After nearly a week of travel, Nyx decided one thing very definitively.
She hated boats.
They were cramped, full of people, with limited places to hide or be by herself. Worst of all, they were brightly lit.
Worse still, Nox’s mood seemed to have soured since they decided to travel to Lendi. They hadn’t been back in nearly eight years. Though they had no plans to head to the north or anywhere near home, that didn’t seem to matter to Nox. She was an insufferable traveling companion at the moment.
Not that they had much of their time to send together. They trade off days being Lilith, a mysterious woman traveling to Lendii. Most on the boat wouldn’t have heard of Lilith’s reputation. But in the circles that did know, Lilith was someone to be feared. Or bought with a lot of coin. The latter was the reason they were on this bought in the first place.
Nyx spent her days as Lilith being imperiously visible, a striking elven woman overseeing the comings and goings of the deck. She spent her days as herself slipping through places she shouldn’t have been, listening to conversations, reading over shoulders. At night, she and Nox would reconvene in their shared cabin and compare notes. There was no one really worth noticing on their boat. Though there was a little halfling with a cheetah running around the deck. Nyx wondered if she could slip the cat some food at some point.
When the boat finally docked in Moonport, Nyx couldn’t wait to get off of it. It was Nox’s day to be Lilith, so Nyx drew up her hood and trailed back, fading in to the disembarking crowd. Nox continued down the road, looking for anyone following Nox. The letter prompting them to arrive her had been addressed to Lilith. Though it had been funneled through Esme as their usual contracts were, this had stuck out. Something from royalty usually did. They knew enough to know Esme and how to reach them. But didn’t seem to know that Lilith was the both of them. It would be interesting to see how this was drawn out.
A child on a bike approached Nox, and Nyx let her hand fall near one of her hidden weapons.
But the child didn’t attack. Just handed Nox a piece of paper and a rather large ingot of gold—which Nox hastily pocketed.
They slipped through the town, Nyx trailing behind, still looking for any sign that they were being followed or watched. But there was no sign of anything out of place. The town hadn’t seemed to have changed much since they were last here. It still had the same feel.
Nox checked them in at a tavern, and Nyx surreptitiously made her way upstairs to their room. Nox was reading a newspaper.
“What did that boy give you?” Nyx asked.
“A place and a time to meet the rest of our adventures group,” Nox said. “The wrong royal is dead.”
She handed her sister the paper. “The wrong one. Our note said Ryn feared for her life. But Lexia was found dead in the moat.”
Nyx glanced through the pages, not doubting her sister but needing to see for herself. “Humans, they live so short. This makes things interesting, doesn’t it?”
Nox hefted the ingot of gold. “Well, at least we got paid up front.”
Nyx continued to flip through the paper, until she found the longer write up on the history and background of the royal family. And then paused. “Definitely interesting.”
Nox perked up. “Oh?”
“Ryn and Lexia were twins.”
“Oh.” She nodded. “Yes, I can see Lexia doing that. Cleans up the matter of succession by taking it off the table.”
“Do you think one of the kids was in on it?”
Nox raised the letter. “Ryn did.”
Nyx nodded. “Then at least we have somewhere to start.”
They left for the rendezvous early, wanting to get a sense of the Frolicking Goat before others arrived. The tavern seemed hastily put together. The bar was full functional, but the rest seemed more like an afterthought. Nyx sat on one side of the room with a tankard of ale, watching Nox linger on the other side and awaiting the rest of the assembled group. A statue towards the side of the room nearly brushed the ceiling. Nyx frowned. The statue was wearing real clothes. Either someone had a weird sense of humor, or it was actually a Kurst. Interesting.
Nyx made note of the exits and the clientele. No one stuck out.
Until the adventurers entered.
The halfling from the boat came in alone, her cheetah trailing behind her. The halfling looked at everything with a sense of wonder. The cheetah walked stoically behind. The rest came as a group. A tall human male, still wearing his armor. Another man in a long dark coat. Though there was something wrong with his eye. As he turned, the light caught it and the eye glowed green. It wasn’t a natural eye.
Esme was with them. Though she wasn’t short, her size was dwarfed by her traveling companions. The butt of her rifle was clearly visible over her shoulder.
A short man approached them. Barely more than a child, really. His clothes were ill-fitting, looking more like hand-me-downs. He gathered the group, as well as the stone statue, at a table for eight. Nyx wondered if they knew that Lilith was two people, or if that was just the only available table.
She tuned out, now, trusting Nox to handle herself, and focused on the bar around them. No one seemed interested in the gathered companions. Though that didn’t mean there was someone better at stealthing somewhere in the bar. She paid careful attention to the waitstaff, and overheard a few of the waitresses complain about the short human in the ill-fitting clothes. Apparently he didn’t always keep his hands to himself. Nyx made a mental note and filed it away.
She had a brief moment of panic when the party adjourned upstairs. But the steps were unguarded, and Nox could easily let her know if something were amiss. Nyx bided her time and waited. She slipped a few pieces to bread to the goat that wandered the room.
Eventually, Nox came back downstairs with the others. The party dispersed. Nyx waited a few minutes more and then tailed Nox back to the room they had rented. No one followed them.
Nyx slipped quietly into the room. “How’d it go?”
Nyx shrugged and pulled the dark wig off. “They’re an interesting group. They’re in for investigating the death. And agree that you’re probably right, about Lexia pretending to be Ryn.”
Nyx nodded. “So are we joining them?”
“So far. See where it takes us. Wouldn’t hurt to have a hand in what happens to the royal line here.” She sat on the bed and started to brush out the wig. “You learn anything interesting?”
Nyx shrugged. Her time downstairs had been mostly boring. “Not really. But the short human that went up with you has grabby hands, apparently. We should keep an eye on him.”
“Noted.” Nox wiped the Lilith makeup off her face. “We’re leaving on the train tonight. For Rynskeep. It’ll be your turn to play tomorrow.”
Nyx nodded. “I’ll make sure I’m well rested.”
Trains, it turned out, were not much better than boats.
Nyx donned the dark wig, applied the correct makeup, and made her way as Lilith to meet up with the rest of the party. Nox trailed behind her, as discrete a distance as they could manage in the tight space.
While Nox prowled the ship, Nyx stationed herself in the dining car, watching the comings and goings of her fellow passengers. A few of their adventuring party also stayed to the dining car, including Esme and the tall man with the weird eye. Zeke, she was pretty sure Nox had said his name was Zeke.
A woman in red set up in the dining car. There was something…off about her.
Nox had mentioned the woman last night. She had come from the same room as a man that Nox had seen near the Frolicking Goat. And then had proceeded to the dining car and laid out her papers.
The woman in red was still sitting at the same table. Nyx didn’t think she had left at any point, just continued to shift her papers and write. Odd.
She helped herself to the buffet. The halfling had an egg as large as her head balanced in an undersized egg cup. Kaera, Nox had said her name was.
Esme and Zeke sat across from them. Though neither touched their food, or seemed to have any interest in it.
The human male, Digby, joined them. He had a plate piled high with eggs and bacon, and seemed to be shovelling the food down as if he were a bottomless pit. He slid a small notebook towards her.
“Look what I saw! This thing is moving the train.”
Nyx glanced down at the book. The page was filled of little sketches. He point towards one that took up most of the upper right. It was a creature that seemed to be made up of fire, with large dark eyes and a tail. It was kind of cute.
“His name is Flambo,” Digby said.
Nox slipped in to the room, sitting at a table farther away from them, but still within eyeshot. Her attention seemed to be focused on the woman in red. Nyx glanced over as well.
The woman in red was still following the same pattern. It was right. Nyx concentrated, and she could finally feel the vague sense of magic. And once she did that, she could almost see the edges.
She brushed her hand across her face, spoke in to the communication ring on her thumb. “It’s illusion magic,” she said to Nox.
Kaera perked up. “What was that?”
Nyx shrugged, trying to play it off. “Illusion magic. The woman in red over there. She’s’ not real. Someone cast it.”
Kaera frowned. But then looked around the room. “There’s something on the ceiling over there, above Hllin.”
Nyx glanced in that direction. She hadn’t paid attention to Hllin when she’d entered the dining car, filing her away as a statue in the corner. She would have to break the habit of not paying attention to art that she wasn’t there to steal.
Hllin’s rock like hair nearly brushed the ceiling. But it didn’t look like there was anything anywhere near her. The Kurst saw them looking, and swatted at the ceiling. Something seemed to move, but then was invisible again.
Nyx pointed to the older man that Nox had pointed out to her. “The illusion woman came from his room.”
Digby stood. “Then let’s go talk to him.” He and the hafling approached the man. Nyx couldn’t hear what was being said, but it seemed to be pleasant, if stilted conversation. She slipped some of her eggs to the halfing’s cheetah. The cat purred.
The pair returned back to the table. “He’s a census taker from the empire,” Digby said. “Official business.”
Zeke perked up. His odd eye shimmered in color. “Empire?”
Digby nodded. “Asking people if they want to stay independent or join.”
Suddenly, the train rocked. With a large bang it shifted to the side, and then fell. Nyx grabbed her bacon and jumped in to the air. When her feet touched the ground again, she was standing on what was the wall of the dining car. She looked at the others, some of them strewn about the room.
“Guess it’s time to go to work,” Zeke said.
Nyx climbed out of the train car, vaguely aware that the others were following. The tracks had lead through a narrow valley. Mountains rose to either side. A small row of scrub and trees ran parallel to the tracks, about 30 feet or so behind where they had come to a stop. The midday sun shone brightly into the valley. In the scrub, Nyx could just make out the form of something large, trying to hide behind tree cover that wasn’t really there.
Esme pulled out her large rifle, took aim, and fired. And again. The thing didn’t stand a chance.
Other beings moved around the train, and the party acted swiftly to dispatch them. Digby moved in to melee combat with one of them, and Nyx moved to flank. She was momentarily surprised when Nox joined them. But her sister just shrugged. “There’s danger.”
Digby looked briefly between the two of them, frowned. But then continued to swing his sword at the troll.
They made quick work of the bandits. Though one, when he saw his companions drop, fled. Digby had started to give chase, but the steep terrain made it infeasible.
Nyx turned to Nox, while the others figured out how to right the train. “Guess the cat’s out of the bag.”
Nox shrugged. “If we’re going to keep traveling with them, they’ll find out eventually. But also, no need to make the fact clearer.”
The engineers brought the fire elemental out of the engine compartment, and with a lot of technical talk that Nyx didn’t bother paying attention to, the train was righted and they could be on their way.
Kaera turned to the nearest engineer. “I’m a first class passenger. I want the best dessert you have for assisting with this.”
Nyx followed after the halfling. “Same.”