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The Matter Of A Small Book

The little halfling smiled. Everyone else was too busy trying to find a way to get killed to pay attention to her. She'd do some checking on this place on her own. Dying would come soon enough, so there was only living left to take care of. And she planned to make a living quite well, thank you very much.

She wandered from room to room, picking up little things and putting them down again. She tried to hide her disappointment. There wasn't anything at all here that even remotely looked like a worthwhile consideration. She stifled a sigh. Just one more room and then she'd join the others.

Without much hope of finding anything spectacular, the halfling wandered into the last room. It appeared to be a fine lady's bedroom. She perked up. Now this had more interesting possibilities!

A quick check of the dressers and cupboards yielded only dust. The bed, when she touched it, sent up a silver-grey cloud. More dust. Under the bed wasn't much better. If it hadn't been for her violent sneeze, she might have missed the incongruity. The air she moved sent the dust motes dancing and it settled in all but one spot. Next to the nightstand was a space that wasn't covered with dust. She looked closer.

By squinting, she could just make out the lines of another cupboard. The light never fell on it directly, but seemed to bend around it. That was interesting. What would be so precious as to hide it from sight like this? And right out in the open, too. She put her candle down on the night table and, cautiously, put a hand up to touch the strangeness. Her hand tingled slightly, but there was no pain. Not a trap then, she thought. So far.

With wary fingers, she explored the space. It appeared to be a tall object, about the size of an armoire. She couldn't reach the top of it. Fingers that had long ago learned the art of seeing felt the decorative scrollwork along the edges, leaves, trees, and vines, if she wasn't mistaken. What a lovely piece of work, she admired silently. One finger stumbled over an odd piece of scrolling. She tipped her head and closed her eyes, trying to envision what her hands explored. A knot, no, four knots entwined. Saridin's symbol! She drew her hands back quickly, but not quickly enough. Her explorations had tripped a hidden latch and the door swung open.

The halfling guiltily stuck her hands behind her back. One never knew about wizards, and especially not wizards who kept things in a closet with Saridin's Symbol on it. Although, Saridin didn't have the reputation of being mean, She was protective of her Magicks.

The armoire, for that's what it was, was typical. It had three shelves and two large drawers, both stuck fast, on one side and pegs for hanging clothes on the other.

An object gleamed dimly on one of the shelves. Wary, she reached out and touched it. It felt smooth and silky. More daring, she grasped the cylinder and brought it to where she could better see it. She sighed. The flute was beautiful. The carved jade warmed as she held it, soaking up her body heat until it felt like an extension of her hands. She raised it to her lips and blew an experimental note. It sounded like liquid sunshine. She smiled. This was a treasure beyond mere price, she marvelled.

She stood there, entranced by the beauty of the flute, stroking it as one would a lover and, every so often, she played a snippet of tune on it, her whole body enjoying the wondrous sounds it made. There was no way she would leave this behind.

"Chryst!" a voice bellowed from the hall below.

"Coming!" the halfling answered, startled. Quickly, she put the instrument in her pack. Her hand moved to close the unseen door and was arrested by the sight of the cloak hanging from a peg below the shelf. How could she have missed that?

Like the flute, the cloak seemed to have a light of its own. The halfling touched it. It, too, had the feel of silk. It was a rippling lavender. Periwinkle highlights and purple shadows glinted as Chryst ran her hands down the length of it..

"Chryst!" the voice from downstairs was impatient.

"Okay, okay! I'm coming! Sheesh! Bloody purple lizards! Impatient get, they are," she muttered.

With care, she took the cloak down. She noticed a weight on one side of the cloak. Probably something in a pocket. Footsteps on the stairs prevented her from investigating further. Quickly, she folded the cloak and stuffed it into her pack next to the flute. One foot swung to close the door of the cupboard as she slung her pack up. There, now no one would know, she thought with a satisfied smile.

She was met at the door by Tasik, their desert guide. "Little One..." he growled.

"All right, I'm coming. I just wanted to see what was in here," she complained, ducking out under his arm.

He raised what should have been an eyebrow, but was more a flexible ridge of bone. "And you found...?"

The halfling sneezed. "Dust," she announced in a disgusted voice. "Nothing but dust."

The saurian watched her retreating figure with some skepticism. He glanced back into the room, noting nothing unusual about it. Perhaps, for once, the halfling was telling the truth. He shrugged. Not that it mattered much to him. His quick perusal of the room showed nothing of interest for him. It was a bedroom, not an armory.

Events conspired against her. Between the trip to Typhos and the capture of her friends, Chryst didn't have the time or the privacy to check out the pocket of the cloak. Once free of the sorceress, O, Chryst and her friends had been more concerned with staying out of the sorcoress' reach than in stopping to laze about. As the adventurers reached the outskirts of Typhos, they paused to catch their breaths. Sewer air wasn't the freshest in the world, Chryst grimaced, sucking in deep lungfuls of the hot, dry desert air. She wasn't sure if it was the air or something else, but exhaustion overcame her and she fell, quite literally, into a deep sleep.

They were in a long marble hallway, Approaching them was Corellion Adapetris, among other things Sage and Advisor to the Gods of Law and Chaos.

"You are requested to give testimony at a hearing," the ancient human intoned.

Chryst shivered. That man didn't know Common very well, obviously. Requested, she gave a mental snort of disgust. Right. If we don't go, it'll be the last thing we don't go to, she thought.

"Whatever I know, I am willing to share with the Tribunal," Surier rumbled.

Chryst peered around Alias' hip. What was Surier doing here? He was at Rickter Island. She noticed with some surprise that all of the Chosen and the warriors of the Scar were present, as well.

"What manner of testimony can we give?" The voice was Perigian's. "We have had no dealings with the Gods since the Scar fell. How can we help them?"

"You have knowledge of the disruption in the Balance of Power," the Sage droned.

Chryst shuddered, remembering what she had seen in the arena at Typhos. "You betcha, Old Man," she blurted out, stepping forward boldly. "And have I got a dilly of a story to tell you! Why..."

Corellion gazed at the halfling. "You always have a story, Kinsman," he remarked. "This is nothing new. Come. It is time."

Chryst subsided, miffed. Well, if he didn't want to hear what she had to say, the gods probably weren't interested, either. Fine thing, a bard as good as herself and she wasn't allowed to speak. She lagged behind the others, no longer interested in seeing what was going on at the Tribunal Council. Legal stuff never did make for a good story, anyway.

She plopped herself down on a bench just outside the Council Chambers. The others hadn't even noticed her departure. She shrugged. Typical, she thought. Overlook the smallest one. Oh, well. They'd learn.

Now, how to keep herself occupied while the others were busy. Her stomach growled. She grimaced. While having a bite to eat would be ideal, she wasn't sure that there was anything left in her pack that was even remotely edible. Another look couldn't hurt, though.

She dug into her pack, not expecting to find anything of value. Her hand touched silk and she suddenly remembered both the cloak and the weight on one side. It would help pass the time. She dug about some more, finding the pocket and its contents.

It was a small notebook, about the size of the human, Surier's, hand. The leather cover was old and faded. The dryness of the years also showed. Chryst was reluctant, at first, to try to open the book for fear of cracking the leather. She reached into her pack for a small vial of oil. Callouses she could live with, but she hated dry skin. Neatsfoot oil worked as well on skin as it did for its original purpose - softening leather. She dipped one finger into the oil, wiping the excess off on the edge of the container. Carefully, she smoothed the slick substance over the cover. When her finger touched leather rather than oil, she repeated the process. She worked carefully but quickly, her curiosity almost overcoming her caution, coating the leather with the oil and then massaging it into the hide. It took almost half the vial to get the leather to the point where Chryst wasn't afraid to damage the book by opening it.

She reached into her bag for a small patch of cloth, carefully wiping the excess off the book and off her hands. Now she could find out what the book contained. If she was lucky, it would be a chronicle of some sort that she could use as a basis for more stories. New stories meant that minds which wandered dangerously during the old stories wouldn't be quite so attentive to her hands. This was a good thing. She grinned in anticipation.

"Ah, Chrysanthemum Delphinia Musithian," a voice purred. "I see you've found it. And you've taken such good care of it, too."

Chryst jumped at the sound of the voice. She looked up and saw the amused expression on Corellion's face. She groaned inwardly.

"Been doing a bit of thieving, I see."

"I'm not a thief," Chryst denounced vehemently. "I'm a bard. I found this and thought it might contain a new story or two."

Corellion nodded in sympathy. "I'm sure you found it, Kinsman, however, it's not yours." He held out his hand, expectantly.

Chryst held the book protectively to her chest. "I found it. It's mine. Go bother someone who wants your interference, old man."

Corellion smiled. "The Tribunal meets for other reasons today, but I'm sure your abuse of the Monolith's hospitality wouldn't take up much time."

Chryst stared at him. "You wouldn't!"

Corellion smiled again. Their eyes clashed for long moments.

Chryst groaned. "You would." She tipped her head thoughtfully. She could surrender the book now and never see it again, or tell her tale to the Tribunal, lose the book and who knew what else. Either way.... "You win," she sighed.

The sage's smile became a grin. "I thought you might see it my way."

"But what will you do with it?" she couldn't help but ask as she handed the book to Corellion. It had caught her attention thoroughly. She wanted to know what was inside.

Corellion's eyebrows raised. "Why..." He paused. His dark eyes glinted speculatively. Chryst knew when he'd come to a decision. He smiled at her. Not the supercilious smile of before, but one of genuine amusement. "I'll make you a deal, Kinsman."

Chryst's eyes narrowed. A deal with a sorcerer usually meant trouble. "What kind of a deal?"

Corellion chuckled, sounding more like a rusty gate than human. "You wish to know the contents of the book, right?"

Chryst nodded.

He nodded. "I thought so. I've seen the expression before. Very well, we'll trade information, then. I'll help you read what's in the book and you..."

Chryst stiffened "And I what?" she asked when the Sage's voice trailed off.

"You find me stories of the all the Gods."

She sat up straight. "Hey, that's not fair! That could get me killed! How do I know that the book is worth that much?"

The Sage turned away. "It's your choice," he remarked, taking a step toward the Council Chambers.

"Wait!" the halfling all but shouted. She took a deep breath and let it out in a rush. "Very well, you win. We'll trade information. How many stories do you want?"

Corellion paused but didn't turn around, but his head tipped back as if he were watching the ceiling. "How many can you find me?"

Chryst's eyes narrowed. "Six."


They negotiated a bit longer until they reached an agreement. "12 stories and I get the book. I tell six and then get to see it. If I think it might be worth my time, you get the remaining six stories and teach me how to read the book. If it's not worth my time, I keep the remaining stories and you keep the book. It's a deal."

"I want the stories in writing."

"Hire your own scribe, Corellion. I'm a bard not a secretary."

The Sage chuckled. "You're a thief, Chrysanthemum. But you have a deal. And now you'd better get yourself into the Council Chambers. You'll be wanted soon."

The halfling threw Corellion a dirty look before slipping inside. No one had noticed her late arrival. Good, she thought, moving to a spot next to Surier. What they don't know....