“Every party needs someone to keep them together when the chips are down. A Great Mother, so to speak. Just make sure you pick one that doesn’t turn into a log every chance she gets.”
Lord Taryn, Carr Alpha
“We’re getting back awfully late, fellas,” pointed out Iricah.Like the others in their Chiellini disguises, parts of her clothing was burned and blackened. Some parts and some of her bags all the way through.
She laughed a bit when she saw the others under the glow of the lanthorn in Areia’s hand. “I’m pretty sure this is what we would have looked like if those barrels had exploded in Silvershore.” Everyone had a decent laugh.
“Does anyone remember the directions getting past the palatial charms? And what was that cook’s name?” Murders, and fires, women made of chains, and men made of metal. There was nothing left in the day but humor. Luckily, she didn’t have to think very hard to find some more.
Frank walked next to her. He had cast a spell that allowed them to breathe normally even in the smoke that still billowed all around them. It was better, thanks to the help of their warforged friends, but only just. They’d work on it, and the killer in the morning, but for now, they needed rest. And lots of it. “That cook that seemed to be so in charge of the other servants at the palatial mansion, what was her name? She told us not to get back so late. I dare say she sounded pretty serious about it,”
A rare thing occurred just then. Thrak began to laugh. It was the first time most of them had heard his actual laugh and so at first they thought perhaps the smoke had finally caught up to him despite Frank’s spell. It sounded like a combination of sneezing and snuffing, but then there were words that followed, and the others just stood there, mouths agape. “Frank, you are afraid of an old woman, but not a demon made from fire?” roared the lizardman. He kept sneezing and snuffing, bending over. It was quite the sight to see him “laughing” like this.
“I am not afraid of….,” Frank began but stopped, looking puzzled. ‘What WAS her name?”
No one could recall. It was fairly ludicrous. Of all the things they needed to do, and know that day, here they were, standing in the hot, smoky night of Areia’s Landing, trying to remember the name of the old lady who would cook them meals should they survive and save this place in the process.
They stood there for a few minutes and still no one could remember.
“Well,” sighed the lizardman, “Sssssince none of you can recall her name, and ssssince we can’t faccccceeee an enemy we know not, I will assssssign her a sssecret name!” He began to sneeze again.
“Oh! Great idea! LIke I’m secretly Balbo Haggins Cheillini sometimes, we can give her a code name too!” Areia loved the idea. She rubbed her hands together. “So, what ya got Thrak?”
Iricah took the bait too, if only because she needed a good smile on her sooty face, “And what will you name her, Master Barbarian?”
“In lizardfolk tribesss, we call the most maternal of elderssss Nah-na.”
Then, his snout began to shrink, as he and the others changed into the forms of the brothers Cheillini, and headed home to face their adversary named Nah-na.
“No, don’t you dare you Cheillini boys!”said their Nah-na. She chased Thrak down the hallway into his sleeping quarters holding her feather duster before her like one of his handaxes. Thrak, like them all, was in the guise of one of the Cheillinis, but a disguise was no match for a wad of feathers floating in the air around his head, ready to be gobbled up as a snack. Nah-na kept dangling the duster and waving it around Thrak. His instincts were in a frenzy. It took all of his patience to resist not reaching out with his very human mouth and snatch the feathers in the air between his human teeth.
“What have you boys been up to now?” said the kindly, matronly old woman. Her brow crinkled, as she examined each of them. They stoically stood before the true lord of the palatial mansion. Iricah tried not to laugh, certain that whoever had killed the rest of their servants, was clearly no match for Nana.
Areia puffed out her chest and saluted their inquisitioner in the Cillandrial fashion. The old girl simply stared at her and huffed. She brushed the rogue’s shoulders with the feather duster, and frowned when the soot came drifting down upon her clean hallway runner.
“Now you boys get to the water basins, while I prepare some linens. You’ll be sleeping on the couches tonight, which is a fine ending to your dirty day here. I don’t care how many villagers you save from ghosts and demons and spouting flames, the palatial palace is no place for a fire fighting bag of brigands covered in soot!”
The next day their Nah-na had prepared a breakfast for them, and woke them for it earlier than a Cillandrial drill sergeant on the Frontier. Thrak particularly had a hard time finding his way into the small dining area. His back and front sides were sore, for he was still trying to get used to sleeping without a tail while in human form.
Nah-na made each of them sit in designated spots and slapped more than one hand away when they reached for the wrong fork.
You know I could probably blast her with a ray of radiant energy and obliterate her.
Frank, that is the best joke you have ever told, giggled Ariea.
It wasn’t a…and then in mid-thought the voice in their minds stopped. It was replaced by a deeply troubling and eerie moaning sound. Frank had decided to try some of Nah’na’s biscuits and gravy. And he was having a hard time hiding how good it tasted.
“These are the mesht bwiscuits I have ever tshasted!” said the cleric.
Thrak had already cleaned his plate, “Iss there more?” he asked. His tongue was hanging out of his human mouth and gravy was splattered all over his Chiellini moustache due to his inability to eat still like a human in his human guise.
“There is always more, for good boys,” sighed Nah-na. She went back to cooking and returned with an even larger plate. She set it down and wiped her hands on her apron, which featured an image, similar to that on coins, of the King. “Your papers are on the conservatory desk, boys.”
“What papers?” asked Zy’an.
Nah-na looked at him and scolded him, “Now Gorgio, how can you expect to run a harbor town without keeping up on the local news! Honestly, you boys.” The old woman left and returned a few seconds later holding two newspapers. One The Inquiring Inquisitioner, the other Celn Pride.
“Inquiring Inquisitioner,” thought Iricah aloud, “That was the paper that Semelina used to work for, before…”
“Before the villain may have killed her, dear, yes,” sad Nah-na. She made a motion that was local custom for warding off spirits. She said it though with an odd tone as if she didn’t fully believe it. She poured them some more island floral tea. It smelled incredible.
“But Nah-na, what is this?” said Vittorio, his beard covered in crumbs and gravy. This of course was Thrak in his disguise.
“It’s a newspaper,” giggled Areia answering before the old girl could. She was now in the guise of Balbo and as Balbo she liked to talk with an authority that sounded all too hilarious, “It’s good for cleaning your moustaches and beard after forgetting how to eat food properly.” She moved to show him, but had it snatched from her fingers before she could.
“Now now, you Chiellini boys!” said Nah-na. “This, Vittorio,” said the old woman, now standing over him, one hand smoothing out the paper on the table, the other wiping things out of his facial hair, “This is Celn Pride. It’s the new newspaper from Tuck Brundsford. He’s a very astute young man, and he’s finding lots of interesting things about the city. He even thinks he knows who has been setting the fires. And perhaps, the murders are not even real!”
Iricah’s ears perked up at that. She took “Celn Pride” and gave it a read. It didn’t take her long to lose her appetite. There are the front page was an article accusing “new leadership” in the town of attracting “possible Sasser” espionage. And in another article, the editor, Tuck himself, tried to opine that perhaps none of the murders they had seen today were even real.
“You see, the girls probably just wanted to leave their homes anyway, go on an adventure or two. People get bored out here in the colonies. Now, everyone is busy looking for these so called murderers, meanwhile smoke pours into my clean rooms,when probably someone just likes writing and submitted a story or two to the papers!”
“Nah-na,” cried Iricah, “You can’t really mean that! We saw the murders ourselves, we nearly died! This paper is garbage. We won’t have it in this place again.”
Nah-na looked absolutely insulted. She began to collect the dishes and placed them in her cleaning bucket a little too loudly. “Well, of course, dear. I mean, I just clean and take care of you all, it’s not like,” her voice began to drown out as tears came to her eyes. She scrubbed the dishes and wouldn’t look at them.
“Nah-na, we meant no harm,” said Frank, he felt a tinge of loyalty to the old gal. She reminded him of someone, someone who took care of him so long ago. “We want to end the problems here, the fires especially, and we saw the murders with our own eyes. Those girls died a grisly death yesterday. Whoever is doing this is very real, and must be stopped. This is false information through and through.”
“Well,” said Nah-na, coming around after a few minutes, “Besides, neither newspaper is right you know.”
Zy’an often had a knack for hearing things others didn’t. He was just about out of the kitchen, but re-entered and asked, “How so?”
The old woman looked up at them, dropping her dishes back into the soapy water. She rubbed her hands over the apron, careful not to put them on the image of Lord Borindin. “Well, you see, neither paper reported what anyone like me hears in rumors at the food markets, not that I’ve been there for a while with all this smoke.”
“And what rumor is that, Nah-na?” asked the monk.
“Oh, dears, Semelina was only what she called herself here. Her real name was Casey. She was Lord Humbolt’s daughter. Probably she just wanted to run away. Besides, everyone knows she has been working on her own projects down at the archives with Lady Orwellian.”
“Lady Orwellian?” they all said at the same time.
“Oh yes, dears, Lady Orwellian, the nice library lady who just got back into town a few weeks ago. She knows so much about these isles, and has quite the collection of books you see. You should go pay her a visit. I’m sure she’d have lots to tell you about the island.”
Later, Nah-na only shook her head and muttered “Cheillini Boys!” when the lot of them ran out into the smoke filled air, headed in the direction of the archives fully geared with sword, shield and armor.