothes.

Although it is dark, it is still hot, and the air is stifling with the stench of the wild animals. A bowl of water lies in a corner of the cage, and so far Alptraum has failed to notice when someone actually arrives to refill it. Food he could not digest has been left in the cage, only to be replaced later (the next day?) by a small and noisy six-legged hairy beast that was far more suitable.

He is awakened from one of his fitful slumbers by the sound of an Eeee shouting and protesting, and then the cries being cut short. He is still weak from the effects of the horrib poison – perhaps there was more than just horrib venom in whatever concoction was on the dart – and he cannot stay awake for long.

How much time passes is unclear, but the fog lifts from Alptraum's mind, and he groggily awakens to find that, no, it wasn't all just a bad dream. Another one of those six-legged beasts is bawling in his cage like a young calf, and the corpse of the previous meal is lying in the corner, neglected and getting extremely gamy. At least the swelling of the lump on his head has gone down, and he can feel all the way to his toes now. The heat and stench are oppressive. And his increased coherence still doesn't give him any recollection of just where exactly he is just now.

"Nnnng," Alptraum groans and sits up. He sighs, realizing the others must think he is dead by now. He pivots his ears, trying to listen for voices in an attempt to guess who has him down here.

He can pick out various creatures in the darkness, many of them he assumes to be very large insects, and some sounding like Creens or similar pseudo-reptiles. There's a low moan somewhere to his left – a male Eeee is his best guess from the brief noise. There are footsteps across the ceiling, indicating at least one person above him, but not a great amount of activity beyond that, it seems.

Alptraum feels over the cage, trying to find cracks he could exploit. "I refuse to die down here," he thinks.

Although Alptraum cannot be absolutely certain – especially as he is sharing the cage with a six-legged beast that is inclined to kick and flail at him if he gets too close, thus hindering his search somewhat – the cage appears to be very solidly constructed, despite the primitive materials used in its manufacture. He makes some noise in the process, and this gets the attention of the other Eeee in the room. "Is someone there?" the other Eeee calls out, in Babelite. "Let me out of here! I didn't do anything!"

"I wish I could," Alptraum replies in the best Babelite he can manage. "I'm a prisoner here as well. Do you know where we are?" He then eyes the creature in the cage, considering something.

The process of "eyeing" the creature is largely a matter of habit, since Alptraum can only "see" it in his mind's eye – having to rely on his own ability to sound things out to get any sort of "picture" of his surroundings in the pitch black darkness. The other Eeee replies, "Who are you, then? Did those spotted cats grab you, too?"

"Alptraum bar Reisender, on a trip to Babel," Alptraum replies, "and yes, they did. I was on an island for a night. They shot me down with some sort of a dart. Cowards."

"A dart? I got caught in a net," the other bat says. "Gelgaron Nightsail, purveyor of interesting antiquities, at your service. I was investigating a supposedly abandoned old temple in the backcountry, when I was set upon by these spotted savages – who, I suppose, were worshipping some fertility goddess of theirs in the ruins."

"How long have you been here?" Alptraum asks, then pulls back and surges forward. He slams his shoulder into the front of the cage, trying to break it open.

"I'm not sure," Gelgaron confesses. "I was out for a while. I didn't even hear them bring you in. Not surprising, I suppose, with all this shrieking and squawking going on. Sounds like there's a Rughrat calf over near you. Probably afraid you're going to eat it. Mmm. Rughrat. I could sure go for a good steak right now."

As the bat rams against the cage, it feels like the only thing he is going to succeed in breaking … is himself. Nonetheless, fueled by desperation, he tries again and again, his attempts causing the Rughrat calf to panic and bleat all the more, but then he hears the sound of splintering wood. The cage door does not break open … but as he pauses to probe around and find the source of the sound, he discovers a fracture in the frame. If he works at this, he may be able to get the cage door to open … maybe.

Above decks, though, there is a shout, and some rapid footsteps. Surely his attempts didn't make that much noise … or is there a sharp-eared Eeee among his captors?

Gelgaron continues chattering, perhaps out of nervous habit more than anything else. "What was your name again? All-tram? You know, there was this Yodhsunala who was looking for a fellow with a name like that, offering a reward."

Alptraum pauses for just a moment, asking, "When did my sister offer the reward?" He then slams his body into the door again, then again, trying to break it.

"When?" Gelgaron squeaks. "Shortly before I headed out to the temple ruins, really. I picked up the tip about the ruins by listening to her asking around in town, really. It was a bit tough to find, but not all that far down the river. I guess we're on some barge downriver – not all that far from civilization, really, so I guess that's a good sign… " Above decks, Alptraum can hear what sounds like a choking gurgle, then something loud thumping against the wooden ceiling – like a body falling. Whatever else is going on up there, he's somewhat distracted when the door to his cage splinters and gives way, spilling him out onto the floor, and letting a panicked Rughrat calf loose.

Alptraum lands and grunts loudly. He then takes in a slow breath and pushes himself upright. He starts digging through the remains of the door, looking for some long fragments that could make a decent makeshift weapon. "These people are in serious trouble when the Yodhsunala find them. Of course, I am probably as well," Alptraum tells the other Eeee.

"Wait – you got out?" the other bat cries out. "How did you do that?" He immediately starts smashing against the walls of his cage, then lets out a pained grunt. "Ohhhh… "

There are shouts above, and the sounds of clashing chitin, then a male scream that dies into a choking gurgle. There's a strange sensation that runs down Alptraum's spine, as if he's being watched. Despite the distracting noises, Alptraum manages to find some broken pieces of wood – a long sliver that could do nasty things to someone if applied with force, and another chunk that might make a suitable bludgeon.

Alptraum takes the pieces, one in each hand. He then looks upward and listens intently, trying to see if someone is sounding him out.

The ceiling seems quite solid, and as of yet, Alptraum isn't sure that any Eeee is capable of sounding out to find someone on the opposite side of such a solid barrier of hard wood – all the better for him, probably. There are more sounds of combat, this time lower – below decks, it seems, though not in this particular store room. A feline shout, Eeee cries, something splashing in water.

Alptraum sounds his way through the room, trying to find the cage where the other Eeee is. "Keep talking," he pauses to say. "I'm going to try and get you out."

There are footsteps nearby – on the other side of a door leading to the storeroom? "Break it down," a female voice commands – Sutrana. "You! Down the corridor. Explore every room. Leave no one alive. Bring Reisender to me."

The Eeee stops struggling. "That's the voice of the Yodhsunala who asked me – Oh, thank the Kindly Ones! We're saved!" he cries out.

"Oh … crud. It's her," Alptraum mutters. "If she lets you live," he then adds, making his way toward the sound of the other Eeee.

Alptraum stumbles over several cages and several piles of … filth … but manages to find his way to the cage. "If she lets me live? What do you mean? They're rescuing us, aren't they?" The Eeee seems incredulous – but in the sort of way that it's as if he's begging Alptraum to console him, not that he's honestly convinced of the moral uprightness of the Yodhsunala.

"They're here for me. I'll be straight with you, I may not even survive. Hard to say," Alptraum says. He grips the front of the cages and plants his feet against the cage. He starts pulling with all his strength, growling softly.

The cage moves a bit, but the door does not. In order to get this cage door open, Alptraum's going to need some sort of tool or leverage.

The door cracks, as someone shoves something heavy against it, battering it from outside.

Alptraum grunts, then lets go of the cage. He picks up the bludgeon again and tries to wedge it into the cage door to pry whatever is locking the cage off.

The broken piece of wood snaps as Alptraum tries to leverage the cage door. Just then, the door breaks off its hinges, and bright light filters into the room. If Alptraum were to look at it, he'd most assuredly be blinded, so accustomed are his eyes to the dark. "They've opened the door. We're saved! Over here! Help!" Gelgaron cries.

"Avralie, saved," Alptraum says, not sounding sure at all about that. He now brings up the sharp piece of wood, prepared to defend himself and squints his eyes, trying to filter out the light and let his eyes adjust. He searches quickly for nearby cover. He does not want to get shot again.

At the last minute, Alptraum manages to scurry into an opening afforded by a large and presently empty crate, as the two men break into the room. "Who's in here?" one cries out.

"You!" the other calls. "Are you Alptraum Reisender?"

"Oh! Yes! Alptraum is here, yes!" Gelgaron cries back. "Did you come to rescue – "

Alptraum swallows, gripping his meager weapon.


Gelgaron lets out a choked cry, and falls within his cage.

"I've got Reisender!" one of the men calls out. "Over here!"

Alptraum blinks, trying to clear his vision. He doesn't move in the crate, waiting. He tries to breathe slowly, hoping he is not heard.

Footsteps. Cries in the hall. "Are you sure?" "Yes, ma'am." For the moment, both the men leave the room.

"Then bring me his body, you idiot!" – Sutrana's voice.

More distant sounds of combat. Not all the cat cultists have died just yet, it seems.

Alptraum's eyes narrow. She is trying to kill me. I'm not surprised. He remains in the crate, quiet.

"Ma'am!" comes a cry from somewhere above. "I heard them say they found Reisender!" It's an Eeee voice, faintly familiar, though Alptraum can't place it. It's not like he's known all that many Eeee, really, which makes the difficulty all the more frustrating.

Alptraum thinks on the Eeee voices he knows. Is it Nekara? Is it perhaps that little Eeee? He ponders, trying to identify the voice.

Footsteps approach the doorway, and the two men step back in, walking over to the cage. One pulls out a sword and starts hacking at the cage door, cursing as he tries to get the cage open to extract the body outside. The animals in the room put up even more of a fuss at all the increased noise … and thus frustrating Alptraum's attempts to hear what else might be said. But to be sure, the voice he heard above decks was a male. It sounds … like one of those bats he met on one of the paquebots, oddly enough.

Alptraum keeps waiting; waiting until they leave this room. "Why is Sutrana trying to kill me? I know I'm male, but this is ridiculous," he thinks.

At last, the cage splinters open, and the guard stabs his sword into Gelgaron's body just to make sure. "You grab his feet," he says, as he starts hauling the corpse out by the arms.

Inwardly, Alptraum curses, wishing he could have saved the Eeee's life.

With some more cursing, the two Eeee warriors haul Gelgaron's body out, and Alptraum's eyesight has adjusted enough to the light that he can now see well enough not to be blinded by the attempt. They shuffle into the hallway, the splintered door still open behind them.

Alptraum eases his way out of hiding. His ears tilt this way and that, trying to track the motion on the boat, hoping that they will leave soon. "Even if I survive this … where do I go now?" Alptraum ponders.

The two men head on down the hall, turning a corner, to the best that Alptraum can tell. "Well?" comes Sutrana's voice. "Where is he?"

"But, Yodhsunala!" one of the men protests.

There are more footsteps on the stairs leading down – in the direction opposite the way the two men went with Gelgaron's corpse.

Alptraum curses inwardly again. This is insane! he thinks darkly and looks around the room for another way out.

The room shows no obvious signs of another exit. He'll have to feel about the walls to see if he can find a door. If anything, the room has plenty of places to hide, and all the noise created by the animals buffers sounds somewhat, but that's about all the good it does him for now.

"There's blood on the floor," comes a whisper from the hall – an Eeee voice.

"Shhh," comes the sound of a female, feline voice.

Alptraum moves closer to the open doorway, going very slowly and in the shadows to avoid being seen.

Silent as a dead vermite, Alptraum slinks over to the doorway. Outside, a couple of Eeee shuffle closer to the door, crossbows ready as they peer inside (not seeing Alptraum), while a blue-grey Khatta in dark clothes stands behind them, looking down the hall.

Alptraum stops near the door and listens, wondering, Who are these people?

One of the Eeee has a spiral mark around one eye. The other has a lightning-bolt – Aha! It's two of those Eeee merchants from Little Rephidim East. And the Khatta … is Ariel Azale, in somewhat more stealthy garb. "Check the room quickly," she hisses, "but I think we may be too late."

Alptraum brings up his weapon, prepared to fight if they're here to kill him. At least he'll have surprise on his side. He hopes he can take down quickly, or at least get a hostage he can bargain with.

One of the bats leans in. "Hey, if there's anyone in here who needs rescuing, now's the chance to show yourself. Last call! Okay, nobody's in there, let's go."

A clawed hand glides noiselessly out of the shadows and grabs the Eeee. It yanks him back into the darkness and slams him face first against the wall. The sharp wood is pressed against his neck firmly, but not enough to break the skin. "Now listen up," Alptraum hisses, eyes narrowed. "I've had enough of being hunted, shot and, and generally beat on. I'm getting out of here alive, or you're about to find out what it feels like to die slowly, very slowly."

"Urk!" chokes the Eeee with the spiral design around his eye. "Who – Hey! Don't you remember your pal, Spin?" He sweats beads.

"What in the – ?" cries the other Eeee in the hall.

Meanwhile, Alptraum hears Sutrana shout, "YOU FOOLS! THAT'S NOT REISENDER!"

"I apparently have no friends," Alptraum hisses. "What, are you backup to make sure I'm dead in case they screw up? Well, guess what? They did."

"Grk! Easy on the splinter!" Spin protests. "That Caroban babe hired us to do a little rescue mission. She figured that Yodhsunala didn't have your best interests at heart."

"That one doesn't," Alptraum agrees, voice edged in anger. He pulls the Eeee off the wall slowly, keeping the wood pressed against his neck. "Now, walk forward and we're getting out of here. One move to try and harm me and you're dead," he warns.

"All right, all right!" the Eeee squeaks, and starts moving toward the door, as Alptraum instructs.

Just outside the doorway, Alptraum sees Striker (the one with the lightning bolt on his cheek) holding a crossbow trained on the door – and then he lowers it when Spin appears. "Hey, Spin – you found the guy – urk!" And then he notices the sharp splintered wood being held to Spin's throat. "What?" He reflexively raises his crossbow again.

The blue-grey Khatta blinks, and cries, "Alptraum! We're here to rescue you. There's no time – we must flee!"

Emphasizing this, there are footsteps down the hall, as the two Eeee guards come back around. "Yodhsunala! There are others here!"

Silver eyes peer around Alptraum and looks over the Khatta, accessing her words. The splinter is then taken away from Spin's neck as he says, "Then let's go, now!"

Striker swings about with his crossbow, unloading a bolt into the midsection of one of the guards. The guard is wearing armor, but the impact is enough to send him reeling backward, knocking into the other one, and prompting a curse from Sutrana as she comes up behind.

"RUN!" Spin howls, and dashes for the stairs. The others follow suit.

Alptraum runs all out for the stairs!

"This way!" Striker shouts, as he fumbles to try to reload his crossbow (vainly), and ends up dropping a bolt, resulting in more cursing. It appears that this is a river barge of some sort, and while it may have been moored by the riverbank, it's now adrift, its mooring lines trailing after it in the water. It's early dawn, as the sky is brightening, though stars are still visible in the west, and there are signs of combat all about – including several Eeee that are still trading blows with golden-furred Gigis.

Lashed to the side of the barge is a rowboat partially camouflaged with weeds and debris, and Spin half-leaps, half-flies down to it, falling upon the mooring ropes to get ready to cast off.

Alptraum follows after then, trying not to watch the battles too much around him. "Where's Autumn-Storm? Where's Nekara?" he asks as he leaps off the barge and uses his wings to glide into the rowboat.

Striker is into the boat next, and helps Ariel down, while Spin pushes off, and a third bat – Claw – alights upon the boat as well. "I don't know," Ariel says. "She disappeared after we got word that you'd gone missing. Sutrana demanded authority over the matter of your disappearance, claiming you to be a citizen of Babel, and that she therefore had jurisdiction, so the captain let her question some of the Gigi. The Gigi brought up a woman they accused of being a worshipper of 'Amena' – a local version of Amenlichtli – and Sutrana didn't take long with her to get her to confess, I suppose. Sutrana made some deal about offering rewards for your body, and seemed awfully certain to find you dead, in a way that had me a bit … worried about her motives. I decided to try to find you myself."

"There will be time to talk later!" Spin cries. "Get down and keep quiet!" A couple of projectiles whip by – hard to tell whether crossbow bolts or darts (or both).

Alptraum doesn't argue. He drops as low as he can into the boat.

Alptraum hisses from the bottom of the boat, "Get us out of here. Just get us out of here." His eyes narrow, anger growing again. Why does Sutrana want me dead? Is she afraid of me? Was my mother perhaps her enemy? Perhaps I'll find out eventually…

It is not long before they have to abandon the boat, since some of the pursuers have wings, but fortunately the blowguns wielded by the Gigi cultists dissuade Sutrana and her lackeys from going airborne immediately. Obviously, Alptraum is far from the island of Nalalua, and either on a much, much larger island, or else he's somewhere on the mainland of Ur now. They make their way through the woods, Alptraum stumbling along as his ordeal in the cage has sapped much of his strength. At long last, they make it to civilization … a curious village consisting of buildings perhaps half the size of normal houses, and populated by a strange little people with four ears, white downy fur and large child-like eyes, known as the "Aelfin." Ariel Azale is apparently gifted in many tongues, for she converses with these people, and manages to make arrangements so that Alptraum is tended to by what he presumes to be the village healer.

Some days later, he is fit to be up and about again, though the ordeal he has been through is still fresh in his mind. He wears simple garments of the rough fabric that the Aelfin use, making him look like some sort of farmer – quite unlike the impression those night clothes he bought in Little Rephidim West would have given, but at least he looks "native". The dye in his fur has almost completely grown out now, though still "frosted" on the tips to hint at his attempt at disguise.

Alptraum finds Ariel by a nearby stream, where she skips stones across the water, looking quite bored. When she sees Alptraum coming through the trees, though – having had to go through some pantomime with the natives to get directions from him to find Ariel and not even being sure until now that he managed to get the right idea across – she stands up. "Alptraum! You're looking much better."

"I'm feeling better too. I owe you more than I think I can repay for coming to my rescue. Thank you," Alptraum says as he approaches. For the first time in days, he even smiles a bit weakly and says, "And now you know what I really look like. If it's not too much bother, could you tell me what happened after I went missing? I'm worried about Autumn-Storm and Nekara."

Ariel frowns slightly. "I'm sorry, but I don't know where your sister or your friend went. When you disappeared, the Gigis quickly fingered one of their number – the younger of two daughters of their holy woman, it seems, and something of a rebel – whom they suspected of dark deeds. Sutrana demanded and got the right to question her, and shortly after announced that she'd gotten a full confession – this after offering rewards for your body several times over, with a tone that I took as a strong hint that she wasn't even hoping to find you alive."

Alptraum nods. "She doesn't care for me. In fact, Sutrana doesn't care for any male. She might see me as a threat," Alptraum replies and finds a place to sit. "I'm going to tell you everything that's happened to me. Well, at least why the Yodhsunala are looking for me. Nekara is also a Yodhsunala, whom was sent on a mission to recover me. A mission supposedly handed down by Sunala herself. I was sent into hiding shortly after I was born to protect me, and now they want me back. Well, some do, anyway."

At this, Ariel raises her eyebrows. "Sunala, herself, hmm? Well, surely the Yodhsunala claim that for a great many of their missions. But do go on, please." She sits back down on the grass.

Alptraum looks over at Ariel. "I know little of my past. I was born the child of a Yodhsunala, and sent to Sylvania," he explains, pulling out his pendant from under his shirt to show Ariel. "I was left only with this, and no explanation of what it meant. I grew up there, in Sylvania, until just before last winter – When the dreams began."

"The dreams?" Ariel repeats, nodding for Alptraum to go on.

"Of the Sea of Souls," Alptraum responds. "First, I was thrown from Paradise by an Eeee I did not know the name of. I now know she is called Inala. I was cast into Sunala's realm, where I flew above the Sea of Souls. It is where I conversed with the departed wife of one of the residents of Blackshire and got a message to deliver. It was also in that place that I saved Autumn-Storm's life," he adds hesitantly. "I know you don't believe the Sea of Souls exist, but what I tell you is what I experienced."

"Oh," Ariel says, nodding as if this all makes sense to her. "I see. You were affected by the Dream Ritual – the Dream of the Seven Sisters."

"I've seen Sunala in a dream once – the what?" Alptraum starts to say, then stops.

"The Dream Ritual. It was a great and powerful ritual orchestrated by the Royal Babelite Mages," Ariel explains. "It was an attempt by the Babelites to – well, I'm not really sure what the purpose was, but there were many theories. In any case, one side effect was that Dream mages all over Sinai fell into comatose states, and many people – especially those of Babelite stock – had dreams of the realms of the Seven Sisters – the goddesses of Babel. The intent, I believe, was to some how tap into the power of the collective myth and belief of the Babelite culture, and transform it into magical energy – perhaps even so powerful as to give birth to spirits that would manifest themselves in the physical plane."

"Oh," Alptraum responds softly. "So, everything I've experienced, and the drive to understand, was just a lie, then."

"Well," Ariel says, "I'm sure that Nekara didn't think so, but the Yodhsunala … they just don't understand the true nature of magic. Faith has a certain magical power to it, but it's just another form of magic … less refined, less focused. But fervently believing something does not make it true."

"Two people have died because of me and because of this. The mages in Rephidim tried to kill me when I was briefly there – they called me an anomaly. The Yodhsunala now try and kill me," Alptraum says. "All because of a lie." He sighs.

"The mages in Rephidim?" Ariel echoes, her eyebrows pinching in a worrisome look. "I'm sure that must have been some sort of misunderstanding. Please, this has been a very tense and uncertain time for the College. We have had great difficulty in understanding what has been going on. There were even some of our number who thought that perhaps the goddesses really were manifesting themselves … and thus had something of a 'crisis of faith,' so to speak. But the truth of this world is that many wars are fought over misunderstandings – and lies."

"They attacked the house I was staying in. Something I did, and I don't know what, made them think I was a Yodhsunala. An Eeee came to warn me and they shot him dead in the street. I ran, and ran, barely making it out alive. I ran into guards later, and barely escaped being shot on the spot. I can't go to jail, Ariel. I'd rather die quickly, than starve to death in a cell slowly. I'm a vampire, I wouldn't last," Alptraum says shakily.

Ariel nods, quietly. "I am certain that there can be much misunderstanding to one of your birth. But what do you suppose you will do now?"

"I don't know. I guess I should find Nekara and Autumn-Storm, I owe them that much. I'm lost, tired, confused, and alone. I so hoped I would find answers to who my family was in Babel – who I was, why I was sent away," Alptraum admits. "It's hard for someone raised as a gypsy to not even know their true name. My name, was given to me as a joke by the tribe when I was young. It means 'Nightmare.'"

"Well, if you're intent upon finding them," Ariel says, not registering any surprise at the translation of Alptraum's name, "I am certain Nekara would have pressed on to Babel. There is hardly any other place to go, and we are not far from the city even now."

Alptraum looks up. "If she arrives without me, they might kill her," Alptraum says. "I don't want her to die. I hope that Autumn-Storm would have gone with her as well, hoping that I would turn up."

"That I cannot say, not knowing them as well as you do," Ariel says. "I will probably head to Babel myself. It has the closest Guild Hall. Caroban would need to be informed of what the Yodhsunala are doing. Sutrana is obviously up to no good."

"Nekara thinks I'm destined to be great. I think Sutrana probably fears that," Alptraum says. "May I travel with you there? I don't want to travel alone, not with Sutrana out there looking for me. Do you have any ideas what path Nekara might have taken?"

Ariel rubs her forehead. "I do not know … but I have contacts in Babel. There are some people who owe me a few favors. After all, with as much bloodshed as there is in that city, it has more than its fair share of banshees and poltergeists to be dealt with. If you wish, yes, you may travel with me."

"I don't want to be a problem," Alptraum says. "Once there, I'll try not to trouble you any further. Like it or not, I suppose I have to face the 'family.' It's either that or live in fear and hiding for the rest of my life. Again, I thank you for all your help; I hope I can one day repay you for your kindness."

The Spirit mage smiles slightly. "Do not worry yourself. A Yodhsunala threatening people well outside of Babel would demand the attention of any responsible mage. I am only doing my duty. 'Jurisdiction,' indeed."

"Avralie, I'm not even a citizen of Babel. Well other than being born there and there for maybe one year of my life," Alptraum replies, getting back to his feet.

Ariel gets up and dusts off her skirts. "Well then, now that you're doing much better, we'll see about moving on. Unfortunately, I can't do anything about whatever you had before the cultists relieved you of your possessions. Hopefully your family you find in Babel will be generous – and maybe your sister has your luggage."

"Didn't have much to begin with – I just hope Autumn-Storm is okay. I worry for her – she's important to me," Alptraum replies. "When do we leave?"

"Whenever you are ready, I suppose," Ariel says. "We could make ready to leave right now – unless you need some time to rest up a little more."

Alptraum shakes his head. "No, I think I'm ready to move on. The sooner I get there, the better chance nothing happens to Nekara," he replies. "Let's go."

Ariel nods, and starts back to the village. "Off we go, then – once I pick up a few things." She winks.

"Avralie," Alptraum replies with a nod. "May I request a knife or maybe a crossbow for our travels? I don't like the thought of being unarmed and this close to Babel," he then adds. And please, please, let Autumn-Storm be with Nekara and both of them be safe. Let me find the strength to make it through this, he then prays silently.


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Today is 10 days after Unity Day, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)