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This morning my maid Dariella came to me all a-twitter with the news that there was a lizard-woman at the door, asking for me and insisting it was urgent. There aren't many Argonians in the City, and it occurred to me this might be a relative of Seif-ij, sent with some dreadful news about Morian, so I donned my University robe and hurried down.
There was indeed a young lizard-woman waiting in the street, clad in a fetching spidersilk jumper adorned with intricate spiral designs. She said her name was Lifts-Her-Tail (which I thought must be a joke, but who can tell, given these reptilians' impassive features), and she'd been sent to bring me to her master, Desh-Wulm the Perspicuous. She said she didn't know what it was about, but it was a matter of some urgency, and she was to lead me to her master immediately. I nodded, nervously, and followed.
The Argonian lass led me out the Temple gate and down to the Docks, far out on the end of which we found a curious old house I'd never before noticed, with a dark sign by the door that read "The Xanmeer"—a word unfamiliar to me. We went inside to find a large house entirely occupied by Argonians, a dozen or so who seemingly lived there using all the rooms in common. Everywhere I looked I saw Argonian hangings, sculptures, and fetishes, all made from natural materials such as shells, bone, and feathers, glowing with bright spiral and geometric designs. If these objects were representative of what the Argonians used in their home regions, then snakeskin, tortoise shell, jagged teeth, turquoise and jade, all of which we would consider exotic materials, must be commonplace in Black Marsh.
Lifts-Her-Tail led me up a ramp that had apparently replaced the house's staircase. On the upper level she introduced me to a humid room that, to me at least, smelled of decay and mold. Coughing, I entered, discovering a room almost entirely full of potted jungle plants—some of them seemingly long-dead and rotting. I stepped on something that squished beneath my sandal and stepped involuntarily back, but the lizard-lass gently took my hand, drew me past a wall of ferns and into the center of the room.
There, incongruously, I discovered a large porcelain Nibenese bathtub, like the one in my own vanity chamber, though this one was filled almost to the rim with a noisome, greenish mud. And lying in this mud, nose barely above the surface, was the oldest Argonian I'd ever seen.
In fact, the withered and wizened lizard-man looked so much like a mummy I was startled when it opened its mouth and spoke. In a voice like creaking leather, the reptilian slowly said, "I am Desh-Wulm. You are Al-Phid, Brightest Star of the City. You are welcome in my uxith—my nest."
He seemed to be looking someplace over my shoulder, and I saw that the old lizard's eyes were clouded over with an opalescent film—he was blind. This infirmity was somehow reassuring, enabling me to regain my self-possession and fall gratefully into the routines of etiquette. I bowed—though he couldn't see it—and said, "I am honored to be received into your home, venerable Desh-Wulm. How can one such as I be of service to an Elder of Wisdom?"
"You can beware!" he croaked, scaled hands emerging from the mud and levering him up on the rim of the bathtub. "Your dryskin mages—the weft unravels about them," he said, more calmly, making an unfamiliar spiral gesture above the tub. "It is wrong. The Aurbic skeins should not be disjoined with intent of malice."
I had been around wizards long enough to guess at what he meant. "Morian?" I gasped. "And Divayth? They're in danger? What can I do?"
Desh-Wulm clacked his jaws twice, and then said, "You are capable. You must stop them. You will prevail. If not," three sharp spines rose up from his brow, "there will be ill dreams and serration for all who swim the river. Kaoc!" The old Argonian suddenly began thrashing about in the tub, spilling muck over the sides. "Theilul!"
Lifts-Her-Tail deftly picked up a jug that seemed to be made from a single insect's carapace, uncorked it, and poured some brown liquor down the old lizard-man's throat. "Go!" she hissed, pointing toward the door. "Do as he says! Now!"
I turned, ran out of the room, down the ramp, out the door, and back to the Imperial City.