Post by Timeon on Oct 3, 2016 20:29:03 GMT
Prologue - I, Mennas
Dakara seated herself in the King's Box in the Grand Theatre of Nomesh. To her left and right sat the nobility, merchants and foreign dignitaries of their new day and age, which the academics and sophists had already begun to call the Restoration. The Restoration of not only the monarchy, but of much more besides, Dakara noted with deserved pride. It was the Restoration of Law and Order and of Tradition with them. And much of it had been her own work. It was, after all, why she was now sitting in the King's Box. For she had been more than just the Chief Justice of Gnomeland and more than just Mennas' friend. She had been a believer. God Is Dead. But the State she had helped to build would go on for ten thousand years. Her hammer rested at her side, an unstoppable force. And she was the immovable object. Tired hands rested upon the wooden theatre seat with a steely grip.
The lights dimmed. The curtains were drawn. She sat representing the King in his absence. But not really, for the King was never absent. The King was the State. But Mennas himself could not be here tonight, that much was true. He was not in Nomesh, but in Mennastur, the new capital of the empire, situated in the great valley of the Kern Mountains. There he would inaugurate the new High Academy of Magic. Today, the era of the Restoration would end, and a new age would begin.
Below, the Gnomish noble and playwright, Owenar Oreno, pranced onto stage. He addressed Dakara moreso than the crowd when he spoke, but Dakara was old and had been weathered into a figure of stone, betraying no sign of reacting to Owenar's words. She felt unseen and unobserved. She simply represented and judged.
"On this momentous occasion, we come together to celebrate twenty years of rule by the benevolent and almighty saviour of Sa Vard, Mennas Merniso, second of his name! But the King is not present with us tonight, as you all know. For our gracious King is about to open the High Academy of Magic in Mennastur. A national project as grand as the recently built city itself! For the King has long planned to bring magic into the home of every Gnome and Non-Gnomish Subject in this country. In twenty years, we have made it possible for subjects in Mafalgonia, Fiha, Tarqam and almost every other city in Gnomeland to view far-flung events from their own cities. It is but a taste of what is to come! The King will make every individual's life easier, safer and healthier with magic. It will not only be the rich and powerful who shall be healed and-"
As Owenar went on, Dakara allowed her mind to wander. Age, perhaps. But it was not aimless wandering. Her mind always came back to a bigger picture than one man's ramblings. She already knew everything that Owenar was saying, after all. As Chief Justice and former bodyguard to the King, Dakara always had to be one step ahead. Her mind went beyond the theatre, beyond the opening of the new academy. It took her to the wars raging around them. The rivalries. The succession. She thought of the security planning behind this event. She thought of possible threats to the theatre and to Mennas in Mennastur. But that responsibility had passed from her hands years ago. Not having control made her nervous. She looked to the exits. Gnomeland had many enemies. There had been assassination attempts. An event like this, particularly celebrated in the theatre and broadcast via Scrying to the nation... the 20th anniversary of the Restoration. It would be a perfect excuse. And there was so much left to be done, but she was running out of time...
"But let us not forget that another saviour of the world sits in our presence! Representing our monarch!" Owenar thundered, bringing Dakara's attention back to the room. "There is not a soul in this world not aware of the deeds of Dakara. The Hammer! Not the Hammer of the Gods, no! She walked beyond this world and saved it, and returned not as a believer in the Four. But as a believer in Justice that transcends the religious divide. A believer in the ability of every man to administer his destiny in accordance with the Law!"
Applause roared through the theatre even before Owenar had finished speaking. And that is why Owenar Oreno is the royal playwright and a minister of propaganda, Dakara thought. There was no angle left undiscovered or untried as regards championing the cause.
"Fuck you." Dakara mouthed down at Owenar Oreno, safely knowing nobody would hear her. Owenar Oreno knew how she detested that kind of attention. But he did it anyway. For the King. For the State. She understood him for doing his job. For serving Menas. But she still resented that aspect of the job. She forced herself to smile and waved at the cheering crowds and at the foreign dignitaries nodding to her sagely from the boxes to either side of her.
When the noise died down, Owenar Oreno put one foot before the other and cleared his throat, looking solemn.
"Today we celebrate twenty years since the Restoration, and we celebrate the opening of the High Academy of Magic in Mennastur with it. Let us remember the heroes who died to make today possible. Names which will live forever in our hearts, and in statues of stone. King Oberon of the Fae. Lord Marshal Teliana Tushina. Emperor Filippos, who was so dear a friend to King Mennas and to Gnomeland. King Clovis, who supported Mennas in his exile when all other rulers ignored him. A thanks to our dear Keshanite friends, and the sacrifice of Eldar Mogeen of Illidar!"
Filippos did not give a damn about Gnomeland, Dakara thought. But dead men could do little to prevent their legacies being misused by others. The list of names went on. Noticably, Whitemane's death was excluded. Mennas did never forgive him for being a Warden. At last, Owenar seemed to get to the point.
"Tonight, I will unveil my greatest work, written especially for this occasion. It is a play and a discourse, a work of art and a demonstration. We shall hear familiar ballads written by the great Matthias Swiftstrings, and we shall see very real memories of our great Rising Fire heroes, conjured onto stage with magic. Actors and veterans will come together to bring to tell the story of how it was that the Rising Fire saved the world. How King Mennas and Dakara rescued Gnomeland from Bura and her Wardens, and Sa Vard from Taronis and his Godshards!"
And as the propaganda raged, Dakara leaned back, already exhausted. Not only by age, but also by circumstance. The things she had done and seen, the objective evil that had broken her faith and religion... Only Mennas understood. Only Mennas had been there. The rest of the Rising Fire was gone, scattered to politics and to the wind. All turns to ashes and dust, Dakara thought. All save the immeasurable. All save the State.
Memories. Memories and books were what remained of a great many things. And as time pushed them ever forward, so too did memories fade. So brooded King Mennas Merniso II, who felt Dakara's absence by his side all too keenly. But there were new beginnings, also, Mennas reminded himself on this particular occasion. Beginnings... amidst the farewells.
Nonetheless, Mennas Merniso once more said
And he got down on one knee, to face his youngest child face to face, eye to eye. Green lynx eyes met his own, blazing emeralds framed by a tiger's face. His youngest, Merros, born a Rakshasa. It had been a shock to the nation as well as to his family. Many paladins and clerics had offered their advice, but it was only Dakara's which Mennas had taken in the end.
"Raise the child as he is indeed your own. Teach him as you would any other. And he will choose for himself the path ahead. Don't rob him of that chance. Ahriman could never choose. He taught us the importance of that much."
"Farewell, father." The Rakshasa hugged Mennas, paws closing around his neck. Here stood a child the sages prophesied could lead to great evil. Could. But Mennas had taught him of his nature, and of the ability to overcome it. And beneath it all, every time Mennas looked to Merros he felt a particular brand of guilt, one to which he could never confess. It was not guilt of birthing a Rakshasa from his wife's womb. It was the guilt of feeling proud when his son was born. Proud of the Hasir bloodline mixed with his own, to produce a being that was more than the sum of its parts, calling him father.
"I wish you could stand by my side for this, little Merros. I am going to miss you." Mennas promised, hugging the soft little creature with equal affection. Send your grandfather my regards. Kiss him on the cheek for me."
But the world had become cold and unsafe once again. In better days, Mennas would have celebrated his twenty years of rule and of marriage together with his family, with a gathering of Kings, Princes and Emperors. But the world was no longer united by a common enemy such as Taronis and his Clockworks. Now the enemy was one's own neighbour. To gather heads of state together was to invite terrorism and disaster. Especially now that the missing child of Empress Agatha III of the Atarite Empire, Garrel, had resurfaced after two decades with an army, conquering the city-state of Mullhaven and promising continental war. Charlie the Heretic had kidnapped him long ago, and it appeared that he had succeeded in raising the child as his Raven Prince, brainwashed into a destiny at odds with the Empire of Atar's existence. And in the south-west, Xhas'Wlef remained ever weary of the rest of the outside world, Talland being the sole exception.
No. Mennas would celebrate his twenty years with Scrying Mirrors and diplomatic visits, not with a gathering. And so he would send his family to Purrsia and his brother Morgan to the court of his bastard son, King Marley.
"I will see you in a few days, little Merros." Mennas cooed. He would enjoy Merros' youth while it lasted. Rakshasa grew up fast. There was a lot he had to teach the little Rakshasa before he reached maturity, to allow him to overcome his nature. Merros responded to no teachers, other than Mennas and Dakara. "I love you, Merros."
The Rakshasa smiled. "And I love you. Someday, father, I will honour you. By outshining you. I will fulfill your secret dreams. The ones you don't tell. Not even to yourself."
As the play unfolded before her, Dakara turned her attention to the scarce companionship in the King's Box. Chancellor Rolstein was there, of course, along with the mayor and a handful of other notables. But Rolstein was enjoying the lack of attention thrown his way. Dakara was unhappily absorbing it in his stead. The only face Dakara was happy to see was that of Ter of Keshan - now Terrence Kingsgrace, the Illidar orphan boy whom Mennas had adopted into the court. Dakara had raised him as a Lawyer-Paladin, by his own choice. The dark-skinned youth reclined thoughtfully, fingers clasped before him. His gaze followed the action on stage, absorbing the play, the expression on his face betraying critique. He was intelligent, and he did not waste words. And Terrence was the closest Dakara could have ever come to having a son.
"You seem sad." He reclined his head towards Dakara without actually looking at her.
Dakara was startled by the assertion. Terrence had always been able to read her better than anybody. But why mention it now?
"I didn't notice I was." Dakara grunted. "But I think you're right."
"Getting old, mother?" Terrence said, making Dakara half-jump from her seat at the term of endearment. He had said it before. But it always surprised her, and it made her uncomfortable.
"Look, Terrence." Dakara gestured with her chin at the play below. "It's obscene pomp and circumstance. Obscene because it tells a half-truth. It doesn't talk about-"
But the words left Dakara. She wanted to scream at Terrence that the Gods were a lie, but they had silenced her from ever speaking about what she had found beyond the Valley of the Damned. Only Mennas understood.
"... Owenar writes about what we faced. About what we did. What we saw. But the people around us. They only see the fireworks. They hear stories. They don't understand."
"They don't understand." Terrence said. "And that makes you... lonely."
He was grasping to understand. But he was managing. On the stage below, it appeared to all that a black robed skeleton held Gnomeland in a series of weaving strings. Bura the Lich. "People think we are safe now. But we are not. Great evil has been replaced by mundane evil." Dakara struggled for words, hand inching towards the comforting handle of her hammer. "We never understood what we were up against with Taronis. And we couldn't see how deep Bura's influence went. It was not any simpler a time. But you're right, Ter. I... I miss it."
"Old and lonely." Terrence said. He placed his hand on Dakara's, stopping her from grasping her hammer. Somehow, the human touch was better than the hammer's. Before them, the music blared, trumpets sounded, and an impostor Dakara brought her hammer crashing down on the equally fake Bura's skull. And the audience cheered.
Mennas Merniso stood thoughtful and shivering atop a lesser ridge of the Kern Mountains. Before him beckoned the great valley which divided the mountain range in two. It was a valley carved not by time, but by the near-thoughtless dredging of one of the Four Gods, who now, he hoped, were forever locked out of the world. Sa Vard was no longer the playground of gods, but of men. And towering from the earth before Mennas Merniso lay a new range of mountains. Smaller, yes, but mountains crafted by muscle and by the sweat of a wizard's brow. The new city of Mennastur certainly appeared like a miniature mountain range to him, and it appeared to have come out of nothing to anybody who remembered the Kerns as a quiet place.
It was time. Twenty years since his coronation. Twenty years since the Valley of the Damned. Alone at one of the higher points in this world, Mennas Merniso felt a surprising hollowness. He would be celebrating his coronation with the students and teachers of the new Academy, but truly speaking, he would be alone. He would not have his family with him nor friends, what few of those remained. Some small part of him still wondered if Kingship had been worth the price. The Rising Fire had parted ways because of ideology. The very world felt filthy at the tip of his tongue.
"We saved the world together, but we can't agree on economics and medals." Mennas blinked through a gust of icy wind. It had been his own choice as much as the others. There was no looking back. "Enough of farewells for today. Onward, to a new beginning."
His magic brought him into his splendid marble city, where his royal guards escorted him in a grand parade to the gigantic twisting marble palace that would serve as the magic academy he had worked his life to build. Magi presented the spectacle on a Scrying mirror to the world. The royal guard put on a show, their role as ceremonial as it was functional. They had been forged into three companies - one drawn from the elven nobles who had fought for his Kingship, one from Keshanite volunteers from at home and abroad, and one drawn from veterans of the Gnomish Army, many of which had fought beside him in the Valley of the Damned.
When they drew up to the academy, Mennas exited his carriage and entered yawning gates, to the applause of the select few who had been invited for his coming speech. The students of the academy were out celebrating and helping to create one of the greatest magical spectacles of the age, leaving only the teachers to witness his speech and personally broadcast it. Mennas took his place in the Great Hall of the Academy.
In Nomesh, Owenar's play was reaching a crescendo. A carefully placed mirror above the theatre now showed the entourage of King Mennas in his new capital. The play below it now spun to tell the story of Mennas' coronation twenty years prior. It rhymed, like poetry, Dakara thought.
It had all come to this. Every day was the expression of a lifetime of work, however mundane the day. But today was special. Indeed, a year prior, she would have been at Mennas' side. She still felt like she belonged there, but she was getting old. The generations she had trained were taking up the mantle. And all the work she had put into the dream she shared with Mennas had produced results. Yes, she did feel proud now. Relieved. There was her King. The Academy. The State. The Scrying Mirror had rescued her from Owenar's propaganda. It showed her the fruit of her labour. There lay Mennastur.
Terrence Kingsgrace clapped at her side as Mennas Merniso took his place in the Great Hall of the Academy in the Scrying Mirror above. On stage, a Fae pretending to be King Oberon was about to place a crown upon an actor's head. As Terrence clapped, so did the rest of the theatre begin to clap as well. And in Mennastur, King Mennas II rested a hand on the pommel of the Royal Sword, recovered from Taronis' body.
As Mennas stood staring across the crowds of wizards and sorcerers gathered before him, ignoring the applause and the music and the pageantry, his mind remained fixated on a dream. Before him he imagined his brother Morgan, clapping with the rest of those assembled. He imagined his wife Jezeth and his daughters, Minerva, Mafalga and Miranda by his side. Mennas imagined Merros cradled in one arm as he waved with the other. And he imagined Dakara, Rolstein and the Rising Fire cheering him on, too. Dorathion Ash, who had said so little most of the time, and yet had launched into the most extravagant speeches at the worst of times. He had hosted imperial ambitions, ambitions which might yet see the light of day with Garrel the Raven Prince opposing the Empire. He had been a friend. But politics dictated he keep his distance. Mennas imagined Brokk, too. Brokk, who had sought to diffuse any argument in the party, Brokk, who had acted as the heart and conscience of the Rising Fire. When he had become Lord Protector, he had stopped visiting Mennas in a non-official capacity. Gone were the skiing trips. The hunting excursions. It had become improper. Now Mennas imagined Hechin of Keshan, who had married him to his wife. Hechin, whose faith in his goddess had survived the Valley of the Damned, when Dakara's faith in far more real gods had not. And where was Richard? Richard, who Mennas was sure had learned to hate him, despite the times they had saved one another's lives. Mennas Merniso missed them all.
He stood alone before the world, and cleared his throat to speak. Pride tinged his blood, but bitterness stung his eyes. Regret. His father had never gotten to witness his success. He had missed a lifetime with his family and friends. But he had succeeded. And here he stood, twenty years later, a saviour of the world. All things have a price.
"People of Sa Vard." he hailed. "I speak to you now with a message of hope and love. Today I promised to celebrate twenty years since my coronation, as well as the victory of the Rising Fire over Taronis. But I have reconsidered, slightly. Today, I also want to celebrate twenty years of friendship, even though distance, death and the cruel circumstances of time have torn many of us apart. I am a firm believer, as you all know, of monarchy."
This drew laughter from the crowd, and Mennas raised a hand slightly for silence, acknowledging the jest, but speaking earnestly.
"But all the great Gnomish philosophers since Isichei and all of the great bards fundamentally agree that there can be no victory against the darkness without the comradeship of man. That is, one must admit, a very cliche way of saying the power of friendship triumphs over all."
Another wave of polite laughter.
"But, I am being serious. There is wisdom in the simplest of things. I want to speak to you today not merely as your King. I have a message for all beyond Gnomeland, and for the dear friends I hope are watching me now. What saved Sa Vard was the ability for people of vastly differing backgrounds to work together and overcome common differences. In the Horn, the kidnapped Prince Garrel has returned to bring about a new war. And however harsh, we must acknowledge the diplomatic friction between the blocks of power of Sa Vard that have formed in recent years. But I wish to press home one key point. That when we stood shoulder to shoulder against Taronis, men and women of all nations, our mundane differences were put in perspective. Let us not let the lack of a greater threat divide us. I miss you, Brokk, Richard, Dorathion, Hechin. I would like to-"
And then the world shook. A white scream, all encompassing. Reality itself was erased in a pulsing streak, expanding outwards. Dakara leapt up from her seat, smashing it as she drew her hammer. The Scrying Mirror in the theatre exploded, showering the actor playing Mennas with ruined shards. He flailed as one lodged itself in his throat. Children wept, both men and women screamed.
"Take me to Mennastur!" Dakara howled, voice shredded raw. She had suspected- Twenty years... Too opportune. No. No. She would not fail. Her duty. "Mennastur!" She howled out at the crowd for a mage, any mage.
But when she arrived in the city, the Academy was dust and ash. Memories. She spent two days tearing through the rubble, though the magi and clerics would have long ago found a sign of King Mennas II had he survived.
And on the third day, Dakara wept. Memories. Memories and books are what remain of a great many things. And as time pushes ever forward, so too do memories, and even legends, fade. And so began the Tragedy of Tannhauser. And new heroes would rise and fall, and many others after besides. And so it must always go.
Post by Timeon on Oct 9, 2016 23:25:39 GMT
Chapter 1 - Mennas' Wake
"The King is dead!"
The cry echoed throughout Gnomeland, and indeed, the world. And no sooner had Mennas II died, did hushed speech turn to the thought of what would come next. In the court of Foral'Tir, beneath an elvish roof of stone that was near primordial, the serfs cried "The King is dead! Long live the King!". They uttered thus before the throne of their own King, Marley. Marley sat with a brooding hand propping up his clean-shaven chin, his eyes sunken and thoughtful. He shed no tears for his deceased father. There would be a royal election in Gnomeland soon. A chance to join Foral'Tir with the fatherland that had initiated its colonization.
The viziers, merchants and barons in the ancient elvish palace toyed with their jewellery, knowing that their ambitions might yet find more fertile ground abroad. Staring into the darkening eyes of Marley, many guessed that he still struggled to escape the shadow of both his father and his namesake. For Marley Merniso had been born out of wedlock as Marley. St. Allister, and was thus dubbed Marley the Bastard. And Marley had been named after the disinherited ancestor who had signed the proclamation of the Republic at sword-point. "I named you Marley so that you might restore the honour and strength of that name, and outshine your namesake." Mennas had said. It was a desire which Marley shared, and remained as of yet unquenched.
Farther from home still, the family of King Mennas II, may his soul forever enjoy repose, was enjoying the news of its patron's death in the court of father and grandfather, Gazi Hasir the Serene. To the surprise of many, it was clearly the deceased's son, Merros Merniso who grieved the most. His Rakshasa tiger's face remained damp with tears for far longer than the face of any other. Even as he wept, his eldest sister, Minerva, was exalted in the royal court of her grandfather to the cheers of "The King is dead! Long live the Queen!" And she knew even then that her bastard half-brother Marley whom she had so loved and respected had just become her enemy most dire. Staring from the intricate Purrsian window and out across the Tradesea, she pondered Marley's first moves.
"The King is dead!" the world exalted, a great storm looming on every shore, its nature as of yet unknown. And as conceited minds turned towards a royal election, others suspiciously turned to the fact of regicide. For the King was dead - murdered by an unknown power.
"Dakara is inconsolable." Terrence Kingsgrace admitted. Outwardly, he remained with back straight, one hand clasping his belt regally. Though his head was turned sidewise to regard the King's Chancellor, Randolph Rolstein, his eyes were cast downward to make up for the height difference. After knowing Rolstein for twenty years, Terrence was sure that he had seen every aspect of the Gnomish Chancellor's personality. But this was something quite different. Upon the death of Terrence's adoptive father, Rolstein had not grieved for his friend in the same way as others. No, Rolstein was already looking beyond, at the greater tragedy, with a new kind of helplessness dulling his features.
"As she should be." Rolstein huffed. Then he seemed to slump, shoulders drooping along with his spirit and resolve. "But we need Dakara now more than ever, you understand. I need you to salvage her for us, Terrence. So she can in turn help us salvage Gnomeland. To save it."
"The King is dead." Terrence whispered, echoing the chants outside the Chancellor's Palace in Nomesh. "My father is dead." Adoptive father, he never ceased to remind himself. And such an adoption gave him no right to the Merniso name. Oh, he could stand in the royal election like any other noble. But would they vote for an adopted Keshanite? Moreso, did he want the position? Had Mennas lived another thirty years, perhaps.
"Can you help her?" Rolstein pressed, pulling Terrence from his thoughts and regrets. "You're the last one who stands any chance of doing it."
"I'll obviously try, Chancellor." Then Terrence added, hastily. "Try again, I mean."
When Terrence Kingsgrace had first found Dakara, he could not have hoped to stop her tearing through the rubble which had buried whatever was left of Mennas. The only few who had dared to try had regretted it. Returning to Mennastur after having consulted Rolstein, Terrence found that the immense pile of rubble that was the magical academy had been stripped of its search crews. A few teachers had been drawn from the ruins alive and were in care. It was rumoured that what remained of Mennas had been found. Approaching the perimeter, Terrence was stopped by a couple of the royal guards.
"Nobody approaches the King's resting place." he thundered. He was part of the elven contingent of the guard, and not a man who Terrence recognized. His partner, however, had a familiar face, and not just because he was a Keshanite. The Keshanite guardsman nodded at Terrence with recognition and respect. That aspect of the royal guard had always been more open and friendly to a fellow Keshanite countryman like Terrence.
"Kingsgrace." the guard hailed. "I am sorry, but we are following the Regent's orders. Nobody approaches the King's resting place. We cannot risk desecration."
And desecration was all too easy should a Warden or necromancer chance his luck, Terrence acknowledged. But one thing hooked his attention.
"Regent?" he asked.
"The Hammer. Dakara." the guard stated with reverence. "She has made her wish clear. No exceptions."
"Where is she?" Terrence pressed, noticing her absence all too keenly.
"In the Palace, Kingsgrace." the guard's tone implied apology. Well, she was the reason that Terrence was here.
" the guardsman said with a nod. Then as if remembering himself. "I am sorry for your loss, Kingsgrace."
"My-" Terrence began, then for what seemed like the first time noticed that his adoptive father had been murdered instead of just his King. "Thank you, Liad of the Dawnflower."
He had thought about it, of course. But he had tried to think of Mennas in a cold and distant way these past days. The man had adopted him off the streets of Illidar twenty years ago, had educated him, clothed him and fed him. But he had never been around much. It was Dakara who had raised Terrence. Dakara was his mother. He had never held it against Mennas, at least not to a great extent. In the past years he had wondered why Mennas would adopt him if only to pass him on to another keeper. On the day that Mennas had recovered the High Crown of Keshan from the Shadow Realm, Terrence had still been young. But Mennas had shown it to him, and had told him "Someday, mayhaps you shall wear it for me." Perhaps the truth of his relationship with Mennas had always been there, but Terrence had always chosen to ignore it.
Turning from the ruin of ambition and destiny, Terrence marched down the vast marble avenue of Mennastur towards its central spires - the crown that was the new palace - the artificial unbeating heart of empire. He entered into it practically unchallenged, in part because most of the administration of Gnomeland still took place in Nomesh, and the palace was thus understaffed. But it was also, of course, due to the chaos. With the King dead, there was very little to defend in the empty palace now. Only outside the throne room was Terrence Kingsgrace finally challenged.
"Ter." A figure far shorter than he rasped. It was a halfling woman he had seen a hundred times in the royal court, but with whom he had rarely spoken. She seemed to recognize him better than most, however. "Dakara is inside. Thank the Four you've come."
"Thank you-" Terrence paused only for a moment. "Astrid
She placed her hands on her hips, bold and on duty, but Terrence quickly saw past her. He had heard the rumours about her and Mennas. She certainly looked like this meant more to her than politics. He strode past her, metal runed doors opening to reveal the throne room of Gnomeland. The room had mostly been deserted now, too, save for a hunched figure seated amidst rows of vacant seats. She turned her head at the sound of the opening doors, Dakara's face grim, her eyes red.
"What are you doing here?" Dakara growled, tottering to her feet in one swift and solemn motion.
"I'm here for you." Terrence began. Her age had caught up with her in the past year. But this madness had claimed even more of her time on Sa Vard. She had never... stumbled. "Mother."
The word hurt Dakara as it always did. Acknowledge it, this once, Terrence begged. Now when you need to. He threw his arms around her, and only then at last did he weep for his adopted father. For Dakara's only friend. When they untangled their arms from one another, they addressed one another with a new gravity and respect.
"Terrence." Dakara sighed. "Did Rolstein send you?"
"Yes. But I would have come anyway."
Terrence looked back towards where Astrid stood watch.
"Why isn't the royal guard here?"
"I wanted to punish the security detail that failed Mennas. But they all died with him, Terrence. Those that remain are of no use here. Astrid is helping me coordinate."
"What will we tell Rolstein?" Terrence dared to ask.
"It has been hard... Yes. But. I am strong. Mennas and I both stood in the Valley of the Damned. Rolstein need not worry." Dakara said, fumbling for her hammer and slowly buckling it to her side. "I am already at work here. Doing my part. But I leave the politics to him. He does not need me for that. I will not be returning to Nomesh."
"And what are you doing, then?" Terrence looked about them, at the empty halls of kings and queens as of yet uncrowned. He ignored Dakara's obvious pain. Focusing on it would help neither of them. No, Terrence knew that the best way to help her was to keep her concentrated on the task at hand.
"Investigating. Protecting. Holding this country together in every way which goes beyond words. I leave the words to Rolstein. Javel and all our agencies are already at work to find who did this. Interviewing survivors. Interrogating. Scrying. Searching."
"And all the while, Terrence, it becomes clearer." Dakara searched his eyes for any understanding. "The levels of magical protection around Mennas should have made that impossible. The years of security preparations. The decades of foiled assassinations. There is only one stone we have left unturned all these years, one threat to which we were blind."
Terrence Kingsgrace now dared to guess.
"The Pillar of Light."
"The last sliver of Taronis. A power that goes beyond magical defenses. The power to level a city." Dakara clenched her fist and raised it high into the air, as if the Valley of the Damned itself was crumbling between her fingers. That was where the Pillar had last been used, by none other than Dorathion Ash. Not as effectively as it could have been. Some said he had slipped while wielding it... Ridiculous, of course.
"But then. The Empire? Reginald did ever hold a grudge." Terrence said, brows knotting. But it was not a true question. It could not possibly have been Reginald. Besides, the Pillar was supposed to have gone missing, though most believed it was a cover story for the Empire to keep it safely guarded in its vaults. "Or is it Garrel, the Raven Prince? If he has contacts in the Empire that could smuggle it out for him-"
"That boy needs allies. As mad as he is, he's wasted no time since seizing Mullhaven in attempting to court the Horn and the rest of Sa Vard for help against the Empire of Atar. This would not serve him."
"Charlie." Terrence theorized. The Tengu heretic who had led the world on a manhunt after him after kidnapping Garrel. Garrel claimed that he was dead, but many were not so sure.
"A possibility." Dakara admitted. "If he's alive. But even if he is, I don't think this would suit his agenda. I knew him well, Terrence. And I understood how he thought and what he believed. We tried to steal the Pillar together, once. During the Battle of the Clockworks. He would always have used the Pillar to destroy the imperial aristocracy. Not the Gnomish."
Terrence Kingsgrace was beginning to feel foolish. The obvious options remained, but he wanted to sound smarter than that. He did not have to say anything, however, because Dakara suggested the obvious options herself. Making him wish he had spoken his mind.
"It could have been the Wardens. Magelle Moraqshed
is the last of the old guard, and practically governs Remmeld. She would have the resources. The motivation. The Colonies could have been behind it, too. Unlikely, given their fear of Xhas'Wlef. They've ignored us for years. It's far more likely Richard did this himself, and don't doubt he isn't a suspect. As terrible as it is, we also have to consider that this action came from within."
"Within Gnomeland?" Terrence asked, taken aback.
"Or within the royal family." Dakara said darkly. "Morgan we can exclude. His one shot at Kingship in Cydonia was a disaster. I doubt he wants another more complicated run at home. No, we have to suspect Marley, or even Jezeth Hasir. Or another contender for the throne entirely. We will scourge the intelligentsia and commons for any hint of this regicide, Terrence. I would not put it beyond Abaddon or the Planes to have had a hand in this, either. Directly, or through manipulating mortal minds."
"Then hear me, Dakara. My sword is yours, as it has been from the day you accepted me into your order." Terrence fell to one knee. "Command me. I will help you find the murderers."
"Get up, Ter." Dakara said gruffly, and he did so, taken aback. "I trust you above all others. And the time will come when I need you. But for now, you must hide, Ter."
Terrence Kingsgrace took a step back. Dakara may as well have slapped him.
The word, as always, seemed a blow to Dakara in turn. And her reaction to his honorific stung him more than the request to hide. She placed a hand on his shoulder, a stony attempt to breach the void between them.
"You are in danger. You've seen the false sympathies of the hordes and pretty nobles. No doubt Rolstein is too deep in politics now to spare a moment of mourning for his fallen friend. This is the most dangerous Gnomeland has been since the Valley of the Damned, a time when there was no corner of the world that was safe."
Ter felt his shirt sticking to his skin, damp with sweat. And despite it all, he felt both hot and cold. The world he knew was falling apart. And he was being told to do nothing about it.
"But all the more reason to help you. Will you be hiding, just because it is dangerous? I will not fear these assassins. No matter their power. This Pillar of Light-"
"Enough. It's not the Pillar of Light or the assassins you need to care about, Terrence. That is what I am telling you. Not to hide from the bastards who killed our King. I want you to hide from the bastards close to home."
There was an edge to her usage of the word bastard. And Terrence was suddenly sure he understood her this time.
"You are not a Merniso, Terrence. But despite wearing the name, neither is Marley St. Allister. But make no mistake that Marley is going to do his utmost to become King of Gnomeland. Whether he was the assassin or not. And not only he will reach for the crown, but so shall his half-siblings, too. And Mennas' children are moreso Hasir than they are Merniso, Terrence. You are competition to them. If you attempted to stand for the Kingship, there are those who would support you. Electors, even. Marley is the most logical candidate, uniting two realms. But many fear what that would bring. It is elvish money behind the Foral'Tirian throne."
"But I'd never get majority support. I'm a foreign born human." Terrence practically shouted it. He had figured he might stand a chance at a royal election someday, but not as he was now. "I'm no threat."
Dakara drew back and then turned in her step, to gesture towards the dais before the Gnomish throne. Upon it rested the gilded skull of Bura the Lich, which Mennas had transformed into his crown. It had a mind of its own, forged by Brokk himself at Mennas' direction. It was a repository of Kingly secrets and knowledge, designed to serve Mennas' will in the interests of Gnomeland. And it was the final decision maker in the royal election, weighing all the support given to one candidate or the other, and the candidate's suitability for the role. It was Mennas' immortal will, designed to outlive him and guide Gnomeland in a most ironic fashion, given that it was crafted from Bura. There was Gnomish symbolism and philosophy behind it that Terrence had not dared to study.
But he understood what Dakara meant. Between Marley the Bastard and Mennas' Hasir children, the Skull Crown might easily upset the royal election by defying popular machinations or corruption by choosing Terrence Kingsgrace to continue Mennas' dream. And Terrence remembered once more what Mennas had told him upon recovering the High Crown of Keshan. "Someday, mayhaps you shall wear it for me."
And Terrence looked at Dakara with sudden agony and fear. Dakara shook him gently.
"It doesn't matter what the truth is. It only matters what they think. And you are vulnerable and young."
"Then I'm one of the few you can trust. You raised me, trained me. I can still investigate Mennas' death. And I can do so from the shadows. You damn well need me, Regent."
Dakara hesitated, and looked back at the eternally grinning Skull Crown. Bura's Skull.
"What do you think?"
The jawbone quivered slightly, and a voice that Terrence had only heard a few times oozed forth silkily.
"The boy is right, Regent. What he says would have been in accordance with Mennas Merniso. Do not let your soft spot for Terrence Kingsgrace prevent him from serving the Crown."
"The Crown?" Dakara asked. "You? Or are we talking about the State?"
A fine distinction, Terrence thought, when Mennas had always claimed that he was the State. The Skull was silent. For a moment.
"I merely advise on behalf of Mennas Merniso the Second, Regent. I exist to serve the State."
"The Skull has a point." Dakara kneaded her temple with a weary and wiry hand. "I can't protect you, Terrence Kingsgrace. You will be my hidden hand in this. I can't stop you. But I can, however, point you in the right direction. First, however, we have a meeting to attend."
"Yes." Dakara said heavily. "The first reunion in twenty years of the Rising Fire."
Post by kerrah on Oct 18, 2016 1:46:30 GMT
Chapter 2 - The Smuggler
Two days earlier....
TumTum sat on the deck of her boat and smoked her pipe. It was going to rain, soon. She puffed out smoke and kept her eyes peeled on the woods around her. She was pretty well hidden, and only one person knew she was here, but regardless it was better to stay alert. If any locals showed up, she’d need to think on her feet. She wasn’t prepared to kill for this job, but neither did she want to abandon the shipment.
Her vessel was a fairly small one: she could easily operate it on her own, with minor magic assistance on some of the ropes, and it could take her all across the Tradesea. She’d even sailed to Keshan once or twice in her eight years spent with it.
Gnomeland was her favourite place to sail to, though. The Gnomish coast was full of secluded little beaches like this, sheltered by jungles or forests or bogs. There were a lot of remote contryside fishing villages where people weren’t too strict about the royal toll payments (and paid with old Republic money, which was fun) or caves housing friendly Fey. And Gnomish cousine was the best north of the Teeth.
For this trip, though, she’d been expressly ordered to avoid any contact with locals, even those she thought she could trust. Her newest client was a bit shady, but paid well and provided work that TumTum found interesting. This was the second shipment she’d done for the same client.
There was a rustle coming from the bushes. As TumTum stood up, shaken from her thoughts, she saw the orc approaching. “There you are”, she called out. “I thought something might’ve happened.”
“Nah”, the orc said. She was very slender and wiry for one of her sort, and was old enough for most of her hair to be grey. She was dressed in a long dull brown coat and a hat, and underneath wore some very traditional Xhas’Wlefian nomad garb made of bull’s fur and a red silk scarf. At her hips hung a weapon belt, to which were attached two pistols. “Everythin’ go well?” She asked in her very strong inland Orcish accent.
“Yeah yeah”, TumTum responded. Her Orcish pronounciation was awful, but she knew her grammar well. “The Gnomish navy’s never been the same since the civil war. You’d have to be shooting fireballs in the sky to risk getting caught sneaking in, even this close to Port Fidelity.” It was an exaggeration, of course, but not that inaccurate. The kobold emptied her pipe overboard before moving to offer a hand to help her client on.
“Not really a good tactic for professionals to brag ‘bout how easy their job is”, the orc chuckled while boarding. Her reddish eyes were scanning the boat. “You have it?”
TumTum nodded. She was just a few inches taller than this orc, which put the client probably at exactly six feet. The smuggler gestured for the orc to follow, heading for the door to her cabin.
Her boat only had two indoor spaces: the cabin and a little storage room behind it. The vessel was altogether too small to actually ferry anything, which is why TumTum made liberal use of Bags of Holding, except when she was hired to smuggle a single item or person across the seas.
For all the results of the whole thing with Ahriman, one that had become very obvious to any sort of worldly types quick had been that all the countries in the world had began to monitor teleport travel more strictly. Most of the time you could just pop in to a major city without warning or passport, and it wouldn’t be a problem because there was too much traffic to screen every person. But every country did do the occasional blind check on an incoming visitor, just to keep travellers alert about anything troublesome they might be or bring.
And then there were big cases. People who had enough magic items on them to possibly cause major havoc were easier to detect, and those were always screened if they could be tracked. Such as people carrying five bags of holding full of illegal Purrsian mushrooms.
And that’s why the new age had given birth to a renaissance of specialised smuggling. People needed to bring things to various countries without running the risk of getting caught teleporting in with them. So far, there was no Alarm spell big enough to cover all the coasts of Gnomeland, so if you could sail in without running into the navy, you’d be fine.
TumTum stepped into her cabin and gestured at the chest tucked safely underneath her bunk. “It’s right there. My payment?”
The orc hummed a little, kneeling down and peeking inside briefly before giving a nod after seeing the contents. Without rising up, she put a hand in the pocket of her coat and tossed a little pouch over her shoulder. TumTum caught it and checked the contents. Twenty Gnomish platinum ingots. As good a payment as what she normally made in a year. She stepped back, grinning, and pulled one out. In the lantern light, it glittered quite beautifully. The shininess exceeded that of the silver ring around her finger. She started to spin it around her fingers, making it clink against the ring with every round.
“Everything fine in Tannhäuser?” She asked as the orc pulled the box out and set it next to the doorway, only to give a noncommittal shrug and grunt at the question. Sitting on the chest, she looked at TumTum. In her current position, she had to look up to meet the kobold’s eyes.
“Tell ya what? Since it ain’t likely we’ll be seein’ one another again, I’ve gotta ask. What’s the deal with yer size?” She tightened her scarf around her neck a little bit and crossed her legs, her body language utterly at ease. “I mean, is it ‘bout wanting to measure up in the world of us big folks?”
“Did you ever consider it might just be so that I can reach the top shelves?” TumTum said, surprised by the sudden question. The ship was built for a taller person, of course, but she’d gotten her size boost well before ever acquiring it...”Why would you want to be bigger, TumTum?” Richard asked distractedly, reading some reports from the mayor of New Mafalgonia.
The girl hesitated, her tail curling up between her legs as she tried to ignore the two notaries who were applying the right stamps to the papers her adoptive father had previously signed, and sealing them in envelopes. Her chin barely reached the level of the desk Richard was writing on. “I don’t like being small”, was all she could think of to say.
The human chuckled at that. When one of the notaries approached from behind to take another paper off his desk, he instinctively flinched, raising a hand to cast a spell, only to catch himself. He handed the paper over himself and frowned at the mayor’s letter. “When you’re older, maybe you’ll be a wizard like Immanuel. Then you can make yourself taller with a spell.”
“I don’t wanna be a wizard”, TumTum protested.
This caused Richard to lower the letter. “TumTum, you haven’t even tried yet. Your first lesson is going to-”
“No!” She cried and jumped up to snatch the paper from his hand. “I don’t wanna!” She ran off in defiance, chased down by Richard, while the two notaries looked in dismay.
“Besides, if I get in a fight with someone, I’d rather be able to meet them head on”, the smuggler added casually, still spinning the little thumb-long ingot around her fingers.
The nomad shrugged to that. “I s’pose. Knew an ogre once that got hisself shrunk. Got tired of not fitting in houses.” She chuckled again. “Anyways, last thing I need is a signature. The boss says this here contract’ll bind you so you can’t tell anyone of the deliv’ries.” She took out a folded piece of parchment and got up, walking toward the desk.
TumTum scratched her chin. “Not very orcish, but I didn’t think you were working for orcs anyway. How about we practise savannah tradition and get a stiff drink when I sign, huh?” She gave a little grin. Dragonbreath Rum would wash the unpleasant memories of Richard off her. “I’ll get my bottle. Wait just a second.”
The orc opened her mouth to protest, but quieted down and sat down in TumTum’s stool next to the desk, a bit awkward. The kobold walked into the other room, which she used as a storage space. The air here was surprisingly musty, as some container must have been leaking. Wrinkling her snout, she opened the little round window at the end of the space. This caused an immediate draft, which slammed the door of the room closed behind her.
The loud slam was followed by a sound from the captain’s cabin, of the orc hastily standing up. And then, a tiny clinking sound. TumTum frowned. Moving through the dark cabin silently, she pressed her eye against a hole in the wall. After a moment of blindness, she saw that her guest had pulled out both pistols and readied them for fire. Aiming at the door between the two rooms, she began a slow approach.
TumTum hesitated. She considered calling out and saying everything was fine… except that this woman had gone to this with next to no hesitation. There was no conflict on her face. This had been the intended conclusion of their meeting from the start.
The kobold snuck backward very slowly, and sat on a crate underneath the tiny shuttered window she’d pushed open. She brought up her hands and quickly pulled off the silver ring around her finger. All at once, her body shrunk down, until she was under four feet tall. Her clothes were baggy around her, but she tried to pull them tight as she pushed herself through the opening onto the deck of the ship.
She fell on her ass with a thump, and immediately tried to put the ring back on. The door between the cabins was kicked open with a mighty crash, and two gunshots went off, the bullets flying through the wall right above TumTum. They’d have hit her if she’d been standing. She scrambled toward the shore, all the while growing back to her preferred size.
The orc fired after her thorugh that window, but the awkward angle saved the kobold again. Jumping off the boat, she rolled onto the sand and then rushed for the dense forest. Her pursuer had to turn back and run out through the door of the captain’s cabin, and by the time she was out in the cool evening air, her prize had already ducked in grass.
Instead of continuing to run, TumTum lay in the mud, still and silent. The orc hadn’t seen which way she’d gone, or if she’d hidden underneath the boat, for that matter. She watched as the nomad reached behind her back, underneath the coat, and pulled out a long telescoptic tube that extended to almost three feet in length. She put it underneath her eye, and pointed it around the treeline. The kobold swore the beating of her heart was going to give her away when it fell on her, but then it passed on. Finally, the orc gave up and put away her bigger gun.
As the woman vanished inside the cabin once more, TumTum had to resist the urge to stand up and run. The sounds would just have given her up. Instead she cralwed backwards until she had proper cover, and could reliably hide. Her body behind a fallen tree trunk, she spied on what came next.
The orc brought out the cargo, carrying the trunk with quite some ease, and carefully carried it off the boat onto the shore. She kept looking around herself, ready to grab her guns should an unseen kobold rush at her. TumTum didn’t even have her axe right now. That was carefully tucked underneath her mattress back indoors.
The mysterious false client vanished indoors for a bit longer, and then emerged once more. She carried the trunk further from the boat, to the edge of the forest on the other end of the strand from TumTum. Then, she turned around and tossed something onboard.
An explosion went off. Huge splinters of wood flew in every direction, and the ship broke in two. The mast fell down onto the strand, and TumTum saw several of her earthly possessions scatter in every direction. Angry, she bit on a branch extending from the tree trunk to keep herself from making any sounds. Past it, she saw her attempted murderer back up and pick up the chest, carrying it into the forest, one hand on her weapon belt.
The kobold felt conflicted. If she tried to go scavenge her possessions, the orc might catch her. It might all be a ploy to lure her out. There was no way she’d just given up. Securing that chest was probably first priority, but catching TumTum could be nothing but the second.
“Shit”, she cursed silently under her breath, tasting the bark. She backed up and started to slowly creep deeper into the wood. “I can’t believe she wrecked my boat.” Out of all the insults possible, that had to be the worst. A captain was supposed to go down with their boat.
The city of Zig wasn’t too far from here. That was probably where the orc was headed, but there weren’t really many other places to go. It was big enough to vanish in, or to find a ship headed out of Gnomeland, or a coach going inland. TumTum scratched her ass and adjusted her pants, which hadn’t gone back on properly when she’d grown bigger again. “I guess there’s nothing else to it”, she muttered and took a southernly bent. With any luck, she’d enter Zig right after the orc, and find a way out while her pursuer was disposing of the cargo.
While she walked, TumTum wondered what this was about. She’d figured that the orc worked for King Mennas, to be honest. Stealing things from Xhas’Wlef for some plan, or for military reasons. But this didn’t seem Mennas’ style. And surely the King of Gnomes wouldn’t need to maintain such a high level of secrecy from his own countrymen? Surely he could have guaranteed a way to bypass the border security? It made no sense.
A wind was picking up, and soon it started to drizzle. The trees gave some cover at first, but eventually they began to leak as well. TumTum’s shirt was getting wet, so she decided to call it a night. Reptiles like her didn’t do good if they were cold and miserable. She soon found a little hole in a ground, and reluctantly took off her ring to crawl in and hide.
Irrespective of the size-changing spell, she’d hadn’t felt as small in years as she did that night.
Post by kerrah on Oct 23, 2016 1:00:53 GMT
Chapter 3 - The Pursuit
Ulias hemmed and hummed as he dug through his trunk of herbs, his eyes squinted. He had delicate fingers for a dwarf. Picking deftly through the little pouches, he felt each in turn and then finally gave a pleased nod when he felt the little nubs inside one of them. Picking that, he moved back to his chair and extracted three tiny seedpods, adding them into the miniature cauldron on the table. A little cloud of smoke rose from the liquid, smelling of mustard.
“There we go”, he said in a pleased tone and tapped the rune of the little metal plate underneath the cauldron, which caused it to stop emanating heat. What wonders these gnomes thought of! “That should clear your throat right up. Just give it a moment to cool down and I’ll pour it in a mug for you.” He inhaled and breathed in the fumes, which his customer did too.
She fidgeted in her chair a little bit and asked in a slightly hoarse voice: “I’m sorry, but you’re not a local, are you?” She spoke good Gnomish, which Ulias did too. He’d trained before being dispatched here.
“No I’m not”, he admitted. “I am from Turnia.”
She seemed surprised. “Turnia? All the way beyond the Teeth? You’re a long way from home, aren’t you.” He nodded. She took a moment to cough up some phlegm, tightened the scarf around her neck, and said: “I didn’t know they have dwarves down there.” She spoke very formal, plain Gnomish, Ulias could tell. Exactly like the neutral pronounciations from his learning books, rather than the nasal accent of this town of Zig. Maybe she was using a Tongues spell. She didn’t look much like a spellcaster, though.
“Our ancestral stories say our people travelled across an underground gauntlet, in fear of something so great they dare not even speak its name”, Ulias said, his voice going into a hush, like he was telling a story over a campfire. “Some were lost from us, and wound up in Keshan, where they were enslaved by the Efreet for a while before being freed and accepted among the locals. My clan rose above ground in Turnia, and that is where they’ve lived since.” He leaned back and reached for a mug on the shelf beside his chair.
While he was pouring the herbal tea in, his customer put ten solid gold marks on the table. It was way beyond the price of the treatment. “I saw that Turnian ship docked up. None of the sailors speak Common or Gnomish. If I wanted to get on the ship, could you arrange that?” Her voice was still hoarse, but there was a sudden shrewdness to it. While Ulias mulled over the question, and weighed each coin in turn to be sure they weren’t false, she took the mug and drank almost half of it in one go, pouring the near-boiling liquid down her throat without so much as wincing.
“Maybe”, Ulias said. “I’m actually staying in Gnomeland for a while, as you can see from all of this.” He gestured at the room around them. It was a loft room above a dyer’s shop. Here he’d be able to sell some cures and spells while he got started on the mission he’d been sent on. “But I could ask the captain about it…”
The woman took a more moderate sip of her cure. “I’m sure you had a cabin coming in here, so there has to be some room on board”, she reasoned quietly. She wasn’t really coming across as desperate. There was a sort of predatory glint in her eyes. Ulias hadn’t paid much attention, but he didn’t think there were any other foreign ships docked up right now. Winter was a dangerous time to pass through the Gap, and in places further north, even the sea froze during midwinter, or so he’d been told. Most vessels out of Zig went to elsewhere in Gnomeland.
“I’m, uh, I’m sure my cabin’s empty”, he said, a little put upon by her insistence. “The first mate may have claimed it, but I’m sure space won’t be the problem.” He hadn’t taken the gold off the table yet. “Is there something I should be worried for? You’re not wanted by the law, are you?” Others might have been more delicate with it, but Ulias didn’t like to toy around lke that. And besides, when he was nervous he often got very blunt.
The woman gave a little grin, now, and finished her tea before responding: “No I’m not. Thank you for your help, brother dwarf. I think I got everything I need. You can keep the money.” She set down the mug and stood up.
After flinching at the sudden movement, Ulias slipped off the chair he’d been sitting on and made a placating hand gesture. “Wait a minute. If you need that cabin, I can still have it, I’m sure. If… if you have problems with the law, don’t worry, I’m not beholden to the laws of Gnomeland. I’m sure if it’s nothing too bad…”
She moved away from him and picked up her coat off the armchair in the corner of the room, next to the big closet and pulled it on quite aggressively. Those two strange weapons at her hip glittered in the lamplight. Ulias had seen something like them on sailors from Xhas'wlef, but these were much more intricate work. “Don’t worry, I think I can handle myself”, she said while buttoning the coat up at the front. “But tell you what, if someone else comes asking to see if you can get them a ride out of here on that ship, have them wait here while you go talk to the captain. But instead of talking to the captain, you’ll find me. This person I’m looking for is really dangerous, and needs to be delivered to the right officials.” She grinned a little. “Understood?”
Ulias looked the orc up and down a bit hesitantly. He tugged on his beard and smoothed his shirt. “Uh… well, I suppose I will. What do you mean by dangerous? Shouldn’t there be a full on manhunt?”
“That’d just make her hide in some cellar or flee back into the woods”, the woman said, her voice cracking from the sore throat. “For the good of everyone, just come to me with her, all right? Someone I talked to said she was asking about that Turnian ship, so she might come here.”
She waited long enough to see his confused nod before leaving his room. Her bootsteps going down echoed through the house. Ulias looked at the mug on his table and scratched his scalp before moving back to his chair. He hopped on it and gave a little sigh, leaning on the table.
“She’s gone”, he said. The door of the closet opened up and the kobold emerged.
“Thank you”, she squeaked in a hushed tone as soon as she emerged. “I could have sworn she’d heard me when she came for her coat.” She shook herself up and had to visibly restrain from stomping her feet.
“What are you wanted for?” Ulias asked, starting to run out of patience. “She’s probably still in shouting distance, you know.” He gave her a level stare over the tabletop.
The oversized reptile looked mildly offended. “I’m not wanted for anything. She just wants me dead because I helped her with something illegal. But, uh, the illegal thing’s nothing serious. And none of the officials know about it. So she wants to kill me to hide it! And I think she might be working for the King!” She looked around a bit conspiratorially.
Ulias shook his head. “You’re not making any sense. Who is this orc?”
The kobold hesitated, sneezing a little from the dust of the closet. “I don’t know. She contacted me a couple of months ago about making two deliveries from Xhas’Wlef. One to Minaerum and the other to Gnomeland. But as soon as I deliver on the second, she tries to kill me and blows up my boat!” Her at first measured voice turned frantic as she went on. “So please, please, please, can you get me on that ship without being seen? I’m sure you have some sort of invisibility spell… or flight would be all right too…” She was sounding incresingly desperate.
“I’m a priest, not a damn wizard”, the dwarf answered. “And I don’t even know whether to trust you. What if she’s telling it right?” He wished he’d prepared any sort of divination spell to ask the Divine Tempest for guidance.
“I swear to you”, the kobold started, only to be cut off by a hugely loud yelling from the street. Someone was using a loudness spell. This was unusual: Ulias hadn’t heard anything like this in his week here. He hesitantly got off his chair and dragged it to the window, opening the shutters to peek out, standing on the chair. The fugitive stayed away, looking irritated by the interruption.
“Citizens, please stay calm!” A voice was crying in Gnomish outside. It was a woman sitting on the shoulders of a half-human to be seen over the crowd. The business street outside was very busy at this time of the day, so there were hundred of people turning to pay attention now. “The King is dead!”
A gasp went through the crowd. Ulias furrowed his brow. What was this, now? The king? But he wasn’t even old. Behind him, the kobold remained still.
“The new wizarding academy in Mennastur has fallen victim to some sort of attack”, the woman delivering the news said, her voice echoing over all the people shouting questions or calling her a liar. “A flash of pure white light. We don’t know who it was or how they did it. Some other members of the royal court were caught in it, but King Mennas’ children and wife are thankfully alive, as well as Chancellor Rolstein…”
“A white flash of light?” The kobold asked. Ulias turned around and saw her approaching, a blank look of shock on her face. “A flash of… oh no....” She stepped at the window next to the dwarf. “We need to go there. I… I need to talk to someone. I don’t know who.”
“What do you mean?” Ulias asked, confused. He tugged on his heard. He could barely hear the kobold over the shout of the crowd, and the announcer trying to calm everyone down.
“They… she… someone used the… used my delivery to kill him”, the woman said. “Mennas…” Something about the way she said the name sounded vaguely familial.
Ulias opened his mouth to respond, only to see something in the corner of his eye. His hand thrust up and he grabbed the kobold by the horn and pulled her down, throwing himself off the chair. As they fell onto the floor, a bang went out in the crowd.
“It’s her!” He shouted, watching the bullet hole in the ceiling right above the window. In the moment of chaos, he wasn’t thinking about whether this kobold was actually some sort of dangerous criminal. He acted without thinking. Quickly scampering on his feet, he started running for the door out of the room. “Come!” He shouted over his shoulder when he burst into the hallway. The kobold moved after him, staying in a low crouch in case of more bullets.
Ulias led her through the opposite door into the master bedroom, where the dyers lived. He could hear the orc’s pursuing bootsteps in the floor below already. “Open the window!” He said to the kobold urgently upon making it to the far wall. He couldn’t reach the hooks.
She opened them with shaky hands, taking a nervous glance at the open doorway behind them, and then climbed out to the windowsill without any need for his orders. Without thinking, he climbed onto it after her. By the time he was on his feet, she’d already jumped across the alleyway below onto the roof of the next building over. Just as Ulias threw himself after her, the orc screamed “WAIT!” behind him.
He landed on the wet roof tiles, but thankfully kept his balance. The kobold was already running ahead of him. As he started after her, he heard a shot from behind. A chimney he was about to dash behind had a brick fly off, along with a cloud of dust. The next shot flew somewhere into the air and didn’t have any visible effect.
Everything blurred together. Every roof he jumped made the dwarf think this would be the one where he’d fall and break his neck. Every time he lost sight of the fugitive kobold, he thought he’d lost her. Every time the sounds of the orc’s pursuit came off behind him, he thought he was about to be shot now, or grabbed for interrogation.
Then suddenly they ran out of roofs. The kobold was at a halt ahead of him, looking forward uncertainly. He skidded to a halt and hastily grabbed a chimney for support, breathing hard. They were at the docks. The street on their left was too wide to jump over, the way to the right was blocked by the wooden figurehead of some decommissioned ship now attached to the roofline of an inn facing the sea.
When he turned around, he saw the orc. She’d stopped, and glanced at them around a corner. At some point, they’d wound up on the third floor level, which made the idea of falling down even more dangerous than before. But this inn was four floors high, so they couldn’t climb over it either. As Ulias looked for a window to break in through, the orc shot at him.
The bullet hit him in the upper thigh. The kobold was right behind him, so she’d probably been the intended target. His hold of the chimney came loose, and for one terrible moment he hung over the fall down to the cobbled dock below.
The kobold grabbed him and pulled him behind some cover as best she could. They weren’t well hidden, though. “Are you sure you don’t have any flying spells?” She asked amongst panicked pants.
“No”, Ulias said. His leg was bleeding badly. He held her back, and muttered an incantation. A warmth leapt out from inside him, and the two of them glowed briefly. “Come”, he said and limped toward the edge of the roof.
He threw himself into the air using his good leg and heard another gunshot behind him. He jumped as far as he could, hoping against hope to make it. The docks zoomed past him below as his body tilted forward, face lowering. The grey stones turned to something dark just a moment before he hit it. It was the sea. The impact hurt him, but not nearly as much as the stones would have. He lost all orientation for a moment, and he could barely see anything in the grimy dock water. But he could breathe. Thank the God of Sails, he could breathe.
His companion fell into the water next to him, and he grabbed her, making sure to swim what he thought was downward to avoid letting her surface. She got the idea after a second, and even realised what spell he’d cast earlier. There was no real way to communicate, so they just swam to the bottom of the dock and slowly made their way away from the orc. The salt water made Ulias’ leg burn, but he didn’t stop kicking it.
There were no more gunshots that he could hear, and he saw no sign that the orc had followed them into the water. Those weapons of hers didn’t work here, he reasoned.
Using his superior dwarven vision to guide them, Ulias guided the kobold across the dock. He considered trying to find his own ship, but the orc would probably go there next. So instead, he went in the exact opposite direction, as well as he could figure it out, and reluctantly surfaced them next to a small fishing boat. The cold of the winter sea would kill them soon otherwise. He helped push the kobold onto the unoccupied vessel, and had to be helped up himself.
He healed his leg with a spell, and then used another to make their bodies resistant to the chill of the air and the water in their clothes. The kobold kept muttering hushed thanks to him.
“There’s no way she’s able to just hang around, not after firing those things in public in a crowd”, Ulias pointed out. “Everything’s in chaos right now, but in ten to fifteen minutes, she won’t be able to walk the streets in open anymore.”
“Yeah…” The kobold said unsurely. “Look…”
“I’m coming with you”, Ulias said. A strange inspiration had come to him. Had his God spoken to him through the salt water in his beard? “I… I could use a favour by the royal house. Let’s get dry clothes, and try to find transport to Nomesh or… whereever. My... my name's Ulias. Initiate of the Hierophants of Wavebreak Rock." He offered his hand to shake hers.
"TumTum", she muttered, apparently not quite knowing what to make of him. "Even if this bitch has to escape the town, how do we know if she won't wait right outside the city gates, or if she's not bribing her way to your ship right now..." She sounded a bit hopeless.
"I, uh, I may have left out earlier that there’s a scroll of teleport in my room, just in case", Ulias said.
From the sour look she gave him, it was almost like he hadn’t just saved both of them.
Post by kerrah on Oct 25, 2016 17:53:01 GMT
Grikka grunted in anger and jumped another roof to escape the view of the people gawking below. She climbed down into a empty alleyway. Her tongues spell was running out soon. She dug through all the items in her pockets, and then took out a wand. She pointed it at herself and took the form of a human.
She walked amongst the people rushing this way and that. They were looking for her. She muttered angry curses in Orcish under her breath. Really harsh ones. She hadn’t used them in years.
Boss would be mad. Boss would be very mad. Grikka had failed to track the kobold, and now she’d let her slip right past her fingers. She reached a hand down and squeezed a gun-grip in frustration.
Someone approached her to talk. When he opened his mouth all she heard was nonsense. So much for tongues. She ignored him and went down the street.
“This is a shit job. Who cares. Nobody trusts the 'bold anyway”, she muttered under her breath. “Boss can track her down if he wants.” He had magic. She’d tried using a wand to locate the kobold, with a spare shirt taken from the boat to enhance it. But kobolds were slippery little things. “Lucky little git.”
She shivered at her own choice of words, and headed for the Turnian ship. Maybe they’d surface there.
The hobbo pointed his boom-tube at her and grinned. She scrambled backwards and managed to get on her feet, but he had a clear shot.
He pulled the lever, but the thing did not go boom. It simply went click, and nothing happened.
He looked down at the metal tube angrily, and then tossed it aside, reaching for his sword. “Lucky little git”, he cursed as he came at her. She launched herself forward and buried her hunting knife in his eye socket.
"Lucky little git." She’d been the lucky little git once. It sucked having to kill the kobold, but orders were orders. Boss didn’t want any loose ends.
She emerged out of the alleys in the lower docks. It was the shittier part of town. The Turnian ship was docked here. She eyed the people moving around, and casually walked forward. No sign of TumTum or the dwarf. She gritted her teeth and stopped at the front of a tavern. A tengu with a lute was standing there, just finishing a Gnomish ballad. A few people clapped their hands and tossed him coppers. He bowed.
Grikka procured a fat silver and asked in near-perfect Tengu: “Do you know ‘The Lone Road Shared’?” She couldn’t help but smile a little.
Oggo drummed his palms against his chest as they rode uphill out of the savannah, homeward. She whistled the tune, while he sang the words. Neither of them spoke the bird tongue, but the lyrics were easy to remember even as nonsense. The rhytmic swaying of the saddle beneath her kept applying pressure to her crotch, reminding her of the break they’d taken. The choice meats of the beast she’d slain were neatly packed in her bags, and their mounts had eaten the rest. The sundown moon hung over the distant mountaintops. It was a good omen, and it had been a good day.
“Everyone in Sable knows that song”, the tengu responded, a little offended, only to then realise the language they were speaking. He gave her a polite bow. “And you can keep the silver. I would never charge for playing this.”
As he started plucking the lute strings, she sat on a barrel next to him and staked out the ship. His baritone voice sounded almost uncomfortably like Oggo’s. She shivered a little and tightened the scarf around her neck. Her throat was starting to hurt again. As miserable as she felt, at least she had the song, and the comforting knowledge that The Richard was promised to her. When they had the chance and it fit the plan, Boss had promised she could kill him.
And maybe if this kobold pissed her off enough, she’d change her mind about not using her to lure him out.
Post by kerrah on Oct 27, 2016 12:52:45 GMT
Chapter 4 - The Break-InThis is awful!
Robin’s telepathic voice rang through Lenona’s head, as she paced back and forth in the alleyway, chewing on some horros root. It had taken them a while to get used to the telepathy, but by now she could act completely nonchalant when they communicated, not even slowing her pace or moving her eyes.Stop whining. The faster you push through, the less you have to bear it.
She spat out a wad and leaned against a brick wall for a moment, glancing out into the street, and onto the building opposite of her. The Embassy of Remmeld wasn’t very big, but it looked fairly imposing with its continental castle-like aesthetic and the big viridian coat-of-arms emblazoned above the entrance. No guards were visible from the outside, but when she’d scouted the place out she’d found out they always had at least four people keeping an eye on it. Probably even more of them today, with the special guest visiting.Why is Magelle Moraqshed in Tannhäuser anyway?Well, that’s one of the things we’re here to find out, isn’t it?
Robin made the tone of his thought-voice a markedly patient one. She hated that tone and he knew it, but she couldn’t exactly blame him for being bitchy right now. He was the one crawling through the sewers to infiltrate the embassy, after all.So do you think this has to do with King Mennas?
The news of the tragedy in Mennastur had arrived in Tannhäuser early this morning. Lenona didn't really know what to think of it. She'd never met the gnomish king, though Robin had, briefly. He'd always had a more positive view of Mennas than Lenona did: it probably came from growing up in the shadow of the imperial might in Orsad.
Maybe. Ever since Tobelias McGarth was murdered, Moraqshed’s never left her home in Remmeld. But why here?
Maybe there’s some Warden business in Tannhäuser?
I don’t know.
Lenona leaned away from the wall again and resumed pacing. Her hand lowered down to the double-scabbard hanging from her hip. The weight of it felt reassuring. It was on her left hip, one sheath angled normally to let her pull the sword out with her right hand, the other in a more sharp angle so she could free it with her left. Having scabbards on both sides of her waist had made it awkward to run or move around, so she’d custom-ordered this a couple of years ago.
She remembered when she’d first wanted Brokk to teach her how to use two weapons. He’d laughed and said that lots of young people her age thought two swords was really cool, probably thinking she’d grow out of it. There were a lot of things he’d thought she’d grow out of when she was fifteen. With a fond smile, she brought up a hand to touch the little wooden figurine of Brokk hanging around her neck from a cord. She’d had it for over twenty years now, and she'd known exactly what she wanted to do with her life since the day she got it.
“Now who’s this supposed to be?” A sharp voice called out, making her let loose of the figurine and instantly lower her hand to the scabbard once more. Half a dozen people were approaching her down the alley. Street punks, by the looks of it. Two were half-orcs, the rest were assorted pinkskins. All were dressed in tattered clothing, and some were brandishing knives.
“I’m just here to take in the scenery, fellas. Nothing to worry about”, she called out to them and made sure to show them she was carrying steel. As much as she’d love to get into a fight right now, the people at the embassy might hear it and be alerted.
“Too bad for you”, a particularly ugly half-elf with practically no chin said to her. “Piss off. We’re meeting someone here.” They were about five paces from her, and remarkably unintimidated. Sometimes Lenona wished she was as big as Brokk was.I’m emerging out of the sewers, thank Atar. Have they left the embassy yet?I saw the secretary and the archivist leave twenty minutes ago, but no sighting of the ambassador, Magelle or the guards.
Thankfully Lenona could answer the question without taking her eyes off the punks. She sighed a little and moved her left hand up to a pouch amongst the folds of the hip-cape on her right side. She pulled out a simple oaken magic wand and showed it to the gangsters. “Take one step closer, and I’ll be forced to use this.”
They hesitated, and looked toward the elf with uncertainty. He spat in front of Lenona’s feet. “It’s a bluff”, he said and started forward.
Lenona instantly flicked the wand. No perceivable effect happened, except that when the goon’s boot hit the paving stones, no sound came forward. She dropped the wand and unsheathed her swords. Everything in the alley had gone completely soundless. Some of the criminals looked alarmed or dismayed, but the presumed leader tried to charge her to try to get the first blow in.
She easily sidestepped his blustering approach and hamstrung him, shoving him down to the ground. His mouth opened in a silent scream of pain and his knife went flying. From the corner of her eye, she saw one of the others try to come at her from behind.I’ve turned back to my human form and cleaned myself, Lenona. Do you think it’s safe to try to sneak around?
She spun around and freed her left hand sword too. She didn’t want to kill these guys, necessarily. Just teach them a lesson. So she backed up and brought her swords between herself and the assailant. He grid to a halt to avoid running into them, and ended up falling on his ass. She kicked him between his legs and glared at the remaining thugs, who all turned and fled the scene.
Yeah, I doubt they’re expecting anyone to show up. Just be careful, and if you come across anyone, turn back into a rat and hide under a carpet or whatever.
Being both a wererat and a druid gave her companion Robin a double tap of transformative properties. Not only could he turn into a dog-sized wererat, but also a regular, tiny one. That’s why he was sneaking into the embassy, and she was on stakeout. He was a bit of a dweeb, but she loved him all the more for it.
She sighed soundlessly and sheathed one sword, using the freed hand to yank the shiv away from the guy she’d kicked in the groin, and then to pull him on his feet and shove him away to follow his friends out. He cooperated. That only left the boss. She regretted actually cutting him. He was still lying on the ground grasping his leg to try to stop the bleeding.
Sighing again, she picked up the wand she’d dropped earlier and put it in her little pouch, instead procuring a tiny healing potion which she gave to the goon. She glared at him silently, and he looked at the drought with suspicion for a moment before drinking it. As his wound started to heal, she shifted the sword in her hand restlessly.See anything?
I’m still in the first floor. There’s sounds of talk upstairs.If you get caught, tell me immediately. Even if you think you can run away, just tell me, okay? I’ll distract them to help you out.Yeah yeah.
Knowing Robin, he’d try to play it cool and wouldn’t tell her if something happened. He always thought she couldn’t handle hearing about those things. Sometimes he drove her crazy. She pulled the half-elf on his feet and kicked his ass to send him on his way. Hopefully whoever they’d intended to meet here wouldn’t cause her trouble too.
Lenona moved backward until sound returned to her, and then faced the entrance into the embassy once more, glaring at it from the dark alleyway. She sheathed her remaining sword, and contemplated the brutes. This town was a shithole, but it was one of the only places that hadn’t seen any fighting during the civil war, so most ot the trade had centered here, and a bunch of refugees had grown it into a festering scumpile surrounded by ramshackle slums. A lot of people made the comparison to Mafalgonia, but at least in Mafalgonia the criminals kept order in the slums. In Minaerum the gangs weren’t even strong enough to do much more than fight each other, causing even more death and misery.Say what you will about gnomes, but even gnomish criminals have a head for order and principles.What’s that got to do with anything?Just thinking. Sorry, I’ll keep it to myself. Anything new?Two guys walked past me. I had to turn into a rat again. I found a crack in the wall and I’m making it to the second floor. There’s some shouting up there.Shouting?Yeah. I’ll check it out.
She worked her throat a little to produce the horros root pulp that had slid down her mouth during the scuffle and chewed on it some more. It had lost all its flavour, though, so she spat it all out in a big wad and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. Brokk had been very upset with her when she'd gotten into this stuff, but she figured everyone deserved one vice. It still made her feel a bit bad.
Most of Lenona’s time as an adventurer had been spent in dungeons or saveguarding VIPs on the road, but she actually enjoyed these urban romps quite a lot. She wasn’t the most stealthy person, but it always proved a nice change to interact with targets in ways other than fights to the death. Brokk had told her when she was young that fights were surprisingly rare, and were usually over in moments, but she hadn’t believed it back then.Lenona! They’re fighting!
Who? Who’s fighting?
There’s someone here. He’s killing them! Lenona, he’s killing her!
Killing her? You mean Magelle?
She’d dead. He’s killing the guards. Atar have mercy, they’re all dying.
She realised she’d started jogging toward the main entrance of the embassy while listening to what he was saying. She could distantly hear the sounds of battle coming from inside. Before emerging out of the alleyway, though, she halted. Others could hear this too. If she ran in, she might be tied in to the murders. Lenona grabbed a drainpipe an hesitantly backed up.Does he see you?
No, I’m inside the wall. They’re all dead, Lenona. He’s killed them all, even the ambassador.
Who is he?
Some elf. He’s picking through the bodies, making sure they’re dead.
Elf? He was probably a mercenary of some sort. If this was an Eral’tirian or Foral’tirian attack, they would have masked his race. Lenona paced wildly back and forth and took out more horros root, starting to chew on it furiously as she waited for more.Magelle’s alive! He’s talking to her. He’s… he’s saying her clone is dead too.
Clone? That’s an old Warden trick, from the Gnomish civil war.
Yeah. She asked him if Mennas sent him. He just laughed. He’s… oh shit, it’s not an elf.
It’s an outsider. He revealed it to her and then killed her. She’s dead for good now.What sort of outsider? Robin? Answer me!
She bit her tongue by accident and flinc
hed. Some people were approaching the front door of the embassy now. Employees from the printing press next door. She needed to get Robin out of there.Robin, you need to leave. People are coming. What sort of outsider?He’s leaving. Turned back into an elf. I need to check Magelle’s guest room. See if there’s anything there.No, Robin, you need to get out before someone sees you. Gods damn it, just leave! And what sort of outsider was it?
He went silent. She punched her palm in anger and started running toward the embassy’s front, all the while telling herself it was stupid. However, as soon as she emerged from the alley, the handful of people knocking on the front door let out a gasp when a window to their right exploded outwards in shards. A youthful elf with a smirk on his face jumped onto the street and ran away from the scene. He paid none of them any attention, even as someone shouted after him.Shit.What was that? Is he attacking someone again?
Lenona ran after him, and ignored Robin to the best of her ability.Lenona? That’s happening, are you fighting him?
She grinned with glee and leaned forward, sprinting rapidly and ignoring the questions, speeding after the assassin down the narrow evenfall streets of Tannhäuser, the sickly sweet taste of horros root and the iron of blood from her bit tongue mixing up in her mouth.
Post by Timeon on Oct 30, 2016 19:59:39 GMT
Chapter 5 - The Warden
"No. Not a chance." Pike said, raising his hands palm up into the air. "You've got the wrong guy."
His pork-eyed cousins groaned and jeered across the table. The smell of mutton, beer and bad sex hung thick in the air. Korff's features were the result of orc blood in his family. When a Xhas'Wlef Gnome had orc features it was usually the result of an orc raping a Gnome. Pike had no doubt that Korff's Gnomish ancestors had been the ones doing the raping. Pike had taken measures not to get involved in this sort of crowd, to keep his nose clean and work his way up in the world. Pike read his textbooks, worked his job at the magic shop, part of the Whitemane chain, and had now landed a spot in the new magical academy of Mennastur. Tomorrow he would be gone from Serral for good. Tomorrow the academy would open. He had come to say bye to his cousins, and now his cousins were trying to get him involved in their 'family business'. Again.
"It's bigger than a few jobs this time." Korff gestured like the nutter he was. "It's a chance to stick it to the Man, Pike. The Man! We have weapons, you hear me? We have a benefactor. Somebody big. Bigger than Turnus Kasel ever was, Wlef rest his soul. There's going to be riots. Riots, Pike! And that's the beginning. Read my lips. People are pissed. They want a republic. Death to bluebloods, we say. This is going to be big."
"The Hell you want me for? Cantrips?" Pike looked between the faces of his gangrenous cousins, their missing teeth, their knotted eyebrows. There were unfamiliar faces here, too. The strangers were unlikely to be deeper into the ring of mischief than Korff and the rest of his brood. Since the mass migration of Gnomes from Xhas'Wlef to Gnomeland, the city of Serral had changed. The Xhas'Wlefian Gnomes had mostly chosen to settle in Serral out of all other Gnomish cities, because Serral was the place most like Xhas'Wlef. Or so it was thought. The uneducated simply said so because Serral had the most 'monster' races out of all Gnomish cities. But the orcs here were different. They wore top hats and monocles, they did business and they could read and write! The Stepfathers had built a castle on the heights of Serral, funded by the Crown. But not to civilize orcs - they were here to recruit orcs for their own ranks. It was the Gnomes here who needed civilizing.
"We need you." Korff preached, hands on the table. "Because this is more than a job. I said that already. We're joining the Movement. Honouring our roots. Listen to me, Pike. We've got weapons. Gunpowder weapons. There's going to be riots. A revolution, maybe. It could spread if we set an example. We have a Master now. And the Master wants more people on the inside. You're going to be in the magical academy, Pike. That's big. It would be good for us."
"You're going to ruin this for me, Korff." Pike was on his feet in seconds. "Don't need none of this. I'm out."
"There's no out, Pikey." Korff was on his feet, too, but Pike was heading for the door already. The hot breath of his family stank up the air, but Pike was heading for what was fresh. "You're one of us. You were born a Warden. You gonna die a Warden, Pikey."
"I'm no Warden. Neither are you." Pike shouted back, stepping into fresh air and the violet evening light. Looking back at his misshapen cousins, Pike managed one last thing. "You're not a revolutionary, Korff. Not a republican. Not a Warden. You're New Braveport shit, like your dad. A criminal. This is Serral. We can be better than that now."
"We aint done here, Pikey. Come back, please! We've got former NSA agents with us! Gunpowder, flags! Flags, Pikey!"
The door slammed shut behind him.
Pike opened his eyes and blinked away the crust of his life. As he adjusted to the light, the vaguest hint began to creep in that something was terribly wrong. It struck him abruptly, filling him with a terrible panic. Pike had overslept. Trembling hands and lips thrust a sliver of magic into his wardrobe, drawing his newly tailored clothes out and on top of him. Clawing a jacket from his face, Pike could not help but think that the world was about to end. He had studied all his life for this moment - for the opening of the new academy of magic in Mennastur. He had passed the exams and interviews and proven himself to the academy's great magicians. And if the light leaking through the window told him anything, he was now several hours late past providing a positive first impression. First impressions were important, he had come to find.
"My life." Pike pondered. "Must be a Wlefian comedy." Truly blessed.
Trying to avoid getting his pants on his head with his magical party tricks, the young Gnomish wizard heaved open his window and floated gently down into the cobbled and humid streets of Serral. It occurred to him that he still had one more Haste spell memorized from yesterday - and then he was off, the crumbling buildings turning into a blur of light as he galloped towards his employer's magic shop for a teleport. Leaping over a dumbstruck Goblin, Pike contemplated his mixed fortunes. As he ran, though, he began to notice that Serral seemed more eerily empty than usual. His pace slowed as he instinctively tested the humid and misty jungle air for some sort of threat. No extra sense tingled in warning just yet. What he felt was dread, yes, but not from any particular source. It was as if all of Serral itself was waiting.
His eyes inevitably drifted up to the citadel of the Stepfathers on the heights above. Up until a few years ago, it had been a ruined jagged mansion, utterly abandoned to vegetation and time. Then the damned Minaerite Paladins had come, bearing the maroon tabard of gauntlet and axe. With magic and muscle they had raised a fortress above Serral, raising their banner for all to see. Dakara the Hammer had been one of them, once. But she had renounced the Gods in favour of the State Cult. A mystifying decision to some, but it was just common sense to Pike. A rarely rung bell echoed from the citadel above, knocking the droplets of damp from every wall and window in Serral. Another bell rung from towards the government palace by the sea. It had served a mayor once, but was now home to Towas
, rewarded for his services to the Crown and made Duke of the city. Whether he ruled here or the Stepfathers remained unclear.
The bells were met by a voice, a Clarion Call that was loud and clear, appearing as if from all directions.
"To your homes, citizens of Serral. To your homes. Curfew is immediately imposed upon the city. A state of national emergency is hereby declared."
Pike slowed in his steps. Then stopped. The few citizens out and about began to hurriedly disperse. A hushed murmur of frightened gossip began to bubble up from the alleys and doorways. The jungle humidity and fog seemed to only grow thicker along with the panic in Pike's chest and in people's eyes. The town watch began to emerge in the nearest squares. Pike hesitated - caught halfway between home and the magic shop. He decided to press on. If he could get to Mennastur, he could get clear of the mess, join the academy, fulfil the dream-
A throng of town guards appeared onto the same street as him, marching towards him. No, not towards him, he decided. But he was in their way. Their uniform was a confused mixture of ceremony and duty, tabards, scarves and sashes mixed in with chain and iron. They were a gaggle of orcs, half-orcs, gnomes and even a few kobolds. Pike stepped aside, back hugging the sagging walls of some house.
Then a loud bang rang through Serral. The leading guardsman's face - a human - caved in, then jettisoned a fountain of blood through the back of his helmet. He crumbled violently into the arms of the comrades behind him.
"The King is dead!" a voice rang, as loud as the Clarion Call from the heights. "The King is dead! Long live Bura! For the Republic!"
Chaos engulfed the city. Some doors were thrown open about him, goblins and scar-faced Gnomes brandishing boomsticks. Guards erupted in blood and metal in the heart of the street, before throwing their shields up and meeting the assault with a twang of crossbow bolts. A door slammed open near Pike's head, and a one-eyed dwarf burst out brandishing an axe. He leapt towards the guards before a crossbow humbled him one last time. Time did not hold still for Pike. The Haste was gone, but time sped up no less. Arrows and bullets flew as a revolution broke out in the streets of Serral.
Screaming from a nearby street meant that it was not just this avenue. Stone exploded near Pike's head, and that was all that he needed. He threw himself to the ground and began to crawl towards the nearest alley. Somebody stepped on him en route to a violent demise. The chaos grew to a crescendo behind him, and then another explosion of hot air. Risking a glance over his shoulder, Pike saw the aftermath of a bomb or fireball leave the street littered with bodies. Then a glint of steel - and a wall of shields cordoned off what was visible of the avenue. The Stepfathers had arrived. Pike hid and prayed. To anyone who would listen. To the dead King himself if he dared to answer from the heavens or hells. When silence descended, Pike found himself herded by stone-faced soldiers into a city square. Most who joined him there seemed just as confused as him. One man in particular was, however, less confused than the rest. Korff, led by a black-clad half-orc.
Korff pointed him out, ugly and bruised face wet with both tears and blood.
"He's the one!"
The black-clad half-orc nodded grimly, and metal gauntlets wrested Pike from the crowd, dragging him towards Korff. Another pair of hands grabbed Pike by the face, wresting his gaze from Korff. To meet the ebony eyes of the black-clad half-orc.
"Do you know who I am?"
"I feel like I should, sir." Pike somehow managed between squashed cheeks.
The half-orc leaned in close.
And Pike prayed.
Post by Zula on Oct 31, 2016 13:35:35 GMT
Prologue - II Part 1, Richard.
20 years before Mennas' Wake
In a camping tent hours after saving the world, Richard Cipher sat before a desk, while outside, and not too far off, the people cheered for the Rising Fire for saving the world. A few months ago he was a slave being sold at Braveport. Later he was a revolutionary and a criminal. Today he was a hero and tomorrow he would be dictator of Xhas’Wlef. But for the past hours he spent his time writing, delicately, carefully and with luxury of detail the most shocking revelations he had found in his adventure. He needed to do it, he at least needed to try and express all the terrible things he saw and knew. But once he finished the last sentence, placed the last dot and looked at his work in anger he decided to scorch it to cinders, he grabbed a piece of paper and wrote clearly and perfectly ‘’Wlef is dead, the gods are a lie’’ only to see he instead drew a picture of Aedelfelt playing with a string ball. He crumbled the drawing in his hand and crushed it against the table, then he looked towards the sky, and cursed as he had never done before, everyone around would hear him of course but no one would since they were busy celebrating and even if they did listen to him no one could place meaning to the words coming out from his mouth. For the first time in the past months he realized the identity of that lingering feeling that stalked his heart.
Panicked, he tried to run away from that feeling but he found himself thinking of Charlie, who had betrayed him and disappeared from his life burning down all the bridges. He thought of TomTom his best friend, and how he could never share with him the terrible truth he discovered. He thought of his Mother whom he dearly loved, but he was terrified the lingering traces of bitterness he felt for her would never disappear. He thought of his daughter, who he barely knew and adopted for a magical translator and of the reincarnation of the man who had just tried to destroy the world, just to name his latest and final crime. He had truly attempted to save him, but there was no option the gods had fucked up his existence from the first moment.
And then he thought of the Rising Fire. They had ended slavery in Talland and saved the world showing the world they were not the mercenaries and traitors they thought. But for all their praise he could not forget how his comrades enthroned a madman on the defunct throne of Gnomeland, and wonder if maybe their adversaries had been right all along.
He thought of Mennas, Atar damned Mennas.
He grabbed his chair and reduced it cinders with the burning heat of his palms, he fell on his knees and began to pummel the floor with his punches. He resisted the urges to burn the tent to the ground, to blink out to some remote part of the world and rain lighting, fire and whatever would come out from his Atar damned bloodline on it.
But no matter how much he cried he could not escape from the realization he had just had, the lingering feeling that always accompanied and sometimes even hid behind his anger, which was a deep terrible loneliness, and so he cried and sobbed while the world celebrated their continued existence.
11 years before Mennas' Wake
Years later the Chairman of the People’s Republic of Xhas’Wlef walked through the hallways of what once was the residence of the gnomish viceroy. It was built with the finest and most expensive materials of its time, mahoney wood for its ceiling and floor, ivory for its furniture and doors, marble for its pillars and walls, ebony for the frames of windows and colored glass for it window panes. The building was in the ideal position to serve as a seat of government and during its construction the proper safe mechanisms and previsions were put in place to discourage any assassins from visiting and ensuring their death. But still, he loathed the luxury of it and so did TomTom. But Arosh’s advisors disagreed, they didn’t thought it was proper for the Dictator of Xhas’Wlef to live and rule from a place that didn’t showed the greatness the children of Xhas’Wlef were capable of building, and so now the same logic applied to the Chairman. They had a point, regardless he and TomTom planned eventually to build a new palace of government, turning this place into a museum.
Eventually two gigantic doors made of engraved ivory displaying the heraldry of the Republic stood before him accompanied by a small and lonely figure; it was Tomtom his dear friend and right hand. Taking one of the many personalities he now held because of course most people couldn’t now that an undead kobold was pulling the strings, the world was not ready for it. After he took over and Arosh was retired they decided Tomtom would need new vessels to serve as new identities. He, in particular, was opposed to the idea of using people mentally impaired stealing their identities as it reminded him too much of Ahriman’s schemes in Talland, so instead they decided to select criminals condemned for death sentence, offering the chance to be interned in a mental facility and serve as Tomtom’s vessels. They were generally subjected to facial and body changes in order to hide their former identities, but these criminals in the end got a chance to redeem themselves by being TomTom’s willing vessels.
Today Tomtom was the head of the Kobold General Bureau, Richard’s intelligence agency founded after he took over, and so for once he was occupying an actual Kobold body.
‘’Have they arrived?’’ The Chairman asked
‘’Yes, they are in position my Chairman.’’ Tomtom said with a particular hinge of amusement showing how much he enjoyed fooling around his different identities and ranks.
‘’Then we must proceed.’’ The Chairman replied nodding and gesturing his hands opening the two wide ivory doors without even touching them. As they opened behind them a huge room with ornate walls and ceilings made of gnomish mahoney wood, and decorated with maps and tapestry showing the new flag of Xhas’Wlef hanging from the wall awaited them. Once ago it had served as the ballroom for the gnomish viceroy but now an ornate round table was placed in the center were the Chairman held his meetings with the council. The bloody council, at first Richard had ruled as he saw fit, but it lasted briefly no more than a year and half or so. Soon people, powerful people, demanded for some of participation in the government and so the council came into being. Today in the round table a myriad of people sat, members of the council of course, his ministers and members of the army and navy.
‘’My dear comrades, It seems its time’’ He said while he walked towards the table in crude orcish. He avoided using the talisman to speak, since he preferred to show he knew the language out of his own volition no magic involved. He spoke crudely at times, but he hoped the citizens of Xhas’Wlef would find themselves identified with their commons struggles with common.
‘’Have they arrived?’’ A well dressed orc asked.
‘’Indeed, if you wish to make your statement now would be the time.’’ Tomtom said from within the slightly less deranged than him living Kobold he inhabitated.
‘’I don’t get why we need to make one, in the first place.’’ Iris Rathuon said - the Atarite general responsible for invading Mullhaven. She had joined after Richard scouted her out for the training of the new Xhas’Wlef legions. Development was slow but progress was slowly being made.
‘’We have debated that for weeks, do we want to start that debate again? Right now?’’ The Chairman asked, irritated.
‘’No, I think I have already expressed clearly my point regards this matter.’’ Iris replied, annoyed.
‘’Then does the council approve of our previous decision?’’ He asked
‘’Yes.’’ The voices echoed against the wood.
‘’Then we shall proceed with the declaration, live to the people of our Nation. Come with me.’’ He spoke while he passed by them walking towards to the other end of the room, were ebony doors stood closed and continued past them the council following him alongside the ministers and generals, around the hallways towards a balcony that led towards Arosh square.
He stood for a moment before the small ebony doors and looked backwards towards the council, and then he stepped outside. The square was filled of people, waiting for the announcement he was about to make. He flicked his hand and spoke as quietly as the clarian call allowed him.
‘’People of Xhas’Wlef, I Chairman Cipher at the behest and approval of the Council of the People’s Republic of Xhas’Wlef stand here before you to formally inform you that after months of failed attempts to negotiation with the Colonies of New Talland’’ He said his voice filled with disdain at that mockery of a name. ‘’They have clearly shown their intentions to continue their reactionary attempts to slowly re institute slavery in our glorious nation, through one of their agents in Tomtomgrad. They have refused any attempts at negotiation, unrecognizing themselves as a state or nation, despite their continued and unlawful occupation of southern Xhas’Wlef. It is so that I formally declare and announce our declaration of war at this reactionary barbarians who occupy our land and enslave our people.’’
The crowd cheered and went mad with cries of victory and glory against the savagery of their enemy. He was proud of it, how in the years of his governments decided he needed to empower his people, by showing them they were not the barbarians the world thought. And the easiest way of doing it was by showing how the bright foreign nations who had once united in crusading them were capable of even more savagery. It was not orcish intellect who invented the clockwork army, it was not goblins who murdered children in orphans to their fake demonic gods, and it was certainly not kobolds who created this world for their own amusement. He knew even his dire adversaries and opponents couldn’t argue with this logic, no one wanted to be called a barbarian he knew that well.
But time was short; he knew this was being transmitted across the world he knew the enemy would prepare for this, but he was ahead of them. The declaration was a mere formality, an attempt to appease those who openly or more discreetly vouched for a crusade to remove him from power and beat Xhas’Wlef back to servitude. He raised his hand shooting non lethal lighting towards the sky to call for their attention.
‘’As we speak our elite forces have gathered to strike at our foes, and so as Chairman of this glorious nation of free people, I leave to lead our brave soldiers against the barbarians.’’ He looked inside once more, towards the council and nodded meeting Iris eyes and for a brief second his mind drifted away.
He close his eyes and focused, he could feel the sun of New Braveport warming his skin and he could hear the crowd cheering filling his hears, and then for a second there was no more heat nor sounds only a strange force enveloping him in the nothingness until the sound of waves crashing against wood, wind against cloth and the smell of salt filled his nostrils, he opened his eyes and he was at the deck of the capital ship of Xhas’Wlef.
People in general always thought his favorite kind of magic, the one that defined him, was the kind that allowed him to melt the faces of insurgents and enemies but they were plainly wrong. There was nothing he enjoyed more than teleporting, moving from one second to another from one corner of the world to the other.
Around him soldiers dressed in the national uniform of Xhas’Wlef led by a well dressed human stood in position waiting for him.
‘‘My Chairman, it was about time for you to arrive we were watching the speech from a scrying mirror.’ The well dressed human his left arm giving Richard a military salute.
‘‘Minister Tun’khashal, I am very glad to see you. Which is our status?’’ He asked, glad at seeing the smile that formed on the man’s face when he called him by his actual name. Years ago who would had thought this former demon cultist would end up being one of his ministers?
‘’Well you should ask Admiral Killgore about that, but I think we are nearing the equator, not far from Keshan, we should arrive at the coasts of the colonies in a day or two.’’
‘’Wonderful’’ he said ‘’Then let’s get the Admiral.’’
Both men walked towards the Admiral’s room talking and discussing life, over the past years they had bonded over their common interests and struggles forming a true friendship. Admiral Killgore was waiting for them as foul mouthed and loyal as always. He and his men were the first converts of a minority in modern day Xhas’Wlef; they worshiped the goddess of Keshan in their own particular way. He had ensured in his first years as Chairman the Northern Church of Solarin, mostly known by its followers by the Hechinist Church of Solarin all support he could give in an attempt to minimize the influence the Clerics of Wlef had over the people. He hadn’t really succeeded but a minority was established in the port cities of Xhas’Wlef, which proved the source of loyal followers. The Admiral the Chairman and the Minister talked and debated for hours, they even took the luxury of drinking a bit before officially reviewing the general state of the fleet.
But then as night came a tense silence filled the trio and the fleet, the next day most likely they would engage the former fleet of Gnomeland, tomorrow war would be more than a speech it would be a reality. And so before he fell asleep Richard wondered if he would be ready for what awaited him, he had not taken personally taken a life since Ahriman, ghosts of his past stalked him at every corner specially during this time of the night. As he closed his eyes he remembered something he never lived and never saw, and a tight knot formed in his stomach. He was twenty six years old, Chairman of the People’s Republic of Xhas’Wlef and he was more afraid of taking a life than dying himself because he knew sometimes he just couldn’t teleport away, sometimes it was time for him to rain thunder and fire upon his foes and his eagerness to do so terrified him.
Post by kerrah on Nov 11, 2016 18:51:07 GMT
Chapter 6 - The Break-Out
There was a big crash downstairs, and sounds of people crying out in alarm and yelling something indistinct.Shit.What was that? Is he attacking someone again? Lenona? That’s happening, are you fighting him?
There was no answer. Robin rushed to a window and opened it with fumbling hands. There was no fight going on outside, but he heard bootsteps running down the street. There were people standing in front of the embassy, yelling things in the direction the sounds of running was going. Someone heard Robin throw open the window and turned to look. Hastily he pulled himself back in. He couldn’t afford to be seen.
They’d be coming in any second now, he realised. Muttering something without thinking, he tried to move through the room without stepping in blood. It proved to be hard work.
Robin didn’t like blood. He really didn’t like blood. He supposed that there were people who fainted as soon as they saw it, so he wasn’t that bad. But the mess that this outsider had left behind was a bit too excessive for him. It reminded him too much of Orsad. He felt a little woozy as he moved to the corpse of Magelle Moraqshed. The outsider had twisted her head backwards until her neck had snapped. It looked wrong, like a broken leg bent sideways, but at least there wasn’t gore beyond what the first attack had done.
He bent over and started digging through her pockets. When he’d first started adventuring, he’d been too scared to touch dead bodies. The first Silver Protocol people he’d adventured with had been very impatient regarding that, but once he’d teamed up with Lenona, she’d been much more sympathetic.
The old woman had practically nothing on her. Some rings, but they didn’t seem to be magical. A tiny coinpurse, and a single note folded up in a hidden pocket of her skirt hems, with an address in Tannhäuser written on it. He pocketed that, and scrambled out of the room as he heard the sounds of people indoors. They’d come in from the street.
He tried to find the guest room where Moraqshed had been housed, but all the doors in the guest room corridor were locked. He already heard the people from the street yelling in alarm when they saw the slaughter in the sitting room. He hoped against hope he hadn’t left any tracks in there. Picking a door at random, Robin transformed into a rat and squeezed himself under it to check out beyond.
The room was in immaculate order. No personal effects were in evidence. Robin looked around. He’d have cursed if he hadn’t been a rat right then. Scurrying underneath a cabinet, he tried to think, and sent to Lenona again.Are you there? What’s going onI’m in pursuit. Talk to you later. Let me concentrate.
Her mental voice was intense and terse, so he left her alone. There were some footsteps in the corridor. A deep voice said: “I swear I saw someone up here. There’s no way one elf could do all that carnage.”
But it hadn’t been an elf. Robin slowly left his hiding spot and moved across the room. It was time to leave. Everything had gone to ruin. At the window he reverted to human and carefully opened it up. He was in the second floor, but the wall was soft wood, easy to climb. Robin shifted into wererat form and used his claws to lower himself as carefully as possible. Halfway down he lost his grip and fell into a wooden crate which broke with a loud crash, but otherwise everything went according to plan.
He limped out of the alley, rubbing his side painfully, trying to avoid being seen by anyone who might have heard the sound. He was almost a block out when he stumbled out of the alleys and into the street, trying to stand up and walk like he hadn’t just fallen out of a second-story window. And that’s when he ran into a protest.
“DEATH COMES TO TYRANTS!” The crowd chanted as they marched down the street. The mul at the front carried a burning flag of Gnomeland, and several others bore effigies of King Mennas on poles. “DEATH COMES TO TYRANTS! DEATH COMES TO TYRANTS! DEATH COMES TO TYRANTS! DEATH COMES TO TYRANTS!” There were almost a hundred of them, and others lagging behind. Not a terribly large group for a city of almost half a million people, but it startled Robin.
Thankfully they didn’t care about him, going down the street. There were all sorts, though most of them looked like the native population of Tannhäuser, which had always been a more diverse town than the rest of Minaerum. One of the doll Mennases was adorned with the badge of the Guild of Spinsters. The guilds were averse to associating with the refugee communities that had swelled the city since the civil war.
Robin didn’t know what to think of King Mennas’ death. He’d always thought that Mennas was as much as hero as any of the ones he’d first met in Orsad and had occasionally ran into since then. But it was hard to fully disagree with what many people in Minaerum felt, that Gnomeland had essentially conquered their country under the premise of ending the civil war. Maybe the man had been better than that, but ruled by greater interests. He doubted that he’d ever know. It wasn’t for small people like him to judge the great and mighty.
“YOU MONSTERS!” Someone screamed in a shrill voice all of a sudden. “HE WAS A HERO!” A woman launched herself at the group, yelling inarticulately while swinging her hands at whoever she could reach. The protestors tried to restrain her, and she screamed in pain when her arm was twisted. And all of the sudden more half-elfs and other refugee looking sorts appeared. The shouting grew louder.
Robin ran up the street to get away before it turned into a riot. He saw a group of almost a dozen men of various races standing in a streetcorner, wearing blue sashes around their waist and eyeing the confrontation. A gang, by all likelyhood. They ignored him as well, probably looking to rob unconscious protestors.
Just when Robin was about to take a left and leave the chaos, there was an explosion behind him. Someone in that fight had been a mage. Turning around, he saw two balconies of a house by the brawl set on fire. People ran away, or still fought. A few lay dead or wounded. He wanted to go help, but he saw those gangsters already approaching the scene. There was nothing he could do without placing himself in altogether too much danger.
The city had three fire services. One was an old guild, one was a gnomish company and one was a recent startup. One of them would show up soon, Robin hoped. Limping away from the scene, he dug his pockets for that parchment he’d found, and read the address. “15 Hollowshore Road, Warehouse G”, he muttered and looked around to orient himself. It was way in the opposite direction than where he'd been going. Better investigate it later.
Right now, he needed to report to his boss.
Lenona panted as she stopped in a street corner. Her chest burned from the exhaustion. She knew she was being led, but if this thing wanted to just kill her, it would have attacked her already. She was somewhere in the dock district, almost twenty blocks away from the embassy. There were a bunch of warehouses around her, and the piers were right beyond the alleys to her left. Glancing up, she read a street sign. Hollowshore Road. She’d never been here.
The elf - or whatever it was - had opened up the door of a warehouse up ahead and slunk in. He had to know how fatigued she was from the running. He was just taunting her. Probably waiting behind a corner in the form of a huge devil. She unsheathed her right hand sword as she approached, and tried to control her breathing.
She peered in to see what was beyond the door. It looked like it was dark within. Slowly, she reached into one of the pockets of her hip-cape and pulled out a tube made of segmented glass with metal bits inside. It was filled with a fine powder, and the end was lined with a brass ring carved with fine magic runes. Lenona twisted the ring, which caused the runes to briefly flash blue. The powder inside the tube ignited, letting out a steady white glow out of the device. She bent down and rolled the tube into the warehouse. The sound of the glass grinding against the stony ground filled the silence for a bit as the lamp entered the building.
Before she stood up, Lenona saw something on the ground which had been partially blocked by the open door from a higher vantage point. A broken padlock. The bar across the door was unoccupied, and the assassin had thrown it open without contest, so the lock had already been smashed before. Lenona furrowed her brow, but raised her eyes.
Moving closer slowly, ever so slowly, she stepped into the doorway, looking left and right. The warehouse looked empty for the most part, and there was no one hiding close to her. Unless the fiend could turn invisible. She closed her eyes briefly and sniffed the air. No smell of it either.
There was a big wooden crate, large enough to fit two oxen and a cart inside, at the back of the space. Lenona picked up the lamp off the ground and hung it from her belt before unsheathing her left hand sword too. She crouched as she moved inward, trying to turn this way and that to let the light hit all directions. The lamp was making a soft hissing sound as the powder within burned.
One side of the big crate had been crowbared open, uncovering the contents. Lenona circled to that side, ready to be jumped from within. She flinched when she saw a humanoid shape, but it was unmoving. Something smelled really bad. She furrowed her brow as she tried to get the light to hit the contents of the crate properly.
There were two metallic coffins inside with glass lids. Both the lids were broken, and the bodies were hanging loose. The padding around them in the crate was all stained green. “It’s the clone”, Lenona muttered to herself. “Magelle’s clone.” It had been hidden here, in a nondescript warehouse in Tannhäuser. “That’s why she came here.”
“You’re smarter than you look”, a nasally voice said behind her. She spun around and raised her hands, but the elf was well away from her. In the far corner of the room was a ladder going up to a window right below the ceiling. He was standing at the top of the ladder, and kicked the window broke as she started advancing. The glass shards rained into the alley outside.
“Why did you lead me here?” She asked. The man climbed halfway out of the window, avoiding the glass still in the frame.
She couldn’t see his face properly when he looked down, but she imagined a sneer on it. “Whoever sent you, tell ‘em I did your job for you”, he called out and vanished through the window.
Lenona dashed for the exit, straining her ears to listen to the sounds of the assassin. The alley with the window was to the right of the warehouse door, so she turned that way. She was pretty sure she hadn’t heard him hit the ground, which meant…Swoosh!
She turned to look up, and saw a dark shape flying through the air above the rooftops. It was headed for the docks. Making a split second decision, she acted like she hadn’t seen it and turned her back, looking into the alley below the window. After counting to three, she quickly switched off her lamp, turned and rushed toward the docks as quietly as possible, hoping the outsider thought she didn’t know it wasn’t an elf.
She stayed in the alley and peered out to the docks. First she thought she’d lost him, but then she saw a dark shape against the canvas of a ship sail. It flew off, onto the bay. She snuck forward and peered at it. She could vaguely see the shape against the pale background of the buildings across the water.Robin, where are you?I’m returning to the headquarters. I’m on The Street of the Crusade.Turn right! The outsider’s flying over the bay, coming to that side of the harbour! It’s crossing over to land near the customs! Go go go!
Their telepathic link fell silent as Lenona started to jog up toward the bridge a mile or so north of where she was. This night was insane. She could still taste the blood in her mouth from biting her tongue earlier.What type of outsider is it, Robin?It’s a Protean, Len.
The pain in Robin’s side was throbbing when he saw the protean. It had assumed its normal form and didn’t seem to care too much about stealth anymore, tapping each ship’s mast as it flew past them. Which wasn’t to say it was very easy to see, necessarily. The sun had gone down while he’d been leaving the embassy, and now the sky was a dark grey mass of clouds. If he hadn’t been looking up specifically, he very definitely wouldn’t have seen the thing.
He walked forward at a brisk pace, trying to avoid staring in case it looked his way. It hadn’t seen him, so it wouldn’t know he’s not just some local going about his business even if it saw him shadowing it. And so they went down the dock for the duration of eighteen masts, until suddenly the creature took a sharp left onto the roofs of the first row of buildings facing the dock.
Robin tried to follow it, but lost sight in the first alley. He ran into a hobgoblin having his way with a streetwalker. Blushing beet red, Robin ran past them, muttering apologies, and emerged to the next street. He caught a glimpse of a tail vanishing onto a roof, and heard an echoed, distant voice speaking.
Robin ran toward that building. He didn’t have time to find a way in, and couldn’t risk being seen, so upon reaching it he transformed into a rat and started climbing up a drainpipe, hoping against hope the rattling of the metal against his claws wasn’t as loud to everyone else as it was to him. Atar have mercy, his tiny heart was pounding.
When he was reaching the roof, he heard the sounds of conversation. That first greeting must have been very loud indeed. Now the voices were much more moderated. The Protean’s nasally but clearly male voice was one, while another was female.
He emerged from the drainpipe onto the roof, and froze still to avoid notice. His ears weren’t great for listening to speech, honestly, but now he could understand what they were saying. Their shapes were shrouded by the darkness of the cloudy night, so all he could see was a big reptilian figure talking to a tall humanoid.
“-little trouble. I lost her before I came here on the other side of the bay. She was obviously not a wizard. I stayed in form all the while”, the Protean spoke in a placating tone.
“I needed you to be seen”, the female voice said, sounding peeved. “Not to start a chase.” The snakelike silhouette simply shrugged. Robin started to scamper closer in an attempt to see them.
The woman continued: “You’re absolutely sure you killed all witnesses in the embassy?”
“Yes yes. No life bigger than a cat left in the whole building.”
“And you used none of your recogniseable powers?”
. Can I go now?” His indignant tone might have made Robin laugh if he’d been in human form right then, as tense as he was.
“Remember, you are to stay in Limbo for at least a year, and keep out of the Material Plane. Otherwise the deal is off.” She waited for him to nod, and then reached a hand, tapping him in the forehead.
The Protean started to break apart into little embers as it was dismissed. The glow of them lit up his surroundings, and the woman was brought to Robin’s view. He froze still.
Wrapped up in light, breezy robes which would cover her body shape from a distant viewer, and with a hood pulled over her head, her silhouette was just an unrecogniseable blob, but the embers lit up the head wrapped in fur and and the sharp carniverous beak poking out from under the hood. Her eyes looked at a glowy spark float upwards as she yawned, her absurdly long tongue flexing a little.
Robin had never seen an Akeshafian before, but he instantly recognised this as one from descriptions and drawings. What was an Akeshafian doing here, ordering the assassination of a former Warden?
As the moment of illumination ended, the woman muttered something and vanished into thin air. Gone with a teleport.
Robin wished he could cast Detect Magic to determine where she’d gone. He needed to learn that spell some time in the near future. Just in case, he didn’t revert yet, but walked over in his animal form to get a closer look at where they’d been. There was no sign of anything left behind. Not as much as incriminating shoeprints of unusual types of shoes.Len, I caught up with him. He talked to someone and was dismissed. I’ll tell you the rest in person, okay?All right, Robin. I’ll meet you at the headquarters.
Robin nodded. He wasn’t as good with the telepathy as Lenona. She’d always been really good at fibbing. She could have been a politician back home in Underfall like a lot of her family members, though he didn’t dare say that to her. Lenona really hated politics.
Reverting to human form, Robin walked a bit closer to the edge of the roof to find out where exactly he was. To his surprise, he saw the Tannhäuser headquarters of the Silver Protocol across the street. There was a little crowd outside of it, and one of the low-level members was distributing soup to them. The building had once been a Zininist mission, but had fallen in disrepair until the Protocol had bought it. Its front still had old, worn-down statues of the moon goddess standing in vigil, her eyes turned upward.
The way down took a few minutes, but soon enough Robin was trying to push himself through the crowd, muttering apologies along the way. Most of the people ignored him. A vast majority of the charity recepients didn’t even know what the Silver Protocol did, much less cared about its members moving out and about.
As Robin was passing in, he heard music playing inside. That was a good sign; it meant his boss was in.
As he let the woman standing guard at the entrance identify him, a new song
started. Moving through, he entered the main hall, which had once been a place of worship. Two dozen stone columns stood on either side, and the statue of Zinine at the back was covered with a cloth. The staff sat in a circle in front of it. Beatrice was strumming her guitar, while an Orsadi dwarf backed her up on another. A Purrsian sorcerer joined in on a flute, and the others clapped their hands, cheering.
Robin stood a little bit out of the group, and Beatrice’s eyes met his. He gave a nervous nod, which she returned, but kept playing. Only when the song was done did she stand up, grabbing a stein off the floor and raising it. “Twenty years, friends. Twenty years of the Silver Protocol. We’ve done good work, and we’ll continue to do more.” Everyone cheered. She drank a long swig of dark Minaeri beer, and others joined her in the toast. “Things are looking dark right now, and it’s hard to say what will come, but tonight we celebrate.” More cheering erupted as she waved at people and disengaged herself from them to join Robin.Beatrice Brent
was as Tallish as they came. Tall and handsome, with an infectuous smile and a sharp wit, she was easy to talk with. She had been low in the ranks when Robin had first joined the Protocol, but had since risen as high as Hechin himself. Given charge of the Tannhäuser chapter, she was his immediate superior right now. She was almost a full head taller than him, with fire-red hair and a slender build that belied her strength. Right now she was dressed in casual travel clothes, though Robin knew she always wore armour to the council meetings of the order.
She gestured for Robin to follow her to another room. They left the rest of the people singing Redwind’s Folly in the old chapel.
Once in private, Robin started reporting to her, but she cut him off in a concerned voice. “Are you all right? Where’s Lenona?” Lenona wasn’t a member of the Protocol, since her temperament made her unlikely to follow people she didn’t personally know, but she’d been allowed to work this case with Robin, and she got along well with Beatrice.
“I’m all right, just hurt my back a little. Len’s on her way here. We got separated”, Robin said, twisting the ring around his finger a little, sheepish. “Anyway, Magelle is dead.” He ended up blurting all the rest of it out. Beatrice would stop him to ask for clarifications, but otherwise she let him ramble. She furrowed her brow at parts, nodding and stroking the fabric of her sleeve.
Magelle Moraqshed had been the last of the living High Wardens. She had been very influentical in her own country, but had stayed out of everyone else's businesses. The Silver Protocol held the Wardens as a model of what they were not supposed to be, so it only made sense that when they'd gotten word that Magelle was in Tannhäuser, they would look into it.
Right when Robin was about to get to the part on the roof of the building, there was a knock on the door, startling him.
Beatrice opened the door, and smiled at the sight of Lenona. “Hey, your fiancé was just telling me about what you’ve been up to, tonight”, she said and let the blonde girl in. Robin stood up just in time before Lenona hugged him quite aggressively, pushing him back into the chair.Not in front of Beatrice, Len!What? I’m just hugging, you pansy.Keep your hands where I can see them.
He laughed nervously and pushed her off himself after stiffly returning the hug, his face red again. She winked at him and sat in an empty chair while his boss stayed up. “I’ll need you to tell me everything you saw too, I’m afraid”, Beatrice told Lenona. “I believe Robin was just getting to the parts you don’t know about…”
After he’d recounted everything, his fiancée was up pacing, while his boss was conteplating the darkness outside the room’s only window. "So this Akeshafian said he was meant to be seen, but he did assure that he wasn't seen to be a Protean by anyone?" Beatrice asked. Robin hesitated, trying to remember the exact words, and then said yes. She hmm'ed to herself. "I suppose she came here after her clone was killed. Must have gotten a warning message or something. So he lured her in with that, and then went for the kill. Lenona, did you see who the other clone in the crate was?"
Lenona shook her head. "I didn't have time to get a close look." She pursed her lips a bit. Judging by her facial expression, she was expecting to be scolded for leaving the warehouse unattended. That didn't happen, though.
“I need you not to tell anyone else of this”, Beatrice said in a serious voice. “I will bring up the relevant facts to the council, and see what can be done in terms of a larger investigation. The part about the assassin needing to be seen is especially concerning. Right now, I need you to return to the warehouse and do a full investigation before we report it to the officials. Find any evidence of who’s been there, and what’s going on.”
Robin nodded. Lenona remained quiet, but if she would have had objections she’d have made them known. Beatrice looked over to her and said: “Protocol rules state that non-members aren’t supposed to be involved with projects of this importance. I hope you appreciate that I’m bending the rules for your sake.”
The blonde woman rolled her eyes a bit, but then grinned. “Yeah. If anyone has a problem, they can bring it up with me”, she said and cracked her knuckles.
Robin chewed on his lip. This was way too big for him. His thoughts were interrupted when Beatrice added: “And focus on the job when you get there, you two. You’ve got enough time for planning the wedding when you’re on your own time.” She winked and left the room, though not before making sure she’d made Robin blush again. Lenona pulled him on his feet and pinched his bottom.Well, you heard ‘er. Too bad I’m not a member, so I get to choose which orders to follow.
Post by Timeon on Nov 13, 2016 15:32:23 GMT
Chapter 7 - The Children
"Richard Cipher." Javel stated, arms clasped behind his straightened back, one foot before the other. "I believe it most likely that Richard Cipher killed the King. Using the Pillar of Light, stolen from the Empire. He had Magelle Moraqshed, the last High Warden, assassinated shortly after to make it look like we killed her out of revenge ourselves. And to make it look like the Wardens, as far as other nations are concerned. To cause a political crisis. And at the same time, he gave Warden rebels gunpowder, to launch a revolt and further shift the blame. That is what I suspect."
Terrence Kingsgrace stood to Dakara's left. He knew her well enough to see she was beyond furious. Either this was part of her process for dealing with Mennas' death, or she had a personal grudge with Javel.
"A gunpowder revolt breaks out in Serral on the day of the Mennas' death." Dakara states. "And you don't think to tell me until now?"
Javel's face did not change an iota. The atmosphere in the room seemed to grow heavier regardless. Terrence found himself inching closer to Dakara's shadow. The throne room seemed to grow bigger and more daunting with every second, the chaos in Mennastur fading away as a new crisis unfolded before his eyes.
"You spent three days picking through the rubble and raging like a barbarian. All while Chancellor Rolstein was begging you to go to Nomesh and help him call for calm." Javel continued unblinking. "And you think that in this delicate time I would seek your advice - your advice on a possibly unrelated riot?"
Dakara took a bold step forward, unblinking before her fellow half-orc.
"I am the High Justice."
"And I am the Chief of Intelligence." Javel's chin inched higher. "I have been doing my job."
"You've been keeping things to yourself." Dakara placed a hand on her hammer. A very deliberate movement. Terrence found himself distancing himself from Dakara now, as if the possibility of violence was contagious. And it would be.
Javel's face finally changed. It was as if the shadows under his eyes only now became noticeable.
"I have been doing everything within my power to do my job. To fulfill my function. After twenty years, still I am not trusted. For having served as Goyle's errand boy? I have never cared for ideology, High Justice. I thought you knew me better by now."
Dakara hesitated. Enough to make Terrence Kingsgrace breathe again. The Hammer let her hand drift from her weapon.
"I am not accusing you of murdering Mennas. But you will defer to my judgement, Javel."
"Of course, High Justice." the black-vested man said with a slight bow. "However, you must defer to mine as well, where my expertise is relevant. I tell you again that I suspect Richard Cipher in this. With some sort of connection to the Empire, that would allow him to steal the Pillar of Light. There is nobody alive who could have greater motive or means."
"What evidence do you have?" Dakara pressed. Terrence knew her opinion of Richard, but even then, trusted her not to cloud her judgement with emotion.
"The last of the High Wardens, Magelle Moraqshed was assassinated by a Protean, disguised as one of Mennas' Moonleaf elves. A Protean, Dakara! It was probably made to look like a revenge killing for King Mennas. We are supposed to suspect the Wardens. And you are supposed to suspect me. To distrust me, for my past connections. The only possibility is that it was a Protean from Xhas'Wlef. Perhaps even Thulie himself. And I've taken prisoners from the riot, Dakara. I will let you know more soon." Javel angled his body suddenly, as if to leave.
"A Protean? What proof do you have? And you will bring the prisoner to me!"
"Dakara, you have been compromised by this tragedy. I can't let you confuse the evidence. Or interfere. Not yet. You will have your chance to judge the evidence, but it is my job to collect it. Unless of course, you really don't trust me."
Dakara remained silent. Still outraged, Terrence saw, but silent. She suspected Javel for the same reason he had given, for his refusal to cooperate, for his high-handedness. But if she said as much, she would be proving at least one part of what Javel was saying right. And play into his hands. The facade of wounded innocence.
"Javel, I command you to-"
The half-orc spymaster twisted in the air and vanished, his greatest trick as a monk. And for the lack of a magic trace it left behind, it was his most terrifying attribute. As soon as Javel was gone, Dakara's tension evaporated with a sigh, shoulders slumping to mirror her age.
"That insolent bastard. Without Mennas to hold his leash, he thinks to ignore me? But the question is one of guilt. What do you think?" Dakara looked to Terrence, to his own surprise.
"I don't know if we can trust him. But I don't think he killed Mennas. It could have very well been Richard. A gunpowder revolt, made to look like a Warden uprising. Too convenient. And then a Protean assassinates Magelle Moraqshed? Killing a High Warden? If the Wardens are involved, it's as scapegoats."
Dakara furrowed her brow.
"We need evidence. I have told you we will meet with the Rising Fire. Then we can discuss the Pillar of Light with Dorathion Ash."
Theme - The Kingdom of Foral'Tir
Dakara stood upon a parapet of the palace of Mennastur. The sky above burned with the sinking sun, violet and amber fading into the distance. Snow and ice coating the marble city soaked in the sunset, painting Mennastur with mourning colour. But Dakara was not here to mourn. Foral'Tirian horns echoed through the mountain pass and turned the city into an amphitheatre. Standing beside Dakara, Terrence Kingsgrace was bent low enough that the walls gave him some shelter from the cutting wind. He shuddered in his fur cloak, peering through narrowed eyes at the city streets below. Waiting.
Then the boulevard's rumbled with the turning of metal on stone. A line of chariots burst into view, heralding the homecoming of a wayward prince. Marley Merniso
had come to claim his father's throne. Looking at Dakara's face, Terrence could guess that she was thinking of the infamous nickname - Bastard Marley. Dakara huffed as the chariots drew up to the palace gates.
"Let's greet him, then."
Marley strode into the palace as if he already owned it. Terrence and Dakara stood with the surviving royal guard at the end of the corridor, waiting for them. The first thing that Ter noted about Marley was that he was unfashionably clean-shaven. King Mennas had set a fashion precedent amongst Gnomish nobility which had reached as far as Cydonia in the farthest north. For Marley to ignore it was a statement more than a custom. Ter had heard the rumours; that Marley had taken to elvish customs. Surely enough, at Marley's side stood his shadow, Queen Umathar
of Foral'Tir. Her face was as sharp as her dress, which appeared as if it had been woven from swords. As the royal couple entered deeper into main hall of the palace, Ter observed the Foral'Tirian guards behind them. Their tabards bore the crest of their twenty year old kingdom
; a black serpent rising above three green pyramids, representing the inherited architecture. A horned crown adorned an orange sun above the serpent. The symbols were emblazoned upon a field of pink. The guards' armour had clearly been salvaged from the undead Foral'Tirians, judging from its design. It looked natural when worn by the elves amongst Marley's guard, but somehow looked bizarre on the humans and gnomes.
"Be welcome, King Marley." Dakara rasped, her back as straight as her years allowed. "Welcome to your father's hall."
Marley touched a gloved hand to his forehead in respect.
"May Mennas Merniso rise to the heights of Mechanus, where he belongs."
Queen Umathar curtsied far short of what protocol demanded. She looked down her hooked nose at Terrence and sniffed. Next to her husband, Umathar was a tower of poorly disguised contempt. If disguised it was. Dakara bowed to her and Marley in turn, and Ter followed her example.
"Welcome to our father's hall." Ter half blurted, and met Marley's eyes for the first time. Marley's eyes gleamed with sudden recognition. And Ter hesitated. "Welcome... brother."
Marley's mouth opened slightly and his eyes narrowed. Ter felt exposed as the King of Foral'Tir seized him up. Then Marley nodded to him.
"I trust we will get a chance to get to know one another, Terrence." Marley said with a neutral voice. "The death of a father is bound to unite two wayward brothers."
Dakara gestured to the labyrinthine palace behind her.
"Come with me. You will be given lodging. And then you may join us in mourning."
"Let us be clear, Hammer. I am here." Marley spoke up for all to hear, just as Dakara turned her back. "To press my claim on Gnomeland."
That night he dined and brooded with the Lawyer-Paladins of Mennastur. Their halls lay close to the middle of the Grand Boulevard, traversing the city and the mountain pass within which it was built. That meant that they had suffered damage from the blast, too, along with most other white marble palaces built in the city's heart. They were architectural wonders all, having been raised to let Mennastur shine as the administrative jewel of the world. Now scorched and cracked, they told a different story.
Terrence spared few words with his comrades, and the dinner in the grand hall was sombre and grim. The usually cheerful Commander of this Chapterhouse, Zareth, said few words of comfort. Terrence soon lay down in an unfamiliar bed in a plain room. The smoking ruin of the magical academy was fortunately not visible from his window. Nonetheless, he could not sleep. After an hour of battling black, oppressive thoughts, a voice rang out in his mind. His instinct was to draw his sword and steel his Will against uninvited malign attention. But the voice was familiar and not unfriendly.
"Ter. This is your scaly twin speaking. Need to arrange meeting. You tell me where. Have evidence related to what happened."
"My scaly twin?" he wondered aloud, absolutely taken aback. Then it made perfect sense. TumTum. And he responded. "Things going to Hell. Please meet at dawn in Mennastur. By the statue of Marshal Teliana Tushina."
Mennastur was a monument in of itself, particularly because within it were many hundreds of monuments more. One of the largest memorials was a white statue of an armoured lady gnome, a cape of stone fluttering against an imaginary wind. Her hair was tied back, an arm extended, holding the Marshal's baton of command. The glow of dawn was beginning behind her.
Ter had only met Teliana Tushina once, when Mennas had first brought him to Gnomeland from Keshan. Back then, Ter's babysitter had been the conman, Siyad. Teliana had not stood out to him as a hero back then. It was her smile which he remembered. Mennas had gained her loyalty by saving her life during the Clockwork invasion of Nomesh, risking his own in the process. Ter had heard the rumours, that Mennas had courted this mighty woman and failed. In the end she died like countless others at the Valley of the Damned, probably down to bad luck.
Now she was stone. Ter placed a hand on one of the legs of the statue and bowed his head in prayer. The State Cult had made her all but a saint. And Ter believed in who she had been. He could see her still-
"Excuse me." came a shrill but welcome voice. "Is this a bad time?"
Ter looked up and saw that a kobold had emerged out of nowhere, as kobolds tend to do. This one was not just any kobold, however, despite dressing like a street urchin. This was TumTum, adopted daughter of Richard the Tyrant. And she had changed somewhat since Ter had seen her last as a youth. Now she stood as tall as him, hands on her hips, head cocked curiously.
"TumTum!" Ter started, drawing his hand away from the statue. He felt as if he were in one of his usual dreams, standing before King Mennas and the court without his pants on. "It's good to see you."
"Is it really, though?" TumTum asked, never ceasing to look around her. She was either impressed by Mennastur or else she was looking out for trouble. Sadly the latter was more likely, Ter figured. But, looking out for trouble or looking to cause it? What was trouble, if not the inconveniencing of a privileged elite-
"Huh? Yes, it is good. Good to see you." Ter mumbled, coming to the awkward point where he had to face one rather obvious fact. "You're estranged from your dad, right?"
"Wow." TumTum said, kicking a stone. "Ouch. But yes, I am. Why?"
Ter was beginning to sweat. Do not mess this up, Terrence. Do not.
"Well, I am glad." he said.
TumTum narrowed her cute reptile eyes.
"You're glad I have daddy issues?"
"What? Me? No. Yes." Ter breathed. At least healing magic could help with suffocation. Sadly it did not heal shame. "I am glad because I suspect your dad killed my dad. With the Pillar of Light. And if he did, I'd have to arrest you. Except you don't like your dad either."
"Excuse me?" TumTum gawked, eyes wide. "I came here to tell you about a shipment I brought in to Gnomeland, but, that has nothing to do with-"
A silence bubbled between them. Terrence looked left and right, palms sweatier than they had ever been before. Damn it, TumTum, you played your father's game. Fool, fool, fool. Adorable fool.
"A shipment? Look, TumTum, this is serious. You're a part of this? This is not what I expected to hear. You've put me in a terrible position. Please, come with-"
The sound of clapping. Ter cringed instinctively, fumbling for his sword at the sudden noise from behind him. Sword in hand, he whirled to face Javel. Eternally young in face and body, despite being as old as Dakara.
"Thank you, Terrence Kingsgrace! Thank you for bringing one of the conspirators to me! It seems we now have the damning proof that Richard Cipher murdered our King!"
Post by kerrah on Dec 13, 2016 18:52:02 GMT
Splitting up with Robin and Lenona to let them go investigate the warehouse, Beatrice
joined the celebrations in the assembly hall once more. The others were talking about a gang war going on in the slums. The Protocol tried to stay away from matters that were better left for normal law enfrocement, but it wasn’t unknown for certain outsiders to get involved with criminal organisations, so Beatrice had set Carl and Varence to investigate.
Taking her place at the feet of Zinine again, she grabbed her guitar and idly drummed her fingers over its surface while listening to what the others were saying. Most of what was being said was common knowledge on the street. She was ready to interrupt Carl if he approached anything he shouldn’t say.
At the far end of the space, Lenona pulled the door open to leave. She and Robin exited and Peter entered in the same space. Beatrice nodded at the newcomer idly, lost in her thoughts momentarily. The next High Council meeting was going to be a real treat. She’d have to keep a close eye on Sother, and contend with everyone’s arguments that Hechin was biased in favour of finding King Mennas’ killer.
She was shaken out of her distraction when Rundrek grunted: “So why is the Ivory Town Gang against having gnomes as members anyway?”
Beatrice’s fingers started strumming a slow melody on her guitar. A smile coming to her face, she answered: “Ivory Town Gang’s the oldest gang in town. Or, well, the first gang in town was named that, but obviously they’ve been broke apart and reformed dozens of times across the years.”
The half-orc wizard gave an unsure nod. “And, uh, what’s the point?”
“The point is”, she said and paused a little to concentrate on her strumming, before continuing: “The town was founded by Gnomes, right? The sort of guy who’d found a gang and name it after some rebellious slaves from a thousand years ago, he’d prolly still carry a grudge over that shit.”
Someone in the crowd around seemed to recognise the melody she was playing, and sang in gruff voice:Come gather 'round and listen lads,
And hear me tell me tale
How across the sea from Talland shore
I was condemned to sail
The jury found me guilty, sir
And then says the judge, said he
"For life, Jim Jones, I sentence you
Across the stormy sea"
A few people cheered in recognition. Beatrice smiled broadly and started playing slightly faster. “Yeah. The Gnomes built a city by Botany Bay on this island. A slave colony, it was. Gnomes from Gnomeland and humans from Talland they’d sent here. Cheap ones of no real value. And here they’d hunt for more expensive prey, like orcs and lizardmen and… whatever.”
Varance sung the next verse:But take my tip before you ship
To join the iron gang
Don't get too gay in Botany Bay
Or else you'll surely hang
"Or else you'll surely hang," says he
"And after that, Jim Jones
Way high up in yon gallows tree
The crows will pick your bones"
“Jim Jones was a Tallishman. Second generation after the conquest of his homeland”, Beatrice explained. Everyone was in a hush around her. “From somewhere around Braveport, I think. My home town. Suddenly he lives on someone else’s land, and the beasts in his back garden wood aren’t his to hunt anymore. Here he was taken, and here he composed his famous song.”
Arteme, the Atarite Legion deserter, sang next:Our ship was high upon the seas
When the pirates came along
But the sorc’rers on our prison ship
Were full two dozen strong
They opened fire and somehow drove
That pirate ship away
I'd rather joined that pirate ship
Than come to Botany Bay
Beatrice slipped her hand and the melody broke for a moment. Someone started clapping their hands to the rhythm, which helped her find it again. “Thanks. The Ivory Town was originally a different settlement, before this town grew and absorbed it. The first Ivory Town Gang was more of a slave rebellion than some thugs cutting purses.”
She nodded at Wellers, who’d done his share of cutpursing, and he piped in:The waves were high upon the sea,
On days and dismal nights
I'd rather drown in misery
Than come to the Minaerites
There's no chance for mischief there
Remember what I say
They'll flog the poaching out of you
Out there in Botany Bay
“The overseers had to whip their whips a mighty lot”, Beatrice said, her smile turning sad. “But in the end, the slaves out of Tannhäuser came in and put down the Ivory Town rebellion.”
She was silent a little bit, after which Rellea dared add her voice to the song, figuring that was all for now.For days and nights in irons clad
And like poor galley slaves
We toil and toil, and when we die
Must find dishonored graves
But by and by I'll break my chains
Into the bush I'll go
And I’ll join the brave scoundrels there
And bear my every woe
“The song was composed shortly after that”, she said. “They say that Jim Jones had taken part in ending the revolt, and he made the song out of the guilt, as much as his angrer toward the gnomes.”
Her eyes met Peter, and he sang the last verse:There'll come a night, when everything
Will be silent in this town
I'll kill those tyrants one by one
And cut the floggers down
I'll give them all a little shock
Remember what I say
They'll yet regret they sent Jim Jones
In chains to Botany Bay
She finished it with a few sad notes, and before they had time to applaud, she stood up. “And that!” She said, turning over to Rundrek. “Is why the Ivory Town Gang doesn’t take gnomes for members.” She grinned, and the cheering started. She drank the last dregs out of her beer stein from earlier while they clapped their hands.
Once it died down, the half-orc cleared his throat. “So what happened to Jim Jones? Did he ever get his revenge?”
“Nah”, Beatrice answered, making an intentionally discordant sound from her strings to punctuate the point. “He put his name in the song, the moron. The slavemasters captured him and had him crucified at main town plaza, right where the monument of independence is these days.”
“Oh.” Rundrek’s smile died a quick death on his face.
“But they couldn’t stop the song. It crossed back to Gnomeland on some of those orc slaves, and then spread everywhere across the Tradesea. So I guess in a way, Jim Jones did get his vengeance.” She slapped him on the shoulder, and everyone laughed.
“So who wants to hear something by Matthias Swiftstrings?” She asked. “Whether him or Jim Jones, I think we all know that Tallishmen make the best bards.”
“Swiftstrings wasn’t Tallish”, Peter pointed out in a flat tone.
She dismissed it with a flick of her wrist and started out Short King, Tall Order
, with everyone joining in on the beat instantly.
Post by Timeon on Dec 13, 2016 22:53:52 GMT
Chapter 8 - Sins of the Father
"Report to the Security Agency headquarters, Terrence." Javel's parting words echoed through his mind. "You're not under arrest. Yet. So come of your own free-will. Help us to help you."
"I see right through you, Javel." Terrence Kingsgrace had stated dryly amidst the falling snow.
"I doubt that, young man. Don't presume so much. I've known you since you were a boy. I think I am the one." Javel spoke over his shoulder. "The one who can see right through you."
And then they were gone. Terrence found the courage to draw his sword, anger and the burning cold clenching his fist ever tighter around the weapon. He hacked a snow pile and let out a muffled cry. The vultures were feasting on the Kingdom, conspiracy bubbling from the gutters. And he, ever a foreigner in his own land, scorned and humiliated even by those who professed most loyalty to his adopted father. Javel had made a fool out of him, had kidnapped his friend for her kinship to Richard.
The crunching of snow swung him around, sword in hand. This time, no security agent stood to mock him. Only a short beggar, dressed in peculiar garments and sporting a beard.
"Calm down, boy. Calm down." the man said in thickly accented Common and raising two large hands. As he drew closer, Terrence saw that this was no gnome, but a dwarf.
"Calm down?" Terrence breathed sharply, offended further. "The King is dead."
"Yes. But your friend. TumTum. She did not do it." the dwarf said, one hand still raised in the air as he drew closer.
Terrence raised his sword slightly.
"And you are?"
"Ulias of Turnia. A companion of your friend." the dwarf said, lowering his hand at last, stopping short of Terrence. His face promised honesty and comfort, but Terrence had let that look betray him before.
"I suppose you know me, then." Terrence said.
"Yes, a bastard boy of the court." Ulias began to fiddle in his pouch.
The white of the snow seemed more glaring as the dwarf's words cut into Terrence. Terrence switched to the Keshani tongue to hammer home is point.
"I am no bastard, Ulias of Turnia. I was adopted by King Mennas during his time in Keshan."
"My Keshani is poor. We are both far from home, I think." Ulias continued in Common. "I apologise if I have offended you. I have not had much time to learn. We have been moved by urgency. But I see now why TumTum would turn to you. Two adopted children, weighed down by the sins of their fathers. An uncommon bond."
"Yes." Terrence felt himself slump slightly. As the tension eased away, he could feel the cold setting in. "Ulias of Turnia. Come with me, if you trust me. Time is very short if we are to rescue TumTum. I am going to need you to have some faith."
The darkness continued moment by moment, breath by breath. The air was wet and heavy, but there was no sound to be heard. Not for an eternity, or however long it lasted until the door finally opened. Light did not spill into the cell, as one would imagine. No, the door opened, and all that could be felt was a presence. The feeling of being watched. Then a neutral voice, in a language which could be any language, but was understandable as if it were in one's own dialect.
"Do you know why you are here?"
"Yes." the prisoner replied.
Silence. No doubt, surprised.
"So, you will confess?" the figure questioned.
"It depends." The prisoner said. "I have many things to confess to. But not anything you would be interested in, I am sure."
"Did you kill the King?" the voice asked. "Answer well. Or magic will destroy your mind, and you will have hidden nothing. You know this to be true."
The prisoner paused in his isolation. Not because he did not wish to speak the answer, but simply because he was not sure it would make any difference.
"I was not involved in the murder of King Mennas. May his soul reign in the afterlife. This, I wish upon him. By this do I swear."
Another heavy pause.
"All proclaim innocence. But worship, now that is rare indeed." the interrogator droned in the voice that was neither male nor female. "Either you are sincere, or you are damned, and have found a way to deceive us. And an assassin of Kings and his kin would hold such power."
"Which is why I will never leave here alive." the prisoner said. "I know that."
Once again, a surprised silence. Or so the prisoner hoped.
"You will leave, if you are innocent. But I sense no lie in your certainty of death. And yet, you still proclaim worship." Then the voice grew noticeably cautious. "Do you attempt to play games, so as to deceive us?"
The prisoner stretched out its hands, feeling the slick cobbles before it. It crawled forward, until it found the feel of leather, and then a leg. The prisoner fumbled until it grasped a hand, which it held in its own. A large hand, one hidden by a gauntlet. But a hand no less. And grasping that hand, the prisoner spoke.
"I understand you. And I don't blame you for taking me. The King is dead. I have questionable family, questionable friends. I am guilty, but only by association. The King is dead and you are afraid. I am afraid, too. If you are the State, I only want to tell you that I understand."
"Why?" the presence asked.
"Because I was born in a terrible place where anarchy was a way of life. Xhas'Wlef. And I was forced to flee my home for being a gnome." the prisoner allowed himself to drift. "King Mennas offered my family a new home. And security. And I never stopped appreciating it. So I just want you to know that. I loved our King."
The hand moved slightly, as if only now acknowledging the prisoner's touch.
"You will be given Justice."
"That is what I doubt I will receive here." Pike said.
Post by kerrah on Dec 31, 2016 19:38:54 GMT
Chapter 9 - In and Out
Ter approached the marble building up ahead, his back straight. His right hand was gripping tight around a rough length of rope tied around the wrists of this dwarf, Ulias.
He couldn’t believe he was about to do this. He wasn’t even disguised or anything. Even if he succeeded, he’d be an outlaw. Javel would send people after him.
Or would he?
What if it’s a test? This all seems so coincidental. TumTum showing up right when Javel’s here. Him catching us. Letting me go. Is this just a game by him? Some sort of test? ...something Mennas told him to arrange?
He fought off the doubts and focused on the task at hand. There was no way TumTum was working for Javel. Simply no way.
...unless it’s a decoy. Someone under an illusion disguise. What if he’s trying to provoke me into breaking her out, to put me behind bars? What if…
“Boy?” Ulias coughed out the word awkwardly. The two stood in front of the barracks. Ter blushed slightly, and gave a hasty nod before pulling the doors open.
“Sir Terrence?” The guard on duty at the desk said, surprised, as Ter pushed Ulias in and closed the door behind himself. “Didn’t you just-”
“Yes. I am going to comply with Javel’s orders as soon as this is done”, he said in his best courtroom voice, and turned to look down at the dwarf, who was looking at the floor. “I caught this man skulking around by the embassies. He won’t tell me who he is and what he’s here for. Better lock him up until we can get someone to probe him.” It was a likely lie, and being a lawyer, it came to Ter easily, without sounding at all scripted.
The soldier furrowed his eyebrows. He was an elf with mud-brown hair and eyes. “Please keep him restrained. I’ll call a jailer to take him down below”, he said respectfully and tapped a runestone in a big notice board behind his back, which would cause a bell to ring down in the cells to summon someone up. The guard had a Shartorian accent when he spoke Gnomish, each word bouncing up in the final syllable in a sing-song manner. “Have you checked him for weapons?”
“I did.” Ter gave Ulias a mock-suspicious look to keep up the act. The dwarf kept avoiding eye contact. He was surprisingly good at this, for a priest. If Ter hadn’t been too occupied with the situation at hand, he’d probably have grown suspicious and nervous once more.
The lobby was immaculately clean, furnished in nice inviting colours, nothing like an army building. There was a framed portrait of King Mennas on one wall, looking grim and judgemental, and a big mural of the coat of arms of Gnomeland on the opposite side. Since this place was only a few years old, everything looked new and untouched.
“What’s all this?” A voice called out from a side door into the mostly empty entrance hall. General Herres stepped out, scratching his stubbly jaw as he took in the scene before him. “Caught a spy?”
Herres was a gnome, and a veteran of the Clockwork battles and the Valley of the Damned. His distinguished career had finally led to being given the post as Guard General of Mennastur a month ago. Ter had interacted with him a handful of times since Mennas’ death, but only on an official level. He didn’t know this man much, and the unexpected interruption made him hesitate for a beat, before he cleared his throat and said: “I suspect so. He won’t tell me who he is.”
The general walked up to them two and looked at Ulias suspiciously. “You’ve checked him?”
“Yes I have”, Ter said, acting calm even though inside he was full of doubts.
Did Javel send him? Is this a set-up after all?
The gnome shrugged and took out a knife suddenly, brandishing it at dwarf’ throat. The abrupt gesture caused Ter and his temporary ally to both react in surprise and shock. Ulias jumped back and tumbled on his behind, the rope slipping free of Ter’s grasp as the human moved to intercept.
“Don’t let go of him”, Herres growled angrily at Ter and pressed his boot onto Ulias’ chest. He leaned down and grabbed the chain of tin links around Ulias’ neck, cutting it with his knife and pulling it loose. He looked it suspiciously while Ter grabbed the restraints again. “Turnian. How strange.”
While Ter pulled his pretend captive back to his feet, the general walked past them to bark an order at the guard in duty: “I’ll take care of this. If the jailer gets here without running into us, just tell him to head back down. Come, lawyer. Let’s get him behind bars.” There was a slight tinge of mockery in his addressing of the human, but not enough to be overly hostile.
Ter hurried after him, pulling on the rope harshly for effect. Did Herres suspect? Surely if he intended to have them both captured, he’d have waited for reinforcements? But what if not…
After leaving the entry hall, they continued down a corridor toward a staircase. Beyond the entry room, the building was much more spartan and utilitarian, but still looked well maintained and polished. Ter had been here twice and vaguely knew the way out of the jails, but thankfully he was getting this refresher.
“Where did you find him?” The general asked as they approached the stairs. The answer made him let out something halfway between a sigh and a harrumph, followed by: “If you want to tell the truth and get out of this without major consequences, dwarf, now’s your last chance.”
Ulias made brief eye contact with Ter while they descended. There was no one else around right now, and no sign of that jailer coming up. He’d probably taken another route. That just meant there was one less guard down at the cells, where TumTum was.
As they arrived to the landing at the bottom of the stairs, Ulias suddenly spoke. “You, officer. I want to confess.” Ter felt the blood rush off his face. This wasn’t a part of the plan.
Herres stopped and eyed Ulias suspiciously. “Is that so?” The white, faded scar across his face he’d received in Endland was prominent in the faint lighting below ground.
“Fall down”, Ulias said in a confident voice. Ter could feel a little tinge of magic in the air. It was a spell! A simple command spell, to force Herres to comply. What is he doing?
The gnome, however, stayed upright. He just looked at the dwarf in confusion. “What?
The priest didn’t hesitate more than a heartbeat, but simply spoke again: “Fall down!” This time, the spell worked. Guard General Herres’ legs gave out underneath him as he slapped into the ground on his face, letting out a confused yelp.
Ter knew better than to gawk, and lay down to pin Herres against the floor, clamping one hand onto his mouth to prevent him from shouting. He looked up to see if Ulias needed his help to get out of the ropes, but the dwarf was way ahead of him. In no time, he’d bound the gnome’s arms and legs in tight sailor’s knots. They were in the middle of a corridor, but no one had intruded on them yet.
“What are you doing?” Ter hissed in anger, still holding a gloved hand against the gnome’s mouth.
“He was on to us! Gag him and stuff him in a broom closet!” Ulias responded, looking around nervously.
“Gag him with what?” The human asked.
And just as his accomplice opened his mouth to respond, a nearby door opened. A grumpy-looking jailor stepping through it.
Pike lay in his cell, counting the bricks in the ceiling, when he heard them bringing in another prisoner. He hesitantly stood up and walked over to peek through the barred window in the cell door to see who it was.
The officers who brought her in were wearing secret service uniforms, and she was in the anti-magic cells like he was, so she was apparently a big deal. She was a tiny, scrawny kobold, though. She looked just short of middle-aged, by kobold standards, and had nothing on but rags they’d probably thrown on her after doing a strip search.
Her cell was on the opposite side of the corridor from his. After she was thrown inside, the bootsteps of her captors filled the corridor for a while. When they faded, Pike could hear her pacing in her prison.
He lay down again, and looked up. He’d lost count.
At least today there was a lantern in the corridor, which gave a little light. It had been lit some time ago, probably in preparation for her being brought down here. Eventually it would be taken away, and darkness would return.
Pike sighed a little, and called out: “Hey you! What are you in for?”
There was a bit of silence. “They think I killed the king”, her voice responded in good Gnomish.
He couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Me too”, he said.
“Did you do it?” Her voice was neutral, but she was presumably joking.
“No. My lawyer fucked me”, Pike said, and sighed.
Silence took over once more. The visit by the Avatar of the State several hours before the lantern had left Pike in a pensive mood. In the cell, he didn’t have anything to keep him company but his own sorrows and worries. He’d already determined to give up on stressing out whether he’d make it out alive or not. Instead, he’d chosen to self-assess. It wasn’t like he was going to get to write down his memoirs, so better make sure that at least he himself would know who he had been.
Pike wasn’t exactly a religious man. Not religious for any gods, not for the Fae or the ancesors, and not for the King. He liked to think that there was an order to things, though. The planes. Outsiders. The laws of magic. The natural sciences, and the vast cosmos beyond, the clockwork around the planet.
The world was a beautiful place. It was just the people who were terrible. Not individual persons. Almost every person Pike had ever gotten to know was good and likeable in their own way. But people, as a collective, were terrible.
Justice. That’s what the avatar had promised him. Pike had spent most of his life avoiding justice, rather than seeking it. What did he deserve? He knew he was innocent of King Mennas’ death, but that didn’t mean he had a completely clean conscience. He doubted that he deserved to die. Most people didn’t.
There were some who didn’t fear death. They would get an afterlife, after all. Good folks who yearned for heaven. Pike wasn’t mortified by what awaited him beyond the headsman’s axe, but there was something terrifying about dying. Once a man died, they were thrown down a planar path from which there was no leaving. Mortals could choose their destiny, but outsiders could not. Death meant the end of free will, in a way.
Pike closed his eyes and rubbed them through his eyelids. His thoughts were going in circles, waxing poetic and contemplating his navel. That kept happening. He wished that he was a creative type. Maybe he could have kept himself occupied by telling a story or something. Instead, he tried to recount the contents of his arcana books to keep himself occupied.
Occasionally, he heard the kobold tapping at her walls, probably trying to find weak points or something. He hadn’t even though to do that. This building was only a few years old. Most of the time, though, she was silent. Pike suspected that if they started conversing across the corridor, eventually a jailor would move them further from one another, so he didn’t try to start a new conversation.
As Pike was running out of textbook content to revise in his mind, he heard sounds coming from down the corridor. He felt like it was too early for food, but this wouldn’t be the first time he’d lost all sense of time down here. There were voices, too, but they all turned into echoed rumbles.
Then, the footsteps were right outside. Pike stood up, surprised, as he saw the light source outside his cell being moved. “TumTum? Are you there?” A gruff voice spoke in heavily accented Gnomish. Another voice, this one younger and more youthful, also asked after the kobold.
“I’m here”, she called out, her voice hoarse. “Is this a break-out?”
“Yes!” The youthful male voice responded. Pike heard a key sliding into a lock, and walked over to the door. The direct light of the lantern was almost blinding, but he could see a dwarf and a dark-skinned human.
“You didn’t kill anyone?” The kobold asked as the door opened, looking around suspiciously and trying to brush the dirt off her scales.
“No, and we’re not going to. They saw us and there’s an alert. They’ll be here any moment. We’ve got to run for it”, the human said urgently.
Pike cleared his throat, which they didn’t hear. He rapped his knuckles agaist the bars to make a clank sound, and when they turned to look he said: “Let me out. I’ll help you.”
“We’re here for her”, the dwarf said in an apologetic tone. The kobold didn’t look too sympathetic, though she was avoiding meeting Pike’s eyes in a guilty manner.
“I’m a sorcerer”, Pike said. “I still have spells from the day I was captured. Once we get out of the cell block, I’ll be able to cast them.” He rubbed his face with a hand, trying to not seem desperate.
“Just let him out”, the kobold said in a frustrated tone, and ran up the corridor to scout ahead. “He’s innocent. His lawyer fucked him.” Her saviors turned to share a look, and then hesitantly complied.
Pike had to think back feverishly to try to remember which spells he still had. He’d used a Haste that morning back in Serral… had he cast something else after the fighting started? As the door opened, he got a closer look of the other two. The human was dressed in the uniform of a lawyer, which was obviously a disguise, while the dwarf was in foreign-looking garments.
“I am in your debt”, he spoke in a croak as they started walking after the kobold. However, she almost ran into them at the end of the hallway, having returned from the prison office.
“They’re about to break through the door!” She said in alarm. “We need to hide somewhere and sneak out past them.” Her eyes fell on Pike, and he knew what she was thinking. In any sort of sneaking situation, an offal-smelling days-imprisoned stranger was much more an obstacle than an asset.
“No”, he said and pushed past the dwarf to walk forward. “I know a spell. Trust me.” He did want to help them, since they had let him out, but frankly he would go through with this either way. They hesitated behind him, but at the behest of the kobold they followed him into the office. It was a fairly large room with a bunch of exits leading to different prison wings, and a whole host of cabinets for paperwork and records. A gnome lay on the floor, unconscious with a big welt on his forehead.
The big double doors leading out of the prisons were barred with a sturdy mahogany desk pushed in the way. There was already an axe-hole and they were slightly ajar, as the soldiers were about to break through.
Pike hoped this was going to work. He made sure the others were with him, and then cast his spell, speaking the vocal component softly and hoping to not be heard. Thankfully as a sorcerer he didn’t need a feather for this. A field of magic spread out of him in a globe which enclosed the others, with no seeming immediate effect.
“An invisiblity sphere?” The human said in a disappointed voice. “They have a permanent invisibility purge here!”
“No”, Pike responded and made a shushing noise, turning back to the doors. It took them eight more seconds to break through, during which Pike stood as still as he could, fidgeting now and then. The others behind him went through a quick series of whispered negotiations, but seemed to end up deciding that this was as good as it was going to get.
The guards finally managed to push the desk back enough to slip through the crack in the doors. The first one through was wearing a captain’s plume on his coat. His eyes fell on Pike, and he gave a sort of lazy nod.
“We’re janitors. I don’t know where the intruders are. We’ll just get out of the way”, Pike said as calmly as he could, trying to ignore the rags he wore and the smell he probably gave.
The captain didn’t deign to answer, simply walking past them toward the anti-magic cells. Others emerged into the room behind him, most of them looking toward Pike and the rest, but ignoring them like their leader had. Pike saw one of them gape and stare, but then awkwardly follow her fellow guards down the corridor. She’d resisted the spell, but the social pressure of seeing all her comrades do nothing was just as strong.
As soon as there was an opening, Pike jumped over the desk and waited for the kobold and her friends to follow. They did. The dwarf looked mortified, or possibly utterly scared, but the kobold was grinning triumphantly. The human just looked determined, his face set in a focused scowl.
Down the hallway, they ran into two more guards who also ignored them. Once those were past, Pike whispered: “How do we get out of here?” He’d been taken in blindfolded, so he had no idea.
“Can you teleport?” The kobold asked, taking the lead. When Pike shook his head, she cursed silently.
They heard more running footsteps, and at one point hid in a tiny sleeping cell to avoid people. The spell only had a 30-foot radius, so everything would be ruined if they were spotted from further down a hallway. Also, it was best to avoid straining their luck in terms of the spell working on enough people.
Eventually they ascended to the surface level. Pike was panting by then, his time in the cell having sapped his strength. The spell had to be running out of time, he knew. “It’s right down here”, the bronze-skinned human said encouragingly, gesturing at a door up ahead.
Beyond the door was an office. The soldier there looked at the lot of them. “Ah, you’re back, Ter”, he said neutrally. “Remember to report to the security agency.”
And so they were out. Pike’s bare feet instantly began to hurt from the snowy ground. “I hid our teleport-scroll in an alley”, the dwarf said urgently, and started to run. “We need to get you new clothes!”
“Wait”, Pike said and hugged his hands to his armpits to try to keep his fingers warm. “Where are we going?”
The human and the dwarf hesitated at that, but the kobold didn’t. Slinking through the snow-covered plaza, she said: “Tannhäuser. If Javel won’t listen to me, then I’ll find the bastards I worked for myself.”
The gnome had no idea what that was supposed to mean, but he wasn’t exactly feeling up for an in-depth conversation right now, so he just followed her. He’d figure out where to go from Tannhäuser. When the dwarf took off his cloak and draped it on him, Pike couldn’t help but let out a coarse laugh. Maybe he’d been right. People were awful, but persons were good.
Post by kerrah on Jan 2, 2017 2:20:46 GMT
Chapter 10 - The Warehouse
Pike rubbed his face with the towel while the others negotiated. For some reason, he constantly felt like there was dirt on him, no matter how long he did this.
A bath, a shave and some fresh clothes had made him feel like a new man, and being able to restore his spells had made him feel a bit safer, but he was still surrounded by strangers, and it was only a matter of time before Javel’s people came after him.
On one hand, if he headed on his own right now, they’d probably go for the kobold first, giving him more time to hide. But on the other, if half of what these people were saying was true, he didn’t know if he could walk away from them with a clean conscience.
“Why are we in Tannhäuser?” Asked the dark-skinned human who’d introduced himself as Ter.
“Because there was another shipment”, the kobold answered gravely. “The one to Gnomeland was the second one I did. The first one was to here. To Tannhäuser.”
Pike looked out the window. If half what these people said was true… but how much of it was?
The kobold had shared her story, and it sounded ludicrous. But in a way, it was too crazy not to be true. Who would make up something like that? And her explanation actually fit the evidence. What if she’d actually played an unintentional part in killing King Mennas?
The street outside was abuzz with activity. Thankfully the dwarf had money, so they’d been able to rent a big attic room for them to hide out in and set their affairs in order. They hadn’t been able to get from Mennastur to Tannhäuser with a single teleport, but their mid-stop in Braveport hadn’t been very long. Hiring a mage to teleport you was getting cheaper and cheaper as the years went by.
He’s been to this city once as a little kid with some of his family. Some gnomes had fled Xhas’Wlef for Minaerum after the troubles started there. They hadn’t been very warmly welcomed, of course. One of his uncles had come here, but they hadn’t been able to find him.
“Where did you take it?” Pike asked without turning away from the window. “The shipment, that is.”
“To this warehouse in the docks. I was given a key. I was supposed to open the door and put the trunk in a specific aisle, with the key on top, and then leave. I don’t know if it’s still there, considering whoever hired me knows I’m still alive, but we should check it out.”
A silence fell into the room.
The dwarf - Ulias - thoughtfully pursed his lips while he cut a big chunk of bread to divide it evenly between the four of them. Based on what Pike had understood of the explanations by him and TumTum, it was days since they had met in Zig. Ter, the human, was her former friend and had served in the royal court of Gnomeland, but he claimed he wouldn’t be able to keep them out of trouble with the secret service.
Pike fingered the rough, too-loose fabric of the coat they’d gotten for him in Braveport. He wished he had his own clothes back. “We need to go there”, he said hesitantly. “If it’s true what you’re saying about the king’s death, then we need to find any evidence we can.”
“It could be a trap, though”, Ter pointed out reasonably, but his eyes narrowed just a tiny bit. He was polite to a fault, but Pike got the feeling he didn’t like him much. To the gnome’s surprise, this man was an actual lawyer-paladin of the Gnomish kingdom, trained by Dakara herself. He seemed suspicious of Pike’s motives, and of his possible complicity with the revolt in Serral. Pike knew there was nothing he could say about that which would undo the doubt, so he would just have to work to prove himself by his actions.
TumTum pulled boots to her clawed feet, scowling a little. For some reason, she seemed to get unreasonably angry when they got her clothes. She’d said something about her ring, but Pike had no idea what that was about. Looking over to Ter, she said: “We’ll have to get weapons, obviously. Maybe we can send the gnome in first, since no one knows he’s attached to us.”
The others turned to look at Pike, and he gave a nod that he knew came too fast. “Well, that makes sense. I can scout it out.”
“I guess it’s resolved, then”, Ulias grumbled. His Common was better than his Gnomish. “But before we go, we need to write down everything we know in a letter, with a plea for whoever finds it to deliver it to the officials. Just in case.” He sounded grave. Pike was surprised by the starkly utilitarian suggestion.
In the end, Ulias stayed in the attic to write the letter while the others left to buy gear for Pike and TumTum. She once again seemed frustrated about something while getting herself a longaxe. Ter was probably expecting Pike to run away with their money. Overall, it wasn’t the happiest shopping spree Pike had taken part in. At least the human had gotten rid of his lawyer’s uniform back in Braveport, and now got himself some less specific armour
to blend in with the locals. He even bought himself a full head helm which would mask his unusual skin tone from prying eyes and also shield Pike from his suspicious looks.
After picking up Ulias, the group headed for the docks as TumTum indicated. Walking together, they much resembled a group of adventurers, in their mismatched pieces of armour and weapons. No one got in their way or tried to impede them, thankfully. At some point some kobolds in an alley shouted something in very strongly accented hissing Orcish at TumTum, but she ignored them. They arrived at their destination about half an hour before sundown.
The warehouse itself didn’t look like anything special, and this part of the town seemed deserted. Botany Bay was too far away for Pike to smell the salt, and as far as he could tell they weren’t in the territory of any gang.
After getting a look at the building from afar, the others hid in an alleyway while Pike walked closer, circling around the warehouse in a casual manner, looking at things other than the building just as much as he did it. He spotted some tramps here and there, and one bored looking elderly mercenary standing in a doorway, probably waiting for someone, but nothing very alarming.
He took a brief look at the lock on the front door of the warehouse. It didn’t look too sturdy. Anything with a really fancy lock would just attract more attention, and burglars would find other ways to enter. There was no back door, but a bunch of windows did exist, all of them with bars to prevent entry. No light inside, either.
Some of the rooftops of the surrounding buildings concerned him a little. Someone might be skulking on one of them. He wished he knew a spell to fly.
He pretended to peer into a kiosk closed for the evening, as if checking whether it was worth robbing, and then left into a different direction than where he’d originally came from, eventually circling to the others.
“It doesn’t look like an ambush”, he told them upon returning. “I say we just walk up to the front, bust the lock, and take a look around. We can take in the place in case we find any clues less than ten minutes, I bet.”
Ter frowned. “You’re not in charge”, he said.
“I’m just saying the logical next step”, Pike argued, surprised by the sudden conflict.
“And why do you care?” The lawyer asked, crossing his arms and looked down at Pike. His new helmet hung from his belt by its tassel, leaving no shield for this glare. “Why this interest into King Mennas’ death? Just name whatever price you’re expecting to get out of this now.”
“Hey, there’s…” Ulias said at their side.
“Are you kidding?” Pike asked, starting to lose his own temper. “King Mennas provided my people a safe haven in Gnomeland after the dictator took over in Xhas’Wlef. And even if I’d hated him, it still looks based on what we know that his killer is trying to cause chaos between the-”
“Won’t you just shut up”, TumTum said and gave Pike’s shoulder a quick slap with her knuckles. “Someone’s getting there before us.” She gestured out of the alleyway, toward the warehouse, where two figures were currently breaking the lock.
I don’t think anyone’s looking, Len. There’s an Alarm spell cast on the interior, but I really doubt they have anyone on quick response for that. We’ll just take a look and be gone before anyone gets here.
Robin chewed on his lip as Lenona procured an adamantite knife and used it to slice through the lock of the warehouse like it was made of butter. The knife had been a gift from her teacher when he’d considered her to have “graduated”. It had once been given to Brokk by her uncle.Yeah yeah. And if someone does show up to check it out, at least we can ask them who the hell owns this place. Even if they’re some contracted guard, maybe it’ll give us some answers.
It had taken them several days of sleuthing to find out anything about that other warehouse, the one where the prothean had led Robin. They’d obviously confirmed that it had been rented by Magelle Moraqshed through some middle men, but someone else had to have discovered that too in order to go after her clones. The crate in which the clones had been stored had been really strongly scrying-proofed, so someone had actually found it the old-fashioned way.
Asking around, they’d finally heard of someone who’d been investigating Moraqshed. A half-elf with dark brown hair and a lantern jaw. It had turned out to be a private investigator native to Tannhäuser who had since died in a seemingly random mugging. His apartment hadn’t yielded anything useful, but it turned out that two nights before his death he’d hired a street urchin living right nearby him to follow a stranger that he was meeting. The stranger had come here.
So whoever had looked for Magelle’s clones had killed the investigator who had discovered them. And they’d been seen entering this building.
Lenona pushed the doors open and took out her kobold lamp, starting to look around the dusty indoor space in its bright white light. Robin would have preferred to have gotten them both darkvision to avoid drawing attention, but their resources were short at the moment.
The warehouse had a central lane going straight forward from the entrance, with tall shelves arrayed in lines on either side, and alleys between them. Each section was labeled, but there was no sign of the sections belonging to different customers. The dusty ground was marked by bootprints; someone had been here in the last week or two. And more than just one someone.
All of the bootprints led down the same aisle, but in the end it became impossible to tell what exactly they’d been doing there. There had simply been too much repositioning or pacing around. While Lenona checked the shelves, Robin turned into his rat form to get the smell of things, but it was too faint for him to deduce anything except that the people who’d been here weren’t anyone whose scent he knew well.There’s an empty slot here. I think something got taken out of it. So someone removed something from here in the last fortnight.Do you think-
The thought was interrupted by a sound from the doorway. Robin instinctively shifted back to his human form as he turned around. He could hear Lenona pulling out one of her swords.
People were standing in the doorway, filing in carefully. The last one of them closed the door behind them. They could see the lamplight, and were moving to the mouth of the aisle Len and Robin were in. He waited to follow her lead, but she simply stood still. He took back a step to stay behind her.
Four people appeared. Three were short, while one was very tall, even taller than Lenona. The white light of the kobolian lamp showed them to be dressed in wildly different types of armour, more like random sellswords than security guards.They must be from one of the guilds.Or gang members who decided to take advantage of the situation.
“Who are you?” Lenona asked in a rough voice, stepping forward.
The human who was dressed in a mixture of leather and steel and carrying a huge wooden shield shook his head. “You first. Why did you break into this place?” He spoke with an accent which reminded Robin of someone he knew. “Did someone send you here?” A kobold was standing behind him, looking at the bright white light of the lamp curiously.
“We’re looking for an elf. A woman with dark hair without an Eral’tiri accent”, Robin spoke quickly, not wanting this to turn into a fight. These guys outnumbered him and Lenona, and they looked relatively tough. “Do you know anyone like that?” He wondered if the woman that the street urchin had followed was still in town.
The others shared looks amongst themselves, and then the human responded: “No. Do you know an orc tribeswoman who uses firearms?”
Lenona and Robin shook their heads. A silence fell between the two parties.
“My name’s Pike”, said the gnome among the other group, after a brief moment of tension. “My scaly friend here brought a delivery into this building from Xhas’Wlef…”
The kobold craned her neck, peering past Robin’s legs. She scrunched up her face in disappointment. “It’s gone. Someone’s taken it. It could be anywhere.” She sounded extremely worried.
“This elf you’re looking for. She’s been here?” The human asked urgently. Robin now realised that his skin was very dark in complexion. That’s what that accent was. He was from Keshan. His speech resembled Hechin’s.Don’t tell them anything more. We don’t know who these people are.I don’t know, Len. They seem really desperate.Desperate for what? They could be criminals looking for some other criminal.I guess there’s only one way to know.
Robin cleared his throat. While telepathy was faster communication than speech, there had still been a gap in the conversation for that exchange. “Look”, he said hesitantly, trying to gather his thoughts. “How about we compare notes? Or… share names, like Pike there. I’m Robin.”
Lenona gave him a little scowl, but then hesitantly said: “I’m Lenona.”
“We work for the Silver Protocol, though we’re off the books right now, obviously,” Robin explained, gesturing at the warehouse they were intruding in.
“The Silver Protocol?” The dark-skinned human said a bit skeptically. “I’ve worked with them before. Do you have a signet ring?”
Robin hesitated, and then dug his hand into the inner pocket of his coat. He pulled the ring out and tossed it over. The man eyed it for a moment, and then threw it back. “All right. That’s good enough for me. My name’s Ter. This is TumTum, Ulias and Pike.”
TumTum was a familiar name to Robin. It was probably just coincidence, though. There couldn’t be that many kobold names. He inhaled and then explained: “We’re investigating the murder of a politician from the Horn. It happened here a few days ago. The victim was Magelle Moraqshed.”
“The Warden?” TumTum asked, curious.
“The very same”, Lenona confirmed it. She was leaning on her sword, not having sheathed it yet, but not seeming to consider the situation that dangerous anymore. “She arrived in town unexpectedly, and then was murdered only a day later by an unknown assailant. Her… her clone storage here in Tannhäuser had also been destroyed. It looks like she’d come here to investigate its destruction, and was killed for her trouble.”
“And what does this place have to do with that?” The dwarf Ulias asked, sounding confused.
“This dark-haired elf we mentioned, she was looking for Magelle’s clones, and she’d been seen coming to this building”, Robin said, looking around the space.
“Did she take the trunk out of that slot?” TumTum asked, pointing at the empty space in the shelf she’d been peering at earlier.
Robin shrugged. “I don’t know. Our witness only saw her enter, and then left.”
“And is this elfette you’re talking about the murderer of Moraqshed?” Pike asked, stroking his clean-shaven chin.Should we tell him about the Protean and the Akeshafian, Len?I don’t know… maybe better hold on to that last one, I think the first one’s safe.
“No… the murder was committed by a Protean pretending to be an elf”, Lenona said hesitantly. “We both saw it in its natural form.”
The mention of it having been a Protean made Ter’s jaw tighten visibly, but he said nothing, simply nodding.
“It’s your turn now”, Robin said a bit anxiously. “Why are you here? What was in the trunk?”
The little lizard hesitated a bit, and then gave a tiny nod. “It was a chest of holding. Same as a bag of holding, but with a bigger entrance and the ability to be locked with a key. It contained a space as big as this warehouse inside it, filled with a shipment of barrels. They let me see the chest being loaded because I wouldn’t have transported it if I didn’t know what I was sailing with.”
“What was in the barrels?” Robin asked, now thrown for a loop. He’d imagined it was some sort of powerful magic item, like the godshard which had ruined Orsad once. But a shipment of something didn’t sound as bad.
TumTum looked over to the lantern hanging from Lenona’s belt. She pointed at it. “That thing. How does it work?”
Lenona looked at the steady white glow. “Uh, what do you mean? You fill the lamp with a powder from the alchemist’s shop, and twist the end to light it up.”
“The alchemists call that powder firetin”, the kobold explained. “It’s a metal which burns with an intense white light. What I transported was almost two hundred barrels of a mixture of firetin and gunpowder.”
Len and Robin shared a look. “What do you mean? What is-” Robin started.
“King Mennas”, Ter said pointedly, apparently starting to run out of patience. “He died in a huge flash of white light. Everyone seems to think it was the Pillar of Light, that weapon of war from twenty years ago. People very high in the Gnomish state take it for granted. What if it wasn’t the Pillar, though?” He stopped speaking and the whole warehouse went quiet.
Robin looked at the white light emanating from the lamp. Shivers ran down his spine. The Empire had almost fired the Pillar at Orsad while he was still there, he’d found out some years after being rescued from there.
“So you’re saying someone’s trying to mislead people? Make them think it was a magical attack, when in fact it was barrels of… this stuff”, Lenona said, her brow slightly furrowed. Even Robin couldn’t tell whether she believed this.
“I made two shipments”, the kobold said gravely. “One to here, then one to Gnomeland. The orc who hired me and handled everything tried to have me killed after I did the second delivery. And a day later, Mennastur blew up. It can’t be a coincidence.”That investigator was killed too. But what does Moraqshed have to do with all this?She was a Warden, remember. One of Mennas’ enemies. Maybe… I don’t know.
“And what do the rest of you have to do with this?” Lenona asked, pointing at Ter, Ulias and Pike.
The dwarf chuckled and idly tugged on his beard. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. TumTum sought me for help after fleeing from the orc, and she tried to have both us killed.”
“She’s my childhood friend”, Ter spoke in a tone that seemed to challenge them to question the statement. “She got captured by the security agents in Gnomeland, and I had to help her out. Now I’m a fugitive.”
Pike, the gnome, hesitated. “I was in the same jail. I helped them escape. Also, I think my home town may have… may have gone through some sort of plot to arm a rebellion against the crown after King Mennas’ death.”
“You didn’t say anything about that before now”, Ter said with a bit of suspicion in his voice.
Pike shrugged. “I thought it might have been a coincidence, but it seems less so the more I think of it.”
Silence fell again, as everyone thought through what had been said. It seemed crazy, to say the least. Could Moraqshed’s death really be tied in with her former enemy King Mennas’? In fact, since the gnome king’s hatred of the Wardens was well known, many people would certainly suspect Gnomeland of the act.
“Let’s say we believe you-” Lenona said carefully. She didn’t have time to go further than that, though.
Someone kicked the doors open.
TumTum flinched and jumped backward, brandishing her longaxe as she looked toward the dark doorway.
A man stepped through. Just a single man. He was an average-sized human with a hair and a beard gone white with age. He wore a large suit of armour and a fur cape, and carried a sword at his left hip.He wore an eyepatch.
That was either good news, or bad. Either he was too poor to afford a regeneration spell, or he was so good he didn’t need it.
The stranger took two steps inward, stopping where the shelves started, and looked at the intruders. When he spotted TumTum, she could see a recognition on his face. He was here for her.
“I was supposed to talk to you. Lure you out”, he said in a dull voice, and then shook his head. “Fuck it.”
He grabbed the shelf on his left side and gave it a sharp shove, which sent it toppling toward all the intruders, but especially toward Lenona and Robin, who were still between the shelves. In the chaos, the kobold saw the newcomer pulling out his sword while Ter rushed toward him.
She wanted to go assist him, but the toppling shelves had her looking up to dodge a box of pottery which came falling from up high. She pulled Ulias with her, while Pike ran in another direction. As far as the Silver Protocol agents went, she had no idea.
While the deafening sounds of the shelves and boxes still filled the room, she saw Ter fighting with the stranger. He was clearly better at this than the lawyer-paladin. He wielded his long bastard sword like a rapier, shearing long splinters of wood off Ter’s shield with every thrust and keeping the other man at bay easily, not even letting him get in range with his shorter sword.
The man moved easily in his armour. It had to be mithral or something. He was a real professional, way beyond any of their pay grades. His sword cut into Terrence’s shoulder.
TumTum ran forward and used her axe to give her childhood friend some relief, driving the assailant back briefly. She wished she had her size ring back. She needed to be human sized to wield her range properly.
The old man sidestepped her swings easily, and then his sword flicked out like the tongue of a snake. But it didn’t come at TumTum, or at Ter for that matter. It struck Ulias, who’d been standing behind, looking to heal Ter’s wounds. The blade cut deep into the dwarf’s robes and painted his beard red.
He’d gone for the healer.
Ter swung his sword at the man, whose armour absorbed the blow, and TumTum tried a cleave from the other side to catch him by surprise. Her blow seemed to actually hit his exposed left arm, but he quickly retaliated, and almost snapped her axe shaft in two with his fierce thrust.
Then, suddenly, a rocky wall rose out of the ground, pushing upward between him and the rest of them. It grew from the stony floor rapidly, and in fact pushed one of the toppled shelves off the floor. TumTum saw from the corner of her eye Lenona getting on her feet, having previously been pinned down.
There were footsteps on the other side of the wall, moving backward. “He’s running away”, she hissed angrily.
“Good. I want to live”, Ulias croaked and pushed his hands against his chest, muttering a prayer which eased his blood loss, though he still seemed pale.
“Where’s Pike? Where’s that… Ro… Robin?” Ter asked, looking around. Ulias moved forward to heal his shoulder wound too. The whole room was still filled with cloudy dust which left visibility rather low.
“I’m here”, the small-framed human said from where his blonde friend as. He was helping her up and taking her away from the dangerously propped-up shelves. “I made the wall.”
“I-I-I’m he-here”, Pike stuttered from the other side of the room, amongst the still intact aisles. “I t-tried paralyzing him, but he r-resisted.” His face was chalk white, and his hands shook visibly as he approached the rest of them. It seemed he wasn’t really used to this sort of combat.
TumTum opened her mouth to try to formulate a plan, only to be interrupted by a voice from outside.
“Come out now, or bad things are about to happen.” It was the white-haired warrior’s voice. “Let’s finish this. I’ve got places to be.”
“Is there a back entrance?” Ulias asked in a nervous tone.
“No”, TumTum said. “If we all come out in a group, he’ll probably use a wand of fireball or something. Robin, can you make us cover? Pike?”
“FINAL WARNING!” The voice echoed from the outside.
Ter burst out and ran around the stone wall, rushing through the front door of the warehouse. Lenona was quick to dash after him. She had a sword in each hand, now.
“Shitshitshitshit”, TumTum muttered as she followed them too. The others came behind her.
The warrior was standing some twenty paces away from the doorway, his sword at the ready. He looked at them, his face unimpressed, as they filed out and faced toward him. Pike tossed some sort of a green beam at him, which he easily sidestepped. He then began to approach them, and called out: “Now!”
TumTum heard something big move out, emerging from an alleyway behind her and the others. It WAS an ambush! And she was pinned between two enemies.
The orc from Zig was there. She was still dressed in her long coat as well as her tribeswoman vest, and she had a pistol in her right hand. In her left hand she held the reins of the bipedal dinosaur she rode. Its mud-coloured scales and undersized arms might have lessened its threat, but the huge maw full of razor sharp teeth did not. It was the size of a large horse, and moved out onto the road while its rider took aim.
TumTum knew that the orc tribes rode and herded dinosaurs, but she hadn’t expected this bitch to actually take one out of her homeland.
She fired her pistol at the kobold, who had to duck to the ground, managing to dodge at the last moment. She saw the orc quickly holster the gun and pull another out, firing it at Ter’s feet as he tried approaching her mount.
The white-haired warrior was still coming at them from the opposite direction.
“Indoors! Back inside!” TumTum yelled as loud as she could while climbing back up, but she doubted most of them heard her. Besides, the orc might have another of those bombs that she’d used to destroy her boat.
Lenona moved over to meet the fencer in battle, but moments before they clashed, Robin threw his hands out. A green glow from his fingers turned into a small pack of apes which ran toward the warrior. They jumped at him, clinging onto his limbs and trying to climb up his pelt cape. One of them threw some of its feces at his face.
“MONKEYS?” He yelled as he swung at them with his sword. “FUCKING MONKEYS?” Despite the distraction, he managed to parry Lenona’s first attack, while his armour saved him from the other.
TumTum turned around and ran toward the orc. She almost bumped into Pike, who was retreating backwards and cast a spell which instantly made the kobold feel her stride grow quicker. Pike seemed alone in the intent of returning into the warehouse. She didn’t have time to deal with him.
The dinosaur mount grabbed Ter’s shield between its jaws and pulled hard. The youth was yanked along, dropping his sword, and had to quickly unstrap his left arm while he was being tossed around in the air. Ulias cast some sort of spell, but it was impossible to tell what it was supposed to do in the middle of the combat. The orc had pulled out her musket and took a shot at him, hitting him in the thigh.
TumTum threw herself at the monstrous mount, swinging her axe at its head. The creature took a wound, but it was a glancing blow.
This was not going well. Ulias healed himself while Ter picked up his sword. The dinosaur tried to close its jaws around TumTum, who was still out of balance. She had to throw herself down again to avoid it. Rolling underneath the animal, she wished she had a short weapon she could use to stab it from below.
For the next half a minute or so, the battle for her turned into a chaotic game where she kept trying to avoid being trampled, squatting down and trying to swing her axe at the rider from below. The orc would fire down now and then, but she clearly didn’t want to hurt her own mount. She couldn’t follow what was happening to the others at all, though she heard Ter’s shouts and the blast of spells.
Finally, as TumTum poked her head out from under the dinosaur’s belly, she got a leather boot in the face and was sent backwards. The dinosaur roared at her and retreated at its rider’s behest.
She wanted to run, but that wasn’t going to happen. She’d spent so much time running, since making that delivery outside Zig. She wouldn’t run any more.
From the corner of her eye, she saw that Robin was down and out, and Lenona was fighting furiously to protect his body from the white-bearded warrior, whose armour was painted in her partner’s blood.
Then suddenly, the elderly human stepped back and scowled across the street. “You”, he mouthed.
The orc raised her loaded gun… and then made her mount take another step back. TumTum glanced over her shoulder.
Javel was standing in the mouth of the alleyway, right behind her back. The street had gone almost quiet, now.
“I’m not here for you. Get out”, he said in a calm tone and started advancing toward TumTum. The orc turned her mount around and rode into another alleyway, pushing her head down as she sped away from the scene. Her ally seemed to agree with her assessment, stepping back and activating some sort of magic item to teleport away from the scene.
TumTum turned around and held her axe between herself and Javel. “You”, she said. “You’d better be ready to take me dead, because I’m not going with you alive.”
Javel stopped just short of his chest touching her axe’s blade. His face looked as emotionless as ever. “Calm down”, he said.
She moved the polearm up a little bit. The blade phased through Javel’s chest like through thin air. “Wh-what?” She asked dumbly as the half-orc vanished before her eyes.
“An illusion”, called out a youthful voice from the mouth of the warehouse. Pike stood there, wiping sweat from his forehead. “I had to think of something I could think to scare them off. I didn’t think that policemen would.”
“They know who he is…” Ter said, walking over to check Ulias’ gunshot wound.
Lenona knelt down to pick Robin off the ground. “Who cares. We need to get out of here! There’s no way we can explain this to the constables!” TumTum could see quite a few people who were poking their heads out of windows or were standing a little distance away, having spectated the fight.
Pike ran forward. “Around me, everyone”, he said, and cast an invisibility sphere once they were with him. The group started out of the scene, the unconscious Robin in his partner’s arms, and the others holding to their own wounds.
“TumTum”, Ter said tensely once they were a little distance away from the scene. “I know this isn’t a good time, but… you have to see it.” Ulias reached for Robin to cure his wounds, and Lenona muttered thanks at him.
She frowned. “See what?”
“The gunpowder from Xhas’Wlef. The Protean. The murder of a Warden. It… it has to be your father who’s behind this”, Ter said in an apologetic tone.
Post by kerrah on Jan 17, 2017 14:57:19 GMT
Standalone Chapter - Her Tribe
Grikka woke up to hubbub outside. Rubbing her eyes she got up from under her sleeping furs. The inside of the tent was decently warm, but the nippy air made her shiver regardless. Oggo was still asleep. Grikka pulled on her shirt and then peeked out through the tent flap. At least half the tribe seemed to be a-buzz with activity. She saw Agdo walking off with some of their bigwalkers, taking them further from the tents. The chief’s mate Runna was putting a ceremonial saddle on his murderteeth.
“The coast folk are coming”, Grikka said to herself sleepily and drew back in. She kicked Oggo in the side and procured her trousers. She pulled them on sleepily as Oggo started to wake.
“They’re not here ‘til tomorrow”, he complained.
“They’re here a day early, then”, Grikka said and yanked the covers off him, leaving him naked in the chilly air. He shivered and crawled over to get his own clothes.
While he started getting dressed, she pulled on a thin long-sleeved undershirt and some riding pants, followed by her Vipergarb. The oxhide vest went over her torso. She unfurled a long scarlet scarf knit in the colours of a hills bloodadder, and started to wrap it around her torso, in the sequence she’d been taught since she’d come of age. Through the loop at the base of her back; around the hips from both sides; crossed at her stomach; one around her back and another over her breasts; tied to a knot over her chest; over the shoulder; and then the rest went around her neck like a regular scarf. Each clan had its own sequence, and its own snake that the scarves were designed after.
With her Vipergarb on, she bent over and started to pick up her tools from where she’d laid them out. Oggo took the chance to feel her bottom, so she gave him a light kick on the shoulder to chase him off, laughing as she did.
She made it out while he was still getting dressed, and sought out the chief. She didn’t make it far before Runna flagged her down. “Grikka! Here”, she called in her most commanding tone. When Grikka did come, she ordered: “Get your murderteeth. You’re to join Voro in greeting The Richard.”
Grikka let out a gasp. “The Richard is coming? In person?”
“Yes. So get going”, Runna barked impatiently. The younger orc did as told, running toward the murderteeth pasture.
The Rimehill Tribe lived in the foothills of the Godsmaw mountains. The elevation left their homes in a colder climate than most of the other inland tribes of Xhas’wlef. Their encampment would move from place to place to get fodder for their herdrunner flocks, and to keep up with the wild beasts they hunted. Descending into the savannah down below the hills was easy enough, especially when one rode. The looming snow-covered peaks of the Godsmaw were always visible in the south.
They’d last moved the encampment ten days ago, so soon it would be time to move again. The grass here was flattened and the bare dirt shone through it. Eleven tents had been erected in a roughly circular pattern, flanked by the pastures for their flocks on one side and their mounts on the other. A copse of trees stood not far from them, a few of them having been chopped down for firewood and building material some days prior. Most were untouched, and the orcs had used the water from the spring amongst the trees sparingly. They'd had yaks until recently, and were planning to buy some more from one of the other tribes in the near future. Lizards didn't give milk.
Grikka soon found Skystrider. He’d been just a hatchling when he’d been given to her. The runt of the litter. Aside from Oggo, he was her closest friend. Stroking the big lizard’s snout, she pulled him out to the gate and grabbed a saddle, starting to strap it on him. The ferocious animal stood still on two feet, as calm and obedient as a hobgoblin.
By the time she was done, she saw Chief Voro riding out of the village, followed by a few of his best hunters. She sped Skystrider up and joined at the back of the procession.
Almost as soon as they left the encampment, they saw an orderly group approaching. The rhytmic pounding of their feet on the ground made it clear it was hobgoblins. Grikka’s jaw tightened. Oggo’s big brother Roggo called out from up ahead: “You’ve been to the coast, right, Grikka? Kill any hobbos there?”
“No”, she said with a chuckle. “Their cities are like termite nests. Hundreds and hundreds of the buggers. Even if you got into an honest fight with one, the others’d swarm over ya.”
There were almost a hundred of them, all in perfect rows with synced footsteps. A baggage trained followed them, pulled by oxen. Somewhat surprisingly, not all of them were actually sandstone-skinned hobgoblins, as there were viridian coastal orcs and some sort of human-blooded mongrels among them too. Half the soldiers were carrying long spears: too long for throwing, and too long to fight from the saddle with one hand. The rest were carrying strange metal tubes. Grikka wondered if those were some sort of warhorns. They were all in uniforms, matching one another. They were designed after the clothes of pinkskins from abroad, not the traditional clothes of Wlef’s own kin.
At the front was a human on a horse. At first he was just a distant blip, but soon Grikka could see details. She’d seen some horses during her trip to the coast city, and humans too. Most of her fellow hunters here hadn’t ever seen one of either. They were gawking at this man not just for who he was, but for what he was.
The Richard wasn’t a very tall man. His hair was a rusty ginger colour, like on a lot of gnomes. His nose was much smaller than on most people Grikka had ever met, his eyes bigger and his jaw sharper. Maybe he had elf blood, like the people in Minaerum? He sat uneasily in the saddle of the horse, and it was obvious that he didn’t ride often. His legs were all tense and he gripped on the reins too tight. The animal was well trained though, and walked forward at a steady pace. The side of his jaw and his right cheek were marked with an ugly scar that didn’t look very old, the skin around it still red. Whatever blow had caused it must have almost killed him.
He was dressed in clothing like the soldiers behind him, except finer. There were discs of metal hanging from the front of his coat. The morning air was probably way too cold for the clothes he wore. He didn’t even have a fur collar or scarf to protect his long neck from the wind. He didn’t carry any weapons on him that Grikka could see. But he had magic. All the kneeling hobgoblins of Xhas’wlef had agreed to bow before this human, so Grikka reconed his magic was scary indeed.
Chief Voro dismounted, and barked at his hunters to do the same. Grikka was the first to follow the order, while some of the others complained. The Richard wanted to look down on them. When the human was five paces away from Voro, he brought his horse to a halt and spoke in a slightly squeaky voice: “You are the Rimehill Tribe?” He actually spoke good Orcish, though it was a coastland dialect.
“Yes”, the chief responded. “We offer hospitality and safety to you and your… your men.”
The Richard’s jaw tightened slightly. “They’ve got their own food. I’m here to find out who attacked the First New Mafalgonia Gnomish Regiment during the war.”
“Not us”, the chief’s nephew Topo said lazily. Voro glared back at him angrily.
The human looked past them, at the encampment. “We’ll find out, won’t we. You’re the last on my list. Let’s just go to your village. Gather your people; I want to speak to them.”
“Yes”, the chief responded simply, and started to mount again. The others followed his lead. As they did, Grikka caught the Richard looking at their mounts. Skystrider had gotten a lot of looks out in the coast. Apparently foreigners thought that riding murderteeth was special.
A tense silence fell on them as they made it back to the camp. The Richard was the only one of his company who rode. The soldiers behind him all walked in a quiet obedience that Grikka had thought only hobgoblins could manage. Even the orcs among them had stony, serious faces. It looked odd to her.
“I hope the travel went well”, Chief Voro said in a conversational tone, breaking the silence.
“I made us a gate”, The Richard said distractedly. “We were with Tribe Rokbred yesterday, a hundred miles from here. I’ve been at this for three weeks now.” The tiredness in his voice was evident. The hunters shared looks amongst themselves. When a messenger had come to deliver news of this meeting, they had been told that The Richard would tour all the tribes. Everyone had assumed it would take a whole winter to visit all of them, not three weeks.
It took them a bit to gather everyone in the camp together, but finaly they had forty-two adults, seven children and four babies too young to stand all gathered in the clearing between the pastures and the tents. The Richard and his soldiers were waiting by then. The human looked at everyone. He looked vaguely disgusted. Chief Voro stood at the front, holding the reins of his mount. Grikka was not too far, Oggo behind her. The hobgoblins all stood in lines behind their human ruler, holding their long spears and those strange metal tubes. The tubes didn’t look much like instruments.
“Tribe Rimehill”, the Richard suddenly spoke out, his voice echoing into them like a stampede of sound and fury. “I’m here to make two announcements. Firstly… last year, during our war against the Gnomish colonies down south, one of our own all-Gnome regiments was attacked by unknown tribal orcs behind our lines. A survivor testified that the attackers were riding dinosaurs and wore the vests customary to your tribes. Justice has to be delivered to those guilty, and so I ask that if you know which tribe did it, you report it.”
He let them take in the words. A few of the younger tribesfolk were whispering amongst themselves, wondering what this was about. The war had never come to the highlands, and only a few bands of warriors had ever ridden to take part in it.
“What’s a dinosaur?” Grikka heard her young cousin Igge ask his mother, only to be hushed
After a long enough pause for anyone to step forward to speak out, The Richard cleared his throat and went on: “Secondly. To unite the coastal farmlands and the tribal lands more strongly, starting next year we are building a road through this area.”
This one caused quite a hubbub. Even Chief Voro muttered a silent curse, taken aback by the unexpected proclamation. For his part, The Richard seemed happy with their confusion. He continued: “The road will run from New Mafalgonia to Kobolia, skirting north of the Godsmaw mountains. It will partially cross your tribal grounds, but this is only a good thing for you. Southwest of here, at the border of Sable, a fortified settlement will be built. It will serve as a caravan rest, a trade outpost, and will house a military garrison. It will make it much easier for you to trade with foreigners. Half of the road tolls collected from the caravans will be paid to your tribe in the form of tax breaks.”
“Taxes?” Chief Voro said in a surprised tone. “You mean tribute?”
“Yes. Thanks for bringing that up”, the human said in a ponderous tone. “The tribes will be taxed just like all the farming communities in the coastlands are. You can pay in pastoral products, like dinosaur eggs, or in hides and leathers, in preserved meats, or in rare metals and money. The officials in the border fort will make the calculations.”
“We’ve never paid taxes”, protested Topo loudly. The chief shot him a look that could turn a bigwalker barren.
The Richard laughed at this. Wiping his brow, he impatiently rubbed his fingers against each other to warm them up, and announced: “You will from now on. Taxation will start as soon as we build the fort. Taxmen will visit your tribe to assess its wealth each year, and will set a sufficient tribute. You will send your chief and an honour guard to present the taxes at the fort on the first day of each year. And you will do so dressed like civilized people. No tribal rags or fur vests, or scarves all around you. I’ve banned those clothes in all the cities in the coast, and that ban will be in effect in the border fort.”
A silence fell after he stopped speaking. Everyone was sharing looks, mortified. A road? Some fort full of coastfolk right at their doorstep? Taxes? The Vipergarb was being banned?
“You are the last tribe I am visiting”, the human said, looking out into the plains as he did. “You people have let me down in finding the traitors, and in being coooperative when I’m trying to build a nation for all of us to live in. You will be integrated, sooner or later.” He sounded more like he was speaking to himself than to them, though his voice still boomed forth.
After that, he collected himself and made some conciliatory statements. He assured them that they wouldn’t be forced to start farming, and wouldn’t be forced to live in cities, and responded to Chief Voro’s question on whether the fort would require farmland around it by assuring it would subsist on food shipments, rather than stolen tribe land. Grikka was barely paying attention, though.
This was all boasting, she thought. The Richard was just trying to scare them. He couldn’t march his armies inland to make them pay him tribute. The savannah was much too wide and the tribes much too widely spread. They’d only agreed to welcome this little army because it was on its way to secure the border with the Tengu in Sable.
Her stupor was interrupted when The Richard suddenly gave out a frustrated groan and stepping away from the lot of them. “I’ve been here for too long. I’m leaving back to the capital”, he announced and gestured at a hobgoblin with an ivory baton who wore a tall hat that had skulls and feathers attached to it, rather than the small caps of the others. “Captain Eskeder is in charge. The troop will stay here for the rest of the night. If you want to be any help, talk to him about anything.”
The tribe gave muttered responses. The chief stepped forward to say something, but the human simply waved his hands and vanished into thin air. A gasp went through the lot of them.
Clearing his throat, the hobgoblin captain instead approached their chief. He was old, with hair that had gone white and a pockmarked face with filed-sharp teeth. “I am sorry for the Chairman. He is under a lot of stress since the war, and he has little patience for niceties. We should have a feast tonight, Chief Voro. My officers, and your best hunters. We’ll provide some wines and sweet things from our wares, and you can provide the main course.” He smiled a smile trying to bridge over distrust. He behaved very… human.
The chief gave a curt nod. “We’ll need a prize beast for that… Grikka! Get Oggo and hunt us a stripeback or some such. Be back well before dusk so we can cook it.” The order came as something of a surprise. Oggo wasn’t as good of a hunter as she was. Why was he getting paired with her? Not that she minded, though.
“Yes, boss”, she said and started off, walking Skystrider behind her. Oggo ran off to get his own murderteeth, Snowscale, to join her.
She mounted the lizard outside the camp, and soon rode off with Oggo. At first there was a strained silence between them, the thumping of their mounts’ foot on the ground the only sound. He seemed much more concerned with the news than she did.
Crossing over the crest of the hill outside their campsite, they started downslope now, dodging the occasional tree. Grikka leaned forward and pushed Skystrider into a full run now, whooping as he sped up. Oggo cried out and chased after her. The two of them went down the hill noisily, him chasing her. The quiver of javelins at her hip rattled loudly with every step of her mount.
As the slope started to even out, Grikka slowed down at the sight of large footprints up ahead. Down here, large meant large. It didn’t take a very close look to recognise what animal these belonged to.
“Kingscale”, she said to Oggo as he stopped beside her. The huge footprint was large enough for her to curl up inside. There were others too. They led sideways along the bottom of the hill’s slope. “Do’ya think it’ll get close to the camp?” She asked. The animal itself was gone by now, but it couldn’t be that far. Creatures this big didn’t usually wander out into the great savannah, but instead stayed close to the foothills. It probably wouldn’t go uphill, though.
“Maybe she’ll chase the hobbos away”, Oggo said, gesturing at the curved back talon which marked this specimen as female. “Bet they’ve never even seen one.”
“Like how you’d never seen a horse?” She teased him with a smile over her shoulder.
He rolled his eyes and started his mount up ahead again. “By the looks of it, The Richard’s never ridden one. Did you see his pose? Bet he’s got saddle sores, like a little baby.”
Grikka burst into laughter, and the two started looking for their prize.
With an angry growl, Skystrider backed up in a spiral to avoid the wrath of the big stripeback male. While not much bigger than a murderteeth, stripebacks were much more dangerous alone. Grikka threw a javelin at the beast, hitting it in the neck. Oggo jabbed its flank at the behind before retreating. When the creature turned to snap at him, Grikka turned her own sideways movement into a charge. She pulled a spear from her quiver and drove it under the prey’s jaw in an upward angle. The weapon sunk into the stripeback’s flesh and it collapsed, thrashing around while she whooped triumphantly.
Oggo laughed and jumped off his saddle, staying a safe distance away, but already taking their victory for a given. Grikka yelled for him to stay back, and waited for the creature to still. The approached it from behind and let Skystrider grab its tail and give it a hard yank. It stayed totally limp. “It’s dead.”
They made their mounts step back and tied them to a tree to avoid damaging the carcass. As Grikka pulled out her long hunting knife to start butchering it, Oggo pulled the spear out of the lizard’s body and asked: “So you don’t think The Richard’s gonna turn us all into a bunch of kneeling hobbos?”
“Of course not. He’s just trying to scare everyone straight. Caravans travel through here to Sable all the time, and they don’t need any roads for that. He’s probably gonna want them to pave it with stones like some elven palace. Such a waste.” She rolled her eyes while peeling off the lizard’s thick skin. They’d wrap the prized meats in it on the way home.
Oggo sighed and knelt down to help her start to cut off the meat from the flanks. As they did it, they’d drop the meat off on the scaly hide on the grass next to the corpse. Off on the side, their mounts were letting out impatient growls and pulling on their reins.
As the process started to near its end, Oggo stood up once again. He seemed oddly anxious about something today. Moving behind Grikka, he put his hands on her shoulders and leaned forward to kiss her neck. She tried to ignore him, focusing on her knifework, but his advances grew more bold, so she had to stomp on his toes. “Not now, you big dolt”, she laughed.
“How about for the rest of our lives?” He asked and grabbed the scarf around her neck. Pulling it off her, he grinned when she gasped. He tugged open the knot at her chest and unravelled the whole thing. After yanking it free from the leather loop at the back of her trousers, he started removing his own scarf, until that was loose too. She was frozen still, feeling her cheeks grow a darker shade of green.
“Will you be my mate?” Oggo asked, offering his own scarf to her.
“I think we’ve been at that for a year now”, she laughed, but accepted it, starting to apply it onto herself now, while he returned the geature, wearing her scarf. His was made of bright silk, bought from a caravan, while hers was wool.
“There’s a difference”, he said in an amused tone while tying up the scarf over his broad chest. “My cuz’s got a thing for them tengu. Always tries to find one in every caravan that he can bed. Doesn’t mean he’s carrying something of theirs on him when he hunts.”
She laughed and turned back to finish the butchering real fast. “Your cuz has a clubfoot, he can’t even hunt, you oaf.”
“You know what I mean”, he said and reached to touch the silk scarf running across her back.
As soon as she had all the meats ready, she turned around and tackled Oggo. They took a brief break from disrobing to let their mounts loose. The rest of the stripeback got devoured while the two of them became entangled.
After resting and finding a stream to drink from, Grikka and Oggo headed home. The lizard meats were wrapped in a scaly hide pouch. Blood dripping off it might attract some sort of predator to follow them, so the orcs double-wrapped it just in case. The way home was uneventful, so to pass the time they began to sing. She whistled a tune, while he drummed a beat on his chest and sang the slow words in Tengu, imitating a language neither of them spoke. Sundown wasn’t too far away.
When they drew close to the encampment, the first sign that something was wrong was a strange smell in the air. A slightly bitter one, like smoke mixed with dung. Then, they heard the bangs, and the distant shouts.
“Something’s happening”, Grikka said, alarmed. She and Oggo were still on the far side of the hill, and couldn’t see the camp. She started to dismount. “Keep the mounts and stay here”, she told him in a hushed tone. He let out an uncertain groan, but she didn’t give him time to argue, instead dashing uphill, amongst the trees.
After crossing the crest of the hill, she squatted amongst the undergrowth and snuck toward. Flashes of light were going off every dozen seconds or so, and one of the tents in the camp seemed to be on fire. It didn’t make any sense. Were they under attack by wizards? Hesitantly she took the quiver of javelins off her hips and left it on the ground, to avoid the rattling sound it was making. She descended toward the campfire, through the copse of trees.
She threw herself down into a bush when running footsteps approached. She saw a pair of fuzzy hunting boots approaching in a frantic pace, only for one of those blasts to go off not too far behind. The chieftess, Runna fell down face-first two paces away from her, her dead eyes staring into the distance.
A hobgoblin and a coastal half-human stepped behind the corpse, and one of them poked the dead woman with a sword to confirm the kill. She didn’t flinch. The half-human was holding one of those metal tubes in his hands, smoke rising from it. That strange smell was strong in the air. “Let’s go get the rest”, the hobgoblin said and they left the scene back into the campsite.
As Grikka got back up, a herdrunner dashed past her, a bloody wound on its side. They were even killing the flocks. She hesitated briefly, and then kept sneaking torward the tents. Her father was still out there…
She arrived at the edge of the trees, and didn’t dare go any further. The nearest tent was ten paces away, and there were people running around all willy-nilly, using their strange weapons and fighting each other.
“Find me Roggo. The one with the scar over his brow”, she heard a sharp voice call out from a startlingly close distance. It was the captain, standing only a couple of paces from her. He’d come from the spring, to her right. He bellowed angrily: “Our witness says that he led the raiding party during the war. Get him alive if you can.”
She heard a higher-pitched yelp from next to where the hobgoblin’s voice was coming. “No. I didn’t want you to-”
“Shut up”, the captain said angrily. Grikka shifted to see him. He had Roggo and Oggo’s youngest brother, Tarre, by the arm, and now tossed him onto the ground. “You’d better not have lied to me. If you think this is bad, just wait until you see what Lord Richard does to people who waste his men’s time.” He kicked the young boy in the ribs.
Suddenly Tarre was on his feet, his knife out of its sheath and a defiant shout coming out his mouth. Grikka’s eyes went wide as she hoped against hope that he’d not do it. The hobgoblin captain easily stepped back and avoided the desperate stab, grabbing Tarre by the wrist and yanking the weapon from him. He tossed him back onto the ground, and a couple of soldiers approached. One of them pointed a tube at the youth.Click.
There was no boom, and no flash, and no damage to Tarre. Grikka held her hands to her mouth. She was afraid she might scream. The captain groaned as his soldier began fiddling with his tube. Another one pointed down, and this time the boom came.
Grikka didn’t manage to close her eyes in time. She also didn’t manage to hide her shock. “What was that?” She heard a voice from where the murder had happened. Turning around, she dashed back deeper into the trees, even as she heard the distinct sound of them running after her. The afterimage of the explosion which had killed Tarre left her half-blind, but her instincts and sheer panic made her navigate through the trees at full speed.
The hobbos yelled in anger and ran behind her. She could hear their boots against the stony ground and the sounds of tree branches being pushed out of the way. As the slope of the hill grew greater, Grikka was reduced to hunching down and practically scrambling upwards on all fours. A blast went off behind her, and she heard something hit a tree trunk not far to her left.
She stopped at the crest of the cliff and found her javels. Heaving, she turned around and tossed one blindly into the undergrowth behind her. She didn’t see where it went, or if it hit anyone, but suddenly one of those hobbos stood up with a metal tube pointed her way. She threw herself over the crest of the cliff, rolling down, scattering javelins everywhere.
When she managed to get back on her feet, she ran downhill, the same way she and Oggo had gone hunting today. The hobs were still after her, and up ahead there was no cover whatsoever. A couple of booms went off, but the distance was too great and she didn’t even hear whatever they were shooting at her hit. She veered to the left.
Looking over her shoulder, she could see that they were catching up to her. She was much more used to riding than running, and their equipment wasn’t nearly as heavy as it could be. The sun hadn’t still even started to set, so she couldn’t lose them, either. There was no sign of Oggo. She hoped he’d ridden off. Maybe he could make out, and tell the other tribes. Skystrider was with him.
Her legs ached as she pushed herself forward. The pursuers had stopped trying to hit her with those spells of theirs. She’d seen some of them slow down to fiddle with their tubes, but it had been a while since they’d taken shots at her. They were waiting for her to tire. Like a hunter pursuing a threehorn, waiting to see it slow down so he could spear it in the eye.
Turning back to face forward, Grikka let out a loud scream, as loud as she could make. The shrill voice actually echoed back at her from the cliffs up ahead. She heard her pursuers hooting, thinking she was starting to lose hope, or trying to yell for help.
She ran more, and more. Every time she looked over her shoulder, the men seemed to be closer. She screamed again, and a third time, before being left panting.
“Fire!” She heard someone shout a frighteningly short distance behind herself. She tried to throw herself behind a rock cliff she’d been about to turn behind, but a pain erupted in the back of her shoulder blade, seemingly at the exact same moment as the explosion sound went off behind her. She tumbled forward again, this time not sure if she could get back up.
A deep growling noise erupted from ahead of her. The rocky ground shook. Pulling herself closer to the cliff, she looked around in a panic, but all the movement around her was a blur. The pain left her dizzy and her ears were ringing, but she didn’t need her senses to know what was about to happen.
The elated shouts of her pursuers turned to shocked shouts as the Kingscale came around the cliff and approached them. Every step was an earthshake, and it didn’t move in a ponderous pace like a bigwalker. Someone fired their spell at it, and it charged the soldiers, roaring. The smoky smell in the air covered up blood and death.
Grikka’s vision began to clear up, and she pushed herself on her feet. Her left arm throbbed in pain, and she couldn’t close her fingers properly. She needed to leave before the beast decided she wasn’t a corpse after all.
Halfway up, she saw the captain standing only three strides from her, holding his boom-tube pointed at her. His men were dying behind his back, but he seemed to barely notice. She pushed herself the rest of the way to her feet, but he had a clear shot.
He pulled the lever underneath the tube, and it went click
. No smoke, no boom, no pain. The captain tossed the weapon aside and went for his sword, angrily roaring: “Lucky little git!”
Grikka threw herself at him, pulling out her hunting knife and burying it in his eye socket. She tried to pin his sword hand to the ground with her knee, but her injured shoulder scraped into the rock cliff, causing her to stumble off the man, almost fainting from the pain.
She felt him grab at her from behind. His fist closed around the scarf running across her back. Oggo’s scraf. He pulled at it, snarling curses as he tried to pull the sword out while lying on his back. She felt herself get yanked against his chest.
Realising she still held the knife, she quickly cut the scraf at her chest, and came free of his hold as she stumbled from him. She was covered in blood. From her peripherals, she saw the kingscale ripping someone in two some fifteen paces away.
She stumbled and fell on her knees. The captain got up. His face was a mask of horror, with a black pit in place of his left eye, and everything else painted a dark scarlet. But somehow his sharp teeth were little specs of white amongst all that. She looked at him as he pulled out his sword and stepped forward her.
Suddenly, a two-feet shaft of wood stuck out of his chest, and he fell on his side without ceremony. Grikka looked around in confusion, and found someone beside her, looming over. “Get up. We need to leave before she’s done with them”, a familiar voice said. She didn’t know what was happening, but strong arms were pulling her up. Her foot found a stirrup, but she couldn’t make it all the way to the saddle, so she instead lay on it belly down. The saddle began to sway, and she watched the rocky terrain slide out away in front of her.
Glancing past the reptile’s tail, she saw the dead hobgoblin lying on the ground, Oggo’s scarlet silk scarf next to him, the eight-foot length of fabric pooled on the ground, becoming indistinguishable from his blood.
They’re banned, she recalled, then. The thought came sluggishly. The vipergarb’s banned. It felt important, for some reason. But as she tried to follow the trail of thought, the darkness enveloped her.