I concluded haggling with Mother Zeb’oltha.
Her tower was a riot of dried herbs, a skeleton of some unknown humanoid, a collection of creatures in jars, a pentagram on the floor with snuffed out candle wax, the mounted head of a harpy. An imp floated in one of the jars and a raven perched on the back of her chair. The imp occasionally moved, possibly being pushed by the liquid, but possibly not. A bottle of wine—-a fine vintage I’d gotten from Ardwen or one of her friends the night before—-sat on the table, with a chipped, but functional clay cup in front of each of us.
Mother Z stared at me, her old and haggard face tense for a moment as she squinted. I do not think she could see well. “You haggle well, dearie,” she said and smiled. “I only took you for a little, you’re getting better. It must be associating with that Kassantian princess has improved you.”
“I still have much to learn,” I replied, somewhat guardedly, not quite sure what she wanted and none too sure about whether Ardwen could truly be said toimprove anyone. She’d always dealt fairly with me, but I knew about the entities she dealt with. Of course, perhaps that’s precisely why she always dealt fairly with me? I didn’t know.
She seemed to have an odd look in her eye as she shuffled back to her laboratory bench, leaning awkwardly on her cane. “I have something for you.” she looked at me.
The small imp twitched. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Mother Z doesn’t give things away. She put an old brass bottle on the table. The brass was so old it had almost become black with patina. I studied it.
“This item… is very old.” I looked it over, without touching it. The runes on its surface were nearly worn down but I could make out a few. I didn’t know what they were, but they’d looked familiar….
“It bears a prisoner.” She saw my hesitation. “You can pick it up, it cannot escape and will not harm you.”
I picked it up examined it more closely. I could almost make out the runes, and staring at them too long made my head swim, and I knew it best to stop. Some things are better left unread.
“It is the Prison of Salzacas,” she said.
My hand moved back as if away a flame. “Is… Salzacas inside?” I got control of myself quickly.
She laughed a long and hearty laugh, “No, child. Truly I do not know who Salzacas is, or was, or why this item bears the name. So perhaps that is the name of the entity within. And I do not know why the entity is imprisoned.”
“What is it then?”
She replied, “It has some small uses, the entity within can be commanded to perform menial tasks, for instance, and for those of strong mind, other things.”
I still didn’t know what to make of this thing and wasn’t entirely sure. “Why are you giving it to me?”
She looked at me. “It is a mystery…” she paused, thinking “it is… fitting that one who is young have it, to explore its possibilities.” The imp stirred again and I would swear it peered at me.
“Where did it come from?” I asked her. I casually refilled the glass in front of her.
“I was gifted it in the Oblivion Bog, where I… ah….” She smiled a toothy grin at me. “I do not give my tale for free, girl, but well played.” She drank the glass. “To answer the question you need to know, it has become for me what it will and it has no more. Perhaps for you it can be something else, or perhaps you will simply bear it to its next tale and pass it on.”
She laughed again, “You are the teller of tales, not me.”
I picked it up. “I’ll be going now, thank you.”
“Come back and see me when you have interesting things for old Mother Zeb’oltha, dearie.”
I walked out into the night….