Shandra’s house was the tallest in the whole village, rivaling even Sir Wilbur’s for height. It was a full two stories tall. With her great magic she had even pulled the stones out of the earth to shore up the first story. If that act hadn’t knocked her unconscious for a month, Sir Wilbur would have paid her to do the same for his manor. Unfortunately, Shandra’s tower was an eighth the size of Sir Wilbur’s manor, so he decided she probably would be killed if she tried the same thing for him.
Ivy and all manner of creeping vines scaled her home. What had once been a stone and wood tower had become a brilliantly, leafy, emerald minaret. Life spilled across her turret. Kegar, as a druid, always took a moment to stand in awe before Shandra’s tower. It was a beautiful instance of nature winning over human efforts. It strengthened his passion for nature to see it so victorious.
As he stood sighing over the greenery, the right side of the tower exploded. Flames blasted through the vines that had covered a window. Luckily for Shandra’s home, the plants were so wet and hearty from the rainfall that though they smoked and curled back from the flames, they didn’t catch fire.
The thundering explosion echoed long and loudly, so much so that Kegar reeled from the shock and the ringing in his ears. Fearing for Shandra’s safety after such a blast, he stumbled toward the door and shoved it open with effort.
“Shandra!” He yelled, staggering inside.
Shandra stood facing the window that the explosion had come from. Her thick and curly hair smoldered. Floating lights glowed around the room cheerfully. She turned to face Kegar slowly. Her face was covered in soot, her eyebrows were singed unwholesomely. Two beakers, their bottoms shattered, clutched in her hands, “Bother. I guess that wasn’t the right mixture.”
Kegar clutched the table next to him, trying to maintain his feet, “Are you alright?”
Shandra glanced up, “Oh, Kegar! What are you doing here? It’s dangerous to come into a wizard’s tower without their permission, you could have been hurt.”
Kegar vomited onto the floor, just missing his feet, “I didn’t come until after the explosion.” He clutched his head with one hand, “Why aren’t you dead?”
Shandra seemed to finally take in Kegar’s condition, “Well, I always put on the necessary protections before I experiment. But you don’t look well.” She dropped the shattered beakers into a basket and plucked a vermillion vial from a cabinet. “Here, drink this, no charge.”
Kegar, swaying on his feet, questioned her, “Are you sure you have the right vial?”
Shandra looked at the bottle in her hand, “Yes, oh yes, this is right. Red is for health.”
Kegar drank the potion, I hope I don’t explode…
“Sometimes red is for fire.” She amended.
She added cheerfully, “But that red is for health, I’m certain of it!”
Shandra snapped her fingers and a ghostly white shade appeared near Kegar’s mess and began cleaning it with a very material scrub brush. “I guess I’ll need to start warding more of the area around my turret. I can’t have people dying when they come to visit me… Coming in unannounced is one thing, but injuring any passersby is unconscionable.”
The potion tasted like things Kegar didn’t want to think about. As a druid he had made some vile potions himself, but this! I have never tasted anything so horrible! He coughed before asking, “What were you doing?”
Shandra brightened, “Oh! Yes! I was working on a new flavor for my healing potions. I don’t know if you noticed, but they don’t taste very nice. Certainly not as nice as the ones Katrina makes. Mine are stronger you know, but the taste… I was working on an improvement.”
Kegar glared at her. “You were working on a healing potion and it exploded! Doesn’t that bother you?”
Shandra’s eyes widened with shock, “Of course, it bothers me! This is the third explosion I’ve had with this flavor! The one I gave you only exploded twice before I got it right!”
Kegar shuddered before adding sarcastically, “Well, thanks for not killing me.”
“Anytime!” Shandra said brightly and without malice.
Kegar straightened, the healing potion worked soundly and quickly. Even if he did fear for his life when he drank it. “I need to ask you a question.” He explained what had happened and what Sir Wilbur told him to do. “So, will you come with us?”
Shandra grabbed some of the vermillion potions and an assortment of other potions from the cabinet, tucked them into a pouch that she then wrapped around her waist, “Sure! I’ve been meaning to test some things…” She drifted off murmuring to herself.
Kegar eyed her suspiciously, “So, want to meet us at Sir Wilbur’s while I go get Stroz?”
“Oh? What?” She looked down at the pouch around her waist, “Oh! Of course!” She sashayed out of her tower, letting Kegar close the tower door behind them.
She glanced back at her home and stopped, “When did all those vines get here? I thought… ” She looked around, “Blaze?”
A cat sized little dargon crawled out of the vines. Its scales were brass, though hidden amongst the leaves its scales looked rather tarnished. It crept over to her on its belly, like a cat that knew it had done something very naughty. As it slinked across the ground its scales shimmered in the light.
“Blaze. I thought I told you to keep the tower clear of brush.” Shandra put her hand on her hip and frowned at the little dargon.
Blaze looked up at her with eyes too big and too adorable for its little body, “You told me to clear the tower that day. You didn’t ask me to keep it clear. Just to clear it then.” Its voice trumpeted like a little brass horn.
Kegar sighed, “I don’t think you should worry about it. Your house looks lovely, why spoil it?”
Blaze nodded his shiny head, “The vines are fun to play in.”
“The house is not a toy, Blaze.” She scooped the little dargon up into her arms, “It is a functional building. I’m going to go take care of something with Kegar here. When I come back, I want the whole house to be clean.”
Blaze nodded fervently. “I will clean the house.”
Shandra smiled, “Good.” She kissed the little dargon’s nose and the brass scales on its face flushed like they had just gone into a furnace. “Be good, Blaze.”
Kegar sighed. “I’ll see you at Sir Wilbur’s.” He headed toward the inn with a sense of doom. This was going to be the tricky part.
Kegar snuck into the inn through the servants entrance in order to prevent Faute and Lizzy from hearing about the mission. He didn’t want Faute to know because she was a busybody. A pretentious human with fey blood. Negligible fey blood. She felt her blood made her better than everyone in the entire town. Better than solid dwarf blood. He didn’t want her messing up his chance to prove to Sir Wilbur that he was good enough to marry Sir Wilbur’s granddaughter the Lady Elizabeth even though he was a dwarf. He didn’t want Lizzy, Lady Elizabeth, to know because she would insist on coming. Now, he thought she was a swell girl, they wanted to get married after all, but all she did was play the lute. Her music was enchanting, but hardly something to stop a goblin in its tracks.
Strozazand was blowing a steady stream of fire at the hearth. His back was to the door, displaying his unfortunately naked body and extensive back tattoo. The heat was incredible and sweat ran down Strozazand’s back in rivulets. Kegar shrunk back from the heat of the kitchen and the naked man. “Strozazand, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind helping me with a quest.”
The fire stopped. “A quest?” He turned around.
“For the love of the frozen lands, put some pants on man.” Kegar averted his eyes.
Strozazand looked down at himself and shrugged, “It gets hot.” He grabbed his pants and began struggling into them, “What was this quest? Dargons don’t normally go on quests, but if there is any chance of treasure to bolster my horde, I want in.”
Kegar believed, strongly, that Strozazand’s insistence that he was a dargon was delusions of grandeur. Strange breath didn’t make him a dargon, especially in this town. It made him weird, but not a dargon. “Yeah, there is probably some kind of treasure. It’s an unexplored tower after all.” After all, the town was full of people who could do strange things. Even Faute could shoot energy from her hands and that was just Faute.
Strozazand hesitated a moment. “A tower? Are we going to check out the tower Katrina’s father and the other hunters went into?”
“That would be the one.” Kegar nodded. “We are meeting Sir Wilbur. He has some information for us before we leave.”
Strozazand’s eyes gleamed. “I’m in!” he roared and sprinted from the inn, barely remembering to put out the cook fire with a breath of frost before he ran to get his things and head to Sir Wilbur’s.
Thinking of Lizzy and Faute, Kegar hoped the tavern was too busy for either of the women to hear Strozazand. This hope evaporated when he turned and saw Lizzy standing in the doorway. Lizzy’s hair was the color of burnt umber. Her skin a flawless caramel color. She was wearing a canary yellow tunic and chocolate leggings that cleverly displayed shapely legs.
“I expect you were coming to ask me next. You just wanted to ask him first so he didn’t feel left out?” Lizzy stood with one finely manicured hand on her hip and the other holding her mahogany lute. The breath went out of his lungs at her beauty, and in his despair.
Kegar believed honesty was always the best policy, “Well, no dear. You see I wasn’t going to tell you about it…”
Her eyes narrowed. “You weren’t!”
He shifted on the balls of his feet, wishing his familiar, Köttur the leopard, was here to hide behind, “Well, no. Sir Wilbur doesn’t want you to go since you are his heir and it is dangerous.” He also knew the value of a quick exit. Kegar couldn’t continue to meet her gaze and looked away then continued into his speech, “Yeah… so… I’ll be seeing you.” Kegar bolted out the servant’s entrance and raced as fast as his stubby legs could take him to Sir Wilbur’s. He was glad he had spoken to Shandra before Strozazand. He did not want to make any stops where Lizzy could catch up to him. Her shapely long legs made her much faster than him.