Maza landed near the Guardians' Hall. Bael jumped to the ground, then helped Taipan and Randy down as well. "I'll need to take the journal with me," he said, pulling his Guardian jacket on. "Please." He turned to Randy.
Randy held Varian's journal out to him.
Bael took the journal. "I'm not sure how long this is going to take. Stay nearby, stay out of trouble," he said with a grin and a wink. He looked at Maza. Keep an eye on them. He gathered his thoughts, took a deep breath, and joined a pair of Eunomian Guardians on their way up the steps to the hall.
Taipan looked around. She looked at Maza, who seemed indifferent to whatever she was about to do. She glanced at Randy, who sat patiently with Dog, then she looked at the Hall of Guardians. Surely there's a way to listen to them. She went around one side of the large building, past stained glass windows until she reached a window she could open. She did, quite carefully.
The interior walls were covered in elaborate carvings of dragons and Riders of old. Three large candle-lit chandeliers hung from the ceiling, the center one directly above a large around table decorated with a painted carving of the entire continent. Columns rose from floor to ceiling here and there.
Taipan could hear the collective murmurs of the Guardians seated around the table, though their words were not distinct. She assumed most were greetings to the Guardians that were arriving, including Bael.
She saw Headmaster Em approach the table and her thirty-five Guardians. Taipan knew she needed to get closer. She carefully climbed in through the window and, swift and silent, took cover behind a column close enough to allow her to hear everything.
The Guardians went silent as Em addressed them. "I appreciate your swift action to my call," she said, "for this is a dire situation." She placed her hands upon the table. "A very dangerous artifact has been stolen from us. It has been in the Academy's possession for centuries, protected at all times by a Holy Vindicator. It is a pit fiend's spellbook."
The mood in the room shifted heavily.
"The … Book of Baal?" Bael asked softly from across the table. Everyone looked at him.
Em seemed surprised. "How do you know of it?" Her expression turned to stone. "Explain."
Bael got to his feet. "I have a necromancer's journal that mentions it and the person sent to steal it."
All eyes went to Em.
"You what?" she said.
Bael slid the journal across the table with a flick of his wrist. "It was Varian's."
Em picked up the journal. "Varian…" she said as she flipped through the pages. She grimaced. "Of course he sent Jayce." She looked at all of them, her gaze hard. "Find him. Find the book." She slammed the journal shut. "Dismissed." As the Guardians stood and began to leave, she pointed at Bael as he turned to go. "Not you, Bael."
Bael paused and slowly turned toward her. "What can I do for you, Headmaster?"
Em approached him and grabbed the collar of his jacket roughly. "How did you get this?" She held the journal up with her other hand. "Where are the missing pages?"
Bael tried to take a step back but her grip was steel. "Varian was practicing necromancy under Mount Nyx… He died before I could get my hands on him," he said, his voice low. "The pages are likely with Jayce—"
Em released him, pushing him away a little, and turned to leave. "Then find him," she said. "Find the book — find those missing pages." She started for the door.
"Yes ma'am.. but.. the journal?"
Em turned and threw it to him a little harder than she should have. Then she left the Hall.
Bael caught the journal and sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "Taipan, you can come out now," he called. He hadn't been sure of where she was exactly but he had a feeling she had snuck her way him.
Taipan came out from behind the column nearest the table. "Well … she's intense." She came to stand at Bael's side.
Bael chuckled. "At least she's not your superior. Come on, we have a job to do." He led them out of the hall and down the steps to where Randy and Dog were waiting for them. Bael handed the journal to him.
"What happened in there?" Randy asked, putting the journal away.
Bael hesitated in answering. ".. Nothing. Same news we've had," he murmured. "We seem to be a step ahead."
Taipan had a thoughtful gleam in her eyes. "I know where we may be able to get a lead. Maza, can you take us down the mountain?"
She led them to the Nomos branch of the Thieves' Guild, located down a hidden offshoot tunnel in a level between the Steelfist forges and the Temple of Tartaros. Jenneva was present, along with a blue dragonborn named Kalec and what appeared to be a little elven girl. Apprentices milled about quietly. Jenn greeted them happily.
"So, dad's book is missing, huh?" She looked at Bael. "Talk about bad news."
(Taipan freaking out in the background at the reveal.)
All eyes went to Bael, who was looking at his sister with dark eyes. "Yes," he said through his teeth, "and we need to find it and Jayce sooner rather than later." His voice was evolving into a low growl. He really hadn't planned on saying anything about Baal being their father.
She smiled. "No sign of Jayce either? Interesting. I think I remember someone saying something about an aasimar headed south. You may want to check in back at Meadewell. I'm sure someone there has seen him recently." She didn't seem to be giving them all the details, but she gave them enough. She looked from Taipan to up at her brother.
Taipan nodded and thanked her, looking determined. "Well, there's our lead." She looked at Randy and Bael. They didn't look entirely enthused but they knew what they had to do.
"I'll be in touch!" Jenneva called, waving as the trio left the cavern.
As the three stepped out of the armory, a deep rumble came from far beneath them. It wasn't incredibly intense and only lasted for a few moments. Bael rubbed his face with his hands, groaning, "Oh what fresh hell is this..?" He held up a hand, telling Randy and Taipan to stay put. He went back into the armory to talk to the blacksmith, an orc named Rend. She gave him the details.
The Guardian returned to our "heroes" to fill them in. "We have another Aura situation." He proceeds to tell them that Tartaros, the god of fire and mountains, resides deep within the mountain. His High Priest noticed roughly a month ago that he began to communicate less and less with her, though she can still feel his presence within the mountain — it is corrupted. The tremors began about a week ago and the Steelfist dwarves have indefinitely put a pause to their work. A pair of Paladins had gone down into Tartaros's lair but they have not returned. "So ….," Bael sighed heavily, "we have to prioritize." He looked at the two of them.
"We should go after Jayce and the book," Taipan said. "Right now, it seems like the most immediate threat."
Randy agreed. "The book, definitely. It needs to be in good hands."
Maza arrived shortly after and landed to allow them onto his back. Then they were off, flying south. The day was clear, the winds were favorable, and they flew high. And as the sun began to touch the horizon, Taipan said, "My butt hurts from being on this dragon!"
Bael looked back at her and said, "Your what hurts?"
"I SAID MY BUTT HURTS," she called, laughing.
"Well, Maza, we better find a place to make camp for the night," Bael called through his laughter, "since Taipan's butt hurts!" He felt Maza chuckle underneath him and the dragon made ready to land. They made camp between two large boulders and got a fire going. Taipan claimed first watch.
And on her watch, she noticed something far off in the distance… A shadow, darker than the night around it. Two glowing green eyes were fixed on her. She felt a chill shudder through her. "Um…" she started.
"I see it too," Bael said quietly. He glanced at Randy and Dog, huddled together and sleeping, as he loaded Bad News with softly glowing bullets — Radiant bullets. "I'll take watch the rest of the night." He turned and unstrapped Judgment, an ironwork sniper rifle, from Maza's side and began to load it with similar Radiant ammunition. "Try to sleep," he told Taipan, staring in the direction of the shadow.
And she did try, huddled against Maza's tail. But knowing that thing was watching them made it difficult.
In the morning, Bael told them, "No more stops. We're flying all the way through." He looked at Taipan, then at Randy, who looked concerned. "Something very evil knows we're here. It watched us all night. I have no doubt it will follow us." By us he meant Maza and himself, but he chose to keep that to himself. He was anxious to get away from here. He gathered his thoughts and began to climb up onto the base of Maza's neck. "Come. We have work to do."