The trip back through the caverns was much less traumatic than Fuerte remembered, even though the caravan guide was not nearly as talented as Marty. Fuerte could follow the direction of their travel and even keep track of the passage of time in the eternal darkness underground. All in all, things were much better on the return. At least, until he got back to the High Temple at Gelaham to collect Chance.
“Can we help you?” the paladins outside the Temple asked.
“I’m looking for my friend,” Fuerte told them. “The shadowkin I came with last time.” Things went downhill from there, until the lizardman was told to wait at the Journeyman’s Rest at the foot of the holy mountain until tomorrow.
Fortunately, Chance returned from the Heart of the Light the very next morning. Even though the High Priest neglected to tell the new justicar that he had a friend waiting at the Journeyman’s Rest, Fuerte saw him pass as he waited for word from the temple and immediately ran to embrace his friend.
“I missed you so much!” Fuerte told him.
“What do you mean?” Chance asked. “It’s only been a day or two.”
Fuerte looked at him, confused. “Uh, what? It’s been months.”
“No, it’s only been a couple of days.”
“I don’t think so,” Fuerte told him. “I couldn’t have gotten to Kognar and back in a couple of days.”
“Why’d you go to Kognar?”
“To learn to push people. See?” Fuerte demonstrated his new skills by knocking Chance to the ground with the lightest of touches.
“Great,” Chance said, picking himself up. “Anyway, where’s the ship?”
“They left after they dropped us off, remember? To go do Aerin’s research and Butch’s vision thingy.”
“They haven’t come back yet?”
“I don’t know. I just got here.”
“Well, I guess we walk then. Is there a caravan leaving soon?”
“I don’t know. We can try to find Marty.”
Aerin went to the first tavern she could find in Dravia to start tracking down her friends. “Hi,” she said, approaching the kobold barkeep. “I’m looking for my friends. Have you seen them? They’re a shadowkin (about this tall) and a blue lizardman (about this tall.)”
“Nope,” the barkeep said. “Haven’t seen them.”
Aerin frowned. “Are you sure?”
“I think I’d remember a shadowkin and a lizardman traveling together.”
“True,” Aerin said, thinking. “Well how about a flying ship then?”
The area around the lukosian became very quiet all of a sudden, and many of the patrons began glaring at her. She didn’t notice. “Yeah,” the barkeep said. “We’ve seen the flying ships.”
“The elves and their ships all hang out down by the new aviary outside the city.”
“Oh, I’m not looking for elves. The ship I’m looking for is crewed by shadowkin.”
The barkeep looked at her for a moment, then said, “You know, now that you mention it, I do remember hearing about that. They were in town a few days ago.”
“They already left?”
“Yeah. Took off for the north just a couple days ago.”
“North? What’s north?”
“From here? Orcish lands. Hopefully they didn’t try to go there.”
“Civil war again. Borders are closed. The orcs’ll knock their ship right out of the sky if they catch them.”
“Hm.” Aerin paused and looked around. “The aviary’s outside town you said?” And she left without waiting for an answer. Within the hour, she had chartered an airship to fly south along the caravan routes to Gelaham in search of her friends.
A few days later, she spotted them. “There they are!” she called. “Let down a ladder.” A rope ladder was tossed over the side of the ship as it descended closer to the ground. “Guys!” Aerin called at her friends. “Climb up.”
Fuerte and Chance both stood on the ground looking up at the flying ship. “Why are you on a boat full of elves?” Chance called back.
“Looking for you, obviously. Now come on, let’s go.”
“Elves are the enemy,” Fuerte told her. “And where’s Butch’s ship?”
Aerin sighed. “Look, I’m paying these elves to fly me around because the Seagull is missing at the moment.”
“You lost the ship?” Chance cried.
“I didn’t lose anything,” Aerin growled. “Fuerte, you love to climb. Get up here.”
“Okay,” Fuerte said, smiling, and shimmied handily up the ladder.
“Fuerte, no!” Chance called after him. He cursed, then climbed up himself.
After a brief discussion, the party convinced the captain to sail north around the orcish lands to the old kobold homeland. Over a week later, the Canid Archipelago came into sight, and the party spotted the Seagull floating over the harbor at Grbok, the crew at work repairing the Seal. Aerin paid the elves and the party disembarked.
“Ahoy, me hearties,” Jack greeted them as they approached. “It be good to see you all again.”
“You too,” Chance said. “Where’s Butch?”
Jack shrugged. “Dead be my guess. We waited for weeks outside that mountain and he never came back.”
“You left him?” Aerin asked. “We have to go back.”
“Rrrr… It be a fool’s errand, in my opinion.”
Chance started digging around in his backpack. “How long did you say it’s been, Jack?” he asked, pulling out a large pouch. “It’s been a while since you and the men got paid, hasn’t it?” He held out the pouch to Jack.
Jack swallowed and took the pouch from Chance. “Well, if you be wanting to sail back to Mount Dream, we can be doing that, I suppose. I wish we could get the Seal fixed, though.”
“Don’t worry,” Aerin said. “I’m sure Butch will be able to fix it when we find him.”
Jack cocked his head at her. “We be talking about the same Butch, right?”
A couple weeks later, the Seagull approached the wild lands where Butch had disembarked. And there the captain was, waving at them as they approached.
“Captain!” Jack shouted when Butch had climbed the ladder and boarded the ship. “You’re alive!”
“Of course I’m alive,” Butch said. “And for a while there, I thought you’d abandoned me.”
Jack fell silent and looked down at his feet. “They did abandon you,” Fuerte said.
“What?” Butch cried.
“You were gone so long, captain,” Jack said, still looking down. “We thought for sure the spirits had killed you.”
“You left me?”
“It had been weeks, captain. It’s been three months now and you just now be getting back.”
“You left me!”
Jack looked up and, in anguish, cried, “The rum was gone!”
“Oh,” Butch said. “I suppose that be a good excuse then. Set sail for the Glacier, Mr. Spaniel. I be needing to catch up with my friends.”
“Aye, captain!” And Jack ran off, shouting orders to the other pirates to get the Seagull back in motion.
In the days that followed, the heroes recounted the story of their various personal quests and laid their plans for the future. Even if those plans consisted only of getting to the Glacier and figuring out what was going on in Serinor, since none of them had been keeping up with any sort of current events for the past three months now.