Dark Mirror (TS)
Iannah paced restlessly back and forth inside the easternmost of the old Cademia houses. It wasn't the waiting that bothered her, although time was not a plentiful commodity: if any of the three targets escaped, they only had another two days at most to come up with a new strategy and put it into action before the main forces were meant to arrive in Cademia. But she was a tactician through and through, and she felt confident enough in her team of hand-picked fighters to deal with whatever came their way.
No, it was relying on someone else that frustrated her like this. She had been so proud when she had been appointed captain of the vanguard that was to infiltrate the island's biggest and most well-protected city, until Aremis had been appointed alongside her as the coordinating agent between her team and the daemon forces. She barely knew the man and already resented him for interfering with the mission that ought to have permanently placed her in Selax's good graces.
And now he was late.
She had stationed two men outside to keep watch around the abandoned house they had temporarily taken over, a third at the window, and the only other female on her team at the door. She liked the young girl because she reminded Iannah of herself as an adolescent almost a decade ago, ruthless and eager to prove herself. Bastian, the fifth member of her team and her most trusted man, waited respectfully nearby as he watched his captain pace in silence.
"Aremis is approaching, Captain," the man keeping watch from the window finally reported.
Iannah said nothing, but positioned herself in front of the doorway to wait for his entrance, flanked by Bastian. She believed in keeping followers close through respect, not fear, and she would have to set a good example to her team. Loyalty motivated by fear was unwavering until a larger threat came along, whereas loyalty engendered by respect gave her a tentative enough hold to have allowed her rapid rise through the ranks of Selax's forces, despite her young age.
Outside the house, Aremis knocked briefly before entering, ignoring the girl that glowered at him as he stepped through the doorway. He focused his attention on the woman directly in front of him: battle-hardened face framed by auburn hair braided and coiled at the back of her head, fallow-coloured leather armour exposing none of her lithe and muscular body. Aremis was not a man to be easily cowed, but after a single brief meeting he had already deemed that under her courteous leadership seethed murderous ruthlessness, and he was no more pleased to be working with such an intransigent woman than she was with him.
"Welcome," Iannah said as the black-robed man stepped forward and nodded to her in greeting. "I am glad to see you have arrived safely. Were you delayed?"
"Yes," Aremis said, ignoring her insincerity. "I arrived in Cademia this afternoon, but my source proved difficult to locate. There are many people on edge in the town and he was forced to lie low."
"I trust you found him and acquired the herbs though." It wasn't a question.
Aremis proffered the bundle to the captain in reply. "There should be more than enough there."
Iannah barely concealed her relief as she unwrapped the cloth to find several of the small, white-patterned leaves. She would have vastly preferred to acquire them herself - it was, after all, her suggestion to use them - but finding Devil's Mercy was difficult enough in their homeland, let alone here. Aremis had insisted that he had a contact within Cademia who dealt in such dubious goods, and she had been forced to comply out of necessity.
"Good," she finally said, having confirmed that they were real. "We've spent the last two days scouting out the mages' homes and I've settled on a strategy for each. Bastian can fill you in on the details while I began preparing these herbs. We should be ready to depart within a matter of hours."
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 15 October 2009 - 05:07 AM
Avatara waited warily outside the Two-Tailed Rat. The day had grown late enough that there was no one around to notice him, but he remained cautious. Suddenly, he saw movement near a dark corner of the building.
" Avatara ," a voice hissed. " Over here. We must speak."
He stiffened, recognizing the voice at once. For a long moment, he was tempted to ignore it, but in the end he decided that he had nothing better do anyway. Carefully, he made his way over to where the man clothed in the green garb of a ranger waited.
"What do you want, Rapierian?" Avatara asked the ranger in a cold voice.
Glancing around them once more, Rapierian replied, "You haven't changed, I see. Still speaking with your usual sunny disposition and still pursuing your vendetta."
"What do you want?" Avatara repeated.
"I'm not going to rehash an old conversation if that's what you fear," the ranger replied sadly. "You've made your choice, little good that it will do you. or anyone else." Annoyed, Avatara turned away, but, before he could take a step, the ranger continued softly, "Pity. I would have thought that Iannah's presence in town would have interested you. After all, she's one of the only Cytherans who might know anything about Selax's presence here—and here he must be if you are here."
"Alright, ranger, say your piece—but it better not be another of your 'join me and save Cythera' stories. Your endless 'heroics' have no interest for me."
Rapierian regarded him momentary sadness but spoke on.
"Iannah is in town, along with Aremis. Both are plotting against the mages in the city. They'll make their move soon."
Avatara turned to glare at him. "You had better not be lying to embroil me in one of your 'noble' quests."
"My only 'quest' has ever been to free our homeland—small value that seems to have to you or to many others these days," retorted Rapierian. "You know that my word is good."
"Where is she?"
"I know where she was and maybe where she will be. But, before I tell you anything about her, I want some information from you."
Regarding Rapierian with suspicion, Avatara carefully asked, "Such as?"
"Selax. Where is he (if you know) and how do you know he is here?"
"I see. And just why should I tell you what I know?"
"In addition to knowing about Iannah, I also know that Wizard is here—and I bet you did not. You'd be unwise to move against Selax without knowing at least something of Wizard's doings. I propose a trade in information."
The Two-Tailed Rat was, if possible, even more uncanny than the Alraeican Tavern had been. In recent years K had taken to spending more time here, searching for work, and the sight of Apis clearing a table in the dining area was uncomfortably jarring. The woman had run the inn for as long as K could remember back in her world and seemed like she would go on running it forever, so to see her here... K ignored the slight shiver that went down her spine and tried not to think about it.
The inn's dining room was surprisingly quiet, but the few people scattered about only looked up briefly as she walked in and then went back to their meals. They didn't seem to recognize her, or care, and this bolstered her courage enough to tentatively approach Apis. She was less skilled at manipulating women, but Apis had always seemed like a fairly straightforward and cordial person, as long as you paid your tab.
"Excuse me, madam," K said, not knowing if her duplicate would be expected to know the innkeeper's name, "I'm looking for a man who is called the Wizard. Are you familiar with him?"
Apis gave no indication of recognizing her, but seemed slightly agitated as she replied. "I am, but I haven't seen him in some time now. I believe he left town about a week ago, and there's been no word of his return since."
K frowned slightly. She might have been able to track someone who had left a day ago, but not a week. "Do you have any idea where he was headed?"
"South. That's all I know." Apis shrugged and began walking toward the kitchen with a pile of dishes. "There was a man who came in this morning asking about him, if that means anything to you."
K's eyes widened as she followed along behind the woman. "Really? What did he look like?"
Apis paused at the door to the kitchen, seemingly trying to recall something. "Brown hair, tanned, clean shaven, medium height. Looked like a traveller. He didn't talk much or stay long. I'm sorry, I don't remember any more." She looked apologetic, although her tone quickly turned distraught. "It's been a terrible day. There was a murder here this morning, you know. A guard killed one of my patrons, right in the middle of my inn!"
That explained the poor business tonight. K had seen more than enough drunken brawls in her life to care about one that went too far though. It had to be unrelated to the conspiracy Forlong had just told her about; no assassin would commit a murder in public. She was more concerned about the man Apis had described, who she was almost sure was Beorn. Odd that he had actually come looking for Wizard and yet not returned.
"I'm sorry to hear that," K said, out of feigned politeness. "I'll allow you to get back to your work. Thank you for your help."
K left the inn quickly, relieved that things had gone much more smoothly than at the Tavern. She was wondering what Avatara would make of the news about Wizard and Beorn, when she stepped out into the twilight and realized that Avatara was no longer alone. More surprisingly, he was talking to... Rapierian?
She had only come into contact with Rapierian briefly in the past, and knew more about him from his acquaintance with Avatara. She had made it explicitly clear to the ranger the first time they met that she thought his goals were unattainable, and they had never been on good terms since then. Neither man had noticed her exit the inn though, so she cautiously listened in from a distance. "You'd be unwise to move against Selax without knowing at least something of Wizard's doings. I propose a trade in information," Rapierian was saying in a low voice.
"Tell me about the Wizard and Iannah first," Avatara said curtly.
K paled and put her hand against the wall of the inn for support. Avatara was planning to go after Selax? No wonder he had been so reluctant to tell her anything; he'd know she would try everything to stop him. Or at least, she once would have. Things were different now that she had silently pledged herself to whatever plan he was pursuing... although this was far more dangerous than merely tracking down an old wizard. And the mention of Iannah worried her greatly. It was unclear which Wizard they referred to, but K had little doubt that Avatara meant the Iannah from their world; she knew firsthand that the woman was working for Selax.
Unfortunately, her brief motion caught Rapierian's attention this time. "Katerei?" he asked, not sounding as surprised as she would have liked. Had he known she was here?
"Please don't call me that," K said, gritting her teeth as she approached the men. She eyed the ranger unkindly. "Rapierian... I should have known you'd find a way to involve yourself in everyone's affairs."
"I'm not interested in yours," he replied smoothly, giving no hint as to whether that was meant to appease or insult her. "I was merely negotiating with Avatara."
"Which I will agree to on the condition that you give me your information first," Avatara repeated.
"Easily met," Rapierian said, turning his attention away from K. "Iannah has set up a temporary base in one of the old houses with Aremis and a team of followers. She is planning to lead a strike against the mages very soon. She'll likely change locations after this is carried out, so tonight is your best opportunity to intercept her."
"You want me to stop her from killing the mages," Avatara stated contemptuously. "So much for not involving me in your heroics. Why should I believe that you're not wasting my time?"
"He's telling the truth," K said, and both men looked at her in surprise. She hated to agree with Rapierian, and hated even more what she was about to admit to, but it was out of necessity. She owed her help to Avatara - her life, if need be - and she suspected of the three of them, she knew most about Iannah. They wouldn't get far without her. "Someone in the Alraeican Tavern mentioned a conspiracy to me. And those herbs we found that someone dropped... I think Iannah is going to use them to poison the mages."
"What makes you think that?" Avatara asked, raising his eyebrows at her.
K struggled to speak through the lump that had formed in her throat. "Because I was the one who taught her about it. I was training her to be a herbalist years ago, until she decided that working for him was a better option. I tried to dissuade her, but one day she just vanished, and... I haven't seen her since."
Beorn looked questioningly at the enforcer, then, confusingly at Katerei, "Well, um..."
Katerei paled as she realized Beorn's mistake. She had no idea who this man was, which meant if he recognized her he must be mistaking her for her duplicate. Fortunately, if he expected her to be outside Cademia, that probably meant the duplicate wasn't actually in the city. But she had no idea just how close the other woman might be. And for that matter, how did Beorn know the duplicate? Were either of them trustworthy? She waited in silent panic for Beorn to answer Shanadar's uneasy question.
While Katerei reeled from the sudden revelation, Shanadar came to similar conclusions, and, of considerably calmer mindset, turned to Yomu. "I believe we found someone who can… clarify this matter," he said in a tone that left no uncertainty that he wanted some answers.
Beorn objected loudly as the imposing enforcer and the lofty rogue removed him from the ground and planted his damp body against the trunk of a large tree.
"Alright, tell us where you've seen this girl before," Shanadar questioned Beorn in a commanding tone.
Beorn had already thought of his story. It was obviously bad, being interrogated by two strangers and one former companion, but it would be more dangerous to give away too much information. For now, the truth with some omissions would suffice.
'Katerei should be able to get enough information from that,' he thought.
He forced his eyes to become watery. "Gentlemen, gentlemen, please!" Beorn pleaded as he waved his hand nervously. "I am here in search of a man known as the Wizard. Perhaps, you know where he is?" Shanadar narrowed his eyes at this news. "You don't? That is unfortunate. Anyway, as I was saying, I met this same woman on the road into Cademia—might you unhand me before I continue? This is intoler—"
Yomu and Shanadar abruptly released the man – he let out a, "Oof!" as he hit the ground.
Yomu turned to Shanadar, and said "I get an uneasy feeling about this man… perhaps his character."
"I think I agree with you there," Shanadar replied quietly, so that their prisoner would not overhear.
Behind the men Katerei was both relieved and terrified by this news of her double. On the one hand she wasn't out of her mind, but on the other hand was another her. She took a step closer to man to get a whiff of him, thinking that perhaps the answers would lie in his scent. She smelled the sewage, the ruffians – the smells were getting hard to notice, but they were still there. She drew even closer now, thinking something odd was there.
Beorn began to take notice but Katerei couldn't stop herself. Iin a blue blur she became a wolf. She let out a small whine – she had found her own sent on the man, but there was something else, even stranger. She hesitated a moment in shock of her discovery. There was a scent she had not encounted in a long time, a sent she thought lost forever. It was Avatara's.
"H-hey!" Beorn exclaimed at his 'examination'.
Yomu took the man's arm once more and turned to Shanadar. "Look at her reaction. There has be more to this man than he let's on."
"I haven't had time to say anything!" Beorn protested. His 'special' interrogation was still somewhat of a surprise to him. Muttering, he said, "Accosting and dropping an injured man! What has this town come to!"
The enforcer drew near to the sapphire wolf. "Katerei, tell us what you've found."
The air around her blurred again, as Katerei back transformed to her humanoid form. She couldn't bring herself to notice of Shanadar, instead accosting Beorn. "Tell me, when you met me earlier, who was I with?"
Beorn stood back carefully, brushing himself off. His expression not so helpless as before.
"As I was saying," he said, sounding annoyed, "I met you and another man south of here, both also heading to Cademia. The man's name was Avatara—"
"Avatara?" Shanadar interrupted, glancing at Katerei. She nodded vacantly, remaining intent on Beorn's story.
"Yes," Beorn replied frowning. "Curious pair. Didn't talk much. As we approached Cademia, I got the impression that neither of them really wanted to enter the city in the daylight, so I went on ahead. I looked around a bit for Wizard (as Apis and some others can tell if you cared to check), but ruffians attacked me. I fell into the sewers and have only now escaped… " His voice trailed off and he seemed lost in thought for a minute.
"Similar to what you said when we found you, but why were the ruffians coming here?" Shanadar demanded, eying the man with suspicion. "Did they mention anything about the mages in town?"
"Mages?" Beorn replied looking startled. "Not that I recall. As I said, they didn't talk much, and they certainly didn't confide in me. Now, would someone please tell me what is going on? Does Katerei have a twin, and who is Avatara? And where is Wizard?"
Grabbing the man's arm and ignoring his protests, Shanadar turned to the other two. "We need to speak to Berossus. NOW."
It was getting dark now. Sunset would pass before the hour was up. Yomu, Katerei, Shanadar and their prisoner Beornr were finally reaching Judge Berrosus's estate.
Shanadar took the lead as they approached the entrance where two guards stood watch by the door. Shanadar glanced to the guards as a greeting. He was well known in their ranks but as he went to open the door he was halted.
"I can't let you pass sir." the guard said taking Shanadar's hand away from the iron door knob.
"Well, why not?" the enforcer replied in anger.
"Judge Berossus has ordered that no one may enter or leave."
Yomu, Kat and Shanadar looked to each other all thinking the same thing: something was obviously amiss. "Will you release me now?" Beorn whined.
"Not on my watch," Shanadar muttered under his breath. "You there!" he addressed a somewhat stout guard to the left. "On what grounds was this order given?"
Having more belly than brains the guard took a moment to summon an answer. "Oh, now I remember! A murder!"
"Murder?" Shanadar had nearly forgotten about the murder at the Two Talied Rat they had heard about earlier. "Who was it that was killed?" Shanadar tried to clarify.
Again the guard seemed to be exerting his full mental powers but to no avail. His partner sighed and answered, saying, "It happened at the Two-Tailed Rat earlier today. We haven't gotten word yet of who was killed but we have proof it was Gamr who committed the deed."
Shanadar was begining to become alarmed by this information. Could it be the doubles had already infiltrated the city guard like Yomu had thought, or was this case actually legitimate? The enforcer decided to enquire further. "Tell me what proof confirms that it was indeed Gamr?"
The guard on the right grasped his chin as his face contorted slightly in confusion, "Well that's strange part sir. Apis, the eyewitness, said she saw Gamr there, but at the time we had Gamr already under lock and key for an arson crime he committed earlier."
The startled adventurers looked to each other once more, this time with more graver expressions. It was their fears of a dangerous plot coming to realization.
Shanadar released Beorn from his grasp and instead took the more informed guard by the shoulder. "Listen to me lad, I must see Berrosus now. There is a serious threat against Cademia, and he must know at once!"
The guard looked concerned at the enforcer's warning but still denied entry. "I cannot sir, Berrosus told me under the strictest of orders, and if what you say is true, then I cannot afford to take the risk of letting non-members of the city guard through."
"I'm an Enforcer!" Shanadar protested."I supersede the authority of the city guard!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but this came from the Judge himself," the obstinate guard stated. "My orders stand."
Shanadar accosted his tormentor and threatened in a slow, furious tone which could curdle blood, "Listen, I've just about had enough of--"
"Shanadar!" Katerei interjected. "His mind is set, there's nothing more we can do here."
The enforcer stood silent for a moment, his rage boiling over. "Very well," he relented as he released the hapless guard. "As for you," he commanded the still very startled guard, "Inform Berossus that there is word of an attempt on his life, and we may be dealing with some manner of impostors. I will hold you accountable for anything that happens if you don't, understand?"
Storming away from the castle-estate, the enforcer promptly intercepted Beorn, who had been trying, unsuccessfully, to slip away during the argument.
"And where do you think you're going?" Shanadar asked angrily.
Beorn sighed, defeated. "No where."
Yomu and Katerei decided to let Shanadar march off his anger as they headed towards the now closed market.
They quietly fell behind Shanadar and Beorn, lost in thought. Ahead they could still here the enforcer muttering profanities from time to time.
"What do we do now Yomu? It seems we might be powerless to help the city now."
"Hm…" Yomu kept walking along side her.
Katerei chuckled briefly. " 'Hm' isn't much of an answer." The smile on her face faded and her expression grew sad once more. "Though I suppose our situation is quite hopeless if we can't even protect anyone."
Yomu stopped his progress. "Ah!"
Katerei looked up at him. "What is it? Have you thought of something?"
He hit his fist against his palm in good humor. "We can't protect them!".
"Yes, we already decided we can't protect Berrosus." Katerei said blandly, not quite understanding what Yomu was getting at.
"But we can hide them." Yomu smiled.
Katerei still remained somewhat confused. "Who are 'them', and what do you mean by hide?"
"Hey!" Shanadar called out in frustration. "I thought we had agreed on sticking together. I lose focus for a moment and you lot run off!"
"Sorry, it's just that Yomu has some idea of what to do," Katerei said apologetically.
"Great" Shanadar said in an understated tone which belayed that he hadn't yet decided on elation or sarcasm.
"Letting me go would be a good start," complained Beorn. "You're pulling my arm so tight that I'm willing to let you keep it for a fair price."
"No, not that," Shandar stated, tightening his grip. "We have to protect the mages."
"We haven't much time," Yomu stated. The sun was nearly gone, it was safe to say it was night in Cademia.
"I doubt we have enough time to protect both the remaining mages before nightfall, unless we split up, but I don't think we can take that risk," Yomu continued. "I suggest we go after one mage and-" Yomu looked around carefully before leaning in, "And take them somewhere safe."
Shanadar didn't look particularly impressed by this plan. "Half the bloody city could be crawling with doubles by now. I doubt that there's still a safe place to keep them."
"What do we know? That there's a plot against the mages of Cademia. Now for all we know and perhaps what is likely, they will be attacked tonight, or replaced. I'm guess that these assassins' plans are relying on the mages being where they are currently. So, we get to the mages before they do and keep them secret, keep them safe, safe from the shadow that has fallen over the city."
Shanadar's expression stayed uneasy. "But Yomu, there isn't a safe place in Cademia! Or around Cademia as well."
Yomu reached into his bag and pulled out what looked like a mangled old key. The ancient copper rod had only half a handle and no teeth.
Beorn, looked closely at it. He could tell what it was but decided against revealing that knowledge. "What's that sorry excuse for a key?"
"This is a Tyrant Key," Yomu announced with a smirk.
Instead of shock and awe, Yomu was met with faces of mild confusion.
He sighed and gave an explanation. "Tyrants used this key to access to safe rooms in their castles. Rooms with no doors or keyholes, windows or any form of an entrance."
"I think I see where you're going with this, Yomu," Katerei said. "But we're nowhere near where the Tyrants' castles used to be. Not to mention that those places are highly dangerous."
"It matters not," Yomu added. "I've installed my own safe room in Cademia! Its walls are nearly indestructible and only one method exists to enter and exit. This key."
"Well, it's better than nothing," Shanadar announced, somewhat skeptical of Yomu's overconfident sales-pitch. "Get the remaining mages to Yomu's room, and have them stay there until this is over with."
"The problem, again, is time." Yomu sighed. "Who knows when the doubles will strike at the mages? Can we risk getting both Anisa and Bryaxis?"
"I wouldn't mind having some of our friends with us either," Shanadar added. Yomu and Katerei silently agreed.
"But we must dwell on this later, for now we should work on getting the closest mage, Bryaxis." Yomu Directed them towards the north.
"But what about Anisa?" Katerei fretted to which Shanadar quickly nodded in agreement.
"If we lucky enough we can save both, but right now Bryaxis is close by. We should have more than enough time to save him and reach the room." Yomu signaled for them to keep moving as they headed of into the night.
This post has been edited by Two Jacks : 03 November 2009 - 03:56 AM
Anisa looked up from her writing. The knock at the door had interrupted her train of thought. She put a stopper in the ink pot and carefully laid her quill pen on the desk, leaving an half-finished sentence to dry. Sidestepping a chair overflowing with books and scrolls, she gingerly made her way to the door. "Who is it?" she called as she reached the wooden door.
"Anisa dear, its Diomede. I brought you some dinner!" a cheerful and familiar voice called from outside.
"Hang on just a moment, sweetie," Anisa said as she fussed with the bolt. She unhooked the metal catch and swung open the door to be greeted with a rush of cool air and the smiling face of the innkeeper from across the street.
Diomede was standing outside with a faded blue shawl bundled around her head. "Dares said you hadn't dropped by so we thought you might be getting hungry," she said as she gestured at the wrapped wooden basket she was holding. "I brought some cheese and bread fresh out of the oven."
"That was very kind of you," Anisa said. "Do come in, it must be chilly out there."
"It's been getting cold lately, hasn't it?" Diomede hurried inside the warm room gratefully. Anisa hurriedly shoved some papers to one side of the table, making room for the blanket and basket.
"It seems summer has come to an end already," Anisa sighed as she stacked more books and papers, clearing off a second chair. "I had hoped to finish my copying by now. The original pieces are in a pretty bad shape, and writings about Thera are scarce enough to come by."
"That sounds intriguing," Diomede replied as she helped cut a few slices of bread from one of the loaves in the basket. She lay them down on the napkin next to a few slices of cheese. "You do tend to get caught up in your writings, no wonder you forgot dinner."
"Or maybe I'm just getting old."
"Don't say that!" Diomede scolded her, and then laughed, "I'm not very many years behind you, but I don't think I'm ready to be an old woman!" She reached in under the cloth and produced a small jug of wine from the basket. "Do you have any clean cups?"
"I should have some around here somewhere, let me check my cupboard," Anisa turned and started rummaging through the cabinet.
"Try not to strain yourself too much, Dear," she heard Diomede call from behind her. "It was just last year that my husband almost hurt himself trying to fix our sign. 'It's not hanging straight' he said, as if everybody would suddenly stop coming by just because a strong wind bent our post!" Anisa smiled as Diomede continued to rant on about her husband's antics. Now just where did I put those teacups? "...I swear, that man! I love him to death, but sometimes he just-"
"STOP!" A man's voice behind her caused her to jump. She turned around in confusion. Diomede stood stunned a couple paces from her, also distracted by the man in the doorway.
It was night outside, but the light from the lantern illuminated him well enough. The white-haired man had a long and thin face with green eyes. He was dressed in ranger's clothing that had obviously seen heavy use, and in his right arm he gripped a quarterstaff tightly, as if preparing for battle. "I can't let you harm her," he said politely but in a tone that threatened the use of force.
Anisa recovered first and stood, "Pardon me, but it is very rude for-"
"Put down the knife, Diomede," the man cut her off as he took a step forward.
In confusion, Anisa looked at Diomede and saw the glint of metal in her hand. "What's going on?" She said uncertainly.
"Stay back, Rapierian," Diomede hissed, placing herself between Anisa and the intruder. Rapierian? So this was the villainous necromancer? Was he here to kill her?
"Lady Anisa, you are in danger," Rapierian said calmly, taking another step forward. He was completely inside the room now.
"What is going on here? Diomede-" Anisa demanded again. Diomede took a step back, keeping herself between the mage and the ranger.
"That's not Diomede," Rapierian interrupted again. As Anisa looked on in confusion, he corrected himself, "At least, not the Diomede you know."
"That's nonsense. Now, I don't care who you are, but this is your last warning. Get out!" She mentally began preparing a defensive spell in case he tried to-
Without warning, Rapierian leapt forward and tackled Diomede. But Diomede had reacted quicker. She whirled around and the metal of her knife slashed across Anisa's arm as she was brought to the ground.
A searing pain flared up where the knife had connected to her flesh and her magic was forgotten as she passed into shock. Her mind whirling with confusion, she reached out to touch the burning gash on her stiffening arm. It was hot to the touch and bubbling lightly with a white foam. "What is...this?" she gasped out before her legs gave way underneath her and she passed out.
Rapierian held Diomede pinned to the ground, using his heavier body weight to prevent her from fighting back. There had been no time to try and convince the mage, the people of this world all thought of him as some filthy criminal, a reputation that disgusted him. His quarterstaff was not of much use in these confined quarters, and she had been too close to the mage to risk his bow, so he had left it outside. His only chance was to try and take her by surprise, but he had been too slow.
When he had tackled Diomede she had dropped the poisoned knife, and now it lay under the desk, several feet out of reach. She tried to wriggle an arm free to reach for it, but he held her arms pinned tightly. If only he'd thought to bring a rope. "HELP" she screamed out before he managed to cover her mouth. Where were the others? Why hadn't they rushed in to help?
He was worried about Anisa, who was crumpled on the floor nearby. Had he been too late? Was she exposed to a lethal dose of poison? If she died, it would be a significant blow to the Cademia of this world.
"Hey, get off of her!" a portly bearded man growled, barely visible outside from the light of the lantern. Rapierian hadn't heard him approach, but guessed he might be another of the assassins. So they had hidden backup in case something went wrong. Rapierian had hoped to avoid having to kill again tonight, but his options were slipping away. He reached towards his belt knife and Diomede, as if sensing his movements, suddenly went still.
"I said, get off!" the bearded man had unsheathed some kind of iron-spiked mace and was approaching the house quickly, when suddenly an arrow whistled past the man, narrowly missing his neck before thudding into the doorframe.
"I wouldn't do that," a cold voice was faintly audible from outside. "So Avatara didn't abandon me after all. And, he's using my bow," Rapierian muttered.
"Take it easy," The second intruder held up his hands and slowly backed away from the room. "I didn't mean no harm." Avatara replied with something Rapierian couldn't hear from inside, and the two men disappeared from his limited vision. There was a moment of silence, and then suddenly somebody started shouting outdoors.
Diomede suddenly jerked and twisted partially free. Distracted by the standoff outside, he had loosened his grip too much and now she was trying to claw her way free. He thwarted her first attempt to reach for the poisoned knife, only to have her bring her knee up harshly into his groin, causing his vision to explode in a shower of stars. She violently separated herself from him and leapt for the knife, grabbing it up and pointing it at him as she hastily climbed to her feet. Grinding his teeth against the pain and still unable to see straight, Rapierian barely had time to clamber to his own feet before Diomede lunged, intending to spear his heart with the dagger.
From pure reflex alone, he managed to clamp onto her wrists, stopping her deadly thrust mere inches from his chest. Blinking away dizziness, he struggled to push the knife away from him. For a moment, they remained locked in a battle of strength. Diomede, sensing she was starting to lose, attempted to kick him again with her boot, but Rapierian twisted to his right, spinning her into the wall. Pressing his advantage, he slammed his left elbow into her stomach, causing her to grunt painfully and loosen her grip on the knife. He drove the knife into the table as hard as he could, jamming the blade deep in the woodwork, then grabbed her throat and held her against the wall until she calmed down and stopped struggling.
"I suppose you didn't think to ask questions first," Rapierian rasped sourly at the two people entering the door. Avatara had some blood splattered on his sword arm and the bow he was carrying had a few notches that looked like it had been used to stave off an axe. To his surprise, Katerei's flail was also glistening from fresh use.
"We didn't exactly have the opportunity to chat," Avatara replied as he threw Rapierian's bow onto the table. "Its probably still usable."
Katerei had entered last and when Avatara stepped out of the way to return the bow, she finally noticed Anisa crumpled up on the floor. Her eyes widened and she rushed over in alarm, "How long has she been like this?"
"A couple of minutes, will she survive?" Rapierian felt a little sheepish for having forgotten completely about the poisoned mage. To Avatara, he turned and said, "What took you so long?"
"They had two outside waiting to jump in." Avatara jabbed a finger at the woman being held against the wall, "Ask her where Iannah is."
Diomede made a choking noise. Rapierian looked straight at her, making sure she understood her predicament. She nodded and slumped to the ground coughing as he let go of her neck.
"Well?" Avatara demanded.
"I don't know...this Iannah," Diomede replied between coughs. She rubbed her neck, trying to erase the brusies the ranger's fingers left behind. Rapierian and Avatara exchanged unamused glances.
"Break an arm," Avatara suggested. When Rapierian protested, he shrugged and pointed out, "She's obviously lying."
Diomede's protest was more frantic, "I'm telling the truth! I've met no Iannah!"
"Then who sent you to kill Anisa?" Rapierian's voice was cold, but he refused to make any threatening movements.
Diomede looked back and forth between the two of them, before settling her gaze on Anisa and Katerei. "Aremis hired me. He said he'd get me back my husband's restaurant if I killed this false Anisa." She seemed on the verge of tears, "I didn't understand all that talk about how there could be two Anisas. I just...I wanted to fulfill my husband's last wish."
"Did he say where you were to meet him afterwards?" Avatara's voice was gentler this time. Some part of Rapierian's mind filed away the change in attitude as a minor detail to puzzle out later.
"He said...the castle. Meet him at the judge's castle...when it was done."
Avatara and Rapierian exchanged glances again. It was verbal confirmation more attacks were happening tonight, perhaps even right now. "Kat, how is she?" Avatara asked, moving away from the whimpering assassin and kneeling down near Anisa.
"She'll live," Katerei sighed. "I think. I've done what I can to stabilize her..."
"It'll have to do, we might not have much time."
"To the castle," she nodded. To Rapierian, it almost seemed like she responded with a nervous conviction, but he wasn't quite sure.
Avatara stood and pointed at Diomede. "Tie her up, the guards will be here soon enough," he said before striding out the door and back out into the night.
K bit her lip as she cast another quick glance at the mage crumpled on the floor. Anisa didn't deserve to die like this: if the cluttered room was any indication, she probably just wanted to live out her remaining years surrounded by scrolls and books. K hadn't studied healing quite as much as she had implied, but there was no time for regrets. Her mediocre care would have to suffice for now.
Avatara had already left. K picked up her bloody flail and went to follow him when she realized Rapierian had nothing to tie Diomede up with, and couldn't search the room without risking her escaping. "What kind of ranger doesn't carry rope?" she asked, unimpressed, but looked around to help him anyway.
The bedsheets would be bulky and too easy for someone of Diomede's build to escape from, but a cord was strung up by the fireplace as a makeshift laundry line. Grateful that the fire wasn't lit yet, K swept the clothes aside and yanked the cord free. "Use this," she said, and tossed it to Rapierian as she left.
Dark had fallen outside, but Avatara was easy to spot. He was only a few feet away, rummaging through the pockets of a motionless body. "I thought you'd be above looting a corpse," she murmured as she neatly sidestepped the pools of blood outside the doorway.
"It's practical," he replied, pocketing a few bundles she couldn't make out and a clinking bag that sounded like an oboloi sack.
Honestly, K couldn't care less. She'd only spared a moment to wonder if the axe-wielding man was one of Iannah's before her flail had connected with his skull, but it was probably better not to mention that. "I hate blood," she said tonelessly as she attempted to wipe the head of her flail on the grass, but the spikes dug uselessly into the ground. Rapierian emerged from the house at that moment, carrying his newly-notched bow. "Good, let's go," Avatara said brusquely, having just finished with the body. "We don't have much time."
"How do we get in?" K asked quietly as they hurried toward the castle, avoiding the few people whose voices still drifted from the commons. The looming walls around the castle were already visible. "Somehow I don't think they'll let us stroll in the main gate."
"They're not letting anyone through the gate today anyway, and there's guard posts in the southeast and southwest corners," Rapierian said. "I don't want to fight our way in, but the only other way in is over the wall."
"You could lift me over the wall and I could scout ahead," K offered, pointedly directing her gaze at Avatara. She mentally added, And if I run into Iannah, I probably have the best chance of getting out alive. "I could try to divert the guards and open the main gate to let you in."
"If you're okay with that. It'll be dangerous," Avatara cautioned.
"You're going to let her go in alone?" Rapierian asked incredulously. "Just like that?"
"Have you got a better idea?" K raised her eyebrows at the ranger. She was possibly more worried than either of them, being so used to planning her every move ahead of time, but a lot had changed in the last few days. Trying not to sound defensive, she said, "It'll be fine. Just tell me where the best place to go over is."
Rapierian looked reluctant, but he said, "The northeast corner is locked off. We'll have to try the northwest. From there you should have a good view of the grounds to check for danger first." As they hurried around the perimeter to the north, he added skeptically, "What will you do to divert them? And how will you get out again if it doesn't work?"
"I'll figure that out when I get there," she snapped. "Either Iannah and her assassins will show up, in which case there'll be a whole lot more explaining to do to Berossus; or they won't, and I won't be in danger."
The sounds of the city faded when they reached the far corner of the castle. They were alone in the darkness, a faint salty breeze coming off the ocean. A low domestic murmur came from within the castle grounds. K couldn't help but worry that this might be the calm before the storm. She turned away to look at the men apprehensively: first, they had to get through this awkwardness. "Rapierian's taller, so I guess it'll be easiest for me to stand on his shoulders. Av, will you help balance me?"
K avoided Rapierian's eyes as the ranger knelt and placed his hands together for her to step into. She hastily rubbed the soles of her shoes clean on the grass before stepping carefully onto his hands, putting one hand on his shoulder and the other against the cool stone wall for balance. Behind her, she felt Avatara place his hands on her waist to steady her, and a shiver went down her spine that couldn't be entirely attributed to the chill night air. He supported her as Rapierian stood upright, holding her legs steady until she stepped onto the ranger's shoulders and could navigate her balance again.
"Are you all right?" Avatara asked, looking up at her, palms pressed against her bare calves.
"Fine," she said, cheeks flushed as she rested her hands on top of the wall. Her sash fluttered lightly in the sea breeze. Time to get out of there. "No sign of anyone in the yard, but I'll wait a bit to give you time to get back to the gate. You can let go now - I'm going to climb over."
K pulled herself up and swung her legs over the wall. She hadn't really thought about getting down again and looked at the ground, ten feet below her, a bit nervously; but it was too late to back out. She tentatively turned around and lowered herself down the other side, gripping the top of the wall until she could drop softly onto the grass.
Imploring her heart to stop racing, she smoothed down her sash before surveying the castle grounds. To her left, the walls of the locked-off corner rose imposingly against the night sky. Straight ahead, warms pools of yellow candlelight spilled out of the castle windows across the lawn, though there was enough space that lay in shadow that she would be able to creep around to the south. The grounds were otherwise empty, no indication of an assassination attempt about to take place. "So... now what?" she muttered to herself.
I'm afraid that I had to use Shanadar quite a bit in this post ~vIsitor~. If I messed up his characterization anywhere, please let me know and I'll fix the errors.
On the outskirts of the city, Rapierian casually strolled around the north wall of the Castle. He had no thought of trying the gate or of doing something so undignified as slipping in through the sewer entrance. He supposed that he'd have to find some means to get over the wall. Stopping, he looked carefully around him and then took a deep breath, testing for magical "smells." As he had approached the city, he had noticed a faint magical "scent" emanating from it. Now, it was quite potent. Taking every precaution to make sure his own magic was unnoticed, he carefully raised a golem. At his command, it began to climb the wall.
"So, now what?" Beorn ventured to ask, as he, Yomu, Shanadar and Katerei moved quickly along the streets. The Enforcer had at last released his arm but had insisted that he stay in front of the others. The four had just come from hiding Bryaxis in the hidden room Yomu had led them to. It had taken a bit of talking to convince the master mage of the threat to him but at last he had been persuaded.
"We head for Anisa's," Shanadar replied, as he hurried along. "Then, we head back to the Castle. Those guards have no right to keep out Cademia's Enforcer when there's trouble."
Beorn stopped suddenly, almost causing everyone else to run into him.
"What is it now?" Shanadar grumbled.
"Would that qualify as trouble?" Beorn asked, pointing at a small crowd forming outside Anisa's house. The center of their attention were two sprawled bodies on the ground. Even in the dim light of the torches the people carried, it was obvious that the two were dead.
Shanadar did not reply. Instead, he grabbed Beorn's arm again and dragged him over to the building.
"What happened?" the Enforcer demanded, speaking to Dares who seemed to be in charge. His wife, Diomede, was standing next to him. Both looked stunned. "Is magess Anisa all right?"
Dares turned toward him with a look of relief and replied, "I am glad to see you, sir! We were afraid the same thing had happened to you that had happened to the guards! Gone, it seems...doesn't make any sense...worst part is who did it! Not possible! Simply not—"
"Pull yourself together!" Shanadar barked, realizing the man was quite shaken and rambling. "What happened? Is Anisa unharmed?"
Dares still looked shaken but answered, "No, I'm afraid not—"
Shanadar did not wait but stormed into the building, still dragging Beorn and followed by Yomu and Katerei. This time, Shanadar stopped abruptly.
Face pale, Anisa was lying on the bed. Two of the locals, who had some knowledge in healing (not magically-based, unfortunately for the magess), were bending over her and tending to her arm. In the corner, tied up and surrounded by three others, Diomede sat. Beorn blinked looking in surprise at the woman he had just seen outside. He even leaned back and looked out, making sure she was still out there. Finding that she was, he looked around the room in confusion.
Katerei surveyed the scene for a few seconds. Realizing that their worst fears had been confirmed, she stepped toward the bed and asked the one of the healers, "How is she?"
"Bad. We think she might make it, but we're not sure. She's been poisoned, but Alaric only knows with what!"
"I think that I might be able to help," Katerei replied.
While Katerei worked with the healers, Shanadar, knowing they were short on time, hurriedly approached the captured Diomede.
"What's going on?" Beorn asked.
"We're not sure," replied one of the people guarding Diomede. "I woke up and heard yelling and sounds of a fight, but, by the time I got here, there was no sign of anyone, except those two outside. I found her tied up in here, her hands stained in blood. I would have thought it was Diomede, save that she appeared at the door with Dares at just that moment! This . . . whatever she is . . . went berserk at that . . ."
"What did you use on her? Who are you?" Shanadar demanded as he attempted to get information from Diomede's double.
"Fake!" she shrieked at him. "You and all of these are fake! Why'd you have to make a fake Dares! Couldn't you let him rest in peace..."
One of her guards looked at the Enforcer apologetically. "We can't get anything else out of her, sir. But surely she must be a shapeshifter like that which killed Opheltus all those years ago?"
"Perhaps," Shanadar muttered. "We have no time at this moment. Guard her until I can personally return! Do not let her out of your sight!"
Katerei moved quickly over to his side.
"I think she'll be fine, but she won't wake up anytime soon," she informed him.
"What's going on?" Beorn interjected, again receiving no answer.
"No time!" Shanadar muttered. Turning to the three self-appointed guards, he said, "Be careful for Anisa. There might be more of these assassins and they might try again. I must speak to the Judge at once!"
Pulling the still-confused Beorn along with him, Shanadar and the others rapidly headed outside, making straight for the Judge's Castle.
"Pardon me if I'm interrupting, but if that was an assassination attempt, who killed the assassins?" Beorn asked.
"That's a good question," Yomu muttered. "Could they have had some kind of a disagreement?"
"I don't know," Katerei replied. "But that poison used on Anisa—"
At that moment, they reached the Castle gate.
"I thought I told you—" the lead guard began when he saw who it was.
"Be quiet!" Shanadar ordered him. "While you've been standing here uselessly, there's been an attempt on Anisa's life! And what's worse, no guards can be found! Now, get over there AT ONCE!"
"What?" the guard repeated after a moment of staring at the Enforcer in bafflement. Beorn privately decided that it was no surprise that Cademia had such crime problems.
"Go to Anisa's house and do what your duty! Now!" Shanadar yelled, glaring the guards in fury and barely containing himself from hitting them.
"Er-yes sir!" the guard replied, looking scared half to death. Hurriedly, he opened the gate and, along with his partner, headed in the direction indicated.
Irritated, Shanadar and the others stepped over the threshold. At that moment, Yomu heard a whisper of movement.
"Someone's coming around the castle wall," he whispered to Shanadar. As they stopped and listened, they heard very faint steps coming from around a bend in the wall.
Before they had a chance to move, two people rounded the bend and stopped short when they saw Shanadar, Katerei, Yomu, and Beorn all standing in the gateway.
"You!" Shanadar said angrily, recognizing one of them.
"This is less than ideal," Rapierian replied, as he and Avatara both took a step back.
Avatara only had a moment to try and identify the four that were blocking the way. It had seemed too good to be true that the guards who were on station moments earlier were now missing; instead, they had been replaced with a more dangerous group of people. Two of the four were plainly visible, but the other two - a male and a female perhaps - were too entrenched in shadows to make out clearly.
"I suspected you might've had a hand in this!" the tall guardsman was advancing on Rapierian with an iron quarterstaff raised for battle. From the tone of his voice, he really seemed to dislike the ranger.
"Rapierian," the other visible man was also tall, but he looked more like a brawler than a defender of the peace. His tone of voice also suggested he was unhappy with 'Rapierian'.
"What exactly did you do?" Avatara whispered quietly to the ranger, who was actively looking for a way past as their opponents closed in.
"Not me. The other me," Rapierian grumbled. Seeing no easy chance with the third man blocking the door into the castle, he straightened and tried to dissuade the aggressors. "We're not assassins, we're here to try and stop them!"
"Oh really?" the brawler did not look amused as he fanned out to try and flank them.
"Why, yes. In fact, I was the one who tipped you off about the assassin plot to begin with. Don't you remember a man in the tavern warning you about this?" Rapierian raised his hands forward slowly, trying to show he wasn't a threat. "I'm not the Rapierian of this world, the disgusting creature you know."
The guardsman paused his advance and exchanged glances with the brawler.
"Please, we need to hurry if we are to save the judge. Lady Anisa has already been attacked tonight," Rapierian pleaded with them.
"You know of the attack on Anisa?" the guard demanded, but in a softer tone than earlier.
"Yes, in fact, we were-" Rapierian began.
"Trying to slink away again, Beorn?" Avatara cut him off. During the previous exchange, he had been vainly trying to get a better view of the hidden two, but when the man had stepped back closer to the inner door he had inadvertently exposed his face to the dim light from a torch. "Somehow I knew you couldn't be trusted," Avatara filled his voice with venom. He hadn't expected Beorn to actually keep his word, but to see him here...
The brawler and guard half-turned at the last remark. "What do you mean?" the guard asked carefully, eyeing Beorn. So they didn't fully trust him either, interesting. Beorn took another step towards the door, but the woman moved to block him, and in so doing, Avatara was finally able to identify her.
His eyes widened and he let out a silent gasp as he looked at a Katerei who wasn't Katerei. This Katerei wore a long dress that had seen heavy use, judging from the fraying around the edges. Her long hair was not cut short in front like the Katerei from his world. Most striking was her demeanor: this Katerei seemed more shy, more withdrawn, more nervous, and yet, more noble. She chose not to flaunt or brandish a weapon of death, but rather to hold to the idealistic conviction of preserving life. She acted like the Katerei he knew from before...a grown up version of the child he had befriended years ago.
Beorn had said something in his defense that Avatara missed in his momentary stupor. Whatever he had said, it looked like it had eased his compatriots' concerns, at least for the moment. Snapping back to reality, he found himself again confronted by the brawler and the guardsman.
If it came to it, Rapierian and himself could probably survive a fight with the three men, but such a battle would only delay their entry further. Even worse, it could draw unwanted attention and endanger the Katerei inside the castle.
With that thought, he suddenly realized a way he could get through. The taste of bile rose up his throat as he reluctantly conceded to himself that it was necessary. He turned to address all four of them.
"While we sit here and bicker with one another, Katerei - the other Katerei," he corrected himself, "is desperately working to save the judge alone against overwhelming odds. You saw what they were capable of back at Anisa's house. Imagine what they will do to her if they catch her." Swallowing down his last regrets, Avatara looked directly at Katerei and pointed.
"If our Katerei dies, it will be because you won't let us through."
Katerei clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle an agonized cry. She'd already struggled dearly to reconcile herself with the existence of another 'her', only for this other Avatara to emerge out of nowhere, accompanied by... Rapierian? The necromancer-turned-ranger barely warranted a moment of her attention though.
When Avatara left she had resigned herself to never seeing him again. Her hopes had soared upon seeing him walk around the castle wall, until she realized how different he looked: not as gaunt and worn as 'her' Avatara had been last time they saw each other, but with the physical strength seemed to come a far more intimidating manner. She shrank from him as her hopes crumbled instantaneously, concealing herself in the darkness until Beorn moved and she was forced to intervene. And now, all of a sudden, he was threatening to hold her responsible for the death of the other Katerei.
Whether he was telling the truth, whether this Rapierian was the necromancer they had been chasing, whether her duplicate was indeed just within the castle walls - the thought made her stomach turn - didn't matter. She felt light-headed and could barely think straight. "Let them go through," she said faintly to Shanadar and Yomu, afraid that if she tried to say more she might burst into tears. She couldn't bear to have yet another death on her conscience... especially the death of herself.
Katerei's plea checked Shanadar, bringing him up short. For a few moments, the Enforcer stood quietly, contemplating the situation. Impatiently, Avatara risked a step forward and suddenly found himself next to Beorn, who had been pushed to the front by the others.
"You sold us out didn't you?" he growled. "If Katerei dies because of you—"
"Why does everyone assume things like that?" Beorn interrupted, looking quite annoyed. "It's like everyone in this land has become paranoid. Give me a moment to explain first, at least! As I was leaving town earlier, some gentlemen attempted to mug me. I fell into the sewers, wandered about for several hours, and got rescued by these people. When I recognized one as Katerei, I got jumped by that fellow." Here, he paused to point at Shanadar. "Katerei, or whoever she is, then turned into a wolf and apparently recognized your scent. I mentioned you had been traveling with me. Then, these people dragged me about for the rest of the day, although I'm sure that I don't know why."
Avatara's eyes narrowed. Looking more closely, he could see that Beorn did look somewhat roughed up, but that didn't mean that he was telling the truth. At that moment, Shanadar moved and turned toward them, having apparently made up his mind.
Behind the castle, Rapierian had succeeded in getting over the wall. As the necromancer carefully surveyed the empty area about him, he considered his escape plans. Most of them consisted of throwing potions and spells around at random while laughing. Deciding that he was sufficiently prepared, he made his way to wall of the building itself and found the door with little difficulty. To his surprise, it opened readily when he tried it.
Strange , he thought to himself.
There was the possibility that he was walking into some kind of trap, but he had plans in case that happened. The narrow hallway that the door opened onto was also empty. Rapierian quietly made his way along it, stopping only occasionally to check for magical "scents." The presence that he noticed earlier had only gotten stronger and once again he took care to ensure that he remained unnoticed. His plan was to find the library and to quickly locate any books that might be of use to him in translating Therac's dark book of vague prophecies.
As he proceeded carefully through the castle's interior, he heard a low murmur of voices coming from the main room of the castle. Quickly, he ducked into a darker portion of the hallway and stopped a moment to listen.
_Meanwhile, on a sandy beach to the south of Cademia…
Far offshore, smoke rose from two distinct points. The beach was littered with debris, splinters from a ship's timbers. Some barrels washed up on the beach, bleached by the sun. Most empty of their contents. Some leaked their precious cargos into the greedy sea, which swallowed the contents quickly, eagerly. A few men lay washed up on the beach, all unconsious. One man held a bow, another man an axe, and an emaciated third man, young and small enough to be a boy, grasped an ornately carved staff.
The tide moved around the still forms, eventually waking the man with the staff. He jumped to his feet, startled, and ran to the other forms._
Both dead, he grumbled to himself. And I, the only survivor. _He did not recognize either of them as being from his ship.
As he regained control of his nerves, he stared out towards the sea, shaking his fist at the cursed fate which had abandoned him here. He loathed the sea - a woodsman always preferred solid ground beneath his feet. Dripping wet, he built a fire from the now-abundant driftwood on the beach. He examined many of the barrels until he found food and drink for his famished body.
After overeating the preserved foods from the ships, he lay bloated on the beach._
"I've got to get somewhere… to… to…" He couldn't remember why he was there, what ship he came from - and a dozen questions swirreled through his head. He fought to regain control of his thoughts.
"I've got to get out of here." So Andru picked up his staff, chose a direction, and set off - north.
This post has been edited by adam_0 : 20 December 2009 - 01:37 AM
The three metal prongs of Iannah's grappling hook clanked softly against the top of the stone wall, and she smiled with grim satisfaction as she tugged on the rope to secure it. To her right, Elie's hook caught after one deft throw. Iannah was proud of how her young follower was holding up: it was partly due to the girl's investigative work with the townspeople that they had a good idea what to expect within the castle tonight.
She was less pleased about the presence of Aremis, who had only just managed to secure his hook over the wall after his first two throws had missed. He should spend less time around those disgusting daemons and more time practicing his aim , she thought sourly, but she had placed him on her team to keep an eye on him. Their loyalties were clearly different and they both knew it.
At a nod from Iannah, the three quickly scaled the wall, releasing their hooks at the summit to drop silently down the other side. They were in the locked-off area to the northeast of the castle. As expected, the two servants that spent time here in the evenings were already gone to bed.
Iannah glanced around briefly. The air was cool and still here, shielded from the sea breeze. Through the dim moonlight she could see a dark patch on the ground, probably a hole; a patch of faintly illuminated water; and what looked like a sundial. She ignored these and headed to the door that led into the castle to examine the lock. It would be hard to pick a lock in the dark, but it would be the quietest method. She pressed her ear to the door first to make sure no one was inside, but it was silent within the room.
"I see you've planned this part well," Aremis smirked as she leaned at an odd angle to not cast a shadow over the lock, fumbling with her pick set.
"I'll cut the lock out if I have to," Iannah whispered curtly, resisting the urge to add, And your tongue too if you don't hold it still. She wasn't going to be petty in front of Elie.
Finally the lock opened with a gentle click, and Iannah stepped inside, followed by Aremis and Elie. Someone had already lit the torches in the wall brackets, and the firelight flickered unevenly. Iannah had taken care to memorize the layout of the old castle in their Cademia, and thankfully this room seemed to be about the right dimensions. She cautiously approached the inner doorway and began to pick the lock, Elie and Aremis standing ready with their weapons.
When the door swung open, the majordomo on the other side had just noticed the sound of the lock rattling and stepped forward to investigate. Elie stepped forward immediately and dealt him a swift blow to the head with the hilt of her shortsword, and the man's eyes rolled back in his head. Aremis caught him before he hit the ground and deposited the majordomo's motionless form in the room from which they had come. Iannah had no moral qualms about killing, but she had instructed her companions not to kill anyone but their target if possible. One could never predict who might be useful later on.
Iannah motioned Elie and Aremis into position behind her. She couldn't help but feel smug. Aremis still had to follow her lead as long as the operation was going smoothly, and so far everything was going perfectly to plan. There was no time to waste, however. She opened the last door that led into the castle's main room and said in a clear voice, "Berossus, Judge of Cademia?" Preparing to enter, she ran over the plan quickly in her mind: hastily explain how the guards at the front gate had not let them in, but they had urgent news from Kosha that Berossus must hear, all the while analyzing the room for how combat might play out and getting close enough to Berossus to make the lethal strike.
But there was no need. Berossus' voice drifted from the chamber, only the chilling sound was... oddly familiar. "Oh, Aremis, it's you," he said almost carelessly, "and... Iannah, is it? I suggest next time, try the front door."
Iannah paled instantly. Something had gone very, very wrong, but she had no idea what it was. Aremis smirked again at her stunned expression and brushed past her. She watched the black-robed man enter and give a sweeping bow to Berossus, and seethed with frustration and confusion.
Outside the castle, K was about to began making her way around to the south when she was struck by a thought. She could find out if Iannah was or had been here easily enough, potentially saving them considerable trouble. It wouldn't take long, and if Iannah was indeed here... there wouldn't be time to get Avatara and Rapierian inside anyway, especially if they got caught up in a fight at the gates.
Making sure she was well hidden in the shadows, K closed her eyes and forced herself to relax, feeling the wolf begin to merge with her body instantly. She missed the feeling, but had no more than a moment to enjoy it before she sensed what she was looking for. The scent of Iannah and two other people was strong just on the other side of the wall, inside the locked area. They must have been there only minutes before - but she knew Iannah. That was enough time to have already murdered Berossus and left again.
There was the sound of voices within the castle though, not the panic of having found a dead body, but low and muttered. K's wolf ears twitched. She would have gasped if she could: she couldn't make out the words, but one voice was definitely Iannah's. Maybe there was still time. An idea seized her, and she began transforming back before she had time to consider how reckless it was.
She didn't know her way around the castle, so she'd have to follow their path. As soon as she had hands again she swung her flail and smashed the lock on the door into the walled area, fervently hoping the noise didn't bring anyone running. The unlocked door leading into the castle and the sight of a crumpled figure inside the first room didn't bode well. K stepped forward into the hallway, and all of sudden there she was, her old companion. "Iannah!" she cried breathlessly.
The older woman spun just as she had been about to disappear into an adjoining room, hand immediately reaching for the sword at her hip. K barely had time to read her expression before she was borne down upon with a blade. She seized Iannah's wrist before she had a chance to swing and ice crackled over their hands, just enough to cause Iannah to gasp at the cold and pull away, causing the ice to shatter. K wasn't nearly as strong or as skilled a fighter and knew she had to stop the battle before it began.
"Wait, Iannah, it's me!" she said sharply, taking a few steps backward just in case.
Iannah narrowed her eyes, but didn't attack again. "K? What are you doing here?" she asked suspiciously.
"I'm on your side," K said, her words falling in a rush. "You can't go through with the assassination. It's-"
But before she could continue, Iannah sheathed her sword and seized the blue woman's arm. "In here," she said, and dragged her in the opposite direction of the room she had been entering when K arrived. It seemed to be a dining room, but the lower half was empty other than two standing candlebras that cast a reddish glow on the walls. Iannah faced the other woman and demanded in an aggressive whisper, "What do you mean, you're on my side? You never wanted to have anything to do with it!"
"Things change," K murmured, hoping, praying she would believe her. They had never really been friends - K thought the other woman lacked basic compassion and had her priorities all wrong, and Iannah disapproved of her immodest ways - but they shared a trust formed by working with each other on several occasions. "There's no time to explain it now. Ia, you have to listen to me. You know I've never lied to you. The assassination's been called off-"
"I already know it's the Wizard," Iannah interrupted. "We've been in to see him already. We were in the process of dealing with the rest of the situation while Aremis is in there with him, groveling. But how did you know it was called off before I did? You had nothing to do with this plan, I didn't even know you were working for the Masters now. You're not even supposed to be in this Cademia."
K was hard-pressed to conceal her astonishment. Wizard? The Wizard or the one from this world? What was she talking about? At least Iannah seemed to trust her, but she somehow had to give Avatara and Rapierian a chance to intercept the assassin and still make it out alive. If the Wizard from their world was indeed here, that would be much easier said than done.
Thinking quickly, she said, "I know, that's why you can't tell them I'm here. I only just found out and came as soon as I could to stop it. I didn't want you to be blamed for it going wrong when you worked so hard to get here." She paused, almost feeling regretful about what she had to do. "I can't stay though, and the others are probably wondering where you are. We'll meet up some other time and I'll explain everything, but for now please don't tell them I came."
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 08 September 2010 - 09:18 PM
It was a dark night, and the moon was full. A strong breeze created the only sound to be heard in the intense silence surrounding Shanadar, Yomu, Katerei, Beorn, Avatara, and Rapierian. The light emanating from Judge Berossus's estate fell on the edges of the stone walls, where Shanadar held his team's ground.
A few moments longer and it might be too late to save the judge, a thought constantly ringing through Yomu's mind.
"Ah, how right the little mouse is," Yomu heard in reply. Quickly examining the dark night, Yomu could discover no one with such an unfamiliar voice.
Who's watching me? he thought. Again the voice came, "Who's watching? Who's hearing? Don't fret little mouse, your thoughts fall onto friendly ears."
My thoughts? Yomu felt his concentration shifting away from the situation at hand, towards the voice in his mind.
"Ideas, mental expressions, inner voice: yes, thoughts. Think loudly now, so I can hear you. Think quickly too, how? I'll think for you, now."
Who speaks these riddle in my head?
"My name will have little importance at the Judge's funeral, Yomu. How is he these days?"
Yomu could feel a stronger definition in his thoughts. The judge? What's happening to him?
"Into the mouse hole, quickly now, other cats are after other little mice."
But, my friends, they face danger. I must stand by them.
"The night's breeze is pleasant, pleasantly counting the seconds to the judge's funeral. Do you enjoy the breeze, and perhaps the funeral? Do the other mice like the breeze? I think your friends can't decide if they like windy nights, maybe you should decide for them, or find them clothes of the night."
Alright, I understand. What do you suggest?"
"Quickly mouse, into the hole, stop the cats. Who knows, you might be rewarded with some cheese."
Yomu called out to his companions, "I'm going after the judge!" and hastily ran through the front door.
Shanadar nearly took his eyes off the enemy in surprise. "You're what?!"
Shanadar could see it in their eyes, they wouldn't miss this opportunity to break through Shanadar's defense. Step by step, Shanadar and Katerei withdrew towards the entrance of the castle.
Why Yomu, why abandon us now? Katerei pondered.
Inside, Yomu found himself in what appeared to be the main hall of the judge's house. Not having been there before, he found himself at a loss of what direction to take. He felt tempted to call out to the voice once more, but stopped himself when he saw an open door at the other side of the room. Strange, I should have noticed something so obvious instantly, he quietly thought to himself.
The door opened into a hallway. To the left, a flickering light came from behind the metal door of what appeared to be a dining room (judging by the faint aroma of smoked meat coming from it), to the right a dim glow came from the last bedroom door on the left.
Now what? Yomu thought in frustration, feeling the constraints of time tighten around him.
The voice spoke in his mind once more, "Where's the Judge? Where are you? Since you don't know where you are, it doesn't really matter, which way you go. Of course left tends to be better at conversation than right."
So then left is the logical choice! With that Yomu smirked as he quietly and quickly made his way to the door of the dining room.
"Logic? Bah, that old fool can hardly converse at all."
Yomu softly took hold of the door's handle, and slowed his breathing. I don't sense any danger, he judged, ready to enter the room.
Yomu halted when speech abruptly filled his mind once more. "How rude! You weren't invited to the party, but if you're upset, why not see what you're missing?"
Slowly, Yomu began to peek past the cracked door, into the dining room. The mumbled phrases he gathered became more recognizable.
It was a woman's voice, no two, one of them sounded familiar. The familiar woman finally said something clear. "We'll meet up some other time and I'll explain everything, but for now please don't tell them I came."
Katerei?! he thought, and impulsively took a more direct look into the chamber.
He only caught a brief glance of the two women before the sly voice echoed in his mind once again. "Manners! Manners, little mouse. It would be rude not to check up on all the different guests."
Yomu pivoted and ran towards the door at the other end of the hall. The image he saw during his abrupt look through the door was that of Katerei and another woman. Combined with what she said, Yomu's heart was all the heavier.
Beorn was not pleased. "You know, I really have no desired to be bludgeoned to death. Mind letting me go?"
Shanadar scoffed. "We're in this together now, unless you wanna get between us-"
Shanadar froze at his discovery. Looking far to his left he could see the guard's booth, and inside the lever that controls the gate.
Without hesitation, the enforcer propelled Beorn to the ground and yelled out to Katerei, "Duck!"
He whirled his staff back into the air and after a deep breath, Only one shot! , powerfully flung his staff narrowly over Katerei and at the lever inside the nearby guard post.
Avatara and Rapeirian promptly realized what was happening and bolted for the entrance.
Their sprint was quickly halted as steel bars crashed down in front of them.
Briskly grabbing Beorn and Katerei, the enforcer proceeded back to his staff, as his currently hindered foes remained apart from the judge's estate.
Iannah nodded in agreement to K's suggestion. As she turned towards the door she noticed a shadow of a man.
"What?!" she hissed quietly as the shadow slipped away back down the hall.
In a flash she concentrated and called out in her mind, Firecat, an intruder is headed towards Wizard!
A muffled laughter resonated in her mind. "What are guard dogs that can't protect their master?"
After breaking off her conversation with the other-worldly informant she turned back to K, who was now also getting ready to depart. "We will meet tomorrow, before noon, at the third vacant house to the south. You can explain everything to me there."
"Agreed," K stated.
"It'd be best if we came back the way I came." she said, motioning Iannah to follow her.
Looking down the hall she witnessed the man from earlier entering the judge's chambers, and decided to take the chance to slip back out of the castle.
Yomu felt the time for caution was over as he burst into Judge Berossus's chambers.
The old man looked at him in astonishment, "W-what's going on? Who are you? Guards! I said no one was to enter!"
Yomu surveyed everything carefully and quickly. No sign of a fight, but those two back there... something must be going on, or perhaps I came in time to stop it. Did the voice plan this to happen?
Yomu's head was flooding with ideas but was silenced as the voice spoke again, "Come now, other mice have cats already pawing their tails. If only a dog was around to shoo the cats."
Yomu's commitment to his friends raced back into his mind as he grabbed the judge by the wrist, "Please hurry, we have to stop the fight." With a weak defense, he knew the enemy wouldn't miss an opportunity to break through.
Berossus was upset, but too surprised to do anything quickly enough. Mere seconds after the two left, they arrived at the front door of the castle.
As they passed through the front door, Berossus grew red with anger at the battle scene in his front yard, "What is this madness?!"
Avatara and Rapierian were taken aback at the appearance of the judge and quickly ducked out of sight.
Berossus immediately attempted to hail the guards while Yomu nearly ran into his three companions after exiting the building. "You're all right!" he exclaimed in glee.
Shanadar was not as pleased, and could only muster one word in anger, "You!"
In the distance Yomu could hear the jingling racket of guards approaching.
Safe for now. was the only thought in his mind.
"You've done well, little mouse," the voice echoed, "If you were wondering my name, you may call me Firecat. I wouldn't tell the other mice about me just yet, after all, who can you really trust these days? I hope you found your cheese, I know I found my mouse."
I don't understand. Yomu inwardly pondered as Firecat's soft laughter slowly faded away.
This post has been edited by Avatara : 24 December 2009 - 12:42 AM
From where he was hidden, Rapierian could only hear part of what the voices were saying. The necromancer was momentarily puzzled. The room appeared to be Berossus chamber. He could hear three voices within but none of them sounded like Berossus. Listening intently, he heard someone saying, "Aremis, I have a task for you…" The rest of the sentence was unintelligible.
Rapierian shrugged. He had better things to do than listen at the doors of deluded old mages. Turning, he slipped down a side hallway. As he did so, he heard the door open behind him. Ducking again into the shadows, he looked back and saw a woman leaving the room. Before the door quite closed behind her, he caught a partial glimpse of the other two occupants of the chamber. Curious, he thought to himself, smiling in amusement. Once he was sure the way was clear, he casually strolled down the hallway toward the small library.
"You'll have to explain what you were thinking later, Yomu," Shanadar said sternly. Quickly, he turned to the Judge who was now looking confused as well as angry. "Judge Berossus, my apologies for the disturbance. There was an attempt on Anisa's life and we had heard that you might also be in danger. Indeed, upon our arrival, we found a couple of dangerous vagabonds lurking about. More might still be on the grounds."
"An attempt on Anisa's life?" Berossus echoed, looking stunned.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. She was badly injured, but she has a good chance of recovery. However, you're still not safe—"
"Where are my guards? How did you hear of this attempt? Who was that trying to break in? I want answers!"
Taken aback by the unexpected interruption, the Enforcer paused a moment before saying, "I'm afraid that I had to send the guards away—"
At this moment, several of the Castle guards came running up. Recognizing Shanadar, they stopped. Some looked at Berossus in surprise, wondering what had prompted the Judge to come out to the gate at this hour. They were even more surprised by his reaction to Shanadar's statement.
"What?! Whatever possessed to do such a foolish thing?"
Before anyone could reply, one of the guards stepped up to irate mage.
"Sir, what's wrong? Is something—"
The Judge turned toward the man and interrupted him. Privately, Shanadar was surprised: he had never known Berossus to be so irascible.
"Guards, there have been rumors of an attempt on my life. Some of the supposed assassins seem to have just fled the grounds and others might be present. I want the grounds searched!" Pointing at Shanadar and the others with him, he continued, "Bring these people to my chambers. They have some explaining to do!"
Avatara and Rapierian hurried along the walls of the great Castle, putting distance between them and the gate.
"We can't leave Katerei!" Avatara said, when they paused for a moment. "They know she's in there. They'll be looking for her. We need to rescue her."
After a moment, still hearing no pursuit, they hurried on.
"I don't want to leave her either, but we can't get in," Rapierian replied, thinking quickly. "Maybe we could sneak in later and—"
In a swift movement, Avatara grabbed Rapierian and slammed him into the stone walls.
"No, you might be willing to run out and abandon her, but I'm not," he continued more calmly, eying the ranger with contempt. "We're going to sneak around back and you're going to boost me over the walls."
Carefully, Rapierian kept his hands away from his weapons as he studied the other for a moment. He wanted no fight with Avatara, especially not right now. He could also understand the other's position, but Rapierian hadn't survived being hunted all these years to get captured now.
"There's no way back out if you get in," he replied. "We can explain later when this mess is cleared up—"
"No, I'm going back in now and you're helping me. You can leave afterward if you want to. Go check on Bryaxis or something. Go back to your hopeless quest."
Rapierian sighed and nodded. He could see the futility of attempting to change Avatara's mind.
Quickly, the two resumed their way around the outside walls. Within minutes, they arrived at the back of the Castle. Looking around to make sure there were still no guards, Rapierian stooped and boosted Avatara up the walls, lifting until the other could get a grip on the top and pull himself up.
Without saying anything more, Avatara slipped over the top of the wall and vanished.
Behind him, the ranger leaned tiredly against the hard stone. It would be wisest to leave, but he was too decent a man to easily abandon anyone to capture. Still, he had done what he could and there were more lives at stake than Avatara's or K's. In any event, those two still had a chance of escaping or explaining their situation. After another minute, Rapierian gave up and left. He cautiously began to creep forward.
He had gone ten feet when he saw something fall over the wall in front of him. The ranger stopped and reached for his sword. As he watched, something else suddenly dropped from the castle and landed on the first object, which promptly shattered loudly. Wincing, the ranger recognized the sound of a golem being destroyed. The second object rose unsteadily from the ground. Rapierian realized what had just happened. Someone had summoned a golem, used it to somehow get on top of the wall, and then attempted to use it to break his fall when he had gone down the wall.
"My, my, in future, I shall have to summon tougher golems," mused that someone from in front of him. "Or learn to fly."
The ranger stiffened in recognition. The voice was his own!
Alarmed, Rapierian began to cautiously move backward. He had heard stories of his dark counterpart in this world and had no desire to meet him now or ever. The thought that any version of himself could be like the Rapierian of this world was an appalling and sickening one to him.
Unfortunately, the other Rapierian began to casually stroll in his direction, apparently unaware of his presence. Worse still, the ranger heard the sound of distant pursuit finally coming around the Castle behind him. He realized that he was now trapped between the guards behind him and his own dark counterpart in front of him.
There was only one way out.
He lunged forward. The necromancer in front of him stopped and raised his hands—too slowly. Rapierian collided with himself, knocking the other off-balance for a second. Without stopping, the ranger said, "Sorry, have to run!"
Rapierian caught his balance and looked about himself. Whoever had run into him had been fast, fast enough that they were now out of sight. The necromancer had not gotten a good look at his attacker, but the person was somehow familiar. He fancied also that he had heard the person say something and that the voice too had been familiar...
He shook his head. Whoever it had been was gone now. His visit to the library had not been as profitable as he had wished, but he had found one book that he thought might be of use. He had also taken Berossus's partially finished autobiography. Rapierian figured it might be an amusing read.
Looking up, he saw the dim flickering of torches. A group of guards had rounded the walls and had started in his direction, although he was still out of their sight. Deciding that his assailant had probably picked the best means of exit, Rapierian turned and quickly headed off in the same direction as the stranger had taken.
Avatara held still, pressing his back to the wall to remain hidden in the shadows while he surveyed his surroundings. He detected no movement in the immediate vicinity, though he had caught a brief glimpse of someone in the walled-off area to his left as he was climbing over the wall.
To his right, he could see the northwestern corner of the castle through a small plot of farms. Judging from what he remembered, that must be the kitchen, which meant heading right would lead him straight into the commotion at the front gate. A place he didn't want to return to anytime soon.
That meant risking the door in the wall on his left. Not wanting to remain visible on top of the wall for very long, he hadn't had time to identify who was in the enclosed courtyard. It can't be helped, he thought as he crept over to the door and quietly unsheathed his sword.
The door had probably been locked at some point, but the lock had been broken off and lay in the dirt at his feet. As quietly as he could, he pushed the iron door open. It swung open quietly with surprisingly little resistance, and sword held ready, Avatara peered into the courtyard.
He found himself looking at another walled-off grassy area. A fair number of trees dotted the enclosed area, a few of which looked promisingly close to the wall. He paused for a moment, but the only sound he could hear was shouting at the front. He stepped through and cautiously closed the door behind him, wincing as it creaked before settling in place. Not wanting to take chances, Avatara scurried behind the tree next to the door, and held still, watching for a glimpse of the person he had spotted before.
For a moment there was silence. Even the noise in front of the castle had died down. Perhaps they're sending out a search party, undoubtedly the judge would want to make sure no other uninvited "guests" were waiting for him. Just as he was getting ready to declare it safe enough to move, he caught a glimpse of movement behind one of the trees up ahead. A woman, obscured in shadows, was quietly making her way towards the door with what looked like a dagger held in one hand. From what he could tell, she hadn't noticed him, but she had probably heard the noise from the door.
Avatara found himself faced with a choice. He could ambush the woman, whom he still couldn't identify, possibly getting one of them killed, or...
"Step out into the light," he spoke just loud enough for her to hear. She stiffened and turned towards his voice, but he was obscured by the tree. "If you don't want me to shoot, move into the light. Hurry!"
The woman paused to consider, then reluctantly lowered her dagger and slowly walked away from the wall and into the moonlight. Avatara noticed she didn't sheathe her weapon, rather, she held it at her side defiantly and glared in his general direction. "You appear to have me at a disadvantage."
She wasn't dressed like a guard. Her attitude most certainly didn't match that of a servant. So, who was she? One of the assassins? He looked for some kind of identifying characteristic. She had a longsword strapped to her belt, but so could anyone. Her hair was tied in a long braid... wait, maybe she is-
"Do I get the courtesy of seeing my opponent's face, or should I just have one of my assistants fire at you? " she challenged.
Avatara stepped out from behind the tree and moved in front of the door, sword held even at his side. "You must be Iannah."
"And you are?" her eyes narrowed as she clenched her dagger.
"Katerei told me about you," Avatara said as he watched for her reaction.
"You know Katerei?" she asked cautiously.
"I'm looking for her now," he replied. A moment later he lowered his sword, "I'm not here to fight you." There's no time for that right now.
"She's not here," she replied carefully, before lowering her weapon.
"Then I'd better keep looking, the city guards will be here any minute," Avatara walked towards the door on the castle wall.
"Wait!" the woman called out. "I'll go with you." Avatara gave her an inquisitive look, to which she replied, "If there are as many people at the front as it sounds like, she would be heavily outnumbered. It'd be troublesome if she got caught."
"If you stab me in the back, I'll make sure this doesn't end well for you," Avatara threatened.
Iannah coldly met his gaze, "The same goes for you." She gestured at the door, "Most of these have been unlocked by now. We should be able to move quickly."
Avatara grabbed the handle and pulled, slowly opening the back entrance to the castle. Iannah flattened herself against the castle wall and peered in. "It looks clear."
"Ladies first," he gave her a wry smile. She glared at him, but quickly advanced inside, dagger at the ready. Avatara followed her in and shut the door behind them.
They were in a torchlit room with two beds against the wall to their left. A table dominated the far wall, streching almost to the door on the opposite end. As he crept further into the room, he noticed the crumpled figure of an old man at the foot of the far bed. He didn't notice any blood, but that didn't mean the man was still alive. No time to check.
Iannah beckoned him toward the door leading deeper into the castle. As he hurried over to join her, he realized he had actually been considering helping the comatose figure. Because that's what Katerei would have done.
They crept quietly into the next room, which was more of a hallway, with exits on every side. Closing the door to the room they had just exited, they were faced with a choice. To the left, a curtain led towards another bedchamber. To the right was a wooden door, presumably to the meeting room. Straight ahead was the door towards the entrance way, a door that was too risky to open. Iannah started moving towards the curtain on their left, when a man's voice made them both freeze. "Be careful, there could be more attackers lurking about." There was a sound of weapons being drawn, at least two or three, and it was coming from just beyond the door to the entrance.
Avatara grabbed Iannah and pulled her through the door on the right, closing it behind them just as a handful of guards burst into the hallway. A quick glance around the room confirmed that nobody was hiding here either. The chairs around the table on the raised dais were empty, though the scrolls and steaming mug of cider on the table suggested somebody had been working until the interruption at the gate. Probably the judge. They hurried across to the kitchen door, already slightly ajar and crept through, closing it behind them just as the far door was being opened.
Both of them noticed they weren't alone at the same time. Across the room, at the door on the southern side of the castle, the cook was talking to a pair of men adorned in the colors of the Cademia guard. The cook was riled up over something, and the two guards looked like they were frantically trying to calm the old woman down. None of them looked like they had seen the two intruders enter the room.
Iannah slid behind the closest table, ducking down out of sight, and Avatara quickly joined her. Above them a bloody cleaver was sticking out of what looked like the leftovers of some creature. Keeping an eye on the door, Iannah crept across a small exposed stretch to hide behind a table closer to the cooking ovens and a short jaunt from the back door of the kitchen. Avatara started to follow, but stopped as one of the guards started wandering around the room, having lost interest in the cook.
The guard crept further into the room, nearing a long table stretched across the middle covered in bread-making materials. Avatara waited, hoping the guard would turn his attention elsewhere soon. They wouldn't have long before the other guards entered from the audience chamber. Avatara looked over at Iannah who made a gesture with her knife that left no doubt as to what her solution would be. He shook his head. It wasn't that he cared about the young guard's life, just that it would probably create a commotion that would make it harder to escape.
The guard started to approach one of the back tables, the one Iannah was hiding behind. Iannah readied her dagger, waiting for him to get within striking range. He continued until he was practically standing over the table, trying to peer at something on the wall, completely oblivious to the danger he was in. As Iannah tensed to leap at him, his companion suddenly called him over, and he turned to leave. Avatara let out a sigh of relief as he returned to the doorway.
Seeing an opening, he scurried over to join Iannah. "What, afraid to get your hands dirty?" she mocked him quietly.
"The other one could have sounded an alarm," he whispered back.
"You just have no imagination," she tapped the flat of her blade with a fingernail. "Paralytic poison."
Avatara recalled a shocked Katerei holding up a small leaf earlier that day. "Devil's Mercy."
"Oh, it seems you do know a bit about poisons."
"We should move soon," he pointed at the door. It was only a few feet away, but they would be completely exposed while opening and exiting through it. A glance at the guards showed they were still occupied with the cook, one of them even had his back turned to them.
Iannah rushed over to the door, and without making a sound, popped the lock and pushed it open. Hearing scraping noises at the door to the meeting room, Avatara quickly followed her. As he was turning to close the door behind them, he noticed one of the guards was staring right at him, mouth open in surprise. As he started to shout an alarm, Avatara slammed the door shut.
"We need to leave, we've been spotted," Iannah said as she started making her way through the rows of plants in the garden.
"We haven't found Katerei yet," Avatara protested as he followed her.
"There's no time-" Iannah froze abruptly, cutting off her reply.
"I'm right here," Katerei stepped out from behind the corner of the castle.
"Then let us go before we all get caught," Iannah's voice was gruff, but it seemed as if some of the tension had drained out of her shoulders. She led them towards a familiar door in the courtyard wall. I probably should have just stayed put, Avatara mused. They quickly filed into the room with all the trees and shut the door.
"Too bad we can't use the lock," Avatara muttered. Already the sounds of their pursuers were audible over the wall. He hoped they would be expecting an ambush and follow slowly.
Iannah led them deeper into the trees. In the far corner of the castle wall was a small pond framed by a pair of trees. A light breeze from the west was creating tiny ripples in the pond. In front of the pond stood a young woman he hadn't noticed before, who was watching over a large hole in the ground. "Is it done?" Iannah's question was brief and revealed almost nothing.
"Yes," the woman replied just as tersely. He noticed she was eyeing him suspiciously.
"Good work Elie. Now, go on ahead," Iannah ordered her. She nodded and began crawling down the hole. When Katerei stepped up to follow, Iannah stopped her. "Not us, we can't draw attention to this."
"Then how will we get out?" Katerei asked.
Iannah moved over to one of the large trees by the pool and began climbing in response. Halfway up, she stopped and dropped back down. "There are guards outside the wall." She frowned at Avatara, "Just what happened earlier?"
"Is there another way out?" he ignored the question.
She thought for a moment, and then replied, "We could try the sewers. There should be an entrance near the southeast guardhouse. We can use that door," she pointed towards a door near the trees that Avatara had missed. As they started to head over, a loud clang came from behind them. The guards had finally decided to break through the western door.
"We don't have much time," he said as he moved to the corner of the castle and peered around. There were at least half a dozen guards pouring in, the moonlight reflecting off their armor as they moved. They started to fan out, weapons ready, as if expecting an attack.
"It's locked," he heard Iannah say behind him, "I'll need a minute to break through. It doesn't look like its been used in a long time."
"We don't have a minute, they're here," he whispered back.
"I'm trying," she hissed back. Avatara exchanged glances with Katerei. There wouldn't be enough time.
He leaned his sword against the wall and rolled up his right sleeve, exposing a tiny crossbow strapped to his wrist. He loaded one of the five silver darts concealed on his left arm, then peered around the wall. Taking care to aim for the thickest part of the breastplate, he shot at the closest guard. As expected, the dart bounced off harmlessly with a loud tink that sent the man scurrying for cover.
"We're under attack!" someone shouted as the guards rushed towards whatever defensible positions they could find. Avatara reloaded and fired a second shot, making sure it thudded into a tree near one of their assailants. As he was leaning back behind the wall, he heard two crossbows fire in response. The pair of iron bolts slammed into the corner, less than a foot from where his face had been, sending stone dust flying.
"Hurry up!" he warned them.
"The lock's jammed," he heard Iannah say in exasperation.
"Stand back, let me try it," Katerei moved over to the door and slammed her flail into the lock. She lifted her arm back to try again.
Avatara caught movement out of the corner of his eye. One of the crossbowmen had been adventurous enough to move up to a tree around the hole, giving him a clean shot at the two women. Avatara quickly loaded a third dart and shot at him before he could fire. The dart missed wildly, but it was enough to make the man pause and scramble for a more defensible position.
"Now would be good!" Avatara urged as the guard changed targets and shot a bolt at where Avatara had been seconds before. The tree behind him splintered as the iron bolt dug in deep. He readied a fourth dart and backed slowly towards the door, scanning for a target.
"I've almost got it!" Katerei exclaimed as she brought her flail down again. This time there was a loud sound of brittle metal shattering. Avatara looked over in surprise at the unexpected noise and saw that she had frozen part of the door. Freed from the bolt holding it in place, the door swung open easily, and the two women raced through. Avatara followed immediately behind and dived around the corner as another crossbow bolt slammed into the doorframe inches behind him. Blinking away stone dust, he staggered down the narrow passage between the outer wall and the castle. There was no point in closing this door, it was barely standing on its hinges.
The grass in this section was much taller and Avatara almost lost his footing more than once as he followed behind. A quick sprint brought him to the southeastern corner of the castle where Iannah was already looking for more combatants.
"That's odd, I would have expected to fight through somebody. They could have had us trapped," she remarked before heading across an open grassy stretch to the guardhouse. The entrance to the sewers was clearly visible, but as she reached it the sudden rush of sewer stink made her take a step back in order to breathe.
"Let's go," Katerei tugged his arm, leading him towards the guardhouse. Several paces with no cover lay between the castle and the guardhouse, but fortunately the entrance hall of the castle jutted out beyond the rest of the rooms, providing some cover from the front entrance. Just before they reached the guardhouse, they passed the corner of the entrance hall and were able to see a glimpse of the front gate.
Avatara saw several guards and the brawler who had fled from them earlier talking to someone hidden by the marble pillars out front. He didn't catch sight of Beorn, the judge, nor the other Katerei, but at the last moment he did spot somebody he also recognized. He stopped, pulling Katerei to a halt. When she turned to look at him in confusion, he pointed, "That man with the staff. What's his name?"
Katerei turned to look for a moment, then replied, "I don't know, sorry." Avatara felt a twinge of disappointment. Next time, he promised before joining Iannah and Katerei at the sewer entrance.
"We're fortunate that the grate has been removed," Iannah said, holding her nose as she knelt near the opening. There was a short drop to a tunnel below just inside the entrance. She handed Katerei a torch she had grabbed from the guardhouse, took a deep breath, and then lowered herself down. Katerei passed her the torch and then followed her down.
"Odd, we're not being chased?" Avatara muttered as he took one last look at the passageway they had just used before dropping into the sewer entrance.
It smelled as bad as it looked. Putrid water slowly flowed down the center of the tunnel, but there was a walkway on the side with room to stand. Iannah held up the torch she had procured from outside, revealing that the tunnel continued on in both directions. Under a hundred paces to the west, the sewer branched off into three different directions, but the tunnel continued to the east well beyond the limited torchlight.
"We should head toward the branch. It will be harder for them to pursue," Iannah said as she began walking. Her voice sounded different, probably because she was trying not to breathe in too much of the stench.
"I wonder about that. Seems like they gave us an awful lot of opportunities to escape," Avatara said as he brought up the rear. "It's hard to believe we got so many lucky coincidences."
"Maybe somebody was watching out for us," Iannah replied without even looking back.
"That's not a very good joke," Avatara said as they reached the branch in the tunnel.
"That reminds me," Iannah said as she crossed over the stream of sewer water. She turned to face them, blocking the small stone bridge, "You still haven't told me who you are. Or why you were at the castle."
"He was probably following me," Katerei interjected. She looked behind her at Avatara warily, warning him with her expression not to say anything. "I told you I wasn't supposed to be in Cademia. We were on an assignment elsewhere that I abandoned to come warn you."
"So how did you find out that plans had changed before I did?" Iannah asked skeptically.
"Shouldn't we go over this somewhere else? We're still under the castle," Avatara pointed back towards the entrance.
Iannah looked reluctant, but she turned and began walking over the bridge. "Fine. Kat, I think you have a lot of explaining to do tomorrow though." She paused for a moment before adding, "And bring... him. Whatever his name is."
The moon was nestled high in the sky by the time Avatara and K finally found somewhere to spend the night. It had taken some time to find an exit from the sewers that wouldn't result in them being seen, although fortunately Iannah had seemed to anxious to leave them as soon as they got above ground, sparing them any further questions from her.
They searched the southwest corner of town for an empty building to borrow for the night, eventually settling on a small one-room place that looked like it was once a shop. A long table stretched almost from wall to wall and a thick layer of dust coated everything, but it was clearly abandoned and the walls were crumbling less than most of the surrounding buildings. The lack of human life in the immediate vicinity also meant they probably wouldn't be overheard.
K couldn't help but note this would be the first night they would spend alone together, now that Beorn was gone, but she pushed that thought aside. We have more important things to deal with , she reminded herself. There's too much riding on tomorrow to waste time on the past.
Just as she expected, the first thing Avatara said to her was, "So, what are we going to do about tomorrow?"
K cringed inwardly. He probably didn't mean it critically, but it was her impulsive actions that had got them into this situation. Everything she had done over the last day was so unlike her. She missed feeling like everything around her was under control, knowing everything about her target ahead of time and planning for every possible line of events. Making up a story on the spot to trick Iannah was the kind of stupid, spontaneous action... K paused in surprise as something registered. It was the kind of thing I would have done five years ago. She avoided his gaze as she spoke. "I don't know. I'm sorry. I have no idea what I was thinking."
"It's not your fault." Avatara dusted off one of the wooden crates that were lined up along a wall and sat down, leaning back on the wall wearily. "What kind of a meeting did you set up, exactly?"
"I just promised her I'd explain everything tomorrow. I told her I'm working for Selax, but she's suspicious of why I would decide to join his forces. From what I can tell, she's most interested in that, and in how I found out about the assassination plan changing, although I still don't know what actually changed." K stood in the middle of the room indecisively for a moment before following suit, dragging a crate against the perpendicular wall so she could face Avatara. The dust was unpleasant, but trying to wash it off would just turn it into grime. Wrinkling her nose, she sat cross-legged on the crate, adjusting her sash around her. "Iannah just mentioned someone named Aremis – it must be the same one Diomede mentioned – and... Wizard."
She paused to see Avatara's reaction to the names, but he said nothing. Maybe they're not important? She continued on, "I didn't expect her to actually agree to a meeting. I thought she'd either be occupied tomorrow or leave Cademia immediately, and that we'd have to track her down just to talk to her again." K twisted a lock of her long hair between her fingers fretfully. "Instead you showed up with Iannah, looking for me."
"She volunteered to come," Avatara said, the words hanging in the dusty air with a weight of their own.
He's reading more into that than I want him to , K thought nervously. She attempted to pass it off as unimportant, but knew she was only denying the inevitable. "She still doesn't trust me completely. She might have worried I'd betray her if I was caught." Seeing an opportunity to change the subject, she added, "Do you know why the guards start searching the grounds, anyway? All I saw was a lot of people gathered near the gate. I couldn't figure out what was going on."
"The guards were gone from the front gate when Rapierian and I got there. Instead, we ran into some...other...people. Beorn was there, though interestingly enough it didn't look like he had a say in the matter." Avatara paused for a moment before continuing. "I saw you there," he said quietly.
"What?" K said, the blood draining from her face.
"The other you. The one from... this world."
K dug her fingernails into the wooden crate, trying not to show him how unnerved this news made her. "What was she doing there?" she asked cautiously. I swear she's following me. There's no other explanation.
"I'm not sure," he confessed sheepishly. "The man with the staff I pointed out earlier was determined to prevent us from entering. Rapierian tried to make a plea that we were there to save the judge, but apparently he isn't very well liked in this world either." Avatara let out a loud sigh. "In the end, they barred the gate and brought the judge out and then the guards who were originally on duty came back and it all became a big mess." After a brief pause, he blushed slightly and admitted, "They caught both of us completely off guard."
"That's not by any fault of yours," K said reassuringly. "You must have been outnumbered, and it's not hard to catch Rapierian off guard."
"Don't say that when he's around." Avatara paused again, as if carefully considering his next words. "I um... said some pretty mean things to you – the other you – at the gate. I'm sorry."
Confused, K raised her eyebrows at him. What does that mean? Did he not think very highly of the other one, or would he have said it to me as well? "Why apologize to me? I wouldn't have known about it otherwise."
"The other you. She reminded me of how you used to be. When I was threatening her, it felt like I was..." his voice trailed off and he looked away, the colour rising in his cheeks.
She flinched at his words. Just how much is she like me? "We don't know anything about these alternates," K said almost desperately, not sure which one of them she was trying to persuade. "You can't assume that they might be anything like us, not from one short meeting." Although she'd tried not to, she'd gotten her hopes up too much to risk him forming any emotional attachment to her other, even if it was based on guilt. He pushed me away before, but... what if he changed his mind?
"She believed us though," he protested. "At least, I think she did."
"Av, you can't know that," she cried, the panic rising in her voice. "And it still doesn't mean anything. We can't trust them."
"You may be right," he conceded. "I'm actually not sure I'd even want to meet my copy."
Another Avatara? K pressed her fingers to her lips anxiously as she thought about that. It had been mentioned before, but it still wasn't an idea she felt ready to deal with, not yet. She quickly changed topics to a question he hadn't explained yet. "So how did you get in the castle?"
"Rapierian helped me over the wall. I figured with the guards rampaging through the castle and the front door blocked, you would've had some trouble getting out."
"Thank you for coming to find me." It shouldn't be so hard to say something so simple.
"What is your history with Iannah?" As if he realized the overwhelming bluntness, he amended, "If we're going to make it through tomorrow, I need to know as much as possible."
K blinked in surprise at the suddenness of his question. "That's... not really something I want to get into," she hedged. "It's difficult to talk about."
"I see," he sounded disappointed.
"I'm sorry." K cringed at the tone of his voice. She'd spent all of the last few days wishing she could be more honest with him, and now he was giving her an opportunity. And he was right: she'd be putting them both in danger by withholding anything. K averted her eyes, unable to look at him as she confessed. "I... wasn't just training her as a herbalist, like I said before, but... as a hired assassin. We worked together on several of the targets that were too much to handle alone."
She felt like she was choking on the words, but forced herself to continue in a desperate attempt to redeem herself. "I never killed innocent people. I swore to myself only to go after people that had already commited a crime: murderers, bandits, the low-lives of Cythera's underground... Iannah was different. She thought Selax would provide better opportunities and didn't care who the targets were." K paused, blinking back tears. "...I couldn't change her mind. She was the closest thing I had to a friend for a long time, but I still hated her for that."
Avatara pushed his crate alongside hers. "You can't blame yourself for what Iannah turned into," he said as he put an arm around her shoulder.
A chill went down her spine, even though his arm felt warm through the thin fabric of her sleeves. "Maybe not, but it doesn't make my actions any more forgivable. I didn't think you'd... even want to talk to me after I told you."
"We've both done things we aren't proud of."
K smiled weakly. She had nothing left to say, so she tentatively rest her head on his shoulder. Above them, the moonlight filtering through the window illuminated the dusty room in a soft glow.
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 08 September 2010 - 09:31 PM
Outside Cademia, Rapierian contemplated the situation. The necromancer had managed to dodge any attention, as far as he could tell. He had followed the trail left by his attacker for a time but had ultimately lost it. Giving up on trying to find it, he sneaked north out of the city, headed east, and forded the river. Heading into the woods, he had found a position from which he could still see the city but was relatively safe from discovery. The moonlight provided sufficient illumination, so he did not have to risk lighting a torch. Rapierian pulled out one of the books he had taken from the Judge's library and began to read. Remembering the sudden attack on him at the Castle, the necromancer made sure to keep an eye on his surroundings, even as he read, just in case.
"That could have gone better," Yomu muttered as the group trudged away from the Castle.
He was referring to the conference with Berossus, which had, indeed, not gone well at all. The Judge had been incensed with Shandar's sending away the guards and in creating a ruckus at his gates and had let the Enforcer know this in no uncertain terms. He had been dubious (at best) of the claims of an assassination and openly disbelieving of the possibility of there being multiple Rapierians, Katereis, Avataras, or Diomedes. It was only when the guards that Shanadar had sent away returned with both Diomedes and had confirmed the attack on Anisa that Berossus had begun to believe them at all. The guards that had been searching the grounds had then reported that the backdoor had been broken into and that the majordomo had been rendered unconscious.
However, he had promptly concluded it was the work of a shapeshifter and that there was no other Rapierian or Avatara, although they both might be working with the shapeshifter. The fact that the Diomede that had attacked Anisa had then passed out when he tried to question her, after having screamed about imposters and fakes ever since she had been caught, had not helped. The Judge had ordered her taken to a secure cell until she recovered. He also directed that Anisa be brought to the Castle, if possible, so that she could be kept safe while being healed.
Berossus had then ordered them to retrieve Bryaxis from wherever he'd been "stashed," to not "interfere so foolishly in city business," and to "stay in Cademia until this mess is cleared up." Shanadar and the others had just finished bringing Bryaxis to the Castle (the Judge had wished to speak with him as well). Now, they were heading back to their lodgings for the night.
"Indeed, it could have," Shanadar growled. He spun to face Yomu. "What were you thinking—abandoning Katerei and me like that? If it hadn't been for that gate, those two could almost certainly have gotten right at the Judge!"
"I had to check on the Judge! Besides, who were those two? That didn't seem at all like Rapierian!"
"It didn't, but Rapierian is crazy. Perhaps he finally lost all touch with reality," Shanadar grumbled, although he didn't look as if he believed that himself. "Probably one of his games. I don't know about Avata—"
"No," Katerei said suddenly, still looking shaken. "It was him, but it wasn't the one we know."
Shanadar nodded, looking at her thoughtfully. He wished to ask her more about Avatara but, given her current state, decided to wait until morning at least.
Beorn mumbled, "I can't believe you wouldn't let me speak to him. He would have confirmed my story and let me go."
"Maybe, but there are methods of fooling the Ascertainment spell and I don't want you out of my sight just yet," Shanadar told him.
"So what are we going to do?" Yomu asked.
"We are going to find someplace to stay for the night and discuss this in the morning. Something is going on and we need to know what. Still, we need some rest or we will be in no condition to deal with this threat. You will also give a full explanation for your actions!"
Without another word, Shanadar turned around and continued on his way. Beorn grumbled something but kept pace in front of him.
Rapierian drew back from the rooftop, pondering what he had heard. As Avatara had suggested, he had gone to check on Bryaxis. The ranger had found Bryaxis's house empty and had at first feared the worst. However, as he made his way back into the city, he had spotted the four that he had seen at the gate, accompanied by some guards, escorting Bryaxis to the Castle. Taking a chance, he had followed them there. Hiding outside, he had again followed them after they left. Now, as he watched them head on, he decided against pursuing them any further. The risk of detection was too great and he too needed to rest tonight.
Carefully, he considered the situation. The ranger was relieved to know that Bryaxis and Anisa would both be all right, but the news that both would be staying at the Castle for safety bothered him, although he was not sure why. Thinking of the Castle, Rapierian again wondered what had become of K and Avatara after he had left them there. There had been no sign that they had been captured.
His thoughts turned again to his encounter with his own alternate at the Castle. He did not think the other had recognized him. Apparently, the necromancer had also been unable to follow him. Still, he had no doubt the other would eventually realize what had happened and would not be happy. Sighing, the ranger slipped off into the dark.
The morning dawned cool and grey. A thick fog had rolled in from the sea overnight, masking Cademia in haze. Avatara seemed impatient to be going – unsurprisingly, given how long they had waited outside Cademia the day before – but K reminded him that Iannah had only said 'before noon,' and that early morning might be the busiest as people headed off to work or the marketplace. Avatara was even more at risk after being spotted inside the castle grounds, so K spent some time resupplying until finally deeming it late enough to meet Iannah.
They arrived in the section of Cademia full of abandoned, dilapidated houses; paint peeling from walls and weeds conquering what had once been dirt roads. Fog swirled around them and between buildings as they stepped through dew-laden grass. It wasn't far from the still-populated parts of Cademia, but the limited visibility made it a world away.
Seeing no order to the randomly scattered houses, K was about to wonder aloud which one Iannah meant when a figure materialized through the gloom. An armoured, imposing-looking man glanced over them briefly before saying, "This way." I suppose I'm easily recognizable , K thought with a sigh as he led them toward one of the houses.
Inside, Iannah was leaning over a rough wooden table, studying a map that was laid out there. She rolled it up as they entered and nodded at the armoured man, who immediately took up a position by the doorway. The girl they had seen disappear down the hole in the castle grounds the previous night stood across the room, staring intently out the window. K was surprised at how few people there were, but it could make things easier.
"Welcome to our... home, for temporary purposes," Iannah said with a dry smile, but K knew the other woman well enough to see that she was considerably distressed. The familiar worried lines on her forehead always appeared when one of their operations had gone wrong; but making a valiant effort to conceal it, Iannah turned to Avatara. "You seem to already know who I am. Do I have the privilege of learning your name finally?"
"Avatara," he replied simply.
Iannah's gaze lingered on him pensively for a moment. "I see. Well, I'll try not to keep the two of you long. I'm afraid we are pressed for time today, and I imagine you need to be getting back to your work." She focused her attention on her old companion. "I admit I'm dying with curiousity to know why you decided to join the Masters' forces though, K. That was the last thing I expected of you."
K gave a slight shrug. She wanted to look to Avatara for encouragement but resisted the urge, not wanting to give away to him how nervous she felt, and also knowing the gesture would not be missed by Iannah. She had rehearsed this repeatedly the night before, planning her explanation to play off Iannah's own values. "Like I said, things change. It took a few years, but in the end I realized my efforts were... a lost cause. Someone always rose to fill the gaps that I – that we – created."
"You were right all along." K smiled bleakly. "Selax and Wizard are the dominant forces in Cythera now, that's not going to change. But I realized that... everything I was working against, the crime, the chaos, was rooted with them. Nothing is going to improve until they've secured their control. I thought maybe if I stopped resisting, if everyone did, we'd actually have stability again. You know that's all I wanted from our work."
Iannah looked dubious. "And you thought helping them instead was the way to go about that?"
"Isn't that the same conclusion you came to? The two of us would never accomplish on our own what the Masters' forces can, and I could do even less once you left. I never denied that working for them was a good opportunity when you wanted to join them. We just had different end goals."
"You were still adamant that it wasn't a good decision for me," Iannah remarked.
"I underestimated you. You've clearly done well since we last saw each other." K glanced briefly at the two people that stood silently, under Iannah's orders. "I'm proud of you, Ia."
Iannah's skeptical expression eased slightly. K had predicted her reaction well: she knew that underneath the controlled demeanour, Iannah had always been vulnerable and desperate to feel worthy. That was the driving force that sent her to Selax. K hadn't won her over yet, though. "So when did this happen?" Iannah pried further. "It can't have been long ago, I'm surprised that you'd have been assigned here so quickly."
"As am I. I suppose they thought we were a competent enough team together, although we've been assigned nothing important yet." K paused for a moment, appearing to be considering her next words, although she knew what came next. It was just the most likely part to go wrong. "I'm not sure it's being all that well organized, actually. I was able to gather from overhearing things that plans in Cademia had changed, but it... doesn't seem like they were going to tell you."
Iannah visibly tensed. "What do you mean?" she asked stiffly.
"Someone higher up decided that Berossus was important to keep around. I assume they want a source of information on this Cythera. There's at least one person that had a vested interest in you not hearing about the change, though."
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me," Iannah muttered to herself. "Whom are you working under?"
"We were assigned to-" K began.
"-someone we shouldn't be mentioning right now," Avatara sternly cut her off. He shrugged off the glare Iannah gave him and turned to ask her directly, "How loyal are you to the Master?"
"Enough that anyone who knows me wouldn't question it," Iannah said pointedly. "My loyalty is unfaltering. I respect what the Master has accomplished and am fully dedicated toward helping him achieve his future goals."
A small grin crept onto his face. "Which Master?"
Iannah seemed taken aback by the strange question. "How could you ask something like that?"
"We came across some information that suggests there may be a traitor within the ranks," he lied. K tensed. He's changing the entire story! "Unfortunately, our previous supervisor was implicated, so we've been unable to warn anybody yet. In fact, that's the entire reason I've tolerated this diversion. How do you contact Selax?"
"Wouldn't the Wizard be easier to get ahold of?" Iannah asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.
Fine , K thought, if he's not going to stick to the plan then neither will I. She only knew from Iannah's comment the night before that the Wizard was somehow connected with the change of plans, but it would have to be enough to work with. "What is he but an unpredictable old man?" she scoffed. "I know where your true loyalty lies, Iannah, and I know it's for good reason. You don't need to hide behind petty politics around us. Selax needs to hear about it directly."
"It seems strange that last night's... fiasco managed to occur when the Wizard is already here," Avatara added. "One might expect better handling of such a situation."
Iannah was silent, the lines on her forehead deepening. K felt a twinge of – was it... guilt? – as she watched the assassin mentally putting pieces together, realizing everything might be crumbling around her. You were never meant for this , she thought of the young woman sadly. I might be the idealistic one, but you never understood the level of deception and backstabbing that you were involving yourself in.
"I'm sorry to intervene, Captain," the armoured man at the door said, breaking the silence with his first words since K and Avatara had arrived at the house. "But Phanias should have returned long ago."
The reminder seemingly had the effect of both unnerving and mobilizing Iannah. "Thank you, Bastian," she said, and began gathering together the remaining papers on the table. To Avatara and K, she said, "We are still waiting on further orders, but we can't afford to stay here any longer. I sent Phanias and Aremis out on a task this morning, and we need to regroup with them before we can relocate."
She fixed her gaze meaningfully on K. "I need your help finding them before I can get you an audience with Selax."
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 07 January 2010 - 06:19 PM
As he ran through another set of exercises with his quarterstaff, Beorn contemplated his situation. Despite the fact that he was essentially being held prisoner, Beorn was not as upset as he acted. After all, he had come to Cademia to meet Wizard, and he knew that the three with him were probably the first people that Wizard would come to see when he arrived.
Currently, he was shut in a room in Apis's Inn. The Enforcer had led Katerei, Yomu, and Beorn there the previous night. While the other two had taken rooms, Shanadar had spent the night in a chair outside Beorn's door to make sure the man did not attempt to leave. Beorn had slept somewhat but had spent most of the night awake thinking.
Now, hearing a murmur of voices outside his door, Beorn supposed that it must be dawn and that the other three were discussing the events of the previous night. He himself had some theories about the events of last night but doubted that anyone was going to ask him. Supposing that the discussion would go on for some time, he sat down on a chair and waited.
Eventually, the door opened and Shanadar appeared in the doorway.
"Come on," the Enforcer said irritably, apparently still displeased about the way things had gone at the Castle.
"Does this mean that you have decided to release me from my wrongful imprisonment?" Beorn asked him, as he got up.
"No," Shanadar replied simply.
About thirty minutes later, they were seated at a table in the main part of the inn. Yomu and Shanadar were both eager to find the assassins but doubted that the Judge would allow them around the Castle to look for any hints as to what had happened. Consequently, Shanadar had arranged to meet one of his friends in the city guard and to attempt to learn what the guards had discovered, if anything, about the attack on the Castle. Evidently, the man was taking his time coming.
When he finally arrived, the guard glanced around nervously before hurrying to their table and sitting down.
"You sure have the Judge mad!" the guard said, as he looked around again. "I don't think anyone has ever seen him this angry."
Before anyone could reply, the man continued nervously, "Look, we haven't been able to find out much. It appears that multiple people were sneaking around the Castle grounds last night, but they are heavily traveled enough as it is that it is hard to say how many. Whoever got inside the Castle and attacked the majordomo seems to have come and gone without coming near the Judge. Maybe your entrance," he nodded at Yomu, "scared them off, or maybe something else did. At least two people headed off over the north wall, but we can't tell quite where to. A couple of others seem to have slipped off through the sewers."
Shanadar looked disappointed at this news.
"Are you sure there's nothing else?"
"Sorry," the guard apologized. "Like I said, we haven't been able to determine much. The Diomede who attacked Anisa hasn't awoken yet either. I have to be leaving. The Judge wants everyone working twice as hard until this is cleared up and he doesn't really seem to want any of you involved in this."
With that, he stood and left as rapidly as he had appeared.
"What about the ones who left over the wall?" Yomu asked. "We might be able to follow them."
Shanadar shook his head and replied, "The Judge wouldn't let us near the Castle. We'd be better off trying to follow the trail in the sewers."
"The sewers!" Yomu said. "They could have gone anywhere from there! Even we could track them through there, they would easily be able to lose us in the city."
"Perhaps so but perhaps not," Shanadar replied, looking thoughtfully at Katerei. For a moment, he considered asking if she could track anyone through the sewers, but he decided, given her unstable state, that it would be best if he did not. They'd just have to rely on whatever skills that he and Yomu had and hope that Katerei would volunteer her aid.
"Come on, we'd better get moving," the Enforcer said as he rose from the table.