Garl led us to a small outdoor cafe. I ordered a salad, with some shrimp and breadsticks. They gave me a small bottle of wine to drink with it.
Garl, Aaron and Con did more talking than eating.
Sharon looked lost in the past. Apparently Thanatos had been different in her memories.
Sharle and Azza sat with her, but let her reminisce in peace.
I had nothing to offer anyone, so just ate quietly, wondering what TripleMind would do, now that the trail had once more gone cold.
Sharle was suddenly up, running to the end of the table, she returned with a tall thin woman. "This is my mother; Astarte, meet James Argus, our latest HellGate Keeper."
I stood quickly. "Honored to meet you, Star Moon Queen." I bowed.
She smiled. "Thank you, I hear that like Shannon, yours is an active HellGate."
"Yes, I fear so." I answered.
Garl smiled at her. "I don't suppose you have heard anything of Esdra?"
"Only that he somehow got into a feud with Garth, the Botanist over Belladonna." she replied. "Makes no sense to me."
"Might, Thanatos turned him into a living, immortal zombie." Aaron told her.
Astarte shook her head. "How cruel, even for that one."
Sharon sighed, but said nothing. Sharle rested a hand on her arm gently.
Astarte wandered off, as we went to pay the bill.
"Garth next, I guess." Garl didn't sound encouraged.
He led the way down the street to an Herb Shop. I recognized the proprietor from Shannon's HellGate room. He was the man who rented her cave.
To our amazement, he was talking to a zombie!
A uru cage instantly formed around the zombie.
Garl walked over to face the dripping, yet somehow solid creature. I could tell that he'd once been in far better shape, and even as he was, he still was holding together well.
Thanatos curse had truly been a cruel one.
His eyes were still whole, and dark brown. He faced Garl without a word.
What little was left of his hair was blond. He wore tight swathings, and a cloak over them. He was plainly trying to hold himself together, and out of sight.
Garl sighed. "Thanatos was crueler than usual. Have you learned any way to combat this?"
"While laughing like a braying donkey, Thanatos asked if I'd ever seen a reverse gate. I have no idea what it means, and no one I have asked did either." The Zombie replied quietly.
"I do. You have probably been in one; the Talon HellGate goes from left to right; only one I know about." Aaron looked thoughtful.
"We will send you through it, now explain why you did all that crap at Castle Talon; calling and trapping alien slime worms that poisoned the place, all that fungus, and the horrendous way you murdered poor Armorial?"
"I didn't want to go to Hell, and knew nothing about gates." Esdra answered. "and that child needed company. The creature below was just as lonely; I know nothing of any poison."
"Oh yes you do" Azza confronted him.
Esdra looked at Garl. "Use telepaths now huh."
Garl's expression was disgusted. "In other words, you didn't check. We will send you to Hell, and I don't need a gate. You have earned that form, keep it. Try to learn to think of others, and I will know how sincere you are."
The Traveler vanished. Any more trade and travel he would do, would be done in Hell. I found it very appropriate.
I was sure that my castle held many other puzzles, but at least Esdra was no longer one of them.