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Spellslinger Starts a Trade War Part 1
This would soon change however as the new Casurion king had spearheaded an effort to create a grand Coalition armada to transport massive numbers of troops across the Banded Ocean from Mizenia to aid in the war effort. At the same time the Almerans had made their first allies, the Insumultae islanders, who began to help the Almerans build their first truly ocean worthy ships. But their efforts would lag far behind the Causiorn’s already well established ship building industry. There was no possible way for the Almerans to actively destroy or attack the Casurion home islands so another tactic was needed to slow them down.
This is where Steve came in. As many historians can attest international trade is an incredibly complex affair where seemingly small events can spiral wildly out of control to impact economies on the other side of Taleron. Adventurers especially have been known to be massive actors of change on economies. Considering how delicate economies could be it’s no surprise that having a band of what are essentially armed, exceptionally skilled, treasure hungry killers roaming around can be very bad for business. Or very good for business. It all depends on what business one is in. This is part of the reason the Almeran military would take over all official adventuring duties on their territory in time.
This is why most historians assume that Steve’s journey to Kavika was little more than random chance as is so often the case with adventures. But those people do not understand the mind of Consul Gaylord Julian Cox, nor do they know how instrumental the Archon of Magic at that time was in the Almeran war effort. Most people don’t tag the reawakened Aurbitas as a political force until much later, thinking that many favorable events in the academy’s history were just as coincidental as Steve’s usual appearances on the world stage. Indeed many people also fail to notice the connection due to the Archon’s outspoken messages against war, conquest, and violence. All the the while Aurbitas’ increase in power, wealth, and influence were directly tied with the rise of Almera.
Of course as is often pointed out correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Especially when Steve is mostly seen as the point of so very much causation throughout Taleron history at the time. This is precisely why he was so useful to various institutions at the time. Why attribute to malice what can instead be attributed to stupid adventurers? And Steve made such an easy scapegoat for the various Mizenian nations that no one saw a reason to look past him. This is part of why it’s often so hard to split myth and legend from the man himself. For as hated as he is by some nations he is at times equally beloved by towns within those same nations based solely on his actions when he visited over his infamous career.
This is why it’s so very important to explore his influence on the places he touches in the greater context of the history at the time. For no adventuring group acts within a vacuum, and no quest is without consequences. Which brings us to the continent of Kavika and more specifically the nation of Estroco. An important nation along the Tusk coast and stopping point for ships crossing the Banded Ocean to Narmecia. It was for this reason Steve was sent there on a quest. Or so he thought… But really this is a story about when
Spellslinger Starts a Trade War
Steve’s slumber was as peaceful as it usually was. Just one of his dreams about flying around. He liked those dreams because there were less restrictions to flight in his dreams than actually using a flight spell. But even as he stretched his arms and flew across the land something went wrong. A shadow fell across him first. Then he suddenly plummeted towards the ground. He didn’t panic however since he knew how these sorts of things usually went and tried to take control of flight once more. But instead just as he was about to hit the ground the whole world seemed to suddenly shift and be above him, as if the world landed on him and not the other way around.
He tried to get back up but the weight of the world pressed down on him, heavy and constant. There was a deep rumbling noise that began to grow as well, like a heavy and constant wheezing. His breathing got more labored as he tried to push himself up, but as he clawed and struggled it was like the ground was pouring over him, pulling him into its embrace and swallowing him whole. This is when his wards kicked in and he surfaced from his dream with a gasp. But the weight was still there, enveloping him, crushing him. As his mind shifted from the land of dreams to the land of reality he struggled, starting to panic just a little until he finally came to grips with what was going on.
“Fenrina!” He hissed out as he looked at the werehusky sprawled out on top of him. She shifted her head towards him, and her snoring just got even louder in his ear. “Fenrina!” He hissed yet again as he struggled to try and get his arms out from under the blankets.
“Whaaaaaat? I’m sleeping!” She finally muttered back as he managed to get one arm free and try to push her head away, only for her to stick her tongue out and give his hand a big slobbering lick.
“You’re crushing me!” Steve gasped out and continued to try and wriggle free of the bulk of the party tank.
“I am not!” She insisted with a huff. “Astrid used to pick me up and carry me all the time!” She insisted.
“When you were a puppy! Now you’re seven feet tall and several hundred pounds! Get off!” He gasped and pointed away.
“Noooooooo!” She whined out and then rolled over, curling up a bit as she gave him her sad werehusky face. “Why do you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you! But I can’t breathe! Off!” He wheezed out once more as he managed to get his other arm out from under her and try to roll her off. But she just flopped back over the other way over his arms.
“Noooooooooooooo!” She whined again in an almost howl and then pinned his arms down as she looked up at him, her tail starting to wag a bit. So Steve just had to stare back at her for a few seconds and then sighed.
“If you let me up I’ll make breakfast.” At that her ears perked up and her tail wagged a bit faster. “I’ll grill sausages.” He promised and she bounced up then.
“Well what are you waiting for!” She hopped off his bed and rushed off down the hall, no doubt to keep spinning around in the kitchen until he showed up to start cooking. Cooking with an excited husky in the kitchen was normally a challenge in itself. But a seven foot tall husky with hands? It could truly be a monumental undertaking depending on how hungry she was.
So Steve groaned and slid his legs off the bed as he sat up and tried to rub the sleep from his eyes for a bit. He wondered then what was worse, that he might be too old for this shit, too young for this shit, or exactly the right age. Either way he finally got up and grabbed his cloak pulling it on over his tunic and light pants. The cold Aurbitas weather had long since made it necessary for him to sleep in pants, no matter how much his brothers might make fun of him for it. Then he pulled on his wool lined sandals and shuffled on down the hall towards the kitchen.
In the past year his private lab up the mountain from the rest of the academy had been expanded to include a suite of rooms for him and the other members of DOOM, mostly because keeping a rambunctious teenage werehusky, Steve’s (literally) fiery arguments with Sherry, and Larry Love in the same building as the students was taxing the Archon’s patience. It also made it easier for the adventuring group to come and go without prying eyes watching their movements. Which was helpful when the Archon had a mission for Steve. Something that Steve had to be prepared for at any time.
Though he forgot that last part fairly often which was why when he shuffled into the kitchen he was completely unprepared for hearing a voice in his ear. “Steven.”
“BWAH!” Steve jumped and turned to see the Archon standing just inside the kitchen to his left. He set a hand on his chest and took a moment to get his breath back. “Don’t do that!”
“Didn’t she tell you I was out here with Archchair Ivelinus.” She waved back at the elf sitting at the table drinking something from a hot steaming mug.
“You know Steve for such a disgrace as a mage you’ve actually got… pretty good taste in tea.” The elf nodded and took a sip.
“Yeah, I go for the good stuff. That’s Poc blood tea.” Ivelinus then looked down nervously into the mug he was sipping from. “It’s not actually blood. Just looks like it when brewed properly.” Steve explained. Then he crossed his arms and looked across the kitchen at Fenrina who was standing next to a strange iron box that had a tube fitted to the wall. “And no she didn’t tell me. She just crushed me until I gave in and offered to make breakfast.”
“Promise was made of sausages.” Fenrina nodded while Steve sighed and rubbed his forehead as he headed over to a strange metal cabinet in the corner.
“Get it going.” He muttered and Fenrina opened a hatch in the front of the metal box besides her. Then she got her fire necklace to set the wood inside ablaze. While she did that Steve opened the metal door to the cabinet and reached inside to grab some things from the much colder interior of the box.
“Interesting… Do you have ice wards in there?” The Archon asked as she stepped up behind him to examine the contents of the cabinet which were mostly foods that would spoil easily if left out.
“Yeah, I etched wards of protection into the metal to contain it but it keeps everything inside cold. I call it my Cabinet of Perpetual Cold!” He grinned then but the Archon just hummed and rubbed her ethereal chin.
“Bit of a long name isn’t it? Why not just call it a… freezer or something?” She asked but Steve shook his head.
“It doesn’t freeze things. It just keeps them cold.” But then she pointed to a smaller box he had at the top.
“What about that part? Those items look frozen.” As she pointed it out he just shrugged.
“Well part of it is cold enough to freeze things. I call that the Chamber of Ice!” He made a flourish as he said that and then gasped as he lost his grip on one of the eggs he was holding. After a brief panic he managed to snag it out of the air without breaking it. “Anyway I’m making eggs and sausage and toast. Either of you want any?” He asked looking over at the Archon and Ivelinus.
“No thank you. Why do you Almerans seem to eat such large breakfasts?” Ivelinus asked then while Steve set about preparing the food.
“Because who doesn’t want to start the day with some rich cheesy eggs and grilled sausage that’s just dripping in fat?” As he asked that Fenrina had to take a moment to wipe her mouth of some drool.
“So what’s this… metal fire box?” The Archon asked next as she pointed to the metal box near Fenrina.
“Uh… that’s what I call it too.” Steve shrugged. “Got logs inside, set them on fire, they heat up the metal, smoke goes out that tube in the wall, and I can cook on it. Way safer than having an open fire.” Steve explained with a shrug.
“Fascinating… What gave you the idea?” The Archon asked.
“At some Almeran bathhouses they used similar but much bigger versions to heat some of the water. They call those furnaces, like the smithing forge stuff. But this isn’t that so I don’t know what to call it. They talk about how hot they can get and I wondered about doing a small version to cook on.” Steve shrugged once more.
“Oh Almeran bathhouses. Now there is perhaps the only truly great thing your people have brought to the world.” Ivelinus said with a nod. “They’re wonderful places. I actually enjoy them a great deal. I had wondered how such magic deprived barbarians could stay so clean. I’ve even gone so far as to suggest we build a bathhouse here at the Academy. The council is all on board with it in fact.”
“Oh?” Steve looked over with interest for a moment as he tossed a slab of butter onto the surface of his metal fire box. It jumped and sizzled a bit as it melted but Fenrina’s eyes were focused on the sausage links he was cutting apart and preparing to cook. “Well I can put you touch with some people who make them. Hopefully they’ll know where you can buy soap.”
“Soap?” Ivelinus asked with a bit of confusion.
“Yeah… soap. Didn’t you use soap when you went? Isn’t that how you got clean?” Steve asked now also confused.
“I just use cleansing cantrips like most elves. I simply enjoy the water and the atmosphere. What’s soap?” Ivelinus asked.
“It’s… fat. I think.” Steve frowned a little as he tried to remember.
“Fat?” Ivelinus asked looking vaguely uneasy at the notion.
“Yeah. Well… mostly? You rub it all over to help get dirt off.” Steve mentioned.
“You rub fat all over yourself? That’s disgusting!” The elf looked entirely nauseated by the idea but Steve shook his head.
“No! Not like… it’s not just loose globs of fat!” Behind him Fenrina drooled a bit more. “It’s like… compressed and… It’s an alchemy type thing! It’s more complicated than that! They press them into these sorts of bars… whatever when I show you it’ll make more sense.” He promised and tossed the sausages onto the sizzling metal as Fenrina’s tail began to wag. “But besides that are you sure it’s a good idea to build a bathhouse here? I mean… considering most of the students are the same age. It’s not like back home where you’ve got families to cut down on the naughty stuff.”
Both the Archon and Ivelinus gave Steve another very confused look. “Because… of how most cultures view public nudity?” The Archon asked then.
“No. Well… yeah that too. But I mean…” Steve looked between them. “Didn’t you ever notice most bath houses have dark alcoves in the very back? You know… far away from the shallow areas? For… a bit of privacy away from prying eyes?” He made a few odd gestures with his hands then before it suddenly clicked for Ivelinus.
“Oooooh. OH! OOOOOOHHHHHHHH.” The elf said as he went through several stages of suddenly understanding things. “Well… we had planned on fashioning some sort of swimming garments for people to wear. I suppose we’ll adjust the design a little.”
“Is this why you guys came here this early? To talk to me about making a bathhouse?” Steve asked and used a metal prong to roll the sausages around. Then he began to crack eggs on the side of the prong and let them sit on the metal, sizzling as they cooked.
“No.” The Archon shook her head. “Though now I know to adjust the layout of the bathhouse to not include dark alcoves… We need you to go to Kavika. There’s something wrong on the Ivory coast. Some monster is killing locals and we’ve detected a dangerous fluctuation in the threads of reality from the area.”
“That sounds serious. So you thought of me because I’m the best you’ve got?” Steve asked.
“More because before we send anyone valuable we thought it would be best to send you. Because you’re dispendable.” The elf frowned then. “Sorry I misspoke, I meant to say disposable. Although… now that I think about it you’re actually expendable as well… However you look at it I don’t care if you die.”
Steve rolled his eyes and shook his head a little as he used the metal prong to scrape the eggs up off the surface of the metal fire box and flip them over. “Gee you’re all heart aren’t you Ives?” Steve muttered. “Get a plate.” He said to Fenrina then as he pushed the sausages around a little more.
“What about the toast?” She asked and he sighed before going back to his cabinet of perpetual cold and pulling out a loaf of bread from inside. He quickly cut off two pieces, buttering both sides before tossing them onto the hot metal.
“Despite the Archchair’s lack of concern for your wellbeing I do think you’re best suited for the task.” The Archon said then. “You show great adaptability and we need that right now. When can you assemble the others and get ready?” As she asked that Steve thought it over and then Fenrina stood by with a plate.
He scraped the eggs off first, setting them on the big plate before arranging the sausages beneath them. Then he flipped over the bread to toast the other side a little. Once that was done he quickly cut the top corners off so the toast formed little triangles. Once he set those on the plate the food formed a rough image of a smiling husky which made Fenrina smile in turn. “Okay, try to actually chew your food this time. And not just inhale it all.”
“I’ll try.” Fenrina said though he doubted she would. Instead he looked back over at the Archon and Ivelinus as he thought about his day.
“Well… I need to cook like… three more breakfasts, then wait for Larry to wander back up here, then drop into hell to grab Sherry… So… Give me an hour?” He asked with a bit of a shrug.
“Three more breakfasts?” The Archon asked first.
“One more for her.” He nodded to Fenrina. “Then one for me and one for Astrid.”
“They require separate meals?” The Archon asked.
“Yeah, I call her a werehusky but it’s not really that. They’re different people. Different bodies… but also the same.” He shrugged.
“And what about that womanizing dwarf? What do you mean he’s wandering back up here? He was expressly forbidden to fraternize with the students.” Ivelinus spoke up.
“Yes, but you didn’t say anything about the faculty.” Steve pointed out and then shrugged. “Would you prefer he try the diplomatic staff that stay in the village down below?” As Ivelinus mentally calculated the fallout from that scenario Steve just shook his head. “I thought not. Either way vote of confidence aside I am the best you’ve got for this. When reality is broke I’m your guy. Head to Kavika, find monster, or big evil bad guy, kill them, fix reality. Back before dinner.” Steve shrugged.
“You need to be careful.” Ivelinus pointed at him. “The situation there is already precarious considering all the increased traffic through the area and people are on edge. Try to do your best not to create more chaos.”
“I’ve already started one war.” Steve replied with a scoff. “What are the chances that I’ll start a second?” However as Ivelinus frowned and Steve went back to cooking they both missed the slow smile that spread across the Archon’s cosmic face.
“Yeah, it is.” He agreed for a moment and then scratched his chin. “The streets look different since I was last here but it’s been a decade so I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“How come there are like… three different types of buildings?” Fenrina asked next as she pointed to some with slanted pink red roofs but white painted walls, then the more common flat topped pink brick buildings, and finally some buildings that were built using as much colorful glass as possible that lit up in sparkling and dazzling ways in the bright midday sun.
“Estroco has a bit of a rocky history.” Steve explained as he began to lead them through the streets. “Basically what we know as Estroco used to be like… four different kingdoms. Then invaders from deep Kavika nearly took all of the land until one of the northern kingdoms got their shit together and started a grand crusade against them and pushed them all back out. But this all took time. Like… decades. Maybe a century? I forget. So between the original different kingdoms, the invaders, and random pockets of resistance in the mountains on both sides there are a whole lot of cultures that call this place home. They mostly hold it all together with their mutual love of taking naps and eating dinner very very late at night for no good reason.”
“That and that goat bladder game.” Sherry mentioned as she adjusted the blue shawl she had wrapped around her head and face. While she had taken on the appearance of a normal human she was always careful about her appearance in especially religious countries. Not everyone thought as highly of demons as Steve did after all.
“Oh yeah they kick around this inflated goat's bladder. I really don’t understand the appeal. It’s several hours of watching them kick something back and forth. Booorrrring. But people over here can lose their shit over that game.” He nodded. “And then there’s trade. See they claim Estroco is the Gateway to Kavika since it’s in such a great place to harvest all the ivory. So ships stop to trade for ivory and they get all kinds of goods in return and then trade those with more ships coming in from other places. So besides being held together by the sultan they’re also held together by money.”
“What’s a sultan?” Fenrina asked next as they wove in through the crowded streets as Steve lead the way.
“Uh… basically it’s a king. The original king through political shenanigans made himself sultan of one of the invader… places… and then used that to further grab more land? I don’t really understand how it all works. I think he just did it to so he could have a harem which is the only real difference between a king and a sultan as far as I know.” Steve explained.
“What’s a harem?” Fenrina asked next and Steve sighed, deeply regretting his rambling mind in that moment.
“The most fun Larry Love has ever had getting banned from an entire country. Ooooohhhh yeeeeaaaah.” The dwarf said as they walked.
“What?” Fenrina asked in confusion but then Steve coughed loudly and held out his hands as they got to an even more massive collection of market stalls set up in a large square surrounding a massive fountain. At the corners of the fountain were giant spires of multicolored glass that spread a rainbow of light all around the market.
“Welcome to the Grand Tikesh Bazar.” Steve waved his hands around. If it could be bought and sold in the open they were selling it here. Weapons, armor, spices, jewelry, gems, books, maps, charts, if it was easy enough to store and wave around in a market stall it was being bought and sold. There were a few scattered patrols of guards in bright armor with gleaming morion helms and wearing shawls of red, yellow, and green. But for the most part the guards looked content to just slowly patrol and use their obvious bright colors as a deterrent alone. Likely as much to let criminals know to just stay away from the area as to give comfort to the merchants.
“But this isn’t what we want.” Steve said. “Stick with me and try not to get lost. We’re headed to the fountain. And beware of tricks they use to try and get you to their stall. Right everyone?” He looked back and the other three members were all gone. “Fuck.”
“By the great northern bear! Look at them!” Steve had to chase after Fenrina who was shouldering people out of the way left and right as she followed something on the ground. When he got closer he could see two… dogs? But they were very small and looked a bit like “Fluffy potatoes with legs! Look at them! Steve I need them!” She continued to shoulder people left and right making her way through the crowd as she followed the dogs. Finally they scurried under the table at the front of a market stall with a smiling local.
“Aaahhh a potential customer! You have a great eye! You must be here for-” But before he could continue Fenrina had reached across the table to squish the man’s face between her hands.
“I MUST BUY YOUR LITTLE FURRY POTATOES!” The merchant with the squished face looked at her in confusion and then towards Steve before looking back at Fenrina.
“Wut?” Was all he could manage with his face currently being squished.
“YOUR TINY WALKING FURRY POTATOES! GIVE THEM TO ME!” Fenrina demanded as she shook his head a little.
“Your dogs.” Steve explained as the merchant’s eyebrows arched up.
“Eyre ot or ale.” The merchant tried to explain but that just made Fenrina howl out.
“Noooooooooo! I neeeeeed theeeeem! I will seriously diiiiiiiie if I can’t have them! They’re so adorable and small and fluffy! Steeeeeeeeeeve.” She let go of the merchants face to try and squeeze Steve’s face but he was expecting that and quickly ducked only for her to partially collapse against him forcing him to try and catch the werehusky who was significantly larger than him. “Ssttteeeeevvveee! I neeeeeed them!”
“No you don’t! How would you take care of them!” He grunted as he tried to keep her upright, as she pressed down across his shoulder like she was about to drop of exhaustion or death from lack of owning those dogs.
“I can walk them and feed them and clean up after them!” She insisted.
“You can’t even feed yourself and your room is a mess!” Steve hissed back.
“Nooooooooo! I neeeeed them or I’ll diiiiie!” She insisted once more with a wail of sorrow.
“Such… A… drama queen!” He gasped out as he tried to push her back upright which was a significant strain untils she straightened up on her own which made him stagger a bit from the sudden lack of pushback.
“A queen? Oh think they’ve got tiaras here? No wait… those are for princesses. I need a crown! A crown and a scepter that say drama queen!” As the teenage werehusky began to look around for a place that sold jewelry Steve instead grabbed her by the back of her armor.
“Oh no you don’t. Quest first shopping later. You know the rules. We don’t buy things until after the quest or else they can break during our fights! Besides you don’t get your allowance until the end of the quest either.” He insisted.
“Ooohhh come on!” Fenrina gave him her sad husky face again and huffed a few times trying to look cute and sad. But Steve just stared up at her with his hands on his hips until she finally sighed. “Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine. But… if there’s a crown on the quest can I have it?” She asked and wagged her tail.
“If it fits, it’s not cursed, and the usual other rules.” Steve nodded as she hopped a little with glee. Then he scanned the market trying to spot where Sherry got off to.
“Fenrina can you smell Sherry?” He asked.
“I can smell everything.” She said after taking a sniff.
“Meaning?” He asked with a frown.
“Meaning there is no chance I can sniff out only Sherry.” She told him as he kept looking. Then he saw the bright blue shawl and sighed.
“Ah shit… follow me. Actually… better yet you lead.” He had Fenrina go first as she shouldered her way through the crowd once more. The various people getting shoved out of the way turning to shout until they saw a massive well armored figure and likely magical figure so instead they wisely kept quiet. Soon Steve had followed his tank through the crowd to where Sherry was sitting before a man with a set of paints and a scroll.
“So gorgeous! Most beautiful woman I have ever seen! I saw that blue shawl and I knew I had to paint you! It would be a sin before god, all gods! To leave your intense beauty off of my scroll!” The man insisted.
“Sherry we need to go.” Steve said but didn’t make a move to grab her. He wasn’t that stupid.
“Steve please, I’m having my portrait painted. He saw me in the crowd and came over and… well he’s certainly very appreciative of my beauty. Unlike some people lately.” She cast a glare at Steve.
“Yeah about this… So you’re telling me that you’re painting my girlfriend for free?” Steve asked and the painter paused.
“Uh…” The painter hesitated as Sherry frowned.
“Totally gratis! Without any fees, or payments of any kind! You’re doing this out of the kindness of your heart or whatever other reason? Just because you feel like it you’re going to paint her portrait and it won’t cost her a single coin?” Steve pressed.
“Well… there would be a small fee…” The painter finally admitted before Sherry stood up in a hurry and approached as she began to poke him in the chest.
“How dare you! You have no idea what sort of fury you’re in for when you dare mess with a Sund-” But before she could reveal she was a Sunderclaw Steve tried to cover it up.
“Human!” Steve coughed out into his hand. “Yerhuman.” He coughed again. So Sherry held up and glared at the now fearful painter for a moment before simply turning and walking away without another word.
“The nerve of some parasites…” Sherry growled out then looked around. “Where’s Larry?” She asked as if it were the dwarf’s fault they had delayed in the market.
“Uuhhh give it… five. Four. Three. Twoooooo… One.” Steve paused and looked around. “Huh I guess-”
They could clearly hear a man yelling as there was a commotion off to their right before Larry burst out of the crowd and dove behind Fenrina. She looked down at him clutching to her legs before an angry dwarf in red, green, and yellow robes burst out with a loaf of battle bread in his hands. When he saw Larry he pointed the bread at him and spoke out in dwarvish.
“You dare touch the beard of my lifemate!” He…Steve narrowed his eyes for a moment as he inspected the dwarf before them. He was… preeeetty sure it was a male dwarf. Mostly.
“I was just complimenting their fine braid work baby. You gotta let a fine piece of dwarf like that know how resplendent their beard is. If you don’t someone else might.” Larry spoke back in dwarvish. Fenrina had no idea what they were saying but as she looked down between them she pointed to the stranger.
“Hey. Hi. Go away.” She made a shooing motion and the dwarf finally looked up to realize who Larry was hiding behind.
“Touch their beard again and I shall shave you.” The possibly male dwarf said in common as he pointed to Larry and then backed into the crowd with a final dwarven “Feh!”
“Alright are we all done derailing the quest?” Steve asked as he looked around the party. “Kay lets go.” He led the way once more towards the massive fountain in the center. As he got closer he guided them to one of the giant glass spires at the corners. There was a strange air around the base of the tower, the air seemed to shimmer and shake a little. If someone watched carefully they could see a few people walk into or out of nothingness, but none of the locals seemed surprised by this. “There will be an odd feeling but just follow me. It’s totally safe.” Steve insisted and walked forward as the others followed him into the shimmering air.
Despite the fact that their feet stayed on the ground it felt like they were suddenly flipped upside down as their stomachs flip flopped for a second. Then they were standing in the market again looking out. But the sky was red and a black crescent moon was high above… below them? Again despite being firmly on the ground there was a sensation as if they were up and the sky was beneath them somehow.
All around there were magical races doing much as they had up above, buying and selling all manner of goods. But these were of a magic nature and unlike the bored guards in bright armor Steve pointed out posts on the buildings around them. Here the guards wore dark matte black armor with red cloaks and were riding reddish brown drakes. There were calls of all kind of mythical creatures being bought and sold and more than a few large beasts flying through the sky. Yet still the glass spires around the fountain shown a brilliant array of colors all around the market.
“Welcome to the Grand Tikesh Bizarre.” Steve waved. “If you can’t find it up above you can likely find it down here. But be on your best behavior, the guards here don’t fuck around.”
“Is this what the Archon meant when she was talking about the threads of reality?” Fenrina asked.
“No this place is stable even if it’s… uh… What would I call this? It’s not exactly a shadow realm… It’s a local anomaly. I’ll just call it that. There are magic anomalies all across Taleron that are more or less stable, but just… different.” He shrugged as he led them through the Bizarre. “We’re headed to an ivory dealer to get some info.”
“Isn’t there a ton of ivory up above?” Fenrina asked as she looked all around as they walked, marveling at the various sights, sounds, and for her especially smells.
“There are a variety of ivories. The kind we want is traded down here.” Steve explained. He got to the edge of the market as he pointed to a building that had a giant dragon skull set on the roof right above the door.
“I can’t imagine the dragon’s take kindly to that sort of thing.” Sherry mentioned.
“Actually they’re fine with it. See the reason this is all part of the tusk coast is there’s a massive elephant, dragon, and assorted other large terrifying animal graveyard not far from here. It’s got some strange magic properties that draw in creatures near death in the above, and locals harvest their bones for the ivory trade. So everything you saw died of… mostly natural causes. And the draconic council gets a cut from all the proceeds. Plus it helps cut way down on necromancy when the bones are treated properly before selling.” Steve explained.
As they walked through the doors of the building there were two more guards inside, silently watching them as they passed. Down here the crested morion helms were replaced with black lobstertail helmets instead, and fitted with intricate faceplates that made it impossible to see the face of the guard wearing it. All around them were pieces of scrimshaw, unworked bones, and all variety of finished ivory pieces made of the more rare and powerful creatures of Taleron. At the center of the building was a somewhat small lizard man with four arms, and chameleon like eyes that kept moving in different directions. “Customers! Come in come in! Welcome welcome!”
“Well if it isn’t Cut My Own Wrists Ektor. You’ve moved up in the world since you were selling little scrimshaw trinkets out by the stables.” Steve said as he approached. The lizardman gave a nervous chuckle then as both eyes tried to focus on Steve now.
“Ah hah yes I have my friend. But you seem to have me at a loss… Have we met?” The merchant seemed a bit nervous as Steve stepped up to his counter but then Steve set something down before him which made him laugh. “Ah! One of my old Ghostwood rings! Very popular! Very quality craftsmanship! Very-”
“Fake.” Steve cut in. “It’s not real Ghostwood.”
Ektor let out a nervous laugh. “Oh come now… I’m sure you just took it to the wrong person for an examination! You see humans can’t trigger certain types of Ghostwood because you need to be infused with-” Once more Steve cut the merchant off.
“Magic? Yes. I’m aware.” He let that hang in the air as the lizardman looked him over for a bit and finally noticed the large book hanging from Steve’s belt.
“You! You’re… you’re that human!” He looked even more nervous now.
“Yeah.” Steve nodded slowly. “Yeah I am. And I’ve got all the magic necessary to know that isn’t real. Now I’m sure you’ve got nothing but real products now but I remember your old slogan. If it isn’t the finest quality real merchandise at the best prices… You’ll cut your own wrists.” Steve nodded slowly as the lizardman nervously rubbed his four hands together.
“Ah… But as you can see from my wrists I have no cut marks! I am an honest merchant!” He insisted then.
“That’s the other trick isn’t it?” Steve said as he pulled a knife from his belt and set it on the counter before giving it a spin. “Because even if one were to say… cut your entire hand off… It would grow back. Wouldn’t it?”
“Look… what is it you want? Don’t tell anyone about the ring… I was young! I likely thought your were just a gullible human adventurer! How was I to know you really had the magic to use Ghostwood? It was an oversight! And you know the secret of my wrists… and while it’ll grow back it does hurt a great deal. Are you looking for a refund? A discount?” The merchant took a rag from behind the counter to dab his suddenly sweaty forehead.
“What I want is information. I’ve been sent here to investigate the recent disappearances on both sides of the great boneyard. Someone has been making work crews disappear. But for some odd reason… I’ve heard your work crews aren’t only fine. But you’re bringing in record quantities of dragon bone.” Steve said.
“Aahhh this is misunderstanding. I hire the best work crews there are! Seasoned adventurers all! There is nothing nefarious about this! With less competition I bring in more! Simple!” Ektor tried to explain but as his eyes kept darting around the room Steve was far from convinced.
“I’ve been sent here on behalf of Aurbitas.” Steve explained then. “How would you like if we had inspectors here day and night or… unday and unnight. Watching everything you do over concerns that you’re not properly warding your products. What interesting business practices might they find? To say nothing of making sure you’re paying all of your taxes.”
Ektor nervously rubbed the rag against his face once more to dab up the sweat. “You don’t understand! It’s not my idea!” He finally gasped. “She showed up one day and told me I must obey her or she’d eat me! She’s terrifying! She told me this is for everyone’s good! I have no choice!”
“Who? Who is she?” Steve asked now that they were getting somewhere.
“I don’t know for sure… I only know her as… Duskmaw.” When he said that Steve froze for a moment. “Do you know her?” Ektor asked when he saw Steve’s reaction.
“Possibly.” Steve tried to cover.
“Listen if you know her you know how powerful she is! Do us both a favor! Pretend you were never here! Pretend you know nothing! You can’t defeat her!” Ektor pleaded but Steve shook his head.
[Continued in Comments]