A wide open ballroom floor was packed with people of all shapes and sizes. Everything was expensive, from the room itself with fancy tapestries and fine wooden tables lining the sides of the room to the clothes everyone wore that would only be used once to their masks which were ostentatious and gaudy.
Sweeping stairways went up to the second floor, where the host would soon make an appearance. At least, Izzy hoped so. Sometimes Zentha Qitris neglected to show up to her own balls, citing some vision or other. Izzy assumed it was probably just not wanting to see people vomiting on her expensive property. Though the majority of the guests were more careful with the amount of alcohol they were imbibing, there was always at least one.
Izzy moved back and forth among the people on the dance floor, her movements something that could possibly also be called dancing. Yet for all her grace, she lacked a dance partner or any rhythm. Her movements were just to keep her from being stepped on by everyone moving around, and standing next to tables laden with food she could barely reach wasn’t more appealing. Such were the trials of being a halfling, especially in a place dominated by tall folk.
Given the nature of the hostess, Izzy had to wonder if she was intentionally not welcomed, or if the diviner’s abilities simply didn’t predict her arrival. If it was the latter, was she so unimportant as to be ignored by magic itself, or had she really gone unnoticed?
Stupid thoughts like that swam through Izzy’s head as she tried to think what she would say, assuming she actually got a moment of Diviner Qitris’ time. What was she going to say? ‘Help me find my friend because everyone who might actually be able to point me to him is more interested in what weird phenomenon opened up a portal’? While technically true, that didn’t give much reason for someone so important and busy to help her.
A number of curious mages had descended on Master Uvithar’s tower after the incident, eager to sniff out secrets. What they’d learned only slightly reduced her concern for Turlough. They knew he wasn’t taken to any of the hells, or the layers of the abyss, or any of the other truly dangerous planes. The problem was, he wasn’t on any of the planes at all as far as they could tell. He was somewhere else entirely, and there didn’t happen to be any spells to get there. Not that anyone planned to try without proper incentive anyway.
Mages could be extremely curious, but even they knew about curiosity and what that did to cats. They lost a lot of familiars that way.
Izzy wasn’t sure what she really wanted. A way to check on Turlough, to know he was safe? That was something, but she didn’t want just that. If possible, she wanted to meet him again. Talk to him. Explain why she ran away. That last part would be easier if she knew why. Sometimes, people did stupid things.
The focus of the crowd couldn’t fail to draw Izzy’s attention. If she couldn’t notice something obvious like that, she wouldn’t have done so well traveling on the road alone. Quick legs and a fast blade would only take you so far.
Though she could pick out where they were looking, even with her good eyes she couldn’t see it. That was due to the wide rears in the way. Izzy twisted and turned her way through the crowd to find an angle where there weren’t so many tall folk blocking her view. She just managed to sneak a small peek when Zentha Qitris began to speak.
The diviner looked young, despite Izzy knowing Zentha had been famous before her mother was born. That was the thing about elves. They were able to reach the top shelf and lived a long time, it was completely unfair. Halflings barely got a few extra years in exchange for never being properly accommodated. At least gnomes lived longer and dwarves weren’t nearly as small.
The diviner was just finishing up her flowery introduction. “… and now what you have all been waiting for. My prediction… for the future.”
A powerful wind swirled through the ballroom, blowing out the candles and winking out the magical sources of light throughout the room, sending it into darkness, except what starlight and moonlight the large windows around the periphery let in. But the light was soon replaced by a myriad of sparkles originating from Zentha. Izzy could see the great power the woman had and found herself suitable impressed. If Turlough were around, he could probably tell her how much was real and how much was just theatrics. Maybe all of it.
Zentha’s eyes rolled into the back of her head as her whole body glowed. A chill fell over the room, more than just the one of anticipation but magically induced. Not a single sound came from anywhere, not even a breath. Then Zentha’s eyes snapped back forward, and suddenly every candle and magical light relit. “The future I see is full of good omens. Your time of prosperity will continue!”
Things went from deadly silent to far too loud as people clapped and cheered. That was where Izzy knew that none of that fancy magic did anything at all, except appear dramatic. Not a drop of divinatory power involved in a prediction like that. If Izzy didn’t know better she would have just turned to leave, but instead she slipped her way through the crowd and began darting her way up the stairs. That was something being small was good for, and her short legs weren’t a real hindrance with her enhanced speed.
And her scant size allowed her to slip behind a guard at the top of the stairs unnoticed. Technically she wasn’t not allowed on the second story of the mansion, but nobody was going to let her approach Zentha. To be fair, even if she managed to catch her she would probably just be brushed off, but she had to try.
This was the that those who had arranged beforehand would meet with the diviner to get guidance from her. Maybe Izzy could take one of those places… as if a halfling could pass for any of the others here. Masks weren’t much good for disguising yourself when you were three feet tall.
Zentha walked down a long corridor, and Izzy slipped along after her. Her feet were silent, but at any moment Zentha could turn around and notice her following, regardless of her stealth skills. But she passed by every door until the end, where she turned in. Izzy slipped along behind her, finding a grand office full of magely things. Swirling balls of light entrapped in globes, spinning models of the planes rotating in conjunction with each other, along with mirrors and strange devices Izzy had no context for.
The only thing the diviner’s office was missing was Zentha. Izzy didn’t see another way in or out, unless she jumped out the window and closed it. She carefully stepped inside, only to hear the door slam shut behind her.
“Ah, there you are,” Zentha Qitris stood where the door would have hidden her from view. “Care to explain to me why you are here?”
“Well, you see I-”
“And don’t bother with any excuses.” Zentha was a tall woman, even for one of the tall folk. Maybe almost six feet in height? Though some of that could have been her shoes. Either way, she was quite intimidating looking down at Izzy. “With a twitch of my fingers I can activate that magic circle at your feet.”
Izzy looked down. How had she forgotten to look down? That was the second thing any good scout learned. After look up. Or at the same time as it, anyway. She looked up, and was slightly relieved to find no additional traps. “Well you see…” she looked back down at the magic circle, considering how long it would take her to disarm it. Maybe a minute. Maybe half that. Both were well outside the time of a snap. “I need you to find my friend.”
“Have you tried a tracker?” Zentha asked, casually walking towards her desk.
“If he left tracks I would have already found him!” Izzy protested.
“Oh, don’t be so upset Izzy.” Zentha sat down at her desk, her eyes burrowing into Izzy. Eyes that, when not covered up in showy magic were piercing and obviously knew too much. “There are more tracks than muddy boot prints and the like. Tell me, have you heard of sympathy?”
“I don’t need sympathy!” Izzy unconsciously stomped forward, standing at her full height which just barely let her see over the desk. Later she would realize that the magic circle didn’t actually stop her from just stepping out at it, but at that time she was rather occupied with other thoughts. “I need my friend back!”
“I’m going to assume that you have not, then.” Zentha tapped her fingers on the desk. “Magical sympathy is having a connection to someone or something. Tell me, what connection do you have to Turlough?”
Izzy had mentioned neither her own name nor Turlough’s. Those eyes clearly saw too much. And while it was indeed fair to assume that a diviner of Zentha’s caliber could glean such information from her, sometimes things came without the aid of magic. “We were friends,” Izzy said, then clenched her fist behind the desk. “We are friends.” She hoped.
“A straightforward connection. Enough, at least, to fulfill the minimum requirements. But what about something more? A painting, a jacket… a lock of hair?”
Izzy quickly fumbled around in her pocket. Master Uvithar had found some of Turlough’s distinctive hair. She finally found the crumpled envelope that kept it contained and placed it on the table. “Here.”
Zentha placed her hand on the little packet of paper, but didn’t open it. “With this, perhaps your request will be possible. However… I don’t work for free. You know how much I would charge for this. You and I also know that you cannot afford it. Especially not for something of this difficulty. Scrying across the boundaries of planes is difficult, but going one step further… I doubt there are more than a handful in the world who can accomplish such a task.” Zentha leaned closer, her face almost contacting Izzy’s on the other side of the desk. “You’re going to do something for me.”
“What is it?” Izzy asked nervously. “I’ll be quick as I can.”
“I can’t tell you yet,” Zentha said authoritatively. “But you will do it. A promise to work for me in the future. Do not worry… it will be something you can accomplish, and it should not be something against your sensibilities. But you can always refuse later.”
“And if I do, you’ll have already sent people after me to kill me?” Izzy asked.
“Oh no. That would be much too costly. You would simply never receive my services again,” Zentha smiled widely.
“… Fine,” Izzy nodded. “I agree.”
“Good. Now, I must warn you. Despite the connection provided, you may see very little. Possibly nothing at all. If it is the latter, then nothing can be done.”
Izzy nodded, unable to say anything. If Zentha couldn’t give her a glimpse of Turlough, she might actually have to give up. That was… an awful thought.
Zentha didn’t seem concerned about that, but she hadn’t shown any emotions throughout their interaction. And why would she? Everyone wanted to come to her, to have her look for someone lost or predict their future, and she wasn’t connected to any of it.
She stood up, walking over to one of the nearby mirrors. It was a full-length mirror. Or by the standards of a halfling, a double-length mirror. “This should do,” she said.
“You’re not going to use a crystal ball?” Izzy asked.
Zentha looked over at her. “Have you ever seen a crystal ball?”
“Have you ever seen anything in it besides distorted shapes?” Zentha asked.
“Well, no… but I’m not a mage or anything.”
“Magic doesn’t do well at overcoming the physical disadvantages of a bad medium. Crystal balls are for those who are traveling and can’t afford to bring something proper with them. Now then,” Zentha tore open the envelope and pulled out the strands of hair. She held them out in her hand, then blew on them. They swirled through the air, sinking into the mirror in front of her.
The light in the room began to fade, but unlike her earlier theatrical performance, everything was focused on the mirror, with the rest being aftereffects. The room darkened, and the mirror reflected only sheer blackness.
Then Turlough suddenly appeared in front of her.
Izzy almost reached out to touch him, but stopped for two reasons. First, she wasn’t sure if he would even remember her. She might look more or less the same, but it had been years. Izzy only recognized Turlough because she was expecting him. Instead of being a foot and some taller than her, he was now fully twice her height. The blue jacket and pants covered up the rest of his body except for where the red mask was. Izzy might have said she’d recognized his tusks anywhere, but honestly they were pretty different.
That hair though, that was something she remembered.
The other reason she didn’t reach out to touch him was because he wasn’t there. He was standing in some sort of fancy manor, a long corridor stretching out behind him to the side while not much else could be seen. Just Turlough, looking right at Zentha.