Chapter Fifteen





            “Now,” said Gwydion, “tell me where the Icon is.”

            The cloaked man stared at him for a long moment.  His lips twisted into a thin smile.  “No.”

            Gwydion rocked back.  “No?”

            “No,” repeated the cloaked man calmly.  “I will not tell you.”

            Gwydion’s eyes narrowed with anger.  “I made you one of the companions, stranger.  Our deal was that you would tell me where to find the Icon.  What are you playing at?”

            “Actually,” said the cloaked man, “I promised I would guide you in your quest to the Icon.  Not the same thing at all.”

            Gwydion took hold of tylith-senshai’s hilt.  “You’re just playing word games,” he said angrily.  “You pledged to help me in my quest.”

            “Indeed,” said the cloaked man, unruffled, “and I am.  Telling you where the Icon is would serve no purpose at present.  You cannot go after it, not yet.  Have you forgotten the prophecy?  Seven companions must be chosen, paladin.  I count only five people within this room.  That means there are three more to be chosen before your quest may begin.”

            “And if I don’t believe in your ‘prophesy’?” asked Gwydion.

            The cloaked man smiled.  “I suspect that you do not.  That is why I will not tell you where the Icon is held until you have chosen them.”

            Brianna snorted in disgust.  “I told you he couldn’t be trusted, cutter.  You should have listened.”

            Gwydion ignored her.  “I’m not on any quest to assemble any ‘seven’ companions, stranger.  I’m on a mission to retrieve the Icon.”

            “You cannot achieve one without the other,” said the cloaked man.  “And there are further complications.  The Icon is being held in a place that is very difficult to reach.  We will need certain portal keys.  Certain very rare portal keys.  Some of them are even unique.  Finding them will be a difficult task.”  He gave a thin smile.  “But don’t worry; we have time.  Our common enemies cannot activate the Icon for another sixteen days, Sigil standard time.  After that, our window of opportunity closes, and our enemies have won.”

            Gwydion was quiet, digesting this.

            “Don’t listen to him, cutter,” said Brianna.  “He’s obviously lying.  Probably he doesn’t know anything about the Icon at all.”

            “No,” said Trystessa quickly and with absolute certainty.  “He speaks the truth.”

            Gwydion glanced back at her in surprise, as did Brianna and Tap.  She colored with faint embarrassment and gave a slight shrug.  “It is... a talent I was born with,” she said in explanation.

            The cloaked man chuckled, then stood.  He was surprisingly tall, taller even than Gwydion by a few inches.  “I may not be a saint, but I am at least an honest villain.  I never lie, paladin.  It is beneath me.  Your own companion confirms that I speak truth.”

            Gwydion considered.  “Say I accept this prophesy of yours, these ‘seven companions’.  Where would I find the other two?”

            The cloaked man gave him a somber look.  “Only you may choose them, paladin.”  He glanced at Brianna with distaste.  “I would, however, choose a little more wisely than you have thus far.”

            Brianna bristled.  “I agree,” she said icily, “especially if we run into any more like him.”

            Gwydion glanced at the room they were standing in.  “What is this place?” he asked.  “Nowhere in Sigil, I take it.”

            The cloaked man shook his head.  “Sigil is the city of doors.  It was relatively easy to activate an old portal of mine to bring you here.  And somewhat necessary.  Foolishly you fled to Sigil in an attempt to find safety.  Ironically, it was the one place where I could not protect you.”

            Gwydion’s eyebrow furrowed.  “What do you mean?”

            The cloaked man shrugged.  “I am not mortal, paladin.  I haven’t been for some time.  The rules and laws of the multiverse do not apply to me as they do to you.  Just as there are places where you dare not go - the heart of the elemental plane of fire, perhaps, or the center of the plane of negativity, where your destruction would be assured - there are places within the multiverse that are anathema to me.  Sigil is such a place.”

            Gwydion shook his head.  “I don’t understand.”

            “It is no matter.  What is important is that I cannot accompany you back there.”

            “I’m not crying any,” muttered Brianna.

            “Back?” asked Gwydion.  “We were searching for a way out of Sigil.  It has become dangerous for us.  Why would we want to go back?”

            “Because you must,” said the cloaked man gravely.  “One of the portal keys we will need is there.  You must retrieve it.”

            “Key?”  He was confused.  “What key?”

            “A unique key,” said the cloaked man, his voice calm and quiet.  “You will find it in the Tower of Eyrie, housed amidst the Collection.  It is the Bracelet of Amithor.”

            Brianna choked.  “You’ve got to be piking joking!  The Collection is one of the most guarded treasuries of magical antiquities in the city!  You want us to just stroll in and retrieve some trinket?”

            “It is necessary,” said the cloaked man evenly.  “And it is only one of the tasks that confront us.”

            She snorted.  “Don’t listen to him, paladin,” she muttered angrily.  “Going back to Sigil is soft-headed enough.  But entering the Tower of Eyrie?  That’s just plain barmy talk.”

            “What is this ‘bracelet’?” asked Gwydion, his eyes narrowing, “and why do we need it?”

            “An item of great value,” said the cloaked man, “though its intrinsic value and powers are not important to our cause.  It is the key we will require to open the portal that leads to the place where the Icon is being held.  We cannot hope to retrieve it otherwise.  As for you all going back to Sigil, that will not be the case.”

            Brianna was sputtering something angrily, but the cloaked man’s last comment brought Gwydion up short.

            “What do you mean by that?” he asked.  “You said you could not enter Sigil.  What has that to do with us?”

            The cloaked man’s eyes flickered towards Trystessa.  “The lady will not go with you.  She is needed for a different task.  She will accompany me.”

            Gwydion’s eyes turned hard.  This man - this stranger - whatever he was, exuded a sense of menace, danger, and evil.  The thought of putting a creature as fair and delicate as Trystessa in his power made him uneasy.  “I don’t think so.”

            The cloaked man gave him a cool gaze.  “You have no choice in the matter, paladin.  Not if you would see your quest accomplished.  It is necessary.”

            Brianna was staring, openmouthed.  Her first instinct had been to protest angrily.  She didn’t like this man, didn’t like his manner.  But on the other hand, she had counseled strongly against Gwydion fighting for Trystessa.

            “It might not be a bad idea, paladin,” she said at last, after a long moment.  Gwydion gave her an unfriendly sidelong glance, and she bristled defensively.  “After all, she’ll be out of Sigil, and we won’t be burdened with her.  That was what we were after anyway.”

            “She isn’t a burden,” said Gwydion.  “And she isn’t any sworn companion to us.  To me.  She’s just a girl who was caught in a bad situation.  We were taking her out of Sigil, yes.  But to a place of safety, where she could have that slave collar pried from her neck and go her way in peace.”

            “She is a companion,” insisted the cloaked man.  “Chosen twice.”  Amusement flickered in his eyes.  “And, of all your choices so far, she is the best you have made.  Our quest cannot succeed without her.”  He shook his head.  “But she must not return to Sigil with you.  If she does, you will die.  The prophecies are clear.  You must trust me on this.”

            “Why?” demanded Gwydion.  “So far all you’ve offered me are veiled warnings and vague hints about some prophesies I’ve never heard of.  For all I know, you are an agent of those who hold the Icon already, sent to put me off track.”

            The cloaked man said nothing, only looked at him, and Gwydion glared defiantly back.  There was a long beat of silence, and then a soft sigh from behind them.

            “He speaks the truth.”  Trystessa spoke quietly, and her low voice surprised them all.  Her face was pale, and it was clear she was frightened by the prospect of going with the cloaked man.  Yet she was resolute.  “He is not lying.  I told you; it is my gift.”

            Gwydion looked back at her.  “What are you saying?”

            Her face was pale.  “You have done me a great service, paladin.  He is right; there is blood debt between us.  Whatever this ‘Icon’ you speak of may be, I will aid you in your quest if I can.”

            Gwydion shook his head.  “This isn’t your fight, lady,” he said gently.  “I don’t understand what ‘blood debt’ is, but you don’t owe me anything.  I did what I did for my sake as much as yours.  Don’t feel that you have to accompany this... this man just to repay me.  He is a stranger to me, and I know nothing of these prophesies he quotes.”

            Brianna was frowning, but she said nothing.

            “I have made my choice, paladin,” said Trystessa.  “I will go with him.  He is not lying.  I do it of my own free will.”  She nodded towards Brianna and Tap.  “As for whether this is my fight or not...  Is it theirs?  I sense that they accompany you of their own free will.  Should I do less?  It is my fight because it is your fight, and I will repay the debt.”

            Gwydion shook his head.  “I won’t allow it.”

            “She speaks wisdom, paladin,” said the cloaked man.  “You would do well to listen.  She is a companion, twice chosen.”

            “Don’t call me that!” said Gwydion.  “I don’t even know what it means.  And I’m not sending an innocent and defenseless girl off with you.  You’ve offered me no reason to trust you, and every reason not to.”

            The cloaked man was quiet for a moment.  “You saw the Black Citadel,” he said at length.  “It is where we must go.  But to get there, other tasks must first be accomplished.”

            Gwydion said nothing.

            The cloaked man gestured to the chair before him.  “Sit, paladin,” he said.  “We will discuss what must be done.  We will discuss prophecy.  And then you may decide.”