Dawn. Sun crested over the sheer peaks of the Fharentir Mountains, pierced the green leaves of the terebinths, and sparkled through the playing waters of the steams below the Skybound City. A tower of polished stone stood astride the crystal-colored falls that plunged to the valley below. Intricate coronets gave way to a sweeping balustrade of silken marble. There, Vaeylena, daughter of Vaesanor, Acolyte of the Goddess Dalyndera, was sneezing her fucking brains out.
“My child, come closer.”
Vaesanor lifted his daughter’s chin, alarm etched on his normally impassive face.
“This is an affront,” he said. “A crime of sacrilege. No one is to lay a hand on a priestess, let alone my daughter!”
Vaeylena pulled away. “Say what?”
“Your eyes,” he said, his voice breaking. “You’ve been struck, bruised, wounded.”
Vaeylena looked skyward and sighed. “It’s congestion, okay? My sinuses are making my skin all saggy and gross.”
Vaesanor frowned. “What is a sinus?”
Olomar flung his blade onto the council altar, the metal clattering sharply against the stone.
“We will take up the quest!” he roared. “The council’s proclamation be damned!”
The assembly murmured its consternation. Such a bold declaration could only proceed with the presence of a High Priestess. All eyes swiveled to Vaeylena.
“Yeah, see, here’s the thing,” Vaeylena said. “The forest is, like, full of leaves?”
“Of course it is!” squeaked Branhilda the halfling. “It’s a forest!”
“Well, maybe you don’t have hayfever out in your bucolic little dirt-houses, but get me into a forest in springtime and you’re looking at a wicked bout of bronchitis.”
“Can’t you just…hold it in?” Olomar said.
Vaeylena scrubbed at her watering eyes. “It’s not exactly that simple,” she ground out. “Does anyone have a clump of spiderweb or something I can wipe my eyes on?”
The assembly went silent. Vaeylena sneezed.
“Gross,” said Branhilda.
Fortunately, the town that was to serve as their waystation boasted an apothecary, a tightly-packed corridor of a building crammed with every size and shape of bottle and jug imaginable. Vaeylena jingled the coins in her pocket as a grubby, stout human emerged from behind a curtain.
“I need sobting to unstuff my node,” she said.
“I NEED SOBTING TO UNSTUFF MY NODE,” she repeated, angry. “Id’s snot city ub in dere.”
“I see,” the apothecary said. “Well, I have essence of bitter snaproot, ground lapidinaria, a tincture of purple star-blossom—”
Vaeylena groaned, or attempted to, as the groan quickly became a phlegm-laden cough.
“Does any of that hab pseudoephebdrine? Antihistabines?”
The apothecary frowned. “What is a histamine?”
The cavern of the Dragon of Eld’Ramar. It raised its black heights beyond the sight of even the sharpest of elven eyes, and receded further than even the strongest of dwarves could throw an ax.
But all that vastness mattered not to the Dragon of Eld’Ramar. Its senses were tuned finer than the edge of a Morgundian blade. One footstep, one intake of breath, and its firey breath would sweep out and scorch the intruder into a—
Vaeylena regarded the apothecary with suspicion. “What is it?”
“I have a new cure in,” he said. “I think it will aid you.”
He pulled out a small package.
“Now, you can only buy one dose at a time,” he went on. “And you must affix your identifying seal here, and sign your full name on this roster of parchment.”
“All this rigamarole for a stupid tonic?”
“Yes,” the apothecary replied sagely. “I think people make meth out of it or something.”
Tugging her sacred seal from between her breasts, Vaeylena sighed and stamped it on the parchment. The apothecary took her coin and handed her a small bundle, along with a three-foot roll of parchment.
“What is this for?”
“It’s your receipt,” he said.
“For one purchase?” Vaeylena held it up in disbelief. “This is, like, two sheep’s worth of parchment!”
The apothecary shrugged. “Take it up with corporate.”