Damien sighed in relief as the city came into view at last. He and his two companions had been traveling north along the coast for several weeks now, and it had been days since they last slept in a proper bed. Brynport was the last city along the coast of the Baylin Sea, and it was their last hope.
The three travelers walked into town just as the sun touched the horizon, splashing color across the partly cloudy sky. Damien glanced at his companions and noticed that Antoinette was looking to the east at the sea. She had been unusually quiet the last several hours. Normally she would have been teasing him one way or another, but now she seemed to be lost in thought. She almost reminded him of an older sister, even though Damien had only met the two of them a few weeks back as they traveled through his home town of Traceport. Then there was Tyron. He appeared to be focused on what lay ahead of him. Likely trying to think of where they needed to go next.
Evening in Brynport was like any other small port city. Fishermen walked home after a long day's work, and sailors made their way to the local taverns for a hearty meal and a good drink. Shopkeepers were shuttering their windows for the day, leaving only the taverns and the inns open for business. As Damien's eyes turned back to the road ahead of them, he noticed Tyron pointing toward a modest looking inn. The sign out front depicted a ship with two masts anchored at a dock. The bold text "The Ship's Rest" framed the image.
"Let's get some food, and some sleep before we start questioning the locals," Damien said.
Antoinette glanced at Damien from underneath the hood of her large cloak. "The first wise thing you've said all week."
"And here I thought you'd gone mute, glad to know you're all right."
"I'm sure you'd have liked that," Antoinette said.
Tyron pushed open the door and allowed his companions to enter first before he followed them inside. The room was open, with chairs seated around a fireplace on the right, and several tables making a small tavern on the left. Damien noticed that most of the patrons of this tavern were locals, judging by the large groups seated together and few traveling cloaks or bags nearby. He followed Antoinette up to the innkeeper and mildly listened to the conversations around him. It was almost difficult to hear the innkeeper over the din, but Damien was able to make out that the man's name was Randy Karne. He also could see that the three of them were drawing mild attention from some of the tavern's patrons. Not uncommon for a small town it seemed. New people were always interesting, something Damien could understand. He had worked as a port hand, helping to unload the new ships that came inland. Many of the travelers and sailors had interesting stories to tell. Whether they were true or not was always up to debate.
Damien turned his attention back to the innkeeper as Tyron asked for two rooms for the night.
"Two rooms for one night?" Randy asked as he began checking his books.
"We don't know how long we will be staying yet," Tyron replied.
"Don't forget the meal," Damien whispered.
Tyron then continued. "But if you can allow for at least one if not two nights, and meals, we would appreciate it."
"It looks like I happen to have two free rooms for a few nights, I'll block them off for you, and you can come tell me when you know when you are leaving." Randy handed Tyron two keys and gestured to the tavern. "Meals are served through the day right here. Make yourself at home."
"Thank you," Antoinette said.
"You're welcome, m'lady," Randy said and then smiled.
The three turned to walk toward the stairs. Damien considered staying to get something to eat first, but thought better of it. He followed Tyron to their room to drop off his bag and to unhook his sword from his belt. Tyron did the same, though Damien knew Tyron still had a dagger or two hidden on his person. When Damien had asked him why he carried so many weapons, Tyron told him that one could never be too prepared for anything.
The morning air was crisp, and the skies were clear. A good day for a walk, Adroushan Aberdeen thought to himself as he made his way along the path to Brynport. He had been traveling since dawn to take advantage of the coolness of the morning before the summer sun heated up the lands. He had been making this trip twice a year for good many years now in order to buy supplies and catch up on the local gossip. While Adroushan preferred the comfortable solitude of his home in the Haven Mountains west of Byrnport, he did enjoy visiting friends in the city.
Though no one in Brynport knew him as Adroushan. He preferred to be known as Aaron Brightwater, a man with a past no one knew. While many of the residence in Brynport didn't know their history outside of their own kingdom, Adroushan preferred to not risk some visitor recognizing his name from the stories of the war in the Westlands. That way everyone knew the old man as a friendly hermit who came into town to do some shopping and to do some scribal work to earn a little coin.
Adroushan's first stop was always the general store. The owner, a man named Evan Tellmain had agreed to collect notes and letters for him until he was in town.
"Good day, Aaron," Evan said when the old man entered the store.
"A good day to you as well, Evan."
"I've got a few notes for you, give me one moment." Evan disappeared behind the back curtain.
Adroushan leaned on his walking stick after adjusting his satchel. The store hadn't changed much in the years he had been coming through. Clean and always stocked. Something the shop owner took great pride in.
"Here you go," Evan said. He handed over a few sheets of paper.
"Thank you. I'll be by again before heading out in a few days to buy supplies."
Evan smiled. "I'll have your usual waiting for you."
The first note was from Randy, the innkeeper at "The Ship's Rest" and indicated that he had come across a scroll from some 'exotic adventurer type' but he couldn't read what it said. He hoped that Aaron could translate it for him. Knowing that he would get a few drinks out of the deal, Adroushan made his way to the inn.
"Ah, Aaron!" Randy called out. "Glad to see you got the note I left Evan."
"You know I always get your notes, Randy. They give me a good excuse to get off my feet a bit and catch up on six month's worth of gossip." Adroushan unshouldered his satchel and took a seat in front of the bar Randy was standing behind. He gently leaned his walking stick against the bar. "Now, let's see this scroll of yours."
Randy was gone for a moment before returning with a rolled up piece of parchment. He handed this to Adroushan who pulled out a pair of wire eyeglasses before examining it for a few minutes. Meanwhile, Randy produced a drink for Aaron, knowing exactly what the old man liked.
"Hmm..." Adroushan said setting the scroll down with a shake of his head. "Randy, I really hope you didn't give the person who gave you this scroll a whole lot."
"Should I even ask why?" Randy said.
"It appears to be a shopping list written in Westlandie." Adroushan handed the parchment back to the innkeeper. "I can write out a translation if you would like."
"Oh, no need to bother over such a trivial matter," Randy said and then chuckled. The man was hard not to like considering he took everything, even a poor deal, in stride. "But thank you."
"Well, if you do change your mind, you know where to find me," Adroushan said as he stood up. He then noticed a young woman approaching the bar, but staying back as if to not interrupt. "I will let you take care of this lovely young lady." He gave a polite bow to the woman before reaching over to grab his satchel and his walking stick.
"Oh, there is no rush," the woman replied. Adroushan noticed that her accent sounded like she might be from southern Azain. "I was just going to ask our gracious innkeeper if he could direct me to any Taika who may be able to help me."
Adroushan paused at the mention of the word Taika. He then shrugged it off, hoping that the woman didn't notice his reaction. "Randy knows everyone in town. I'm sure he would be of great assistance to you. As for me, I best be going. I'm sure Raine has a stack of manuscripts for me to go through as he always does. Good day." He bowed again and tried not to run to the door.
From behind him, he could hear Randy answering the woman. "Well now, that depends on what sort of help you are needing ma'am."
"Help with a magical device, actually."
"Just don't take it to Sheeba, she is completely ignorant to magical devices." Adroushan then grimaced as he realized he responded out loud. He then opened the door and left before they could question him.
Antoinette raised an eyebrow as the door closed behind the old man. What a strange man, she thought.
"That's Aaron," Randy said by way of explanation. "He's our friendly retired scribe who visits us a few times a year. He tends to stay with Raine, our local scribe and apprentice Taika. He probably overheard Raine talking about Sheeba. Everyone knows she can be a bit, shall we say, eccentric. But you didn't hear that from me."
Antoinette smiled. "Of course. Every town has them. But do you think that this Raine could help me?" An apprentice was at least a shot. So far, every seasoned Taika they had spoken to immediately sent them on their way.
"He might," Randy said. "Can't hurt to ask I suppose. He is a decent lad. Lives by himself now since he lost his folks two seasons ago."
Antoinette thanked Randy after he gave her directions to Raine's home. "If anyone stops by that might be able to help me, could you leave me a note if we aren't in?"
"Certainly," Randy said. "I'm more than happy to help."
Antoinette returned to take a seat at the table.
"So?" Tyron asked.
"I have at least two names to check on," she said. "Hopefully we will be a bit more successful this time."
"A bit more successful in that we'll actually find someone who won't kick us out after five minutes?" Damien replied.
"Details, details." Antoinette gave a wave of her hand and smiled.
Adroushan learned about Raine ten years ago from Randy. The boy came into his fire magic at a young age and frightened his parents. They refused to let him train with anyone, believing that Taika were lazy or became crazy from embracing the power. His parents at least allowed Adroushan to teach him scribal work and when the boy had his own home, Adroushan was able to house with Raine during his visits. Raine never noticed that his scribal mentor was one of the most powerful Taika the land had seen in the past hundred years. Adroushan never once alluded to his own talent, but did occasionally slip in the occasional magic tip when Raine was studying.
After coming from the inn, Adroushan dropped in on Raine and set to work correcting manuscripts. The now 18-year old was at least getting better, though there were still bad habits he was picking up from the witch, Sheeba. He was well into the first manuscript when there was a knock on the front door.
The back room where Adroushan was seated was too far from the front door to hear the conversation, but he was able to pick up the sound of a man. After a moment, he could hear four people walk down the hallway and into the kitchen. The doorway allowed him to catch a glimpse of the visitors. One of them was the woman from the inn.
"My name is Tyron, and this is Antoinette and Damien," the older of the two men said. The four then disappeared from view as Adroushan could only assume they took a seat at the kitchen table.
"Nice to meet you. My name is Raine."
Adroushan could still hear their conversation just fine as he dipped his pen in the inkwell and continued to scribe.
Damien glanced around at the simple, but roomy kitchen and dining room area. It was nice. Far nicer than he expected from someone near his own age. His attention turned back to their host as he placed tea cups in front of each of them.
"Thank you for taking some of your time with us, Raine," Tyron said. "We've come all the way from Blue Harbor."
"Blue Harbor? That's more than a week's worth of travel from here. There are two other port towns between here and there with more capable Taika then me." Raine paused and then continued, "Not that I'm trying to drive you away by any means. It just seems a bit far to travel for just an apprentice."
"Really, I think the older the Taika, the more apt we are to be laughed at," Damien said. He then fell silent after Tyron glanced his way.
"Mainly due to the fact we're more interested in what others consider myths, I'm afraid. That's partly why it is taking us so long to find anyone to help us. We are searching for a magical device, but we don't have the magic to know if it’s a fake or not."
"Okay," Raine said and then took a sip of his tea. "Does this device have a name?"
"The Fountain of Youth," Tyron said.
Damien heard a loud snap from the back room, and then noticed Raine fighting down a laugh. He sighed to himself. Here we go again.
"Now I know why you are having a hard time finding a Taika," Raine said, then glanced back at the back room. "Are you okay in there?'
"Just fine, thank you." Adroushan replied. "Just need to repair this quill."
Raine shook his head, amused. "That's Aaron, the scribe. He comes here twice a year to help with manuscripts. First time I've heard him break a pen though." He then raised his voice, "You don't know your own strength, old man."
"There is a first for everything," Antoinette said. "But yes, that is why we are having trouble finding help. But we know where it is being held."
"You know where the Fountain of Youth is? Do you have a map? Or did it come in a dream?"
"We have our methods," Tyron said. "We just need the confirmation that the man who is guarding it is not bluffing. And if he isn't, well, let me just say it's very much in the wrong hands."
"Well, my teacher has a wealth of books. I'm sure I can arrange for you to look through them. I have not reached the magical device portion of my training yet, unfortunately," Raine said.
"Unfortunately, books will do us little good, but I appreciate the thought." Tyron said. "You see, a book will only tell us so much when none of us have the ability to work or see magic."
Raine smiled. "It sounds like you need to talk to my teacher then, doesn't it? I can take you to her house, it's not far out of town."
"If it won't be too much trouble, we would appreciate it," Tyron said.
"Let me get my cloak and we will be on our way." Raine stood up and called out. "Aaron, I will be back, just leave the manuscripts on the desk if you finish before I return." He then left the room to gather his cloak.
"Wrong," Tyron turned to Damien after Raine left.
Damien sighed at the self-satisfied smirk on Tyron's face. He had bet the man that Raine would at least let them describe the Fountain first before pawning them off on another Taika.
"Now boys," Antoinette said, her voice low. "We'll find someone who'll actually believe us, some day. Hopefully before it is too late."
Damien could see her eyes stray to the back room where this Aaron was, but all they could hear was humming. "I'm starting to wonder, Antoinette. You know how many places we've been too already."
"We can't just give up. If he finds the missing piece before we can stop him, who knows what havoc will be unleashed," Tyron said.
"I know, I know," Damien said and then sighed.
Raine's mentor, Sheeba, lived on the northwest outskirts of Brynport. Nearby, the waters of the north fork of the Roan River could be heard as the river wound its way to the sea. The home was quaint, with muted colors that allowed it to blend into the surrounding green hills. Several chickens pecked away at grubs in the yard while a cat or two could be seen creeping in and out of the overgrown shrubbery that grew along the path to the front door.
"Just to warn you, Sheeba can be a bit eccentric," Raine said quietly as the group approached the house. "She may even believe your claim."
Damien smirked but followed at the back of the group silently. When they reached the front door, one of the cats nearby hissed at him. "Oh, a welcoming committee."
"Don't try to pet them, especially that black one." Raine said and knocked on the door.
"Bites?" Damien asked, looking for the black cat. The door opened before he was able to find it, revealing a middle-aged woman with blonde hair that went where it wished.
"Good morning, Raine. And... you have company?"
"This is Tyron, Damien and Antoinette," Raine said. "They come seeking advice on a magical device. I figured I'd bring them to you since we haven't gotten that far in my lessons."
"I see," Sheeba said. "Well, come in, come in." She then opened the door further. "Rasper, move it!" This was directed to the floor followed by an indignant meow as the orange cat stalked back into the house.
Once inside, the group followed Sheeba back toward the kitchen. Hundreds of plants and flowers were growing from pots sitting on the floor, on shelves and even on the table.
"Now then," Sheeba said, moving a pot from a chair and onto the floor. "What sort of magical device do you have?"
All four took a seat as soon as the woman gestured to the now empty chairs. Tyron was the first to speak. "We do not have it with us..."
"Then how can I help you if you don't have it?"
"Someone else has possession of it, someone that shouldn't," Tyron continued. "We want to make sure that the rumor is true."
"And you need a Taika to identify it for you?" Sheeba asked.
Tyron nodded. "That's correct ma'am."
"Just how far away is this device?"
"It's across the Baylin Sea, on an island nation of Lavain."
"Lavain? Now that's quite a distance for an old hermit like me." Sheeba chuckled at her own joke before continuing. "So you want someone to go with you to identify this object that's being held against its will?"
Damien hadn't ever heard of anyone referring to a magical object as having a will of its own. Clearly Tyron hadn't either as he paused longer than Damien was used to.
"To put it bluntly, yes," Tyron said after a moment. "We need to make sure that our source isn't blowing smoke about what this man is up to."
"And does this device have a name?" Sheeba asked.
"The Fountain of Youth," Tyron said.
Damien waited to see if the woman would start laughing at them, but she merely looked confused. It was a long moment before the giggling began.
"Really? You have been hearing rumors about some bad man holding onto the Fountain of Youth in order to complete some sort of wild plan?" Sheeba said.
"It is true," Antoinette said. "We have our sources."
"Honey, I think your sources are the only one's blowing smoke. I'm afraid I can't help you. But I think the healer in town might." Sheeba then began to laugh harder.
"We won't take up any more of your time then, thank you." Tyron said with far more restraint than Damien could.
"And they call me crazy." Sheeba said as Raine joined in on the laughing.
Damien stood up when Tyron did and followed him out of the door. He grit his teeth against the continued laughter behind them as they exited the house. He felt Antoinette's hand on his shoulder as Tyron closed the door behind them. Shrugging it off, Damien stalked down the path away from the house.
After they had put several feet between themselves and Sheeba's home, he turned to look at his companions. "Now what?"
"Now we just see who else will listen," Tyron said, putting his hands in his pocket.
"Like anyone will listen to us, Tyron. Even the crazy cat lady won't listen to us!"
Damien didn't even hear Tyron's response as he kept walking. He was getting sick and tired of being laughed at by everyone they talked to. He knew it was far fetched. Honestly he wasn't entirely sure that this Fountain even existed, but Tyron and Antoinette both seemed to believe it. That was enough for him to follow them on this journey.
Then Damien noticed that Tyron and Antoinette had both stopped following him. He looked back to see the pair looking at something in Tyron's hands. "What?" Damien asked as he walked back over to them.
"Looks like we have a meeting with someone outside the woods tonight," Tyron said, indicating the paper in his hand.
Damien noticed that the writing on the slip of paper shimmered in the light unnaturally. "And where did that come from?"
"His pocket," Antoinette answered.
"Now that's creepy," Damien said. "Are they going to kill us?"
"Yes, Damien," Antoinette said. "Someone wrote us a note to have us meet them so they can kill us."
"We may as well check into it. Considering they wish to meet by the edge of the Norfolk Forest, they probably don't want to be overheard by the other townsfolk." Tyron said.
The paper then burst into flames, causing Tyron to drop it before it burned his fingers. "And we'll go prepared for anything," Tyron said.
Damien couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Yeah, poof!" He waved his hands dramatically. "That could be us you know."
"It'll be fine," Tyron said.
He certainly hoped Tyron was right.