“I am known as Luagga.” The Elf’s age was difficult to discern, however the light wrinkles around his eyes and the pure white of his hair indicated a strong likelihood that he was quite advanced in years.
“I am Kain Ral. We have come as we promised we would, bringing support and arms from Secomber.”
“We are most appreciative of thine assistance.” The ancient elven lord spoke Common with an archaic and formal, “Thy companions speak of building fortifications and this is not something which we are comfortable with.”
“I can understand how you might be hesitant but surely you understand that this situation is … well it goes beyond what can be considered normal. You need to adapt or your tree will be burned to ashes.” Said Reed, crossing his arms in disgust.
“What you suggest is an abomination. You wishe to cut through the earth and dig a trench. Doing so would disrupt the natural order of the forest beyond what you imagine.” Said Luagga with a stern frown.
“You are a stupid old man.” Reed said, “Refusing to consider fortifications guarantees your oh so precious tree will die and once the Grandfather tree dies what’s next? Your settlement here is a linchpin that holds the abyss in check from Hellgate keep.”
“We have held them off in the past and we will do so again..” The ancient elf lord said, not looking amused at being so addressed. “Come, you are tired. I will take you to my grotto where you may rest and take refreshment. We shall speak on this more.”
“No I think you’re mistaken. This needs to happen. Right now. We can’t just sit on our asses until they get as old and wrinkly as yours.” Reed snapped, “I’m going to get the men ready.”
He turned on his heel and walked quickly away before anyone could react. He was fuming; they didn’t have time for this kind of stupidity. The men they had brought with them were largely lounging in the shade. A few of them were helping in the healing tents but for the most part they were just waiting to be put to work.
“All right, naptime is over!” He said, “Gather the picks, shovels and whatever else you can dig with and meet me out at the battlefield. We need to start digging a trench here.”
“Picks? Shovels?” One of the men looked at him in confusion, “I didn’t bring any tools…”
It took a moment for Reed to remember that all the tools had been brought in the Trickster’s Pipe. Looking around, he saw Connor and walked briskly to him. “Connor. You need to set up the Pipe so that we can get this thing started.”
“Yeah… I don’t see anything that looks much like a building though.” Connor said, looking around with a skeptical eye at the tents and then up at the Grandfather Tree. “I’m not going to set it up on that…”
“Pardon me, do you have any buildings around?” Reed grabbed the sleeve of a passing Elven warrior who was hurrying past with an armload of arrow shafts. His command of their language wasn’t the greatest, but he knew he was understood.
“Buildings? Well there are always the guard platforms. Is that what you mean?” The Elf’s brow furrowed, “Why?”
“My companion has an item that needs a… structure to work properly. It’s like a large bag of holding.” Reed explained, “We brought supplies and things in it.”
“There is a platform just there.” The Elf said, pointing toward a tree a few hundred yards away. “Just don’t break it, we still use them.”
“He says there’s a platform in a tree over here you can use.” Reed said, “Will that work?”
“Maybe… I’ve never activated it on something that wasn’t a ruin before but I think that’s probably our only option at this point.” He walked with Reed to the tree and looked at it skeptically. “I don’t even see how to get up there.”
Reed’s sharper eyes picked out a thin rope that trailed down from above. When he tugged on it, a thicker rope ladder fell from above. Connor put his hand on the rope and the tattoo writhed off his arm and shoulder, twisting and turning in a myriad of gears that wound up the ladder and onto the platform.
The sun was setting and Reed realized it was too late to get the men working on the trench this evening, but decided that perhaps it might be interesting to see what the Pipe looked like this time. Besides, he wasn’t entirely sure that there were shovels and picks inside the building. He didn’t remember seeing any before, but it was supposed to produce things … wasn’t it?
A sound scratching at the window drew his attention. He knew Connor was inside… and it didn’t sound like a tree branch. Wind rattled the window, but the Pipe as a whole did not seem to be moving. Reed crept to the window and looked out. Xangeon’s eye was peering in, his breath causing the window to rattle in its frame.
“This is fascinating. What is it? There is power here, but it is … contained.” The dragon rumbled.
“It’s called The Trickster’s Pipe. It is a pocket dimension of sorts.” Reed said, his shock at seeing the monster so close causing him to revert to his most arrogant and defiant tone of speech.
“I am not a hatchling little human, I understand that it is a pocket dimension.” Xangeon said indignantly, dark green fog seeping from his slitted nostrils. “I want to know where it came from, what it is doing here and how to unravel its secrets. I love a good puzzle.”
“I know much about the Pipe.” Reed said in the same offhand tone, “I might be willing to trade information with you… either for information or perhaps for services.”
“Insolent little pup.” Xangeon snorted and the green fog swirled out in threatening whorls that clouded the window for a moment, only his glittering gold flecked copper eyes shining through, “You dare speak to me in such a tone? To … bargain with me? To attempt to make some kind of a deal? I can tell you know little of Dragonkind. Of your group only the Mogget and Lord Caverstorm seem to know how to behave.”
“I don’t trust Mogget. He schemes to do us ill, I can feel it. That one has too many secrets.” Reed muttered, backing slightly away from the window. “I thought perhaps you would want to assist us in our quest. After all, you are already in our debt. For us saving your scaly hide from the Abyss I mean.”
“Debts? You speak of DEBTS? I owe YOU nothing. To Mogget, I had obligation, one that was repaid in kind when I rescued his master at his request and again when I did not EAT said master for his intense rudeness thereafter. I hold him in esteem for his resourcefulness and his clever nature, and of course the Lord of the Mountain City deserves some modicum of respect as well. I suggest you learn from them before daring to speak to me again lest my pride overcome my restraint.” The dragon’s mouth clicked shut on teeth the length of Reed’s forearm and the head withdrew.
Reed shrugged uncomfortably tense shoulders, “What an asshole.” He muttered to himself.
Later that evening, all were gathered by a low fire in an area secluded from the forest on three sides by the massive gnarled roots and trunk of the Grandfather Tree. It was as close to a sitting room as Luagga had to offer outside of the tree itself, and he had not offered to open the doors of his domain to them. They were just finishing a meal that had been shared with all thanks to the abundance of the cook pot that had been given to the Brotherhood of Steel all those months ago by Felix.
“Would you fix us some tea please Rrayu?” Luagga said, causing them to notice the woman for the first time. She had been standing so quietly that Shadowsliver’s chain hadn’t even been making noise. She jumped to obey his request.
“We need to speak of fortifications.” Reed said, “Your current tactics aren’t sufficient to allow you to defend the Grandfather Tree. You would have lost it if we hadn’t been here.”
“You seek to rupture the Earth. To dig a trench.” Luagga said flatly.
“Indeed. For the safety of you and your settlement.” Kain cut in before Reed could unleash his temper again. “As well as to protect the tree in whose shadow we now rest. There aren’t enough of you to hold this position without some kind of fortification.”
“None of you understand the ways of the forest.” Luagga said placidly, “There is a delicate balance in the web of life here, doing as you suggest would uproot trees, kill the tiny creatures that live within the soil, not to mention divert the ground water from its normal path.”
“I know someone who is from here!” Connor said, jumping up with unexpected enthusiasm. “I can bring him to speak with you, I’m sure he’d understand and maybe he could explain it in a way you’d understand. The Alchemist from Myth Drannor.” He said to his companions by way of explanation before spinning his flying disk off the end of his staff and flying off at incredible speed.
“Please excuse him… he’s a bit…” Kain trailed off.
“Abrupt?” Luagga suggested, calmly accepting a steaming cup of tea from Rrayu.
“Ah.. yes. Abrupt.”
Connor knitted his brow and forced the Trickster’s Pipe to his will. He hadn’t had much success in finding the door to Abrizim’s workshop… it was almost like the place wasn’t a part of the Pipe at all. After a bit of struggle, huge gears began to turn slowly in the wall, moving aside and showing an opening. Dust lay thick on the floor, workbenches and shelves. Nobody had been in here for years, but Connor was certain this was the right place.
Making his way carefully through the room, he looked for some sign of habitation and eventually saw a dim light shining from the far end. It was a window covered in dust and grime. When he cleaned it off with his brush, the light was harsh and bright in his eyes. On the other side, he could see a monstrous alchemist’s lab with glass tubing threading its way around in the same profusion that cobwebs pervaded on his side of the door. Several small fires burned, heating bubbling fluids and hundreds of glass containers held a variety of powders, crystals and other assorted materials.
Looking for the handle, Connor was mildly surprised to see there wasn’t one. When he tried to use the power of the Trickster’s to open the door, he found he couldn’t feel the usual presence of the Pipe at all. He shivered, this really must be a separate place. Seeing motion inside, he knocked on the glass. The Elven Alchemist inside paid him no mind; he seemed to be bending over a clay tube that was about three inches in diameter and perhaps four feet tall. Drawing his hand back to knock again, Connor was shocked when a gravely voice sounded behind him.
“Are yeh DAFT?” Abrizim demanded, “Yeh should know better than teh hammer on tha door of an alchemist’s laboratory. He’s workin. Whaddya want?”
“I was hoping to ask him if he would come and meet someone.” Connor said, careful to keep the irritation out of his voice, “We’re trying to convince the elves to let us fortify the Grandfather tree but Luagga is hesitant. I thought perhaps he would listen to another Elf and since … well I guess I don’t know his name, but I thought our Alchemist friend would be able to talk some sense into him.” He gestured toward the window.
“Well yeh can’t have him. He’s busy.” Abrizim tugged at his long white beard, “Luagga eh? Hmmm… fine, I’ll come and pay the snot a visit.” The God plucked a gear from his pocket and twirled it across his fingers and the room faded to be replaced by flickering firelight.
“Ahh Luagga, you’ve gotten old!” Abrizim laughed uproariously and plucked the freshly lit cigar from Durrak’s fingers. The Dwarf shrugged and pulled another from his pouch.
“Mechanist God.” Luagga said with distaste. “Any divine presence is welcome at my fire of course.” He said sourly.
“Yeh ain’t changed a bit. So what’s th rottin issue?” Abrizim blew a cloud of glittering silver smoke that curled and formed itself into fantastic shapes.
“They wish to dig a trench.” Luagga began.
“I’d bet you could make one.” Reed said, staring into the God’s face, “A God like you can do anything right?”
“Ha, yeh got a mouth on yeh boy.”
“Please my Lord, pay Reed no mind.” Connor said, but Abrizim waved his protest aside.
“Oh, teh be sure kiddo. My powers’r all but limitless. What’s yer point?” He said, taking a deep drag on the cigar. “Why should I do yeh a favor?”
“Yeah. That’s what I thought.” Reed said, leaning back and taking a cup of tea from the tray Rrayu was holding. “You can’t even do something that simple.”
Abrizim looked at him speculatively, smoke slowly curling out of his nostrils in glittering silver tendrils. “Yeh know, I think it’s time fer him ta test it anyway. I’ll make yeh a trench.” He stood abruptly and nodded toward Durrak. “Thanks fer th cigar. I liked your dragon sculpture.” The smoke around his head formed into a myriad of gears that clattered to the ground and the God was gone.
Durrak bent to pick one of them up and inspected it for a few moments before dropping it into the pouch that produced his cigars.
“We should go and talk.” Connor said, “In the Pipe.”
“I agree. There is much to discuss.” Kain said shortly.