Tularis stepped over the twisted heap of splintered wood and open eyed corpses, entering the old gatehouse. He wiped the soles of his boots against the cobblestones, leaving red smears. Inside, wounded soldiers leant against damp stone walls, fighting back pain. Some gripped at cuts, trying to stem the flow of blood with their hands. Others struggled to stay conscious, faces ghastly pale. Blank eyes stared out from one youth's head, fixated on the human wreckage. An elderly man crouched beside him, waving three fingers in front of his face.
"Gone soft in the head", the doctor muttered gruffly. He drew back his hand and slapped the boy hard. There was no reaction.
Tularis stood over the youth, peering down. Light brown hair plastered the boy's forehead. A silver chain hung around his neck, bearing entwined initials. His skin was smooth and childlike. "He's too young for this, damn it. When will you humans learn...".
"Tell that to Sharn," the doctor snarled, looking up through rimmed spectacles. One lens was cracked and the frame was held together with twine. He reached towards an open black bag, pulling it closer. "It took every man, woman and child who could bear arms, and it still wasn't enough to stop the f*****s".
"Your herbs and salves won't make him better," the dark elf snapped, kicking the bag with his boot. He glared at the grey haired man, fist clenched.
"Are you a doctor?", the man asked derisively, pulling out a jar of ointment. A muscle twitched in his cheek, jerking his creased face. He darted a glance past Yassassin, pupils widening and motioning.
"No". Tularis shot forward, pressing his dagger against the boy's jugular. "But someone should put him out of his misery."
The old man watched, open mouthed. He tugged at the front of his blood stained jerkin, straightening it out. "Now look here...", he started, red with indignation.
The assassin stared long and hard at the pallid youth. Booted footsteps stormed across the cobblestones behind him. He moved to strike, quickly and efficiently. Black metal scything through the air. The point came down on soft, white flesh, but his hand trembled. The carved hilt slipped through his fingers. He snatched at it, recovering his grip. Cold, hard steel pressed against his neck in three places. Tularis froze. A thin trail of blood snaked across the boy's skin. His small chest rose and fell, drawing in air.
"What the devil's going on here?", a man demanded, words clipped and precise.
"I merely made a suggestion to your... doctor", Tularis remarked coldly, holding his position.
"He wants to kill the lad", the old man blurted, then added somewhat guiltily, "For his own good, like".
"I'm the only one who makes decisions around here," the voice barked, crisp and sharp. "I don't care if your rabble saved the town, we're civilised in these parts and will damned well act like it."
Glaring, the dark elf withdrew the dagger, flipping it in the air and catching it by the blade. He offered the blackened hilt to the doctor. The old man waved it away. Tularis shrugged and sheathed it, rising to his feet. The guards backed off slightly, swords raised, ready to defend.
A pale skinned man towered over Tularis, wearing the stripes of an officer. His tunic was torn and bloodstained, fine blond hair swept back.
"Yassassin?", the clipped voice uttered, shaken. The officer's face blanched white.
Tularis nodded in confirmation, eyes steeled.
The officer stumbled backwards, grabbing the edge of a water barrel and leaning against it. "My god man, i thought you were killed during the war." He looked past the assassin, a haunted expression flitting across his eyes. "Your daughter?".
"My only surviving child", Tularis snapped, glaring venomously.
Mystiqe walked forwards through the gateway, staring from one to the other. Red followed, standing close behind, a hand resting on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry", the officer said feebly. "Best let bygones be bygones, that sort of thing, eh?".
"That apology is ten years too late," Tularis replied, words frozen like ice. He raised his gloved fist and punched the man hard in the face."
The officer crashed down, hitting the cobblestones hard. His eyes widened. The dark elf was standing over him, silvery eyes cold and empty. A black shadow blending with the grey stonework and thunderous sky, sleek and predatory. Long ebony fingers rested upon the carved hilt of a dagger. The officer swallowed nervously. He pushed himself backwards, boots scraping rain slicked cobbles, coat snagging and tearing.
A cluster of guards shot forward, grabbing Tularis and disarming him. The dark elf offered no resistance. He stood bolt upright, feet planted slightly apart, hands clasped behind his back. His body became rigid, charcoal skin taut.
Red locked his arms around Mystiqe, holding her still. "Don't react," he whispered gruffly.
She strained against him, elbowing him in the ribs.
"Leave him be!", the officer shouted, staggering to his feet. He wiped blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. "Return his weapons and get back to your posts, men".
Three of the guards walked away, taking up positions near the gate, eyes fixed on the dark elf. A red headed guard remained, holding the assassin's sword and dagger. He studied the elven metalwork with distain, holding the weapons as though they were contaminated.
"I said return his blades", the officer prompted, then turned aside. He cupped his hands together and scooped murky liquid from the water barrel, washing his mouth out.
The red head tossed the curved sword to Tularis. The dark elf reached to snatch it in mid air. Halfway into his movement, he froze, holding his position perfectly still. The blackened dagger whistled through the air, hurtling straight at his head. Spinning round and round, the metal glinted, sharp and deadly. It missed his ear by less than an inch and clattered to the ground.
"Didn't your mother tell you, it's dangerous to play with knives", Tularis chided.
"Dark elf scum!", the guard yelled. He stormed over to Tularis, glaring down at him from a six foot frame. Blue and gold uniform pulled tight over his muscles, too short at the wrists and open at the collar. He brought his head close, breathing out ale fumes. "Go back where you belong, you ******* filth".
Tularis raised an eyebrow, silvery orbs showing no reaction.
The red head opened his mouth and spat on the dark elf's polished boots.
"Let go!", Mystiqe snapped at Red, eyes blazing. She lashed out at him, struggling to break free. He dug his fingers in hard, pinning her against the wall.
Kahn had stumbled in through the gatehouse, leaning against Jared and Alice for support. A deep gash ran the length of his thigh. Grimacing with pain, he pounded over the cobblestones and stood next to Tularis. His hand fell on the guard's shoulder in a vicelike clamp. "Would you care to repeat those remarks?".
The guard sneered, eyeing the barbarian up and down. "I thought dark elves liked young boys, not big, butch types. How much does he pay for your services?".
"I said leave it!", the officer barked. He strode forward and clouted the guard across the ear.
"Freakin' pervert", the red head jeered, staring hard at Tularis. He stalked away, throwing hate filled looks over his shoulder.
"Now it's my turn to apologise, Lord Anton", Tularis said flatly. He offered a weary hand to the officer. "I shouldn't have hit you in front of your men."
The officer shook hands briskly, looking the dark elf in the eye.
"Let me ask you one thing, Yassassin. If you had known who you were saving, would you still have come to the rescue?".
"Yes", the dark elf replied.
Anton looked at Tularis in silence for a while, shaking his head. When he spoke again, his voice was sombre. "If our positions were reversed, i'd have killed you with my bare hands."
April 27th, 2004, 07:53 PM
Kahn ducked beneath a low lintel, and entered the Green Lion tavern. He shook his head vigorously, water spraying across colourful rugs. Blue and gold uniforms clustered together around small tables, playing card and die games, drinking rough local ale, chatting with false bravado. The barbarian moved over to the huge open fireplace, uncomfortable in the tight confines of the tavern. Red lay sprawled in front of the fire, Jared was ploughing through a heaped plate of food and Alice was resting quietly.
"Its still ******* down outside," Kahn growled, lowering himself into a cushioned chair. He drew his sword onto his lap and started cleaning it.
"How are the repairs going?", Jared asked, between mouthfuls of meat.
"I've checked the town defences three times. Tularis and Anton have got thirty odd men working on them. They've repaired the gates, but they'll never hold. Elves are scavenging the town for anything of use, wood, tools, armour, weapons. Anything to turn into projectiles or melt into burning liquid."
Alice opened her eyes, skin flushed with warmth from the fire. "I did what i could with the wounded, but there were so many. Markov ran out of salves and bandages, we were tearing up shirts and sheets."
"I'm not surprised", Kahn muttered, taking a deep draught of ale. "Anton reckons he's lost two thirds of his company. The berserkers struck the town yesterday, while we were fighting Sharn on the plains. The first battle was bloody, outside the walls. Anton's men rode for three days straight to get here from his castle."
Red stretched his tight, aching muscles, sprawling out on the rugs. "At least we bought time to evacuate the town. I've never rowed so much in my life. Damn, it hurts."
Jared cleared his plate, scraping up gravy with a bread roll. "Aye, I'm gonna find myself a girl to ease the pain. My muscles are begging for some intense relaxation." He winked at Red. "Come on, mate, let's find a couple of hot lasses, have a bit of fun, like old times."
"Nah, i'll just get some rest", Red replied with a broad grin. "Besides, there aren't many women left here."
"Just the ones who like brave soldiers", Jared teased, eyes roving the tavern hungrily. He kicked Red gently with his boot. "Eh, there's a blonde watching you, far corner. You're in there, mate. Ask if she's got a sister, or if she's up for a wild night of passion with two studs."
"Where are the two studs?", Alice asked, pretending to search the room. Her eyes fell on Jared's youthful frame. "Or did you mean duds?".
Red laughed, turning his gaze back to the fire.
"What's up with you, mate?", Jared pleaded, grinning. "You ain't even looked at that blonde. Well, if you ain't interested...". He staggered to his feet, blantantly adjusting his belt.
Kahn glared at Jared, dark eyes foreboding. "How can you even think of that? This isn't over. Tonight or tomorrow or the next day, they'll be back in force. We're waiting, poised, ready to defend at any moment, knowing we haven't got a chance in hell, and you're...". He slammed his tankard down on the floor, ale spilling over its rim.
"I know it's serious", Jared argued. "I'm not stupid."
"Then act like it, instead of running around after...", Kahn bit his tongue, holding back the words. He lowered his voice, conscious of stares from the huddled groups of guards. "They've got over two thousand warriors out there, more than that from what Myst saw at their camp. We've got a ragtag bunch of humans and a few hundred dark elves. We've got injured guards, drunk guards, guards struck dumb with battle fear, kids wearing chain three sizes too big, elves ignoring humans, humans insulting elves....".
"We could all die tomorrow", Jared said heatedly. "Does that make you feel better, is that what you want me to say? We've been on the road for weeks now, living rough, missing sleep, fighting those b*******. Who knows where the heck Mik and Crom and Boldar are, and those two lasses. They could be dead for all i know. Now Juzzza and Albert are gone too, chasing after the Kul'Tar. And we're stuck here, making a last stand against a horde of...".
A large hand clamped down on his wrist. "You'll need your wits about you, lad. That's all i'm saying." The barbarian sighed heavily, rubbing his temples. "I hate all this waiting around. May as well go check the defences again."
Kahn rose to his feet and headed out into the night.
The rain continued to lash down outside, striking the glass windows of the Green Lion tavern. Red watched flames flicker in the fire, slowly consuming chopped logs.
"Any idea what time it is?", he mumbled apologetically, glancing at Alice.
"About half an hour since you last asked", she replied, curling her legs beneath her on the chair. "I'm sure Myst will be back soon", she added more gently.
Jared looked down at Red. "Can i have a word in private, mate?".
Red shrugged and dragged himself upright, grasping his thigh muscles. He followed the youngster to a quiet corner by the door, where they couldn't be overheard by their companions.
"It's none of my business", Jared blustered, looking slightly embarrassed, "but... you don't stand a chance, mate".
"A chance with what?", Red enquired nonchalently, leaning back against the wall. Rain pattered against dirty glass, a continuous bombardment.
"You know what." Jared hissed, scratching the back of his neck nervously. "Look, I don't want you messing things up with the boss. He's been good to us."
Red fell silent, closing his eyes. He sighed deeply. "You don't have to tell me that. I've known Juzzza longer than you."
"Aye, eight years. You can't throw that away," Jared persisted. He hesitated, resting his palm against cool glass. "I've seen the way you look at her. She's taken."
"You're right", Red replied, opening his eyes and fixing the youngster with a piercing gaze. "It's none of your business."
Cold and wet, white hair coiling around her neck, Mystiqe pushed open the heavy tavern door. A blast of noise, smoke and heat hit her. She shivered, hugging her jacket close to her body. Water slid down her drenched locks, gliding over her forehead and cheeks, meandering down her throat. The door clanked shut with a thud.
A short, rotund man bustled over to her, a greasy apron tied around his waist. He flicked back a few strands of mousy brown hair, barely covering his balding scalp. Blue and gold soldiers turned towards her, faces ruddy with drink. Some scowled, a few leered suggestively. A roar of laughter came from the back of the inn, drowning out a stream of lewd remarks. Half a dozen men doubled over, slapping each others backs and sloshing ale onto the floor. She looked around the room, searching the packed mass of bodies, seeking familiar faces.
"I'm sorry, but i have to ask you to leave", the innkeeper grunted, small eyes deepset.
"Leave?", Mystiqe repeated uncertainly. "My companions are lodging here for the night. Anton made the arrangements."
"That's Lord Anton to you", the short man reprimanded, sliding his thumbs into the waist of his apron. "Didn't you read the sign?", he announced slowly, dragging out each syllable loud and clear. A stubby finger pointed upwards to a dark beam, visible from the doorway.
Mystiqe glanced up, making out the crude white paint. 'NO DROW'.
"I assumed it was a mistake", she replied crisply. "An old sign from more primitive times, kept for historical reasons".
"You assumed wrong", the man rejoined, eyes hardening. "I'll ask you to leave one more time. If you don't, i'll have to call on these fine gentlemen for assistance." He gestured towards the rowdy group propped up at the bar. The men grinned, hands sliding to their sword hilts. The inn was filled with another volley of filthy comments.
Red strode across the wooden floorboards, sliding on the scattered rugs. He took hold of the dark elf's hand, glaring at the innkeeper. "Are you threatening my wife?".
"Eh?", the rotund man mumbled, looking from human to elf. "Wife? But she's a...".
"Person, same as you and me", Red replied angrily.
"Rules are rules", the innkeeper insisted, folding his arms across his broad chest.
"Rules are there to be broken", Mystiqe murmurred, eyeing him coolly.
"Not this one", the man retorted, raising a clammy hand into the air. Eight or ten guards rose from their seats, slamming down tankards and staggering towards the dark elf.
Red reached for his sword, preparing to fight.
Mystiqe squeezed his arm gently. "Leave it, honey, it's not worth it."
He glanced at her, concerned. "Of course it's worth it. Where will you go? Where will you sleep?".
"I'll be fine", she replied, turning around and striding out of the inn, slamming the door behind her.
Red looked across at Jared, gesturing helplessly. He took another glance at the swathe of guards then span on his heels, dashing out into the rain after Mystiqe.
April 27th, 2004, 10:24 PM
They walked on, but made slow progress. The walk was a strain on Reed's sore ankle, and his limp got worse and worse. Reed had ceased talking, concentrating on pushing onward, not wanting to lose more time than necessary. When the echo of hoofbeats reverberated around them, he didn't even pay attention. Gina and Arleena, however, slowed their gait and listened. The riders, were they close? How many of them were there?
Gilli probed. "Relax," she exclaimed. "Sit down, they'll be here soon enough. Eight horses, five riders."
"A welcome comittee?" asked Arleena.
Reed was still walking. Arleena called out to him.
"Huh," he uttered, and then, "Horses!"
Arleena shook her head, grinning. "Yes, Reed, Horses. Gilli says they're coming for us."
Reed stopped. Immediatly, he felt the blood pulsating through his ankle. "Friendly?" he asked.
"Gilli says so," answered Arleena.
And then they came into view. The party stood watching, while the horses approached. At shouting distance they stopped. A single rider came forward.
Reed smiled, as he recognised Suzé. "Couldn't wait to see me, huh?"
Suzé looked down at him, a subdued smile on her lips. "There is nothing I can do back home, so I thought, I'd meet you half way."
"You look different," Reed said, looking at her dark complexion, her white hair.
Suzé jumped from her horse in a swift motion. "And you," she said, "the both of you, look quite the same."
"We need to talk," said Reed flatly.
"I agree. You will be guests in my humble abode in Derudin, won't you? I'm a well respected poet this time round, can you believe it? It's brilliant. You get away with so much. I can even put you up in my house without drawing too much suspicion."
"I liked your poem about shadow hunters." Reed smiled at Suzé, but the effect was spoiled by Reed's leg giving. He stumbled forward a pace, and winced in pain, as his ill leg came down hard on stone.
"You're leg isn't well, I see." Suzé raised an eybrow. "I thought you had... protection."
Reed took a deep breath, then composed himself and shrugged. "They don't protect me from my own inaptitude."
Suzé smiled, then turned to Arleena. "And I'm glad you're here, too. The shadow hunters are onto us, you know."
Arleena regarded Suzé sceptically. "I see, you haven't changed your ways as much as your exterior. Let me tell you right now that I am not sure if our goals are compatible."
Suzé made a dismissive gesture. "Oh, I know that. We could end up on opposing sides. Nevertheless, we have a common foe. Who, I am not certain. But Aynsley is dead already. Elven assassin."
Arleena's eyes opened wide. "They killed him? But why?"
Suzé grinned. "I've got your interest, yes? We'll talk later." And she moved on to Gina. "You, I don't know. But fear not, I'll treat you to the same hospitality as my... acquaintances, here." And she smiled at her. Gina said nothing, but bowed.
"And for you," Suzé turned to Gilli, "I have neither horse nor bed." Her eyes slid down to the Chrysalis glowing at the place where Gilli's heart would have been. "I am no telepath, but I assumed you would not mind."
"And you were right." Gilli smiled at her. "It's always nice to meet Reed's friends."
Suzé gave a short smile, then straightened and raised a hand. One concice wave and the waiting riders approached, three unmounted horses in tow.
April 28th, 2004, 02:39 PM
"Hey, slow down", Red shouted into the raging wind, galloping after Mystiqe.
She yanked on the reins, jerking the black steed's head round. The horse came to a halt, hooves restlessly scuffing the earth. Coat glossy with sweat and rain.
"Where are you going?", Red gasped, clinging to the pommel of his saddle. "Leaving without saying goodbye?".
Mystiqe turned towards him, eyes hurt. "I couldn't stay there any longer."
Red nudged his horse forward, reaching to take hold of the black steed's reins. "Come on", he said gently, leading both horses across the plains towards an old watchtower.
He tied the horses to a post and led Mystiqe inside. They climbed up to the second floor, entering a small room with a bed, chair and table.
"Well, at least you have somewhere to sleep now", he said with a grin, hands shaking.
Mystiqe smiled and climbed onto the bed, lying on her side. Red hesitated, then lay down beside her, warily meeting her eyes. She reached for his hand, interlocking their fingers.
"I have to return to Derudin", she murmurred, feeling his warmth spreading through her. "Tularis... umm... my father... wants me to take a message to Xhao."
"I'll come with you", Red whispered, resting his head against hers.
She looked at him for a few moments, listening to the lightning tearing the sky apart.
"You can't come with me, not this time", she said gently. "I need to find Juz. I should have gone after him straight away."
"Myst, he left you without a word... Danika died in his arms...".
She flinched slightly. "It doesn't matter."
Red trembled, gripping her fingers tightly. "The worst thing is... i know you truly mean that. Haven't you wondered what would have happened if Danika had survived? Or wondered what happened between them in the past?".
Mystiqe raised a finger to his lips. Her word came out quiet and halting. "When Juz first met Danika, he was seriously wounded and fighting against fever. I thought he was going to die... he was in that bad a state... I just hoped against hope that he could reach the Crystal City... with the Kul'Tar... i didn't expect to survive for five minutes against the ogres... he knew that... we both knew we wouldn't see... each other again in this world."
"I wouldn't have left you... i'd never have looked at Danika", Red mumbled, voice cracked.
"I can't blame him, Red", she replied, eyes fierce. "What would you have done if you thought the person you loved had died, you'd spent the last eighteen months living as an outsider in a hostile city with no contact with your own kind, you were ill and wounded, sure you wouldn't live much longer, caught in the middle of a never ending war... and a beautiful young girl looks after you, tends to your wounds, forces you to fight on and survive?".
Red was quiet, then smiled sadly. "Maybe i can understand the last part."
"He's not some dishonourable rogue", she murmurred. "He returned to Derudin to look for me, as soon as he was well enough to travel. He didn't give up on me. Even though he thought i was dead, even though he knew the emperor would slaughter him. He risked his life to search for me there. I don't have to wonder about whether he'd have chosen Danika or me. He made that choice ten years ago".
"I don't suppose you could pretend i'm Juzzza for just one night?", Red asked, grinning with tears in his eyes.
She leant forward and kissed him tenderly. "Afraid not, i need to find my rogue".
[This should occur after Richard's next post, but it's the closest place i can fit it in :)]
"What took you so long this time?", Juzzza asked quietly.
Mystiqe slid down into his lap, wrapping her legs around his waist. She grinned, trailing her fingers along his jawline. "Oh, i've been secretly watching you for a while now. I wanted to make sure you didn't have any more women stashed away."
He laughed, putting his arms around her and looking her in the eye. "Jealous?".
"Oh yes. I've seen the way you eye up Mya every time Boldar's not looking."
Juzzza spluttered back laughter, hugging her tightly. "Not guilty". His expression turned serious. "Just for a moment, i thought you were going to admit that you do care about me and were jealous." He paused, averting his eyes and glancing around the dark camp. "Where's your lover boy?".
Mystiqe arched an eyebrow, lips curving into a smile. "Now who's jealous?".
The rogue sighed, burying his head against her neck. His fingers slid under her jacket, stroking along her spine. "Maybe i am. I'd understand if...you, umm...".
"Wanted you back?", she finished, kissing him passionately.
Juzzza pulled away, breathing ragged. "Myst... stop playing with me. I love you too much for this. The last few days have been hell, i thought i'd damn well lost you for good this time. And now you turn up acting like nothing's happened, and won't even say...".
"I love you".
He rolled her over onto the ground, lying on top of her and kissing along her neck. "And the rest... you owe me a lot more than three words after ten years together... um apart... whatever."
"This could take a long time", she murmurred, running her fingers through his hair.
April 28th, 2004, 11:54 PM
Bass sat quietly near the blazing campfire outside of castle cleft. The camp was bustling with activity as the ogres completed setting fortifications, and the LRI prepared for a morning forray into the underdark, on the way to Derudin.
The firelight glittered in his dark eyes as he sat unmoving. Most of the party was huddled around Juzzza, sharing stories. Boldar had just returned after giving his account, grumping about the 'arrogant pretty boy'. He sat down and watched his friend for a while and finally determined to break the silence. "So Bass, what happened today?"
Bass shook his head. "What, Boldar?" His voice was distant.
"Today... what happened? Who was the woman?"
Bass sighed. "She is not a woman, Boldar," he forestalled any interuptions, "she is a goddess, and I am her servant."
"Bass, you have always had your private side, but this is a bit... strange. I've never known you to be a pious man, and frankly I know you don't do any praying..."
"Varsnya puts few demands on me most of the time. But... she has one major task for me, and it is due. My task aligns with the task we are on Boldar. At least mostly. At the end there may be some issues, but I can handle them, as long as Albert works with me, or at least steps aside."
Boldar stared silently for a moment. "I don't understand Bass."
Bass nodded. "Of course you don't. I barely understand myself. The long and short of it is, I was enlisted in an effort to purify the source of magic, which the gods themselves rely on. Varsnya selected me for reasons beyond me, though it now seems likely that she simply knew I'd be at the right place at the right time."
"How could she know that?"
"She is one of the immortal powers, Boldar, I assume she can see into the future to some extent. Anyhow, I am a pawn, and not a free one. Varsnya compelled me. I know I am compelled, but worship her nonetheless. I will do this, Boldar."
"Do what, excactly?"
"I must release the power in the demon bottle when the Kult'ar is destroyed. There are other roles to be played out by others, but this is my task. If I fail, Boldar, magic will not be renewed. The world may be saved, but it will be without magic, and without the gods and goddesses. They cannot exist without magic."
"Old friend, we had a job to do, and this seems to fit in... I came for a last adventure, and I'm content to make this part of it." Boldar frowned. "But why is she HERE?"
Bass shook his head. "I don't know Boldar. She should not be here, it makes no sense. I thought the mission the safest without everyone knowing, but it appears likely they all know now. I can't hide any longer as Bass the oldster."
Boldar grinned. "Old man, if you think anyone ever believed you less than important, you don't pay much attention. Albert has been watching you all along, and I think you make Reed very nervous."
Bass smiled warmly. "You are too kind my big friend. Perhaps we still are a formidable pair! Or is Boldar Dash Adventuring company going to be a threesome from now on?"
"Well now, as to that... I don't know, but if the lass will have me, I'll not mind the company!"
"Boldar, how can you wonder? Haven't you noticed that she does not even sleep naked anymore?"
"Damned unfortunate that... and I can't understand it."
"You just think about it a while big man, and get some sleep. We are leaving in the morning."
Later that night Bass travelled out of body and returned once more to visit Sacrifice.
"The time is coming, are you ready?" Bass asked.
The chained one looked up, face drawn, despair evident. "More than ready. I am done with this life, ready to finish this task."
Bass was concerned. "Ready to finish, indeed. Why despair, though, never before have you shown such pain. Is this not your purpose, as you stated to me once long ago, your 'easy way out'?"
"My path is set, but I watch my daughter, and I see in my mind her interaction with my replacement. I have given more of myself to that construct, perhaps too much... but I have to protect her. Now, he has to protect her, but I am losing myself... losing so much."
Bass felt deep sadness. "You give up much, and now sacrifice even more. You give your daughter a father, instead of a cruel construct. I am sorry you will not see her again, speak to her, or hold her."
Sacrifice looked up, tears on his ebony cheeks. "This is the last thing I can give her, the only tears I have ever shed. She must never know of this Bass. She has a father again, and I beg you don't take that away."
Bass could not speak for a long minute. "I will honor you in this. And I will never forget what you have done. Not just for the world of man, but for your daughter. No force will stop me from fulfilling my task... from you fulfilling yours. It is time for me to go back."
"Must you go?"
"Bass, what I said before about the importance only of saving my daughter... it was wrong. I know that now."
"Yes, it was wrong, but where did such wisdom come?"
"The wisdom of sorrow, Bass. In the last, I understand you humans for the first time. You live such short times, but find strength in that. When I began to realize it was going to end, I found that I understood the value of life... of other's lives. A strange through for a drow..."
"Not for a disciple of Varsnya. It is a thought worthy of sacrifice. Good bye."
Silence answered him as he returned to his body.
April 29th, 2004, 03:36 PM
Suzé's home confused Arleena. All the furniture was of elven design and ranged from functional discomfort to lavish splendour. But more striking was the huge collection of artifacts. She had asked Suzé about them, surprised at the decorated room. The Suzé she remembered was a nomadic rogue with a distaste for distraction. And the woman who lived here was a collector of art. There was orcish pottery. The walls were hung with tapestries woven by kobold peasants. When they had eaten, it was from dwarven cuttlery. Suzé had claimed to emulate the life style of an elven poet. But that was no answer. There were other life styles she could have emulated.
"You have changed more than I thought, initially. Or we never got to know you all that well." Arleena leant back in her chair, looking at the plate she had cleaned, and then looking Suzé in the eye.
"A bit of both, most likely," Suzé said. "I am almost pure magic this time round. And recently the life in me has given up resistance. After countless cycles this came as a surprise, I must admit."
"The life in you just gave up?" Reed gave Suzé an amused look. "That is somewhat hard to believe, isn't it?"
Suzé returned the look. "And yet that is what happened. The high mage came, said something about you abusing my shadows, and the life just gave in."
"The high mage?" Reed raised an eyebrow. "You know him, then?"
"Know him?" Suzé laughed. "There are two things that make this cycle special. One is meeting you folks. You changed the life in me, and I still don't understand in what ways. And the other one is the high mage meddling. Do I know him? Hah! He messed with my device. To be fair, though, I messed with it first. Or rather the life in me."
"So Albert decided to meddle? Are the stories true then? Is he as capricious as they say?" Reed smiled.
"He may be." Suzé frowned. "There is nothing capricious about his meddling, here, though."
"Please, do explain." Reed leant back in his chair, his hands resting in his lap.
Suzé regarded Reed for a while, then looked at Gina. "You don't mind her hearing, do you?"
Reed shook his head. "She's the only representative of the Lovable Rogue Inc. around here, and frankly, I'm done with secrets. I have little stake in this, now that I've got Sharn off my back and the Lady Danika is dead."
"The Lovable Rogue, huh?" Suzé smiled. "Well, Albert, as you called him, runs around protecting the magical balance of this world."
"Which the Kult'ar upsets," Reed stated.
"The Kult'ar? Oh, no. That little trinket has always been around. It's been around long before I came into being. Why would that upset any balance?"
Reed frowned. "You said, you messed with it this time round, didn't you?"
Suzé nodded. "I did. Yes. But when the Kult'ar was created this time round the balance had already been disturbed. Why else, do you think, Albert messed with it?"
"The demon bottle?" Reed tried.
"Perfectly in keeping with the magic around here. Belongs to a local deity, after all. No, the imbalance stems from Albert himself."
Arleena shook her head. "That can't be true, can it? The high mages, they're part of every world and none. The magic they work may upset things a bit, but in the end it returns to the originator. I mean, it doesn't make sense to mess with something like the Kult'ar, to rectify a mistake or something like that. That's like burning down the house to get rid of the rats in the cellar. You lose too much, and it doesn't work anyway. He can't have cast a really big spell. There's no way we would..."
"Not a spell. Foreign magic infusion. Simple as that." Suzé looked Arleena in the eye, enjoying her confusion.
"But his magic isn't foreign. It's..."
"Oh, yes it is. But he can handle it enough, not to cause problems. Mostly."
Arleena stared. "Oh, come on. Start making sense, will you?"
"Let's assume part of his magic fell into hands who don't know how to work it. Don't even know they hold it." Suzé grinned. "What if part of his magic merged with local life?"
Arleena thought on this, and then she realized. Reed laughed out loud: "That sly bastard! He's covering his tracks!"
"Yes, and this makes him predictable. I play him pretty well. Attack one of his loved ones, and he'll charge to the rescue." Suzé chuckled. "He's still got a few surprises, for me, but, in the end, it won't help him. It won't help him at all."
"You did what?" Reed laughed. "This is your master stroke, Suzé. Can you hear me?"
Suzé frowned. "What's that ab..."
"Not talking to you. Talking to Suzé. No offense."
Suzé's frown deepened. "That I am. So will..."
"She thinks she's you. That's brilliant. And she thinks she can manage Albert. I've got to hand it to you." Reed laughed.
"Are you mad?" Suzé stared at Reed, but Reed just smirked. "You..." But she couldn't go on speaking, as her face jerked in a flurry of confused expressions, until a wicked smile spread across her face. "I learned a lot from you, you know?"
"Messing with things you don't fully understand is dangerous," Suzé said.
"But that's no reason not to do it," Reed replied. "As long as you remember that you have no control."
"And as long as they believe they have control, you've got the advantage." Suzé grinned. "I've tried to destroy the magic in me for so long, I can't remember. I've never been so close. Albert's meddling has been opportune. All I had to do was sit back and watch. She forgot that her shape is based on me."
"Well, do you think Albert will destroy you, then?" Reed asked.
"Ah, there's the catch." Suzé sighed. "He'd need the Kult'ar for that. And... well... it's active... and gone."
Reed nodded. "The shadows hinted at it. They also said it no longer pulls them in one direction. It pulls them apart."
"Quite likely. It takes a lot of magic to create life." Suzé sighed again.
"Life?" Arleena asked.
Suzé shrugged. "A little safety measure. A switch. If I felt too many people were interested in the thing. And if I can't control it, nobody should. The logical decision was to give it a mind of it's own. But artifacts wouldn't develop that. So..." Suzé shrugged. "I gave it the potential of functioning as an egg."
"An Egg?" Arleena asked.
"Unfortunately, the Kult'ar was stolen, what, ten years ago. And then it was hidden by a telepath. I lost track. When she died, I noticed at once the egg had been triggered. Either she found it, or Albert showed her."
"It makes sense." Reed laughed. "It all makes sense, now. She loved the Kult'ar. She loved..." But he couldn't go on with the sentence. The tears came first. He slumped forward onto the table and buried his face in his arms. The sobs weren't loud at all.
"I suppose that means he knows where the Kult'ar is, then?" Suzé asked.
April 29th, 2004, 08:58 PM
A slight lessening of the gloom demarked the beginning of a new day in the high cleft. The members of the LRI huddled against the chill drizzle that had begin in the deep of the night.
Juzzza strode around their small camp, checking preparations. He spoke briefly with each member of the troupe and then moved over to speak with Lord Gravin. "I trust that the remnants of the regiment can hold the valley in promise of our return?"
Gravin nodded gravely, looking at the tall dirt bulwark that had been built up across the narrow end of the cleft. "Aye, I imagine two dozen of the lads could hold this against hundreds. Nedrak's lads neatly sealed every other opening to the cleft, I believe."
Juzzza took a long draw on his pipe. "You staying here, mate?"
"No. The boy and I are coming with you, and I think you know why."
Juzzza nodded. "It will raise some eyebrows... but its as must be. Fine then, let's get going."
Boldar looked into the complete darkness of the cavern opening. "Nice to get out of this cold rain!"
Mik grunted. "I hate caves. To damn low for the likes of us."
Boldar nodded. "Not to worry, Mik, this is a major route to Derudin. Dark as the inside of of a rat's arse... but plenty high and plenty wide. This route will take us directly to Derudin without any turnings, in about six days."
"You ever travel in the deeps? It's slow going, path a bit uneven... dangerous to move too quickly."
"Like I said. I hate bloody caves." Mik seemed if anything, more gloomy.
Boldar chuckled. "How 'bout you Crom, you like caves?"
Cromwell smiled. "Crom never been down deep. Sound fun."
"That's my lad!"
Mya strolled in. "Quit 'yer yappin big man, we have to climb down the ass of the world and find Gina."
Boldar raised his eyebrows. "With a little time a practice lass, you just may become a wife to make a man proud!"
The entire group turned at that.
"Err.... well, I mean...."
"Big man, next time you say that, you better mean it, and be ready to back it up!"
Boldar looked near panic. His darting eyes finally landed on Juzzza. "You ready to get moving lover boy? It's wet out here."
Mya smiled. Juzzza looked confused for a minute, trying to discern what was happening. Juzzza finally shrugged and nodded. "Well then, big man, lead the way!"
Boldar grimaced, loosened his sword in its sheath, and grabbed a pack donkey by the lead rope. He looked at the flickering lamp on a pole attached to the donkey's pack and moved forward, pulling the stubborn beast through the stone arch into the darkness.
Mya watched Mik and Crom follow next, then Bass and Juzzza, who were chatting quietly. Finally, Gravin came alongside and nodded to her gravely. They each took one last glance at the early dawn gloom and moved into the darkness at the rear of the party.
From up ahead they heard the loud sound of what was clearly a flatulent outburst followed by "Watch out for the squeeky rock!"
Several voices whispered furiously. "Quiet, Boldar!"
Cromwell laughed once loudly. "Boldar, you funny!"
One thing was certain, LRI was back together, and all was back to normal.
April 30th, 2004, 08:20 PM
[empty for moment - keeping space as i may need it later while adding scenes to the story]
May 2nd, 2004, 01:57 PM
Gina opened the door and decended the steps into the dimly lit cellar, where, according to Suzé's directions, a hot spring was situated. She had expected to find Reeds clothes neatly folded in a pile somewhere. Instead they lay strewn across the floor where he might have discarded them. She watched Reed sit in the Pool, trying to relax. He'd turned his head as soon as she entered, and as she came closer, his expression changed. He gave her a wry smile.
"They're talking about shadow hunters up there. Nothing they say makes any sense to me, and they won't explain," said Gina.
Reed turned his head away and stared straight ahead at some bubbles. "Don't care right now. Is why I left," he mumbled. Then, he raised his hand, and let it drop palm first into the water, causing a pitiful commotion on the surface. Then he returned his attention to her. The smile she got this time was weaker, but, she fancied, more genuine. "Care to join me?" he asked.
Gina frowned. "As long as it's understood that we're not..."
Reed sighed. And then the words just spilled forth. "My ankle hurts. I've been scared, angry, frustrated, had self-doubts, felt guilty, worried about some and lost others... You saw me break down up there, and now I'm drained. I won't make a pass at you, I won't resist you, should you make a pass at me. Do what you will, just don't expect any decisions from me, right now." He exhaled, then lowered his voice. "Please..."
"Fair enough," Gina said. She did notice the movement of Reed's eyes as her clothes slid to the floor. It made her smile. As she approached the pool, Reed shifted his position, making space for her. She slid into the pool, coming to rest facing him. Her Right leg brushed against his left, the good one. The water was hotter than she'd expected. She leant back relaxing. It was the first hot bath she'd had since the Crystal City.
Reed didn't speak, and when she didn't either, his eyes drifted off. He looked strange: tired, a bit dreamy perhaps. Opposite her sat another man, not Reed at all.
May 3rd, 2004, 07:13 PM
"Bloody dark, dank, hot, stinking hole..." Juzzza grumbled in a whisper. Whispers, however, carried in the darkness of the caverns, where the plinking of single drops of water could be heard for miles.
"Aye, but the foods good!" Boldar replied, popping one of the white fungi known as Shuk into his mouth. Cromwell had shown his friend where to find them in the caverns the day before, a great secret that the two of them, much to the parties relief, kept to themselves.
"God's big man, how can you eat those! Your breath is horrible." Bass waved his hand emphatically and backed away from Boldar.
"Horrible... Come on now, they taste like chicken. Well, more like lizard covered in garlic. But lizard tastes a bit like chicken, so you get my point."
"At least we know what has kept the damned drow away for the last two days!" Mya quipped.
Juzzza stopped walking and motioned to Boldar, Mya and Mik, who happened to be nearest. Bass had dropped back to talk to Albert, who seemed to enjoy walking just out of the reach of the lights. "Let's stop here for the night."
"Fine," Boldar said, "but, I think it may be time for one of those pretty speaches of yours about what comes next."
Juzzza nodded thoughtfully. "Perhaps, but I need to speak with Myst and Albert first."
Boldar nodded and joined Mya, Mik, and Crom who were already sitting by a small fire in a brass bowl on a relatively flat area of rock.
"It seems," he began, "that you three are the only one's besides Bass who will camp with me!"
Mik nodded in agreement, and Mya smiled, patting the ground by her side. Cromwell smiled a wide smile and turned his back to the fire. "Boldar good friend. Cromwell think up funny joke for Boldar, pay back for good joke Boldar teach him!"
Fifty paces down the tunnel, Bass was standing in deep gloom by Albert, watching Juzzza and several others to indestinct in the darkness to make out, approaching.
The next thing he heard was a sound that sounded like a thousand cat's coughing up furballs at the same time. Before he could even react, a bloom of brilliant blue flame blazed on the other side of Juzzza, sending him and who could now be seen as Myst and Lord Gravin diving off to the side.
Juzzza, with the agility of a cat was back on his feet with blade drawn in a heartbeat. "Magical attack?" His inquiry was pointed at either Albert, or Bass, or perhaps both.
Albert chuckled. "Nothing magical about that..."
Bass finished the statement. "Supernatural might be a better term."
In the distance they could hear Boldar laughing, and unitelligible but heated words from Mya and Mik.
Understanding dawned on Juzzza, and he sheathed his blade. "Boldar!" He urgently whispered, as near a shout as a whisper could be.
"What," came the innocent reply. "It was the ogre, not me! Poor lad's got singed fur on his backside to prove it!"
At that point, Mik and Mya joined in the laughter, and all hopes of any serious conversation was lost for the time.
"Save the world my Arse..." grumbled Juzzza, loud enough to be heard.
Boldar gasped between breathes. "Crom here... just... wanted to show... that he... could also... shoot fireballs..."
At which point Mya fell backwards holding her belly, Mik was gasping for air, and Crom raised one hand from his singed bottom and waved and Juz. "Crom think Bass way of doing better, fire from fingers not funny, but not hurt the way this hurt."
At which point Juzzza found himself chuckling, and then laughing.
Bass, used to such antics looked at Albert. "I suppose your above such humor?"
Albert smiled. "Not at all man, but while that may have been... interesting, it can't compare to Banot mating season on Hythok, or the ritual greetings of peasant folk in Dynube, or... well, its a matter of exposure you see."
Bass looked purplexedly at the man for a moment. "You mean that there are people's and places that make Boldar look... tame?"
"Then," Bass smiled wickedly, "when this is over, can you send him to one of those places?"