Ms. Zaffre sat in her study with stray papers and open scrolls laid out before her. Some were proper stories written by adventurers and mages, while others were just scraps of parchment, barely eligible which just spoke of myths and legends. All of it was a bit of a spiderweb of information relating to demons, devils, and the cults that worship these entities.
Usually Ms. Zaffre wouldn’t trouble herself with such dealings. She preferred the arcane over the infernal, but there was just something about Juniper and Grace which made her interested. There’s something in Grace that she recognized in herself. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, was yet to be seen.
She continued to unroll a scroll to reveal a series of dark images and old symbols. If Juniper’s brother was really mixed up in this stuff, Ms. Zaffre feared that it would be very hard to bring him back. These cultists were awful and misguided playing with powers they truly didn’t understand.
“More tea,” A voice said.
Ms. Zaffre looked up from the scroll to see her pupil, Miles, standing there with a steaming hot tea kettle.
“Yes please, thank you Miles,” Ms. Zaffre said as Miles refilled her cup.
“Find anything interesting?” Miles asked taking a peek at Ms. Zaffre’s research.
“Lots of interesting stuff, but I’m not sure it’s useful,” Ms. Zaffre said.
“I’m not really sure why you are helping them,” Miles said. “They are just strangers.”
Ms Zaffre’s expression softened as she focused on Miles.
“It’s true, Miles. We do not know them. But that does not mean we shouldn’t help them. The stuff that Juniper talked about was very serious. A young man just leaves his family to join a cult without saying a word. That is concerning. If this cult starts recruiting others, we’ll want to stop it as soon as possible,” Ms Zaffre said.
“So it’s a potential threat to the city?”
“Quite possibly. We won’t know more until we figure out what exactly the man has gotten into and how deep into it he is. Some of these cults are quite powerful in their own right because they rely on powers from dangerous beings.”
“Are we talking about Devils of the Nine Hells or Demons of The Abyss?” Miles asked.
“Well, from my studies, it is more likely Devils. Devils like to make contracts with mortals. Usually there is an exchange of power between the two. Devils give powers or wealth to the mortal in exchange for their soul or some sort of servitude,” Ms. Zaffre explained.
“Is that what this man did?”
“I have no way of knowing, but I hope not,” Ms. Zaffre said.
There was a bit of a noise and both Ms Zaffre and Miles looked up into the rafters of The Wicked Scepter. The noise was caused by a small, reptilian creature with bat like wings. A small Dragon unlike any Ms. Zaffre had seen before.
“You may come down, Piakol,” Ms. Zaffre said to the dragon.
“I don’t think he likes us,” Miles said watching the creature hide up in the rafters.
“He misses Juniper,” Ms. Zaffre said. “Although he is definitely safer her than in her bag. Plus he can fly around here.”
Almost on cue, Piakol stretched out his wings and took to the air, doing a somersault into the air and landing on the large oak table in the middle of the room.
“Impressive,” Ms. Zaffre said with a chuckle.
“Dragon! You messed up my papers,” Miles said as he stomped toward the dragon.
Piakol had landed in a pile of loose papers and toppled over a ink well.
“Don’t worry Miles, I’m sure he didn’t mean too. Plus Petrov can help you clean up.”
Ms. Zaffre snapped her finger and there was a flash of blue arcane energy. There in the space before her was an invisible servant.
“Petrov, help Miles clean up the mess,” Ms. Zaffre demanded and the servant jumped into action.
Piakol let out another small yip and starred at the door.
Ms. Zaffre stood up and walked into the main room. She turned and looked at the door.
“Visitors,” She said. “Piakol, hide.”
Piakol turned toward Ms. Zaffre and let out a small his toward her. Then he turned back to the door and let out a series of small yips. Right after there was a series of quick knocks on the door.
“Ms. Zaffre! It’s me, Juniper. We need your help.”
Piakol let out some more yips and growls.
Ms. Zaffre studied Piakol a moment before turning her attention to the door.
“Petrov, get the door,” Ms. Zaffre demanded.
On demand, Petrov set down a stack of papers and glided over to the door. It opened the door revealing four guests right outside.
“What do I owe the pleasure?” Ms. Zaffre asked with a smile.
Juniper, Sigthyme, Grace, and Tak all entered into The Wicked Scepter. Grace and Juniper had been here once before, but Sigthyme and Tak were both new and amazed at the sight of this magic shop. The room had a variety of shelves covered in strange plants and other materials Sigthyme recognized as potential spell components or potion ingredients. The table was also covered in a variety of books, scrolls, and scattered papers.
“Sorry for the mess,” Ms. Zaffre said. “We were in the middle of doing some research for Juniper about her brother.”
“Yes, thank you for that,” Juniper said.
Piakol was comfortably curled up on her lap as Juniper ran her fingers across his scales.
Grace sat next to her, still uncomfortable in this place as she gave a sideways glance to Miles, who stood in the doorway to the den. Sigthyme sat on the opposite of the table, taking in his surroundings with a sense of awe while Tak uncomfortably sat in a chair and tried his best not to knock anything over.
“Sorry we don’t have bigger chairs,” Ms. Zaffre said to Tak noticing his uncomfortable position.
“Tak ok,” Tak said as he waved his hand and knocked a heavy tome off the table.
“Sorry,” Tak said as Petrov floated over and picked up the book.
“Well, what can I do for all of you? Is this about your brother, Juniper?” Ms. Zaffre asked.
“Not exactly. While I am very interested in what you found about Julian, this is about something else. Our friend Riffen is missing, maybe kidnapped. And we were hoping you could help us find him,”
“Another missing person?” Ms. Zaffre asked with a raised eyebrow. “Does this have anything to do with the occult?”
“Occult? No. At least I don’t think so,” Juniper said while looking at the other members of her group. “Riffen was kidnapped by some sort of bandit named Krumb.”
“Ah. Krumb. Yes, I have heard that name. Some sort of crime boss in the city,” Ms. Zaffre said.
“Have you had any dealings with him before?” Sigthyme asked.
“I’m afraid not. Criminals don’t usually show up to magic shops. And if they did, they’d be in a world of hurt if he thought he could just walk in and try to take my stuff,” Ms. Zaffre said.
Sightyme noticed as she talked, Ms. Zaffre had an aura of charm with a pinch of intimidation. He could tell that she was very knowledgeable and guessed that her charm hid a deep well of magical power.
“Do you know where Krumb could have taken Riffen?” Sigthyme asked.
“Or could you use your magic to find him?” Juniper asked.
Ms. Zaffre folded her hands and looked at Juniper.
“I do not know where this Krumb could have taken your friend. Nor do I have the power to track him using magic. My expertise is in magic relics or enchantment. I do not posses the power to scry on others,” Ms. Zaffre said. “Such magics are pretty rare and would probably cost a great deal of money. Plus I am already doing you one favor free of charge. Two if you count housing your dragon.”
Juniper hung her head.
“Yeah I know,” She said. “But I thought if anyone could help us, it would be you.”
“That’s a very sweet sentiment, but I’m afraid I cannot find your friend,” Ms. Zaffre said. “Have you gone to the Town Guard and told them?”
“We have spoken to The City Guard several times,” Sigthyme said. “That’s where we learned Riffen was mixed up with Krumb.”
“And we learned Riffen is a Prince,” Grace blurted out.
The rest turned and looked at her.
“What?” Grace asked. “Oh. Right. I’m not supposed to mention that. Sorry.”
“Riffen… Riffen,” Ms. Zaffre said tapping her chin. “Are you referring to Riffen Selorn, Prince to Frost Haven and Soulon?”
“Yeah,” Sigthyme said.
“Do you know him?” Juniper asked.
Ms. Zaffre shook her head.
“No, I do not know him, but I try to keep an ongoing knowledge of Kings and Queens as well as other important figures such as rich merchants and the like. I have been to Frost Haven a few times to check out relics discovered near the city.”
Ms. Zaffre continued, “If a Prince is missing, that is quite bad. It won’t be long before Soulon is sending an army to find him which I don’t think will go over well with King Forgebringer.”
“Who?” Sigthyme asked.
Ms. Zaffre let out a small laugh.
“You don’t know of King Thardin Forgebringer? The Dwarven King and inventor known for his bright mind and lofty goals for the future?” Ms. Zaffre asked.
“No, not really,” Sigthyme admitted and the rest of the group seemed just as confused.
“Well he is a very popular ruler across Mardrec and especially in Xylon. Quite a character I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few times now. He loves showing off his clockwork toys. Anyway, he is not just an inventor, he is also a brilliant mind and quite a strategist. He is a big advocate for the uniting of the continent and I have a feeling he won’t like Soulon’s army marching on Mardrec’s lands.”
“You don’t think they’ll be a war, do you?” Sigthyme asked.
“I should hope not,” Ms. Zaffre said. “I do not think either side would want to war against each other, but I have known ego get in the way of reason. But King Forgebringer and King Selorn are both men of strong egos.”
“That seals it. We have to find Riffen, immediatley,” JUniper said. “We can’t just wait around.”
“No, Sigthyme,” Juniper said slamming her hand on the table. “You can’t talk me out of this. If we don’t do something, two nations could go to war. Plus Riffen is out there all alone. We have to find him.”
Sigthyme fell silent.
“So how are you going to find him?” Ms. Zaffre asked Juniper.
“I…I’m not sure,” Juniper said. “We know he was in the city and we know he left this ring behind. We know he’s with Krumb, but we don’t know where Krumb is.”
“He has a hideout in the city, right? Do you know where that is?”
“The City Guard said they raided his hideout this morning. That’s where they found Riffen’s ring.”
“Well, it sounds like you have a place to start,” Ms. Zaffre said.
“Can we do that?” Sigthyme asked. “If its some sort of crime scene, I doubt we could get close. Plus The Chief told us to leave finding Riffen up to The City Guard.”
“I can’t possibly advise you to go against the wishes of The Chief of The City Guard. Civilians and travelers will probably be barred from interfering with offical city guard business,” Ms. Zaffre said.
“Then what can we do?” Juniper asked.
“I guess you could always go against those wishes and go to investigate anyway, although that could result in the four of you getting into a lot of trouble. On the other hand, the City Guard will sometimes reach out to people in the city to help out. I have been asked several times to help The City Guard when it comes to magical relics.”
“Could you get us in there?” Juniper asked.
“I’m afraid that magic relics and person kidnapped by criminal overlord don’t really mix,” Ms. Zaffre said. “If anyone would be brought in on something like this, I would guess The Robinhearts or The Pact of Roses.”
“What about The Titan’s League?” Sigthyme asked.
“The monster hunters? I don’t know if their skill set really applies, but I guess you could maybe spin it. It would at least give you more credibility than just being normal travelers,” Ms. Zaffre said.
“The Titan’s League was the group you and Tak were going to join, right?” Grace asked.
“If Tak and I can complete our trial and become members, we might be able to convince the guards to let us investigate Krumb’s hideout,” Sightyme said.
“And then we might be able to find a clue to where Krumb took Riffen,” Juniper said.
“It seems like our best shot,” Sigthyme said.
He turned toward Tak.
“How about it, buddy? Want to become monster hunters after all?” Sightyme asked.
“Kill monster!” Tak said raising his arms in the air.
At that moment there was a quick snap and the chair, Tak was sitting on lost its back legs and Tak fell on the gorund with a huge thud. This was enough to awake Piakol who let out a soft growl.
The group began to laugh as Tak got back to his feet.
“Sorry, chair,” Tak said.
Ms. Zaffre let out a laugh as Miles put his head in his hands.
“Do not worry, we can fix that real quick,” Ms. Zaffre said. “Right, Miles?”
Miles let out a sigh.
“Yes, Ms. Zaffre,” He said.
Ms. Zaffre turned back to the group of four.
“Well it seems like you all have a plan to find Prince Riffen,” Ms. Zaffre said. “Didn’t even need my help.”
“You were a big help, thank you,” Juniper said.
“Honestly I just helped you get there. You all thought of the plan yourselves. Now, do you want to know what I found out about your brother?”
Juniper looked around at the rest of the group and then back to Ms. Zaffre.
“I really really do… but I think finding Riffen is more important right now. I’ll come back after we find Riffen,” Juniper said.
“Very well. To be honest, I was just scratching the surface of cults and devils, so I could use the extra time,” Ms. Zaffre said. “I will be ready to relay information when you get back.”
“Great! Let’s go to the league or whatever,” Grace said.
“The Titan’s League,” Sigthyme said. “There awaits some kind of trial for Tak and I.”
“And our next step toward finding Riffen,” Juniper added.