Dark Mirror (TS)
Yomu felt shaken about his situation. The voice that had contacted him last night, Firecat, was such a fantastic notion that he was finding it harder to believe the more and more he thought about it.
The three were standing outside the pub, getting ready to head off on another investigation, though more so trying to unraveled the tension in their minds caused by preceding incidents of the night before. With Beorn still locked in a room inside, the three began discussing the next step to take.
Yomu, not entirely able to stay focused, walked off to the side of the pub. It was looking a nice day, clear sky and puffy white clouds. Yomu always felt he could reflect on himself best in weather like this, but the memories of Firecat were like thunderclouds in his mind.
Why did he feel so uneasy? Firecat had tried to help him, but the fact that he had such knowledge of the situation was somehow greatly disturbing, furthermore his request of Yomu not to tell his companions was also troubling. Even if his instructions were carried out in Yomu's favor, the seasoned fetcher still couldn't shake an eerie feeling about trusting whoever had spoken riddles into his mind.
Yomu sighed. What are this ghost's motives? Does any sanctuary still even remain in my mind? he quietly thought to himself.
nudge nudge Yomu felt something poke his side. Pulling his pouch from behind he noticed it was shaking. Yomu knew what this meant. Undoing the the leather strap, the flap containing the disturbance hopped out.
Yomu smiled as an old red wizard's hat began hopping around on the ground. The odd dance was an often occurrence for Yomu. Reaching into his pocket he presented a few crumbs to the hat.
Unexpectedly the hat batted the crumbs away.
Yomu was shocked, this had never happened before. "What is it, is my food not good enough for you?" he softly questioned the enchanted head wear.
The scarlet hat scurried around the ground once more.
"What are you trying to show me?" Yomu saw no way to decipher this puzzle.
The hat rolled in tantrum, thoroughly covering itself in dust. Suddenly it ceased it's outburst, stiffining straight up in alert.
Yomu quickly looked around only to find a stray cat had wandered in on the two, looking increasingly entertained by the hat.
Before Yomu had time to shoo it away, his hat pounced on it's head, and before the cat had time to dodge the headgear, it was engulfed in a puff in smoke and turned into a mouse. The mouse began hopping around the ground, frantically.
"What are you doing!" Yomu exclaimed. His magical possession was beginning to anger him.
The hat hopped off the cat before Yomu had time to catch it. Then back on, then off again. This carried on a few more rounds until the hat took a final leap off the cat and then back onto the ground.
The cat bolted from the scene, tail puffed out in fear.
Yomu snatched his hat in fury, "Why? What was the point of this foolishness?"
The hat jiggled in his hands before going limp.
Undoing the latch once more, Yomu placed the hat back into his pouch. Just at that moment he heard Shanadar calling him to the rejoin the others.
Collecting himself, Yomu tried to piece together what had just happened. His hat could use no words, and was trying to convey some sort of message, perhaps it's strange actions were the message.
First it hopped about, then it transformed the cat repeatedly, next the cat ran, finally the hat calmed down. He wondered, could the hat read his thoughts as well? Was it acting on what he thought just before, the sanctuary of his mind?
If that was the case , Yomu pondered, then was it trying to tell me I can use it against.. Firecat, and protect my mind?
Yomu thought it all rather vague, and decided to keep it in my mind, if that was safe, for later examination. For now, the others were getting anxious for his arrival.
Shanadar and Katerei had been talking in Yomu's absence. They decided that if the other intruders were interrupted last night as well as escaped, then it would be plausible that they could still be in the city, waiting for their next opportunity to strike.
"If they're smart, then they'll strike tonight before they're found." Yomu added.
The enforcer laughed, "Unlikely. Security at the judges castle is going to be too tight for them to do anything without being noticed, not to mention all three mages are there and aware of the danger around them."
"I still think it would be wrong to underestimate our opponents." Katerei interjected, recalling the familiar faces she had seen at the judge's estate. "Regardless, I still feel that who we saw last night may still be in the city. Anyone normal would have reported them to a guard already, now that word has spread of the judge's estate. Which means the best places to look would most likely be the ghetto and perhaps some of the abandoned houses on the other side of Cademia."
"Sounds good to me, not to mention short if we move fast." Shanadar replied. "Though first we might want to think about Beorn. I still don't trust him, and I don't think he will talk to us, but I also don't desire to carry him around all day."
"He is a problem." Yomu agreed, but Beorn was the 'who' he didn't feel like talking about just then. He wanted to tell Katerei and Shandar what he had seen in dining room last night, but the proposition made him feel nervous. Still, he felt his morals pull him strongly towards confession.
"Listen, last night, you both should know." Yomu began telling his story, omitting anything related to Firecat. Judging by the frightful expression on Katerei's saphire face, Yomu could tell she knew what he was going to say.
"When I came up to the door, I listened in on what was being said inside. I heard two women, one of them I didn't recognize, the other, well," Yomu looked to Katerei, "was you."
Before a question could be asked Yomu continued, "I then looked inside, only briefly, but I got a good enough look to be able to recognize one of the two: Katerei, again, the other I had never seen before."
The enforcer and rogue turned to Katerei, waiting for her opinion on the matter
Yomu felt somewhat guilty for placing the painful thoughts in her mind, Firecat's statement about not trusting his allies ringing through his mind.
Avatara sat quietly on a discarded crate, observing the two other occupants in the room. The armored man was waiting near the door, at an angle where he could observe people approaching from outside while still keeping an eye on the rest of the room. He kept mostly to himself, not offering up much in the way of conversation, aside from his name, Bastian.
In contrast, the young woman he had seen the previous night was pacing around the room, with the occasional suspicious glance either outside the building or at Avatara. Elie seemed riled up over something related to the missing person Katerei and Iannah had set out to find. Even Bastian seemed nervous about something, though he tried not to show it. With both of them seemingly on edge, Avatara didn't dare to pry for more information about Selax, judging that the fragile truce Katerei had won with her friendship would break. So he just sat calmly and waited for the two women to return.
It was difficult to judge the passage of time from inside, but roughly two hours had passed before Bastian straightened up and told them, "They're back." A moment later, a soft knock came from the door, and he opened it up to let the two women in.
Iannah strode in confidently, but Avatara could hear unease in her voice when she told them that Phanias had been killed. "We've been betrayed."
When Iannah moved over to converse quietly with her companions, Avatara glanced at Katerei, but she shook her head slightly and looked away.
"-but why shouldn't we go after him?" Elie blurted out. Almost immediately her face reddened as she realized the outsiders were looking at her. She dropped her voice back to a whisper and said something that caused Iannah to clench her fist.
"We don't have any choice," Iannah replied sternly. She turned to look at Katerei, but raised her voice so they both could hear, "We'll have to wait in town until Selax arrives in a few days." So, Selax will be coming here, Avatara mused.
"Should we still plan to move to the backup site?" Bastian asked.
"It's too dangerous," Katerei said with a glance at Iannah. "The entire city is on hyper-alert. We barely made it back here without being spotted."
"But the traitor knows where we are. He could even be bringing the guards to us while we speak," Iannah hissed.
"If it comes to a fight, we have a better chance in here than in the open," Katerei argued. "Aremis has probably fled anyway."
"Sorry to interrupt, but who is this 'Aremis'?" Avatara stood up. When everyone looked over at him, he shrugged and said, "My mission is to watch over Katerei. If there's someone dangerous running around, it would help to learn what I can about him."
"He's the agent in charge of Cademia until Selax arrives. He was meant to aid us in... preparing the city, but he clearly has no interest in doing so." Iannah grit her teeth. "I have little doubt that he is responsible for Phanias' death."
"Then wouldn't it be safer to move to a location he doesn't know about?"
"It would do no good," Bastian said. "He knows where all our forces are located already, and the backup locations. The risk is greater than the gain."
Avatara looked over at Katerei. "What about our place? Its not quite as cozy as this place, but it should still be defensible."
"How are we going to get there without being spotted? The fog dissipated while Iannah and I were gone," she said.
"Most of the guards only know me by name. I was fine standing in the open all of yesterday, why should today be any different?" Avatara countered.
"Where is this place of yours?" Iannah asked, looking back and forth between the two of them.
"In the other abandoned area of town. It was an empty shop, crumbling a bit, but mostly standing." Katerei bit her lip hesitantly. "I suppose it would work. No one noticed us leaving it this morning."
"It's your call," Avatara looked at Iannah.
The assassin nodded. "It's too risky staying here. Let's go."
Katerei rubbed her eyes exhaustedly as she stood out front the inn with Shanadar. Yomu had already wandered off distractedly, but she tried to pay attention to what Shanadar was saying as he made some argument about what their next step should be.
It was an attempt mostly made in vain though. After travelling for almost a week now, it had been nice to sleep in a real bed, but she was too restless to properly enjoy it. Yesterday's events only gave her more fodder to stack onto the pile of things that kept her awake every night. "I feel like the walking dead," she muttered to herself.
"What?" Shanadar paused long enough to ask.
"Sorry... nothing." She sighed and began walking back and forth, hoping exercise might wake her up. The fog that she had seen out the window earlier had cleared up, leaving behind sunshine that seemed blindingly bright. It might almost be worth it to try searching the sewers, if she could bear the smell.
As her fretful wandering led her toward the side of the pub Yomu had disappeared to, she spotted him conversing with a red wizard hat, which appeared to be... dancing. Although he spoke too quietly for even her sensitive ears, her face crinkled with a smile at the charming sight. It was a nice change to see something so cheerful, albeit unexpected, after all they had encountered.
She turned back to Shanadar, still tired as ever but her mood slightly improved. "Can I ask you something?" she said hesitantly.
"Of course," he said, looking surprised.
"Do you believe Judge Berossus... that this really is all the work of a shapeshifter?"
Shanader was silent for a moment, looking thoughtful. Finally, he replied, "It's hard to know what to believe, but no, I don't think so. Any shapeshifter with half a brain would take care to act like the person they're pretending to be, and that didn't seem at all like the Rapierian we know. Even barring that, there would have to be more than one shapeshifter. We saw both Diomedes only moments before running into Rapierian and Avatara."
"It's just hard to know who we're chasing." Katerei stared vacantly over Shanadar's shoulder at the inn wall. "I don't like the idea of there being... copies of us, but so far it seems the most plausible. I mean, the two Rapierians I thought I smelled in the forest... maybe one of them really was the one we saw last night. And the two Garmrs the guard mentioned... they just seem to keep showing up. Maybe there's copies of all of us."
"What did you make of the other Avatara?" Shanadar ventured, his tone indicating that she didn't have to answer.
She knew she had to though, no matter how reluctant she was. Shanadar seemed calmer this morning than he had been last night (Yomu's absence may have helped), and she reminded herself how kind he had been to her so far. "I know in my heart that Avatara is not the one we are familiar with. There was something very different about him," she said slowly. Her cheeks flushed as she admitted, "I was afraid of him, really. But I believe he was telling the truth... even about the other me being just there, in the castle. He... he threatened me because of her."
Katerei tried to swallow the lump that was forming in her throat. "Wherever these copies came from, they're still real people. And if that Avatara was anything to go by, they're not going to be exact copies of us. I suppose I haven't been imagining things, because they are very definitely here – and apparently interfering, since everyone is noticing them. But now it looks like I could well end up running into myself, and I honestly have no idea what will happen then."
"It might not happen at all," Shanadar reassured her. "I don't know why she would have been at the castle, but she must have escaped. The guards found no one else there. She could be long gone already."
The Enforcer stepped forward and placed his hand on her arm consolingly. "And if there's anything to be said for all this, at least we know that we may be able to tell these duplicates apart from the ones we know. That makes things considerably easier."
"I suppose so." Katerei smiled weakly at him, grateful for his efforts to look out for her. Feeling obligated to make it up to him, she said tentatively, "I'm sorry I've been so difficult lately. I know I haven't made things any easier on you and Yomu. But now that I know I can trust my sense of smell again... I'd like to help more. I still don't know who we're looking for, but I can try and track, well, someone, I guess."
"Things seem to be happening on such a scale that finding anyone would probably help at this point," Shanadar said, but he returned her smile. "Yomu will be glad to know... where has he gotten to, anyway?"
The other man appeared shortly after Shanadar called his name, the hat nowhere in sight. After Katerei told him that she was willing to attempt tracking again, they briefly discussed where best to begin. Shanadar conceded that they could probably omit searching the sewers, as no one could have the tolerance to spend the night there and they'd probably have as good a chance finding anyone above ground. They finally seemed to be making headway when Yomu suddenly changed topics.
Katerei thought for a moment Shanadar was going to get the explanation he had been so insistent upon, when Yomu turned to her instead, and she suddenly realized he had been in the castle at the same time as her duplicate. Did he know something she didn't?
She listened with trepidation as Yomu described what he had seen, but his words only served to verify what Avatara had already told her. Katerei felt almost disappointed; she was brimming with questions about the other her. "What did she say?" was the first one to tumble out of her mouth.
"She just agreed to meet with the other woman, and asked her not to tell 'them' that she was here. I don't know who she meant."
Katerei's pulse quickened, adrenalin battling with exhaustion. So the other one had something to hide from someone, but that was hardly a surprise; there were still things that she was keeping from her own companions. "What did the other woman look like? Avatara didn't mention anyone else inside." What if I know more of these people?
Yomu furrowed his brow, trying to remember. "It was hard to gaze past the shadows. She was shorter than the other you and seemed to have dark hair and light skin. She wore armor and carried a sword."
"Does that sound like someone you might know?" Shanadar enquired with a glance at his female companion.
"I don't think so." Katerei knew why Yomu had hesitated to tell her: what if the other woman was one of the assassins? Or worse, what if her copy was? More to herself than either of the men, she cried, "But it can't be so. Avatara was telling the truth that she was in there; he wouldn't incriminate her if she was one of the assassins. He said she was trying to stop the murder."
"Which seems implausible for someone who was stuck there without an escape route, but on the other hand... we were trying to stop it, and Berossus was no more willing to let us inside," Shanadar reasoned, though he still looked skeptical.
"The paths of trust become increasingly narrow," Yomu murmured dismally.
"Wait," Katerei said, her thought process racing frantically ahead of her. "The only people we can know to be telling us the truth are the ones that have said things that have come true. Forlong, that man we met in the Alraeican Tavern yesterday, told us about the assassination plot, which clearly happened with the attack on Anisa. And he said it was a man who looked like a ranger that tipped him off about it... someone that didn't think the mages would trust him."
Shanadar's eyes widened as he realized what she was getting at. "Rapierian told us last night that he was the one responsible for a man in the tavern warning us! Perhaps he was being honest after all?"
"We can't know what his motives are," Katerei said, wondering just how much he was like the necromancer Rapierian, "but Forlong seems like a reliable enough source. Perhaps we can trace our way back to Rapierian through him, and at least get some more info."
"It's the best we have so far," Yomu remarked. "Let us hope we can still find Forlong."
Their luck held for once: Forlong was again seated in a far corner of the tavern with his drink. "I wonder if he ever left?" Shanadar wondered dryly as they crossed the tavern, which was bustling with the lunchtime crowd.
"Good day," the black-haired man greeted them as they approached. "How nice to see you again. Please, have a seat."
"We need to ask you about the ranger that you spoke to yesterday," Shanadar said as the three drew up chairs. "His warning of a conspiracy seems to have come true, and it's integral that we find him again. Did he gave any indication of where he might be going, or whether he would be coming back?"
Forlong looked surprised. "I don't believe he did, I'm sorry. He seemed to believe that he would be unable to spend much time here."
"He didn't say anything else that might be useful?" Katerei asked anxiously.
"No, but..." the man hesitated as he glanced at Katerei. "Something very strange did happen not long after you left, but I was specifically asked not to tell you about it. I would regret withholding information from you in these dangerous times, though."
"Please tell us," Yomu urged him. "We fear people's lives are still on the line."
"Well, a woman that looked exactly like you Miss Katerei, entered the tavern around sunset yesterday. The resemblance was such that I mistook her for you and went to speak with her, but she introduced herself as your twin sister."
Katerei gasped quietly. She must have known I was here! Is she following me?! How much else do they know about what we've been doing? "Did she say anything else?" she asked faintly.
"She did ask about the plot, given that I inadvertently mentioned it to her, but didn't seem particularly interested. She mentioned looking for someone named the Wizard. I believe that was about all. She didn't stay long."
"Why did she ask you not to tell Katerei about it?" Shanadar interjected.
"Evidently the two of you last departed on poor terms?" Forlong said with his eyebrows raised, more of a question than a statement. "She claimed she was only in town for a short time and did not to want to distress you."
"And she was alone at the time?" Yomu asked.
"Yes. She indicated that she may have been with others previously, but was very vague about it."
The three companions exchanged curious glances. "Well, thank you again, Forlong," Shanadar said, rising from his chair. "You've been very informative."
"Glad to be of service," the man said, tipping his glass in goodbye as they left.
"Now, Katerei, I'm going to assume you don't have a twin sister," Shanadar said as they stood out front the tavern, not unlike their earlier meeting in front of Apis' inn.
"Certainly not one I know of," Katerei said. "It's strange that she should appear so soon after we left and talk to precisely the same person we did. I can't help but wonder if Rapierian pointed her toward him."
"Unfortunately, Rapierian remains ever distant," Yomu lamented. "And we ourselves don't even know where the Wizard is, another dead end." It was a grave reminder of the scale of what the three were up against, separated from half their original group.
Shanadar turned to Katerei and asked gently, "Are you still okay with searching for Rapierian, given that he could well be keeping company with Avatara or your copy?"
Katerei bit her lip, but shrugged resignedly. "It's beginning to sound like it's inevitable I meet her, if she followed us here all the way from Kosha. And as long as she hasn't, you know... died, I don't think Avatara will have a reason to threaten me again." She spoke more bravely than she felt – in actuality, she was terrified at the prospect – but she couldn't help but recall the sight of Anisa lying so fragilely on her bed. If the others turned out to be allies, they could use all the help they could get; and if they were enemies, they needed to be found and stopped.
"Well, we know Rapierian has been here within the last day," Yomu said, looking up and down the street. "Perhaps tracking him would lead to the answers we seek."
"Worth a shot," Katerei said, and began shrinking as her blue skin turned into fur. When the transformation was complete she sniffed the ground tentatively, double-checking that everything still worked right. There was Shanadar's scent, and Yomu's, and hers where she had just been standing... well, she prayed it was actually hers this time and not the other's.
Trying to push that thought aside, she picked up the faint trace of Rapierian. Thankfully this time there was only the one. She looked up at the men to let them know she'd found it, and began tracking it down the street, her companions close behind.
As she wound her way through the streets of Cademia, she suddenly came across a scent that was much stronger. He had just been here! Katerei gave a surprised bark, ignoring the other people in the street that turned to look at her. Everyone in the city was on edge lately; it couldn't be helped. Realizing she'd found something, Shanadar and Yomu hurried after her as she began running in the direction of the old abandoned houses.
"Look! Up there!" Yomu said as a figure disappeared around a corner off in the distance.
Katerei tore after the figure, too fast for the men to keep up with, but if she could only get in front of Rapierian she could hopefully hold him up long enough for them catch up. When she reached the corner he had vanished around, there seemed to be a strange mist in the air, but she ran through and ignored it until...
She turned on her heel and ran headlong back toward her companions, barking frantically. "What's wrong?!" Shanadar asked in alarm as the ice-blue wolf ran a panicked loop around them.
Her low whine turned into a wail as she resumed her normal form, long hair swirling around her with the momentum of her terrified run. "I can't smell anything! He... he did something to me! I ran through this mist and all of a sudden I can't smell! "
"It's okay, it's okay," Shanadar said and seized her by the shoulders to calm her down. "We still know which direction he was going. There's nothing past the old houses, he must have been heading there."
But she couldn't bring herself to go after him again, this strange person that had robbed her of an entire sense so soon after she tried to use it again. Shanadar motioned with his head for Yomu to go after Rapierian alone. The other man took off, leaving the Enforcer to comfort the woman that stood trembling in the middle of the street, arms wrapped around herself.
"It's okay, it'll be fine," Shanadar repeated, and led her gently to sit down at the side of the street. She felt guilty for messing things up just when they'd found a lead, but – as bizarre as it was – smelling zero Rapierians was somehow more terrifying than smelling two Rapierians. Her sense of smell was one of the cornerstones of her survival. What if it was gone forever?
When finally she could be persuaded to move again, they were just approaching the old houses when they met Yomu on the way back. He shook his head dispiritedly. "Nothing. He's disappeared without a trace. One of the houses looks like it was being used recently, but only dust remains."
"I'm so sorry," Katerei said, wringing the folds of her cloak between her hands fitfully. "I don't know what we'll do now. We won't even be able to follow anybody else."
"Take no fault in this Katerei. It must be good fortune we didn't get any closer to Rapierian," Yomu told her. "Who knows what else he might be armed with?"
And how can we know what else we're up against? Katerei thought worriedly. She was beginning to think that whatever was going on, it was much more than the three of them could handle.
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 17 January 2010 - 09:48 PM
As Andru approached Cademia from the South, his intuition told him something was amiss. He stopped and listened - no animals could be heard - bird or insect or otherwise. Something was amiss. The gently-moaning ocean tide sighed alone, and he shivered suddenly at the thought. He felt ready for anything after the events of the previous day, and he felt happy indeed to even be alive. Not wishing to throw caution to the wind, he drew a maroon cloak over his shoulders and head, hiding his unshaven face. "Lean on this staff a little heaver, and I have a sure disguise," he reassured himself.
Plodding along near the outskirts of the town, he thought it best to move around the side of the town, rather than parading down its main street. He was prepared for the looks he received as a newcomer, the whisperings of the locals to each other when they thought he couldn't hear. As he stumbled his way through some side streets, he caught sight of what appeared to be an odd couple seemingly concerned about another fellow, bent over and conversing with a red wizard hat. He made special note of them in his mind as he passed by, hearing the woman say, " But now it looks like I could well end up running into myself ," or some such nonsense. It didn't make sense at the moment, and Andru took it for the stammering of some village yokel.
I have my own cares to think about , he thought as he passed.
Winding his way to the tavern was slow progress, but he made sure that he was unseen by any of the city guards, a couple of times being forced to double back just as one would round a corner. At long last, he reached the tavern. It was dimly lit and the sound of jovial drunks could not be heard within. Andru slowly made his way to a table under a light, which cast a deep shadow over his facial features. When he was waited upon, he tried to strike up a conversation, but the bartender seemed distracted and said he didn't want to discuss the dark events of the day.
After ordering, Andru surveyed the room. He had expected the tavern, of all places, to be humming with activity, but the few people who were there kept their voices quiet, as if afraid of being overheard. Almost instantly he noticed a strange man in the opposite room, who appeared to be surveying the tavern in a similar manner. Andru decided to avoid eye contact with this man, so he turned his attention to his unique pipe, which he produced from his cloak.
It had ornate carvings similar to those on his staff. He filled his pipe and lit it, and in doing so, the runes glowed faintly. After enjoying his pipe for a little time, three characters he remembered from his trek burst suddenly into the tavern and searched around. They walked over to the man Andru had been watching earlier, and he greeted them as they walked to where he was sitting. I shall have a little chat with this man , Andru thought as he watched them talk. He said something to fluster the woman, and he knew he would discover much from the conspirator. They quickly parted company, and shortly after the man exited the tavern.
Now's my chance to get acquainted with this odd man , mused Andru.
Quietly, he left his seat in pursuit. He followed until they drew close to the Two-Tailed Rat Inn, where Andru seized an opportunity. After seeing that the alley that they occupied was empty, he raised the staff above his head, muttered some quiet words, and brought the glowing staff into the ground, sending a shockwave at the unfortunate Forlong, instantly rendering him unconscious. Before Forlong could hit the ground, Andru caught him and carried him off.
Upon entering the inn carrying Forlong, he yelled "Look here, my good lady! My friend here is injured, and he and I are in need of adequate shelter for today." Before the suspicious innkeeper could ask questions, Andru handed her a bag of gold - presumably Forlong's - and the keeper gave them a room near the back of the building without asking questions. As soon as they reached the room, the unfortunate Forlong was promptly bound to a chair and gagged. Andru almost revived him before remembering to remove any weapons off his body - and he found a concealed knife with a hand-crafted handle. He read the runes on the knife, gritted his teeth in anger, and woke Forlong by slapping him with the blade of the knife.
"So, my friend," began Andru, his face and body still fully concealed, "what business have you in this land?"
"I don't know anything you want to know," the quick-thinking Forlong spat out. "You'll get nothing from me."
"Is that so?" asked the interrogator, pulling back his sleeves to reveal scars on his wrists matching the runes contained on the knife.
Forlong gasped, now fearing for his life. "What do you want from me??"
Andru told him straight-forwardly: "Who were you talking to back at the tavern? What is their business in this world?"
Forlong fumbled for an excuse, but panic blocked his ability to come up with a reasonable excuse. He turned his gaze away from Andru to the wooden floor. "I didn't know them. They mistook me for somebody else they --" Andru cut his lie short.
"I don't have time for this," he stated, growling impatiently. He put the flat of the knife under Forlong's chin, pulling Forlong's face to meet his eyes. "I need to know what's going on." As he spoke, he turned the blade enough that it caused Forlong to begin to bleed. Although he didn't show it, Andru was shocked by his sudden barbarity - to take an innocent man, tie him down, and interrogate him as if he were one of them. The thought turned his insides cold. Andru withdrew the knife and changed the subject. "This knife, exquisite craftsmanship. The blade is so sharp, one could skin a rabbit in sec--" This time it was Forlong who cut Andru off.
"I'll tell you what I know, but it isn't much! These people - well their names, their names first." He was really struggling to keep his voice under control. "Katerei, Yoma, and Shan - Shanda-something. Anyways, names aren't important…" Andru paced around Forlong while he told everything he knew. "It's all I know! On my life, it is!"
"Well that might just be on your life, then," Andru said, striking Forlong on the head from behind in such a way as to render him unconscious again. He knew that he didn't have the will to kill this innocent man, but he was willing to scare him witless. He unbound Forlong and lay him on the bed. After replacing Forlong's belongings - all of his valuables but the knife - he slipped out the window and shut it behind him.
Andru wandered the streets, hoping to run into those mysterious travelers again. His search was quick, and not in vain. Rounding a corner, he heard a consoling voice saying, "Take no fault in this Katerei. It must be good fortune we didn't get any closer to Rapierian. Who knows what else he might be armed with?"
Revealing his face and readying his staff in both hands, he rounded the corner, expecting a fight. What am I doing? he screamed inside. Interrogating a man, trying to take on a fight against three people at once... the ocean. All that time on the ocean must have gotten to me. He shook away the thought that he might be going mad. Even as he was thinking this the three companions noticed him and whirled around, weapons drawn. Neither party attacked, which gave Andru time to seek for answers and prove his intentions. "I mean you no harm. I saw you talking to a man in the tavern. I want to help you."
"How do you know about us?" questioned Shanadar.
"Nevermind that. It sounds like you need help, and I'm willing to help you out." Andru looked down for a brief moment. "I've lost everything but my life and my staff. I need a noble cause worth fighting for."
After a small debate between Shanadar, Yomu, and Katerei, they agreed that they could use another man's help, but to keep an eye on this new foreigner. "You can come with us," growled Shanadar, "but don't even think of betraying us."
"So where are we off to?" asked Andru.
Yomu remembered once more Firecat's warning. He chuckled at how foggy his mind had become - things seemed so simple when he had kept to himself. "We're after a very powerful necromancer. You can accompany us, but be ready for the storm to come."
This post has been edited by adam_0 : 19 January 2010 - 10:04 PM
Day 8, Nightfall
Towers of smoke climbed into the night. Black pillars with a horde of ember fireflies dancing round them in the breeze. The stench of burning wood fought the salted sea air while screams and the clash of swords echoed through the city. A few words from the Master and chaos came to Cademia with a wild vengeance.
A cart lay on its side miserably, one creaky wheel spinning in the wind. Its proud wares scattered across the dirty street and trampled underfoot. Windows were shadowed and doors barred. The little light that braved that dreary place came from the parts of the city that were ablaze. They painted the night bloody.
Seralcard dipped out of sight as guards pounded around the corner. They came armed with caution and steel that flashed in the firelight. On their way to the Judge’s castle to break the ruffian siege. Bandits descended on the town hours ago. More than he had ever seen in one place. Come to finish what the Master’s servants had failed to do. This “Master” had been busy gathering so many. But more than that he had been clever. The assault was sleight of hand. The real targets were the heroes who foiled his plans. The assassin let the guards pass and headed for the fires they left.
He had lived that night over and over for weeks. He thought. In truth Seralcard had no idea how much time had passed for him in his travels. It was a long time though, of this he was certain. So long that he lost his mind for a time. That would have been the end if Wizard had not found him and set him to rights. He gained much since then. A semblance of control over Nightmare’s time jumping. Gifts and training. Companionship unlike any he really knew in his life. The defenders of Cythera were his dearest friends. But if they saw him then he would be a stranger in their eyes.
Blood was thick in the air. The smell dragged him back to the “present”. As meaningless as such a word was to him. He knew how the night would end. He’d lived it so many times before. Every time he failed he traveled back to fail again. He was passed losing hope. The Master was a devil-born genius and nothing Seralcard did kept the pieces from falling in his favor. But giving up was not an option. Not when he knew his time-meddling had set it all in motion.
In the ghetto every other home was an inferno. The flames growled at him like demon wolves. They splashed red over the street. Their howling chased off all but the most dire shadows. Waves of heat washed over him like a burning tide. It made his hooded cloak nearly unbearable. Fallen guards lay here and there but dead ruffians far outnumbered them. He gripped his sword, “Too late again…”
“Or just in time.” The sword was out in a blur. A warrior armored head to toe sat in the rubble of a building like a conqueror on a broken throne. He laid a gauntlet on the hilt of a golden blade he’d driven into the ground. Fire raged behind him. An enchanted sword and armor should have given Talos away at a distance. So why couldn‘t I sense him there?
“Who are you stranger?” an icy voice came from the shadows not ten feet behind him. The assassin didn’t need to turn around to know her.
There was a wary silence, “How do you know my name?”
Seralcard looked back over his shoulder. She held a gourd filled with water in her left hand. It could be as deadly as any blade. There was something savage and wolf-like about her then. It was not an ugly thing. Her hair streamed untamed in the wind. Eyes flashing in the glow of the blaze. Her clothes were stained with ash and blood and sweat. A red cut intruded on the pale blue of her cheek. That she could see him and have no idea who he was should not have troubled him. It did all the same. He made himself stop staring, “A friend. I must speak to the Wizard if he still lives.”
“I’m not in the habit of trusting masked men.” She said uncertainly.
Talos gave her a look that could have meant anything. To which she replied, “Are you sure?”
“I will be fine.” The warrior said softly, “I believe Wizard must see this man.” She hesitated for a moment and then she was gone. Seralcard barely heard her leaving over the crackle of burning timber.
A heap of ruffians lay at Talos’s feet on the road. More than the guards could have handled, “You did well to fend off so many.”
The warrior shook his head, “Katerei did all of the fighting here. I was no help.”
Talos letting someone else fight alone was as impossible a thought as him lying about it. Clearly something was wrong. But how to ask? “She seems protective of you.”
He shrugged, “She feels like she owes me a debt.”
“And she doesn’t?”
The warrior laughed, “I threw her out of a window. It is not something you are normally thanked for.” His tone turned serious, “She left because she trusts you. I do not believe she even understands why. For that matter I feel the same. You seem familiar... Have we met before?”
“Many times.” The assassin answered honestly, “But only I remember.”
Talos considered his gauntlet, “I do not believe he lies either.”
The knight stared at him, “You know much stranger…” He trailed off, “That sword. May I see it?”
Seralcard handed him the weapon. The warrior turned it over with exaggerated care. Like an artist studying an exceptional piece. He ran his fingers over the blunted edge and traced the crimson runes as they appeared, “This is very much like Silence and Shimmer.” He paused thoughtfully and offered the sword back, “A different master must have made it. Where did you get this?”
“It was a gift from a dying man.”
Talos chuckled, “Was it?” He leaned back on the ruined stone with a heavy sigh. When Seralcard tried to take his weapon the warrior grabbed his left hand and raised it to the light. The assassin was startled but could not escape that iron grip. He wore a black gauntlet that could have been the twin of Talos’s white Silence. The two seemed the same because they were the same. The warrior’s voice was very quiet, “I could sense it as you came. Was this a gift from a dying man as well?” Seralcard could only bring himself to nod. In a different place. In a time that no longer existed. Talos left Silence to him as he lay dying. And with that memory came a grim realization. Talos was dying now. “What of Shimmer?” The assassin drew back his cloak and revealed a black hilt at his hip. There was no golden blade pulsing with energy but if he drew it he could will that blade to life. “I see.” Talos said slowly, “No man could wield them if I did not think him worthy.” He seemed content with that and asked no more.
The warrior’s armor began to shine and slowly melt away. It retreated back to the gauntlet that had called it forth. As the enchanted metal disappeared the true extent of Talos’s injuries became clear. Terrible burns covered his chest and right arm. Many slashes crossed his figure and an ugly gash sealed his left eye. A lesser man would have died already, “What happened?”
Without the armor to help him Talos’s breath was labored. How he was even conscious through the pain Seralcard would never know, “Shanadar, Yomu, and Katerei had been pushed back to the second floor of the Rat Catcher’s Guild by the number of ruffians that attacked them. I fought my way to them, though they did not really seem to need my help. That was when the fire came. An eruption from the floor below…” It was a troubling memory for the warrior.
“That’s when you threw Katerei from the window.” Seralcard finished for him.
“It was all I could think to do. Everything happened so fast.” Talos said apologetically, “Shanadar and Yomu were further into the building. I tried to reach the enforcer but the flames consumed him just before they came for me. Silence barely saved my life. It shames me that I could not find Yomu in those moments. I fear the worst for him.”
Shanadar and Yomu both. And now Talos? “Damn it.” Learning his friends had got no easier over time, “These fires were Kain’s doing.” Seralcard pronounced angrily. Kain was responsible for at least one death every night. The time he murdered Katerei still made the assassin’s blood boil though it had technically been weeks since then, “There are four who came here to kill you and the others.” he counted off with his fingers, “One who moves things with his mind. One who dominates the minds of others. One who controls lightning. And Cain, who commands fire. They should not have come. Their leader is called Jacob. He brought them here because of me.”
Talos’s breaths shallow, “If those are the four that you know there is at least one you do not.”
“What?” A fifth? How many of these killers had the Master brought with him?
“A blind woman. A blade master with a sword that freezes all it cuts. She moved like no one I have ever fought but it took me too long to learn her real power…” Seralcard had seen Talos in battle. Had learned from him. The warrior was Death with a sword. “She sees the future.” Talos finished, “She knows what will happen before it does and because of that Shimmer never found her.”
“But you were already injured.” Seralcard started.
The warrior waved it away for the excuse it was, “My wounds harmed me, yes. But even without them I do not know how I would have faired. It was all I could do to defend Katerei as she healed the wounded.” Talos gave him a searching look with his good eye, “That is all I know. But I have a question, if you will answer.” The assassin could see no reason to refuse, “How did it happen, the last time?”
Seralcard knew immediately what the warrior meant. He thought back to a night etched into his memories, “You, the Wizard, and Radik were ambushed by powerful foes as you hurried to meet the rest of us. All of you were injured but Wizard was worse so. You stayed behind to buy time for Radik to get help for himself and the mage even though you knew what it would mean. When Katerei and I found you all of your enemies had fallen. Even the one who struck the blow that would be the end of you.”
Talos smiled at that, “My father would be proud that I met a hero’s end.”
The assassin returned him a bitter-sweet grin, “I’ve never seen you meet one that wasn’t.”
Seralcard stayed with the warrior until his eyes closed and his enchantments went dark. Despite everything Talos had passed on peacefully. That was what he wanted to believe. Katerei arrived a short while later. She was visibly distressed by Talos’s death. Though by no means was she surprised, “I didn’t want him to die alone.”
“He didn’t.” Seralcard assured her.
That seemed a comfort. If a small one. She brushed aside a single tear and murmured a few compassionate words. When she was done she beckoned the assassin to follow, “Wizard’s agreed to see you but the streets aren’t safe. I have to take you to him.”
Seralcard did as asked. She led him roughly north and east towards the ocean. Into a wind like the breath of a dragon. It carried the cry of battle from the Judge’s castle. The fighting there could be heard all over the city. Little wonder that they saw few guards or ruffians along the way. Katerei passed through a deeper shadow and emerged a wolf. Like that she guided him around the few enemies there were. She heard or smelled them well before the assassin knew they were there.
The Rat Catcher’s Guild was so flame ravaged it was barely recognizable. It tried to stand through the onslaught but support beams cracked and splintered before their eyes. The landmark fought for every inch but soon fell in on itself in bitter defeat and sent a dying breath of smoke and swarms of orange flecks into the air. Katerei pawed the ashes in front of the building and gave a disconcerted whine. So much death and destruction in a city that had been like a second home for her.
As they left it behind the wind began to shift. It happened for only a few seconds but it was enough. The breeze righted itself and Katerei must have caught a whiff of something that made her hackles rise, “What’s wrong?” he asked as she started to growl. The assassin was already holding his sword as they stepped out of the alley and faced the only person on the wide street.
A woman stood there still as stone. She was like a hellish statue in the firelight. Making less noise than the rocks under their feet. Black hair ran the length of her back and a red scarf covered her eyes. She drew a long blade from the scabbard at her hip. A cascade of steam flowed off the steel and frosted the ground it touched, “It’s her.” Katerei said in human form as she warily backed away. She tugged at the assassin’s arm, “We can’t stay here.” Seralcard knew who it was immediately. This was the fifth killer that Talos had warned of. He’d said she moved like no one he ever fought. That he couldn’t hit her. In another time the assassin heard Talos say those words once before. About him.
In one move she crossed the distance and tried to take his head. He blocked and brilliant blue sparks burst brightly with the clash of blades. He gritted his teeth against another blow that slid him back several feet. She was much stronger than she looked. He spared a glance to make sure Katerei pulled back a safe distance. The frost blade sliced through his hood and whistled passed his face. It threw off a cold mist the pained his lungs and fogged his breath as he staggered back to evade. He snatched at her throat as she stepped in, a flame spell forming in his hand. His fingers seared through the edge of her scarf as she darted out of the way. She moved like an acrobat. But then, so did he. The assassin flowed into a rain of strikes that crashed against her guard. His blade was alive in his hands, a blur of black metal and crimson light that struck from everywhere. Their weapons crackled and flashed like lightning in a storm of metal and magic.
Yet the assassin couldn’t hit her. She blocked his every strike and danced away from his grasp. Her counters missed their marks. But only barely. To break through her defense he would need an attack for which there was none. Seralcard knew such a thing. They clashed and broke away and the assassin made a slash for her ribs. The runes of his sword flared as he cut the air. An invisible edge cleaved the wall behind her in two. It smothered the flames on that side of the road. But Seralcard lost sight of her in the moment before his swing. Her heel smashed into his jaw from below and nearly lifted him off the ground. He briefly wondered why he saw three of everything as he staggered back. The frozen sword raked across his thigh. It was barely a scratch but still enough for the icy magic to numb his leg and destroy his footing. She came in for the killing blow as he hit the ground but a whip of water snapped at her like an angry viper.
The swordswoman slashed through Katerei’s next attack. The band of water hardened and shattered into shards of ice. The healer countered with frozen darts that shredded wood across the street but missed their agile target. Katerei’s face was a mask of concentration as she commanded the water with her hands. The blind-woman dodged another whip that tore into the paving stones and sliced away a third meant for her legs. The healer kept up her dual assault with water and ice and drew the blade-master away from Seralcard. But with each move she lured the danger closer to herself. The assassin laced fire magic over his wound to counter the effects of the sword but he would never be in time to help Katerei.
The swordswoman jumped back abruptly and shifted to a defensive stance. A split second later Selax burst from the shadows and attacked like a bladed whirlwind. Their swords clashed for several intense seconds with neither giving ground until both broke away. Seralcard silently admired the elemental’s prowess as he healed his leg. Katerei was the first to speak, “I’m grateful you came but why are you here? I thought you were meeting with Wizard”
“Our safe house was found shortly after you left.” Selax replied without taking his eyes off his foe, “So many were injured in the attack I had to find you.”
Katerei nodded, “Alright. We’ll take care of her and then hurry—“
“No.” Selax cut her off, “Wizard needs your help more than I do right now. And they will need to move to a safer place soon. Go, both of you, and I will catch up after I finish her.”
She looked like she wanted to argue but in the end surrendered to his logic, “Be careful Selax. Talos believed she could see into the future and read all your attacks.”
“Really?” the elemental mused, “Then I suppose this fight is almost fair. Now hurry, there is not much time.”
The pair moved further east through the falling city, Seralcard limping as feeling returned to his leg. Katerei stayed in human form and offered her shoulder to lean on and make the trip faster, “You should let me look at that leg.” She said.
“Bravado aside it’s just a flesh wound. Thank you for that. And thanks for saving my life.” He felt suddenly very aware of her next to him and moved away under the guise of testing his leg. She looked at him oddly, probably hurt that he would brush off her help that way. Probably wondering why that mattered with a total stranger. Katerei had been so hard to read when he first tried to get to know her what seemed so long ago. But time had changed that. The others had been many things for him in his long travels. None so many as Kat though. Friend, student, teacher, lover... Extreme situations brought people together in unexpected ways. With Katerei it was rarely the same twice. He realized his leg was greatly improved, if a little stiff. Nothing walking wouldn’t cure.
Something small caught his eye in a shadowed doorway close by. He would have missed the mouse entirely if not for the tiny red cap on its head, “Yomu?!” he said in disbelief. The tiny champion stood frozen, totally unsure of the familiar stranger confronting him.
“By the gods, you’re alive!” Katerei’s appearance next to the assassin seemed to settle whatever doubts he had.
The little mouse walked into the light gingerly putting weight on one of his hind legs. A white puff of smoke revealed a full grown man with a red cap in his hand. A man who would have fallen over if Katerei had not been right there to hug/catch him. His right leg was bleeding pretty badly. A serious injury, if not immediately life threatening, “It’s a bit easier to stand with the extra legs.” He smiled, “It’s good to see you Katerei.”
“What happened to you?” the healer asked as she set him down and prepared to treat the wound.
“It’s quite a long tale.” He winced as Katerei began to clean the gash, “When the fire charged through the floor I couldn’t see any of you. My first thought was to find an exit as a mouse, but I’m honestly not sure how I survived the escape. When I got out the back way there were a bunch of ruffians and a devil of a man pouring fire over the building with his hands. He had to be some kind of mage.” He paused and pulled a small bottle out of his pouch. Katerei gave him a curious look and he answered her unspoken question, “Stone potion.” The ebon liquid was thick as honey as he poured it over the injury Katerei had cleaned but only partially healed. The magic substance quickly hardened into an obsidian cast. Seralcard had seen Yomu use it a few times before. Stone potion had remarkable healing properties. Its only flaw was that it became very heavy after becoming solid. Satisfied he continued, “The ruffians were complaining that the mage had torched the building with many of their friends inside. But he threatened them with terrible acts, and they went back to being obedient. I couldn't become myself again without them finding me, but if I withdrew, I would have lost the first real clue we had about who we’re fighting. So I followed them for a while in hopes to discover anything enlightening. I can’t believe I found you though.” He grinned again, “But where’s Shanadar and that large fellow who came to help us. I never got his name.”
“Talos.” Katerei informed him sadly, “They didn’t make it. The fire got Shanadar. We thought it took you too. Talos helped a lot after that, I think he blamed himself for not saving you and Shanadar. He died not very long ago.”
Yomu gasped in shock, then began to speak slowly, “The devil I’ve been following all this time killed Shanadar and I didn't know?” he stood slowly, able to put weight on his leg because of the mystic cast. With grim determination he unsheathed a wicked lance from his pouch. Blue as a summer sky in the wake of a storm. The curved blades at its head were like a leviathan’s claw. That was the Thunder Lance.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Katerei asked.
“I’m going back!” he declared angrily.
“You can’t you’re injured.”
“No.” she commanded, barring his path, “Do you think Shanadar would have wanted you to kill yourself trying to avenge him?”
“Someone has to go back anyway.” he protested, “I came this way for help. They attacked the Old Houses and found Avatara there.” Seralcard stood straight as an arrow, “They found me when the fighting started and I almost didn’t get away…” Yomu looked at him curiously, “Are you alright?”
Seralcard grabbed him by the shoulder and startled both he and Katerei. He could apologize later though, if Avatara died then all of the sacrifices and all the lives lost would have been for nothing, “The Old Houses; are you sure?” the assassin demanded.
“Yes.” Yomu said in confusion.
“Stay here both of you.” Seralcard sprinted east to the Old Houses. Yomu tried to follow but Katerei held him back. She called out to the assassin but he never heard what she tried to say.
An eerie quiet clung to the Old Houses. Weeds and grass had long since overwhelmed the paving stones as nature aggressively reclaimed that stretch of land. These were the homes that time forgot. Their doorframes were empty and windows gaping. The walls webbed by cracks and scaled by vines. The buildings leaned under the weight of their years. No ruffians or guards roamed that place. It was seemingly untouched by the fighting.
The ocean sparkled under starlight to the north. The walls of House Attis stood tall and strong to the south. Seralcard could almost believe it was safe there. And then a woman’s voice led him further into the gloom, “… stop your games. Selax wants this one dead before he gets back. If Jacob were here…”
“Enough Iannah.” A man replied angrily, “Kain is in charge until Jacob or Selax returns. I’m not some dog to be ordered around and you’re lucky to even be alive after failing a mission this important. Go back inside. I think he wants a word with you anyway.”
Seralcard crept close enough to see what was happening in the clearing just downhill. Iannah glared at the unarmed man. Seralcard had seen him before. Ral, another of the five killers. He was a mage and master of lightning. Iannah’s clenched fist hovered near the dagger at her belt. He gave her a look that dared her to try. Ral seemed disappointed when she stormed back into the ruined home behind them. He shook his head and turned to a dark haired man on his back in the grass. The unnamed man clutched a gash on his left arm and wore another slash across his chest. His clothes were stained with blood. Too much for all of it to be his.
“Alone at last, you and I.” The mage picked up a sword from the weeds at his feet, “Such a fine blade. Pity it didn’t serve you better eh?” The man glared knives through his tormentor but didn’t speak a word. Ral tossed the weapon back to the dirt, “Tell me Avatara. What hurt more: the wounds that Selax gave you or the fact that you were so beneath him he wouldn’t kill you himself?” Seralcard’s breath caught. Yomu was right! A living Avatara. After all that searching he had finally been found.
Avatara remained stoic much to Ral’s disappointment. The mage sighed, energy crackling at his finger tips, “Wonderful as our little chat has been Iannah had a point. It’s time to end this.” The assassin would be damned if he watched the man die now. An overhead slash from his sword sent a blade of air screaming downhill and tore a rift through the dirt. Ral sensed the magic just in time to leap back and avoid losing an arm, “ What?! ” he exclaimed as Seralcard surged out of the shadows, “Kain, reinforcements! We’ve been—“
A silver shaft pierced the mage’s neck and cut him off. Avatara sprang from the ground, a wrist-mounted crossbow disappearing in his sleeve, and retrieved his sword in one fluid motion. He struck down the mage without breaking stride and ran straight for the house. Scarlet light streamed out of the door and windows before he was halfway there, “No, Katerei!” The first floor exploded in a ball of fire. A waved of heat and force knocked Seralcard off his feet. It lifted him like an invisible hand and flung him violently back to the ground. Everything went dark for a time.
He wasn’t sure how long he was out but he woke to blurred vision and the too familiar smell of burning wood. The assassin tried to sit up and someone planted a boot firmly on his chest to slam him back to the cold dirt. When he could see properly he was staring down the length of a sword and up at Avatara’s face. He was not happy, “You.” The swordsman said quietly.
“You know me?” the assassin asked.
“A version of you. The one that wasn’t an idiot. Do you have any idea what you just did?” he demanded, “Kain is gone. My last best chance to face Selax is ruined. And Kat… damn you. She died because your stunt alerted half the city.” Seralcard felt a trickle of blood run down his throat as the edge of the sword pressed against him, “Give me a reason. One reason not to kill you right now.”
“Rythan.” The assassin said simply. He felt numb. He couldn’t imagine being responsible for Katerei’s death. Not twice. But he was. Avatara’s Katerei wasn’t the one he knew but it didn’t matter. His actions in Kosha brought Jacob and the other four to the city. All the blood spilled that night was on his hands. And all the tragedy would be meaningless if Avatara didn’t hear what he had to say, “The Rythan from your world. He’s here in Cythera. No matter what I couldn’t let you die. You’re the only one who can stop him.”
“You’re lying.” Avatara said coldly, “I know better than anyone that monster is gone. Even if I could believe a stranger who showed up out of nowhere to ruin everything. That you willingly sacrificed her to save everyone else…” the swordsman hung his head, “Sometimes the price is too high.”
“No.” Seralcard insisted, “This isn’t what I wanted. I’m no hero but I wanted to save them all.” He could stop. The assassin could settle for the one timeline where he met Avatara and set him on the path to saving Cythera. If he jumped back through time again there was no guarantee he’d ever find the man. There was no guarantee that the assassin wouldn’t simply die before then and thus doom everyone. He might save the world if he could just leave his friends to die. But sometimes the price was too high, “I will save them.” Seralcard said, nightmare glowing flashing brightly, “Thank you.” Avatara was startled by the sudden burst of magic. His sword came down like a sentence.
Day 8, Early afternoon
Jacob set a hard pace from Kosha to Cademia. His squad crested a hill overlooking the city with the sun still high overhead. Ral stopped at Jacob’s left. He shaded his eyes from the sun, “There aren’t as many people out as I thought there should be.” He had been a mage of Pynx once, a skilled wielder of lightning. He was also right. There weren’t many people on the streets from what they could see.
Jacob turned to the young woman behind him, “What do you sense Krys?”
“Fear.” She said blandly, “I’m too far to catch much else. That’s good isn’t it? The assassinations must have already happened.” She was small, slender, and pretty. If he had to guess he’d say Krys was in her late teens. He couldn’t tell for sure though. She was frail physically but also a telepath of great strength. Like himself she’d been taken in, raised, and trained by the Master.
“You may be right. We could use good news now.” The man in black who caused all that trouble in Kosha had disappeared without a trace. He left Krys scratching her head and Jacob looking like a right fool. They never learned what Daniel had told the man but the soldier had known more than enough to cause terrible problems for the invasion. The only clues he left were the questions he asked while in disguise. He asked about all the heroes who had gone to Cademia. It was good that Radik arrived when he did so the group could move out and follow the lead.
Kain scratched his beard as he studied the city. He was a muscled bear of a man, “Are our enemies here?”
Krys closed her eyes as she did when concentrating, “Yes. Scattered throughout the city. I can feel the Master but his presence is too well hidden for me to say where he is. We’ll have to reach out to Firecat first if you want to reach him.”
“Do it.” Jacob instructed, “Ask about what’s going on down there and tell him we need to speak with the Master.”
“All this sneaking around doesn’t suit us.” Kain grumbled. He could create fire with his mind. A rare gift and one he thoroughly enjoyed. He reveled in pain, torment, and death. Kain was one of the Master’s first “sons” and Jacob believed he was the favorite among them. The only reason he didn’t lead the group was because he lacked Jacob’s skill as a leader. All Kain concerned himself with was murder and the Master’s will.
A beautiful woman clung to Kain’s side like a loyal hound. She had lustrous black hair and covered the scar across her eyes with a long strip of red cloth. She was Scry. That was the name Kain chose for her. But once she was Helen and a fearsome enemy she had been then. That ended when pyrokinetic found where she hid her family. He made sport of her husband and two young daughters. When she came after him blinded by revenge Selax confronted her and blinded her permanently. Kain planned to keep her as a slave and trophy.
The Master had somewhat different plans. He could feel a power lying dormant within her mind. He used his abilities to awaken it but he also twisted her into a shell of who she once was. Afterwards he gave her to the pyrokinetic as a gift and made her part of the group. The cruelty of that act amused the Master and Kain to no end. Jacob had no complaints about the pyrokinetics pet. She was a perfect emotionless instrument of death. Together the five of them became known as the Hand.
“Jacob?” Krys sounded troubled. She was rarely anything but indifferent, “The things Firecat told me… you’ll want to hear them from him.”
That was not comforting. Something had happened in the city. He nodded to her and concentrated, “ Firecat.”
There was only a few seconds before the reply came to his mind, “ Ah, the leader of the Master’s Hand. It is good to hear from you in these troubled times. ” Firecat had a way about him. All charm, always weaving around the point. It was not the time for that.
“ What happened here? ” Jacob cut to the chase.
“ Always so direct. Never willing to simply talk. Very well, I will tell you what I told you underling. Iannah and Aremis both have failed. What’s more Aremis has disappeared from me. It seems he killed one of Iannah’s group and deserted to escape punishment for his failure. The Master is… ” he paused as if searching for the right words. “ Extremely displeased. ” he said with a laugh, “ The city dogs are watchful for stray cats now. Another go at the mouse hole will be all the harder.” Jacob didn't care for Firecat's riddles, but knew he was referring to the city guard and assassination attempts.
“ Then I need to speak with the Master now. Can you tell him Krys will be ready to channel him? ”
Firecat's echoing laughter rang in Jacob’s mind, “ I would not have my position if I could not do something so simple as that. In fact I already have. The Master is oh so curious to know why you broke free of your leash in Kosha under Devlin. If I were you I would have my answer ready very quickly. ”
Firecat’s presence receded as he looked to Krys, “Are you ready?” she nodded, “Then let’s do this.”
It was as if the Master’s spirit possessed Krys’s body. When she opened her eyes he saw what she saw and she spoke with his voice, “I ordered you to go to Kosha and watch over Devlin. Instead I find you here. If he ordered you away I will have you flay him when you return.”
The others knelt as though they were in his presence. With his head bowed Jacob felt like he really was, “Sir, Devlin and Daemons you left in his care traveled here just ahead of us. They should have arrived in the city well before we did and—“
“And yet they haven’t.” the Master finished for him. Krys began to pace in front of them, “If Devlin came to Cademia he would have had to meet Aremis before entering the city as part of the plan. But Aremis has defected. It would seem that Devlin is another victim of this treachery.”
“What of the Daemons?” Ral asked.
“Do not concern yourself with them.” The Master instructed, “Feral is a loyal creature and the tribe is not a force Aremis could hope to challenge on his own. With Devlin dead they will either lay low nearby or ravage some of the farms around the city. Either way all I will need to do is find them when things have settled here. Now, if Devlin did not order you to come here why did you?”
Jacob explained the events in Kosha and the mystery surrounding the man in black as best he could. At the end the Master seemed to stay quiet for a long time. Finally he said, “It would seem that the time for subtlety is over. If this man in black knows my plans he could share them with my alternate and his companions. In fact he may already have. I will not give them the time they need to plan and defend themselves. I want them dead tonight, and you will be my instruments. Enter the city and wait for my instructions. I will provide you with troops and a grand diversion and you will slay them when all they can think of is defending their precious judges. Selax will arrive soon and will know to help where he can.” With that the Master’s presence was gone.
Jacob stood and looked to the others. Kain smiled broadly. No doubt happy to hear of Selax’s arrival. It meant the carnage would begin in earnest. “What will you have us do?”
Jacob cast his gaze over the city, “When the Master gives the word Cademia burns.”
Day 8 Evening
Wizard led Silver, Talos, and Selax into a Cademia that felt very different than it had the last time he was there. One that was far less welcoming than he was used to. Guards at the gates eyed them suspiciously and the stares lingered till they turned the next corner. The streets were almost empty save for those who absolutely had to be out. None of them seemed very happy to be about. “I have never been here but this does not strike me as normal.” Talos observed quietly.
Wizard agreed, “That it is not my friend. I fear something may have happened here in our absence.”
Silver fluttered at shoulder height looking troubled, “It is almost like Kosha was isn’t it.” Do you think that they’re connected?”
“They have to be.” Selax concluded, “I cannot believe that we chased a kidnapper all this way and mysteriously lost him only to find coincidence waiting for us. We need to find answers to piece this puzzle together.”
Wizard caught sight of a familiar sign just down the street, “I know a good place to start the search.”
The Two Tailed Rat Inn wasn’t a far cry from the Alraecian Tavern that had been home away from home for so long. On most days anyway. This was certainly not most days. The tavern was almost empty save for a few diehards. Forlong was missing from his usual place in the corner. It was almost jarring not to see him. That man might well have been furniture he was there so much. Behind the counter Apis worked over a mug with a clean rag. She squeaked out a tiny bit of extra shine before she set it down. A gloom hung over the bar like and angry spirit and seemed to have affected the barkeep’s mood. At least until she looked up and saw Wizard and the others walk in. She practically beamed when she saw Silver come through the door, “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. What can I get you gentlemen?”
“It is good to see you as well Apis.” Wizard replied, “I think we should start with the latest news. It seems a lot has happened without us.”
The bartender nodded, “You don’t know how right you are. And your friends have been asking after you almost everyday for a while now.”
He exchanged looks with Selax, “Have they?”
“Yes sir. Shanadar, Katerei, and Yomu were here until just an hour ago. In fact Yomu came back and asked me to let you know they’d been here if you stopped by.” She frowned, “You know what, that was just a little while ago and he went up to his room because he forgot something. He might not even have left yet. You can check the room upstairs at the end of the hall if you like.”
“Thank you, I think we will.”
Selax gestured to Apis and the others, “I will join you soon. I am going to see what I can learn down here.”
Talos and Silverfish led the way upstairs. Silver filled the warrior in on a few details about Yomu, Katerei, and Shanadar, whom he had not had the pleasure of meeting yet. Then they had a spirited discussion about what to eat for lunch. In the end they decided to invite Yomu down to eat with them. Talos knocked once and when the door opened they all stepped into the room. The warrior glanced around looking for their friend, “I apologize for intruding but—“
An unseen force smashed into him from the side and hurled Talos right through the glass window with a crash and a howling wind filled the room. A second wave caught Silver full in the chest and sent him bouncing back down the hall with the door slamming behind him. Instantly all was silent once more. Alone in the room Wizard broke through an illusion so subtle he hadn’t noticed it till right then. Before him was a black clad man, hooded and cloaked, who was definitely not Yomu. The mage held his staff defensively and took careful stock of his surroundings with all his senses. Flailing blindly when caught in a trap was a good way to get killed. But there was nothing there, “Who are you?” he demanded coolly.
The man wore dark enchanted armor under his cloak and a matching sword hilt at his hip. Crimson runes shifted over the metal. The mage placed an elaborate illusion over the man that only made the runes shine brighter. He couldn’t be certain but he thought the armor was protecting the man. Wizard recognized nothing about him. Even his face was lost to the shadows of the hood and what might have been a black mask or helm beneath it. But the mage felt something unmistakably familiar about the man, “Seralcard.” The stranger said. It was a name that tugged at memories Wizard knew he didn’t have like the most striking feeling of deja’vu. “But my name doesn’t matter. Today I’m your executioner.”
Two sets of boots pounded up the stairs. Seralcard heard them clearly as well. The man seemed too calm for someone cornered. For that matter Wizard felt little unease himself despite the situation, “You have nowhere to go. If you surrender and tell us what is going on you will come to no harm. We do not want to hurt you.”
“Oh?” Seralcard asked mockingly, “That’s too bad. Because my friends have been looking forward to hurting you and yours. Even if you escape the inn before the others arrive you’ll never find your companions to save them all in time. You can’t stop the Master.”
Wizard dodged to the side as the door behind him ripped off its hinges. Talos tore it from the frame with his hands. He was a hulking goliath in the fullness of his armor. Selax leapt through the shattered portal with both blades drawn and Silver just behind him. But the man in black was simply gone, “Where is he?” Selax asked.
“I…” Wizard looked around the ruined room, “I do not know.”
The four apologized to Apis only to learn that the damages had been paid for hours ago. When questioned she couldn’t recall the smallest detail of the man who did so. They left the inn confused and made some distance from it on the chance that Seralcard’s threat of reinforcements was more than a bluff. Wizard and Selax shared information as they decided where to go next. “An attack on us and our companions after failing to kill the judges makes a sort of sense.” Selax offered.
“But how had this Seralcard known exactly where we would be and when?” Wizard wondered aloud.
“Assassins are resourceful. If you take this attack, the assassination attempt, and the situation in Kosha all together with this mention of someone called the ‘Master’ you start to form a large and disturbing picture.” The elemental replied.
“But it is a very vague picture.” The mage insisted, “There are too many pieces missing. Like that man. He did not mean most of what he said at all. I could sense that much from him if nothing else. And if he really wanted us dead why were none of us harmed at all? Silver can fly and thus saved himself from the stairs. Talos fell one flight down into a cart full of hay. He only spoke to me.”
“Coincidence…” Selax suggested doubtfully.
“You do not believe in coincidence old friend, and neither do I. If Shanadar and the others are here that means Katerei tracked Raperian this way all the way from Kosha just as we did with the kidnappers. We need to find our friends quickly because whatever else this Seralcard may have said I do not believe he was lying about the danger they are in.”
This post has been edited by Ragnar0k : 25 January 2010 - 12:20 AM
Rapierian slowed down and glanced around once more. It was a good thing that he kept a close watch or he might not have noticed this world's Katerei and her friends coming up behind him. The ranger supposed there were benefits to being hunted continually.
He regretted having been forced to numb Katerei's sense of smell (even temporarily), but he had figured (correctly, it seemed) that she and the others would be unable to track him without it. Rapierian hoped the people of this world might come to the aid of his own and wished for no quarrel with them. Still, he couldn't afford to be caught now.
Having shaking his pursuers, the ranger once more began to search the ground carefully. He had watched Iannah and the other assassins for some time before approaching Avatara and had memorized their tracks. It was, perhaps, a longshot, but he hoped that he might yet be able to relocate them.
After quite some time, he was nearly ready to give up when he stumbled, quite by accident, upon what he was looking for. There, in the dirt, not more than a few hours old, were the tracks he sought. Rapierian examined them carefully. From what he could discern, it appeared that there were still five people in the group but that Aremis and the other man that had accompanied them previously appeared to be gone, which was unsettling. More unsettling, the two newcomers appeared to be Avatara and Katerei.
The ranger sat back in thought for a minute. He did not for a moment believe that Avatara would willingly join forces with anyone loyal to Selax, but he could find no evidence that the two were being coerced. Of course, Avatara might go along with anything, if he thought it would give him a chance to kill Selax. . .
Rapierian straightened and cautiously began to follow the trail, keeping an eye out for any signs of an ambush or for any further pursuit. Quite soon, he found that the trail led into the ghetto. It seemed to be making for an abandoned building that had once been a shop, from the looks of it. The ranger halted and once more considered his options. He wished to keep an eye on the assassins and if possible discern more of their plans (as he had earlier discovered their plan to attack the mages), but it was too risky to get near the structure. He had taken great care to remain unseen (something at which he was quite good), and, although he might have been able to approach the building, the other abandoned buildings in the area offered abundant lookout points. He could have tried to find Aremis, but the odds of succeeding in that were quite small and he would certainly lose the trail of Iannah's group.
Cautiously, Rapierian backed further into the shadows, looking for an area from which he could watch the building without being noticed and could escape if he himself were seen. Finding at last a place that suited him, the ranger settled down to wait, keeping a close eye on his surroundings all the while.
A few days before the first day
Two figures stepped through the portal. Their dress could’ve been passed off as local, if it weren’t for the red emblem embroidered onto the chest of their leather armor. The armor was rather lightweight to allow mobility over protection, however, what they lacked in protection, they made up for in a wide variety of weapons. One carried a variant of a long bow, while the other carried a crossbow; both had a sword, and various forms of throwing daggers. The younger of the two men looked at his older counterpart, “That… was…”
The mentor, who was really only a few years older but more experienced, raised his hand to cut off his student. They stood still in silence, breathing carefully and softly, observing the woods around them for a couple of minutes. The mentor pointed to the tops of the trees, and his student nodded in understanding.
The air around the portal that had allowed these two men access to this realm was unusually still. There was no ambush, for the men would’ve been killed by now, still they took cover behind two trees near their area of ingress. The mentor looked at the sky through the web of branches and foliage that blocked out most of the view, the color was changing from a dark blue to a lighter shade.
A few minutes later, the men that the student and mentor had been waiting for exited the portal. Upon seeing the two forward scouts taking cover, the six new men, dressed and equipped in the same fashion, quietly and swiftly took cover as well. The eight men paused again for a few more minutes, preferring cautious patience.
The mentor raised his hand, and signaled to move out. Two scouts headed directly to Kosha, while the other six stayed close together, with the destinations of Cademia, Odemia, and Catamarca in mind. The men moved as if they had lived here all their life, knowing each shortcut and path to avoid; but their demeanor and equipment brought a strong contrast to that of a normal Cytheran.
The Second Day
A day's journey southwest of Kosha, where the eight strangers had arrived just a week prior, the portal wavered again as more men crossed over into the realm. They wore the same emblem on the chest of their armor; however, their armor was more heavy duty. The ‘newcomers’ wore leather armor in similar design, but with metal plates on top to reinforce the chest, shoulders, and back. Each man had a bow, and at least one sword.
Operating in the same fashion as their predecessors, the first group of four men to exit the gateway took cover behind the trees and readied their bows. The unspoken efficiency of the movements, and their actions distinguished these men as more professional and experienced than their predecessors.
As another set of four men exited the portal, the first four left their cover and began sweeping out; and the new squad of men took cover behind the trees to cover for more. After a few minutes, when the last two of the 18 men had entered the dimly lit forest, pulling a cart with them, the first squad of men returned and nodded, signaling the immediate area was clear of anyone.
Two of the men’s demeanor stood out. The older man, about thirty years of age, was clean-shaven, and the metal on his armor was polished to a perfect shine. On his shoulder, he wore the rank of two silver bars. There were fewer nicks and cuts in the armor than his younger counterpart, who was about five years younger.
The younger man’s armor was covered with bloodstains, nicks into the metal, and jagged cuts into the leather. In a somewhat similar fashion, the metal was polished, but not as much to reflect light, and only around the red emblem stamped into the metal breastplate. The rank on his shoulder was similar in design, but only consisted of one silver bar.
The physical appearance of the younger man was slightly dirtier, similar to those of the other men. There were flecks of dried mud on his face, and his facial hair had begun growing back. His build was more muscular, with a couple of mostly healed scabs from recent combat. Compared to his superior, who would clean himself and shave daily, the younger man had never seen the benefit of looking so clean and presentable in the field, where he was bound to get dirty again.
One of the sixteen men, bearing embroidered ranks (signifying enlisted), walked up to the younger officer. He nodded and spoke quietly enough so his voice would not carry through the woods, “Lieutenant Creon, the men are ready to move out.”
The Lieutenant glanced at his superior, as an act of courtesy rather than for orders. Creon’s superior nodded, and Creon looked back at the enlisted man, speaking in an equally quiet tone, “Let’s move out." However, unnecessary, as the men already knew what the Lieutenant expected. Upon hearing the command, they finished grabbing supplies from the cart, and spread out into the woods, moving north-northeast to Cademia.
The Lieutenant picked up the last pack of supplies and pushed the cart back halfway through the gateway. As he turned to leave, he noticed two figures on the other side grabbing the cart and pulling it all the way through. All that remained to signal the presence of the men was one foot print left in the ground, by a tree to the south of the portal.
The Seventh Day
The eighteen men had taken up position two hours to the west of Cademia. The location offered a limited view of the city, but the information the scouts had spent the past ten days collecting, made the isolation all the more effective.
With the Captain’s permission, Creon had sent one of the two scouts back to the point of ingress, to meet the arrival of more soldiers. The Kosha scouts had reported that the Hand had covertly secured control of the city and to be expecting their presence near Cademia within the next couple of days.
Creon glanced around the small camp, he knew his men could take the city right now, but the Captain had postponed the strike because of the Hand’s involvement in the situation. The Lieutenant viewed his superior as a bureaucrat whose only purpose for serving in this campaign was a way to gain more power within the Empire. His commander would take swift action with devasting consequences against subordinates that broke protocol, but was willing to look the other way if it helped his image. Of the battles in which he had served under the Captain, he noticed that his commander preferred to stay back, and observe his plan’s outcome.
The Captain’s plans and tactics were his only saving grace, as far as Creon was concerned. As their superiors had hoped, mixing the two together had proved violently efficient in the battles following the capture of Odemia. The Lieutenant stopped dwelling on the Captain and his motives, and crossed the bivouac to his gear.
Creon had adored the dull scrap of steel he was given as a lowly Private in the Empire’s army, but his first sword didn’t last long due to his naive fighting style. His mentor, a Sergeant at the time, had seen Creon’s potential and the effect of his devastating dexterity. As his artistry progressed him further through the ranks, even the Empire’s army began to fear what he could do.
Creon reached down and unsheathed the sword he was given on his promotion to Sergeant. The sword had a few small chips, but nothing major. The top of the hilt was stained in dried blood, as well as the base of the sword, but he kept the rest cleaned and polished. With a glance at the blood, he could recall whose life he had ended, while to others it appeared to be a mass of indistinguishable dried gore.
The Lieutenant remembered his mentor’s last lesson, When you can no longer sleep at night without seeing their faces, its time for you to retire. The moment you second guess your judgment, you will die. He pulled out a sharpening stone and began refining his blade’s cruel bite. It was not long before he lost himself in his thoughts, as he waited calmly for the order to repeat his infamous actions of Odemia.
This post has been edited by Dark Jet : 30 January 2010 - 02:46 AM
Afternoon, Day 8
Jehezekel watched as yet another group of his adventuring friends left the sanctuary he was able to defend against the derangement of the land. And again he had avoided detection, at least -personal- detection. They had been passing close by, but upon noticing that his section of the land was more wholesome had redirected their steps to take advantage of the reprieve from the outlying woods.
Wizard & Selax were familiar enough with Cythera that they probably guessed the reason for the preservation of this section of the land, & may even have expected it. Tails, or whatever his name was, certainly caught on quickly that this section of the woods was a bit more wholesome, apparently due to a communication from his psychedelic gauntlet. Silverfish, although in the best position to see the difference in the land, still found that the Mana expressed in protecting the farms was just as annoying as the outlying forest, & so maintained his altitude.
And then, just before they passed out of sight:
His name is Talos.
And next time you're hiding from me, try to keep your thoughts a bit quieter.
Jehezekel grinned ruefully, Thanks Wizard. Oh yeah, you might be interested to know: recently several parties have gone out of their way to skirt my protectorate, even ones that looked familiar.
Jehezekel waited a moment, but receiving no reply he returned to his rounds.
This post has been edited by Jehezekel : 09 February 2010 - 02:27 PM
Iannah shifted her body slightly, trying to work out the stiffness in her limbs without attracting the others' attention. She had long given up waiting by the doorway after standing for the better part of an hour, and resigned herself to using one of the wooden crates as a seat. This campaign seemed to involve more waiting than all the others combined. Iannah reflected on the bitter irony; the first time she had waited for someone in this house was Aremis, before the assassination had fallen apart horribly; and the second was K and Avatara, shortly before discovering Phanias' corpse. I'm really beginning to hate waiting for people.
She immediately reprimanded herself for that thought. She operated on Selax's schedule, and was proud to do so. Still, it was worrisome. Firecat had passed on the message to find a meeting place in preparation for Selax's arrival that afternoon, and though leaving the ghetto again had been difficult, their original location in the old houses seemed the best option. K managed to stall a suspicious guard long enough for the others to all leave unnoticed. Iannah had a faint sensation of being followed, but nothing came of it, so she chalked it up to paranoia. The Cademia guard would have arrested them on sight, and thankfully Aremis was nowhere to be seen.
Although Iannah had been reluctant to allow K and Avatara to accompany her to the meeting, still suspicious of their allegiances, there seemed to be no way around it. They knew too much to risk letting them leave, and she was even more unwilling to leave them alone with Bastian and Elie. As much faith as she placed in her assassins, the death of three men made her wary of losing more. The only option left was for them all to go. Bastian had occasionally accompanied her to meetings with Selax before, but Elie seemed excited to meet the Master in person for the first time.
If it was going to happen at all. Iannah sighed inwardly and opened her mind again to the ever-present telepathic furball. Firecat, is Selax still on his way?
The response came as quickly as if he had been expecting it. "Are the guard dogs becoming impatient?"
Iannah dug her fingernails into her palms. The knowledge that Firecat had such degrading terms for everyone didn't make hearing it any more pleasant. He should be here already. You said this morning he was only a few hours away from Cademia.
"Did you consider that the Master may have his own definition of a 'few?'" Firecat replied silkily.
I'm not in the mood for this. Look, just tell me if he is coming or not.
"It is wise to remember that a cat approaching a mouse hole will not give away its every move."
Are you saying you don't know where Selax is? Iannah's irritation was rapidly escalating. The cat's cryptic speech was tedious at the best of times, downright maddening when she actually needed him for something.
Firecat sounded offended. "Tch. So discourteous for a dog. The Master of Air is ambulant as the wind... but if you must know, I have not heard from him since this morning."
You haven't even communicated with him since then? Iannah demanded. Little wonder he isn't here; I told you to relay the meeting location to him! Remind me again what is the use of a transdimensional telepath that can't even pass on a message?!
Although Iannah suspected Firecat was usually just pretending to take offense at her bluntness, he seemed genuinely indignant this time. "It is not for lack of trying. Selax seems to have blocked off all communication. The dogs should be even more on their guard now."
Incorrigible pile of fluff , Iannah seethed, making sure Firecat heard her last words before shutting him out of her mind.
She would probably be in trouble if Firecat were to repeat any of her words to a superior, though she had a feeling most of the Masters' human guards shared her sentiments. Not that I'd be surprised if he was in league with Aremis, she thought resentfully. The Wizard seems to have some bizarre interest in employing smug ba–
"Is something wrong, Captain?" Bastian's quiet voice interrupted her thoughts.
Iannah looked up at her second-in-command, who had been waiting calmly nearby. Her emotions must have showed on her face. No one else seemed to have noticed; Elie was keeping watch at the window and the other two were seated on crates across the room. Avatara looked lost to his own thoughts and K was trying to hide the fact that she was watching him warily. Iannah took the opportunity to beckon Bastian close enough for a whispered conversation.
"Selax and Firecat have not been in contact since this morning, for whatever reason. Presumably the Master doesn't even know where we are to meet. He could be in Cademia already for all I know."
Bastian furrowed his brow. "What will you have us do?"
"Short of muzzling that infernal cat? There is nothing we can do. The Master will find us if he so desires, and we are no safer by leaving."
"Understood." Bastian nodded respectfully and retreated back to his position to wait.
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 08 September 2010 - 07:27 PM
The Morning of the Eighth Day
There was an unusual stillness among the men as Creon opened his eyes. He wiped the last bit of sleep from his eyes and walked over to his commander. His superior turned towards him and then looked back to the west, slightly unnerved. "The Sergeant is escorting the Hand here now."
The Lieutenant glanced around the camp, observing his men equally unnerved as their commander. Creon sighed and walked back over to his gear, fastening his sword to his right hip. He then refitted his bracers and waist armor, and grabbed his canteen before returning to his captain's side.
A few moments later, the Sergeant re-entered the bivouac and nodded to his captain before motioning to the enlisted men, which returned with him to his watch. Silence continued to fill the air before the Captain cleared his throat and spoke. "To what do we owe the honor of a visit from the Hand?"
As impressive as the Hand's reputation was it's leader did not look the part. Jacob seemed more like an average soldier than a man who could crush one, armor and all, without lifting a finger. It was the commanding aura he gave off that let you know he was no ordinary man, "The assault on Cademia is canceled until you receive other orders."
"For what reason?"
"There's an interesting group of individuals causing the Master some... concern. You'll have to stand down until we've dealt with them."
"I trust you've been informed of how the General operates? We need written orders from him to obey that... suggestion... Surely lowly soldiers of the Empire could lure these 'individuals' out into the open for you to strike. Why waste precious time and supplies?"
Jacob stared hard at the Captain, "The Hand strikes where and when the Master wills. We have the discipline not to question our orders. You're only alive after questioning me because I think the Master has plans for you and your men. Consider yourself lucky, on any other day I'd have torn you in half." The man next to the Captain stood statue still and deadly quiet with a hand on his sword. Jacob turned on the officer. A lowly soldier would dare... Wait.. Something about the man's grim features was strikingly familiar, "What did you say your name was again?"
"Captain Lysander of the First Wave"
"Ah..." his eyes lit up in recognition, "Which makes you the 'Butcher of Odemia'. Forgive me for forgetting the reknowned warrior himself. I think we can put talents like yours to use after all. Head east to Catamarca while we soften Cademia. The next time we meet the city will be ripe for the taking."
The Captain stood silent for a few moments. After deciding that this would be the best option, since his men were running low on rations, he nodded. "Very well, we will head east to Catamarca, but we will be back in four days. On the fifth, we will take Cademia," Lysander spoke coldly and ended his statement venomously.
Jacob let the tone slide, though behind him Kain smiled visciously, "Plenty of time, Captain." He turned to Creon and nodded respectfully, "We're looking forward to another one of your master pieces, Lieutenant." Jacob strode out and the Hand followed on his heels, leaving as abruptly as they had entered the camp.
Lysander sighed after the Hand was out of earshot, "Tell the men we will have fresh food within two days. We go east to Catamarca."
The tension in the air was so thick you couldn't cut it with a butter knife, but nothing was happening, so Silverfish created a very sharp knife & started making sausages out of the tension. He then sold them to passersby for 7 Oboloi each.
As they started their search, Selax told Wizard, Talos, and Silverfish what he had learned from Apis. The other members of their party were in the city and had been joined by another man named Andru. There had been attempts on the lives of Anisa and Berossus, as well as several guards killed. Diomede appeared to have an evil twin and there were rumors of other doubles wandering the city as well.
Wizard shook his head as the elemental finished.
"None of this bodes well," the old man said, looking quite disturbed. "What is worse is that I can't find any of the others."
"What do you mean?" Talos asked him, as he looked about them.
"It's as if a haze has descended over this city. It is making it hard to hear anyone's thoughts or send anything to them," Wizard explained. "I do not like this at all. Something is very wrong."
Silverfish shot upward into the air and looked around. After a couple of minutes, he descended.
"No sign of them," he sighed. "We'll just have to keep looking."
And so they did. For almost another hour, the four continued to search the streets of Cademia, asking any if they had seen Shanadar, Katerei, Yomu, or Andru. They were not having any success until, quite unexpectedly, Wizard round a corner and bumped into Shanadar.
"Shanadar! Great to see you! We have been—" Wizard began, after recovering, but broke off when he saw Shanadar watching him warily. "Is something wrong? I know we were supposed to go to Land King Hall and check on Alaric but—"
Shanadar and the others with him all looked at each other.
"This may sound odd," the Enforcer began, "but how do we know you're the same Wizard that we parted with four days ago?"
Wizard looked taken aback for a moment.
"Has this double trouble that I've been hearing about grown this bad?" he asked. "If they have, I don't know how we can know you're you." He thought and then said, "Perhaps we could question one another about our previous travels together? We might be able to satisfactorily prove our identities to one another that way."
This they proceeded to do. After a time, each group was relatively certain that the others were indeed who they claimed to be. Talos and Andru were then introduced to the rest of the group.
"So, what happened?" Katerei asked. "Did Directed Nexus not work?"
"Yes and no," Silver replied. "We did disappear but ended up appearing in the same spot two days later. We would have come after you right away then but we needed to recover first and then someone was kidnapped."
Briefly, Silverfish described their rescue of the kidnapped girl and their trailing of the kidnapper, until they had lost him outside town. At this point, Wizard broke in and related their strange encounter with Seralcard, as well as his warning of danger.
"That's strange," Shanadar muttered, "but not so surprising. All the same, we had better head back to the Inn. It is not safe where we currently are."
The others agreed and began heading back to the Two-Tailed Rat.
"So, what is your story?" Wizard asked. "Did you find Rapierian?"
"Yes and no," Shanadar replied. Quickly, he filled Wizard and the others in on what had happened since they had parted. He told of their search for Rapierian, their encounter with Beorn, and the attempts that had been made on the mages' lives. Most disturbing was his story of their adventure at the Castle.
"Two Rapierians?" Wizard burst out, looking horrified at the possibility.
"Perhaps," Shanadar answered. "We're not sure if it's that or if he is playing some kind of game. We're pretty certain there is another Katerei."
"With two Diomedes confirmed, there could be any number of doubles," Talos observed thoughtfully.
"You are certain it was Avatara with this other Rapierian?" Selax asked, speaking for the first time since they had met up with one another.
"Yes," Katerei answered decisively. "Not the one we know, but it was him."
After a moment, Shanadar continued his story, finishing with their encounter with one of the Rapierians and their parting with Yomu.
"We went out to search again today, but we haven't seen any sign of any of them," he concluded, as they reached the Two-Tailed Rat.
"Hmm," Wizard mused. "This is a lot of news, and, unfortunately, not much of it is good. I think we should rest and have lunch. Then, we might want to go see the Judge again. Perhaps, I can wake Diomede's twin and get some answers."
They did not have to wait very long before Bastian straightened and reported quietly, “Company. Three people.”
Three people? From his position in the shadows, Avatara could see Iannah was just as confused as he was. He crept behind a discarded bookcase near the back, out of sight of the door. Selax may not be walking up to the door right now, but there was always the possibility he’d drop in later, and he would see through the ruse instantly.
“It looks like him ,” Elie chimed in bitterly from her side. Iannah’s expression darkened.
Avatara looked over at Katerei and found her still sitting on a box. "We should move out of sight," he told her quietly, but she stared unblinkingly at the door. As he started over, Bastian shot him a warning look indicating they were out of time. He grabbed her arm and only then noticed she was trembling. “Hey!” he whispered frantically to her, but she didn’t move. There was a knock at the door, a patterned rapping to announce the arrival of the assassin's associates. Avatara wrapped an arm around her waist to lift her up and pull her back behind the boxes of discarded junk. As they crashed into the dirt floor with a muffled thud, she finally snapped out of her daze and looked around uneasily.
Katerei cast him an agonized look and whispered, "I'm sorry-" before the door creaking open on rusty hinges cut her off. He grabbed her hand to try and calm her, but it seemed to have the opposite effect, so he quickly let go.
The sound of multiple pairs of feet entering the house was muffled by the dust and scattered furniture, but a set of heavy boots stood out in particular. Neither of them could see the door from their position, but they couldn't be seen either, as long as they kept close to the ground. Fortunately, Iannah saved Avatara the trouble of identifying them.
"Welcome," she said calmly. "You must be Kain, and your companions... Scry, of course, and... Ral? It's an honour to finally meet you. I've heard so much about you."
"The pleasure is all mine, Iannah," a man's deep voice replied. His words were polite, but his tone suggested a lack of genuine interest.
A wooden slat was missing from the crate that lay a few feet in front of Avatara, and enough had broken away on the other side that he might get a very narrow window through which to see. The shadows would conceal him from being spotted, if only he could get close enough... He waited until someone spoke again to drown out the sound of him manuevering forward to a better angle.
"You'll have to forgive us. We weren't quite...expecting you," Iannah continued, eyeing the three newcomers warily as she stood boldly in the center of the room. The middle-aged man on the right was dressed in a dark wizard's robe with cryptic writing embroidered in white and red on his sleeves. To the left was a slim young woman with long dark hair. Strangely enough, her eyes were covered with a red scarf, obscuring her vision. However, the most dominating presence was definitely the large powerful man in the center, whose size easily put Bastian to shame.
The large man let a fake smile show through his freshly-groomed beard, "Firecat told me I might find you here. He's not entirely useless, you know." Judging from his voice, he had been the man who spoke earlier, which made him Kain.
"He has his moments," Iannah replied. A slight edge had crept into her voice now. "So to what do we owe this visit? I didn't think you to be in Cademia so soon."
"Someone had to mop up the mess here," the blonde man sneered. Ral was making no attempt to hide his disgust.
Kain smirked. "We heard about the... rather spectacular disaster with the assassinations. What happened, Iannah? Have you lost your touch?"
"If you've come solely to mock my team and me, I have no interest in hearing it." Iannah gestured toward the door. "Feel free to show yourselves out unless you have some purpose more worthy of our time."
"Your time?" Kain laughed harshly. "How exactly are you spending your time, holed up in here? Does your Master no longer trust you with anything more important than dusting furniture?"
Iannah's tone suddenly went icy. "I'd advise you not to make judgements when you are misinformed on things, Kain. We would have taken out Berossus easily, except that the Wizard decided to change plans and informed no one. Anisa only survived because Diomede failed to act in time to kill her – someone whom Aremis, one of your Master's devotees, suggested using. I lost two good men there due to a mysterious ambush. I lost yet another from Aremis' betrayal." She pointed a finger at Ral, forestalling his outburst before continuing, "Moreover, all three mages are currently under control of the Wizard, so the job was not a 'failure.' It seems more like your side of the organization has very suspicious ways of carrying things out."
Avatara wondered why Kain didn't immediately deny the implicit accusation Iannah was levelling at him, until he realized the woman with the blood-red blindfold was speaking quietly to the man. He couldn't make out the words, but Kain made an impatient reply and the woman disappeared from his small field of vision again, followed by the sound of the door opening and closing.
"You're out of line, Iannah," Kain said through gritted teeth once the woman had left. "You can't hide behind other people for your failures."
"I'm the one hiding behind other people?" Iannah's voice had gone dangerously quiet. "What of your pathetic pet out there? I've heard how you send her into combat to fight for you. Using someone as a shield doesn't show off how powerful you are, it just shows that you're a coward."
"And no self-respecting man would force a woman into permanent submission," Bastian said, the words scathing even through his calm demeanour.
"I won't tolerate you talking about Scry like that," Kain said, stepping forward angrily, but Iannah cut him off again.
" My team is capable of thinking for themselves. They're loyal to me of their own accord. I don't need to twist them into submission."
"And look where that got you," Ral added cruelly. "Three dead men and a betrayal."
"Betrayed by one of Wizard's cronies!" Elie snapped from where she stood out of sight. "Every one of us would follow Master Selax into death should he ask us. Your side doesn't even seem to know what loyalty is! Are you even trying to win this invasion?"
"You doubt my loyalty?" Ral rose his voice, "After all I have done for the Master?" For a moment the blond-haired man seemed unable to continue as he sputtered in a mixture of disbelief and anger.
"I have served the master since I was a child. He raised me as if I was one of his own. How can you even consider doubting my devotion to the cause?" Kain's reply was much more composed, though he was visibly struggling to contain his rage.
"I killed my old colleagues to prove my desire to serve!" Ral screamed in fury. "Without me, Pnyx may have never fallen!"
"You think too highly of yourself," Iannah said dismissively. "I'm sure the Masters could have conquered the city in due time without your stunning display of... I'm sorry, did you call that loyalty? I'm sure the fact that you so readily turned on your last colleagues is of great comfort to your new Masters."
"Although that's nothing compared to this lecherous filth." The assassin turned her gaze back toward Kain and smirked. "Most men just brag about their exploits to compensate for their... shortcomings, but Kain here needs to show off the actual evidence of his perversions – not that a blind whore is much of a conquest. Do you just get off on having a lapdog follow you around, or is she as talented on her knees as she's supposed to be in battle?"
Iannah, what are you doing? Avatara began to worry. A battle could draw unwanted attention. Why was she deliberately provoking them? Was she counting on him and Katerei to help out? He eyed the window on the back wall. If a fight broke out, they could probably slip out unnoticed in the confusion...but where would they go? They wouldn't be welcome in this world, and Iannah was still his only lead. He looked over at Katerei, but she was wide-eyed with panic and hurriedly indicated that he should turn his gaze back to the others.
Kain's face darkened in anger, the throbbing veins on his forehead were clearly visible. "You've gone too far, Iannah." For all the fury on his face, his words were ice cold.
"No, you have gone too far. You and your lackeys barged in here, putting everything at risk, just so you can throw around childish jeers because your 'uncle' turns a blind eye to your stupidity! If we lose this war, it will be because the Master put misguided faith in bullheaded men like you!" Elie shouted back.
"It seems then, that you will refuse to cooperate." Kain paused for a moment to calm himself, but his voice gained an even deadlier edge. "The Master has granted us the task of removing all of the obstacles to his plan." A sardonic grin broke out on his face, "If you won't stand with us, then you stand against us."
Avatara felt the heat gather before he saw the flicker of flame coalesce in the air in front of Kain. He's really going to do it! Avatara panicked. If he abandoned Iannah now, she would probably die along with the best chance to reach Selax in time. If he joined the fight, he would not only endanger Katerei, but also use up the reserves he'd been saving for the confrontation with the air elemental. He quickly glanced over at Katerei again, but her gaze was focused in horror on the events unfolding in front of them. Katerei, what do you want me to do? He couldn't ask without revealing their presence.
A glance back revealed he was out of time; he had to decide now.
Silently praying he'd made the right choice, he closed his eyes and activated the trap he had laid for Selax.
Scry stood quietly, a couple hundred paces from the building with the others. A light breeze washed across her, causing her blindfold to stir uncomfortably across her face and ruffling her long hair. She couldn't see, but the warm feel of the sun was fading, meaning the sun would be going down soon. It was almost time, she thought to herself.
A gut feeling had led her to abandon the meeting in search of....what? She wasn't sure, but her instinct had always proved reliable in the past and it was telling her to be out here. She had heard all manner of people tell her that not having the gift of sight must be a terrible burden, but she privately disagreed. Ever since she had lost her eyes in a violent assault long ago, her other senses had stepped up to fill the gap. Even now, she could faintly hear the heated voices behind her.
She tilted her head slightly. For a moment, she thought she had heard something else. No, she was sure of it. Someone else was out here watching her.
Scry started to head back and inform the others, but a strong feeling of malaise rushed through her, making her pause. She waited, listening for any sound of the mysterious stalker or some indication of an ambush. After a moment, the feeling of danger subsided a bit, and she began to run towards Kain, convinced that they were about to be attacked.
That was when the meeting house exploded in a wave of heat with enough force to knock her flat on the ground.
_The voice echoed above her, powerful yet oddly hollow. "Why have you come before me?"
Katerei knelt with head bowed, the chill from the hard earth slowly seeping through her long skirt. "I wish to assist milord's cause. I come bearing information and an offer of my help, if you will hear me out."
"Very well. Speak," the being intoned.
Katerei's voice shook, not so much from fear of to whom she spoke, as from what she was saying. "I know why Avatara refuses to aid you, and with the problem I know the solution. I would gladly take on the task myself to serve your name if only I were capable. Instead I wish to offer my service in another way. I propose an agreement."_
It wasn't supposed to end like this.
K stole a glance at Avatara out of the corner of her eye. How could he look so impassive? Of course, they couldn't say anything as long as the assassins were within earshot, so maybe he really was as much of a nervous wreck as she was. But he didn't know exactly what meeting with Selax would mean.
She had occupied the long stretches of painfully silent waiting by analyzing every possible outcome of the meeting, in great detail. None of them were good. She wasn't sure if Selax would attack them outright, or tell Avatara exactly what had happened all those years ago and then attack them, or maybe only kill one and leave the other to their misery alone; but no matter how bent Avatara was on destroying Selax, she couldn't force herself to believe it was possible.
Years of practicing meditation to suppress her paranoid guilt were useless now. K dug her fingernails into her thigh to resist the urge to stand up and smash her fist into the wall, knowing nothing could stave off her memories.
_"You are rescinding on our agreement?"
Katerei knelt once again on the cold earth, but this time she stared determinedly up at the speaker. "Yes. I can no longer aid you in carrying out the task. You will have to find another way to seek out Avatara's cooperation."
"It is too late. The deal has already been struck."
Katerei grit her teeth resolutely before speaking again. "It doesn't matter to me. My motives are my own. I will not follow through, even on pain of death."
"That doesn't seem necessary yet." The words were sickeningly emotionless. "But you would be wise to remember that if you do not hold up your side of our agreement, I do not guarantee I will hold up mine."_
I messed it up twice , K thought wretchedly. Avatara wouldn't even be here seeking revenge if I hadn't interfered. Or I could have ensured his safety if only I'd stuck with it. Instead I abandoned him completely.
She sighed and rubbed her hand wearily over her eyes, trying to focus on the present. Maybe we should just run. I don't owe Iannah an explanation. Maybe Selax won't care enough to waste time following us.
For a moment she thought that might be exactly what Avatara was doing. He stood up suddenly, but to her surprise he moved behind a bookcase in the corner. K wondered what was going on until Elie's voice broke through her thoughts. "It looks like him."
The room suddenly seemed too small, the walls forcing a sense of unbearable dread on her as they drew closer. It's too late. She was vaguely aware of Avatara grabbing her arm, but she couldn't muster the willpower to turn and look at him, nor was she sure if that odd sound was someone knocking at the door or her heart knocking inside her ribs. He seized her around the waist to drag her behind the stack of crates, but she felt too faint to react as visions from long ago flashed through her mind.
_"Avatara?" she called worriedly as she knocked on the cottage door. Usually the small, remote house was cozy and inviting, its inhabitants greeting her warmly. Today it was oddly quiet, even though she expected them to be home, but the footprints and crushed plants in the garden gave away that someone had been there. Ruffians had been more of a problem in Cythera lately, taking advantage of the general chaos in the land. Perhaps the house had been ransacked while they were gone.
Katerei had finally decided to tell Avatara the truth though, in order to warn him of the impending danger, and she feared that her resolve would not last much longer. Readying her flail in case anyone was still there, she pushed the unlocked door open a few inches and listened cautiously.
There were no muffled whispers, no sounds of breathing even to her sensitive ears, but the small part of the room that she could see looked ransacked. The table was overturned and a ceramic vase lay on the floor in front of her, somehow unbroken. She stooped to pick it up and then stepped further into the house.
A wave of nausea hit her with the metallic stench. Katerei turned and gasped in shock. Avatara's wife lay motionless on the floor in a pool of blood. Her long hair, once beautiful, was soaked and matted scarlet.
The sound of the vase smashing on the floor was drowned out by the words that echoed forcefully through Katerei's head. "It is too late. The deal has already been struck."_
The thud of hitting the dirt floor brought her mind crashing back to the present. K turned to Avatara in a panic. She had never properly apologized, and now there was no time. "I'm sorry-" she said desperately, but stopped when she heard the door open. He took her hand, but she cringed at his touch and instantly regretted it when he let go.
It was only when Iannah greeted the newcomers that she was actually able to calm down a little. K didn't recognize any of the names, but all that mattered was they weren't Selax. Maybe, just maybe, Selax wouldn't show up and they would live to see another day. And if they could escape from the assassins for even ten minutes, maybe she could make amends to Avatara before facing her death.
But as the conversation progressed, she realized her hopes were to be short-lived. Although most of the dialogue was a mystery to her, it was clear that the two sides were strongly opposed. She cringed again when Iannah launched into a tirade against one of the men. Of the two women, the assassin had always been better at keeping her temper, and K had to wonder at the nature of someone who could get Iannah so riled up. She watched with trepidation as the argument escalated past breaking point. If a battle broke out, would they be able to escape unnoticed, or get caught in the crossfire?
It wasn't supposed to end like this. Waiting for our deaths.
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 06 October 2010 - 02:39 AM
Iannah slowly picked herself off the ground, coughing from the thick dust cloud that obscured most of her vision. Wiping the back of her arm across her face, she saw most of the front wall was missing. Broken timbers dangled from the ceiling around the gaping hole that was pouring out clouds of dust and smoke. Standing in the middle of it all was the unmistakable figure of Kain.
He stood dazed, blood trickling down from a cut in his forehead over his right eye. From the stunned expression on his face, she surmised that he wasn't expecting the explosion either.
A ringing in her ears she hadn't noticed before suggested she had temporarily lost her hearing from the concussion. She couldn't spot Elie or the two outsiders, but a man's frantic yelling indicated Ral had probably survived.
The smoke continued to pour outside, clearing the air in the room. Iannah noticed Bastian had recovered and was standing ready with his weapons drawn. He looked at her and nodded, they both knew this was their best shot at nabbing Kain before he could recover.
Unsure if he was aware of his peril, she drew her sword and quickly crept forward, using the dust as cover. As she was closing in, she heard Bastian shout a warning and stopped in time to avoid losing her head to an icy blade that whistled through the air in front of her. The long-haired woman defiantly placed herself between the assassins and Kain, her sword illuminating the lingering smoke in a faint blue glow, silently threatening death to any who would dare approach.
"I've heard many things about you, Scry." Iannah backed up a few paces. "All kinds of rumors."
The woman in front of her stood silently, blade held menacingly in her hand.
"They say that you're a practiced killer," Iannah took a few steps to the right. Behind Scry, Kain was still standing, oblivious to the scene in front of him. Iannah continued, "They say you can see the future." Scry remained motionless, showing no sign of sensing their intent. "But how dangerous can a blind woman truly be?" Iannah finished. Bastian had mirrored her movement, effectively flanking the blindfolded woman.
"I say we put that to the test," Iannah smiled.
In a flash, she lunged forward with a feinting thrust. Scry dodged and suddenly spun to parry Bastian's overhead strike. Slightly surprised, Iannah whipped a knife out of her boot and attempted to lace Scry's exposed arm with a paralytic poison, but the other woman twisted out of the way without even looking.
Bastian prepared to strike again, but suddenly found himself on the defensive as the mist-shrouded blade sought his life. He awkwardly parried her first two blows with his greatsword, barely stopping it before it could reach his face.
With a blade in each hand, Iannah tried to press her attack, but Scry twisted out of the way again and countered with a spinning kick to Bastian's chest, sending him staggering backward. Having temporarily subdued one opponent, Scry spun to face Iannah. Even though the assassin knew the woman was blind, it felt as if the woman was gazing at her through the red scarf, judging it was her time to die.
A crackling boom followed by a scream jolted Iannah to her senses. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Elie crumpled to the floor. Her first thought was to see if the girl was all right, but Scry was already bearing down on her again. The momentary distraction was enough for Scry to land a blow, the ice-edged blade tearing through her leather sleeve. Iannah gasped as the sting of frostbite exacerbated the wound, numbing her left arm.
"Iannah!" Katerei's voice called out. Bastian had recovered and moved in furiously to distract Scry, giving Iannah a chance to look around for her colleague as she grimaced in pain. The blue woman was standing over Elie's fallen figure, flail in hand, but Ral was too far away for her to fight hand-to-hand without leaving Elie unprotected. Sparks flew overhead as she flung short blasts of water into the air to divert the electricity Ral was creating. "Iannah, we can't keep this up! We need to retreat!"
Although she was loathe to reply out loud and admit her error, Iannah silently agreed. Even with the advantage of numbers, they were outmatched against the likes of Scry. Yet, there seemed to be no way out, and Iannah was hard-pressed to concentrate on both battles at once. Scry's and Bastian's swords clashed loudly as she turned her attention back to them, but the blind woman swiftly leapt at her before she had a chance to intervene. Iannah riposted the attack only for her blade to fall short of its mark again. Having lost all feeling in her left arm, the dagger slipped out of her numbed hand and clattered to the floor. She grit her teeth and focused all of her willpower into parrying Scry's relentless assault.
A sharp pain exploded in her lower back as she stepped backwards into the ruined desk that had been laying against the side wall. With no more room to retreat, a mix of fear and frustration overwhelmed Iannah as she glared at the blind monster with the blood-red scarf that would end her life.
"WAIT!" Kain's deep voice boomed, halting Scry's deadly strike mid-swing. "She's mine," he growled, glaring at Iannah. Scry abruptly lowered her weapon and sidestepped a blow from Bastian. Caught off-guard, he staggered forward briefly before recovering and placing himself between Iannah and the Hand.
Kain didn't get far before another explosion rocked the house, throwing up dust and smoke. This detonation had been far less violent than the first one, but the sound of timbers straining suggested a more ominous outcome.
Blinded by the smoke, Iannah felt Bastian grab her good arm and tug her somewhere to the side. The sound of metal on metal rang out nearby, but disoriented, she wasn't able to pinpoint the source.
"Over here!" Katerei's voice called out quietly. Iannah peered through the haze to see her crouching near Elie, and stumbled in their direction. To her horror, the skin on Elie's right leg was blackened and a mess of singed blood. The smell of burnt flesh hung nauseatingly in the air above the blonde girl, who seemed dazed and unable to speak. "We have to get her out of here," Katerei said anxiously.
"Will you be all right?" Bastian asked Iannah, and when she nodded faintly he immediately moved forward to scoop Elie off the ground, careful not to jostle the injured leg.
"This way," Katerei led them quickly out through the fresh hole in the back wall of the house. The smoke around them glowed orange in the sunset, but the air was cleaner out here. Katerei's companion was waiting for them among the debris. As soon as they all crawled outside, he slammed his hand into the corner of the building, sending out a ripple of magic that splintered the last remaining supports. The house let out a loud creaking noise as wood bent and cracked before finally collapsing in on itself in a giant pile of rubble and dust.
Without a word, he turned and led them quickly away, through the long shadows being cast by nearby structures and out of the old houses. Yet, somehow, a nagging feeling of unease lingered within Iannah, as if deep down some part of her knew they hadn't seen the last of the Hand.
From his vantage point, Rapierian continued to watch the members of the Hand. The detonation of the House had not really surprised him, although the rain of debris that had been scattered about had made it difficult for him to observe the aftermath. The ranger had thought about interfering but had been unable to determine which side to help, since both Iannah's band of assassins and the Hand had at various times attempted to kill him. In the end, the house collapsed completely before he was able to decide what to do.
As he watched, the ruins shifted and a brief spout of flame shot into the air. Kain pulled himself out of the rubble and looked about. Scry, having somehow avoided the collapsing roof, already stood outside of the debris, waiting. Ral limped up to Kain and pointed off to the north. From what the ranger could determine, it was clear that Avatara, Katerei, and Iannah's assistants had fled and that Ral wished to pursue them. To Rapierian's surprise, Kain angrily shook his head and pointed to the west. The mage said something to Ral but Rapierian was not close enough to hear what it was. Ral looked as though he wanted to argue further, but Kain turned and, with Scry following, headed off in the direction he had indicated. After a moment, Ral followed.
Cautiously, the ranger followed them. The Hand was one of his most persistent enemies and he knew well that it was not wise to trifle with them; however, he had dealt with them often enough that he had learned how to trail them without being noticed…most of the time anyway.
For most of the day, Wizard, Selax, Shanadar, and the others had conducted a fruitless search of the city. It had begun when they had reached the Inn and found (to Shanadar's consternation) that Beorn was gone and that no one had seen him leave. After a quick lunch, the group decided to search for the man along with the mysterious doubles they had encountered.
They had tried twice during the afternoon to see the Judge but had been told that Judge Berossus and Master Bryaxis were both tending to Anisa and could not be disturbed.
Unfortunately, after hours of searching, they had found no sign of any of the people that they had been looking for. Finally, they returned to the Two-Tailed Rat to discuss the situation.
"I don't like this," Shanadar muttered. "We should have been able to find something!"
"I agree," Wizard replied, looking equally disturbed. "I fear that whatever is affecting my telepathy may have also hindered our search."
"Do you think—" the Enforcer started to say when the sound of a distant explosion reached them. Everyone glanced at one another and hurried outside to see a cloud of smoke rising from the eastern part of the city.
"That came from the Old Houses," Shanadar said.
"Agreed, we should investigate," Selax stated.
With that, they began to rush toward the site of the explosion.
"I don't like this," Andru said as they ran. "Something doesn't seem right about this."
They were just reaching the Old Houses when Talos suddenly yelled, "Look out!"
He ducked, pulling down Andru and Katerei as arrows flew over their heads.
"It's an ambush!" Wizard shouted as he telekinetically deflected more arrows which had been aimed at him.
From the houses around them, several attackers were sending a stream of arrows at the group. In the gaps between the buildings, swordsmen appeared, looking well-armed and well-trained.
The Hand - The Spider
Most days Ral felt grateful for the power and respect afforded him as a member of the Hand. Other days he wished the Master’s shadow had never darkened Pynx. There was a certain charm to toiling over ancient texts. A kind of honor found only in working for no greater reward than the joy of it. In those times where he pined for the older days he wondered if he couldn’t slip away to this world’s Pynx. They wouldn’t know him for who he was. His alter was just a farmer who never knew his magical potential. A man who battled no greater enemy than a harsh winter. This day was definitely one of the latter.
The night nurtured a harsh chaos. Swords clashed in the distance now. The battle had started without them. Fires from the explosion glowered at them. The holocaust would soon spread to the dried husks of adjacent buildings if it hadn’t already consumed them. He still felt the heat clawing at his back. But maybe those were paranoid imaginings.
Kain prowled along beside the mage. Glare hot enough to set things ablaze without his power. The only casualty in the assassin’s trap was Kain’s pride. A small price for him to pay after nearly getting the group killed to stroke it. Not that Ral would say any of that aloud in current mood. The mage was no fool.
Scry led the way. They followed her through shadowed alleys ever further from the fighting. Every time she seemed about to lead them to the more open street she would change her mind and take an even more convoluted route. It felt like they were just running away and it grated on Ral’s nerves, “Enough of this.” He turned down the nearest alley and made for the brighter road, “The soldiers need our support—“
“Stop.” The swordswoman cut him off, “Look.”
Ral looked down at the placid expression of the blindfolded woman barring his path. She reminded him of the favorite sister he left behind when he went to study at Pynx. She was overprotective of him much like Vara was. The similarities left him with an unintended fondness for the woman. It disarmed him sometimes. But Scry’s concern was only programming. Real feelings or no he wasn’t getting by unless he appeased her concerns. The mage let his gaze run over the dim corridor. He found nothing more sinister than garbage and puddles of things he’d rather not consider. The smells fought hard to offend him. A struggle that was not in vain. It was no place he wanted to be but other than that? “We don’t have time to waste here.”
Scry stopped him with a hand on his chest, “Magic.”
The woman rarely spoke and she never lied. With a sigh Ral focused and gave the alley a second look, “What’s there?” Kain demanded.
“Spider-silk.” Ral softly let slip. Thin lines gleamed red and stitched the walls together. There were dozens of them now that he concentrated hard enough to notice. And it was hard. The threads were almost imperceptible. They laced either wall and made knots in all the weakest points. The spell was so complex it gave the mage a migraine trying to puzzle out what it did. It was dangerous though, that he didn’t doubt, “It’s a trap, magical. It’ll be safer to find another way than try to disarm it.”
There must have been similar dangers along every path Scry guided them away from. The thought chilled him. How long would it have taken to do that in even one place? How many days of meticulous planning? Even as he watched the spell decayed. In half an hour at most this one would be harmless, “Damn that bitch Iannah.” Kain growled, “When I find her...”
The mage ignored the rest. Kain was a smart man most of the time. But when he was angry he didn’t think things through. Iannah’s assassins couldn’t have done this… could they?
“Come.” Scry instructed. Nothing worried her beyond the moment. The blademaster led them further and further from where they needed to be and away from immediate harm. Ral’s thoughts lingered on the web of traps that guided them. And on a spider stalking them in the night.
The Ambush - The Trap
The street was narrow and offered nothing but sky for cover. It turns out that open air did little to stop volleys of arrows. Wizard’s powers proved a better shield, “Fall back, do not let them surround us!” Arrows bounced off an invisible barrier over his head and clattered to the road harmlessly. Katerei extended the shield further in more spectacular fashion. Bands of water whirled through the air and swatted projectiles aside.
At the far edge of their protection Shanadar flirted with danger. Staff a blur, the enforcer parried a sword strike and Andru swept into the opening, slamming the soldier to the ground with a concussive blast from his rune covered weapon. But these were not common ruffians and every man that went down did so only after a fierce battle with the pair. The group was pushed back by the skill and tenacity of their surprise attackers.
Talos came to Cythera for adventure and his first day in Cademia did not disappoint. He wondered what had happened to Silverfish in the confusion. A silver streak raced out of the darkness and crashed into a rooftop in answer. Archers were taken wholly off-guard by the surprise attack. Lightning flashed and men screamed in their pain as that roof’s attacks went silent.
The warrior’s focus dropped back to the ground. He guarded Katerei and Wizard as the group retreated. Silence had laid his battle armor over him almost instantly. He was not ungrateful to the armor’s caution. He watched the shadows of every alley as if a dozen armed men might run screaming from each at any moment. For all he knew they could. Selax led the way and hunted for an escape from the trap. It would not be found easily, “Dead end.” the elemental called back.
The warrior’s heart sank as he looked back to see it was so. A wall stared back at him in stern denial. They retreated down the wrong path, “Get to the door.” Katerei commanded, pointing with a free hand. It was a heavy oaken thing nestled in the side of the building. It refused to budge as Talos tried the handle. The soldiers advanced behind him, “Now would be good Talos.” Urged the healer. The warrior rammed it with his shoulder with a loud crack. He broke the door’s spirit along with its lock as it flung open. Splinters scattered for cover in the dark room as Talos gave chase, “Get inside!”
Shimmer’s golden glow cast a dim light that played over the strangely glistening floorboards. There were windows, though they were dirty and too small for a soldier to climb through. Selax swept in behind him, all liquid grace and killing intent, “There must be another way out. Block the door to slow them down.” He marched off into the next room in search of an exit he seemed sure was there.
Wizard came next, then Katerei, then Andru. Shanadar backed into the doorway and brought his weapon down on his opponent’s wrist with an audible crack. The man’s sword thudded to the floor as he cried out and the enforcer slammed the door in his face. Andru shouldered a heavy bookcase in front of it, “That should hold for a little while…” He screwed up his expression, “Do you smell that?”
Katerei sniffed the air suspiciously. Her eyes widened in a brief moment of horror, “Oil.” A thin layer of oil bathed half the room and caused that strange glistening Talos hadn’t been quick enough to puzzle out. Glass shattered as a trio of flaming arrows burst through the windows and thunked into the wooden floor. A fire roared to life like a summoned demon.
“Get out, this way!” Wizard bellowed from somewhere beyond the next room. Katerei froze where she stood as the fire reached for her with flaming claws. Shanadar bolted across the room, grabbed her by the arm, and made for the exit without breaking stride. Talos was not far behind. The blaze wrapped his armor in molten heat and hounded him as he ran. The street was almost as unforgiving. Arrows rained down on them still and Wizard worked hard to keep the archers from finding their marks.
Something hit Talos in the chest and splashed over him, “What was—“ An eye-blink later Kat smashed water across his armor hard enough to stagger him, “…that?” Talos asked in confusion as the water collected back in Katerei’s hands.
“They’re throwing skins full of oil.” She explained, having grasped her senses once more, “We have to keep moving. Where’s Andru?”
“I thought he was behind me.” The warrior looked back at the cackling inferno that was once the doorway. The fire mocked the fate of his friend.
One of the windows blasted open as a man leapt through with flaming talons trailing him. Andru rolled to his feet with a shower of glass shards tumbling from his clothes and hair. Wafts of smoke drifted from him lazily. Coughing, he hastily smothered a stubborn fire on his singed robes. The man coughed into his sleeve and wiped watery eyes as he nodded down the street where their pursuers regrouped.
“Another dead end.” Shanadar intoned grimly as he faced the solid wall behind them, "I could have sworn there was a street here."
“This isn’t right.” Selax said slowly.
“No it is not.” Wizard agreed. The old mage closed his eyes and waved a hand at the wall blocking their path. It seemed to shimmer like the air over a hot road. In another moment it was gone completely and the street continued as though the wall had never been, “They are creating illusions to confound us and keep the advantage. We must escape this trap before we can truly fight back.”
“You heard him,” the elemental announced, “move!”
Electricity crackled and drew Talos’s eyes to the house opposite their escape route. A half dozen soldiers stood between he and that building. But at the top his friend struggled alone, “Wait!” Katerei called as he rushed to meet his foes.
Archers found him the moment he left Wizard’s protection. A shaft whistled passed his face. Another pinged off his shoulder. He ignored them and crossed swords with the first soldier to meet him. The weapons rang like a bell struck with a hammer. Talos’s strength won the exchange. The soldier stumbled back and almost lost hold of his weapon as he brought it back up to defend. Talos smashed through the man’s weakened guard and sent the blade to the floor with a stream of blood to follow. The soldier went down clutching his chest as his fellows circled Talos cautiously, “Leave the brute to me.” Came an order from the door of the house Talos sought. A plain looking man in a simple gray uniform without the trappings of rank stepped onto the street. He pulled an arrow from the quiver on his back and drew it back on his shortbow, “Stand clear.”
The soldiers gave Talos an even wider berth and all but ignored him completely as they moved passed. He watched them go before turning his gaze on the bowman. “Stand aside stranger.” He stepped over the body of his fallen foe and the growing pool of red, “If you drop your weapon I won’t have to kill you.” The stranger let his arrow fly. Something was odd about it. Silence screamed a warning just before the impact. It sounded like thunder. Talos’s left pauldron shattered under a blow that staggered him. He dropped to a knee as bits of armor tinkled to the ground around him. The sheer power of the blast stunned him. The armor’s warning was the only thing that kept the arrow from finding his heart. No normal bolt could be so strong. The man smirked and loosed another shaft.
Talos brought up Shimmer at the last moment. The golden blade barely deflected the arrow but the missile ripped the weapon free of his hand. It spun end over end into the distance behind him, “No more brave words?” the stranger asked icily. An invisible force slammed Talos onto his back hard enough to rattle his brain and blur his vision. He tried to get up but something unseen held him down. Silence was trying to tell him something. A warning. A plea. He was too out of it to understand. He heard his attacker through ears stuffed with cotton, “I don’t know who you are or how you managed to survive the first two,” the stranger placed a boot on Talos’s chest and notched another arrow, “but now this game is over.”
A shadow leapt behind the man and another raced to intercept. The two clashed and startled him enough to throw the arrow precious inches off course. The shaft pierced the ground instead of Talos’s face. A cold sweat left the earlier heat forgotten. The stranger turned to the two men who fought behind him. Shanadar locked weapons with a soldier Talos hadn’t seen before. If not for that man the enforcer would have opened the back of the bowman’s skull. The soldier was clearly at a different level than those they’d faced thus far. His every move screamed of skilled and practiced killing, “You left yourself open Jacob.” The man was saying.
The bowman grunted, “Seems I owe you Lieutenant. Remind me to apologize to your Captain for suggesting we didn’t need the help.” The officer listened with half an ear as Shanadar met him blow for blow. Their weapons sang a furious hymn in the night. Talos struggled to rise and help. To move at all. He barely managed to twitch in Jacob’s grasp.
As the two separated Jacob looked at Shanadar, only looked, and the Lieutenant shook his head, “Leave this to me, sir.” He added the last as an afterthought.
Jacob shrugged, “As you wish.”
“Jacob, Creon!” a girl’s voice called from the house where Silver still fought. A young woman emerged flanked by more of Creon's men. Concern showed on her face, “Something’s happened.”
Jacob turned to the girl to talk quietly. Creon kept an eye on Talos and Shanadar as his men came to flank him, “ What?! ” Jacob erupted. The girl only nodded and seemed eager to be away. The bowman turned to the Lieutenant, “Will you be able to finish here without us?”
Jacob sighed, “Tonight the glory is yours Lieutenant. I have wayward children to collect and maybe murder afterward.” The girl behind him cringed. Creon nodded again and snapped off a volley of terse orders to his soldiers. A few men ran up to him and, with a crisp salute, one of them sprinted for the house Silver fought atop. The other men flowed around Shanadar as the Lieutenant gave the enforcer his full attention once more.
With a wave the bowman left with the girl in tow. The pair seemed to disappear as some new illusion hid them from view. As soon as the man was out of sight Talos could feel the weight lifting off of him and in moments he could move again. Shanadar noticed his stirring and sprang into another attack as if on cue. Andru appeared at Talos’s side almost immediately and hoisted him to his feet, “Katerei sends her regards.”
“Huh?” Being knocked around had not made a poet of Talos.
“The message was more like, ‘Please make sure that fool doesn’t get himself killed.’ But I’m sure the sentiment was there.”
The warrior staggered forward, “Silverfish flew to that rooftop, I have to help.”
“Indeed. But he can fly off the roof just as well, observe.” He gestured to the silver figure rising from the roof in question and diving into another nest of snipers. A second barrage of crackling shocks and pained screams told the story of archers who faired no better than the first. “Our escape however will be far more pedestrian, and dangerous, thanks to your ill advised rescue attempt.” Andru indicated the soldiers who abandoned their commander's fight with Shanadar and moved to engage he and Talos, “I trust you can walk without falling on your face now, I’m really not equipped to carry you. Oh, and I believe you dropped this, you’ll be needing it shortly.” Andru handed Talos his golden blade and readied for another fight.
This post has been edited by Ragnar0k : 02 June 2010 - 12:45 AM
Cademia, Day 8
The four adventures, after resting for the night, had deployed their detective skills and were again busy searching the streets of Cademia for any clue regarding the whereabouts of ominous strangers or a wanted necromancer. Unfortunately the story wasn’t unfolding to be as eventful (or even successful) as Yomu made it out to be when he had talked to Andru earlier.
Slowly, while he walked down the beaten paths of Cademia, a whisper grew louder in his mind. He took an aside from the group, as if to examine a section of road.
"If you'd really like to know, he went that way," the voice said plainly.
Who did? Yomu answered.
Went that way.
But didn't you just say - I mean - Then why did you contact me?
The sly laughter of Firecat internally mocked Yomu.
Yomu’s fist struck the grainy path in agitation. Away with these riddles. I lack the knowledge of who you are, why you aid me, and if you even—are. I admit, I cannot interpret these happenings, but I also admit that's what's troubling about these deeds.
Yomu felt a soft hand press against his back. He looked back to the calming sight of Katerei standing nearby. "Yomu, what's wrong? You've been acting odd ever since the matter involving Berossus." she said with a comforting touch.
Acting? Yomu thought. Such ample truth Katerei had just unknowingly spoken.
"I'm sorry," Yomu replied coldly. "Recently, I feel as if every action w-" Yomu cut himself off, he no longer felt as if he was a part of this group, "I take is pointless; it's all beyond my grasp and nothing I will can stop these storm clouds massing around us."
Katerei looked over to Shanadar and Andru, who were caught up in investigating a market table with a suspiciously broken leg. "You're not the only one, Yomu. I wish all our friends were here. I'm sure if we were all together, we'd already have all of this behind us." She tugged on the lofty fetcher’s shoulder to turn him to face her. "But we shouldn't give up our resolve. I'm sure the sun will burn up your storm clouds eventually. Stay strong, Yomu, for the good of all of us."
Yomu tried to keep up an optimistic expression as Katerei went over to the newcomer and seasoned enforcer, but faking emotions wasn't one of his strong points.
"Good job, but hopefully you're as quick on your feet as you are with your tongue," Firecat spoke.
I cannot keep lying to them, for I am more loyal to my companions than a specter.
"Don't be so restricted by guilt, every action you've taken thus far has been for the benefit of the other mice. However, they could benefit still… if you were less common, in fact the whole city could be better off from that. Though, I have something in mind of course, or whomever's mind this is."
Yomu sighed. Once again your riddles bring me to no enlightenment.
"Then I'll allow thee, these hints... one!: While it may seem like sunny weather now, a cloud pack is brewing black over Cademia. Now cannot you feel it? The restlessness of the wind?"
Yomu could feel it. It was a feeling that told him to escape as fast as his legs allowed, a sensation of danger all too familiar.
My reason for trusting you remains as murky as the ocean’s depths, and you; I cannot even—see—you. Tell me, are you even real, or do you only exist in the depths of my shadow?
"Trust?!" It was the first time Yomu had heard Firecat sound even remotely surprised, and luckily for now, the only. "I have only your best interests in mind, little mouse," Firecat said, regaining the softness in his voice. "Count for me the number of cats that have found you in their jaws? It's rather looked down upon you know, when people go blaming the voices in their head for the actions they take."
Firecat had a point, he had only given Yomu suggestions, and it was not as if he had a hand in the trouble that had plagued Cademia. Was Yomu really just misplacing the blame for what had happened recently, having run out of connections to any other alternative? For now, that was the conclusion he sided with.
What did you have planned? Yomu thought, with a bit of shame.
"Ah-The weather forecast changes once more!" and Firecat's light laughter rang through once more.
It was dark underground, the place where the very earth blocked the sun, and its creatures created their own world. Yomu had been cautioned to not use his own torches, but that would not stop him from lighting the ones attached to the wall. The reddish glow brought him away from the isolation of the dark, and into the confines of a cold, dark cellar; a grim reminder that he was alone on this quest.
He expected at least Katerei, perhaps Shanadar, to be worried about him, but he hoped it wasn't enough for them to come after him. For whatever reason, he didn't want them to be entangled in the concerns of Firecat, and for now he relied on his new and now former companion Andru to have successfully relayed his message to the others, as he headed to the ominous iron door ahead.
The somber rogue entered through the already busted door, into quite a modest and tidy bedroom of sorts. It seemed almost too normal to be kept in such a hidden place. Furthermore, Yomu had no idea an underground structure even existed underneath the noble house Commana. However, Yomu did always have an eye for the house for sale next to it, but could never find himself in the presence of ten-thousand oboli (not that he could even carry such a huge amount).
Instinctually, he paid little attention to this room, and made his way through another iron door on the other side of the room. With the ever fainter light emanating from the hall behind, Yomu could discern a few narrow passages branching out into deeper darkness. At a loss for which way to go, Yomu contacted Firecat.
I've breached the main chamber. There are a few tunnels, but I won't be able to see without bringing out the flame of my torches.
"Very well, but don't forget what happens when mice dally with fire. Hurry now, hurry!" the voice echoed, not giving any indication on which way to proceed.
Once out of the darkness, Yomu fell back into the ways of a fetcher. He examined everything quickly and carefully, and he remembered that things in Cythera were never quite as simple as they would seem. A few steps more forward, Yomu was proven right, as he was teleported into another part of the passage.
A maze. He realized, A magic one at that!
Teasingly he heard the tittering, "Aren't mice good at those?"
Yomu navigated the spatially distorted and narrow corridors until he had memorized every section of enchanted floor, and where it sent him, but still no sign of what ever he was looking for. There was also another door, but Firecat instructed him that it his ‘prize’ lie in the maze alone. Foreseeing a stalemate, he considered his other options.
He had encountered a dusty skeleton (not the most pleasant of company), maybe whoever was here before him was looking for the same thing; could they left a clue as to its whereabouts? But I've mapped this whole area. So there must be a room that can't be accessed without teleportation.
With this in mind, the unaccompanied rouge made his way over to the pale bones of the fallen stranger. The dreadful scene displayed no obvious clues; the man seemed to have died of starvation. Examining the scene more closely, he found that that the man had pulled out bricks in the wall, in fact, Yomu began to notice that many empty cavities were spread all over the wall of this vestibule.
So that is the answer. A ‘switch’ must open the way, and the poor soul was looking for it before passing on, but judging by the way his manor of brick pulling (and the fact that he’s dead), I doubt he knew where it was.
Yomu pondered once more. If I were hiding a switch to a secret room, then the only matter that would affect my decision is what I am hiding. Firecat still has not told me what these errands are for, but I can at least guess that I am either collecting components, or an object strong enough to save the city by itself. Knowing how well other fetchers have combed Cademia, it must be ingredients. Which means that unlike guarding a rare treasure, I'd make it easy to get to, but only if it's easy for me.
Yomu recalled the quaint room he had seen earlier. Surely the entrance would be placed near there, for convenience.
Time seemed to drag by as Yomu searched the entrance of the maze brick by brick. The calmly brawler finally found a section of bricks that would not budge, unlike the loose stones where he had found the skeleton. Carefully he felt the bricks, searching for any quiver of looseness, until...
Yomu felt a low rumble coming from all sides that quickly subsided back into a dead silence. Walking back to the first mystic tile, Yomu held his torch over it to see if anything had changed. Without anything noticeable to cause doubt, he took a step further into the hallway.
As Yomu mosaic'd back into reality he could scarcely make out odd red objects clustered around him. Suddenly he realized what he had stumbled upon, Explosives!
Without a moment to lose he put out his torch and contacted Firecat. I'm surrounded by bombs!
To which the ever strange voice responded, "Ah good! You'll need about fifty candles for this cake. Did you bring anything to hold that many?" Firecat questioned playfully.
Of course! Yomu retorted without thinking.
Firecat's tone lost its playfulness, and grew more curious instead, "Oh? How.. intriguing."
Without thinking another word, Yomu flipped open his pouch and began shoveling in the nearby scarlet bundles; trying shake off the thought of a violent death running through his imagination.
Once finished Yomu navigated the shadow engulfed road out with a mind as quiet as the underground. Back in the light of the world, Fire cat informed him of his next destination.
So I'm collecting ingredients after all.
Dipping into the shadows and squeezing through the occasional hole in the wall when needed, Yomu bounded across the city, making sure to avoid everyone. Before arriving at the slums, he noticed the sun starting its slow progression down towards the horizon. He paused, and hoped that his friends were safe, if there was any danger at all.
Making sure the coast was clear of any ruffians or beggars, Yomu advanced into the empty room stuffed into the back of the alleyway. A pungent odor of mold and water saturated the alcove. On the right hand wall, mushrooms had almost finished their aggressive and colorful takeover.
With ease, Yomu found the secret door Firecat had informed him of; more evidence that Firecat was an unseen spectator somewhere nearby.
Carefully he took a ladder down into the darkness of yet another underground chamber. The now paranoid explorer was reluctant to light another of his torches, but found no stench of powder.
Stone walls and floor, gates and levers , Yomu quietly thought, typical dungeon. However this dungeon was less harsh than he had come to expect: someone had come before him and triggered all the correct levers, raising the gates to a secluded room at the far corner.
Similar to the maze he had been in earlier, someone else had tried to find something down here. The only difference being that this person had succeeded. And considering the scattered bits of golems on the floor, he must have been quite strong.
Another bedroom? Yomu was surprised again coming across another humble abode in such a bizarre place. Though, this one at least seemed to belong to an alchemist, judging by the ample ingredients and purification equipment located in the accompanying workroom.
The weathered fetcher began to search through the dusty old room. He was looking for a special Grimoire, (if being the color red was anything special) but unsurprisingly; its location wasn't so obvious. Yomu had searched both rooms and had found nothing more than the supplies of an alchemist, and the evidence of someone before him also rummaging through the room.
Having helped many times before, Yomu began to meditate on his situation.
I imagine Katerei could sniff the book out, and surely Shanadar could have figured out if whoever was here before had found it, or at least its location.
Yomu smiled at the thought, but it was fleeting.
That path washes away as this one gains more definition.
Ah! That’s it! he thought in surprise.
"Charming, have you located the flame for your candles?"
Firecat? he asked, not realizing how vivid his thoughts had been. Firecat seemed to realize this as well, his signature laughter a clear sign. Not yet, but soon.
There was only one possible place the book could be if it hadn't been found already. Yomu ran down the halls, taking note as to which gates were open or closed. Once he finished his count he navigated his ways to the levers which controlled them. One by one he flipped them making sure that the all the gates would end up closed.
Finally it appeared as if he had done it, finding himself at the completely wrong side of the chamber. Not breaking a sweat, he reached into his pouch and pulled out a worn out red wizard hat.
With a POOF of smoke a mouse sporting a red wizard's hat appeared on the floor, and began to scurry through the bars of the gates towards the opposite end of the keep.
The hat returned to the pouch from which it came, and in its absence a torch emerged, and from the light emanating off the torch, Yomu confirmed his theory.
On the wall to the left of the door to the alchemist’s chamber, a section had gone missing opening up to a hidden room. Yomu left his torch outside, as the purple glow from inside the room was enough to see clearly (not to mention the threat of explosives).
The modest enclosure was only home to a small wooden pedestal, atop of which was clearly a Grimoire, however this one was special, it was red.
This has to be it!
"Tell me, what do you see?"
Yomu cursed himself for accidentally summoning Firecat once more. The room is empty say for a pedestal and the book atop it, it's a Grimoire. Strange though, how I've never come across a red Grimoire before.
Yomu characteristically went to open the magical book, to see what spells it contained. As the rogue placed his hands on the book, he could feel the power weaved into its cover.
It won't reveal its secrets.
"The oyster works hard to protect the pearl inside. What a mouse needs is a proper knife."
Slowly, he carried it into his pouch. As soon as he closed the flap, the room dimmed until the purple glow from the crystals ordaining the wall was gone entirely. An ill omen.
He went briskly to grab his nearby torch, but as he did, he heard the ceiling start to loosen. Suddenly two dark holes appeared above him, out of which came... dust?
Following the copious amounts of dust dispensed upon the ground were two large maces. An expired boobytrap? Yomu thought, figuring that actual golems were supposed to come out instead.
Not dwelling too long on the idea, Yomu quickly proceeded to the exit.
Darkness. What a common thought. For it was everywhere: outside, inside. There was no escape, excluding the light one could create. But eventually the light's shadows would engulf it, at least here, at least now.
This world so saturated by darkness, a darkness no one can't see, and will do nothing about. I can see like they can, but I can understand as they cannot.
Laughter filled the darkness, and accompanied the one light it contained.
The light steadied. Is the world forever to be imprisoned by darkness only because events played out differently at one point in its history? We shall see.
The light shone bright into the darkness, as shadows came back at him, from a world of light.
Yomu scanned the perimeter of the Judge's estate. It was all too soon since he had last been here. The memories of that night had stubbornly remained a thorn in his side. At least his companions were not here (as far as he could gather) and it appeared that no major fights had yet broken out in the city. It was also surprisingly early in the day, as it would not be twilight for another hour or so. Regardless, it would be suicide to try and break in now. Many guards patrolled the perimeter, protecting the three mages inside.
Yomu sighed, looks like he would have to cope with cheese cravings all over again.
Unexpectedly just as Yomu began putting on his hat, the all familiar whisper crept back into his mind, "Don't fret, little mouse. There's still time fo-"
Stange. This was the first time the voice hadn't finished a thought. Yomu couldn't tell why at first, but he felt strongly that it had a correlation to the hat itself.
For now he couldn't miss an opportunity to sneak past the nearest guard into the back garden.
As a fetcher, Yomu had grown to appreciate bad construction work over the years in his profession. Nothing made getting those rare items easier than a flimsy wall with a crack or a barred gate.
In no time the small gray mouse had arrived at the garden. A guard was stationed here, and like a hawk he continued to look unwaveringly at either entrance, and then to the top of the surrounding stone wall, but regardless of such rigid precautions, he didn't notice the small red hatted mouse quickly making its way over to the back of the sundial.
This area of the ground had been heavily walked upon, recently. First the skeleton in the maze, then the opened way in the catacombs, now a heavily used entrance. Someone, perhaps even a group of people, had to have come to these places before me. Yomu wondered if again he would find evidence of a failed venture, or could all of this be planned?
Ready for anything (say for a cat or owl) the mouse passed through the obscure hole, into a false belly of the earth.
He felt the cool hardness of stone on his feet, and with a POOF the figure of a man dwelled in the shadows.
Comforting torchlight revealed yet another structure composed of stone bricks and corridors. Yomu wondered if there wasn't an entire city underneath the mother city, Cademia.
Firecat's instructions were vague as always; he only said that he needed to find a tree as white as the sun’s light, but all Yomu could find was the ruins of some stronghold; the main hall of which had suffered a major cave in.
Displeased with such a quick defeat, he reached out into the darkness of his mind. Firecat, I can discern no tree of the sun.
Strangely there was a delay, "I was unaware of a fourth blind mouse. Even still, I cannot conjure a way to draw a map that consists of only a single straight line."
Yomu realized what this meant, and it was possibly comforting. The tree which Yomu sought must be beyond the cave-in in front of him, and if Firecat didn't know that, then either he isn’t watching, or I'm being tested.
Smirking, Yomu whipped out his hat, unknowingly interrupting Firecat again.
"Oh you are quite the-"
The oddity appears once more. Yomu felt a relief he had not felt for quite some time. This must be tied to the hat, a connection that Firecat probably hasn’t realized. Is this also why the hat had been acting so strangely earlier? For now, Yomu didn't have the time to answer the many questions rapidly flooding his mind, at the moment, there was a city to save.
With many kicks of his rodent legs and numerous swipes of his tiny arms, the red trimmed mouse made its way through the remnants of the forgotten fortress.
Faintly, a pale glow began penetrating the rubble surrounding him. As he crawled out of the debris, he quietly squeaked out the dust in his lungs.
Not what he was expecting. This chamber was much bigger than the one at the other side of the cave-in; in fact, it challenged in scale the mammoth structures of Phynx and Land King Hall.
Just how deep into the earth has my journey taken me? ... and why is that tree growing out of the ceiling?
These might not have been the first questions to cross the rogue's mind. He might also have asked why it was glowing white, or what the purpose was of the wall-size door behind it was (or even the why the door had such a colossal lock adorning it). It might have been because Yomu needed a branch from this tree, easily a few stories above the ground.
Not worrying too much, he simply reached into his pouch and took out the Hermes Cloak. As soon the buckles were tight around his chest, he spoke the magic words, " To the heavens. " The low hum of something spinning echoed in the cave as the false angel began to float upward.
Staring at the tree’s bark was like gazing at the sun without hurting the eyes. However as Yomu got closer, he noticed something not as pleasant as the rest of the tree; it was growing sickly black fruit; not like any fruit he had seen before.
He noticed one fall as he came closer, it hit the ground with the splatting noise rotten fruit usually makes, only in this case it was followed by a long hiss. Not the most comforting of sounds in this situation.
With caution, he approached a nearby branch, and reached out. The wood was softer than any tree he had felt before.
He tried to break the branch away, but his hands could not free the stock. He drifted in closer to the brilliant bole, and positioned his foot against the trunk.
With a mighty push he attempted to free the bough from its tenacious mother. Nevertheless, the tree stayed whole. Not giving up too easily, Yomu went to reach into his pouch, only to find that he could not. The branch which he was trying to release now would not release him, and the trunk which he had been trying to break away from now held Yomu with the same strength it held for its offshoots.
The constrained brawler couldn't fight the instinct to escape, shaking himself (and the tree) violently in the effort.
A sound came faintly from above, another fruit had come loose. The saggy bulb struck a branch on the way down, and with a burst, the hissing noise reached Yomu’s ears. The branch was close enough for Yomu to see the fruit’s juices corroding the tree’s pure white bark.
The plan came together simple enough, use the fruit juice to free himself, and break the branch off in the process, the trick would be to get some fruit, all while hoping the juice wasn’t as painful as it sounded.
Looking up he saw some fruit nearer to the ceiling than the others; it was the only one over his position, but it also looked less ripe, or rotten, than the others.
He began to push against the trunk of the tree with all his might. It was working; the whole tree seemed to be shaking, with some of the other more ripe fruit already falling off. He could see his mark beginning to shake as well, in a final effort he shook his whole body, and then he heard the snap.
He saw the fruit falling towards him, right on track, except it was slightly off, it was drifting right for his back. It hit before he could come up with a reaction. It rebounded off his back, and with no way to see it, he tried to close his legs and arms in hope up catching it. Just as his legs closed he felt a large round object get stuck between them, it was the fruit, but it had thankfully not yet broken.
There was only one way out of this now, he’d have to crush it as close to his feet as possible and hope the juice would be enough to free himself.
After carefully letting the fruit slide down his legs, it was as close to his feet as possible, and with a deep breath, Yomu squashed the soft globe. He immediately felt the liquid all over his lower legs and feet, just as quickly he felt a searing pain and heard the sound of hissing.
He could not help but scream in agony as his legs began to burn without fire. His lower-half became weightless as the entangled fruit-pilferer began to hang from the tree by only his cemented hands.
Yomu spent all his energy suppressing the blistering pain in his legs, as he raised them up to the branch he was a part of. Without his hands free, there was only one way he could see himself getting out of this alive; he would have to try breaking it off with his legs alone.
His cries of agony echoed throughout the cavern as he spread the dripping mixture of juice and blood covering his legs upon a section of the branch. Just like he had witnessed before, the pure white bark turned a corrupted black, as the hissing noise returned once again.
Covered in sweat and tears, Yomu began to hop is legs into the air and strike the affected area of the branch with his smoldering feet.
Crack after crack shook the tree. Every jab of his feet against the tree sent stabs of pain throughout his whole body until his legs went numb, and the only way he knew they were still there was sound of the branch slowly breaking off.
It happened suddenly and almost without him noticing; what had given him any indication was the rush of air he felt surround his body, he was falling. The Hermes Cloak protected him well and kept the motionless fetcher from reaching the ground.
With the magic words, “ To the earth. ” Yomu was brought back softly to the ground, and through his bloodshot eyes he could see the soft pale glow of the branch slowly fading into the surrounding darkness. The crippled rogue felt his hands slipping away as the branch seemingly lost its power over him.
Trembling, he reached into his pouch and pulled out a glass jar filled with what looked like black sand. One leg at a time he removed his melded boots and the remnants of cloth around his legs. The smell of steaming flesh almost took his wakeful mind, but he couldn’t stop now. Slowly he popped the cork off the bottle and poured the obsidian liquid it contained onto his burns.
The obsidian or stone potion was normally used for quickly mending broken bones, though Yomu had found it could patch up cuts and burns just as well, it was just the scars it couldn’t do much about.
He laid there, broken, in the dead silence of the underground, the only light faintly coming from above. The thoughts that came into his mind were his life and he would not share them with anyone; they were his and they at least gave him some comfort.
He wiped the blur from his eyes and turned back to his wounds, I’ll require the length of an hour before I can learn the fate of my legs.
Yomu sighed, he was tired and in great pain. He laid back down against the cool stone and closed his eyes. He’d sleep for a moment, and when he awoke he’d finish this mess once and for all.
Surprisingly, the posted guard that Yomu had seen before was gone, and now the lone adventurer stood barefoot in the back garden of the judge’s estate. The obsidian potion had done its job well; Yomu’s feet had healed up (even if they were very sore), with only his lower legs still remaining in the cast. However he grew wary to find light, and see just how much the fruit had scarred his limbs.
A breath of the night’s air felt comforting after being underground for so long. The sun had set while Yomu was away. Unfortunately the night was not as quiet as he had hoped.
As he listened carefully, Yomu could make out the crackling of flames and swords clashing in the distance. Was he too late? Was the city taken? He had to know, and only one being seemed to have any knowledge on the matter.
He called out to Firecat.
I hear something- a battle going on outside the castle walls!
"Trust me now, little mouse? This was the storm I warned you of. You haven't much time left to help your friends. Quickly prepare the ingredients, so that the cooking may begin!"
I've no idea of what to do!
"Oh right, I nearly forgot, but if I'm only in your shadow, doesn’t that make it you who forgot?"
There is no time for riddles now Firecat! Tell me what must be done!
Firecat chuckled "Very well, you can begin by emptying all of those lovely red sticks onto the ground, the more circular the better mind you. Oh and you’ll need plenty of cooking space, a yard for example. I doubt the judge would mind, don’t you?"
Not caring who was waiting for him, Yomu made his way through the old metal doors of the estate, into the main entrance.
No guards? Surely there should be some!
With no time to consider what was going on in Cademia, the would-be chef began to ‘prepare his ingredients.’
Yomu realized he hadn't a blade for such a task as cutting sticks of explosives, the only other object he had that was sharp enough was his thunder lance, and once spark from that and he would be blown to dust. There was no other alternative however, so he fell on a rationale: as long as the lance didn't touch the ground he would be fine.
He kept the crimson sticks in bundles and laid them in a circular outline on the ground. Slowly he drew out his Thunder Lance; its blue metal void of even the smallest amount of electrostatic.
He breathed deeply and slowly, trying to stay calm as he swung the lance in repeated swoops, just narrowly missing the ground, but slicing the tops off of the red sticks below.
Once it was done, he let out a sigh of relief, and withdrew the sleeping lance.
"Tic toc now."
All the dust has been emptied into a pile, now what?
"Now we're ready to retrieve that pearl."
Yomu now stood before the mound of gunpowder; the feel of the Judge’s lawn on his bare feet was somehow relaxing. With the cursed ivory branch in his right hand, he struck the red Grimoire clenched in his left (following Firecat’s instructions). Suddenly, the book began to float in midair and with a loud—crack—it flipped open to a seemingly random page.
"Quickly, throw the branch into the pile!" The voice demanded.
As soon as the pale stock hit the stockpile of raven colored powder, Yomu felt the air grow heavy all around him. In the distance, he heard the sounds of war growing nearer.
"Carefully mouse, repeat after me! Senventeor!"
Yomu could barely find the right way to move his lips, "Sventhor!"
The air grew lighter.
"No, no! That just won't do! There's no time Yomu, open your mind to me, let me speak through you."
The prospect of being controlled by someone, especially this specter, shook Yomu deeply, just what was happening? But Yomu didn't have the luxury of time to work the problem out on his own. Looking through gate he could see guards coming to investigate his commotion.
Fine I will submit, just hurry… and save them!
Yomu thought for a moment that he heard Firecat laugh before his mouth filled with words he had never heard, nor spoke before.
"Senventeor!" his voice was not his own; its pitch disturbed him.
The air sank once more.
A strong breeze stirred the powder. The guards grew closer still.
Yomu was unsure of what he saw following the last word. The gunpowder seemed to be engulfed by shadow, or at least swallowed by the earth.
The earth shook violently, halting the guards just a few feet away. The shadows Yomu had seen moments ago returned as terrible ghostly extremities rising out of the ground and latching themselves onto the handful of guards that had just entered the area. As the men screamed in confusion and sheer horror, the dark tentacles pulled them into the earth, staining the ground a deep red.
No! Yomu screamed in his mind. Why are they dieing?!
Yomu spoke but his voice was not his own, "It was necessary Yomu, try not to think about it too much."
Yomu felt Firecat's presence lift away from him, grabbing his mouth to see if it was really him now controlling it.
Once more the voice whispered into his mind, though this time with a much more urgent tone, "Time to scurry little mouse, scurry before the cats arrive, time to let the dog take care of them."
Yomu ignored what ever thoughts he had of Firecat and ran away, deep into the isolating darkness of the night.
Only moments after the ghostly tentacles vanished into the ground, the quaking earth began to give rise to an unnatural abomination.
Berossus sat in the castle's front hall, calmly reading some ancient tome. Outside, across the city, a great war was being waged. Cries of battle, the clashing of steel, and screams of agony filled the air. Inside, it was business as usual. The sun had already set, and the castle was lit with torches and candlelight. Berossus casually glanced in the direction of a side room where the other mages were "recuperating." There was nothing wrong there, the door was still closed, and Berossus had given specific instructions that only he enter and tend to the mages, for their safety. Yet, why did he have the feeling that something was amiss?
The ground began to shake violently, and a deafening crash shook the ceiling, loosening bits of dirt and small rocks which fell to the floor. "Guards!" Berossus leapt out of his seat and charged in the direction of the main door. Something was definitely wrong; he only had to find out what. The building shuddered again as another thunderous crash sounded from above. His hand reaching for the door, Berossus' mind wandered ahead of him. He didn't sense anything alive immediately outside, but he could no longer sense the guards either. "Guards!" he shouted again as he pulled the door open.
Even though the sun had already set, it was still very light outside. In addition the sun's crimson glow across the sky, the brightness of several roaring fires on the other side of town had illuminated the twilight even more. Berossus was met with an unexpected sight. Before him, towering over the castle's now damaged ceiling stood the hunched figure of a giant, easily 30 feet tall. This colossal being was not made of flesh, but of hardened stone and crimson earth. Its face was not a face, but a stone mask with red engravings outlining its terrible stoic expression. The overall appearance of the creature imparted to Berossus that it was some sort of summoned golem, only larger than any he had ever seen before. As Berossus examined the spectacle, the monstrosity let out a deep, haunting roar as it raised its enormous arms and slammed its blackened fist into another section of the castle roof.
Noticing Berossus standing outside the castle entrance, the creature turned its focus and stretched out a hand to grab him. Berossus was taken aback. Fighting a gigantic golem on his front lawn was not how he had imagined spending his evening; to make matters worse, the creature seemed specifically designed to attack him. "GUARDS!" he shouted again. No one was in sight. Berossus sighed. It would be impossible to fend off a creature such as this using only a normal mage's spells. He would have to act out of character, but at least no one would be around to see it.
As the golem reached for him, Berossus put up his hands in front of him like a buffer of some kind. The air around him began to gather towards him, and then was released in a wave of energy that rippled through the air towards the golem's hand. The wall of telekinetic energy struck it with its full force, crushing most of the golem's hand back into lifeless earth, but dissipating before causing any more significant damage.
With part of its hand disintegrated, chunks of dirt, clay, and stone fell to the ground. The golem seemed to let out a muffled cry of agony as a small cloud of black powder was released from it into the air. As the powder reached a nearby torch on the outside castle wall, it caused the flame to dance and erupt with uncontrollable convulsions. Realizing how combustible the rest of the golem must be, Berossus edged closer to the doorway. The golem had withdrawn its arm, and started to reach its other hand towards Berossus.
"That thing is a walking bomb!" he exclaimed to himself. Berossus headed back inside and slammed the door. He hadn't been too eager to get into a one-on-one duel with this creature in the first place, and even though his powers weren't fire-based, he had no intentions of endangering himself in such a potentially explosive fight. "Especially not in a town so replete with 'heroes'," he finished his thought out loud as he headed back to his chair and book. The ceiling shook again as the golem resumed its barrage on the castle roof. Berossus determined that the roof would hold long enough for someone to notice that the castle was being attacked.
This post has been edited by The Wizard : 04 July 2010 - 11:13 PM