It is common knowledge that the city of Stormreach is an eclectic assortment of structures built in, around, and among the ruins of a far older city once home to the giant folk that once sprawled across the continent of Xen’drik. It is less common knowledge that Stormreach occupies perhaps a fifth of the known giant city, and that outside the area patrolled by the Watch reside plenty of desperate fools, along with the occasional anarchist who believes that any risk is worth not having to pay taxes and some people who don’t want to be found.
So when Jheran headed out past the last watch-post, whispering up a witch-light as he went, Irri tensed up and muttered “Where are we going, exactly?” A sensible enough question; he knew enough about the Thrane to know he didn’t seem to care much if he lived or died, but Professor Sanan Irri had a job to do and it’d be a waste of a lot of hard work to give up now.
Jheran snorted. “Stop being such a baby. The Watch did a sweep of this section last week, there aren’t any fire-breathing scorpions down any of the side alleys.” He paused, cocked his head, and added “Probably.” Irri gave him a sidelong glance, the Thrane was trying to suppress a grin. He rolled his eyes. “Greenseers don’t like company, and this one’s kind of prickly. Try to behave.”
The road they were on was as wide as any main road in Sharn, paved with massive square slabs, but as they turned the next corner it joined something that must have been either a main road or a plaza for the giants that once dwelt there; it was so large Jheran’s witch-light didn’t reach the other side. Vines and creeping plants crept over collapsed structures; few had more than one story remaining, but that one story was frequently over thirty feet high.
A note of awe came into Irri’s voice. “Fascinating. The center of the city doesn’t really have the same…scale to it.”
Jheran chuckled. “Nope. Most of the traditional buildings in the city proper are built out from the edge of roads like these. Scuff up the paving stones and you can mortar straight onto them, saves a lot on foundations and you leave enough road in between them for us little folks to walk around just fine.”
Ahead the face of a vast round building emerged from the gloom, the stonework barely visible through the vegetation, trees growing through its long-collapsed roof. Jheran guided the pair through the vast archway placed in the center, into a cathedral of branches, a space where it almost appeared that the city had disappeared entirely and the two had stepped out into the open jungles. Shattered remnants of paving stone poked out through moss and tree root here and there, and over to one side what looked like the head of a statue was given a halo of hair by hanging plants, but plant life dominated generally.
Jheran set Irri down on a rock, stepped aside, and waited. The elf looked about, leaned over, and in a practiced stage whisper asked “Shouldn’t we…I don’t know, announce ourselves?”
Jheran snorted. “She knows we’re here. Haven’t dealt with many druids, have you, kid?”
“A few.” Irri prodded his ribs, clamped his jaw shut, lapsed into silence. A minute passed, then another. “So…”
“Sh.” Jheran caught a glimpse of movement between the trees, shifted his head, and tried to suppress a grin. The immense black cat sitting bolt upright at the edge of the clearing gave a slow, feline blink. He winked back.
Irri tried to crane his head around, winced, and shifted in his seat, holding his ribs. Then he stopped abruptly, eyes going wide. Didn’t jump out of his skin, the way Jheran was half expecting him to, though. He whispered “There’s a panther over there.”
“Leopard, I think.”
“Whatever. What’s it doing?”
“She.” Jheran raised his voice a bit. “Hey, Midnight, your sidekick ’round here somewhere?”
Midnight let out a dismissive “whuff” of air, turned tail, and faded back into the trees. A voice from the other direction turned the two back around, saying “You two look like shit.” The khoravar girl padding out of the other side of the clearing had loose, rough clothing in stained brown, red hair sticking out in all directions, and a scowl for everyone and everything, though that faded some when it passed over Jheran. She stopped a short distance away, looked them up and down, snorted. “What have you done this time?”
Jheran started, Irri broke in and trampled over him. “A lamentable tale, to be sure; I set out in search of your associate’s advice on a venture I have planned, and was unfortunately directed into a tavern populated by fine folk who nonetheless took offense at my accent, and chose to accost me. Sergeant Tanth here,” Irri gestured, “was kind enough to jump in on my behalf, and was unfortunately thrown out with me for his troubles, and we have come to seek medical attention. I am Sanan Irri, of Morgrave University; forgive my rudeness but my injuries prevent me from rising. Might I know your name, fair lady?”
By the end of this the girl had fixed Jheran with a baffled stare. Is this guy for real? Jheran rolled his eyes back. Who knows? Out loud, he said “‘Evening, Kaya. Met this guy today, he’s trying to recruit folks for a venture into Karsal and walked into the wrong tavern doing it.” A snort. “Got himself beat to shit trying to drag a retired man out of the bottle. Hoping you’d have a corner somewhere I can crash tonight, and maybe a bit of your magic to spare patching him up.”
Kaya rolled her head over to rest a glower on Irri, who sat up straight and smiled back with all the innocence and brightness he could muster. “Two hundred.”
“He’s my friend, you’re not. Two hundred.”
The elf deflated, nodded. retrieved a wallet from within his coat and passed over a few bills. She took them and said “Right. Shirt off, lie back.”
“Aren’t you supposed to buy me dinner first?”
A quick prod in the ribs left Irri gasping as he rushed to comply.
An hour later after Irri had headed back into the main town to his own lodgings Jheran was sat on a strategically placed rock in front of the firepit in another clearing, deeper in Kaya’s domain, while the druid crouched on the balls of her feet a short distance away. He held an irregular clay mug of strong tea, pondering the surface and the steam in silence, when she broke his concentration.
“You planning to go?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Might be good for you.” Jheran turned, stared. Kaya’s clear blue eyes met his unflinchingly. “A short jaunt, just to get you moving again. Some pay. Stop living off the war stories.”
Jheran turned back to his tea. “I’m retired.”
“You don’t like it.” Jheran snorted. “Come on. I’m a recluse, doesn’t mean I don’t hear things. You drink like a fish, mope around taverns, pick fights. When was the last time you got laid?” Jheran’s eyes snapped up, the girl raised both hands, sensing she’d crossed a line. “Sorry. But seriously, you hate being retired.”
“Not enough to hate living yet.” Jheran stood, setting the mug down on the ground, paced about the clearing. “Not about to follow a green academic who’s probably read too many adventure stories off into the woods to get us all killed.”
“There might be more to him than you think.” Jheran looked back around, gestured into the pause for Kaya to continue from her perch staring into the fire. “I set an owl to follow him. He dropped some letters at the Aerenai consulate before heading back to his inn.” She looked back up, gave a lopsided smirk. “A mystery.”
“Or me inserting my nose into a mess too big for me.” Jheran dropped back down on another stone, further from the fire, head in hands.
Kaya approached, hesitantly. “You’re not exactly alone on this one. I’ll be watching your back.” Jheran looked up, and jumped as he found himself face-to-face with Midnight, who had moved quietly into the clearing. “And Midnight, don’t forget her.”
He wrinkled his nose at the jaguar, conceded “Point to you, cat.” in a grudging tone. Stood, turned. Said “I’ll make up my mind in the morning,” and trudged off into the bushes. Kaya lifted a hand, opened her mouth, stopped as the human turned behind a tree and disappeared from view.
Midnight chuffed. The druid turned a glare on her friend, asked “What are you looking at, cat?”