“The fleet… Sir, we didn’t have time to get many supplies onto each ship…” Lien said anxiously.
“I know,” said Hinjo distantly, staring over the black waters and past the bobbing white sails of the rest of the fleet at the distant carnage that was once Azure City, “We’ll need to find a place they can settle while we plan our assault to take back the city—or we’ll starve.” Or we’ll starve… we’ll starve—STARVE! The grim statement echoed in his mind as he turned his back to the gruesome view the fleet was leaving behind.
Lien looked at him oddly. He’d been staring back at Azure City since the boat had started moving, hadn’t taken his eyes away from the mind-numbing sight for even a second the entire time, in fact, but, the city had slipped out of sight over half an hour ago. Even the sharpest eyes wouldn’t be able to pick it up in this darkness and at this distance. Even so, he’d just kept staring… The two soldiers that had returned to the ship with Hinjo and the northerners looked at her questioningly. Lien offered them a small shrug and a subtle gesture that indicated it would probably be best to leave him alone for now. They nodded in understanding and left.
“We should…” Hinjo made a vague hand gesture. When it’s all you can do to think anything other than we’llstarvewe’llstarvewe’llstarveandAzureCitydies… it’s a difficult task to remember even the simplest of words. “Take inventory,” he finished after a pause, “Of the whole fleet.”
“I know that will take a long time, Lien,” said Hinjo calmly, “But we must know how much we have and begin rationing it. As soon as possible.” Before thousands of innocent citizens STARVE and die… “By tomorrow, if we can,” he added.
“Yes sir,” said Lien, “I’ll start organizing the other Pal—I mean…” Both Paladins visibly flinched. The Sapphire Guard would be going on no more missions, large or small. “I… I’ll,” Lien bowed her head to make her tears less visible, “I’ll get together what soldiers I can find and maybe a few civilians, and we’ll begin at once.”
“Very good,” said Hinjo, dismissing her with a nod. Once she was out of sight, he felt himself gagging again. Dammit, there’s nothing left, why do I keep doing this? he wondered as he leaned over he side of the boat and waited for his dry heaving to stop. Something burned at the back of his throat and he tried to spit it out as his eyes watered. This had to be the fifth time he’d done this today. Every time he tried to assess how many lives had been lost… While he continued to brace himself with one hand his other clenched his abdomen, trying to stop the painful convulsions. As a bit of diluted bile dripped out of his mouth and his stomach still shuddered, he wondered if seppuku felt anything like this. He shook his head as he gasped for breath, hoping he was almost done here. Morbid thought… Too morbid, no matter how much your gut burns… Twelve gods give me strength to police my own mind, for otherwise I cannot hope to police anything else.
“Seasickness, my good man?”
“Wh—” With a final hacking cough, Hinjo stood up straight and whipped himself around, hurriedly wiping off his chin on his sleeve. “Pardon me?” he said with as much dignity as he could muster when his stomach felt like something spiky was swimming around in it and his tongue tasted like sour acid.
“Oh! Nevermind…” The grubby part-time merchant who had addressed him tried to slink away. He hadn’t realized that was a Paladin hung over the rail (you’d think the blue cape would be a dead giveaway, but capes were in this month and blue was the season’s new blue (to the shock of many an Azurite fashion aficionado), so you never could tell), much less Lord Hinjo himself!
Hinjo frowned and crossed his arms. “No,” he said flatly, “Really. What were you going to say?”
“Well,” the citizen replied, sweating a little, “I’ve got these wonderful little pills here that are supposed to be good for motion sickness. That’s all.”
Resisting the urge to Detect Evil, Smite if necessary, and be done with this conversation and the man’s obvious guilty conscience, Hinjo said carefully, “May I see them?”
“Well, I usually don’t like folks inspecting the merchandise before paying like that, I mean you never know when you’re dealing with a cheeky Rogue or something, but since it’s you I guess it’s not really that much of a risk, so…” the little man muttered, handing over a bag of small white pills.
Hinjo examined the things closely for a full minute before looking up and fixing the fidgeting suspect with a critical look.
“Nothing illegal ‘bout selling vitamin pills,” the man muttered, fixing his eyes to the ground, “And they still help people, often as not.”
“You’re right,” said Hinjo crisply, handing the bag back over, “Dishonesty is not illegal.” He hoped he’d given the man something to think about, at least, as he silently thanked the Twelve Gods that he hadn’t failed his Intimidate Check; he didn’t know enough about medicine to identify those pills on sight.
“Leaving so soon?” Hinjo clapped a hand on the man’s shoulder and stopped him in his tracks. Even after being found out, he still had a guilty conscience? “Detect Evil.”
“Now that was completely unnecessary,” the Azurite protested, “I don’t mind telling people I’m True Neutral. Perfectly respectable alignment for an NPC!”
“Calm down,” said Hinjo, “You’re not evil and I’m not going to be making any more Intimidate checks.”
“You don’t have to,” the man grumbled in response. This was true. The sight of a Paladin of the Sapphire Guard was formidable enough, especially to Azure City natives who knew how powerful the Guard was. Stack that with Hinjo’s half-wild appearance complete with visible battle wounds, sleep-deprived features, and the unidentified liquid still at the corners of his mouth, and the effect was truly terrifying. Not to mention on top of that he was still Lord Hinjo, Azure City’s new ruler.
Hinjo frowned. As much as he wanted to know what (probably illegal) mischief this citizen was trying to hide, he didn’t want to be one of those Paladins like Mi—he grimaced. There was only pain to be found down that path of thought. Police your thoughts—one of those Paladins that has no sympathy for people who aren’t Lawful Good, that is, or one of those Paladins who Smites first and asks questions later. He didn’t want his class or his status as a member of the Guard or the fact that he was Lord Hinjo now to be symbols of fear to use as weapons. “I apologize,” he said quietly, “It was wrong of me to invade your privacy like that. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”
“Nah, that’s alright,” said the man, a little taken aback. After a pause he asked suddenly, “Hey, you know that elf in the red robes that got on the boat with you?”
“Yes?” said Hinjo, once again a little wary.
“Glad I’m not the only one who can’t tell. Anyway, is he that wizard I’ve heard tell about?”
“He is,” said Hinjo, raising an eyebrow, “Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” the man said evasively, “Just curious.”
“Oh, for crying out loud!” a new voice shouted in exasperation.
The man nearly jumped out of his skin while Hinjo reflexively grabbed the hilt of his katana before he realized he recognized the voice. “What is it, Elan?” he asked wearily.
“You guys have been talking forever,” said the bard, rising from his hiding place behind a nearby barrel.
“And you’ve been eavesdropping?” said Hinjo, clearly a little offended.
“Well,” said Elan, “Would you still be having this conversation if it weren’t somehow important to the plot?”
Both men gave the bard a blank stare.
“I just wanted to stay caught up,” Elan said with a sniff, “That’s all. But you’re taking forever to get to the important part.”
With a shrug, Hinjo said, “I guess you have a point.” He turned back to the man. “Have you been doing something illegal?”
“Finally,” gushed Elan before Hinjo could get an answer, “He’s gotta come out with it now, because Paladins have that Sense Motive Skill.”
“Although I consider using it an unnecessary invasion of privacy,” Hinjo put in defensively. “Most of the time,” he added meaningfully.
“Fine,” the suspect grumbled, “Not like you can throw me in jail for it anyway. I work—worked, now, I guess—as a prison guard in the city’s fortress itself. Before I got on the boat, I took some of the prisoners’ confiscated belongings with me. Figured most of them would be in no condition to take it all back by the end of the battle anyway, so I might as well make a little extra cash.”
“Why were you asking about Vaarsuvius?” Elan asked.
“A lot of the loot’s spellbooks, magical items, and the like, y’know, stuff a guy’d have on him while committing some sort of magical crime, so I figured a wizard would be able to use them.”
Sighing and rubbing his eyes wearily, Hinjo said, “You’re right; I can’t throw you in jail, because there is no jail out here. I’m still confiscating the stolen property, though. Understood?”
“Yes,” the thief replied meekly.
Hinjo headed to his cabin with the Bag of Holding the thief had been using to carry the stolen items clutched in one hand. Elan followed him.
“Aren’t you going to open the bag?”
“Why would I do that, Elan?” Hinjo asked through gritted teeth.
“To see what’s inside!”
“I know what’s inside.”
“Nuh-uh,” said Elan, “You don’t know exactly what’s in there. There could be another MacGuffin, or a surprisingly relevant ancient prophecy, or a bottle with a genie in it, or a message from the past, or—”
“I’m not opening the bag, Elan.”
“But you have to!” Elan whined, “The plot depends on it! And I really want to see what’s in there…”
“Go to bed, Elan,” said Hinjo upon arriving at the door to his cabin.
“Fine,” said Elan, pouting, “You’re just no fun.”
Shaking his head as Elan stormed off in a huff, Hinjo slipped into his cabin and locked the door behind him. Now he had to open the bag.
He wasn’t out to satisfy his curiosity or further this “plot” Elan kept going on about. The bag might contain valuable resources. Maybe Vaarsuvius would be able to use some of the spellbooks somehow, or maybe there was some food in there somewhere; who knew? If Lien was already out there somewhere trying to carry out the ridiculous task of taking inventory of the entire fleet, the least he could owe her and every other citizen of Azure City right now was a thorough search of that bag for any valuable resources before he went to bed.
Aside from a few odd weapons and a bunch of odds and ends that were key components in various spells, the only things Hinjo found in the bag that seemed to have any value at all were the spellbooks the man had mentioned, and even those seemed kind of iffy. He stacked them neatly by his bed anyway so he’d remember to give them to Vaarsuvius in the morning, absent-mindedly flipping through the pages of some of them as he went, skimming them occasionally. It was nice to have meaningless information to focus his mind on, rather than… everything else.
“Before casting, grind the root into a fine powder and…” “While making this hand gesture, recite the following…” “June 8. Dear Diary, Today I…” Wait a minute, what? He slid the plain, black, leather-bound book back off the top of the pile and opened it to the first page.
Today I decided to take a prestige class: Mystic Theurge. You’ll be happy to know that now you’ve got a Glyph of Warding on you that only lets Lawful people open you, so I can finally write in you without worrying about Mother or Mizuki reading anything! Ha! They’re going to be so pissed when they try…
Hinjo closed the book, feeling a little guilty. He was also curious, though: How did a Lawful girl’s (he assumed that it was mostly girls who kept diaries) diary end up among the belongings of criminals? Had someone stolen it? Had she changed her alignment and… brought her now useless diary with her while committing crimes? He shook his head. That didn’t sound very logical. Whatever had happened, this book would certainly be of no use to Vaarsuvius or anyone else, so he set it down on his bedside table and finished making the pile of spellbooks.
He gave the diary a glance as at long last he crawled into bed. Very strange… If he found some time tomorrow, he might have to investigate it further…