From the plateau, the crystal spyres where a sight to behold. Reed had never seen the Crystal City; but he'd been curious, ever since Dani had told him about it. Sadly the city itself was off limits for him.
Go down. Marvellous city. Pretty city. Diversion. Fun. Nothing happens to you. Nothing can. Go down. Have fun, fun, FUN...
So that's what it was like when the shadows whispered to you. A constant babble, echoes over echoes, and the message was clear. Indulge yourself! Noone can harm you, now.
"Once this is over, you will leave me, or I will leave you," Reed said.
A shadow condensed, formed a vaguely humanoid shape and spoke. "This is a world of plenty, now. People use magic, people abuse Magic. We owe you, you and the mage, and the healer. Even our own rogue child. The barren days are over; these lands, once again, have a past, a present, a future, steeped in magic. We are so glad, you remember us, and call to us. Your legacy, our gratitude. The shadow legion will protect you. Until you end."
Reed nodded. "Then, I will see to it, that I end, once this is over."
"So you say," the shadow replied, "so you say. That was what the Aimless One kept saying, but never did. We will never leave you, and you will never leave us."
"If I recall correctly, that's what you kept telling the Aimless One, too, didn't you?" Reed smiled.
And the shadow laughed. "But then, we were dying. We were withering. Now, we prosper, spring up everywhere; and what's protecting you is just a fragment. A trinket, a souvenir, left behind to honour the memory."
Reed nodded. "Two of us are gone. The paladin, the older healer. When the remaining four are gone, will the Shadow Legion disappear?"
"When none remain who know, what is the point in honouring a memory. We will direct our powers else where."
And then Reed had an inspiration. "And the Kult'ar?"
The shadow hissed. "The prison. The cancer. Imminant destruction of plenty. Forced to knife our own gut. We hate it. We hate it! It absorbs us by the hour. And in the end the world will be barren, as never before."
"It is close, isn't it?"
"Space. We don't care about space. It is guarded by powers, alien to us. The shield. We cannot pierce the shield."
And Reed grinned. "It is guarded by a friend."
"Then take it. Take it and destroy it. And we will be grateful."
"But you see," Reed smirked, "I will not betray her. She is a friend, and you," he made a dismissive gesture with his hand, "you are jsut a bodyguard. And beyond a certain point, I do not care for your services."
"If you do not destroy the Kult'ar, you will not be rid of us."
"And if she uses it?"
"No more magic. No more elves. No more winged horses. Only humans and bugs, and they will be bone and dust. And with nothing to sustain us, we will go, too."
And then a strange calm settled over Reed's features. "If she chooses to use it, this is fine with me. Annihilation. Tell me this, what interest does a world hold for me, that only craves its own distruction?"
And, for the moment, the shadows ceiced their whispering, the silence a welcome respite.
The morning sun sent beams of light through the crystal spyres, which fractured and broken, fanned out over the city in a display of colour. Is this the future? wondered Reed. The beauty of light fragmented by the predictability of crystalline structures?
And then Reed felt a pang of nostalgia for change. As if it was all over, already.
March 30th, 2004, 01:35 PM
Mya sighed, then nodded. "it is a challange. I go, but for reasons of my own."
"Everyone's got their own reasons, haven't they?" said an unfamiliar voice, female, with a curious lack of substance, as if travelling on the breeze alone.
"Huh?" Mya's hand automatically reached for her sword.
"Over there." Gina pointed.
Gilli hovered in the corner of the tent. "He sent me away, you know. He said, he didn't need me anymore. As if this, at any point, had ever been about need. Do you know what I think?"
"Who cares! Are you here for a reason? Or shall I call the mage?"
"The mage, yes. I think he sent me away, because of the mage. What he did to me frightened him. You should have seen him shake on that pegasus. I was afraid he'd fall off."
"He should have. That would have saved us a lot of trouble. Why do you tell me this? Why do you think I care?"
"He invoked the shadow legion. A remnant of the days where magic was scarce and most powerful when shaped by human fear. These days have never been, now, or so Reed says. Multiple futures, multiple pasts, one presence, and that is indeterminate. Not that I understand. But anyway, the Shadow Legion protects him now, and it's more powerful than any mage walking the earth. But more importantly, he doesn't care what happens to it." Gilli paused. "This is where I would start to sob, if I still had a body. He thought, if I saw he was protected from such powers I could rest in peace. As if I ever wanted to protect him, because he needed protection."
"Yes, yes. What's that got to do with us?" But it was obvious, wasn't it?
"You must not attack Reed. The Shadow Legion will protect him. But more than that, they will kill anyone, anything in the vicinity. They do not discriminate between friend or foe, guilty or innocent. When they are triggered, everybody in the vicinity dies. And when ever this happens Reed will deteriorate. If you can't see past his masks, you won't notice a difference. He may be dangerous, now. But with time he'll be lethal. The Kult'ar, the Shadow Legion. Two sides of the same coin. Law and Chaos."
Mya nodded. "How do I know that this is not a trick."
"You don't. I'm still protecting him. What else can I do. But my task has become more difficult than ever. Something inside him snapped. I'm protecting him from himself, now."
Mya squinted. "One last question. Why me?"
"I'm forced to trust people now. Here, it's either you, or, perhaps, Hume. But since you're a woman, I thought, maybe you'd understand the need to protect. Not just compensate for weakness. Nurture what's good, drive away the demons. And maybe..."
"And maybe, you'd try to understand. In terms of..." an embarrassed silence, and then, almost a whisper, "...love."
March 30th, 2004, 02:00 PM
Boldar kept half an eye to the bussle of the camp, preparing to begin their journey to... wherever, but retained the majority of his attention on the old man, who had been in what appeared to be a trance for some time. Boldar was aware that the old man kept secrets, though they had been partners for near on forty years.
After a long fifteen minutes, Bass opened his eyes. There was a curious intensity in those brown eyes, and Boldar could not help but feel a certain awe of the diminuative little man. Important to remember, he thought, just what a powerful mage he was, or is...
After another long moment, Bass looked at his giant friend. "Bad things are happening, big man. Very bad things."
Boldar shrugged. "Said it before--got nothing to lose."
Bass shook his head. "Don't assume death is all you got to lose big man. Short sighted that would be. I am thinking it is time to confront this Juzza about this mission and get the facts straight."
Boldar reached over and patted the old man gently on the arm. "Why take the fun out of things, eh? Besides, we need to keep our heads low. Like as not, this trip is going to leave a number of corpses in its wake... more gold for us if we can stay out of the center of things and survive."
Bass smiled. "You certainly have a simple outlook friend. I'll keep quiet, but I still need to be careful with the drow about. And I'll say it again, VERY BAD THINGS are in motion in the world, and this party is going to be like a wheat field in a hurricane."
March 30th, 2004, 05:43 PM
Kahn wasn't a great conversationalist and was a firm exponent of the idea of actions over words, hence he sat propped against a tree, oiling the razor edge of his longsword and testing the integrity of the rope twined grip.
His axe was magically forged by the druids far away in his native land and never dulled. Custom made for berserker warriors, it was too heavy to be effectively weilded by anyone that didn't possess the strength of a cave troll.
The familiar scent of Urk was barely detectable as he scurried up to his master carrying a small cache of weapons in his arms with a dark robe wrapped around his shoulders, far too big for his small simian frame. The little creature had a keen nose for treasure, death and meat, which appeared to be it's main interests in life.
Several longer blades dragged behind in the dirt, hanging from a belt that barely clung to the goblin's boney hips.
Stopping in front of Kahn, he dropped a pile of short bows, quivers, daggers and other weapons on the floor, before pulling the larger blades from his belt and swinging them about dangerously in a double arc.
"Dead humans leave gifts!".
Examining an arrow from one of the quivers, Kahn noting the fine white wood of the shaft and silver head, "These are Elven.".
The smaller blades were all coated with a poison, a common practice by assassins learned from the orcs during years of warfare, with the difference that orc poison didn't kill outright.
Instead it slowed the victim's body and mind, making them easy prey. Orcs liked butchering their opponents too much to allow poison to steal their fun.
"Where!" the barbarian demanded.
"In woods! Dead elves! Dead humans! Leave gifts!".
"Black things come. Kill all! Not ugly man. He safe. Master. They protect master."
Kahn nodded to himself. He knew of the power that Urk had described. It was arcane magic that came with certain clauses on whomever it was bestowed. Nothing came without a price as Reed would have known being a gambling man. What price to pay for the protection he had been afforded?
"There are many ways to skin a cat, my friend.", Kahn muttered as he walked away.
The goblin squatted down cutting away the excess fabric of the robe to make the length more suitable for a runt. Taking several choice items from his pile, he stashed them in the numerous hidden pockets sewn into the assassin's robe and followed his master at distance.
March 30th, 2004, 09:24 PM
I don't know beyond a doubt, whether you'd rather see me dead or alive, but I'll assume, it's the former.
I'm sitting by myself in the mountains, and I'm deadly bored. So, with nothing else to do, I think of all the people who could have been friends. You're one of those, believe it or not.
But all this, you probably don't care about. I was going to apologize for lying to you: I do not know, who killed your brother. And for what? To sow mistrust. What a waste of life.
Well, look who's talking. I, myself, am partly responsible for the death of an uncertain amount of people: 3 humans (Sharn's henchmen), and some elves, who would have been loyals to the emperor, if I can believe the Master Assassin's apprentice. I have invoked the Shadow Legion; someone will fill you in, I'm sure. It was most likely a mistake. I made too many, lately, but none cost life, like this one.
Anyway, back to the topic of your brother. I have been thinking, who could have done it. You can do your own thinking, and if you don't care to read on, then don't.
Least likely, first:
It could have been Saerka Sharn. It isn't really his style. Also, I have had a visit from one of his henchmen, who congratulated me on killing him. He was quite obviously careful not to let me out of his eyes; concerned, no doubt, that I might kill him, too. (Well, I'm a fickle guy...) Would Sharn send someone to congratulate me on killing him, if he did it himself? That's even less his style.
I doubt that Sharn is responsible for your brother's death.
For completeness sake, I'll have to list myself. From my perspective, this is quite absurd. But from your perspective, it's a valid theory. I'm not talking about myself, here, though. Just consider, that I'm a lousy fighter. Would I really risk a fight? Yes, I do like to spread mischief, but murder...
Next on my list: The Loveable Rogue himself. Doing it, blaming it on himself, in such a blatantly obvious way that he couldn't possibly have done it. A stroke of genius I wouldn't put past him. The theory has two weaknesses, though: (1) I can see no motivation for such an act (well, perhaps, he'd be your only left confidant... nah, that's a stretch) and (2) he seems to genuinely care about you (gambler's instinct).
However, I may be wrong about him. I'm sitting here, wondering, if he ever really intended to kill me. Did he, perhaps, want to provoke me into action? If so, he succeeded admirably. I have a key in my breast pocket, to remind me, I've been outsmarted by an ogre. Certainly, the Rogue surpasses an ogre in intellect.
There are things about a gamblers education, that people tend to forget. We're not taught to win. (Well, we do get pointers how to develope a personal style.) More than anything, we're taught how to make the most of a loss. Because every gambler will lose. Often. It's in the nature of gambling...
But I digress again. So, now to the second most likely candidate:
The Master Assassin, himself. Doesn't he want the Kult'ar for himself? Doesn't he consider your family line traitors for aiding the Rogue in his theft? This would be a win, win situation, for him. You kill the Rogue. The Rogue kills you in self defense. You look through his charade, and attempt revenge; how hard will he have to work on making you look like a traitor, then (this is where my knowledge of your culture lets me down...)
If he has nothing to do with your brothers death, it must be quite convenient for him.
And number one on my list? Someone, I don't think of, or someone I don't know about, yet. Life has this property to surprise you again and again. Its one redeeming feature.
Oh, and you should know one more thing: I've shared all I know with both Sharn and the Master Assassin. No more secrets. I do not shape the future, but I do hasten the process. Do what you will. I'm not even curious anymore.
My only concern right now is the safty of a certain lady. Unless she decides to destroy the world, in which case I will respect her decision.
I wonder if you read all the way down to these words... So many things could have gone differently. But in the end it's always easier to break a cup than to make one, isn't it?
March 30th, 2004, 10:34 PM
Originally posted by Dawnstorm
"...But since you're a woman, I thought, maybe you'd understand the need to protect. Not just compensate for weakness. Nurture what's good, drive away the demons. And maybe..."
"And maybe, you'd try to understand. In terms of..." an embarrassed silence, and then, almost a whisper, "...love."
Gina turned to stare at Mya. Mya bowed her head.
"I... can understand." Mya said, shaking her head, "I just don't know why you're telling me this. Or what you think I can do."
She looked up at Gina. "Do you see? This fool becomes so afraid that instead of doing something sensible, he brings this apon the world. What becomes an attack? A leaf smacking him in the face? Tripping over a loose cobblestone in the street? A bump in the street?"
Mya shook her head. "I suppose there is no way to stop this spell before it hurts anyone?"
March 31st, 2004, 01:35 AM
Albert had watched and listened to the unfolding events, sighing every now and then.
"What a tangle..." he commented, as he put his book away and moved the horse forward.
"What? Huh? " Daniel burbled as the horse's motion woke him. The small firedrake sat up on the black stallion's rump. He leaned forward clinging with his talons to the back of Albert's cloak and his nose wrinkled. "I smell death"
"Very sharp of you." Albert commented, as he guided his horse through the remains of Reed's assailants.
"I have seen this before." Daniel remarked, peering at the mangled corspes.
"That's an understatement..." Albert half chuckled.
"I mean the type of death... and I am hungry...." Daniel huffed. unfolding his wings and beginning to preen under the left one.
"The wee lad envoked the Shadow Legion, or rather invited some old friends to the party and when aren't you hungry?" Albert heeled the black on, making for the centre of Juzzza's camp.
"Doomed, he, us doomed I say...." Daniel squeaked at the mention of the Shadow Legion.
"No.. he and we are not. There is always a way out, you might not like it, want it or think it will work, but there is always a way."Albert remarked adding, as he swung down off the horse. "I could murder a cup of tea."
"That's a bad habit you picked up and I don't think they do that sort of tea on this world." Daniel flapped his wings and headed for the camp kitchen his eye on the pot containing the remains of last night's stew.
Albert shook his head and tethered his horse outside Juzzza's tent. He then re-kindled the fire, placing a pot of water over the flames. Then he unsaddled his horse, pinching a feed bag of oats from the supply wagon for the beast.
By this time the pot was boiling, Albert took out a small leather pouch and placed a few pinches of a herb mix in a tin mug and poured the water over it. He then sat by the fire drinking his tea listening to the camp cook chase one firedrake out of his "kitchen"
As Daniel's argument with the cook got louder, Albert took out a small writing case and began to write a short missive.
Well lad, you have got yourself up the creek with out a paddle. Not to worry it will work out fine in the end, not sure who it will be fine for, but it will work out someway. Worlds are a lot harder to kill than the things in them. You see all this running around is merely evolution in progress. Some of us die and get turned to fossils, some change to new and strange creatures. And some wake up with a headache next to someone they don't know.
Albert folded the letter, blew on it and watched it fade away. He then made himself another cup of tea as Daniel retreated from the kitchen followed by a thrown meat cleaver.
April 1st, 2004, 04:11 AM
"Good morning Juzzza, would you like some tea?" asked Albert, without looking up from his pot.
Juzzza smiled at the old man, surveying the empty camp and then the mage's travelling companions.
"Is that your, um..." he began.
"Firedrake," Albert finished for him, handing the Rogue a tin mug of infusion. Juzzza took a sniff, shrugged, blew three times and took a sip.
"Not bad," he said.
Albert chuckled, "Yes, good for the old creativity lad."
"Do I need some creativity then?" Juzzza asked.
"Always," smiled Albert.
"So what can I do for you Hat Man?"
"Ah, straight to the point, I like that," replied Albert. He gestured for Juzzza to take a seat but the Rogue declined.
"Well lad, I just thought I would give you some advice. Feel free to tell me to stick it where the sun don't shine but I would rather give it and stick it, than not say it at all."
"My mother always told me that advice was a gift never to be dismissed," said Juzzza.
"Smart lass that one, and beautiful too," Albert smiled but he continued quickly. "You should have removed Reed when you had the chance but then, things usually happen for a reason.
"The fool has brought something ancient and malevolent to this world, something best left at peace. I suppose it was inevitable, if some Elven nincompoops create something as rediculous as the Kult'ar, then you need a Shadow Legion to bring equilibrium." Albert was aware that he was rambling, so he remained silent to allow the Rogue to digest what he had said.
"The Shadow Legion?" said Juzzza. "Idiot."
"Indeed," chuckled Albert.
"Is that really my concern though? I don't care if the Imp lives of dies, and the Shadows will only cause me harm should I attack him."
"Well, that is one way of looking at it, a little short sighted mind you. Let me pose this then. Let's say Reed decides that he strongly disagrees with what you are looking to achieve, or just takes a dislike to you, you did punch him in the face and by proxy, turn his little spirit friend into an ice cube after all."
"I see what you mean. And I know he has a history with Danika, what it is I am not sure about but from what you say I can assume he is trying to find her too."
"It's a good assumption lad," said Albert.
"So what do you suggest?" asked Juzzza.
"Well, this is the funny thing about the world, if you decided to stay here and do nothing but drink tea for the rest of your life, it would all work out as it should, but that isn't human nature," began Albert. The old man could see that he had the Rogue confused, so he chuckled and changed direction.
"Sorry lad, I am as mad as a snake sometimes," he said. Daniel guffawed from nearby and Albert scowled at the firedrake before continuing.
"Life loves a paradox, it's the sense of humour of the universe if you like.
"You know yourself that at all costs, you need to keep the Kult'ar away from telepaths, for fear of them unlocking the power within the weapon."
"Agreed," said Juzzza
"And yet you may find the best way to get rid of the Reed problem, is by using telepathy."
"I'm not following you," said Juzzza.
"The only person who can send the Shadow Legion back to where they belong, is Reed himself. By doing what he should have done long before now." Albert could see the Rogue still wasn't following him.
"The Shadows will shadow your friend until he dies and short of dying of old age or falling out of an open window before his time, the only way he will die is by his own hand."
"And a powerful telepath could take control of Reed and force him to kill himself," said Juzzza finally catching on.
"Exactly," said Albert smiling.
"But I can only think of one telepath powerful enough to take control of a person's mind like that... And it looks like they will be working together against us," said Juzzza.
"Actually there are two," replied Albert, "But one isn't aware of their potential just yet."
"Who?" asked Juzzza.
"Our little ice cube," replied Albert.
April 1st, 2004, 05:08 AM
I was surprised to find your correspondence when i awoke at first light. I did not expect to receive direct contact from you, nor did i expect you to be able to guess where i would spend the night. Perhaps my carving of the tent canvas was too much of a giveaway. I will endeavour to be more subtle in the future.
Regarding my brother, i had certainly hoped that you may have been able to shed some light on his death. The hardest thing is knowing that he must have died shortly after my own hasty departure. There was a very small timeframe in which the atrocity could have been committed or averted. I find no rest, my vision is overlayed with a mental image of his forsaken corpse. How fine the line is between life and death. One moment he was alive, breathing, talking, referring to the future. The next he is gone and nothing i say or do can reverse that.
How can a living, breathing being be transformed into an empty, hollow husk? If i had delayed my departure by a few moments, would he still be alive? Or would we both be dead? For all i know, i may have been the intended target of the attack. It was my bedroom after all. Dargeth's death may have been opportune rather than by design.
My brother chose to live his life in the shadows, only a step away from the endless sleep that eventually claims us all. His spirit was shackled by the seductive powers of opium. Before my father's death, Dargeth was considered the heir apparant to the title of Master Assassin. For one of my kind, he had a delicate mind and suffered greatly as a result of witnessing the worst atrocities of the war. Nefarious individuals, who will remain nameless, sought to exploit his tenderness and lure him into the false comfort of drugs.
However, he remained a threat to the established order while alive, as the true designated successor of the Assassin Guild. The position of Master Assassin was still his by rights, there to be claimed at any time if he so chose. It is for this reason that i am now certain his death was the work of Belaris Yassassin and/or his apprentice Xcel. Juzzza is aware of my thoughts on this matter.
I dare say you will be as surprised to receive a reply from me as i was to receive your missive. Contact is sometimes valuable, however. I would not wish anyone to be wrongly blamed for my brother's death. In the fury of revelation, it can be difficult to see clearly and all too easy to seek retribution against any close at hand. Revenge is best attained with ice cold certainty and deliberation.
One thing concerns me greatly right now. Who is Saerka Sharn and how powerful is his organisation? How much of a threat is he with respect to claiming the Kul'Tar?
April 1st, 2004, 06:21 AM
"Are you mad? Replying to that psychopath?", Juzzza asked, when he finished reading her reply to Reed.
"No, i'm alarmingly sane. You should know that by now." Mystiqe grinned, blue eyes teasing him while she stroked the flank of her steed. Finely honed muscles glided under the tips of her fingers, strong and restless.
"Why waste time and effort writing to him?". The rogue kicked at the ground, clutching the letters in his fist.
She turned away from him and was silent for a while. He watched her slender hands move, deftly combing through the horse's tousled mane. The cluster of tethered mounts seemed fretful, tugging at their restraining ropes, ill at ease in the early light. A pale mist shrouded the forest, embracing the trees and undergrowth in a deathly glow.
When the dark elf finally spoke, her voice was little more than a whisper. "I don't expect you to understand, but I'm used to dealing with someone living on the edge. I know what it's like. The slightest thing could tip him over, push him into oblivion. A minor slight, a wrong glance, a misinterpreted word or a failure to acknowledge him."
"That's not our problem, Myst", he said softly, returning the letters to her. She slipped them back inside her leather jacket.
"I know... it's just... i wasn't there for Dargeth... he needed me and i wasn't there to save him. If i'd waited just a bit longer, if i'd trusted him just a bit more, if i'd kept faith in him and tried to help him instead of walking away... Why is it easier to believe the worst of someone and walk away from them, than to have faith and stand by them?".
He shrugged, unable to answer her question. "I really hope you know what you're doing. I'd hate to see Reed hurt you... or affect the mission in any way. We can't afford unneccessary risks."
"Contact is better than no contact", she murmurred, smoothing the glossy black coat. "Besides, i have a personal bodyguard now."
Juzzza laughed. "That's one way of describing it."
She walked away from the horse and wrapped her arms around his waist. "I'm sure i can think of some more colourful descriptions."
"I bet you can. Are you ready for another day of hard riding?", he asked, suppressing a smile.
"Oh yes, i can't wait to get started". Her eyes danced in the early sunlight.
He drew her into a slow kiss, holding her close. "Shame we need to head out so early. I'll round up the others."