Goseldt basked in the warmth of a late autumn afternoon. He had procured a seat at one of the quieter drinking establishments in Lion’s Arch and was enjoying of the fancy iced concoctions Shayde had purchased for him in order to buy his compliance. Not that it was difficult to remain comfortably in one place while she ran errands but the sweet cold drink helped. He had not even bothered to ask her what she was up to. It was better that way.
Still, even in his lackadaisical and mildly tipsy state, he did notice things. The Consortium were out in greater numbers and they moved at an anxious gallop and shuffle between their nearby headquarters and whatever business they had on the east side of the city. He had never trusted them, not since they had first shown up with those infernal Karka and certainly not after they had opened that dreadful portal into the Mists. And was it any coincidence that shortly after that Lion’s Arch had been blasted into oblivion?
At least Lion’s Arch looked and smelled better now. He did not like to admit it, but he liked the place with its wide open spaces and cleanliness. He could almost forget there were nefarious things going on. Forgetting was good. Mog had certainly adapted well, now it was Goseldt’s turn. He planned to have a good life this time around. No more filth and freezing to death.
“Would you like more Tropical Breeze?” asked a portly woman with rather more cleavage than her corset could handle. She had picked up his empty glass and was using a soiled rag to swish around the syrupy mess it had made on the little table beside him.
“Uh, sure,” he said. What was the harm? It was tasty and he liked the little bits of what was it called – fir apple? Pine cones? Oh pineapple, that was it.
He lay back in the chair, drowsing until another drink magically appeared. He removed the frilly pink paper parasol, wondering why it needed to be protected from sunlight and rain. Another sip of chilled ambroisia and he was well on his way to a comfortable nap.
“Gos, wake up. How many of those have you had?”
He cracked open an eye and gazed blearily up at Shayde, then guiltily at the three empty glasses and their wreckage of parasols.
She was holding a roll of papers in her hand and she swatted him lightly on the shoulder with them.
“I got you one drink because I know that’s about all you can handle. You’re not Mog.”
At some point she must have cajoled him through a waypoint and back home. He woke up face down on their bed with the taste of pineapple, coconut and bile in his mouth. Someone was pounding the inside of his head with a mallet and he would very much have appreciated if someone would pull the blinds and keep the vile gaze of the sun off his face.
“Are you alright?”
“Mmmph,” he managed, “I hate pineapple.”
“I guess I should have warned you,” Shayde said although he sensed she was amused by his predicament. Thankfully she guessed one of the sources of his misery and drew the blinds then set something down on the table beside him.
“There’s some water.”
He mumbled what he hoped was a thank you and managed after much groaning and struggle to drink until she had refilled it three times. This was followed by further complications of his rebelling body.
“What kind of poison did they ply me with?” he raged once he was lying down again.
“Rum, I think.”
“But I hate rum.”
“You love sugar more.”
He napped uneasily until late in the morning, annoyed with himself for getting drunk and wasting his day. Shayde was nowhere to be found and he figured she must have gone out to run errands while her lazy scumbag of a boyfriend had been blind drunk. Why in the name of the gods did she put up with him? Goseldt silently uttered his gratitude to the gods and slumped down on the couch in their parlor.
He noticed the papers she had been carrying the day before were scattered on the little table beside the couch along with wrappers from a hasty meal and an assortment of rumpled newspapers. Curious, he drew one of the larger pieces to him spread it out on his lap. It was a map of some kind. Sadly, he was terrible at reading and could make out only that there were rivers and hills and structures.
That was odd. Goseldt stared at a circular squiggle on one of the maps. He noticed how it aligned with the compass rose, perpendicular to north and south, a double ring of walls, entrance to the west. There were also Asuran squiggles beside it, as if it were a place of arcane significance. Why was this so familiar? He racked his memory, then felt a pang of dread in the pit of his stomach.
Should he ask Shayde to translate it for him? No. No, definitely not. He eyed the golem clock, recognizing by the placement of its short and long arms, or whatever Shayde called them, that Pendaran might still be at work at the Priory. Mog could be anywhere and he did not trust the postal pigeons.
He hastily washed the odor of the prior day’s dissipation, dressed and tugged a comb through his hair and decided his stubble did not make him look too much like a ruffian. The map he folded up carefully and tucked under his leather vest before dashing out into the streets and taking the nearest waypoint to the Divinity Reach Priory outpost.
After much cajoling, he managed to work his way down into the archives where his old friend was quietly going about his work. Pendaran never looked particularly happy to see Goseldt, not without warning. It was inevitably a bad thing. He was surrounded by a bulwark of dusty tomes and his desk was tidy despite its clutter of manuscripts. Pendaran impatiently thrust a cork into the inkwell and put aside his quill, swiveling his stool around to face Goseldt.
“Nice place you have here,” Goseldt said lamely, waiting for the young Asura woman who had guided him there to go away.
“Is it really your birthday, Master Caradec?” the Asura asked, “I thought it was last week. And the week before.”
“No, of course not. Goseldt needs to come up with better lies, clearly.”
“I would like to talk to him alone, please,” Goseldt said, annoyed and wondering who else had used the same pretense.
“Should have said so in the first place. I was looking forward to cake and now I’m disappointed,” the asura said with a laugh, “Enjoy your scheming then. I’ll be off.”
Goseldt watched her go back up the stairs while Pendaran chuckled to himself.
“Well?” he prompted when they were alone.
Goseldt took the map out from under his vest and gave it to Pendaran. He did not need to say anything if his hunch were right.
“Where did you get this?” Pendaran asked him after a while.
“Shayde got it from somewhere in Lion’s Arch.”
“Did she break into the Consortium headquarters?”
Goseldt felt a little annoyed that Pendaran would imply that Shayde would do such a thing. Why were his friends always judging her?
Then again, she might have.
“Why do you ask?” he said, not knowing the answer and not wanting to start an argument with Pendaran.
“It’s got the mark of the Consortium on it there,” he said, his finger below one of the squiggles that was known as New Krytan, “The next question, which I doubt you know the answer to, is does the Consortium know what this is?”
Goseldt knew without looking what Pendaran was pointing to.
“I guess we need to ask Shayde where this came from. I would prefer you handled that,” Pendaran said as he folded the paper up and shoved it in a pocket.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“We’ll arrange a meeting with Mog. Go find out what you can. I’ll be in touch.”
Goseldt nodded, mildly irritated with Pendaran’s imperious tone. He and Mog had always treated him like an errand boy and it had grated on him at times.
“And please try to be discreet. Shayde doesn’t need to know about this.”
Easier said than done, Goseldt thought as he left the musty basement only to be greeted by the smirking Asura woman as he stepped out into the sunlight.
“Done with the birthday boy, eh?”
He glared at her but said nothing as he made his way home.
He tarried for a while at the market and then the circus when he realized the same three asura were constantly dogging his steps. He guessed they were from one of the orders and did his best to act as if he were ignorant of their spying. It was not the first time they had done this to him and he had heard the others complain of the same thing. Eventually he made his way to one of the magical lifts that lead back up to the queen’s garden and leaped into the shadows, doubling back and then slowly making his way along the rooftops until he was out of the city. It was a long trek to the nearest waypoint that would not likely be monitored by his current spies and it was late afternoon when he finally made his way home.
“Where have you been?” Shayde demanded when he flopped exhausted on the couch. His stomach still had not forgiven him for the prior day’s trespass.
“I was looking for odd jobs.”
He noticed the maps she had brought home had been cut into neat strips and there was a jar of glue near them.
“What are you making?”
“I was experimenting with poison delivery methods. You know, that stuff you’re always trying to teach me?”
“Oh, with these maps?”
“Free paper. I couldn’t pass it up.”
He was mildly relieved, and then alarmed as he imagined that map getting into the wrong hands.
“Oh? Free paper? Where did you get that?”
“Some guild thing. In Lion’s Arch they are trying to convince gangs of mercenaries to fortify some hell hole out west.”
“Yeah, go figure. They had these piles of maps and I told them I belonged to a guild and they let me take whatever I liked.”
“And they’re just letting guilds claim land for free?”
“Sort of. You have to be in guild and you have to pay some expedition fee. But you would have to pay me to go to some dragon infested dump in gods only know where.”
Gods, this was much worse than he thought. He should contact Pendaran, but then again he would have to use the memo golem or have Shayde write it out for him and both were far too risky.
“Are you alright? Still hung over?”
“Uh, yeah. Head hurts.”
“Oh, while you were out I got a dove message – Mog invited us all over for dinner at his new place at Martell winery.”
Relieved he smiled at her, “We should get ready then.”
“Are you sure? You still look a little pale.”
Near sunset they came at last to the lone vintner’s cottage at the outskirts of the Martell estate. He could hear laughter as he and Shayde neared the door and was startled when it drew open and Mog greeted them both with a rib crushing embrace and guided them inside. All seemed right with the world until Goseldt heard the thump of the latch behind wedged into place behind him. Pendaran and Isabeau were seated comfortably on one of the couches while Tristan continued to regale them with some adventure he’d been on in the distant jungle. Maeve smiled faintly at him from across the room while Mog flopped onto the couch and gestured to the empty one across from him.
“So, did you two come alone?”
“As near as I could tell,” Goseldt said.
Shayde frowned, knowing something was amiss and as ever uncomfortable when she found herself outnumbered my Goseldt’s peculiar friends.
“Did you have a look at the map?”
Mog nodded grimly.
“Is it what I think it is?”
“We believe your instincts were correct,” Mog said, gesturing at the others.
“What are you three on about?” Tristan asked.
“I might ask the same,” Shayde said.
“That map,” Mog said, gesturing at the now badly crumbled paper spread out on a low table between them, “Where did you get it?”
Shayde looked more annoyed than usual as all eyes turned to her.
“They were giving them away in Lion’s Arch. As I told Goseldt, there’s some guild initiative thing where they’re trying to encourage bands of mercenaries to fortify some wastelands in the area where all those pact air ships were destroyed by the dragon.”
“Really?” Pendaran said, “I never heard about this.”
“You’ve always got your face in a book,” Tristan chuckled, “There’s been some awful news from out that way. Sylvari going mad and turning on the Pact, the entire force being destroyed. Waypoints disappearing.”
“I knew things were bad,” Mog said, “I didn’t realize they were that dire.”
“I suspect you were being sheltered from it.”
“Or you ignored it,” Shayde said, irritated, “It’s been all over the papers.”
“Well, I’d have helped more if I’d known,” Goseldt said, feeling hurt by her implication that he and his friends didn’t care.
“I know that. I don’t want you to. It’s not worth throwing your life away in that awful place.”
“The thing is,” Mog said, his voice cutting through the tension, “This map shows something disturbing. There was an old temple complex I once visited out in that part of the world. It had been destroyed long before I came there, but it had a functioning ether well.”
“And if the dragon is rising in that part of the world, then it cannot be allowed to have it, and neither should it fall into the hands of random mercenaries,” Pendaran said.
“What should we do?” Goseldt asked, risking a glance at Shayde. She looked mildly perplexed and horrified.
“We create a guild, we claim it, and we destroy it,” Mog said.