Jabbar Al’tariq. Their destiny now had a name. And an itinerary, apparently. Pip explained the tight timeline, dangerous route, and rare offering of shipping to the island. Though as luck (or more likely, fate) would have it, a vessel was leaving late that night – if only they could manage passage. Reinhardt and Bart assumed they could, but those with sailing experience were more doubtful.
But all that was moot until they met with the mysterious Don. With more time to kill, Remy led them on another useful investigation, this time to the glassworks responsible for the intricate crystal on the automatons.
First a short stop was made at the inn to pick up Werner. It came as a surprise to all to see him deep in his cups. More unexpected still, he had composed a multi-verse song, a less-than-flattering ballad about a naive young Prince and his magic armament. Reinhardt was at first amused, then offended, then simply baffled as the verses went on. What had he done to deserve such vitriol? And how did Werner have time to compose all those rhymes?
While the Posen heir stewed on this, his loyal companion Essie was given a much more sincere gift. Somehow, some way, the bandit king had found time to prove his skill and presented the spoils of his work – a gorgeous dress! Several, actually. Essie squealed in delight. Vera’s thanks were more muted, but the value of the gift was no less noted.
Sweeping back into control, Reinhardt summoned a carriage to take them all to the glazier’s shop. En route he tried, with no success, to warn Essie of the potential dangers of such revealing clothes presented to certain men. Still, he at least had to admit she looked good, and Tur’lokk had mighty fine taste. Kingly, even!
The light discussion came to a screeching halt as they entered the shop. To say it had been broken into would be a grave understatement to the carnage therein. Molten glass had spilled out of overturned furnaces, hardening over ash on the scorched floor. A million shining shards littered the scene, adding an eerie glitter to the ruin. Wood, paper, stone, and steel had all been rent in the mysterious attack. Nothing in the shop was spared, least of all the proprietor.
The man lay dead in the back room. Silvery cords ran from his body to the corners of the ceiling – his intestines. Some deranged force had disemboweled him and tacked the unfurled gut to the wall in a macabre display. Greis had known war his whole life, Werner survived utter destruction, and Tur’lokk was, as the skalds might say, a goddamn Viking, but even they hadn’t seen horrors of this nature. The rest of the party struggled to hold down their ale. Under the leadership of the veterans, the party regained their wits and proceeded to investigate.
Remy and Vera searched the papers, finding a log. One entry in particular was notable:
“Ship – 1,000 – Jabbar Al’tariq.”
“Dated but two and a half weeks ago,” Remy noted.
“Isn’t that when the Adversary appeared to Rumford?” Reinhardt recalled.
“Rumford AND others. He said he appeared to many.” Tur’lokk added.
“Apparently, they all had inspirations of engineering. But, to what end?”
“We should search the body,” Inigo interjected. “Find out how he died.”
“HOW he died?” Werner asked sarcastically.
Inigo ignored the comment and went to Greis to inspect the wound. Indeed, it appeared ragged, made by no Thean sword. A clockwork claw, perhaps? There were no more clues to say what, exactly, had perpetrated this heinous crime, despite Greis’ continued gruesome digging about the corpse. At least the old man seemed happy to have something to do.
“Nothing.” He finally admitted.
“Not there, no,” Vera muttered, half to herself, and slowly fell into a trance.
In her mind Vera rifled through the ancient Tarot, and as she used that focus, the world revealed itself. The streets, buildings, even plants and sky were slowly enveloped in a dull mist, leaving a vast landscape of smoke and shadow. Amidst it were bright shapes, emanating light – people. In her second sight each was reduced to their essence, a shimmering avatar of heroic Virtue or Hubris. Each was a loom from which sprang forth dozens of strands, the threads of fate. Blue, Red, Gold, and even Black, they spun out it all directions, criss-crossed, connected, forming a pattern that would take centuries to unfurl. If she could only focus properly, she could home in on ones of use. Prominent strands began to come to the forefront. Bonds of authority and friendship between the Prince and his entourage, strong threads of conflict from Tur’lokk and Verner, hints of love, loss, hope, and desolation. But from the corpse… nothing. It was beyond her ken at the moment. She snapped back into reality.
“Ah, what was that?” Bart asked.
“I was reading the strands of Fate,” Vera replied evenly.
The troubadour said nothing, but the look on his face reminded all present that there was nothing a bard couldn’t learn. Closing his eyes, Bartholomew Bartles summoned all the eclectic knowledge he had to pierce the curtain of reality and see the strings behind the show. And… and… he DID. Yes! A thread! A thread, taut, across the lines of reality, a thread… snapping! A thread broken and whipping and lashing towards-
“AHHH!” Bart flew to the ground in a heap, and instantly a trail of crimson soaked his shirt. Everyone was brought back to attention for this as Greis and Reinhardt bandaged their ambitious friend.
“What HAPPENED?” the Prince demanded.
“Let that be a hard-earned lesson” declared Vera. “One should never read the strands without training. And even then, there is danger.”
The Prince persisted. “But if these are the forces working for us-”
“Or against us,” Bart murmured.
“-then surely we should have a basic understanding?”
Reluctantly, Vera gave a remedial education on Fate magic. Fate was no mere concept, but a tangible (to those in the know) entity. All mortals are literally bound by their fate. With talent, one can read these ‘strands.’ With more talent, and will, one could even manipulate them.
“I’d be extremely wary of this foul sorcery,” Werner admonished, but as usual, did not elaborate.
On that grim note they filed back into the carriage while the leaders finished at the scene. Prince Posen alerted the authorities while Tur’lokk liberated any valuables in the area. They were off to the docks, and their Don.