Of New Friends and Troublesome Enemies – Part I

From the pen of Eylee Zephyrswell --

Finally, we all came together, and that was when things began to become truly dangerous.
Of New Friends and Troublesome Enemies
Part 1

The sensation of being taller than so many people put Eylee ill at ease. She had always been petite for a Fier'dal, and in the plainsmen's settlements she had been forced to crane her head up to look at some of her taller companions. Here in Rivervale, however, she felt as though she were a giant. At one point she had caught her reflection in a window and despite being surrounded by a crowd of bustling individuals, not a one of them had even been able to reach her shoulders. She'd caught herself staring at the oddity and practically came to a stop, causing the bustling halfling behind her to bump his head square into her back.
"Sorry," she had muttered, flushing as she spoke. The cheerful little man simply tipped his hat to her and politely quickened his step so he could overtake and then pass her.
She glanced over at Kaltuk and wondered if he was feeling the same thing. Though he was shorter than her, he still, with no irony intended, dwarfed the halflings. The old priest, however, simply trundled along with an easy smile and an open ale skin, which he occasionally passed to the mountainous Nurgg at his side. There was no questioning how Nurgg must be feeling, but then, being the tallest person in his vicinity was nothing new for him. Now, if they managed to keep company in which the tall-even-for-an-ogre felt short, that would be a sight to see.
The city was a sea of color and sound; red buildings with yellow rooftops, blue buildings with purple trimming, green buildings with orange rooftops and indigo trimming -- and all of them filled with people eager to pop off with a quick witted joke or friendly greeting. The air smelled of freshly baked bread and cinnamon sugar pastries and jumjum. Their band, Eylee noted, were not the town's only visitors. In particular, the streets were peppered with Koada'dal and Feir'dal, no doubt displaced masses from the dying Elddar Forest. She examined each of them closely, waiting to stumble head long into someone she had known from her childhood, but all of the faces were unfamiliar. Still, she shrunk back and away from any of those searching elven eyes, not quite comfortable with their scrutiny and the company she was keeping.
Eylee jumped to the side as in front of her Bayle came to a stop. He swung around, blue eyes flashing beneath strands of auburn hair. She flushed again as his eyes passed over her and then smiled. Illisia turned beside him and took a markedly defensive stance, keen eyes surveying the crowd in all directions. Eylee marveled at her suspicious nature. Even among such a good natured folk, Illisia still felt the need to watch their backs. The muscles of the Halasian's shoulders seemed to relax as she finished her inspection, but Eylee noted that her hands were always moving, sometimes landing on the hilts of her twin long swords, and at other times toying with the strap of her quiver. A shudder passed down Eylee's back, and she glanced back. Kruzz had come to a stop just behind her, and she could smell his breath, which had the odor of rotting vegetation - musty and sour. His eyes darted up and down her person, evidence of the fact he was constantly watching her. She took a small step toward Bayle and Illisia then turned, sticking her chin up and meeting his gaze. The troll averted his eyes and tapped his fingertips together nervously.
"We should stop here and resupply," Bayle said. "If it were closer to dusk, I'd say we should take the opportunity to sleep in a bed, but whether or not they could actually accommodate us, or whether they would want to..." His eyes strayed over the party, lingering on the faces of Kruzz, Asharae, and Nurgg the longest. "... I think it's best if we keep traveling."
"Perhaps it would have been best if some of us had not entered the city at all, as I suggested," said Asharae. Her eyebrow raised and her lips pursed as she spoke.
"Like I said then," began Bayle, "we shouldn't --"
Suddenly, Eylee's head was filled with a dizzying sensation. Crying out, she cut off Bayle's words and began to fall back, groping desperately and catching Illisia's hand as she did. Though Eylee could barely catch the tracker's movements, the woman stepped behind her before she could hit the ground, catching her and lowering her gently.
"Eylee?" asked Bayle. "What's the matter?"
It was a boat, but not quite a boat, the most curious contraption one might ever lay eyes on. It swam, but in the air, like a bird with no grace. At its helm, a halfling bellowed orders, and behind him a small gnome worked at the gears.
As her vision cleared, she said, "A boat that flies!"
"What?" asked Kaltuk, blinking. "Did I just hear you say a boat that flies?"
"A boat that flies?" an unfamiliar voice chimed in. Eylee stood wobbly, Illisia guiding her. She drew away from the barbarian once she was to her feet, and then glanced at the source of the question. A few Rivervalians had stopped to watch and wonder at the girl's sudden collapse, whispering amongst themselves with concern, and from amongst them emerged an older halfling with long brown hair graying at the roots.

Eylee looked at her companions and then said to the halfling woman, "I sometimes see odd things, I'm sorry if I disturbed you." The halfling looked at her skeptically. "So you haven't ever heard one thing of Twiddy Bobbick, then? Nor his flying ship?" The companions once again exchanged glances. "No," said Bayle, stepping in, "we haven't." "Well," said the halfling with a shrug, "he's been at work on it for years. Crashed one a few years back and then he and his odd little friend --" "A gnome?" piped Eylee. The halfling gave her a boggled look. "Yes, a gnome, Fiddlewiz by name," continued the halfling. "The two of them vanished into the Thicket to keep at work at it. They come into town for supplies now and then, but the poor fellows haven't managed yet to fly anything again." Bayle and Illisia exchanged a look. Kaltuk leaned to the side and muttered under his breath to Nurgg. Eylee glanced around. Her eyes landed first on Asharae, but the Teir'dal was stuck in her standard pose -- arms crossed over her chest and eyes refusing to meet those of the rest of the party. She moved on and found only Kruzz left to confer with. He looked at her blankly and then seemed as if he were trying to say something, but his face twisted into something like a grin crossed with a snarl, and it was so unnerving that Eylee looked right back at the halfling woman. "Perhaps you could tell us where we could find them?" she asked. The halfling woman chuckled and then said, "I am Twiddy's own mother, and I can't tell you exactly. But I am sure if you follow the tracks of Fiddlewiz's wheeled horse, you might find them." "Thank you, ah..." said Bayle. "Mrs. Bobbick," said the halfling with a neat little nod, "Twiddy Bobbick is the name of my son." "Mrs. Bobbick," said Bayle, tipping his head to her. "We just might go looking for him." "If you beg my pardon..." A tall Koada'dal stepped up in front of the group. "I could lead you to the halfling and his ship if you wished." His eyes trained over the assembled group, ending at Asharae. "Though I must say I've never seen such a... diverse... company as this one." The word diverse was cut with a cruel humor. Eylee examined the newcomer closely. He wore robes of a very fine, light weight red silk banded with blue, white, and gold dressings. His features were smooth and untroubled, giving him a youthful look despite the intellectual affectation to his voice. He was hooded, but beneath the edge of it, dark brown eyes peered at them. Asharae spat, but before she could say anything, Bayle stepped in. Bayle glared at her before answering, "If you know exactly where these two can be found, then we wouldn't lose much time stopping to take a look. I believe it's worth the sidetrack."

"Aye, I agree," said Kaltuk, "and unless anyone feels the very strong need to argue it, let's get it to it right away!"
The high elf bowed before them and said, "I am Roadyle Yerethe Tol, and I will be your guide."

Eylee walked beside Kaltuk and Nurgg through the deep grass of the Misty Thicket. As she passed under a pine tree, Nurgg's head brushed some of the bowed branches and sent a rain of pine needles down on her head. The smell was almost worth the mild pain that accompanied the pricking of needles on her skin. It was fresh and tart and made her wistful for home. It might not have been her destiny to stay amongst the Feir'dal, but it had not been all bad. Nurgg bent over and with his large fingers, plucked a needle from her hair. "I am sorry," he said in his slow, deep voice. "No need to apologize," she said, smiling. "I'm used to having tree bits in my hair." Beside her, Kaltuk grunted and then chuckled good-naturedly, shaking a finger at Nurgg. "The lass is kinder than she should be," he said. "If I end up picking those things from my beard for a week, you'll get some far harsher words, I promise you." Before Kaltuk could react, Nurgg had snatched a handful of pine and sprinkled it all over his face. Eylee stifled a giggle as the dwarf roared and stumbled back. When the rest of the party finally noticed that the trio had lagged behind them, Kaltuk was up on Nurgg's head, swatting him with a branch as the ogre stumbled around trying to snatch him off. Eylee was just watching it all with a mixture of astonishment and amusement, trying to do her best to stop them between bouts of laughter. "You would almost think the world wasn't in danger of invasion from a hostile plane," said Illisia as she sauntered up to stand beside the spectacle. A smile played on her lips, but her words were serious. Kaltuk and Nurgg stopped immediately, and Eylee put her hands behind her back, shoulders sinking down. It was true. They had no right acting so foolish in the face of so much, but then, it had felt so good to laugh. Nurgg dropped to his knee so Kaltuk could roll off his back. On the way down, he landed one last swat square on Nurgg's nose. The dwarf brushed needles from his bright blue mantle, and then looked up at the ogre with a self-satisfied smirk. Bayle swung his eyes over them and said, "Illisia is right. We don't have time for games." There was no smile on Bayle's face. "Hold on now," said Kaltuk, stepping forward and putting his hands on his hips. "I do believe if the pair of you added together the years you've seen on this world and multiplied them five times over you still wouldn't have my years, so I'll not be letting you lecture me on proper behavior." "So the world is not in grave danger, then?" asked Bayle, stepping up so that he loomed above Kaltuk. "Because the last that I checked, it was." "Oh, the world is always in grave danger," said Kaltuk with a snort, wagging his finger at the much younger man, "and if the world isn't, then at least every one of us is, but you know why we fight it? Why we don't just curl up in a corner weeping over the mistakes we've made and the danger we're in? Because of games, and because of laughing, and if the world you live in is one where no one smiles, then what's the point of bothering to fight for it?" Bayle and Kaltuk stared at one another. Bayle narrowed his eyes, Kaltuk stuck out his chest. Eylee stole a glance around. Asharae was looking at Kaltuk with a quizzical expression, but Kruzz, Nurgg, and even Illisia all seemed to be showing agreement in their own way. Kruzz had his hands up to his mouth, covering one of his overly wide and unsettling grins; Nurgg was chuckling softly; and Illisia nodded to herself slightly. Roadyle hung some distance back and simply watched the proceedings, hands folded in front of him. When he caught Eylee's eyes on him, he smiled and nodded to her. Her eyes trained back to Bayle. He seemed to have noted the other reactions, and looked rebuffed. He spun on his heel and began walking toward Roadyle. "Let's go," he said. Kaltuk mimed the young man's steps, walking heavily and looking very grave, before laughing and picking up his usual gait. As they drew away, Illisia passed by Kaltuk and ever so casually, the bottom of her bow knocked him on the back of his head. "Hey!" he muttered, rubbing the spot. Illisia looked back at him as she walked and said, "When you carry the burden he does, then you can mock him. Not before."

They heard them before they saw them. The far off sound of metal clanking and wood cracking was audible through the wood. As the party made their way through trees and into a clearing, Eylee started. There it was standing before her, the flying ship from her vision. Suspended from thick ropes that were wound around the wide trunks of the trees lining one end of the clearing was what looked like a boat attached to a giant balloon. She took a few steps forward, wading through knee-high grass, gawking at the sight. The girl glanced back and saw her companions all standing around similarly, eyes fixed on what was before them with an awed expression. Only Roadyle watched the proceedings with no hint of fascination or wonderment, only cool acceptance.
"If I hadn't seen it myself, I'd have refused to believe it," said Asharae with a slight scoff. Eylee glanced with mild annoyance at the Teir'dal, feeling a bit of satisfaction when she noted that the young woman's skeptical tone contrasted with the amazement in her eyes, but then returned to gazing at the ship.
All of the sudden, a small head popped from above one of the wooden sides of the boat. "Ho now, who's there?" called a voice. Squinting, Eylee could make out the face of a halfling, obviously in the middle years of his life but still on the youthful side of them.
Roadyle stepped forward and called back, "Roadyle Yerethe Tol. I came through here a week ago and complimented your work!"
"Well, if you are an appreciator of my craft, then I'm sure you're welcome!" The head of what Eylee assumed to be Twiddy Bobbick vanished, only to reappear attached to a body that shimmied down a rope ladder suspended below the belly of the ship. A second figure appeared on deck, heavily padded with layers of clothing but presumably the gnome, Fiddlewiz.
Twiddy approached the group at a slow jog and the gnome settled against the side of the boat, a curl of smoke rising from a pipe sticking out of the side of his mouth. "To what do I owe this --" The halfling paused and fully took in the group, his eyes widening slightly. "-- visit."
"Your boat flies," blurted Kruzz. Everyone peered back at him. Twiddy paled slightly at being addressed by the troll. Kruzz, catching their stares, glowered and kicked at the ground below him.
"As he said," said Bayle, "we came because we heard you've been at work on some kind of... Well, that!" He gestured toward the ship.
The color returned to Twiddy's face and he perked up, nodding furiously. "Yes," he said. "That would be the Cloudskipper, the sister to the Mudskipper, our first craft, which sadly only made it in the air for a few glorious minutes, and my friend up there, Professor A.M. Fiddlewiz --" At the mention of his name, the gnome waved down at them, " -- thinks we may be ready to fly her." He leaned in toward them, eyes sparkling. "Care to watch?"
"Yes," said the plainsman, smiling, "and if she manages to fly, we might be interested in talking about a ride. We're involved in something very important at the moment, and we believe this ship might be a part of the piece of a puzzle."
"Very important?" asked Twiddy, examining them curiously.
"Yes," said Bayle, taking in a deep breath, "important to the fate of all of Norrath. It's going to be very dangerous, but if we manage to do what we set out to, you would be called a hero for your part in it."
"A hero?" The halfling's eyes twinkled. "And Cloudskipper involved in it all?" Twiddy shoved his hands in his pockets and skipped slightly, saying, "Then what are we waiting for? Fiddlewiz, throw some fuel into her bellows! And the rest of you, if you wouldn't mind grabbing hold of those ropes, this will go much more quickly. I had planned on releasing the last one and making a mad dash for the ladder, but this should lead to much less certain failure!"

Of New Friends and Troublesome Enemies – Part II

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