Dark Mirror (TS)
Troyen last edited by
Just southwest of Cademia
At first, it had seemed natural to let her come along. He hadn't seen Katerei for years, and part of him was glad to see his longtime friend still doing well. There was so much he wanted to ask her, but it didn't take long before he felt the rift that had been growing between them ever since he had cast her away after the death of his wife several years ago. When suddenly confronted with casual questions about what he was doing here and where he intended to go, he found he was reluctant to confide the truth to one of his best friends. He gave her an awkward answer, immediately sensed it wasn't satisfactory, and regretted it.
As the day trudged along, he began to sense her distance as well. Something bothered her immensely, but she also seemed reluctant to bring it up, giving replies that were just as non-committal. He inwardly wondered how much of the past she kept with her; she had been furious to the point of hysteria during their last exchange and he was certain his words were at least partly responsible for her disappearance. As the years ticked by in his self-imposed solitude, sometimes his thoughts had drifted to wondering what had become of her. When finally he tore down the walls of seclusion and returned to interact with the world, he found that she had vanished without a trace. Now, he felt those long-buried feelings of shame and regret resurface, but he was reluctant to reopen the wounds of the past. So the uneasy silence between them dragged on.
Beorn, for his part, stayed mostly apart, perhaps sensing the hanging tension and respectfully distancing himself from it. Still, Avatara couldn't shake the feeling that Beorn was observing everything silently, and it added to his discomfort that a stranger would be a party to the shadows from his past.
They camped that first night without much talk and set out early again the next day. During the brief periods of time when Beorn was "otherwise occupied", Avatara tried again to find some hint about what had happened in exchange for some brief snippets about his activities, but he was only able to learn that she had moved to Catamarca, a claim that was highly suspect. He didn't press her further though, and Beorn's return from the trees saved both of them from another awkward pause.
They made good time that day and estimated they were probably only a few hours away from Cademia when they stopped. Avatara and Katerei (to his surprise) both wanted to press on further, but Beorn reminded them that it would be unusual for travelers to arrive in the middle of the night. After a brief debate, Avatara relented, even though it would be another half day delay. He had to remember that Beorn knew the customs of this world better, and things were not the same as the place he was used to.
Beorn reminded him of that all too clearly when he suddenly broke the silence to ask what Avatara intended to do the next day.
"What do you mean? I'll just ask around for the Wizard," Avatara replied, somewhat confused. He noticed Katerei give a start out of the corner of his eye, apparently that was something he had avoided mentioning until now. Oops.
"You're still wanted in Pnyx for the murder of a freemage," Beorn replied, and the way he tilted his head Avatara knew that Beorn knew much more about him than he wanted him to. He probably even suspected his origins. Avatara had underestimated him again, another major tactical blunder. It would not happen a third time. After a pause, Beorn continued, "However, I can go in and ask around and let you know what I find. After all, you helped me get this far."
Avatara spent most of that night wondering what might be different in this world. For a time it provided some much needed relief over worrying about Katerei, until he thought about it and began wondering what Katerei would be like in this world. That inevitably led to wondering about his own fate and suddenly wondering if that meant she would be here. His resolve wavered as he thought about what would happen if he managed to see her again, sending him into an even deeper gloom than he had been in for the last two days.
Eventually dawn broke and they continued their sojourn north, passing into more settled lands. As predicted, they reached the outskirts of the city by mid-morning. They paused just inside the tree-line southwest of the city, watching an occasional traveller from the west enter the city. Beorn again pledged to return with information and warned Avatara about approaching the city on his own. Katerei started off heading to Cademia with Beorn, her unusual eagerness to reach the town plainly visible, but then to Avatara's surprise, she stopped and looked back. For a moment they stared at each other quietly, Beorn proceeding another couple dozen paces before he realized he was alone.
"Go on ahead alone, I'll wait here," Katerei said finally, and then turned to head back.
For a moment, Avatara was torn between a mix of emotions. She didn't completely disdain him, but she wasn't willing to talk to him. Yet, she was giving him a chance to set things right. It would be painful, but in the end, it would be best for both of them to reconcile the past.
He gathered all his resolve, banished all his doubt, and plunged into a battle against an enemy more terrifying than death.
K watched Avatara tentatively as she returned to where he stood among the trees, trying to read his expression. Did he want her to go with Beorn? She had spent too much of the last two days wondering if he even wanted her around. True, he had agreed to let her come with them this far, but he seemed as uncomfortable as she felt and his answers to her questions had been so evasive.
On the other hand perhaps his reluctance to talk was due to Beorn's presence; maybe he had more to say that he didn't want to be interrupted. It was this sudden speculation that had caused her to hesitate about going into Cademia. They would have at least a few hours alone together until Beorn returned. She probably didn't need to worry about avoiding the other her anyway; even though she had travelled slower with the two men than she would have alone, there had been no sign of anyone following them. And so she stayed.
Of course, since she had stayed behind, Avatara probably expected her to initiate conversation and so far K hadn't had much luck in thinking of a way to broach any of the subjects that really mattered. Silence rest heavily on them as she stalled for time, delicately flipping her hair over her shoulders and finding a seat upon a low tree branch that kept her roughly at eye level with Avatara, so she was relieved but shocked when he spoke first.
"I'm sorry," he said, sounding both awkward and hesitant, but sincerely apologetic.
That was the last thing she had expected him to say. She would have to approach this line of conversation, whatever it was, with great care. "For what?" she asked cautiously.
"For whatever it was I said that caused you to leave. I know things ended on bad terms between us... but I didn't mean for it to be that way."
K looked into his eyes with a pained expression. He didn't know. After all this time he still didn't know. Her fingers instinctively dug into the bark where her hand rested against the tree trunk, as she tried to suppress the emotions that were welling up inside her. She couldn't bring herself to tell him now. "You didn't do anything wrong."
"Then why did you leave?"
And there's the kicker , K thought, gritting her teeth. How could she answer that both honestly and tactfully? When she didn't answer, he said almost pleadingly, "Katerei," and she cringed at how he said her name. It wouldn't be easy to get used to anyone calling her by that again.
"You didn't need me there," she said finally. "You needed to grieve her on your own."
"But that was years ago... you never came back."
"You never came looking for me either, did you, though?" K watched for his reaction to that remark warily, not daring to hope.
"I did," Avatara said, but added regretfully, "but I should have done so sooner. By the time I did, there was no sign of you. Even when I was in Catamarca I never saw you."
K looked at him, eyes wide with surprise. The news that he had tried to look for her should have been a relief, but it was overridden by the realization that he had seen through her half-truth. She quickly tried to amend the situation so he wouldn't think she had been lying earlier. "I haven't lived in Catamarca for several years. I did move there, but I came back from a trip one day and found my house burned down. Vandals, lightning strike, I don't know what it was. After that I..." Her voice wavered; he knew about her fear of fire. "Well, I couldn't stay in Catamarca."
"You didn't come back even then?" He didn't seem satisfied with her answers. "Katerei, what really kept you away?"
The emotion in his voice cut through her willpower like it was water. He must not have believed her when she said he didn't do anything wrong. K pressed her hand harder into the tree, not noticing the bark scratch her palm. "I didn't think you wanted me around anymore," she broke down. "You were... so distant after her death and... I thought it would be better for you if I was gone."
"I'm sorry," he said again quietly. "It was just a difficult time. I didn't mean to give you that impression. Would you forgive me?"
She flinched at the question. How could an apology hurt so much? "You aren't the one who should be asking forgiveness," she whispered.
"I'm not angry at you for leaving-" he said, but K shook her head and cut him off.
"Don't. That doesn't matter anymore." She felt guilty about not giving him an opportunity for the closure that he obviously needed, but it was nothing compared to how she would feel if he knew the rest. Years of being apart hadn't prepared her for that confession; a couple days of awkward conversation and an unnecessary apology didn't change much. Already she felt like she had given too much of herself away.
The earnestness of his apology persisted in her mind though. She couldn't bear to leave things hanging like that, so she offered a compromise. "It's not because I'm still hurt or offended or anything that I can't forgive you... it's just that there's nothing to forgive. It's my fault for leaving." K paused and gazed at him sadly. "...I've missed you."
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 01 August 2009 - 11:43 PM
The forest North of Kosha
Shanadar woke a good half hour before his companions did. They had decided to made makeshift camp the night before and rest briefly before making the trek to Cademia. 'Makeshift' was the operative word; having traveled light for their manhunt, they'd had little more than make a small campfire and some provisions between them.
Although he was used to using rocks as pillows, he nevertheless slept little. A great deal troubled him, and his pondering deprived him of a great deal of rest. Not only had Rapierian once again eluded him, the deteriorating state of his companion's confidence was not something he could simply ignore.
Katerei had seemed deeply troubled that she had seemingly detected the trail of not one, but two Rapierians. As terrifying as the implications of two Rapierians about in the world was, it didn't seem that far fetched. After all, they'd travelled through time not so very long ago. Bizarre was obviously the norm for these adventurers, and that went double for Rapierian.
Then again, she seemed more spooked by the fact that she had detected another of herself than of Rapierian. The Enforcer had to admit, that was more than a little creepy. Still, his blue-skinned companion had seemingly fallen into a state of denial. As far as Shanadar was concerned, if Katerei smelled something, then that was the shape of it, no matter how improbable the conclusion was. He knew that her nose knew what he couldn't know, and, frankly, was depending on that knowledge.
He would have to discuss the issue with Katerei it in earnest before they reached Cademia; he'd bring the matter up when they reached the southern vinyards. Katerei was falling into a visible state of depression and Shanadar was honestly concerned for her well-being. Talking to her might be difficult; likely, she was under the impression that he was only upset about losing Rapierian. True enough, losing the trail had been disappointing, but the Enforcer knew that he'd have another chance to bring the Necromancer to justice.
Capturing the renegade was his most visible ambition, but the simple fact of the matter was that it was his responsibility to see to the safety of his peers just as much as it was to apprehend fugitives from the law. He would have gone on ahead on his own when Yomu had suggested they rest, otherwise. His foremost duty as Enforcer was to serve others, not his own vendettas.
Rising from his impromptu mattress of leaves, he moved to the smoldering remains of their pathetic campfire and attempted to revive the flame from what remained of the embers. Achieving some moderate success, he rummaged through their meager provisions and attempted to cook breakfast. They had a long day ahead of them, and he was not about to let their group set off on an empty stomach.
This post has been edited by ~vIsitor~ : 02 August 2009 - 12:28 AM
The sixth day
As Beorn carefully made his way toward the city, he pondered the situation. His own circumstances were quite perilous. He had learned much from both of his traveling companions and had surmised the truth about them. Unfortunately, it seemed quite likely that they were aware of or at least suspected these facts. In his injured state, he could not say that he liked his chances in a fight with one or both of them. Fortunately, they were too distracted by one another to show much concern about him.
Turning his thoughts to what lay ahead of him, he again did not like his prospects. There was no telling him what awaited him within the city, and, although he had many plans based on whatever he might find, he knew one could not always prepare for everything.
The first thing he noticed, as he entered Cademia, was the unusual level of activity. It was not to him entirely unexpected.
It is as I feared , he thought, unsurprised. Alaric must surely have fallen ill once more.
Beorn ignored the commotion and headed for the Tavern.
Entering the building, he looked about and saw that the place was virtually empty. He paused for a moment and considered what to do now. Cademia's Judge and the others mages in the city would be far too busy to speak to a stranger just now. The next best place to get information was the Two-Tailed Rat. Quickly, he left the Tavern and headed for the inn.
It was not a long walk and he soon reached his destination. He went into the dining room of the inn and looked about, spotting Apis almost at once.
"Excuse me," Beorn said to her, "I'm looking for a friend of mine. I believe you know him as the Wizard?"
"Oh, yes, I know him," the innkeeper responded, "but I've not seen him or any of that band about. 'tis not good, since Alaric knows we have need of them here, with Alaric ill once more and all the other strange goings on about here."
"What do you mean?" he asked in surprise.
"Why, old Typhus burnt down one of the old noble houses and attacked the city guards! And that was only the beginning!"
The innkeeper quickly related the other strange occurrences. As she spoke, Beorn's facial expression did not change, but his mind began to work quickly. He had a guess at what was causing these bizarre incidents, but he dared not voice it yet. It would only make his situation even more dangerous, which, if he was correct in his guess, had just occurred anyway.
"Hmm, strange indeed," he mused aloud when she was done. "And not one of the adventurers has returned?"
"Not so far as anyone knows. It'd be terrible if something has happened to them."
"Most certainly," Beorn agreed. "Well, thank you for your time. Perhaps, I should avoid town for a little while...doesn't seem safe right now."
Having obtained the news he had wanted, he bid farewell to Apis and headed out of town. He was passing Halos's old house when something heavy hit him suddenly on the back of the head.
Beorn staggered, grunting in surprise. He fell forward and only just managed to catch himself with his hands.
"Tough fellow, isn't he?" a voice above him said.
To himself, Beorn wished again he had not been injured. Shrugging off such a blow would have been much easier. As it was, his head pounded and his vision blurred. Annoyed, he thought to himself, I have felt worse.
He managed to throw himself to the side just in time to avoid a second blow. Swaying, he staggered to his feet and looked about him. Two men had come from the building he had been passing, and another now moved out from his other side.
"Good day, sir," one said mockingly. "Got anything of worth you might be willing to part with? It'd save us time and you a lot of pain."
"No," he replied, pulling out his quarterstaff.
"Ah, too bad then."
The man behind him charged, and Beorn spun to face him. Despite his work to overcome his injuries, he was still too slow to avoid the blow and was only just strong enough to turn aside the man's club. Before he could counterattack, the man swung again, but this time Beorn blocked the blow and managed to smack the man on the knee, causing him to limp back a moment.
Before he could follow up on his attack, Beorn heard a movement behind him and spinning he ducked under the axe that had been meant to take off his head. Unfortunately, the third man, also carrying staff managed a glancing blow on his left arm. Momentarily pained, Beorn tried to retreat but the man with the axe came at him again.
This time, both Beorn's speed and strength seemed to have improved and he hit the axe handle with his staff, hard to enough to drive its haft into its wielder's face. The man stepped back, spitting out a tooth. Before Beorn could do anything else, both the man with the club and the man with the staff came at him.
For a moment, Beorn actually managed to hold both back. Still, he was being rapidly forced back into one of the old buildings. As he fought, his movements were becoming faster, more graceful, and stronger. His injuries had left him unable to fight properly but he was now learning again.
Not fast enough.
As he stepped back through the doorway of the building, the other man's staff struck his side, knocking him back and down. Rolling, he managed to avoid the axe-wielder, who had now re-entred the fray, but the man with the club struck a hard blow on his head again.
Driven by pain, rage, or something else, Beorn grabbed the club and pulled its owner toward him. Somehow, he stood, lifted the man, and hurled him across the room into the wall, hard enough that something snapped in the man's body. Unfortunately, the staff-wielder hit Beorn in the legs and he fell to his side.
Both of the remaining two muggers came at him with murderous expressions. Trying to stand again, he stumbled and fell back once more. This time, however, the floor beneath him gave way and he fell.
The building around him dropped out of sight, and he dropped into a smelly, wet darkness. He struck his head as he did so and this time the world faded around him...
It was just before sunset but already dark as night. Storm clouds roiled pelted the town with a steady rain out of spite. Few people braved the muddy streets. The dirty streams vying for control of the village went largely uncontested. When the last adventurers left they took with them the last sense of comfort in Kosha. Homes were closed and barred, veiled by the water that poured off their roofs. Jacob hated what black magic did to the weather. He cursed it as he wished he brought something for the rain. Jacob and his fellow guard Daniel stood by Itanos’s house watching the road out of the village. They were more wary of people trying to leave than they were of anyone making their way into town.
The sound of a withered cane tapping against the road rose above the water’s clatter. Jacob gave Daniel as puzzled look as they moved to bar the path. An aged man in a sodden travel cloak hobbled up to them. His cane looked more a sturdy branch than a proper crutch. His hair was pure white beneath the hood that shielded him from the rain. He took a moment to look around before he squinted at the guards, “Am I in Kosha?” he asked tiredly.
Jacob took in the sight of the man. His voice held a dignity that had faded from the rest of him with his youth. The hand he held his cane with trembled slightly. A trek to the village must have been hard on those old bones, “Where else would you be?” Jacob replied with a smirk as he swept his hair out of his eyes.
“Good ale here?” the old man demanded.
“Best you’ll find in a day’s ride.” Jacob said wryly. The old man nodded as though appeased and started to walk by.
Daniel gave them both hard looks, “I’m sorry traveler but you’ll need to go elsewhere.”
“And where else am I supposed to go?” the old man replied indignantly, “I want to speak to Itanos.”
“You can’t right now.” Jacob cut in thinking quickly, “He went to Cademia a few days ago. We have our hands full with some trouble in the area and he wanted to ask for help. Maybe you passed him on the road here without realizing?” he offered.
“Well…” the old man frowned pensively and cast a look back to the road, “I suppose that could have happened.”
Jacob draped his arm over the old man’s shoulders and lowered his voice conspiratorially, “Don’t mind Danny. Everyone’s a bit on edge. Why don’t you grab some ale at the Roasted Haunch, tell them Jacob sent you.”
The old man licked his lips at the offer of free ale, “Alright.” He smiled and headed down the road. All was forgiven apparently.
Daniel didn’t feel the same way. He took an angry step after the old man and Jacob had to grab his arm to stop him, “What are you doing?” Daniel hissed, “Our orders say no one gets in or out of town.”
“What would you have me do?” Jacob nodded to Itanos’s house, “He asked about the Judge, I had to tell him something. If he figured out Itanos was missing we’d have had to cut him down here in the street.”
“There’s still time.” Daniel insisted angrily. He watched the old man down the road drawing closer to the tavern.
“Don’t be an idiot. There are still too many people who haven’t been replaced. If one of them saw us we would have to slaughter all of them and there’s always the chance of one escaping to tell the tale.” He sighed. Daniel was all bite and no brains, “We’ll convince him to wait till morning before heading out. If you want him so badly you can kill him in his sleep tonight.” That seemed to settle him some, “Keep watching the road while I go take care of it.”
Any excuse to be out of the rain was a good one. Jacob found the old man at the bar working on a tall glass and chatting to the two men next on his right. Bart and Carl had yet to be replaced. They spent most nights in the tavern getting drunk and making a ruckus to take their minds off their fears. The old man’s cane/stick was propped up against the stool at his other side. It was a gnarled thing he might have found drifting down a river somewhere. Small chance the old man had money to pay for a room if that was the best he could do.
“… yesh, but yous should try thish.” Bart was slurring as he lifted his mug, “A mansh drink rightsh here. Putsh hair on your back itsh will.”
The other man snickered, “Your wife should lay off it then.”
“WHATSH?!” Bart demanded loudly, grabbing his much larger friend by the collar, “Yous pickin a fightsh witsh me?”
Carl was too busy laughing to pry away from the man’s grip. His seat tilted back and threatened to drop both of them in a heap. The old fellow was chuckling and drinking his ale as he watched the show. “I didn’t get your name out there.” Jacob tapped on the counter to get Wendal the bartender’s attention. Wendal was a plant like Jacob and, like Jacob, was doing his best to maintain his disguise until ordered otherwise.
“Mithos.” The old man smiled good-naturedly and extended a hand, “Thanks for the ale.”
With a crash the two drunkards landed sprawled on the floor. Jacob did his best to keep a straight face and ignore their flailing limbs as he shook the traveler’s hand, “Least I could after Dan’s rudeness.”
Mithos waved the apology away and spared a laugh for the men struggling to their feet, “I’ve been learning about the problems you’re having. I understand. You even had heroes here to help you.” Wendal was busy giving Bart and Carl the rough side of his tongue. They looked like a pair of children caught doing something they weren’t supposed to. At least they had the decency to look abashed.
“Oh yea,” Jacob acknowledged, tapping his fingers on the counter impatiently so Wendal would give up his charade, “to think you only missed them by a day. Selax, Wizard, Silverfish… what was that last one’s name, the one who saved little Sara?”
“Talosh?” Bart offered.
“Yes Talos!” the guard beamed, “They all went off towards Cademia. That seems to be where everyone wants to go now.”
“Just them?” Mithos asked.
Jacob arched an eyebrow, “You were expecting someone else?”
“Oh… No.” Mithos finished with an air of disappointment. He finished his mug and set it down on the counter, “Thanks for your hospitality. I think I’ll head off before I wear out my welcome.”
“In this weather, with all the danger surrounding the village?” Jacob protested, “Nonsense. I’m sure the barkeep would be more than happy to put you up in a room upstairs.” He gave Wendal a meaningful look now that he had his undivided attention.
“I don’t have much money…” the old man began.
“Please,” the guard smiled, “your money is no good here anyway. Get some rest and you can head out on the road tomorrow if you like.” he shepherded Mithos to an empty up the stairs while Wendal urged Bart and Carl to go home since he was closing shop. Jacob brought the old man to an empty guest room and made sure he was comfortable before taking his leave, “Poor old fool.” He muttered on his way back down. Mithos wouldn’t survive the night.
The storm continued its assault on Kosha well into the night. The town managed to sleep through the barrage. Daniel crept into the Roasted Haunch with no one there to see him. A lonesome candle did its best to brighten the common room from the bar. Its wan light was enough to guide the guard to the stairs in the back. The old steps creaked mournfully as he climbed. “Damned rickety hovel” he muttered under his breath. The noise felt loud enough to wake half the village. His pounding heart was only a fair bit quieter.
The old man’s room was at the far end of the hall. Daniel listened outside the door for a long time. Mithos was the only guest at the tavern but if he screamed there was the chance he would be heard from outside. So the guard waited with his ears straining. All he heard was the steady drum of rain against the roof and walls.
He pulled a dagger out of his coat and pushed the door open gently as he could. The old man slept facing the wall bundled tightly under his blankets. Daniel raised his dagger high and thrust. The blankets spit up a plume of wool and feathers as the blade bit into the mattress, “Over here.” Called an unfamiliar voice.
The guard whirled around into a face full of dark powder, “Who?” he fumbled for his sword in a daze. His fingers felt clumsy as he snatched at the hilt. The sword clattered to the floor harmlessly. Daniel’s vision clouded over like the night sky.
It had long been Seralcard’s opinion that torture was a practice for sadists and amateurs. You could learn many things, but most would be unimportant. Much would be untrue. A man would say anything to make the pain stop so you never knew what you would learn or whether it would be useful. He considered this as he paced in front of his prisoner. Daniel sat tied to a chair borrowed from the tavern’s dining hall. The guard was gagged but contented himself with glaring at the assassin.
Seralcard continued to weigh his options, rolling a black stone over the back of his fingers. The more elegant solution was a softer approach. Gain a prisoner’s trust and respect while you made them think that helping you was in their best interests. More often than not they would tell you all you need of their own free will. Eventually. However there were times when such a slow route was impractical. Unfortunately for Daniel this was one of those times.
The assassin stopped before the guard and held the stone before his eyes, “I call this a Void.” He began casually, “Sound can’t escape this room. I tell you this so you don’t waste my time with screams for help, but you’ll do plenty of screaming anyway.” He pocketed the Void and crouched down to eye level, “I’m going to ask you questions now. And every time you lie to me I’m going to hurt you in ways you never imagined. I’m not going to kill you. No matter how long this takes I won’t let you die. Now,” he removed the guard’s gag, “why did you try to kill me?”
Daniel spit in his face, “Go to hell!” he snarled, “You don’t scare me.”
Seralcard wiped his face with a gloved hand and reached into his cloak. He pulled out a silver compass. One whose true north always pointed away from falsehood. The assassin met Daniel’s eyes coldly, “You’re lying.”
Hours passed. Rain still tapped against the window from the darkened sky but the sun would start to rise before long. The air carried the faint scent of burnt flesh. Seralcard sat at the edge of his bed across from the whimpering guard. Daniel’s left hand and wrist were only bone. His arm was skinned up to the elbow and the raw flesh beneath was charred black to stop the bleeding. An elixir the assassin fed him kept Daniel from going into shock. It forced him to feel every moment of his agony. The guard’s eyes were rimmed red with tears and exhaustion. He had revealed all he knew. None of it was what the assassin had hoped to learn. All of it was dire none the less, “What do I do with you now. Should I heal you again?”
He removed the gag and Daniel pleaded with him between gasps and sobs, “ Please , no more. I need a real healer.” He glanced to the ruin of his hand and then away immediately. He looked like he would be sick again, “Oh gods.”
“I believe you.” Seralcard said softly, “But—“ The door exploded into the room as a hundred pieces of kindling. Jacob stood in the doorway. An invisible hand locked around Seralcard pinning his arms to his side painfully, “A psychic?” he grunted.
“Impressive,” Jacob grinned, “you guessed on the first try.”
“I, I didn’t want to say anything!” Daniel stammered.
“It’s alright calm down.” Jacob said gently, “We’ll get you healed and then you can tell me what this man asked you.” He turned on Seralcard, “Honestly, did you think you could use cast a magic field like that and have it go unnoticed?”
“Honestly?” the assassin shook his head, “No.” he closed his eyes and overcharged the charm around his neck. The enchantment blasted the room with blinding white light.
“My eyes!” Jacob screamed and staggered back into the hall.
Seralcard dropped to the floor with the psychic’s concentration broken, “I’m blind.” Daniel cried pathetically.
“I’ll take the pain away.” The assassin assured him. He grabbed the guard’s neck and wove a hurried flame spell. Daniel gasped as a scarlet flash incinerated his throat.
Boots pounded up the stairs, “Hurry!” Jacob commanded from the hall. Seralcard drew his cloak about him and leapt through the window with a crash. The wind and rain rushed at him all at once as he splashed against the muddy ground.
The assassin rolled to his feet and looked around hurriedly. Daniel said that Itanos was imprisoned in House Comana. There was no time to spare. A familiar blue light enveloped him as he sprinted for the manor, “ Damnit! ” with a flash he disappeared.
A small army of Daemons made their funeral march through the forest outside of Cademia. The horde dragged stained cloth sacks through the tangled brush. Each carried a massive stone weapon, stained and cracked by time and blood and battle. The gray scaled Black-Horn was the strongest and most brutal Daemon of his tribe, even more so than their leader Feral. His weapon was a spiked boulder tethered to a dark iron chain. The links were coiled around his fist and the rock hung swaying like a pendulum in his grip. It was easily the sized of a human’s chest.
He glared fire at the back of the dark creature ahead of him. Feral was cunning and well liked. Enough to fend off Black-Horn from the coveted role of leader. Feral paid little mind to the waves of hatred crashing like surf against his back. He noisily gnawed the flesh off a human leg.
The scent of bloodied meat slithered through the bags to Black-Horn’s nose. It was sickly sweet stench, a smell to make the mouth water. But Feral was the only one who defied orders and ate. He constantly prodded the boundaries set by their masters. He made an art of finding and exploiting weaknesses to advance his standing. Feral believed he had found such weakness in Devlin. That insatiable ambition kept his sights focused ever higher. It left him blind to the dangers lurking below.
“Halt.” A voice commanded from the woods ahead.
Daemon warriors dropped their burdens and bared crude weapons. They growled at the shadows around them. Black-Horn kept his peace and stepped away from Feral. The leader didn’t see the gesture, “Calm yourselves, this forest belongs to the Master.” Feral rumbled, “Show yourself servant.” A hard-eyed swordsman strode out of the trees and stopped fifteen paces from them. His green cape was a piece torn from the background, so well did it blend in, “Ah, Devlin’s pup.” The Daemon shouldered a sword bigger than the man he faced, “When did the Master let you leave our world?”
A fool might disrespect one of the Dread. But he wouldn’t long survive it. Feral was among the Master’s favorite minions but he was still playing a dangerous game. Galahad’s face could have been carved from granite for all the emotion it showed. Without words he drew his sword like a black wind and slammed it back into its scabbard. The breeze swept passed Feral and rustled the leaves of the tree behind him. The bark cracked loudly and the tree leaned over with a great crash. Feral’s face was contorted by shock and pain as he toppled to the dirt without his legs, “Rahhhh!” he howled in agony, beating the soil with his pathetic stubs and reaching for his fallen sword, “Kill him! Rend his flesh!”
The Daemon tribe was paralyzed with confusion. Their leader was bested by a single strike they couldn’t see. They turned to the strongest among them for guidance. Galahad too turned to him, his voice quiet and grim, “Black-Horn.”
When no one moved Feral cursed, “Do as your leader commands damn you!”
“Gladly.” Black-Horn sneered. The gray Daemon whirled his chain over his head menacingly and brought the boulder down with a crash. Feral’s skull burst like an overripe fruit, “I claim the right to lead, who would oppose me?” he declared loudly. Feral was well liked. Several Daemon’s clutched at their blades in outrage. One of them raged forward with a great-axe. Black-Horn ripped his gore laden weapon from Feral’s corpse and whirled it with all his wrath. The spiked ball shattered the axe and half the charging Daemon’s face. Pebbles, teeth, and bits of skull spattered onto the dirt under a rain of blood, “Another?” Black-Horn stared down the rest until they lowered their eyes and their weapons submissively. Satisfied, the Daemon faced the swordsman. Their bargain could not have ended better, “How may we serve?”
Galahad waved to the shadows at his right, “This man will show you where to go.” Black-Horn had neither seen nor heard the one-eyed man arrive. He was simply there where a moment before he was not, “Treat his word as my own.” The swordsman turned away and spared his companion a last look, “Stay out of Cademia Rythan. We have more than just the Master to contend with now.” Rythan bowed respectfully until Galahad moved to leave. The gesture belied the bloodlust burning in his crimson eye as he watched the swordsman’s retreating back.
Galahad looked out off a stone balcony on the east side of the Judge’s castle. The ocean glittered in the starlight. Its waves rocked the beach with their somber lullaby. A cool salted breeze brushed passed his cloak as it stole his breath. This was not his home, but he recognized it with everything he was. And not for the first time did he doubt what he was doing there.
All he had of his parents were faded memories of that view. All those he had ever called friend had left him with little more. He pulled his sword from its scabbard to marvel at its ebon beauty. An invisible artist drew scarlet runes on the blade that faded soon after, never the same twice. The sword had made him so much more than he once was.
The swordsman vividly recalled the night it was given to him. A chill white fire crackled in the Enchanter’s forge the way it always had when Galahad came to see him. Sparkling embers danced about and gave way before the swordsman. But the Enchanter’s tools hung neatly on their racks and he was nowhere to be seen. The door to his armory yawned open at the back of the room. Curious to know why he had been summoned Galahad entered, “Hello?”
No answer came. It was dimmer in the chamber, lit only by the glow of magical artifacts. Amulets and rings slept in neat jewel encrusted boxes. The gems twinkled with their secrets. The room was a rainbow burst of fireworks frozen in time. Four pieces stood out from all the rest. Three weapons rested on a table: an intricate obsidian longsword, a fearsome silver battle axe, and an elegant pearl spear. Behind them was a masterwork of gold and black plate armor on a wooden mannequin. Each pulsed with runes of a different color, their hidden powers enough to outshine the whole room, “So you’ve seen them.” The Enchanter came in through a hidden door dressed the grey hooded robe he was never without.
The swordsman was so captivated his voice betrayed his awe, “Seralcard, what are they?”
The crafter walked over to the table and gently lifted the sword. He ran his fingers over its blunted edges, “The spirits of the last Elementals.”
“ What?!” Galahad gaped. Their war had shaken the land, almost consumed it. Those creatures had been powerful beyond reason. It was sheer luck they had all died in the final days, “You couldn’t have killed them!”
“No.” Seralcard agreed, “They destroyed each other. Or near enough that my presence would not have mattered in the end. I murdered their spirits so they could never return. I forged their fractured essence into these.” The shadows of his cowl turned to study the other artifacts. The Enchanter’s words were heavy with sadness, but it was hard to tell anything with his face shrouded so.
The swordsman’s mouth felt desert dry. He spoke quietly without thinking, “You could conquer Cythera with weapons like that.”
“I helped wipe away an entire race.” He replied quietly, “I am not worthy of such a thing.” The Enchanter stared at him still holding the sword, “I know you have worked with Raperian to betray the Master.”
“If the Master does not already know it is only a matter of time. Then his vengeance will be merciless.” Seralcard took a step towards him.
Galahad darted for the sword at his hip, “What do you want?” he demanded.
His face hidden and unreadable the Enchanter considered that for a moment. Abruptly he held out the black sword, “Take it. This is why I called you here.”
The swordsman hesitated, “I don’t understand.”
“I know why you betrayed the Master.” Seralcard said, “I believe in your dream, foolish though it may be.”
Galahad warily accepted the blade. The weight of the metal was lighter than he would have guessed. The weight of its power threatened to crush him where he stood, “Whose spirit was this?”
“You’ll learn soon enough. For now you have to leave. I must find masters for the others.” The swordsman spared a glance for the other artifacts before he did as was told, afraid the Enchanter might change his mind. He would see the spear and axe on more than one occasion but that proved the last time he ever saw the armor.
Galahad’s thoughts returned to the balcony in Cademia. He was still staring intently at the dark blade, “You fought for so long to be free of your prison only to be killed and imprisoned again.” He laughed softly and shook his head, “I owe you my freedom, Ur Sylph.”
Black-Horn and his tribe followed Rythan still carrying their grisly treasures. He led them into a brooding cave that crouched at the edge of Cademia’s forest. Within was a long winding tunnel that burrowed deeper into the earth even as it angled towards the city. A stream had run through long ago. It chipped away at the earth and smoothed over the stone flooring. Several tripped over slick ground they could barely see. The damp caverns were drenched in everlasting night dim even to the Daemon’s eyes. Rocky spears jutted up from the floor and hung from the ceiling. The stalagmite teeth of some fell beast.
“The Master will learn of our betrayal.” Biter was cautious not to say your betrayal in his quiet voice. Black-Horn chose the blue-scale as his second because, like Feral, the beast was well liked. Unlike Feral he was a coward. When there was time he would be killed and replaced. For the moment Black-Horn would suffer through his prattle, “We can still kill this mortal…” Biter ventured in a tone that suggested he would not be first to strike.
Black-Horn gave him a sidelong glance and considered murdering him. The man in black picked his way through the cave’s treacherous footing with practiced ease. If he heard the fool he gave no sign, “Hold your tongue or I will tear it from you.” Black-Horn growled. The blue-scale relented as if struck. He would be quiet for a time.
Water dripped into hidden pools in places out of sight. Vaguer echoes haunted them. Branching paths crept out of the shadows as Black-Horn approached and melted back into darkness as he passed. A long moan heralded a frigid breeze where none should have been and finally their guide deigned to speak, “We are here.”
Here turned out to be several yards beyond that point. The cavern opened into a vast chamber carved out of the stone. The floor was many yards below them with a pond at its heart. Black-Horn stood on a ledge as he entered, his breath fogging before him. Scattered torches did little to warm the frozen air. They would have to descend a ramp that ringed the room. Rythan was already making his way down.
Black-Horn followed close behind. The moan of the wind grew louder and louder before he realized where the sound really came from. The pool was whispering to them, screaming softly though its surface was perfectly still. Like a dark mirror. A knee high barrier of bones lined its edge. Hundreds of them. How many had died to make something so large? Rythan peered into it and Biter moved to stand beside him. The Daemon tried not to appear obvious as it sized him up. It clutched its heavy club tightly. The man paid biter no heed, “Bring me the corpses.” He said to no one in particular.
Biter balked indignantly, “No,” he began. Black-Horn prepared to strike him dead then and there, “We gathered these for the Master and to the Master they will—“ Crack!
Rythan thrust his clawed hand through Biter’s ribs in a spray of red mist. The Daemon gurgled something in protest as blood filled its lungs. The man in black did not even turn to face him. With an offhand gesture Rythan threw him into the pool like a discarded doll. Biter splashed into the black ichor on his hands and knees. Dozens of monstrous claws rose up and tore into him. They dragged the struggling Daemon into the inky depths. The moan grew to a hungering wail as Rythan watched on. From where he stood Black-Horn could not see the man’s face. He could however see the horror painted on Biter’s bloodied features before he sank out of view. As soon as the Daemon dipped below the surface the pond was still as death once more, “Bring me the corpses.” Rythan repeated coldly, “Or become them.” The tribe was quick to obey.
This post has been edited by Ragnar0k : 06 August 2009 - 01:26 AM
(OoC: This post is a joint effort of me and vIsitor. BiC:)
The forest North of Kosha
The tree roots formed an upward staircase for the downcast group of isloated travlers. It was nearly midday, and Yomu guessed that the nearby vineyard was only a few hills away. The meal Shanandar had prepared earlier, although petite, was well cooked and sufficient to last untill supper time; though Yomu's stomach did not agree. Underneath the creaking of trees in the autum wind, small impatient grumbles could be heard.
"This forest seems to go on forever." Shanandar stated, pausing only breifly to catch his breath before continuing his upwards march. He peered behind to check on Katerei; she was watching the ground as she walked on in her humanoid form, seemingly in a state of deep contemplation. Yomu, meanwhile, was at the front of the group, leading ahead. They had travelled alongside one another in a previous adventure, but Shanandar was still uncertain what to make of the quiet drifter.
Yomu felt eyes on him and turned to meet Shanandar's stare.
"What is it?" he inquired.
Shanandar paused, then replied abruptly: "Have you noticed Katerei has been kind of...distant, lately?"
Yomu looked behind to Katerei, then back to Shanandar.
"She's acted that way for the short time we've known each other," he replied, "I assumed that was her nature."
"I mean moreso than usual," Shanadar clarified, "She's become increasingly reserved as of late, and you saw how she nearly broke down when she lost Rapierian's trail."
"A warrior's resolve fades with the heart." Yomu suggested, "Her doubts and confusion block the path to her soul."
Shanandar was a bit befuddled by Yomu's 'flowery' style of speech, and took a moment to compose his reply. "Well, whatever her problem is, its starting to worry me. She is not well."
"Hm, Yes. As her companions, it's our duty to ensure her well being." Yomu said as he turned abrubtly, nearly colliding into the burly Enforcer, "We will counsel her up ahead."
Shanandar looked beyond Yomu, and saw a glimpse of a quiet, sunlight vineyard past the overgrowth.
"I'm glad you agree," he replied, "Because that was the plan I had in mind."
Sixth Day, dawn
Hidden in the shadows, a small child watched the guards pass. Cindy smiled to herself as the unconscious Typhos was hauled off in the direction of the jail. Garmr lingered behind the others, staring off to the east.
Cindy waited impatiently. There was a lot to be done in very little time. If Garmr stayed much longer, he might interfere with her plans. Finally, much to Cindy's relief, Garmr turned to follow the others.
The door to the Two-Tailed Rat swung open; Garmr walked in. He slammed the door roughly, making it crash so loudly that everyone present looked over at him.
Apis, trying her best to smile, went over to his table. "Garmr, so nice to see you again. I suppose I don't need to remind you that there is still an unpaid balance on your tab." Not certain whether or not she had made her point, "A considerable amount, actually."
"Yes, I know. It's so thoughtful of you to continue serving me anyways."
"I'm sorry, but I will not give you another meal, not even another drop, until you've paid me!" Apis tried to compose herself. She had run the Two-Tailed Rat for many years now, and she'd dealt with her fair share of difficult costumers, but Garmr was among the worst. He always seemed to be in debt somewhere, more recently at her establishment. If he weren't a city guard himself, she would have called for one a long time ago. As it was, she considered taking her case to Judge Berossus.
Garmr seemed to ignore her, "I'll have a mug of your strongest stuff -- " Apis looked like she was about to explode " -- no, wait. Actually, just give me the whole bottle. . ."
"I already told you that I won't serve you any drinks until you've paid me what you owe!"
Garmr lifted a hand to calm her, "I know that." Briefly scanning his surroundings, his eyes fell on a lone man sitting at a table across the room. "There, that man. He'll cover the bill."
Apis was taken aback. "I don't even think that man knows you, and if he did, I can't believe that he'd want to pay off your debt."
"Just bring me my drink." There was a glint in Garmr's eye, a look Apis had never seen before. For a second, it seemed to her that this person wasn't Garmr at all. Those eyes. . . so cold, so evil.
Apis stepped away. "All right, I'll get you this one last drink, but if somebody doesn't pay for it before you leave, I'm going to Judge Berossus!"
Orthrus marched along the street toward the jail, Cerberus struggling to keep up with him. "I'm sorry, sir, there is no mistake. Myself and half a dozen others saw your father trying to kill Garmr."
"Ridiculous! My father would never do any such thing. And what do you mean that he's responsible for setting the building that burned on fire?"
Cerberus shrugged, "Garmr witnessed the whole thing apparently. He followed him, and we caught up just as Typhos leapt on Garmr."
Presently, they arrived at the jail. "Garmr!" Orthrus called as he walked inside. The jail was dimly lit.
"Yes, sir!" Garmr stood.
"Where is my father being held?"
Garmr pointed to one of the cells that lined the back wall.
Garmr grabbed the keys for the cell but didn't move. "Uh. . . Sir, I'm very sorry about all this, and I do hope its just a misunderstanding, but until there is something that can explain what I saw, I must insist that we hold him here."
Orthrus couldn't believe his ears. Why were all of these men saying such terrible things about his father, one of the most upstanding citizens in Cademia?
Garmr continued, "If you order me to release him, I will. But, if I may speak freely, I think you need to put personal sentiment aside and follow procedure."
Sighing with frustration, Orthrus headed to the back of the jail without another word. He knew that Judge Berossus would prefer that he not release Typhos until Berossus was ready to speak to him. Reaching Typhos' cell, he called out, "Father, are you okay?"
Typhos had just started to wake up. "Orthrus? What happened? Where am I?"
"You're in the jail. One of my guards is saying that he saw you set fire to a building this morning."
"What? I'd never. . ."
"I know, I know. Unfortunately, several of my men also claim that they saw you attack Garmr."
"I would never do anything like that! I certainly don't remember doing either of those things."
Orthrus paused; he doubted that his father would lie to him. "Do you remember anything that happened this morning?"
"No, well, Cindy woke me up, but. . ." Typhos gasped. "She ran outside! Where's Cindy? Is she safe?"
"Yes, yes, she's perfectly safe. I sent one of my guards to fetch her and have her stay with her mother."
"No! You need to bring her to stay with you! She's not safe! They're out to get her!" Typhos started to rave like some sort of madman.
"Father! She is safe! Are you okay?!" Instinctively, Orthrus' fingers went to the amulet around his neck, as they always did when he was in deep thought. His father had never acted this way before. What could be wrong? He stroked the amulet lightly with his fingers.
Typhos fell back against the bench in his cell, holding his hand to his head. He had a pounding headache.
Garmr continued to drink silently, looking out the window near him. Soon, the rest of the town would be waking up. This was already evidenced by the growing number of people entering the Two-Tailed Rat.
He took another swig from the bottle. It should be just about the time to act. Apis was likely working up the nerve to ask the man that Garmr had earlier pointed out if he was really going to pay Garmr's bill off.
"What's the matter, father?" Orthrus asked.
Typhos still held a hand to his temple. His thoughts were jumbled and confused; he couldn't remember anything that had happened just a few minutes before. But he could feel. There was an overwhelming desire that welled up inside him -- to hold the amulet. He needed it to get through this time. It would help him think. It didn't matter what it would do or what use it would be to him; he simply had to have it.
Orthrus noticed how his father stared so intently at the amulet. "Oh, this old thing. I often forget that I carry it."
"That's a shame," Typhos said, almost mechanically, "I was hoping you would be able to use it. I've missed it for a long time." He continued to stare.
"Father?" Orthrus waved his hand in front of his father's eyes. Typhos seemed dazed. "Here, why don't you keep it for a while. If it will be of any comfort to you, I want you to have it." Orthrus slipped the chain off from around his neck and extended the amulet towards Typhos.
Typhos hesitated a moment. The proximity to the amulet almost made him forget why he wanted it. Then, the desire overpowered him again, and he yanked the amulet from his sons hand. Typhos held it closely to his chest, obviously in a world of his own.
Orthrus tried to get his father's attention one last time before giving up. "Don't worry, father. Judge Berossus will be awake by now, and I promise to have him talk with you as soon as possible. We'll clear you of this in no time!"
Orthrus turned to leave but paused when he walked by Garmr. "You're right; something is very wrong. Hold him here, and I will return shortly to take him before Judge Berossus."
Finishing his drink with a loud gulp, Garmr slammed the mug on the table. He got up to leave. Across the room, he noticed Apis talking to the man about Garmr's bill. He chuckled to himself.
Garmr opened the door, but before he set foot outside, a harsh voice shouted to him. "Hey, you! Hold on!"
Garmr turned around. Apis still stood on the other side of the room, pursing her lips. The man she had just been talking too, and the one who had shouted, stormed his way to the door. "I hear that you've been billing me for your drinks!?"
Garmr said nothing.
"Hey! I'm talking to you! I am not going to pay for your drinks, and I'm certainly not going to pay all the rest of your debt! DO YOU HEAR ME?! You must be some sort of lunatic to walk in here and think that you can just point at someone and make them pay for you!"
"On the contrary, my boy, it's a tried and true method." It sounded like Garmr's voice, for the most part. But there was something in the tone, or maybe the words, that seemed to come from a different mouth. It sounded so cold, distant, yet there was a hint of excitement in it as well.
The other man paused for a moment, not entirely sure what he was up against, but he was still confident that he could handle this. "Someone needs to teach you a lesson. . ." he reached into his shirt and pulled out a knife.
This is what Garmr had been waiting for. He grabbed the other man's wrist, twisting it sharply. With a cry of pain, the other man released his hold on the knife. "Looks like it won't be you." Without hesitation, Garmr caught the knife in his right hand, brought it back up, and slit his opponent's throat.
There was a collective gasp, someone screamed. Blood trickled down into a growing pool beneath the dying man. He struggled for breath, but he would be dead within moments.
Too long to wait. Garmr started searching through the pockets of the other man. In a matter of seconds, he withdrew his hand, clenching a small bag of oboloi. The body fell to the floor. Garmr dropped the oboloi next to it. "There's your money. . . if you want it," wiping blood off his hands, Garmr disappeared out the door.
"You! Go get help!" Apis shouted to one of the bystanders as she ran across the room. She knew that the man was dead. They should have done something, but it all happened so fast! Other patrons gathered around the body, some ran outside to try to catch Garmr.
Outside, Garmr was no where to be seen; there wasn't even a trail of blood. The man who Apis had shouted to searched frantically for a guard. "Help! Help!" It was no use, there didn't seem to be one around. The man set off as fast as he could toward Judge Berossus home. That would be the only way to insure that they get help.
Thinking nothing of it, the man didn't notice when he ran past a small girl skipping down the street. As he continued north, having to run across town to reach the Judge's home, Cindy turned east. She knew exactly where the nearest guard was.
Cindy wound through a couple abandoned buildings and avoided a few beggars. She stopped skipping when she caught sight of Cerberus. Her eyes turned red and watered, tears appeared down her cheeks. "Cerberus!" she yelled through the sobs. "Cerberus! Someone's been murdered!"
Cerberus turned, "What? Murdered? Where? When?"
Cindy grabbed his hand and started to pull at it. He followed. "It was horrible!" She led him north, into a deserted part of town. It was just west of the town square, where there was a lot of activity. Yet, nobody ever came by this place. It was also fairly close to the jail.
She pulled Cerberus into a small room, enclosed on three sides. It was dark in here. Cindy let go of Cerberus hand. "Cindy? You need to tell me more about what happened, even if you don't want to talk about it. Who died? When? Where? Cindy! You're not playing a joke on me, are you?"
Clang Cerberus collapsed on the ground, unconscious. "It's no joke, I assure you," Cindy dropped the shovel next to Cerberus. She stepped outside, and stood in the doorway for a minute. She would be able to leave the body hidden here for as long as she needed. Content with that, she started north toward Judge Berossus' castle. Only, it wasn't Cindy, now it was Cerberus.
North of Cademia
From a secluded grove of trees outside of Cademia, Rapierian carefully watched the city. After his talk with Prusa, he had spent the better part of a day working his carefully northward until he was now due north of Cademia. He now had a vague lead to follow, but he was not certain where to start. With that thought in mind, the necromancer had determined to at least visit Cademia as secretly as possible. He needed information and the Mother City was as a good a place as any to get it.
It seemed that his pursuers had lost his trail, but it was not safe to assume such. Rapierian, however, was quite certain that his presence in Cademia would not be expected, and, in any case, there were surprisingly many places to hide in the old city. Besides, a visit there could be great fun whatever happened. Still, he had no intention of entering it openly or without a plan. His chances of getting into the city unnoticed were much better after nightfall. Thus, he had decided to hide out where he currently was for the remainder of the day. If all seemed safe, he would enter the city.
The necromancer kept a careful lookout. He had an escape plan in case he was surprised here, but it was best to remain vigilant. Something very strange was going on in the land of Cythera, and Rapierian did not plan on being surprised by whatever was causing it.
Vineyard south of Cademia
Following along behind Yomu and Shanadar, Katerei was barely aware of where they were going until they stepped out of the dense overgrowth of the forest into bright sunshine. She looked up in surprise, blinking in the light. A peaceful-looking field stretched out in front of them, surrounded by a rustic wooden fence. Hundreds of grape vines embraced wooden stakes placed in neat rows up and down the vineyard, their leaves stirring gently in the trace of a breeze. It was a quiet and pleasant place under the noonday sun, and a welcome change from the dark and oppressive forest they had been travelling through.
Katerei vaguely recognized the place, having occasionally passed it before on her travels. "We must be on the right path to Cademia," she said, raising a hand to block the sunlight from her eyes as she gazed past the vineyard.
"Yes," said Shanadar, who along with Yomu had stopped up ahead by the fence. "Do you mind if we rest here for a bit? We'd like to talk to you before entering the city."
Katerei turned her eyes to her companions, but she almost seemed to be looking through them. "What about?"
Shanadar indicated that they should have a seat, and they settled down on the strip of grass between the forest and vineyard fence. "We're concerned about you," he said, perhaps with a note of apology in his voice. "We just want you to know that you can tell us if something is bothering you."
"It is understandable if you don't wish to share your troubles with us," Yomu added, "but we would like to help if we can."
The forest had trapped Katerei's mind as if in the mires of a dream, and still waking, it took her a few moments to register the men's words. They're... worried about me? she thought, completely nonplussed. Dozens of thoughts drifted in and out of focus as she considered this. She supposed there was more than enough to worry about, but she hadn't realized that her companions had been so attentive. She had thought Shanadar was fixed on Rapierian, and Yomu seemed to have been occupied with his own thoughts. Perhaps they observed far more than they let on.
It was an odd feeling to know that people - least of all ones she had only been travelling with for five days - cared about her. It was always implicit that companions looked out for each other's safety while travelling together, but that didn't necessarily include emotional well-being. The warm feeling tempered the rising panic that she felt at the thought of discussing her innermost fears aloud. What would they think of her? How much could she bring herself to tell them? But she reminded herself of why she came on this quest to begin with. She was meant to be spending time around people, learning to socialize, working through her problems. What better opportunity than this?
Shanadar and Yomu had been kind to her so far, as well. Their exhausting chase through the forest after Rapierian had been hard on them all, but Katerei felt a strange sense of camaraderie with them afterward. Travelling with only two companions was different, more personal, than with the usual larger group. They had also seen her as a wolf for extended periods of time, which she tended to feel awkward about letting other people see. Most of all, they had trusted her to track Rapierian when she hardly trusted herself: she at least owed them her trust in return.
Katerei realized they were waiting for an answer and her cheeks flushed slightly. "It's complicated," she hedged.
Shanadar shrugged. "You don't have to explain everything to us, but if talking about anything would make you feel better, go right ahead."
"Well..." Katerei sighed, wondering how to begin. "I said earlier that I thought I found another 'me' back in Kosha. I'm still not sure what to make of that possibility, but I've been thinking about it. Imagine if there was a duplicate of yourself. Would that person be identical to you only in physical ways such as appearance - or in my case, scent - or in mental and emotional ways as well? What if they turned out to have better qualities that you wish you had, if they were smarter or braver or more compassionate? You'd spend a lifetime wondering where you went wrong, why you didn't end up as the kind of person you could have been and wanted to be."
She paused to see if the two men were following along. They were listening intently and seemed to understand, so she carried on. "On the flip side, what if your duplicate was a worse person than you? Maybe they're selfish and cold-hearted and cowardly. Then you'd waste away fearing that you might end up like that too. It'd be like seeing all your flaws laid bare, not only to you but to everyone your duplicate meets."
"We are not necessarily defined by our past actions," Shanadar pointed out.
"Who can say what we're defined by? I can't know that until I meet this duplicate, and that isn't something I want to do. It's a chilling prospect." Katerei stared out over the red dust and green leaves of the vineyard. She always felt so out of place in this land, a speck of blue amongst all the earthly colours, but the attentiveness of her audience encouraged her to keep talking. "The other possibility is I imagined the entire thing, which has an entirely different array of consequences. When I'm a wolf I rely heavily on my senses, and to suddenly not know if what my senses tell me is true... it's unnerving, to say the least. It's like walking without knowing if the ground in front of you is going to be solid. When does it turn from imagining into hallucinating? How do I know I'm even sane still?"
"A few strange scents does not make your mind lost," Yomu said reassuringly. "This is only one of many unusual occurrences lately. With Rapierian escaped and Direct Nexus crippled, we ought to expect strange magic in some form. Perhaps some external force is deliberately affecting your senses."
"I'm still inclined to believe your senses," Shanadar put in, "but Yomu has a point. Our last quest took us through time. It wouldn't seem unlikely either that there really are duplicates of you and Rapierian, or that false scents have been laid. Regardless, I still believe you're as sane as ever."
"I don't know what to believe. I just don't want to be responsible for misleading us or putting either of you into danger." Katerei bit her lip and hesitated as she looked at the men. "I like both of you, and... people around me always seem to get hurt, and I can't prevent it."
Yomu heard the shake of Katerei's voice and, sensing there was more to the story, asked, "You don't have to explain, but to whom do you refer?"
Katerei paused for a moment, wondering if she could handle talking about this, and began tentatively. "Several years ago there was a war, carried out mainly in subterfuge on the coastlines. I don't think news of it ever reached the main population of Cythera. Our group of fighters was ambushed and either killed or captured... I saw my parents burned to death later. As far as I know I'm the only one who survived, and I never wanted to be stuck watching helplessly again as someone I cared about died. But at Pnyx, at Malis and Danae's wedding... I saw Trundaylan die and I couldn't save him. Avatara was wounded heavily next to me in combat and I didn't protect him either."
"I was at Pnyx that night too," Shanadar said gently. "Nothing more could have been done. Trundaylan was a brave man who died doing his job. No one holds you responsible."
Katerei noted that Shanadar said nothing about Avatara, but she suspected as an Enforcer he was being tactful and not mentioning their differing views on an escaped murderer. She rubbed her eyes wearily, trying not to think about that... to think about him. "Rationally, I know it's not my fault, but all the same, I don't trust myself anymore. I don't know how to deal with all this, these recent murders, the duplicates, and not knowing what any of it means. If it's between all that being real or having lost my mind... I'm honestly not sure which one I'd prefer."
As they continued on, Shanadar mused over Katerei's confession of bewilderment.
Her overt statement that people around her tended to get hurt stung at Shanadar a little. He'd felt that sort of survivor's guilt himself, not only with the recent murders but also when his peers, the other nine Enforcers, were systematically slain by the gang violence they had originally endeavored to put an end to. Apollos, who'd been cornered and beaten to death in the sewers; Cipio, whose throat had been slit in his sleep; Tanus, who'd gone down fighting thirty men, and took half of them with him: all good friends and colleagues, long departed, whom Shanadar missed dearly, and he had failed to protect in their hour of need.
Even so, he'd come to accept that their line of work had an inherent amount of danger, and they had, all ten of them, accepted the risks when accepted the positions to which they had been appointed, and the duties their rank required. Katerei's lost loved ones were much the same: brave people who had died doing their duty, not by any fault of her own, but because their duty demanded it of them.
He could not force her to see the truth as he understood it; it was a revelation that she would have to arrive at on her own. He only hoped that she would come to it soon, before she destroyed herself from her grief and despair.
After the short pause Yomu stood and looked towards the sky, then over the treetops of the forest, and finally to the road ahead. "Listen." he said. Shanadar and Katerei silently examined their surroundings. A soft breeze rolled over them. "That's the world." Yomu explained as he turned to his companions. "It's lives on despite what's happens to it. Who knows why it doesn't try to do anything about it, maybe the world sleeps or perhaps it lacks the power to act. But we are all like this, with an exception: we have the power to act." Another breeze blew past them as the night's first stars came out over the horizon. "Do not sleep like the world Katerei, use the gift of will." Yomu had ended his speech as night overtook the heavens.
"You! Monsters! Demons!" a rattely voice echoed over to them. The group turned to see an elderly man angrily gesturing at them.
"I won't apologize for earlier," Borus grunted, "hangin' about a man's property all suspicious and what with these monsters about I had a right to be yelling at the likes of you three."
Briseis went to comfort her husband, "Borus, come now, these are adventures not spirits, and besides, what would monsters want with a vineyard? Let's just move on with the night." Borus grunted in defeat.
Shanadar turned to the couple, "Thank you for letting us stay at your vineyard for the night. We'll be heading off for Cademia in the morning."
Borus smirked, "Well good luck, what with folks disappearing, and sightings of strange monsters in the forests, you might be lucky to make it. I tell you, the world's gone mad." Borus turned to hide the glint of genius brightening his eyes, "Hm. Might be good for business."
After exchanging goodbyes the group headed for the weathered room on the side of the house.
Yomu opened the creaking door and the fragrant smell of wine filled the air, "That man said something about strange monster sightings. Maybe our culprits?"
Shanadar sighed, "Or it could be the imaginary spooks created by the panic of people disappearing." he continued as he prepared a makeshift bed next to some barrels, "Regardless, we can find out more when we get to Cademia. Actually, it would be a good idea to stop by the tavern as well."
The three of them drifted off to sleep without saying goodnight. The aroma of wine was somehow comforting and relaxed their weary minds for the night.
Outside the Southern Borders of Cademia
"I can see the city clearly now." Yomu stated to the two followers behind him.
"Good, it's only midday. We should have plenty of time to look around." Shanandar pointed out.
Katerei looked somewhat uneasy, but better than when they were in the forest. She had not said much since they left the vineyard, but Shanadar and Yomu decided not to comment on it, figuring that she needed time to herself.
A strong breeze came away from the city, Yomu stopped. "What's wrong?" Shanadar inquired, "A frantic wind, that's all." Yomu replied as he continued down the path.
This post has been edited by Two Jacks : 24 August 2009 - 10:55 PM
Morning, Day 6
Jehezekel watched from behind a shrubbery as Shanadar, Katerei, & Yomu left the vineyard in the morning. A part of him yearned to go with them, to fight the coming darkness, & Yomu's words the night before echoed through his mind like a prophecy, "Do not sleep..., use the gift of will." Jehezekel sighed, wishing he could have heard more of the conversation than just that.
Borus & Briseis were arguing about just how they'd managed to acquire guests the night before, & Jehezekel allowed a smile to play across his lips. He would miss them when the time came to leave, but until then he would do his best to protect them from the darkness.
Forlong sat by himself in the corner of the tavern. A tall, dark-haired man, he leaned forward in his seat, quietly sipping at his drink and watching the other patrons come and go, living their meaningless little lives, raucously discussing their meaningless little 'politics' - in other words, doing little but making fools of themselves.
He'd always preferred solitude to the hustle and bustle of the big city, but there were more opportunities - and dangers - here, then where he'd grown up.
He took a long pull from his drink, then leaned back, wondering if anyone truly intriguing would show up. Forlong hoped so. The regulars' conversation palled after the first fifteen minutes, and most of the passerby hadn't looked strong or smart or capable enough to take care of themselves in a fight.
So he sat here.
I'd prefer that no one have their character follow the ranger giving Forlong the warning. I want him to remain hidden a little longer.
As Forlong sat waiting, bored almost to death, he became gradually aware of a commotion near the door. Turning, he noticed that a new person had entered and was attempting to speak to the patrons near entryway. Since most were lost in their food and drink, no one really noticed him. Usually, they simply let the heroes who were often about handle such things. When there were no heroes in, they ignored such things.
Curious, he studied the newcomer, the first person to resemble an adventurer that he had seen since had had arrived. The man wore a long green cloak and hood, which was draped to shadow his face; both garments were more after the style of a ranger than a mage and both were old and worn with much travel. Across his back, he had a quiver of arrows and a bow. At his side, he wore a sword.
"I am telling you there is some sort of plot against the mages in this city," he said, speaking sharply to one of the patrons and shaking the man. "Do you not care?"
"Why should I? The food and drink are good! Besides, the adventurers handle that stuff. Always going around getting into one mess after another."
The ranger threw up his hands in annoyance.
"So it would seem in this land! But now they all seem to be gone! Don't any of you care at all about a threat to some of the most important people in the land?"
He was ignored. The patrons of the Tavern were very good at ignoring crazy people.
Fortunately, for the ranger, Forlong was new to this place and was, in any case, intrigued by what the man was saying.
"Excuse me, sir?" he called. "Might I speak with you?"
Sighing, the man came over.
"I heard you speaking of a plot against the mages. What do you mean?"
The stranger regarded him warily before answering.
"I have traveled through this area and this city much in recent days. I have heard some speak threats about Berossus, Anisa, and Bryaxis. Of what these plotters plan to do, I know next to nothing, save that it is to happen in the next day or two."
Forlong digested this information for a moment and asked, "But why come here? Surely you should warn the mages themselves?"
Seeming to become even more cautious, the man hesitated before replying, "I do not think that they would believe me. There is so much chaos in this land these days, from what I have heard, that a stranger coming with a warning might not be trusted. But, I had heard of heroes here who investigated such things and hoped they might help."
Forlong immediately knew the man was not telling him the whole truth. His cautious manner alone suggested that, but he waiting willing to hear the stranger out.
Sensing this, the ranger pressed on, "Please, at least take my message to these heroes if you can find them."
"Why don't you wait for them?" Forlong suggested, wanting to see the man's reaction.
"I can't!" he burst out in a whisper, looking around furtively. "I have spent too much time here already, and I have precious little! I don't know if I can trust you or anyone else in this land, but I have no choice. Please, heed my warning!"
Without waiting for a reply, the ranger spun about and moving swiftly was across the room and out the door almost immediately.
It was mid-afternoon when Shanadar, Katerei and Yomu entered Cademia. The sun radiated gently overhead, melting away the breeze that had greeted them outside the city. The stillness of the air felt oppressive to Katerei: it reminded her of the subdued atmosphere of Kosha, the silence before a storm strikes.
They headed to the Alraeican Tavern first, partly to find out what news there was to be heard and partly to get a decent (albeit late) lunch. The three travellers were quiet as they walked through the city, each of them watchful for suspicious activity, but the streets seemed unusually morose. People shuffled along, keeping their heads down and their business to themselves. Shanadar only broke the silence once to murmur, "Shouldn't there be more guards around?"
The chatter of patrons and clink of glasses was a welcome relief when they entered the tavern. Life carried on as usual here, with alcoholics drinking throughout the day, cloaked and hooded figures occupying corners, and the bartender wiping glasses in between serving drinks. The sense of relief was short-lived, though. As they headed toward the bar to order their meals, Katerei heard an excited voice behind her whisper to another patron, "So did they catch the murderer yet?"
Katerei nudged her companions with her foot and casually crossed her arms on the bar, a flick of her finger indicating the direction of the voice. Still doubtful of her senses, she wanted them to be able to verify what she heard. Shanadar and Yomu listened carefully as they pretended to be waiting for the bartender.
"Not yet, but ten oboloi says they do before sundown," the other person was whispering back eagerly. "I heard it was a guard who did it. Be a bit hard to hide when all the guards know who you are."
The first person scoffed, forgetting to lower his voice. "I'll take that bet. He'll probably flee Cademia."
"Twen'y oboloi that 'e fights anyone who arrests 'im!" another patron slurred. "Saw it meself, 'e robbed the corpse an' jus' left it there in fron' of everyone! Comple'ely 'eartless!"
The three travellers looked at each other in surprise. Murder was one thing, but by one of Cademia's own guards? Katerei felt slightly disgusted at the depravity of people who would place bets on a murderer, but she was not surprised; the Tavern's patrons were not known for their civility.
The bartender approached them then, and after the travellers ordered their meals, Shanadar leaned across the bar and quietly asked, "What was this murder by a guard we've been hearing about?"
"Happened over at the Two-Tailed Rat this morning," the bartender replied as he began getting their drinks. He was a reserved man who didn't volunteer information until asked, but he was the eyes and ears of the tavern. He also recognized the three adventurers, particularly the Enforcer, and did not hesitate to be direct about the truth. "Victim was an ordinary citizen, doesn't appear to have provoked the murder in any way. The murderer is still on the loose as far as I know."
"Has there been any other news since we left town?" Shanadar asked, his brow furrowed gravely.
"Alaric has taken ill and is in a coma at Land King Hall. No one knows why. And Typhos was arrested for arson on one of the old houses, before dawn today. These are troubled times, no doubt."
"Indeed. Thank you, sir," Shanadar said. He, Katerei and Yomu took their drinks and sat down at a table that had the fewest people nearby. "So what do you make of that?" he asked his companions in a low voice when they were settled.
"It doesn't make sense. From what I know of Typhos, he's no more likely to burn down a house than a guard is to murder a citizen," Katerei murmured. Far from being reassured that her hearing was clearly still functional, the news they had just heard was both worrisome and bewildering. She added tentatively, "But given what we've encountered with apparent duplicates of Rapierian and myself..."
"You think there may be alternate versions of Typhos and this guard, acting in their stead?" Yomu enquired. "It could explain their erratic behaviour."
Katerei desperately hoped her suspicions were wrong. If not, and these so-called duplicates existed and were capable of acting differently than their respective originals... then the fear she had confessed to her companions in the vineyard about her own duplicate might well be true. She shuddered and looked away, but as she did so, her gaze fell on a dark-haired man in the corner of the tavern. He was watching their small party with interest. Katerei flushed as he locked eyes with her. Had he been able to hear their conversation?
"Be on your guard. I think we're about to have company," she muttered to her companions as the man stood and picked up his drink.
"Good afternoon," he said politely after wending his way between tables toward them. "My name is Forlong. Do you mind if I join you?"
Shanadar eyed the man surreptitiously before indicating the empty fourth chair at their table. "Not at all. I am Shanadar, and this is Yomu and Katerei," he said in a friendly tone.
Katerei knew both Shanadar and Yomu had heeded her warning though; she could see the tension in their postures as Forlong placed his mug on the table and took a seat. The newcomer looked safe enough, but after learning how fraught Cademia was with suspicious going-ons, it seemed best to be cautious about a stranger who suddenly took an interest in them.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," Forlong said. "I believe you are the people I have been waiting for."
Out of the corner of her eye, Katerei saw Shanadar's hand move toward his iron quarterstaff. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"Not long ago, perhaps about an hour, a man who looked to be a ranger entered the Tavern bearing news. He was searching for some heroes who have a reputation for investigating problems, but as he could find none, he asked me to pass the message on if I saw them. So far I had not seen anyone of that description enter until you arrived."
The three adventurers exchanged a glance. Forlong's words carried more meaning than the man likely realized: there had been no sign of the rest of their missing party here. "We do not tend to consider ourself 'heroes,'" Yomu said.
"I am an Enforcer for Cademia, though," Shanadar added. "My companions and I have just returned to town. What was this news about?"
"There has been word of a plot against mages in this town." Forlong frowned slightly. "I am not sure I remember their names, though I believe Berossus was one, and there were two others. This plot is meant to be carried out very soon, within the next two days, but what is to happen or who is responsible is unknown. It sounds far-fetched, but the man was very earnest."
"Not as far-fetched as the other incidents we have heard about since arriving," Katerei said and rubbed her eyes wearily. She was still not sleeping well, and any faint hope she might have had of getting some rest in Cademia was now erased. If Forlong's words were true, it sounded like they had their work cut out for them here, especially if no other adventurers were to be found.
"Who was the ranger that gave you the message?" Yomu was asking.
Forlong shrugged. "I don't know. He had his face covered, and he gave me no name. He said he was a stranger in town though, and seemed to think that the mages would not believe him if he went to them himself. You may not want to mention him to the mages, but I will leave that to your discretion."
"Thank you for warning us about this," Shanadar told Forlong. "It is hard to know what to believe these days, but we will look into it."
"Good luck," the man said with a nod. The bartender was approaching with their meals, so he stood and gave them a grave smile. "I'll leave you to your meals now. Thank you for hearing me out."
Shanadar played about with a loose bone on his plate. He should've been ravenous, but he had far too much on his mind to be particularly hungry. Ever more quandaries confounded Shanadar and his companions at every turn. Every time it seemed they had a lead they were confronted by another aberration. Ordinarily, he wouldn't take the second-hand words of a stranger too seriously, but given recent events an attempt on the mages' lives seemed all too plausible.
Still, there was enough of a pattern to recent events that the Enforcer could begin to make educated guesses. As Yomu had suggested, if people were, in fact, being replaced by doubles then that would adequately explain a great many confounding mysteries. Katerei's testimony, even if beleaguered, would seem to support this hypothesis.
There was precedent for such infiltration, such as when the Undine murdered Opheltius while disguised as Halos. Shanadar couldn't afford to second-guess himself by assuming it was the Undine specifically--any number of unknown factions could be at work--but the possibility of an infiltrator was all too real. While it was entirely possible that this was a false alarm, if it wasn't, a great deal of damage could be done if they did not take action.
the Enforcer looked up from his half-finished meal and addressed his companions.
"I'll need to alert the city guard of the threat on the mages' lives," the Enforcer said flatly, looking up from his half-finished meal, "Ordinarily I'd go on my own, but given the current circumstances, I'd rather not let either of you out of my sight."
There was a quiet murmur of agreement. It wasn't that Shanadar didn't trust them; it was that he didn't want to let the people he did trust out of his sight. Not with the possibility of a doppelgänger hanging in the air like a drunk harpy.
"After we alert the guards," he continued, "We ought to warn Judge Berossus personally."
Troyen last edited by
A whole day wasted. Avatara grit his teeth as he paced about outside impatiently. He knew Beorn wouldn't come back, they had no reason to trust one another. But he had humored the thought that maybe he might turn up with miraculous news, and so he had waited. More importantly, it would be reckless to simply plunge into the most populous city on the island without having some understanding of the history here. Katerei hadn't been shy about reminding him of that, many times over, as they both paced around outside the city.
The original plan had been to wait until twilight to more safely move about the city, but after irritably pacing around for hours and hours, he finally had enough and threatened to march off towards Cademia a mere hour before sunset regardless of the danger. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Katerei raised no objection. She too had grown restless and irritable about sitting around on the edge of the forest. It was unusual for her to want to head toward a populated area, usually she hated going to Cademia, but Avatara didn't dispute it.
They had strolled in the west entrance mostly undisturbed and largely ignored. A few people gave them glances, and one person stopped and stared, as if he was trying to recall something. Avatara wasn't sure if they were looking at Katerei or himself, but he suspected that there was some truth to Beorn's warning. It would be best if he exposed himself as little as possible.
Which meant that it was up to Katerei to scout out the tavern. Again, she made no complaints or objections, just quietly nodded and said, "That makes sense." Her reaction mystified him. She seemed to both dread socializing with strangers and welcome it.
That left him outside alone, waiting. It irritated him that he had to sit by idly while others did the work. It frustrated him more that he couldn't figure out his onetime friend. A gulf had grown between them and while she had always been somewhat withdrawn and reserved, now she even seemed uncomfortable around him. Yet, she had stayed by his side on her own volition for the past few days.
Two men passed by, giving him strange glances and talking in a hushed tone. It was probably dangerous to remain here. With a silent apology to Katerei, he turned and headed towards the market, hoping with enough people around he could blend in unnoticed. She should be able to track him easily enough with her skills.
The Commons still held a fair number of people, but the merchants were showing signs of getting ready to close for the night. The smell of cooked meats filled the air, masking the smells of produce, cold breads, and even a cheese stand. Everything gave off a simple sense of normalcy.
A young child and his long-haired mother were the last customers for the baker. She was attempting to buy one of the round loafs that had been baked earlier in the day, but the boy kept pulling on her shirt and trying to drag her away towards the man that was packing up his small stand of hard candies.
Avatara felt a pang of jealousy as he watched them. His dream had been to have a family once. Thoughts of his wife surfaced again, memories of the brief time they had shared before Selax had extinguished her life. He was overcome by a wave of sorrow and regret that threatened to bury him, so he quickly turned away.
In his flight from the marketplace, he nearly collided with a black-robed man. The man scowled at his muttered apology before hurrying on towards the older part of the city, clutching his small parcel tightly. Avatara watched him go, then shrugged and took a step forward. Something softly crinkled under his boot. Taking a step back, he noticed a couple small leaves had been dropped on the ground. The man must have been carrying herbs in a rush to somewhere. The leaf that had been stepped on was crushed beyond recognition, but the second leaf was still fully intact.
Avatara knelt and picked up the strange leaf, twirling it in his fingers. It wasn't from one of the common medicinal plants he knew about, maybe Katerei would be able to identify it later.
As if he had just summoned her, he heard a familiar voice behind him say, "There you are!" He turned to find a somewhat unsettled-looking Katerei walking up to him.
"How'd it go?" he asked as he stood up.
"There wasn't any sign of Wizard," she replied. Her voice was calm, but there was an uneasy edginess to her expression and she seemed uncomfortable standing in the middle of a road, even though it was empty for the moment. "What are you doing out here?"
"I got some suspicious glances, so I took a walk," Avatara replied nonchalantly. At least he could easily tell her the truth about something. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"
"No," her reply was short, yet stuffed full of lies. He knew by now that pressing her would do no real good, so he pretended not to notice.
"Well, I guess that concludes my business here." He'd have to figure out another plan now, something he could pull together before it was too late. He looked back at Katerei to find her staring at him, or rather the leaf in his hand.
"Where did you find that?" Somehow she looked even more unsettled than before. "Do you know what that is?"
Everything would be so much easier if I just told him the truth.
This was the thought that plagued K as she left Avatara's side to enter the Alraeican Tavern, and that had dominated her mind the entire time they had waited outside Cademia. The hours of awkward silence, punctuated only by Avatara's terse implorations to give up on Beorn and enter Cademia, had grated her nerves into what felt like finely ground pulp.
Of course, she didn't blame him: he had no idea how much she longed for the security of the city, the ability to blend in and not attract attention. Common sense and concern for his safety was all that kept her waiting on the outskirts, though as the day wore on and her attempts at meditation failed to restore her patience with Beorn, she had to reluctantly give in.
It was only as they entered the city that he had finally admitted to her openly what his purpose was in Cademia. Although K already knew he was looking for Wizard from his slip when talking to Beorn, she was shocked to realize that he was not looking for the Wizard of which they both knew, but another one from this world. She was still uncertain about many things in this world, and although she had verified that the cities appeared to be identically named and located, she was more skeptical about whether the people were the same. As far as the existence of her own duplicate was concerned, she had so far been of the mindset that you did not question what could kill you, you simply tried to avoid it.
She did not mention any of this to Avatara, however, as she wasn't sure how familiar he expected her to be with this world - particularly given that 'the Wizard' was a common enough moniker that it might well refer to an entirely different person here. The less said, the better, until she figured out what was going on here; so when Avatara asked her to check the Tavern for the mysterious Wizard, she unquestioningly agreed.
I t's strange how time can change a friendship, she reflected sadly as she reached for the door handle, the dark blue ends of her hair brushing against her arm. There was a time when I wouldn't have hesitated to ask him for help in learning about this world. Now everything hinges on deception. Although her conscience had demanded her honesty every minute of every day that she had spent around Avatara lately, there was a part of her deep down that also knew the truth would be her undoing. She pushed that thought aside for now and entered the building.
Inside, the Alraeican Tavern was unnervingly familiar. It had been years since she had been to the one back in her world, but neither time nor space appeared to have altered it. As she scanned the dimly-lit room, her gaze occasionally settled on a face that seemed eerily recognizable, and her sharp hearing filtered out voices that she distantly recalled. Were all these people other versions of those she had encountered at home? Her already-frayed nerves began to falter as she fervently hoped that her alternate was not the kind to frequent a seedy establishment as this, lest she was mistakenly identified.
K felt eyes on her as she crossed the room to the bar, and trembled slightly. She had spent time in far worse locales, and her provocative style of dress had long ago accustomed her to the gazes of leering men, but the self-assurance she had built up over the years had disappeared. This world was not her own, and she no longer knew how to operate.
Resolving to observe and gauge the situation before acting, she took a seat at the bar and waited for the tender to finish with another customer. She thought the bartender gave her a strange look, but his face smoothed back into professional neutrality before she had time to examine it. For a moment K wondered if perhaps being recognized would turn out to be an advantage in letting her blend in, when out of the corner of her eye she saw someone approaching.
"Hello," a respectable-looking, black-haired man said with a smile and sat down on the barstool next to her. "No longer with your companions?"
It wasn't someone she recognized. He seemed genuine, though perhaps a bit shy. She tried to keep her expression casual as she hedged, "Companions?"
"The two gentlemen you were with earlier today," the man replied. "I assumed you were all travelling together."
K's first panicked thought was Does he know about Avatara and Beorn? but she had to remind herself that this man was probably mistaking her for the duplicate. Not that that makes this any less dangerous of a situation, she added mentally. "No, we're... apart for the time being."
"Did you have any luck investigating the plot?" he enquired. "I apologize if you're back here so soon because it turned out to be a false rumour; the man just seemed so earnest that I pass the message on."
Plot? K looked nonplussed for a second, before the full impact of his words dawned on her. He thought he had seen her today, and... "What do you mean, back here so soon?" she asked warily.
The man looked suspicious. "Weren't you in here just an hour or so ago?"
The blood drained from K's face, and she swore loudly before she could stop herself. The man looked shocked, but she didn't care. Her duplicate was here, in Cademia, right now. Her attempt at guessing the duplicate's actions after their encounter at Kosha had been excruciatingly misguided. Had the other woman followed K to Cademia, or just outwitted her by guessing where she would go?
K closed her eyes and took a deep breath to regain her composure. The duplicate clearly wasn't expected back for awhile, so she was probably safe from running into her. However, if the woman came into contact with this man, he would no doubt inform her that K had been here. This man looked too intelligent to be deceived and too upright to be charmed, but it was the only way out now that her blunder was in the open.
Opening her eyes again, K gave the man her warmest smile and spoke to him sweetly. "I'm very sorry, sir. There's been a mistake. Let me buy you a drink, and I'll explain." She pulled a couple of oboloi from the coin pouch at her belt and flagged down the bartender, ordering them each an ale before continuing.
"I should introduce myself first. I am K." She extended her hand and the man shook it, thanking her for the drink and introducing himself as Forlong. K let her fingers trail across his palm as he released her grip, a smile playing across her lips. This was what she knew how to do best - her line of work had required her to learn to ingratiate herself with people - but her confident manner was betrayed by her racing heart. What if he didn't fall for it? The stakes had never been so high.
She had no other choice though. Taking a sip from the mug the bartender had placed on the counter, she said, "You must be an acquaintance of my twin sister. I didn't realize she was in Cademia, but I must ask you that if you see her, please don't tell her I am here. I am afraid we last parted on bad terms, and we have not spoken in a long time. I won't be in town long, and in the meantime I don't wish to distress her with my presence." K leaned toward Forlong slightly, her voice persuasive. "Would you do that for me?"
Forlong inclined his head in assent, answering in a neutral tone. "Very well."
Is he buying it? Sisters is more plausible than the truth, at any rate, K thought as she feigned relief. "Thank you, sir. All of Cademia seems ill at ease lately, and I could not forgive myself for troubling my sister further." She tilted her head as if reminded of something. "What was that you mentioned earlier about a plot?"
The man hesitated, taking a long pull from his mug, but he finally answered her. "As you said, Cademia is rife with trouble. There has been word of a conspiracy of sorts to occur soon, though little else is known. Katerei and her companions departed earlier to investigate further. When I saw you, I thought it was her returning. I apologize for my error."
So the duplicate still used their full name. K filed that information away in her mind as she crinkled her nose and laughed. "Ah, my sister, always the detective. No offense is taken to the mix-up, we are commonly confused." K knew she was walking a fine line, and although she was painfully curious to know who Katerei was travelling with, at any moment Forlong might ask a question about her 'sister' that she would be unable to answer. She began steering the conversation elsewhere while she still had the man's trust.
"You must be very well connected to know about things like this conspiracy," she said, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear as she gazed at Forlong seriously. "Might I ask you about something else? I am looking for a man who is known as the Wizard. Have you heard of him?"
Forlong shook his head. "I'm afraid I am not that well connected. I've only just arrived in Cademia and have heard no mention of a Wizard."
K frowned inwardly. The man was difficult to read. He sounded sincere, but also seemed unreceptive to her coquetry, so she was unsure whether he really didn't know or he simply saw through her tactics. Either way, she wasn't going to learn any more about Wizard's whereabouts, and she would have to get out of here soon. Avatara would be waiting, Katerei could return at any time, and she felt like her nerves were on the verge of dissolving entirely.
"Well, thank you anyway," she said, smiling at Forlong and picking up her mug to finish the last of her drink. "I ought to be going now, but it's been wonderful to meet you."
"As it has meeting you," Forlong said and raised his glass to her. If he was surprised by her sudden departure, he didn't show it. "Thank you again for the drink, and good luck on your travels."
K scanned the room again as she left, studying the patrons for anyone who resembled the Wizard, just in case she had missed him before. Still nothing. She knew Avatara would be disappointed; he had made it clear to her how urgent it was to find the man.
Speaking of Avatara... "Where is he?" she muttered to herself as she looped around the outside of the Tavern and saw no sign of him. He had promised to wait right there. K pressed her fingers to her lips anxiously. This was the last thing she needed after what she had just endured. Neither of them were safe in Cademia, now that she knew her duplicate was here, and she wasn't about to reveal her best weapon to the public by running around town as a wolf to track him. He better have a damn good reason to not be here.
And how did they even know if this Cademia was laid out the same way as the one in their homeworld? It could be so easy to get lost here. K set out through the back streets towards what she thought would be the marketplace, hoping that Avatara might have decided to seek refuge in the crowds. She was working her way well into full-blown anger with him when she spotted him, kneeling in a nearby alley that was bathed in orange glow from the setting sun. "There you are!" she cried.
"How'd it go?" he asked as she walked toward him.
She might have smacked him if he was within range. No apology for leaving? No explanation for why he was standing here in broad daylight? She had just risked her life to help him, and the information was all he cared about, not the fact that both of their safety was on the line... K ground her teeth as she fought to control her temper. He couldn't know how much danger she was in, and it was his prerogative to put himself in danger if he wanted to. He didn't owe her his well-being. "There wasn't any sign of Wizard," she said, trying not to show how much effort it took to keep her voice level. "What are you doing out here?"
"I got some suspicious glances, so I took a walk," he said, and K would have made some snippy comment about how he wasn't any better off here in the middle of a street, when he asked, "What's wrong? Did something happen?"
Oh, so you are capable of noticing things , K thought resentfully. She would have appreciated it more if she didn't have to lie about it. "No."
"Well, I guess that concludes my business here," he was saying, when K chanced to look down at his hand and realized what it was he was holding.
"Where did you find that?" she asked, feeling faint. "Do you know what that is?"
"I was hoping you did." Avatara offered the leaf to her. "I just ran into a man who dropped it. He seemed in a hurry to get somewhere."
K stared at him for a moment before grabbing his hand and pressing his fingers against his palm to conceal the plant. The jagged edges and unusual white pattern on the bottom of the leaf had already told her in a glance what she needed to know. She seized Avatara's arm and dragged him behind a tall stack of wooden crates, concealing them from view of most of the street. "Don't show that to anyone else," she hissed. "We don't need any more questions being asked."
"What is it?" he asked in surprise.
"A fatally poisonous herb that paralyzes whomever ingests it, so they die swiftly and quietly. It's called Devil's Mercy. It's rare to find, and even rarer to find someone who knows about it. Most people favour more common strains that are more potent and faster-acting, but more painful."
"Then isn't this one not that bad, as far as poisonous plants go?" Avatara asked.
K shook her head. "No, because anyone who's carrying it clearly knows what they're doing. They must have a reason for not wanting the victim to attract attention."
Avatara frowned at her suspiciously. "How do you know about it?"
K's insides suddenly felt like they were coated in a thin layer of ice. She knew because sewn to the inside of both panels of her sash were several pockets, stitched with translucent spidersilk, that contained a variety of herbological specimens... including leaves identical to the one Avatara held. "You know that I've trained in healing and botany. It's essential to know about poisons to know how to treat them." But the way his eyes searched hers was deeply unsettling.
"Well, something must be going on," he said finally, "but it's not our concern. I still need to find Wizard, and you..." He trailed off, allowing her to finish the statement.
He wasn't making the assumption that she would continue to help him. What does that mean? Does he not want to hold me to any obligations, or does he just not want me around anymore? K rubbed the bridge of her nose wearily. Considering how well her attempt to guess her duplicate's intentions had gone, it seemed like a waste of time trying to guess Avatara's. Maybe it was time to just be direct. "Do you want me to come with you?"
Avatara shrugged. "Beorn's gone, so yes, I still need help, but I already owe you for searching the Tavern for me. I assumed you had your own reasons for coming to Cademia, anyway."
But that doesn't tell me what you want. K dug her nails into her palms, frustrated with his vague answer. "Meeting you changed my plans," she said quietly. He owed her nothing; it was her obligation to atone for the past, even if staying in Cademia turned out to be the death of her. Reluctantly, she said, "I'll come and help you look for him. It should be a little easier now that the sun is going down. Come on... I'll try asking around in the Two-Tailed Rat."
Gradually, Beorn became aware of a pounding sensation in his head.
It had, he noted, a nice orderly rhythm, which was he supposed more pleasant than a disorderly one but still not all together desirable. As consciousness returned, so did memory. Someone had attempted to mug him and he had fallen into the sewers. He reflected with some irritation that he now had new injuries, although they were surely minor in comparison to his old ones. Checking over his injuries, he found them to indeed be not as serious as they might have been. Nothing seemed broken at any rate. He wondered how long he had been knocked out.
Carefully, he opened his eyes and saw only blackness. He became aware that he had fallen on some sort of stone ledge, which thrust out from the walls. It had kept him from falling quite into the sewers and had probably saved him from drowning or being attacked by ratilizards. Looking up, he could see no sign of the hole through which he had fallen.
Maintaining his balance with an effort, he rummaged around inside his robe and found a torch. Lighting it, he held up and examined the walls above him. They were steep and sheer: there was no route out back the way he had came. Of course, that fact had probably kept his attackers from following him. Turning his attention downward, he saw that he was only three or so feet above the ground.
Wearily, he considered his options and did not like his prospects. He could not remain where he was with any hope of rescue. He would have to go on and try to find another exit, despite the danger from ratilizards and other creatures and from his relative lack of knowledge of the structure of the sewer system.
Beorn carefully jumped down, landing heavily and stumbling. Again, he blamed his injuries, old and new. Raising his torch in one hand, he pulled out his staff with the other and carefully headed deeper into the sewers taking the direction that seemed most likely to lead him deeper into the city.
He had no idea how long he continued in this way. For what seemed like hours, he plodded through the underbelly of the great city. The walls became a gray blur and the passage seemed to continue forever. There were side avenues and collapsed tunnels. The place seemed like a great snake with endless twists and turns, although he saw evidence that it had once been well-maintained and well-structured. Sometimes, he came across drains or grates but always they were blocked or out of reach and out of call.
Occasionally, he stopped to listen for ratilizards or other predators, but he heard nothing. In fact, he noticed that an ominous silence seemed to have settled over the place. It was somehow unnatural. Beorn wondered how far things above might have advanced. Was the situation even worse than he had first thought?
Thinking such thoughts turned his mind back to his traveling companions again. By now, they had probably decided that he had deserted them, and, in truth, that possibility had been one that he had been strongly considering when he had earlier entered the city. He wondered if they had entered the city or had decided to lie low for a little while longer.
Suddenly, he came to a side passage. Glancing down it, he saw sunlight streaming into the sewers through a grate. Upon further observation, he realized that the grate was almost within reach! Beorn quickly turned and headed down the passage. Stopping under the grate, he looked up. Through the grate, he could see the sky overhead. From its look, the day was now far gone and he had lost much precious time.
He could not afford to waste anymore.
"HELP!" he called as loudly as he could.
After speaking with guards and hearing more news of the strange events that had been occurring the city, Shanadar, Katerei, and Yomu had been heading for Judge Berossus's house when they heard someone calling for help. The cries were coming from a sewer grate that was practically right in front of them. Stopping, they glanced at one another.
"It could be some kind of trap," cautioned Yomu. "After all that's happened, we should be wary of anything."
"I agree," Shanadar replied. He sighed. "Still, we should have a quick look at least. The guards know of what is happening, if anything happens to us."
Carefully, the three approached the grate and looked down.
A man stood a in the sewers below them. None of them recognized him.
"Your timing is impeccable," he said, squinting up at them.
"What happened?" Shandar asked.
"Some gentlemen attempted to mug me. In the altercation, I fell into the sewers and in so doing escaped. Unfortunately, I am now trapped here and could use some help in getting out."
Sighing in annoyance at a story that he had heard many times over his years as Enforcer, Shanadar nodded. Carefully, the three removed the grate. Shanadar and Yomu bent over and managed to catch the man's hands, while Katerei made sure that neither of them fell in. Together, they pulled the man out.
"My thanks," the stranger said, blinking in the bright light as his eyes adjusted. "That was not a pleasant experience."
"Who are you?" Shanadar asked, still wary of the man.
"My name is Beorn and—" he stopped abruptly as he turned to face Katerei and Yomu. After a moment of staring in surprise, he said, "Katerei? I had thought that you wanted to remain outside of the city for awhile?"
Narrowing his eyes, Cademia's Enforcer asked, "What exactly do you mean?"
Sixth Day, shortly after dawn
Judge Berossus sat eating his breakfast. He had already received reports of a fire from the previous night and that the vandal had been captured. Orthrus would be returning from the prison at any moment to fill Berossus in on what exactly was going on. But for now... breakfast. Or so Berossus hoped.
"It's my father!" Orthrus stormed into the room. "My men have put him in the prison, and they swear that he was the one who started the fire!"
"What?! Typhos? How can that be?"
"I don't know. My father would never do any such thing. I admit that he is acting a little strange, but I think he seems more confused than dangerous."
"Did you have him released?"
"I wanted to, but Garmr reminded me that it would be better for me not to let my personal feelings get involved. And based on my father's confused behavior, it might be best for him to stay there until you can speak to him. I just still can't believe that he had anything to do with this."
"Neither can I," Berossus removed the napkin that had been tucked into his collar and set it on the table. "Let's go see him right now. Who's stationed at the jail?"
Just then someone burst through the door. "There's been a murder! Please help!"
Berossus jumped out of his seat. "Where?"
"At the Two-Tailed Rat," the man panted. "It happened just a few minutes ago. I think Apis said that the man's name was Garmr, one of the city guards."
"What?! Garmr?" Orthrus looked at Berossus. "Apis must be mistaken; Garmr is the one stationed at the jail."
Judge Berossus' face reddened, not out of embarrasment but out of anger. It was bad enough that one of the town's most upstanding citizens was being implicated in an arson, but now a murder -- committed by a city guard no less? Something was definately going on, and they were going to get to the bottom of this mystery right now. "Captain Orthrus, send a group of your most-trusted men down to the Two-Tailed Rat to collect the body and gather witnesses. I want you yourself to bring Typhos here from the jail, and make sure you have enough men to capture Garmr as well, if he is there. And you, young man," Berrosus was now looking at the messenger from the Two-Tailed Rat, "You will recount for me exactly what happened: who was murdered, how, and the events leading up to it."
Orthrus headed to the jail; he had two men with him just in case Garmr was there.
"Captain! I heard what happened," a voice called from down a side-street. "I came to see if I could help." Cerberus walked into view.
"You should have stayed at your post, Cerberus," Orthrus wore a stern expression, yet he was pleased to have any extra help. "However, I suppose that we could use you here, if Garmr decides to put up a fight, even though I don't expect one." As they neared the jail, Orthrus spoke again, "Cerberus, i want you to go directly to the back and release my father; the three of us will take Garmr."
"Is it best to have them around each other at the same time?"
"What do you mean?"
Cerberus hesitated, "Well, I did witness Typhos trying to kill Garmr just this morning, and with the news that Garmr may have killed someone himself... maybe it's best if they're not out at the same time."
"That's what we're going to be there for, Cerberus! To ensure that they each make it to Judge Berossus without any incedents. If I were that concerned I would ask the Judge to come to the jail."
Cerberus said nothing. It was obvious that he disapproved. Orthrus had no idea why, but he suddenly felt that Cerberus was right: they shouldn't take both Garmr and Typhos at the same time. "All right, you wait outside until we get Garmr; then follow us with my father."
Cerberus nodded. Now at the jail, Orthrus and the other two disappeared inside. "What?!" he heard someone say from within, most likely Garmr. A few moments later, protesting loudly, Garmr emerged with the other three. "I did no such thing! I was here the whole time!" Orthrus nodded at Cerberus, "We'll go on ahead."
"I'll be right behind you..." Cerberus started to head into the jail slowly. He looked back, and the others were now out of sight. That would buy her just enough time, but she would have to hurry. Cindy turned away from the entrance and skipped down the street.
The real Cerberus' unconscious body was stashed nearby. In no more than a half-minute, Cindy was dragging Cerberus out of an alley. "Hello, Cindy," one of the townsman greeted her casually as he walked by. He didn't seem to notice the body.
Cindy hesitated outside the jail's entrance, but she knew that she didn't have much time. She grabbed Cerberus' collar and quickly pulled him into the jail, out of sight from the street. Typhos, leaning against the cell door, stared intently towards her. "Cindy? Is that you? What are you doing here?" he asked, squinting to make out her face in the dim torchlight.
She said nothing. As she neared Typhos, she grimaced; her face became distorted. Her entire body shimmered as though she were some sort of ghost. Typhos watched, partially horrified but also confused.
She grew taller, and her face hardened, striped with lines. In another second, it was apparent that the face was that of a man. "Who are you?" Typhos backed away.
"Not your granddaughter," the man growled. The voice was deep and unsettling. It was almost a whisper, yet it was very forceful. It was inhuman somehow, lacking all emotion or depth -- chilling. Typhos examined the figure. The man was short and thin. Long white hair flowed over his shoulders and down his back. His face, clean-shaven, was worn with age and many battles. He carried a gnarled black staff, although he didn't seem to use it for support. The man didn't look very much like someone who could survive in a battle, Typhos thought. "What do you want from me?"
"Nothing much, that amulet."
"What, this?" Typhos held the amulet out in front of him. "Take it, I never liked it."
The man took the amulet carefully in his hand and tucked it away beneath his heavy robe. "Good, but that's not all I need." Stretching over Cerberus, the man unsheathed the unconscious guard's sword. Typhos held up his hands defensively, "Please, I've done nothing against you."
Turning, the man placed his hand on the jail door. With a sharp tug, the lock snapped and the door swung freely open. "I know." Typhos thought about running, but there was no time.
The man walked outside into the morning light. He glanced briefly back into the jail as he ran the amulet's chain through his fingers. When Orthrus would return to see what was taking Cerberus so long, he would find an unexpected sight: Typhos had tried to escape when Cerberus opened the cell, but he hadn't counted on Cerberus' fast reflexes. Cerberus managed to run Typhos through with his sword, but not before Typhos pushed Cerberus over. Losing his balance, Cerberus hit his head against the jagged rock wall next to the cell. Both were dead.
At least, that was what appeared to have happened. The man smiled to himself, returned the amulet to a pocket in his robe, and started down the street, away from the jail.
This post has been edited by The Wizard : 26 September 2009 - 06:04 PM