The creepily animated man with the bulging, yellowed eyes watched intently as the dock workers tied up the ropes to secure the small caravel in place against the wharf. The vessel had made it to the port of Sarande just as the sun was setting, and now the night sky was filled with twinkling stars as the dim magical lighting of the city street lamps began to flicker on. Many of the business signs were similarly lit, giving the entire place a rather disturbing air. People further down the waterfront were gathering at small outdoor bistros to eat, oblivious to the activities of the strange man who compulsively ran his hands together. He wore a leering sort of smile, and had a distinctive hunched back that made his neck seem far too long. He had been compared favorably to a vulture, although rarely to his face. His name was Vlerësues, and he was one of the Witch Queen’s most favored henchmen. He was the Procurer.
The Witch Queen’s latest acquisition was aboard this vessel, and Vlerësues had been nervously anticipating its arrival since it had left its home port a week ago. The cargo of this ship was special enough to have warranted a number of precautions and now that it had made it to Sarande it was the job of Vlerësues to make sure all of these precautions had been met. He had stood by with his customary nervousness as the decoy cargo was unloaded and hauled off to a nearby warehouse. It was several hundred bales of cotton, the finest available from the land of Arcanum. Buried amongst this freight was a bronze strongbox bound with a milky silvery metal that seemed to glow in the moonlight. Although only the size of a suitcase it required two strong men to carry awkwardly down the gangplank. The captain of the ship smiled as it left his vessel, and a strangely dark-skinned man with a turban and a flowing mustache followed the sailors as they carried the box to the warehouse. Vlerësues quickly led the way, anxiously grinning around his arms to make sure they were still behind him as he hurriedly shuffled along.
Once inside the warehouse Vlerësues led the men and their precious cargo around the bales of cotton and other freight that had been stored here to an open area in the center of the large main room. Around the edges with their backs against the stacked merchandise stood a ring of twenty heavily armed soldiers. It was apparent even to the casual observer that these were undead, and they had on elaborately embellished armor over their skeletal bodies, with great helms that boasted plumes of feathers on the top and pinpoints of orange light that shone through the eye slits. On their shields were the sigil of their matron, the Witch Queen. Vlerësues motioned for the two sailors to set their cargo down in the middle of the space, and then impatiently waved them away. They had no further desire to be any part of whatever was happening, and they happily obliged, almost running from the warehouse.
The mustached man stood with his thumbs in the sash that held his white robe in place. With a thick accent he said, “All is as you asked it to be, Procurer. The item has been secured in the mithril bonds and has not been touched since you first chose it from the relics of the tomb.”
Vlerësues held up a finger and said in a coarse whisper, “I will pay you what is owed after the item is verified. Open the box, please.”
With a shrug the man in the turban said, “I cannot, sir. The enchantment will only cooperate for the vassals of the Witch Queen, for it is her magic that bound the box and its occupant.”
Rubbing his hands Vlerësues cackled in such a way that the man in the turban took a step back and checked to make sure he had a quick route of escape. The Procurer bent down and laid his hands on the two mithril bands that wrapped around the box. With little more than a wicked grin to signal his intent, the strongbox silently began to open, slowly as if to prevent what was inside from leaping out suddenly.
Gazing into the box Vlerësues began to drool, and without a thought wiped the spittle from his chin as he looked at the mustached man in the turban. “This is entirely acceptable, here is your remaining fee.” He tossed a velvet bag to the man, who caught it and tucked it into his robe. “You can go now.” and Vlerësues gave the man the same dismissive wave that had sent the sailors scurrying out. The man in the turban bowed, and wordlessly took his leave.
Vlerësues reached into the box and carefully, as if picking up an infant, withdrew from it an exquisitely carved diorite statue. It was as smooth to the touch as a pebble from a riverbed, and despite the size of it Vlerësues handled it as if it weighed a mere fraction of what its material would have warranted. He turned the statue over in his hands, admiring all aspects of it. It was a bipedal humanoid figure that had the legs and hooves of a goat, the torso and arms of a well muscled man, the claws and wings of a dragon, and the head of a goat atop a long neck. As detailed as the statue was, the face of it was almost imperfectly smooth, as though the creature wore a mask, or the sculptor had purposefully aimed to create a vagueness in the visage to suggest some secretive aspect of the entity which had been sculpted. The pose of the statue was one of standing in preparation, the wings straight up in the air. Maybe the entity had just landed from the sky, or maybe it was trying to warn the viewer of impending danger by assuming a stance that indicated imminent action.
“My queen will be pleased with you, Lord Betapsi.” Vlerësues whispered hoarsely to the statue. “Most pleased indeed.”