Quinot was asleep. He lay tangled in his blankets. One small foot attached to a skinny leg hung over the edge of the bed. The toes wriggled as they were licked. Twitched as they were nuzzled. "Wake up sleepy head..." Daniel softly hissed and licked the toes again.
Quinot's tousled head came up and he yawned. Grinned through the last remains of sleep and reached out his arms to the drake. Daniel winked and waved a talon at the boy to follow. He did. As he left the room Bass stirred and opened one eye.
Down the passage and out into the night the drake waddled. Quinot trotting after. The drake led the youth to a shape sitting on a rock. The shape was Albert. Wrapped in a cloak his hat pulled down over his face and his sword in his hand. He was cleaning the steel. The soft, oiled cloth hissed as it passed over the metal.
Daniel came to a stop before Albert and looked first at the mage, then at the boy and sighed.
"Hello... can I play with the drake?" Quinot asked as his eyes followed the cloth on its travels down the sword.
"Maybe..." Albert replied and stopped polishing. He held the blade out level in front of him, the sharp tip a bare inch in front of Quinot's nose.
The lad's eyes crossed and he said "Is it sharp?" As he spoke his right hand cam up and his index finger touched the steel. It cut him, yet he did not feel any pain, merely smiled at Albert. Albert watched the youth's blood sparkle in the moonlight as it trickled down the steel.
"Stop it now..." Bass said coldly from out of the shadows.
"Stop what? " Albert asked as his blade moved and rested on Quinot right shoulder.
"I know what you are up to and I will stop you, you have no right"
"Do you? That's knews to me" Albert sarcastically answered. "You and who's army old man and finally I have every right I helped create this..." The fingers of Albert's left hand waved in the direction of Quinot.
May 15th, 2004, 09:07 PM
Bass thought furiously for a moment. It was not the proper time, though in fact the pieces were all prepared and in place. His mind seemed to be spinning, his head was a bit light. As suddenly as his confusion came on him, it left, leaving in its wake a complete and utter calmness.
"You are behaving foolishly, and are in fact a bit overconfident." Bass said calmly to Albert.
Albert looked at the old man, a look of incredulity on his face. "You are the foolish one, old man. Remember, I know your secrets. You, however, don't know mine."
"True, but not the point. With all your vaunted power, you don't see it, do you?" Bass prodded.
Albert's eyebrows pulled down. "See what old man?"
"Forget it. It doesn't matter. You are going to do what you want, regardless, so why don't you just do it now, instead of later? Show me just how powerful you are, just how easily you can destroy the Kult'ar, AND end this young boys life."
"You are senile old man! A minute ago you were telling me to stop, now you tell me to do it... make up your mind."
Bass reached into a pocket and pulled out the demon bottle. "I am ready whenever you are, Albert. My job will be completed. I was recommending you stop because of the danger to you... but since you KNOW everything..."
"Danger! You know nothing of the danger posed if I don't do this..." Albert spat. "You know the bits and pieces we let you know... you know the pitiful plan of your goddess... in other words, you KNOW nothing."
"I meant," Bass continued nonplussed, "danger to yourself, not physical danger, but the danger of having to live with your actions. I know you put your soul in danger."
Albert was fuming. "Shut up, just shut up. You can not imagine the color of my soul, the flavor of my being... you know nothing of these things. You are a child!" The dagger hovered above the boy, in hands quivering with anger. The boy simply watched, seemingly unafected.
"No Albert, I will not shut up. We all make choices, and this is Quinot's choice, not yours. If you make it for him, then you will bear the guilt of that choice for the rest of your existence."
"I WILL NOT TRUST THIS TO THE WHIMS OF A CHILD!" Albert yelled, and struck with the dagger.
Many things then seemed to happen at one time.
May 15th, 2004, 09:29 PM
As the dagger struck home in Quinot's breast, the boy's eyes opened wide and he began to fall backwards soundlessly. Instead of blood, an intense white light flowed from his chest, whirling rapidly from the wound and curling into the air in the chamber.
Mik and Cromwell, sitting watching from a distance, sprang into action, completely shocked at what they had seen.
Albert stepped back, face ashen, dagger falling from his fingers.
Bass incanted a spell and threw the demon bottle to the ground.
And in the depths, out of sight and hearing of any living creature, Sacrifice cried in agony and was silent, never to utter another sound.
Then time resumed to normal.
The white streams of light were swirling about the now supine form of Quinot, beginning to form what appeared to be a great fierce face in the chamber. A feeling of dread overcame Mik and Crom, who stopped dead and began to involuntarily back away.
A great howling wind arose from the shattered remnants of the demon bottle, shreiking fiercely in the chamber. This wind began to break up the white light, screaching louder and louder as it did so.
Bass was incanting something, rocking on his feet, eyes closed, glowing with power.
The wind and the white light swirled and swirled louder and more potently for either an eternity, or a heartbeat or two, and suddenly the entire mass of light and wind sucked inward on itself and in a great pop of implosion, the cavern went dark and still.
A small light appeared, illuminating Albert's ashen face. "What have you done?"
Bass slumped to the ground, unable to answer. All was silent for a long minute.
Albert, regaining his composure, walked over to Bass and bent down and shook him lightly. "What... have... you... done?"
Bass opened his eyes slowly. "Only what Varsnya demanded of me."
"And that is?"
The two were interupted by a gruff voice from a few feet away in the dark. "Shite on a stick!"
A second voice replied, it was clearly Crom. "Not now, too dizzy to eat."
Albert guffawed. "Well, at least we are all alive."
Bass blinked again. "It's done, I know it's done!"
"How do you know?"
"I just do..."
Then another voice interupted, a most unexpected one. "Where am I?"
Albert and Bass turned to look at the small form of Quinot, sitting up a few feet away.
Albert spluttered. "Wha..."
Bass smiled. "Quinot, are you okay?"
Quinot blinked several times. "Who are you?"
"A freind, Quinot, a friend. Mik, would you mind the lad for a moment?"
Mik grunted in responce. "Dead or alive, I always get stuck with the kid..."
Albert picked up his dagger again. "Old man, what have you done?" His voice was even and dangerous.
"Not me, and I did not expect this, but a certain Sacrifice was made, and Quinot was the fortunate recipient. It seems our young vessel has been granted a true life to replace that which was lost."
"Yes, my mistress can be a hard one, but loyalty and service are repaid, though this in not what I expected."
"It is a potent soul, even I can see that much... Perhaps your ploy did work, I still sense magic..."
"Yes, so do I Albert. I believe that the demon bottle replaced the tainted source with a new one. I think we succeeded."
Albert nodded. "Only time will tell for sure old man..." He looked at Quinot quiltily. "I am gladdened he is alive, though I can't say I am sorry for what had to be done."
"Truly Albert, I'd think that taking his choice away was a great crime. Have you no guilt over that?"
"You have no idea what I have to live with old man, no idea."
"No, Albert. I do not."
The ogre walked over. "No understand, but think something big happen?"
Albert slapped him on the shoulder. "Aye, something rather grand, friend Cromwell. I think we need to go find the others and tell them of it."
"Why you stab boy? How he live?"
"Quinot's heart was the Kult'ar, as to his living, that is Bass' doing."
"Don't understand," the ogre grumped. "Me think Kult'ar in city of drow..."
"Yes, I think most everyone thought that, but we had to protect the secret." Bass said, "I'd like to see Juzzza, and Boldar, of course. There is much more to settle for here."
Albert nodded. "Juzzza is going to be insanely angry over the risk we took. That just might make this all worth it!" Albert paused for a minute and then gave Bass a hard look. "And, by the way old man, I don't know how you managed to manipulate me so, but I'll kill you if you ever try such a thing again..."
Bass shook his head. "Talk to my boss, I had little choice in matters."
Albert chuckled. "Perhaps I will, perhaps I will. By the way, has anyone seen the drake?"
May 15th, 2004, 10:32 PM
sorry if that was a bit abrupt. I'd like to work on the build up and the scene itself, and will later. About to go on a trip and the timing was perfect for this part of the plot to come together. Hopefully I can get on briefly in the next week to work on the Boldar parts...
May 16th, 2004, 05:13 AM
"Where did you get these?", Mystiqe asked, hands trembling, unfolding thin parchments from faded envelopes. Black ink formed words she was too shaken to read. Slanted lines, curves and loops, joined together, instantly familiar.
Juzzza gazed across at the pages, mouth dry. He kicked his chair back, rising before Xhao, eyes narrowed. The chair toppled backwards, hardwood smashing into rug and floorboard. "You'd better have a good explanation for this. Do you enjoy watching other people and reading their private letters?".
The skin drew tight across the dark elf's face. "Quite the opposite", Xhao replied, body strained. He looked across at Mystiqe, lips compressed in a tight line. "I found them amongst Dargeth's possessions, he must have intercepted them."
Crisp and yellowed, the parchments turned under her fingers, abstract symbols evolving into meaning. Aware of external scrutiny, she raised her head, colliding with storm-filled eyes.
"You never received them?", Juzzza asked tentatively.
Mystiqe shook her head slowly from side to side. "You thought i didn't reply?".
He shrugged, moving to right his overturned chair. "Thought you threw them away unread. That you didn't want anything to do with me."
"They're from different years", she said dazedly, turning through the pages. "You didn't give up."
"Yeah", Juzzza mumbled, sitting down and rocking on the back legs of his chair. "Not that it did much good. Still, at least one of us tried".
Wincing, Mystiqe diverted her gaze, returning her attention to Xhao. The young assassin stood at ease, boots spread a little apart, short white hair ruffled. His features remained expressionless, calm and authoritative. On the opposite side of the desk, Gravin listened to the exhange with a mixture of interest and discomfort. He stared up at the ceiling, pretending to examine the blackened plaster and red lanterns.
Frustrated, Juzzza refused to let the subject drop. "Didn't you ever think of contacting me? Or at least telling me why you didn't want to see me again? I waited in Karst Hills for two months before finally realising you weren't going to show up".
"Tularis asked me to watch over you", the assassin interrupted, speaking directly to Mystiqe. He clasped his hands in front of him, smooth ebony fingers ending with neatly filed nails.
Juzzza glared at Xhao, forcing back a renewal of jealousy. Xhao's words echoed through his head, spoken in the training hall, cruel and condescending. "I've known her for over a hundred years. Comparatively speaking, you've known her for all of five minutes. She may be with you now, but in the long run, you'll be forgotten, tossed aside like some foolish plaything. I can bide my time, i'm in no hurry. I'll just wait until she tires of you".
"How much did you... ", Mystiqe started to ask, then jerked away. She tried to mask the unsteadiness in her voice with bravado, fiercely shunning emotion. "You always were damn efficient. All recorded and documented?".
Xhao walked over to the mahogany desk, pulling a key from a chain around his neck. It slid into a well-oiled lock, allowing the top drawer to open. He lifted out half a dozen rolled scrolls, placing them on the desk. Then pressed the felt lining in several places, revealing a deeper compartment. A leatherbound manuscript lay amidst silk.
Unable to see clearly, Gravin rose from his seat, broad shoulders casting a shadow across the desk. He turned to Juzzza questioningly. The rogue motioned for him to stay quiet.
Clutching the letters in one hand, Mystiqe jumped down from the far table. She reached into the open drawer, brushing her thumb against the edges of the bound sheaves, calculating. "Did he read all of this?".
"Only edited reports, until Dargeth's death."
Mystiqe closed her eyes momentarily, then lifted the volume, opening it in two hands and flicking through the neatly printed pages. Reading passages at random, out of sequence, events described without compromise. Xhao watched anxiously, resting a firm hand on her back.
"Is there enough information to stop Zalador?", she asked quietly, betraying no reaction to the contents of the dark elvish script.
"Zalador?", Gravin queried, brow furrowed. "You mentioned him earlier, I didn't recognise the name." The lord shifted, resting his weight upon his palms, peering over the polished wood. Upside down the lettering was harsh, curves and spikes jarring, unrecognisable.
"Information?", Xhao remarked simultaneously. "For f***'s sake. That's ten years of your life. I wanted to kill Dargeth every time he..."
Mystiqe stopped the assassin short, deliberately avoiding his comments. She faced Gravin, gripping the edges of the manuscript tightly. "Zalador is Saerka Sharn's advisor. In the north and west, few know his name. Dargeth collaborated with him, providing the substances necessary for his... experiments. We worked on the project in Cybarak."
The room fell silent. Juzzza stared at Mystiqe, blood running cold. He tried to remember what Albert had said to Tularis, the broken fragment jolted him to the core. "Forgive your daughter".
Gravin's jaw became rigid, voice hoarse. "Worked with him?". The lord gripped his knees, anger rippling beneath the surface, struggling to remain composed.
Smooth as silk, Xhao cut in, commanding the situation. "My lord, we cannot change the past. All we can do is try to choose the best course of action based on the present."
While he spoke, Mystiqe reached into her jacket, drawing a small object from an inside pocket. A jade disc spiralled through the air towards the assassin. Xhao caught it with a quick snatch, and flipped the disc in his hand. Light caught on its surface, illuminating crossed blades. He glanced across at Mystiqe, voice artificially brazen. "Are you ready for this?".
"It's a good day to die", she murmurred with a smile. Behind the smile, her eyes were solemn, steadfast and determined.
Juzzza looked at the dark elves, sitting bolt upright in his chair. "What the hell do you mean?".
The assassin laughed, a forced sound. "Derudin is on the verge of civil war. Belaris Yassassin issued orders to start executing dissenters. The Xa'Chari Elite rounded up a hundred odd 'dissenters' last night, marking their homes and businesses with the sign of betrayal, stripping their properties of anything of value. Needless to say, human and half-elf residents were the first targets, along with their dark elf relatives. The public executions are set to commence in an hour in the old square."
"It's time Xhao and I intervened, Juz", Mystiqe added, walking across to the door, still clutching the letters in her hand. She opened the door, holding it ajar with one hand. "It's our responsibility to stop Belaris, whatever the cost".
"You're not doing this alone", Juzzza insisted, clambering to his feet and checking his blades.
"Thanks, i appreciate the offer", Xhao replied gravely, clapping a hand on the rogue's shoulder, "but you'd be torn apart out there. It's no place for a human right now. Besides, i need you two to stay alive. If you don't hear from us in three hours, head straight for the Emperor and do your damnedest to make the old bastard see reason. Try to force his hand for an alliance against Zalador. I don't hold much hope to be honest, Darsuvius is far too corrupt and senile to change. He'll probably set his guards on you. If all else fails, kill him and get to his son Dalius in the Eastern Quarter".
"Dalius?", Juzzza challenged, eyes widening. "You can't be serious."
"By the goddess", Gravin swore, face pale. "Dalius commanded the armies in the last war. Do you have any idea what that man was responsible for?".
"That 'man' was a boy following orders", Xhao answered, grabbing the leather bound book from the desk. He dashed past Juzzza, thrusting the book into the rogue's hands. His last words reverberated around the dark room, "Some elves and men do change".
May 16th, 2004, 06:59 AM
May 16th, 2004, 09:09 AM
"We'll..." Mya started. But right at that time Gilli announced her presence with a short but piercing scream. Everybody turned in her direction.
"Powerful wave," she blurted. "Quinot..." Gilli stared at Reed. "He died... and didn't..." Gilli looked uncertain.
Reed frowned at her. He fished in a pocket, until he found a sheet of paper. He unfolded it and put it on the table before him, regarded it with curiosity. "Whatever happened?" he asked nobody in particular.
Gilli looked down at the paper. It was Quinot's drawing of a fire drake. The drake was moving. Words appeared in a bubble pointing at him. "Fools, the lot of them," they said. And a little later: "I'm hungry."
Reed raised an eyebrow. Not knowing why, he took a pen and wrote: "Have some slug, then." To his surprise, the crudely outlinened drake on the drawing turned his head to face him.
Arleena squinted at Suzé. "What's the matter."
Suzé smiled to herself. "It works better than I thought it would. I didn't expect this, but then that's the point isn't it?"
"Didn't expect what? Start making sense, will you?"
"The powers of light, the powers of darkness. They always fall for that!" Suzé chuckled.
Arleena glared. "Tell me what happened, dammit!"
May 16th, 2004, 10:13 AM
Albert found Daniel sitting watching the fish swiming in an old fountain pool.
The drake's eyes gleamed in the moonlight as his head followed the movements of the fish.
"Well that was clever wasn't it?" Daniel said
"Not bad..." Albert replied and sat down beside the drake.
"Old Bass got the better of you, made you lose your temper."
"Now you know better than that, haven't lost my temper in 500 years." Albert cleaned the blade and set it down.
"Sooo... but you didn't let the lad chose..." Daniel snapped at a passing fish. Missed, spat out a mouthful of weed and looked hard at Albert.
"Didn't I? How you feeling?"
"Bloody funny. Its damn cold. But the lad wanted it, his heart with firedrakes...It's going to give me indigestion."
"But you have what's left? The dregs? Bass' spell and the bottle almost did the trick too well? Albert asked. "Got to hand it to that Goddess, she knows her stuff."
"What we going to do with it?" Daniel asked the squeaked... "Oh no.... not that as well." The drake forgot all about the fish and looked at Albert. The mage was fading away.
"Well, I did promise the powers that be that "Albert" would leave." The wisp of a thing that Albert floated towards the drake, vanishing up the creature's left nostril.
"It's going to be crowded in here." Daniel huffed as he felt Albert make himself comfortable in the corner of his mind.
"I don't mind if you don't mind me being in your mind." Albert quipped."As for what is left of the Kult'ar, call it an insurance policy for my granddaughter."
"Which one?" Daniel asked as he hopped into the air.
"One just thinking about being..."
"Oh right.. I am hungry"
"I am sure Reed has something for you..."
"Yum slug!" Daniel appeared on the table before Reed and promptly put his muzzle into Reed's dinner.
Albert was quietly thinking about everything. He had nearly lost his temper. He had, he admitted been worried that Bass would not act. He was sad that the boy's choice had been bent till near breaking point, but the "boy's" mind, thoughts and ideas were still alive. Imprinted in the body. Only the thing that had made the lad alive had been removed and shreded. All save for the bit Daniel had managed to swallow. What had entered the boy, was the boy. The lad had a real soul and a good one to boot.
As for Suzé she believed she knew it all. She didn't of course. She would only know the truth when what was left of the Kult'ar was rammed down her throat. She had meddled too much and when you meddle too much you pay the price Albert knew this very, very well....
May 16th, 2004, 07:04 PM
A few hours after the Kult'ar was destroyed, Albert was pacing a bit agitatedly about the small cavern mumbling to himself.
Bass stood and tottered over to him. "I don't mean this to sound wrong... but why are you still here?"
Albert, who had previously not even seemed to notice Bass, suddenly turned to the old man and ceased his pacing. "Don't you suppose I am wondering the same thing? As I am obviously still here, there must be a reason!"
"Unless there is something you have not told me, I can't imagine what that would be." Bass countered.
"You are a crazy and paranoid old fellow, aren't you?"
"And you are a crazy and unstable young man."
"Well then, there is one too many crazy mages in this world. I'm as eager to go as you are to have me go. But there is something left to do."
Without warning, Daniel flew into the chamber and circled about, flying upside down briefly, blowing small flames on the chambers roof.
"I call it smoke art. You like it?"
Bass laughed. Albert smiled.
"Glad you like it. Time to go, Albert. "
Albert smiled. "And now we are to hurry, are we?"
"Don't blame me, not my call. And it is not we. Just you. Bye now!"
Albert began to speak. "Just me, but what..."
Then Danial dropped suddenly, and impossibly consumed Albert. For a moment his belly was massively distended, then it went flat.
Danial belched a small fiery belch. "Taste like chicken. Never sticks with you though. Liked the slug better"
Bass looked at Daniel. "I'm not even going to ask about that."
"You wouldn't get it anyway. Things are complicated for Albert."
Bass nodded. "Having you around surely does not make anything easier."
Daniel's eyes glittered. "Well, you'll see, won't you?" And then he darted up and out of the cavern.
Bass' voice carried behind him. "What do you mean?"
May 17th, 2004, 09:05 AM
"We just wait here?", Gravin asked sharply, pacing back and forth along the length of the room. "I don't like this one bit, i can tell you".
Juzzza regarded the book, leaning forward in his seat.
"I should have known the drow were involved after all", the young lord muttered. "I shouldn't have allowed myself to be manipulated so easily."
The rogue sighed, stroking the stubble along his jaw. "If two dark elves were involved in creating that army... it doesn't mean that every dark elf is to blame. Xhao's right, we still need to forge an alliance. The human towns won't survive otherwise."
"How can you be so... reasonable?", Gravin snapped. "Can't you see the implications? You're speaking as though this isn't personal. Your lover helped to create the monsters that killed Dani. Do you think it's a coincidence that she reappeared just when you were seeking the Kul'Tar and Zalador launched his invasion? This whole thing sounds like a trap, luring us into Derudin away from the Kul'Tar".
Gravin strode over to the door, glancing down the corridor in both directions, sword drawn.
The rogue merely looked down at the book in his lap. "I know her too well, Gravin. She wouldn't do anything against humans."
The lord stormed back into the room, smashing a lantern from the desk with his fist. He moved quickly, stamping out a burst of flame. "I thought i knew my sister well once", he said quietly. "I was wrong. Look, try to think of it objectively if you can. From what Xhao said, Mystiqe has an awful background. Her mother and sisters were murdered by a human officer while held hostage, her brother witnessed that and lost his mind, then she thought her human lover killed her father. It must have affected her. After the war, she must have...".
"I trust her", Juzzza replied simply.
"How can you ever truly know and trust another person?", Gravin enquired.
Juzzza looked up at him. "You've never loved someone?".
"No", he confessed, cheeks reddening. "I... I didn't want to be at the whim of someone else, unable to control my emotions." Gravin hesitated, lifting the broken lantern onto the table. Hot metal scalded his fingers. He shook them vigorously. "If you're right about Mystiqe, what was she doing in Cybarak?".
"I don't know", the rogue admitted, looking at the book.