"Yes, there are currently humans lodging at my residence." Suzé gave the officer a derisive look.
"You will surrender them at once. Your status as poet protects you from the charge of treason for the time being, but should you refuse to cooperate, you forfeit this immunity." The officer held her gaze.
Suzé's features spread into a smile. "You've got your orders haven't you?" Then she shook her head.
The officer did not flinch, yet he did not press his point. He stood still, intending to wait out the whimsies of a poet.
"Well, you can go back where you came from. I will not hand over these humans to a crazed madman." Suzé yawned.
The officer's eyes narrowed. "That would grant you the mark of the traitor. Surely you are aware what that entails."
Suzé's smile flowed into a grin. "Anyone will be a traitor to someone. To me, Belaris has renounced his authority with his sanity. I am not a traitor, because I have never been an ally."
Fury glittered in the officer's eyes, but his body remained calm. "You are an elf, and yet you give shelter to our mortal enemies. Surely, you see, how this equates to treason."
Suzé shrugged. "Whatever you do, don't bore me. You're just Belaris' expendable toy, or he would not have sent you for me." And she closed the door. The pounding that followed was no surprise. Suzé waited a few seconds, then opened it again. She took a look at the officer, and just as he started to speak again, she sighed and raised her arm.
A word became a gasp, as a million tiny wounds opened bleeding shadows and blood. Eyes wide, but blacked out. A slow series of spluts, his skin unable to confine innards. The crack and crunch of bone, and then - nothing. Tentacles of dark fanned out on the ground, slowly moving towards the nearest elven boot.
The officer's men stood still, weapons drawn. Suzé let her gaze run along their lines before she spoke: "Now, you must make a decision," she said. "Die like this, or risk Belaris' wrath." She waited. When nobody moved, she smiled, "When this door closes you had better be gone."
And then the door closed.
May 17th, 2004, 02:38 PM
Reed folded Quinot's drawing and put it back into his pocket, as he watched Daniel eat the slug. Something had happened. But it was impolite to interrupt people eating. He leant back, looking at Boldar, Mya and Gilli in turn.
Both Boldar and Gilli stared at the drake, Boldar whincing, Gilli frowning in concentration.
Mya stared back at Reed. As soon as she had his attention she said, "Look. We really ought to get hold of Gina. This..."
Daniel raised his head to look at her. Then he turned back to the plate, "Can't a drake enjoy his meal in peace?" he mumbled as he swallowed the rest of the slug, including the plate, whole.
Reed raised an eyebrow. "Fine, let's go then," he said, getting up from the chair, found the inn-keeper in the other corner of the dining hall and raised a hand in greeting.
Right then the door opened. In no time Reed was surrounded by four Drow, weapons ready, the one facing the door bearing a shield. There was a thumping sound as an arrow bounced off it. There was cursing from outside.
"You're good," Reed remarked.
"Don't push your luck," the leader of his elven bodyguards snarled behind his back.
May 18th, 2004, 12:32 PM
The four drow guards quickly surrounded Reed, leaving Boldar and Mya on the side, ignored as irrelevant and harmless. Boldar, prepared for violence was stilled by a small gesture from Mya. They both sat back down, trying to appear as nothing more than two topsiders who were talking with a third, but had no intention of involving themselves in his affairs.
Reed looked at the lead drow. “No, don’t push your luck. You have no idea what you are getting into.”
The drow shrugged. “Try not to scare my men, human.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “You truly inspire terror…”
Reed glanced at Boldar and Mya quickly, and seeing them safely out of the way, nodded to himself. “Fine then, where is it you will be taking me?”
“What makes you think I am taking you anywhere, topsider?”
“Don’t insult my intelligence,” replied Reed. “Just get on with it.”
The drow scowled a bit, perturbed at the calmness of the man. “Fine, follow me, and do not even think of doing anything stupid.” He then turned and walked out the door. Reed followed at his own pace, and the guards dropped in behind, looking warily around the room to ensure no trouble was in the offing.
As they cleared the door, Boldar looked at Mya. “At least the disguises are working…”
Mya nodded. “Come on, big man, we gotta follow him. Without him, we can’t find Gina.”
Boldar stood. “Aye, let’s get to work.”
And the two of them walked casually out the door, spotted Reed and his procession, and dropped in far behind, careful to avoid notice.
May 18th, 2004, 03:54 PM
Mystiqe pushes through the crowded streets, following Xhao. She shudders involuntarily, surrounded by a sea of anonymous bodies, a pulsating throng of hard ebony faces and emotionless orbs. High rise buildings stagger upwards, tiers creeping inwards, windows shuttered. A slash of illumination refracts from the cavern above, tinting leather and skin violet.
In the press of the crowd, eyes slant downwards, unseeing, ears point upright, unhearing. Booted footsteps echo, rebounding off granite, marching past castigated doors. Bodies swerve, an elven wave, veering away from buildings bearing the mark. The blood red smear, in the shape of an eye, watches and condemns, passing judgement. Marking the corrupt, the polluted, the unsanctified. Dividing them from friends and relatives. Severing their past from their future.
"Get away from there!", a woman calls in elvish, voice shrill and panicked.
A child darts through legs and arms, eyes wide and alert. Running towards a blood stained door, small hands pounding painted wood.
"Get back here!", the woman cries.
Metal glints in the half light, blades lie exposed, edges sharp. Stiff uniformed elves scythe through the crowd, cutting across the flow. Gloved hands fall on the boy, clamping his shoulders, lifting his feet from the ground. He shrieks. The woman screams. A pool of red, moist and sticky, spreads across granite. A limp form is lifted, tossed over a black clad shoulder, born away, white hair matted crimson.
To the left, a corporal shouts out instructions, a harsh thunder of commands. To the right, jeers and chants pour out. Ranks, eight deep, line a cordoned pathway. Scrawled with abusive terms; painted letters, crudely drawn. A bell tolls, deep and mournful. Regular and rhythmic, imploring and insisting. Summoning the elves to bear witness. Signalling the start of the procession.
Banners hang from upper windows, black and red. Incense swirls through the air, thick and choking, creeping and grasping. Mystiqe's eyes smart, lungs burn. She coughs, gasping for breath. Xhao clasps her hand, tugging her down a side street. A man lies spawled, half naked, limbs twisted, skin white and pallid. Mystiqe breaks away, running to his side, hands scrambling to turn him over, bring his face upright. She chokes and spins away, retching in the gutter.
Boots drum the slate, thudding down the alley. Xhao throws Mystiqe backwards, dragging her to the ground. They lie, stifling breath, frozen and motionless, listening. Hidden by metal bins. Flies buzz, circling the lids. Four soldiers storm past, backs receding into the distance.
"It shouldn't be like this", Mystiqe whispers, stunned.
Opposite, shop windows are nailed shut with planks. A sign hangs, swinging from one end. Neon lights splutter, flickering and dying. Announcing for one last time: "Great Northern Trading Emporium - Purveyor of Fine Imported Silks - Est 1426". Emblazoned across a barred door, the eye stares, red pupil devouring the alley.
May 18th, 2004, 04:33 PM
After following Reed and his guards for about two blocks, Gilli appeared in front of Boldar. “This is very, very bad… you two better do something before they threaten him…”
Boldar grunted. “One good way to clean out a city of degenerate drow…”
Mya punched him in the arm. “Stupid man! First of, we need the help of these degenerate drow if we are to see the Advisor defeated, and second, GINA IS HERE SOMEWHERE.”
Gilla looked daggers at Boldar, Mya, however, shrugged it off.
Boldar looked at Gilli, floating just above him. “Do you suppose that instead of just panicking, you could scout ahead and find a place we safely remove your boyfriend?”
“Oooh… don’t push me…”
“Can’t push a ghost now, can I?”
Mya interrupted. “Leave it be Boldar! Gilli, go and see what you can learn.”
Gilli disappeared. The two continued to trail the drow from a safe distance, just seeing their heads above the crowd several hundred feet ahead of them.
Less than a minute later, Gilli popped back. “Oh no! Go, go now!”
Boldar hesitated. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Gina, she’s coming toward the drow, and she has her daggers unsheathed…”
“Crap it all!” Boldar swore. Mya, however, had already begun to unsheathe her sword and run toward Reed and his captors.
“Oh bloody hell… I suppose she will completely forget what happens if they threaten Reed in her rush to protect Gina…” And he took off at a lumbering job, feeling every jolt in his knees.
He reached Mya at about the same time she reached the elves, and the same time Gina reached the leading elf. Predictably, neither thought through the consequences. Gina was fighting to preserve her only link to the outside world (that she knew of) and Mya was fighting for Gina. Meanwhile, Reed was about to feel very threatened.
Mya cut down the drow at the rear at the same time as Gina threw her dagger at the leading elf, taking him in the throat. Gilli popped out in front of Reed and begin yelling something at him that Boldar could not make out. Boldar leapt forward, knocking an elf aside with his shoulder and grabbed Reed, shouting, “Reed, come with me!”
Reed understood what Gilli was saying and was expecting the attack on his guards. He did not expect Boldar to pick him up like a kitten under his arm and carry him twenty feet away before unceremoniously dumping him on the ground. By the time he got up, noticing with amusement that Gilli was hovering near him screaming like a banshee trying to scare anyone coming near, he noted that Mya and Gina had dispatched the guards without any help, and were now staring at each other.
Mya was saying “It’s me, Gina, me!”
Gina, holding her bloody blade before her growled, “who are you and what have you done with Reed?”
Mya was shocked at the savageness of Gina’s tone. She wondered what the two had been up to... “Gina, it is me, Mya, and I am in disguise. Ask Reed, he knows!”
Boldar walked over. “By the fires of hell, women, put down that blade and look… or touch her if you need proof. Hell, come touch me if you really want proof…”
Gina lowered her blade. “God’s it Boldar… that’s for sure. How did you… oh, never mind.” She leapt forward and embraced Mya. “Gods its good to see you again!”
Reed wandered over. “So, can we move away from the dead people before somebody decides to take offense at a group of topsiders killing off their people…”
“Shite…” Boldar cursed. “We must be going soft in the head. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Mya and Gina nodded in unison.
Reed looked around. “Follow me.”
Mya interrupted. “No Reed, we are leaving the city and waiting for the others at the camp! I’ll stay here no more.”
Boldar nodded his head.
Reed looked at Gina. “And you, Gina? Will you stay with me?”
May 18th, 2004, 10:10 PM
Reed looked at Gina. "And you Gina, will you stay with me?"
Gina hesitated, her eyes darting to and fro between Reed and Mya. Despite Mya's unfamiliar features, she read her friend's confusion.
Mya started to speak: "Gina, we were worried about you. We thought they forced you to come along with them."
Gina smiled. "'We', Mya?"
Mya bowed her head. "I needed to be sure you're alright. You just disappeared in the middle of a siege."
Gina took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I thought I followed Reed to see what he was up to, but the truth is..." She had to swallow before going on. "I needed a time ou from you and Boldar."
Mya raised her head. Her eyes opened wide. "But Gina, what...?"
"We're a team, right?" Gina smiled at the ground. "But lately... Well, you've been fighting alongside him, not me. And I didn't know how to take that."
Mya stared. "Gina, we are a team. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't realize that myself. Reed forced me to face it."
Mya nodded slowly. "Speaking of Reed, what was that about? You fought furiously for him."
"There's a person in there, Mya. He..."
"Those who care will look," Reed interrupted. He let himself fall backwards, until he rested against a stone wall.
"Don't say, you trust him," Mya said, glaring at Reed.
Gina shook her head, "You don't understand. We can't depend on him being on our side, ever. But, on the other hand, I'm sure he wouldn't hurt us, either. Well, I'm not all that sure, but..."
"Since you're bound to make me the topic of this conversation," Reed said in a tired voice, "I'm going to tell you how I feel right now." He took a deep breath. "I'm - what's the word? - touched that Gina would come to my rescue. And it's good to see what risks you're prepared to take for each other. But all of this," Reed pointed at one of dead drow, "was really unneccessary. I look down at them, wondering how old they were. Did they have family? Did they think they were doing their duty?"
"You're sorry they're dead?" Boldar stared at Reed incredulously.
Reed gave a short laugh. "I've caused enough death in the cause of this... 'adventure'. And that eats at me."
Boldar and Mya stared at Reed. Gina watched Mya stare.
Reed closed his eyes. "This may all be well for you. This is the life you've chosen. You've learned how to kill effectively with your swords, or the weapon of your choice. But I'm a gambler. If I have one useful combat skill that would be running. I often wonder whether I hate killing because I'm no good at fighting, or whether it's the other way round." Reed's eyes opened slightly. He attempted a smile. "When Saerka Sharn approached me, wanting me to disrupt your little party, I didn't decline right away. Once, because I was afraid of him, and then because I found it might be interesting to find out what's going on. But even if I'd never met Sharn..." Reed sighed. "Why is it that the road to disaster is paved with good intentions."
"What are you talking about?"
Reed stared to the ground, unwilling to answer. Gina spoke, instead: "The Kult'ar has been crafted by a friend of his. I've met her. We were her guests. Well, Arleena is still with her." Gina took a deep breath. "You've heard about what Reed's shadows can do. She can command them. I've seen it. She finished an elven officer off slowly, and then she erradicated the rest of his troop in a second."
"He's allied with her?" Mya asked.
Gina shook her head. "I think they're friends, although neither of them will admit it. The elves she eradicated, they were sent to get the humans who lodged at her house. Most likely she will be considered a traitor, now."
Reed gave Gina a sardonic smile. "So she's started her little coming out, then? She may have kept you safe for Arleena's sake and mine, but she may have her own reasons, as well."
"I'm curious, what did you say about good intentions?" Mya asked, trying to see Reed with Gina's eyes.
Reed smiled sadly. "I said they pave the path to disaster." He stared to the ground. "Here's the background: There once was a world where magic was getting weaker by the second. The last of magic was bound up in artefacts, or so everybody thought. Well, in this world, there was a paladin on his inordination quest, and he'd assembled a party. Which included Arleena, me, and Suzé, who Gina's been telling you about. We were out to vanquish the Aimless One. That was someone who randomly wandered into towns, wreaked havoc and left. I came along, because I wanted to proof the Aimless One a myth." Reed shook his head. "A myth, indeed. The Aimless One turned out to be a young girl, about the age of her first period, that young. She was being followed by monsters who dwelt in the shadows and fiercly protected her, that world's version of my shadows. Turns out, she'd tended to one of their ranks when it was wounded. She didn't know how to get rid of them. And whenever somebody meant her harm... you know." Reed took a deep breath. "The paladin and Suzé wanted to kill her. And Suzé might even have been able to do so, without retribution. She was one of them, but unlike the rest of them she had a human body; she was a changeling. Arleena and I, we managed to persuade them to try negotiation instead. I still don't know why Suzé agreed. She hated them. Well, it turned out, if we found a certain artefact for them, they would let the little girl go. We did. Arleena says it was the Kult'ar." Reed looked at them all. "A few weeks later, I woke up to a world brimming with magic and a second set of memories in my head. I'm almost thirty years old, but remember nearly sixty years. Suzé? I think she's a few thousand years old, and how many times she's been through cycles like this, I can't even begin to guess." A travesty of a smile appeared on Reed's face. "I'm in this mess, because I didn't want to see a little girl dead. And she, in turn, slid into hers because she was kind to a monster. Tell me, the road to disaster isn't paved with good intentions. Just look what happened to Danika..." Reed's head turned slowly to Gina. "Forget I asked you to come with me. I bring bad luck." Reed pushed off the wall he was leaning against and pulled up straight. "I'm tired of this all. Gilli, please locate Belaris Yassassin. Let's spare him the trouble of finding us."
The wall Reed had been leaning against belonged to a house. And this house had a roof. And on this roof there sat a fire drake looking down into the darkness. "Happens all the time," he mumbled.
Quite so, a voice in his head replied.
"Shall we follow him or head straight for the other?"
And then the drake spotted a bat fluttering by. His stomach rumbled.
May 19th, 2004, 11:49 PM
Boldar climbed over the low stone outcropping that mostly obscured the small exit from Derudin that they had come in. Mya clambored along behind him.
Boldar broke the long silence. "And you are just fine with Gina staying with HIM? After all of this dragging around this dark cesspool looking for her?"
"Shut up Boldar, you don't understand." Mya seemed to distracted to even put any heat in the statement.
"No, I won't shut up. I want to understand how you could leave her with that bastard! He lectures US on killing, and yet HE unleashed the damned shadow legion on the world. I swear I'd like to squeeze that little man..."
Mya grabbed Boldar and turned him toward her. "Fine then! I left her because it is NOT MY CHOICE. I don't make her choices anymore, and she does not make mine. I understand that now, and I hate it. I hate that you came between us that way."
"I refuse to be sorry that..."
"I don't want you to apologize, you big oaf! Don't men ever understand that there are times that things just are... It hurts, and there is nothing I'd do to change it. She stayed because she could not go and have things back the way they were. We each have to find our own way now. I don't need your pity, or foolish apologies, or anything, I just needed to say it."
Boldar scratched his chin, looking at Mya (or at least the man he knew was Mya). "Women are like locked boxes... you spend all your time trying to figure out how to get them opened up, and when you do, you often just wish you could get them closed up again..."
Mya cocked her head. "I'm not sure," she began slowly, "what to make of that." Then she brightened. "Like a closed box, eh? And do you suppose that you have the right key..."
Boldar was shocked. "Mya!"
Mya laughed. "Boldar, you may be right in your assesment. But this is about the heart, not the other, errr, well, it is my heart you have opened. And you are the key. You can't close it again, it is too late for that. That is why Gina is no longer here, and why I am."
Boldar smiled. "So, my key is..."
"Rusty and bent, most likely." Mya interupted. But, part of the package, nonetheless. Now let's get back to Bass and the others and get our faces back, and see if Juzzza and the others are back."
Boldar nodded. "Aye, lets."
As they left the glowing cavern into the dark side passage, Gilli appeared. "You did the right thing. Thank you."
Mya looked at the insubstantial women. "As if I could have made her come with us..."
"No, Mya, not that. But by coming for her. She is more herself now, more ready to move on. She is a strong women, and good for Reed."
Boldar's eyes opened wide. "You don't expect her... and he....?"
Gilli shrugged insubstantial shoulders. "I don't expect anything. He needs a friend. A human friend. And she needs to find her way on her own. Now they both have what they need without feeling a missing closure. That is what I thank you for."
Boldar shook his head in amazement. "Crazy, you're all crazy. Men are so much more simple..."
Gilli floated over to face him. "Not so simple, Boldar. You play a good game, but I have watched you. There is much more to you than you show." Then she promptly disapeared.
Boldar smiled. "As to there being more to me than it appears..."
Mya interupted. "Don't wreck the moment, Boldar."
Boldar coughed. "Err... yes, well, let's keep moving. I'm eager to see Bass. And Mik and Crom of course."
May 20th, 2004, 10:00 AM
The Old Square lay before them, solemn and subdued. Stripped of its market stalls and traders, advertisements and customers. Flooded with a mighty concourse of dark elves, pressed shoulder to shoulder, line upon line. White locks flowing over formal black attire. Bells continued to ring out from towers, mournful and sonorous, echoing around the vast cavern. Hands clasped, heads bowed, the elves waited, listening to their toll.
Mystiqe drew her cowl tight around her head, obscuring hair and face. Her eyes travelled to a raised wooden platform at the far end of the plaza. Upon the scaffold, ten members of the Xa'Chari Elite stood in a row, coldly gazing over the heads of the crowd. Their hands were gloved and faces hidden, eyes scarcely visible through slitted masks. Red armbands stood out against black tunics, bearing the insignia 'X37'. Mystiqe flinched, muscles tightening.
Wrenching her arm, Xhao pulled her into the masses, forcing a row to shift along, so they could stand next to the aisle. An elderly man made way, swallowing nervously, fingers rubbing the back of his neck. Five paces ahead, two guards exchanged brief words, hands resting on their sword grips. Other guards moved into position around the base of the scaffold, weapons drawn. Mystiqe took in their black and purple armour, silently counting their number. Forty strong. She glanced quickly at Xhao, but his expression was unreadable in the deep folds of his hood.
A dark figure ascended a flight of steps, moving boldly to the front of the stage. Swathed in black leather, he stood nonchalently, hand on hip. Cool eyes surveyed the assembly, confident and assured. A smile curved across dark skin, white teeth flashing in the soft violet light.
Xhao nudged Mystiqe gently in the ribs, eyes darting fleetingly to a third storey window in a towering building to the left of the platform. A black gloved hand motioned rapidly through an open shutter. Four buildings, four hand signals. Crossfire focused upon the stage.
"This is too easy. He's not that stupid.", Mystiqe whispered, holding her companion close for a moment, burying her head in his jacket.
Beneath the smooth leather, the assassin's heart beat rapidly. "Agreed, but i can't find anything amiss. No obvious trap." His words were faint, minor vibrations in the air.
Glancing over his shoulder, Mystiqe scanned the plethora of faces. "Where's that bastard Xcel? He should be here."
"Evaded surveillance last night. City was chaos."
Xhao's hand pressed against her back. She withdrew quickly, gazing down at the flagstones.
Drums beat out a slow march. Shuffling footsteps, clinking metal, headed along the processional avenue, entering the Old Square. A writhing snake of dark elves, humans and half elves. Feet shackled, hands bound, mouths gagged, chained together. Faces drained and exhausted, terrified and defiant. At the head of the snake, imperial standards soared, bearing the black and purple colours of Darsuvius II.
The woman in front span around, watching the procession with haunted eyes. "This hasn't happened in twelve years", she muttered aghast.
A guard plunged forward, taking the woman roughly by the wrist and clamping a hand across her mouth. She struggled, nails scratching his face. Those next to her turned away, gazing blankly in other directions. A second guard arrived, grabbing her neck and pushing a dart into soft flesh. Her body jerked spasmodically, then slumped, still. The guards carried the lifeless form away. The man in front of Xhao stared at the ground, shoulders shaking, hands trembling. He clutched at a silver band around a finger on his left hand, twisting it round and round.
"It's not going to happen again", Xhao swore vehemently, beneath the tolling bells and thudding drums. "I had to dig the graves after the Emperor's last cull. I don't know what's worse, watching innocent people have their arteries severed in public, or burying the remains from Unit X37."
Xhao raised his gloved fist in a swift signal.
Mystiqe gripped his arm, eyes locked on Belaris Yassassin.
May 20th, 2004, 12:46 PM
[deleted - may use space later]
May 20th, 2004, 01:34 PM
Reed walked briskly through the streets, footseps echoing through the silence. A few paces behind, Gina followed, wrapped in a hooded cloak that smelled of blood and sweat. Wearing the clothes of the dead was not something she relished, but unlike Reed she did not want her race to be revealed. Gilli drifted before them, leading them on, through the aftermath of slaughter, towards wherever Belaris Yassassin was at the moment. What did Reed hope to achieve once they met him? The question worried Gina, frightened Gilli.
Reed walked on, eyes narrow. His lips pressed together, he breathed through his nose, his breath shallow, taking in the stench of blood and bile and loosened bowels, only little of it, but too much. Every other step he sqished or cracked or slipped on something he didn't care to investigate. His mood darkened by the minute. If it is destruction they want, than they shall have it. And a chorus of shadows reverberated within his skull, impossible to ignore now.
When finally Belaris Yassassin came into few, he was all Reed saw. In a daze he pushed onward through a parting crowd. Reed grabbed a dagger from an irrelevant bystander, and walked on, stopping only before Belaris. Belaris might have spoken, Reed did not know. Grinning wildly, he raised his dagger and wielded it with a speed he shouldn't have been capable of. It was quite fitting that he wore assassin's attire.
Gilli squealed. Gina cursed under her breath and slipped into the crowd. Watching his bleeding wrist, Reed slowly came to his senses. Belaris stared at him in confusion. A sad smile came to Reed's lips, but didn't reach his eyes. He raised his bleeding wrist to Belaris' eyes. "How long before my essence trickles out of me. And then?" He grinned. "Is there time for you to save my life? Do you want to?" Reed stumbled forward, lack of oxygen, loss of blood taking it's toll. Blood sprinkled across Belaris' face. And then Reed whispered something.
Belaris' eyes opened wide as he took a step back. There was no mistaking it. Xairyen, he had whispered. The name, the destroyer, the equalizer... He was kneeling now, the odious human, smiling, even as his very life seeped out. Wild hair threw shadows across his eyes. "Life or Death? Decide!" he shouted. In Elvish.
And Gilli watched from a distance, mortified. All she could do now was play along. And so she dove deep into the Master assassin's fears and doubts, relaying lethal words to Reed, all the while hoping. For if Reed's gamble didn't work out he would lose so much more than his life.
[Um... I hope I didn't interfere... Tell me, if I should delete this. I'll let this stand for now... :cool: ]