Rousing Dreams - Part II

The roof was finished shortly after noon. Laying as he was on the new shingles with the winter sun shining down upon him warmed Vinsah more than he could recall since winter had begun. Brennar and he had laid there for a short while, enjoying the sweet aromas drifting up with the chimney smoke. They listened to the sounds of others going about their business, some repairing their homes, others moving goods from one place to another, whether by foot or in horse-drawn wagons.

Some Keepers had also been attracted to the scent of freshly baked bread and had gone into Gregor’s shop only to come out a few minutes later very satisfied, and minus a few coins. A few even asked how comfortable the roof was for laying upon, to which the raccoon and tabby replied that it was quite cozy. Of course, that was not entirely true, but it was pleasurable for a short rest after their work.

Of course, the rest would not last long, as during a brief lull, when a strangely sublime scent came rising from the chimney stack, Gregor himself stepped out of the Bakery and reminded Brennar just what their relationship was. Brennar excused himself, thanked Vinsah for the help, and wished him well. Gregor did offer the Bishop another morsel to pay for the work, but Vinsah politely declined, as he needed something a bit more substantial than bread to sate his hunger.

And so, Bishop Vinsah scrambled down from the roof, his leather shod paws nearly slipping on a bit of snow and ice that clung to the cobblestone streets of Metamor. After righting himself, Vinsah pulled his cloak a bit more tightly about his chest, and began to walk towards one of the inns that had survived the attack mostly unscathed. He knew the food there was quite delicious and could be bought for reasonable prices.

Along the way he passed a few familiar faces, greeted them by name where he could, smiled and waved where he could not. Most of those he met were Followers who had been there in the Chapel when the attack had come. But there were some that he’d become acquainted with before or after. One fellow, a haberdasher’s apprentice, remembered him from when he’d walked the Keep before the assault and called him, “Elvmere”. Vinsah did not correct him then, but smiled and waved in return, having forgotten the young man’s name.

When he came to the Red Bull Inn, he could hear the sounds of raucous laughter and the strumming of a lute accompanied by some half-decent singing. The doors to the Inn had been widened in the last few years, and were all fashioned from oak. The building was two stories, set amidst other shops. Most of the homes in the city were elsewhere. This was where the merchants from other lands did their business.

The sign featuring the brass emblem of the bull had been torn down and defaced during the assault, but the owners had once more hung it from the eaves, though it still needed recasting. Most of the windows had been smashed as well by the Lutins, but they’d been replaced or boarded up for the time being. Some of the outside walls had been damaged by fire as well, but the blizzard had kept the blaze from consuming them completely. Most of the wood that had been damaged was already replaced though, and so only the superficial damage remained to remind anyone of the attack here.

Vinsah stepped inside, and was met with a warm breath of air, the scent of tobacco smoke, cooked potatoes and carrots, as well as a little bit of meat. Animal musks struck him of several varieties. There was also the distinct flavour of ale and mead, though not as much as would be later in the evening.

The room itself was generally sedate. A long bar was set just before the kitchens, while a few individuals, some rather inebriated, rested upon the stools before the bar. A large chimney occupied one wall, a fire roared inside behind the sluice. Several long tables lined the hall. A small staircase led to an upraised portion of the room at the far back, where another pair of tables were placed around the human minstrel who was entertaining the merchants.

Most of the occupants of the room Vinsah saw were human merchants, though there were several Keepers there as well. In one corner on the lower level with his back to the wall was a figure he found quite familiar. He was a raccoon as well, and dressed in dark cloaks, eyeing all that passed. He had a small plate of stew before him which he was ravenously eating. His eyes though found Vinsah immediately, and a look of curiosity came over them.

The Bishop was drawn to Rickkter’s table immediately. No others were sitting near him, and so Vinsah walked to the one opposite him. “Do you mind if I join you, Rickkter?”

Rickkter leaned back and wiped a bit of broth from his muzzle and whiskers with a plain grey cloth. “Do please sit, your grace.”

He could not help but blush in his ears at hearing his title. Regardless, he climbed onto the bench, his tail and cloak trailing out behind him. Vinsah rested his paws before him, crossed one over the other on the table. The wood was sturdy, and slightly lacquered. “You may call me Vinsah. Bishop Vinsah if you must.”

One of Rickkter’s eye ridges went up, even as a spoonful of potato and broth disappeared down his muzzle. After a few bites he swallowed and set the wooden utensil back upon his plate. “You do not like titles?”

“A terrible habit I picked up from the Patriarch I’m afraid.”

The mage laughed at that, an unexpected thing. “Sarcasm does not seem to be a common trit of the cloth either.”

“I’m just trying it out,” Vinsah replied, his muzzle half twisted into a grin. “I’ll let you know what I think later.”

Rickkter chuckled and shook his head again, even as he took a draught from the pint at his side. “You were not like this the last time I was with you.”

Vinsah shrugged. “I was not very comfortable then with this place and all that I see here.”

“I had noticed some anxiety.”

Vinsah nodded then, his expression more serious. “I was not yet ready to live here. I think I am now.”

Rickkter gestured to his form with two claws. “I doubt you will fit in anywhere else appearing as you do. As I do. Tell me, Vinsah, what are you doing these days? I have not seen you since the assault.”

“Well,” Vinsah began, when he caught a flicker of motion out of the corner of his left eye. Turning his head, his tail flicking back nd forth behind him, he saw a young girl, probably fifteen or sixteen approaching him.

“Would you like stew to eat, Master?” the girl asked. It took Vinsah a moment to realize that she must have been a boy until a few years ago. “Anything to drink?”

He nodded and smiled. “Thank you, miss. And I will have nothing to drink for now.”

The girl smiled in return and then walked briskly back to the bar. Vinsah watched as she left, feeling odd as he did so.

Rickkter continued eating his meal, until Vinsah managed to turn his attention back to the raccoon, mentally berating himself. He was not used to being young again, and feeling all that came with it. “What was I saying?” He finally managed to ask his fellow raccoon.

“You were going to tell me what you have been about of late.”

“Ah yes! Well, as this is Father Hough’s parish, it is his duty to manage. I simply help out when he needs it. I will occasionally listen to his homilies before he gives them before the congregation, but I do not have much to do there. Most of my time I spend out in Metamor helping out where I can. Today I helped the Baker’s apprentice finish shingling his roof.”

Rickkter scooped up another bit of potato, but he did not eat it just then. “Did he not pay you in his ware?”

“He did, but that was in the morning. He offered to pay more just before I came here, but I declined. I wanted something a little more solid.” He heard the sound of footsteps amidst the laughter and the strumming of the lute, turned and saw that she was returning with a plate piping warm and smelling delicious. Vegetables of many varieties bathed in a thick beef sauce came to his sensitive nose. The curses had made his meal times so much more enjoyable.

“Here you are, Master,” the girl said as she set down the plate and set a wooden spoon within it. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink?” The girl leaned perilously close as far as Vinsah was concerned. The curse had certainly made quite a woman out of her, it was plain to see.

Vinsah smiled and waved his paw, “No thank you, miss. This will be just fine.” He turned away then, even as she looked to find some other patron to assist. The raccoon looked up at his companion, who was doing his best to stifle a laugh.

“You must forgive Berta. She is that way to all the customers, hoping they will grace her with more of their money.”

Taking a deep breath, and feeling that warm scent tickle the roof of his muzzle, Vinsah did his best to push such things from his mind. “I had not seen her here before, and I have eaten here several times.”

Rickkter shrugged. “She used to work at a tavern the other end of the city. It was destroyed in the attack and the fires, and I suppose she now finally found herself more work. Do not take it personally. I doubt she realized you are a priest.”

“I shan’t,” Vinsah said, even as he scooped up some cabbage and carrots upon his spoon and devoured them hungrily. Both were soft, chewy, and covered in a broth that gave them the flavour of well cured beef.

His table mate finished off the last of his own stew, and gently pushed the plate forward with one paw. He leaned back slightly in his seat, drumming his claws along the lacquer, eyes crossing over Vinsah’s frame. “You know,” Rickkter said even as the priest scooped a mouthful of potato into his muzzle, “you almost look strong enough to be a farmer now. When I first met you it was so obvious that you had never worked on a farm, despite what you had said.”

Vinsah nodded. “I know. I’ve been doing lifting, carting, laying of blocks, clay, stone, and wood. I’ve worked harder, physically at least, in the last two months than I ever have before in my entire life.”

“It shows. How does it make you feel?”

“Strangely enough, I feel more alive now than I can ever remember. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Rickkter smiled slightly then. “I’m glad to hear it, Vinsah.” He took a quick sip from his pint and then gestured as his form again. “Do you like being a raccoon?”

Vinsah set the spoon down into the broth at that. His green eyes took in his fellow procyonid’s, noting the shape of the mask over Rickkter’s face. There was more than just the black fur that

covered what was behind his eyes, the Bishop knew.

But the question was a valid one, one that Vinsah had not often given thought to. Why had he become a raccoon? It had been that first time he’d seen his lady. He felt his chest swell with warmth at the mere memory of those nocturnal visitations. She had given him the mask and told him he’d have to wear it, after he’d turned from everything she’d offered him. Though he knew the Curse of Metamor was supposed to be completely random, somehow he knew that his lady had made him this raccoon. Why she had made him young again, he did not know, but there had to be some reason for it.

The question still remained though – did he like being a raccoon? When he’d first changed shape, he knew the answer to that easily enough. It had been over four months now, and he felt as if he were a different man altogether. Did he like being a raccoon? It kept him confined here at Metamor and it cost him everything he had once had. But now that it was all gone, did it matter? Vinsah was quite surprised to find that he did not have any answer to that.

“I’m not sure. Four months ago I would have said no without equivocation. But now, I really don’t know. I like what I have been able to do now, but I also enjoyed what I had been doing. Which would I prefer to be doing, well, that’s not an easy question at all to ask of anyone.”

“I know it isn’t,” Rickkter said, his voice clear. “That is why I asked it.”

Vinsah leaned forward, his stew forgotten for the moment. “You wanted to know whether being second to the most powerful man in all the world was more important to me than helping out your fellow Keepers rebuild their homes and their livelihoods? Is that it?”

His companion shrugged. “I thought your most powerful man on Earth was on a mission of peace?”

Vinsah nodded. “He was. It might have worked too. But I do not know just what you knew of him. I had hoped you not thought of me as some power hungry priest. I have met some in my time. Great evil can and is brought into the world through them.”

“No, I do not think of you like that,” Rickkter admitted. “I did not know what make of you, but I never thought you that. When I knew you as Elvmere, I knew that you were not what you claimed to be.” He stirred his stew with his spoon. “You seemed in a bit over your head, but I felt that you just wanted to do the right thing still.”

Vinsah breathed once and nodded, taking another bite from his stew. The taste was muted, but it began to grow once more in flavour as he chewed. “I do apologize for my insinuation.”

“There is nothing to forgive. I was not insulted. I am curious about one thing though. What do you intend to do now with your new life?”

Vinsah spooned another morsel into his muzzle as he thought. He knew what had to be done, but he still could not imagine how it would be accomplished. Swallowing, he began to wish he did have something to drink. But he was not about to have anything alcoholic. He did not want to spoil himself before enjoying Father Hough’s cider!

Clearing his throat, he said, “Well, I am still the Bishop of Abaef, although doubtless another already bears the title in my place. But my position is not the only thing at stake here. We do not have to worry about Yesulam declaring Metamor a place of evil demons, Patriarch Akabaieth saw to that. Not even the most reactionary of Bishops will overturn a Patriarch’s writ.”

“Then what is at stake?”

Vinsah’s tongue washed over his muzzle, cleaning off some of the broth that had caught on his short fur. “There is still the matter of the Patriarch’s murder. Yesulam will want answers. Letters alone will not suffice in this. Somebody will need to plead Metamor’s case before the Council of Bishops.”

“And you wish to do that?” Rickkter asked, his claws tracing along the sides of his mazer.

Vinsah nodded. “I’m clearly the one who can best speak to them. I know them personally, I know how to appeal to them. I do wish to do this, because I know that Metamor is innocent “

”And how do you know that?” Rickkter pressed.

The Bishop set his spoon down once more. He was nearly finished as it was. “Well, from everything I heard at the rat Matthias’s trial, I do not believe that anyone here at Metamor had anything to do with it.”

Vinsah noticed that his companion tensed at the mention of the banished rat. Rickkter then smiled slightly, as if from some private joke and nodded. “Well, don’t you think it will be a little difficult to travel to Yesulam as a raccoon morph?”

“Very difficult. I still have yet to figure out how I will manage to do it. But it is something that has to be done at some point. I know I cannot escape this. I just have to wait for the right opportunity to present itself. Then I’ll know.”

Rickkter leaned forward, hunching over the table some more. “What about the Office of the Holy See?” Rick asked in a low voice, folding his paws before him. “I’m certain that you and Bryonoth were reported missing to them with the murder of the Patriarch. Now you are back. What do you expect them to make of that?”

Vinsah darted his tongue out, licked some of the stew from his muzzle. “I will deal with the Questioners the same way I will deal with the council of Bishops; with the truth.”

Rickkter nodded at that, leaning back slightly in his seat, taking a quick drink from his mazer. His eyes strayed past Vinsah towards the bard who had begun to strum a cheery travelling song. Vinsah did not recognize it, though it did have a pleasing tune. It was obviously well received by some of the merchants eating, as some of them clapped in time to the music, while others laughed and tried to sing along badly.

“And what of you?” Vinsah finally asked, his attention once more focussed upon his fellow raccoon. “What plans have you for this year?”

Rickkter snorted a bit and let his eyes return once more to his companion. “As of now, not a great deal. Survival is one of my plans, as always. I have an apprentice, but lately things have become... complicated.” He shrugged. “The court has had me running around a great deal, devising new magical defences, trying to ferret out any traps that might have been left behind by the invaders. With Wessex gone, I’m one of the most skilled magic users they have. Hopefully that business will be done in another month at most.” He shrugged again. “After that we’ll see what happens.”

“That was not much of an answer,” Vinsah prodded.

“No, it wasn’t. Truth be told, I have nothing specific in mind,” Rickkter stretched out his arms from underneath his robes, flexing his paws. “I certainly have no plans on venturing halfway across the world right now. Maybe I’ll have some tomorrow.”

Vinsah chuckled rather lightly and smiled in a rather grandfatherly fashion. Coming from his youthful face, it did not quite work as he intended. “Have you always looked mostly to the moment?”

“Mostly. The life of a mercenary does not leave one much time to plan for the long term. You live according to when they pay you, and how much they pay you. If they pay you,” he added, raising his eye ridges. “And then you fight in their wars, and hopefully don’t get killed.”

“But you cannot do that anymore, as you are now a Metamorian.”

“Very true. But the pay here is better than most places, more consistent, too. Atmosphere is also better than most places.”

Vinsah pushed his own plate forward, only a few bits of potato left. He’d finish them shortly. Leaning forward, he crossed his arms before him, lacing his fingers together, the pads on each thumb rubbing against each other. “And what brought you to Metamor if I might ask? You have travelled a great deal over this world, seen so much, fought for so many. What brought you to Metamor?”

Rickkter appeared uncomfortable for a moment, as if he did not enjoy having another press into his secrets. And then, a shrug of the shoulders. “A gamble, really. I had a terrible illness in my body that could not be cured. I’d searched long and hard for a cure, and Metamor was the only place that promised one. I would have to be cursed like you see now, or I would be dead. I had nothing to lose.”

“Do you,” Vinsah began tentatively, “ever regret it?”

His companion shrugged. “At first, when I did find a cure alternate to the Curse. Now... not really.” He leaned forward across the table a little. “Now let me ask you a question. If you had the power to make it so, would you make it as if the Patriarch had never died and was continuing on his mission?”

Vinsah blinked then and gritted his teeth. He’d many times wished that the black clad man had never slaughtered their camp that first night out from Metamor. But in the recent weeks he had no longer wished that he could change what had happened. After all, what was done was done and he had to live his own life as it was now. And he had his lady in his sleep there to comfort him when things became too terrible.

“I would have to say that I would. As much as I enjoy my newfound youth, and having grown to know so many of you here at Metamor, I think that I would prefer to have the Patriarch alive and preaching his message of peace to all the lands. I do not know what good could come from his death.” Vinsah did not feel obliged to mention that there was one thing he might have done differently if it would have saved the Patriarch. Akabaieth had offered to let him stay at Metamor, and if that would have saved that good man, Vinsah would have done so could he rewrite the past.

Rickkter’s face became sour. “Neither do I. Rarely have I found people in his place to truly believe the words they speak. He did. I would not fight his battle, but I had no quarrel with him.”

Vinsah was about to ask him what he meant by that, when they heard the door to the Red Bull Inn open, the quiet moan of the winter wind cutting momentarily over the dim susurration of the patrons at the other tables. A subtle yet unmistakable musk caught the raccoon’s sensitive nose with the brief movement of air, causing his attention to turn toward the door. It was the scent of a skunk, but for some reason he did not at the moment contemplate, it was a familiar scent, one he knew he had experienced before. Brows furrowed, he peered through the gloom of the taproom as a familiar silhouette crossed toward them. The skunk had a heavy sack slung across his back. Turning his hooded gaze toward the corner in which the two raccoons sat, he made his way through the sparse crowd.

The Bishop had met this particular skunk on only a few occasions. First was in the library with the Patriarch, where his master had discussed matters of magic with the Lothanasi follower, a topic that had been a forbidden topic for many years in Yesulam. And likely still was, he mused, considering his mentor and closest friend had been brutally slain before he could return and begin the changes that would help the church grow, and heal. Then he had seen this skunk in his dreams, including the very first time he’d ever seen the lady in his dreams. He had become some sort of representation of all that was magical, a mortal vessel that his mind could grasp, placing repeatedly within his hand a gift borne of magic. A gift he possessed still, nestled in the breast pocket of his tunic. The lady that had been in those dreams as well had frightened him then, and had told him that he would need to do something with this skunk. What it was, he could no longer remember, but even still, it unsettled him.

For this was Murikeer Khunnas, the one who had fashioned the face of the Patriarch from a bit of quartz, drawing out the blue of his eyes with a speck of lapis lazuli. The Patriarch had taken quite a liking to him during their brief conversation, despite their many differences. This skunk was the only figure ever to venture into his dreams that he had personally met. The white lady who guided him he had a sense was something truly magical, beyond even the skunk’s magic, and not of the mortal world. The dark, haunting figure clad in shadows was another matter entirely, and Vinsah still feared him to his the depths of his soul.

“Ah, Muri,” Rickkter said, waving the skunk closer. “You remember Bishop Vinsah, don’t you?” Rickkter gestured to his fellow raccoon.

Reaching the table, Murikeer’s gaze turned toward the bishop, one dark eye gleaming from the shadows of his hood and nodded, “Back when you were still human I believe, your grace.” The skunk’s voice struck Vinsah as strange, somehow changed. Gone was the calm, almost playful base tenor that he had grown familiar with from his dreams and one conversation in the library only a brief few months in the past. It had become deeper, more subdued, and there was a rasp to it that the bishop did not remember.

Vinsah nodded then. “Yes, I still have that bit of quartz you fashioned for my master.”

Murikeer seemed to pause for a moment at that statement, but his hood nodded after a few seconds. He slung the backpack from his shoulder and onto the table where it landed with a weighty thud. The plates bounced as it hit, and the sound of metal came to his ears. “I’m glad of that, your grace. I had not given it much thought.” He swept his hood back then with his free hand, settling the nondescript brown cloak on his shoulders. Vinsah blinked as the skunk’s face came completely into view, his jaw dropping open slightly. Gone was the visage of youth that had once made the ex-bishop think that the mage was little more than a teen or young adult at most. His features had hardened, though the planes of his muzzle had not changed greatly, his expression had undergone some monumental trauma. Then there was his eyes; or rather, his eye. Within its dark depths there had once been calm compassion and a hint of great intelligence. Now one of his eyes was hidden behind a featureless black leather patch, the other was flat and cold and empty of any outward emotion. There was a distance in his eyes, one that Vinsah knew meant loss, but loss of what? What had this young mage been through during the attack that had left him so markedly changed?

“You may simply call me Vinsah for now, Murikeer.”

The skunk nodded slightly at that, his paw still gripping the shoulder strap of his pack. “And you may call me Muri.” He said simply, without rancor.

“Muri was the apprentice I had told you about before,” Rickkter interjected. He pointed with one claw at the bag. “What do you have to show me in there, Muri?”

Muri looked down to the racoon and smiled, though even that expression seemed to have lost something of its brightness, “I have the charm mostly working and wanted to show you.” His gaze glanced across to the Bishop. It was clear he was not certain what to make of Vinsah, or his presence with Rickkter.

Rickkter nodded. “Good, good. Is it complete enough to test in here?” he asked, one corner of his muzzle upturned in a rakish grin, “I’d just gotten the cold out of my bones here by the fire, and I am loath to walk all the way back to the keep just to see this work.” Glancing back over toward the raccoon mage, Muri merely shrugged and nodded. “You may stay and watch if you wish, Vinsah, the function of the charm is not… how to explain it… It’s not going to explode.”

Vinsah raised one furry eyebrow slightly at that simplistic warning and nodded with a smile, his face showing genuine interest. He knew that the charm would be magical in nature. It had taken him some time to realize that Akabaieth had been right about magic, a tool that could be used for good or for ill by anyone. That had been something that Murikeer had told him, but something that had taken the patriarch’s death and Vinsah’s change for the bishop to realize.

“I would like to see what you have done, Muri.”

The skunk brightened a bit at that, as if revealing his work gave him some sense of worth, and untied the knot holding the sack shut. Reaching in with one hand, he used the other to push the sack open, and pulled out a large metal hinged-jaw trap, the kind that hunters would use for large animals like bear, its iron teeth firmly pressed together. Muscles bunched under the mephit’s dark fur as he hefted the trap and slid the sack off to one side. Despite his size, the heft of the weighty trap did not seem to cause him any sort of strain whatsoever. He set it upon the table, where it scratched the lacquer a bit.

“I think the Innkeeper would be happier if we did this on the floor,” Rickkter mused as he ran one finger along the scratch. He lifted the trap and stood from his seat. Vinsah rose as well and crossed around to the other side, next to the wall.

Muri pulled out a small circular disk fashioned from rock. It did not appear to be very magical to the Bishop’s eyes, just finely shaped of a nondescript slice of granite. He pointed to the floor, “Could you open and set that while I activate this?”

Rickkter nodded and with practiced ease he drew the jaws apart and set the spring lever, then slipped the latch in place to keep it from snapping shut again. “Just don’t touch the spring and you will be fine.” He warned aside to the bishop as he straightened from his brief labor and leaned his hip against the edge of the table. He had positioned the trap behind their table, closer to the corner, which put their backs to the crowd and kept casual onlookers from watching.

Vinsah gripped his robes tightly in his fingers as he watched, Rickkter’s tail flitting slightly, the tip almost tapping the side of the bishop’s leg. Murikeer leaned down over the trap, very gingerly setting the stone inside, but keeping away from the spring. He then spoke a single word, tapping the middle of the top of the stone. At once, the stone began to disappear from view, as if it were dissolving into the air.

Sucking in his breath, Vinsah watched as first the stone disappeared, and then the old metal trap began to vanish. Within seconds, there was nothing left on the floor. “What did you do?” Vinsah asked at last, his voice low, as if he were afraid that one of the merchants might hear him.

“It’s just an illusion,” Muri explained. “The trap is still there. Normally you would have to hide something like this out in the woods underneath a pile of leaves. With my charm, you can put one of these anywhere you wish, and an invader would have no way to spot it.”

“I can still see it with magic sight,” Rickkter mused, rubbing his jawline with one hand, whiskers twitching slightly.

Muri grimaced a bit at that and nodded. “I still have a considerable bit of work to do on that. Just getting the area limited and stable was the most difficult part. Once I have the structure completed and concrete I’ll add the aura masking.”

Rickkter waved at Vinsah with one paw. “Back off a moment.” Once the Bishop had done so, the raccoon warrior took out a small cylinder from his cloak and gave it a flick of his wrist. Suddenly a six-foot long metal pole appeared in his paws with a hissing metallic rasp. Vinsah gasped at that, quite surprised at seeing such a weapon come from nowhere, even if its possessor was a mage, it was startling. The skunk did not seem to regard it as extraordinary, and the raccoon never noticed his reaction, as both ignored him for the moment.

Leaning down, Rickkter waved one end of the staff over where the trap had once been. Suddenly, the end of the staff vanished from sight. Rickkter paused, kneeling down even closer, holding the staff as steady as he could. He then reached his paw out along the shaft. Once he crossed the curve where his staff had disappeared, his paw too was lost to their sight.

Rickkter pulled his paw back, and it was once more visible. “It makes everything invisible in a certain radius?”

“At the moment. The top hemisphere anyway, to a radius of about a foot. That’s why the stone is flat, rather than ovoid or some other shape.” Muri explained, “Even as that, it will not give anyone who stumbles across it much time to realize something is wrong.”

“True,” Rickkter said as he withdrew the staff. “Even so, see what you can do about adjusting the contours of the spell while you are revising it. Try and get it to conform as closely to the object it is planted on as possible. I’d prefer they get no warning.”

He then prodded the end of the staff back within the area of invisibility, which resulted in a sharp, loud metallic clanging assaulted their ears. Vinsah felt his body tense at that, but otherwise he kept his surprise under control. His fellow raccoon lifted the staff, and suddenly, the trap appeared once more, the teeth bent outwards around the staff. The staff itself appeared unharmed. No one else in the entire inn seemed to have noticed the sound, as not one head was turned in their direction and the background murmur of voices had not changed. It was then that Vinsah noticed one of the skunk’s hands held out slightly, palm toward the floor as if holding something down. Meeting the bishop’s stare, Muri smiled slightly and met his gaze as he closed his hand.

“How do you undo the illusion?” Rickkter asked, as he set the ruined trap and the staff inside of it aside.

“That is easy. All I have to do is touch it and speak the command word again.” Murikeer replied quietly.

Nodding, Rickkter reached down, his arm becoming invisible. His eyes stared at the empty space that was one the floor, and shifted about for a few seconds. Vinsah watched and asked, his voice curious, “What are you trying to do?”

“I’m trying to find the stone,” Rickkter replied. “I might be able to see the magic of the spell, but Muri there does have a talent for masking the foci he’s linked a spell to. I usually have to feel the weave if I’m going to find it. Ah, there it is.” He then stood up straight, his arm missing. He walked towards the table, and suddenly a hole began to appear, curving upwards. Rickkter continued to lower his arm, the hole expanding, until they could see through it to the floor. He then turned back, and the table was whole once more.

“Interesting,” Rickkter mused. He kneeled down, and a moment later the floor of the Inn began to disappear, and they could see into the foundation. Eventually, they all heard the sound of something tapping the floor, and no deeper could he pry. “Hold out your paw, Muri,” Rickkter commanded. Murikeer did so, and a second later, his arm disappeared. The skunk shifted a little for a moment, and then he whispered a strange word.

In a second, their arms reappeared, as did the stone, which was now resting in Murikeer’s palm. “You still have to make sure that the spell’s weave is not visible to magic sight,” Rickkter said. “And if possible, restrict the illusion to only those objects nearby when the command word is first used.”

Murikeer nodded. “That’s a good idea. I’ll get back to work on that. Likely I’ll end up with an illusion that will only affect the material of the trap itself.” He tapped the jaws of the sinister device, “Iron in this case, or steel, or what have you. The only limitation there is that it could only be used on devices of that material. I’ve also contemplated using some manner of magnetic ore, so that the springing of the trap does not fling the foci somewhere.” He stuffed the stone back into his sack, and then looked at the ruined trap still clutched around Rickkter’s metal staff.

Vinsah returned back to his side of the table and smiled. “Have you had anything to eat yet? You could join us for now if you wish, as long as that is all right with your mentor.”

One of Rickkter’s eye ridges shot up at that, but he nodded to Murikeer, smiling ever so slightly. “Yes, do please join us for now. You will have time for your work later. Berta!” This last was shouted towards the bar. “More stew and mead for my friend!”

The Bishop returned to his seat and pulled his plate close again. It had cooled down by now, and would cool even more before Murikeer had his meal. But he knew better than to eat while another was waiting for his food. Even as his two companions found their seats, after Rickkter had removed the trap from his staff and replaced both, he could not help but wonder why he had invited Murikeer to join them. Even though his lady had told him that his fate and the skunk’s would be joined at some point, he was not so sure he wished to hurry such matters along.

But what was done was done, that he knew. And so, with a smile, he turned to the skunk and asked, “So, Muri, what plans have you for this coming year?”

“Plans?” Murikeer asked, his face surprised at the question. There was a strange disquiet about his features then, as if his one eye was probing inwards upon a place it had not seen in a long time. “Well, I might venture back to the Glen, though I am uncertain,” he said after a few moments pause. Berta came back over at that point carrying another plate of stew and a mazer of mead. She smiled to the skunk, who muttered thanks to her, gripping the spoon in his paw as he might a quill.

After Berta had left them once more to their own affairs, Vinsah did his best to smile to the distracted skunk. “Go back? I thought you lived here at Metamor.”

Murikeer nodded slightly then, and chewed a bit of potato. The Bishop took up his own spoon once more and continued eating, though it was not as tasty as it had been warm. “Yes, I live at Metamor. But I have friends at the Glen.”

Vinsah’s furry brow tightened a bit. “The Glen? Where is that?”

“Just North about five hour’s ride,” Muri said, with the wave of his other paw. “It’s on the western side of the Valley. It is worth visiting if you should ever have a chance.”

He gave a slight nod then, and finished off the last of his stew. He leaned back in his seat, and gave his belly a warm pat with one paw. It was strange to be sitting here and eating with these two, neither of which were Followers. Only a year ago, the very thought of it would have struck him as ludicrous. Of course, a year ago, Akabaieth was already thinking about venturing to Metamor, but even so, Vinsah could not believe all that had occurred in that time.

Murikeer appeared predisposed to silence though as he sat and ate. There was something wrong, much more than just the loss of his eye. Something had happened to the skunk, something that had taken away the youthful brash of his former self. Vinsah had been a priest for far too long, such things were obvious to him. What it was though escaped him, and he could tell that the skunk would not tell him either.

And so, Vinsah listened to the songs of the minstrel, and spoke of lighter things to the skunk and to Rickkter. But even still, his mind pondered the enigma that was the mephit.

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