A hooded figure darted past Mystique, Juzzza and Gravin, tugging at Gravin's sleeves. "Come," she said. Gravin's arm went instinctively to his sword, but the figure flipped back the hood.
"Yes. No time. Come!" And Gina rushed towards Reed, not turning back to check, whether he came. Gravin squinted after her, only now noticing the immobile body on the floor. He hurried after her. As he was almost there, his eyes widened. Reed was lying flatly on the ground, in what must be his own blood. The Master Assassin lay close by, curled up, eyes wide open, whimpering. Gilli hovered over Reed, lost in concentration. Gina was already crouching beside Reed, pushing him onto his back. Over her...
"Look out!" Gravin exclaimed.
Startled, Gina's head shot up. One of the guards? An assassin? Her head swivelled towards Gravin, who was gaping at the shadow looming over them. Gina exhaled, "It won't hurt us." She turned back to Reed. "I need something to dress his wounds," she said, pressing her hand onto Reed's bleeding wrist. "My, he meant business." She stared blankly at the extent of the wound.
Gravin handed her a surprisingly clean neckerchief. "Will that do?"
Gina didn't look at him as she grabbed it. "I knew why I asked you to come," she said.
Why does he leave us? Why does he not love us? We protect and we care, and yet he hates us. Why does he go?
He will not go! Gilli replied.
No matter. He wants to. He wants to be rid of us. Why? Don't we serve him well?
He does not want your kind of protection. You kill too much. Too easily.
But he calls to us. He asks for our protection. You make no sense, shelter.
Sometimes people don't make sense. Did you call me shelter?
Shelter. Yes. You give peace to the Vortex, you calm him. Protect him. You are shelter.
Yes. We watch you. But we cannot learn. We do not understand. Why does he love you? Why not us?
You bring death. He hates that. And so he hates you.
No. Impossible. He wants us to bring death.
Yes. Yes, he does. But, you see, he hates it that he does. And, deep down in his heart, he does not really want that.
So he twists us. Twists us like his mind is twisted. Twists us so he can hate us. Not fair. Not nice. And yet we must comply.
And Gilli had no answer.
May 21st, 2004, 04:45 PM
May 21st, 2004, 09:53 PM
May 21st, 2004, 10:18 PM
May 22nd, 2004, 07:20 AM
[The comment that used to be here has been moved to the discussion-thread. Minus the following sentence: "Also, I'm wondering wether we could have a separate thread for discussion of the story." Cheers. :) ]
Arleena lay sprawled across the couch, looking down at Suzé's small, wiry body. It was amazing how little difference a race change made. Even when looking for differences, Arleena found only one: her skin was now darker than her hair. The biggest change was not one of appearance, but one of lifestyle. The stubborn, nomadic rogue had turned into a decadent, sedentiary poet. What had worked this change? Was it the power of a demi-god in a magically saturated world, compared to the fragility of magic's bastard child in a barren world?
"I wonder what you're thinking," Suzé said. "You're watching me." She was sitting cross legged on the floor, looking up at Arleena.
"Comparing you with my memories," Arleena said.
"You're almost like I knew you. I thought how little difference it makes that you're an elf."
Suzé frowned. "Doesn't make much difference? Sh*t, it's brilliant to be an elf. It feels different." A sardonic grin crept across her features. "This body comes with an enhanced capacity for cruelty."
Arleena gave Suzé a wry little smile. "And yet you're a poet, this time round. Interesting, isn't it?"
"Not really," Suzé waved the idea away with a gesture. "You get away with so much. And it's nice to have a home for a change."
"So, will you go back to your nomadic life style, once magic retreats again?"
Suzé yawned. "I doubt it will."
Arleena tilted her head, pursing her lips. She waited for Suzé to elaborate.
"For starters," Suzé said, "the Kult'ar has gone. I could have another one made, I suppose..."
"It's gone?" Arleena interupted.
"Did I fail to mention it? I felt it a little while ago. Big blast." Suzé shrugged. "I could have another one made, I suppose. But I doubt I will."
"Why not, if I may ask? How will you drain this world of magic, if not with a Kult'ar?"
"I? Why should I do that. I want to destroy magic once and for all. I'm not interested in petty cycles. This is the first time, I've had a hand in the creation of the device. Part of my plan. A pretty elaborate plan, I must say. Would have worked, too. But..." Suzé sighed.
"That blasted high mage had to meddle. And that stupid gambler had to call on the shadows." Suzé sneered. "Well, better luck next time. If there is a next time, that is."
"Reed's afraid, he'll share your fate if he dies with the shadows around."
Suzé yawned. "Then he'd better not die with the shadows around."
"Hah!" Arleena shook her head. "But you know him. He's never certain, is he? And you know what they say about curiosity and felines? You've noticed that he just left us, as we were beginning to talk about shadow hunters?"
Suzé nodded. "His scheme of priority is a mystery to me."
Arleena scoffed, "I doubt he has one."
"And still, you're his friend. None of this would be your business if you had never met him. He dragged you along on that quest, didn't he?"
"I make my own decisions," Arleena said. "I needed the reputation. Magic was pretty much a boy's club, back there, wasn't it?"
"So you never regretted that you met him?" Suzé looked at her, expectantly.
Arleena shook her head. "He can be arrogant. He'll do the most interesting thing, instead of what's safe. Which will get you into trouble, but..." Arleena sighed.
"Hard to put into words. Have I told you how we met?"
"Back in the other world? I know, you've met at the Academy. No specifics."
"I was a girl. So it was obvious to everyone, I couldn't do magic. And I didn't have the redeeming features, the few other female apprentices played to their advantage." Arleena closed her eyes. "I was a popular target of ridicule. One day, Reed walked up to me. He was a bit better off than I, but not by much. He introduced himself and then he pointed out two apprentices. Apparantly, they'd told him that if he could make me cry, they'd take it easy on him. A rise in the pecking order, that kind of thing. I glared at them. He waved at them. They did have the decency to be embarrassed in that split second before they came over and told Reed he was history. Instead of a step up, he took a step down. He left after his first year. I still wonder, if he hadn't met me, would he have stayed on and be a mage, now?"
"Reed? A mage?" Suzé shook her head. "I can't see him drawing pentagrams, mumbling formulae, that kind of thing."
Arleena shook her head. "Probably not. But he did master the light spell."
Suzé laughed. "Ooh, I'm impressed. The most difficult of them all."
"Without ever bothering with the incantation."
Suzé's eyes opened wide. "But he's just a human!"
"'The boring stuff' he called it. He split the academy in two. Most of them thought, he's going to blow the building up, one of these days, but some very influential mages thought he was a natural, and that he could be a powerful chaos sorcerer. And that was in a world where magic was limited to the study of magical artefacts plus a few simple cantrips."
"He's got the personality for it," Suzé mumbled. "In a weird way that makes sense."
"He left, anyway." Arleena shrugged. "They told him he could be one of the most powerful mages alive, and he left to be a gambler."
Suzé gaped. "He declined such power! Why would he do that? I..."
"You can't understand that, can you?" Arleena smiled. "You apply his methods, you say you've learned from him, but you're trying to win."
Suzé opened her mouth and had three false starts, before she finally managed to speak. "But he's a gambler. He must know how to win."
Arleena smiled. "Oh, he's a gambler, alright. A gambler to the core. And that doesn't mean winning. It means playing. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Reed would rather lose in an interesting way, than have a boring win."
"People can't live like that!" Suzé blurted. "You must be joking."
"Not at all," Arleena said calmly, enjoying herself.
May 24th, 2004, 06:43 AM
The white smoke cleared. Mystiqe gazed out across the plaza. Dark elves and guards lay unconscious, bodies wrapped around each other. Behind her, Reed lay spread-eagled, Gina and Gravin crouching at his side. Blood stained the stage, a dark red pool beneath each of the man's wrists. His eyes were closed, light brown hair plastered across his forehead.
Juzzza knelt beside Reed, feeling for a faint pulse in the man's neck. His skin was cold and damp, bleached white. "He's alive, but barely. He's lost so much blood, we could lose him any moment." He turned back to Mystiqe, speaking urgently. "We need a healer. Get one, fast."
"I haven't been here in ten years, I wouldn't have a clue...". The words fell away, consumed by the intensity in the rogue's eyes. Mystiqe glanced at Reed and shivered deep inside. The man's life was ebbing away. A darkness seemed to be spreading across the stage, tendrils of black smoke and shadows drifting outwards, wrapping around the prone Xa'Chari. Her voice caught in her throat, "The gas will wear off in a few moments. Xhao's missing, he was fighting Xcel."
Gina pointed to the far end of the platform, "They fell off the stage, fighting." She turned her head slightly, glaring at Mystiqe. "What's more important to you? One dark elf or the whole of Derudin?".
"Gina!", Juzzza protested, bending down beside Belaris Yassassin. "What's got into you?".
"I'll try to find a healer", Mystiqe cut-in, eyes fixed on the Master Assassin. "But if Xhao's dead, we're all dead". She sprinted from the stage, darting down the flight of steps.
The rogue drew a thin wire from his jacket. Belaris shook and whimpered, eyes staring out sightlessly, chasing shadows. Juzzza wrenched the dark elf's hands backwards, binding the wrists ruthlessly tight.
"I'll look for Xhao", Juzzza called after Mystiqe, scrambling to his feet. "Gravin, Gina - try to keep Reed alive, shout if his condition deteriorates. And keep that f***** here". The rogue slammed his boot into the dark elf's chest, pressing it down hard.
Belaris' spluttered, eyes widened, dark pupils expanding. Juzzza kicked him hard in the stomach. Then again. And again. A relentless thunder of kicks.
"Stop it!", Gina yelled, cradling Reed's head in her arms.
Gravin clambered upright, grabbing the rogue and pulling him away. "You're better than that", he gasped. "Don't let him drag you down to his level".
"Why not?", Juzzza shouted, face hardened. "Why shouldn't the b****** suffer?".
"There's been enough violence here", Gravin argued, shaking the rogue roughly by the shoulders. "Beating the heck out of Belaris won't change what he did. Leave it for someone official to handle."
"Like before?", Juzzza retorted mockingly. "So some idiots in fancy clothes can grant him immunity again?".
Gravin gripped the rogue's arm firmly. "Find Xhao. Let him deal with Belaris. If he executes him, so be it."
"Why is that any better?", Juzzza snarled, pushing the young man backwards. "Don't tell me it's more righteous or noble. The result is the same. I may as well drive a dagger through his throat now".
Gravin stood his ground, feet planted firmly. "Because Xhao has a right to kill Belaris to take control of the Assassin's Guild. I may not agree with the system, but it's their way. It's above board here."
Juzzza drew his blackened dagger, wiping the metal against his leggings.
Gravin watched him carefully. "Look, if you want revenge that badly, kill him. Within days, your wanted poster will be on every wall in Derudin. Do you really want to be known as the human who stole the Kul'Tar and killed two master assassins? If you kill him, some sneaky b****** will take advantage politically, and use your actions to justify continuing the war against the Great Northern Kingdom. Think about the consequences, man."
Juzzza hesitated, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. "You're not such an idiot after all", he muttered, clapping Gravin lightly on the shoulder.
"Find Xhao", the young man replied with a brisk nod.
May 24th, 2004, 12:26 PM
Xhao clung to the wooden frame of the scaffolding. Before him, the white smoke dispersed across the plaza. Dark elves began to stir, struggling to sit upright, fear and confusion in their eyes. Of all the times when i need to make a speech, Xhao thought, gripping his ribcage. The Old Square swam, figures swirling and merging, blending together.
A man appeared before him, offering support. Xhao gritted his teeth, meeting pale blue eyes. "I thought i told you to stay put".
"I wasn't going to let you have all the fun", Juzzza replied, hoisting the dark elf's arm over his shoulder.
"Fun?", Xhao repeated, forcing a wry smile. "A hole in the gut is not fun, i can assure you".
"Better than one in the head", Juzzza responded, stepping over Xcel's corpse. He led Xhao around to the front of the stage, helping him ascend the steps. "Your audience is waiting, sir".
Xhao stared blankly at the thousand dark elves crammed into the Old Square. Two thousand eyes turned upon him, waiting, expecting an explanation. "****, i didn't prepare for this".
"Just use your natural charm, you'll be alright", Juzzza suggested with a wicked grin.
"Easy for you to say", Xhao mumbled. "Tularis could have done this without a second thought".
"Where's the cocky, arrogant assassin gone?", Juzzza asked.
"It's hard to be cocky when you're in pain". Xhao doubled over, coughing up blood. He straightened up, looking out across the masses. "Oh well, here goes".
May 24th, 2004, 10:34 PM
By the end the first full day of waiting at the campsite, Boldar was getting bored, and there was a pervasive tension in the chamber. The source of the tension was two-fold: the behavior or Quinot, and the return of Daniel.
For Quinot's part, he was a normal young boy in a camp of an old man, two grumpy warriors, and an ogre. And of course, there was the basic fact that he was showing signs of some relatively newfound powers, untrained, unrefined, and uncontrolled. Bass had taken the lad under his wing, and yet was old and unprepared for the task.
As for Daniel, he was just... Daniel. Which was to say, encouragable, unpredicatable, and constantly hungry. In a word, he was a pain. Daniel seemed to have adopted Boldar, or more accurately selected Boldar for special torment.
Boldar paced the cavern. "Shite, this is rediculous! How long are we to wait with no word?"
Daniel dropped down and landed on his shoulder, something that annoyed Boldar to no end, but, having recieved two small nips and a flamed hand for trying to swat him, was an uncontested move, chirped. "I know something you don't!"
Boldar raised his hand as if to shoo the creature away.
"You don't want to do that, now do you?" Danial blew a small smoke ring.
"Yes, I do. But I won't." Boldar lowered his hand. "And what do you know? Perhaps the location of some nice big glow worms, or some of that blue fungus you told me was soooo tasty?"
Daniel chuckled, a wheezing sound. "That was fun..."
"I spent four hours with the runs yesterday..."
"Could you just leave me alone?"
"But," the drake sang, "I have a secret, I have a secret."
Crom walked over behind Boldar and reached out quietly and grabbed the drake by the neck, right behind the head. "Shut up! Little flying snake tell friend Boldar now, or I eat you!"
The drake struggled and hissed for a moment, then quieted. "Yes, yes, I will tell, but let me go you oversized..."
Crom let go and the drake shot up into to the top of the cavern. "Oh, I should eat you, you horrid creature!"
Boldar stood between the two. "Just please do tell me what your secret is, eh?"
"Fine," spat the drake. "Not that you'll like it... But, here it is--- I have been given a message."
"And that is?" Boldar tried to maintain his calm.
"That... you... are.... supposed..."
Boldar interupted the incredibly slow response. "Daniel. I know you are angry with Crom, but just get to the point quickly."
The drake flew in tight circles. "YouaresupposedtogotravellaroundtheKrillBayandMeetK ahnandsomeothersnearCatfishWalk."
Crom blinked. "Lizard has damaged brain."
Boldar slapped Crom on the shoulder. "No, he is just peeved. I caught what he said, though I'd like to know who passed that message."
Daniel slowed his flying a bit. "It's enough that I told you. That's all I'm telling."
Mik stood up. "When did you learn this little bit, you flying snake?"
"Day before yesterday!"
Mya, who had been watching from near the fire started laughing. Crom and Mik both surged after the drake, who shot up to the high ceiling, and then flicked out of sight.
May 24th, 2004, 10:50 PM
"Dratted little bastard left us sitting here..." Mik was furious.
"Give over," Boldar said. "However he learned, and whenever he decided to tell us, we may as well go."
Mya looked up. "Why go? Shouldn't we wait?"
Boldar shrugged. "What's the point? Juz and his team have this job, and the Ogres above will watch their back later. We did what we needed to do, and frankly, did what the quest set out to do. I'd rather go where the action is, and that is on the other side of the Krill Bay."
"Long walk." Crom said glumly. Mik nodded agreement.
"Then better start sooner, rather than later, eh?" Bolder replied.
Mik looked at Boldar. "You are way too chipper, old man."
"I could sit here in the bowels of the world and piss and moan about my fate, or go and kill something. I for one am not getting any younger, so I'm going."
Bass nodded. "And I."
Mya put her hand on Boldar's shoulder, her intent obvious.
Crom looked at Mik. "Don't like dark. Rather fight with Kahn."
Mik nodded slowly. "Fine then, I'm not staying here alone. Let's go."
Boldar smiled. "Aye, all the fun, none of the Lovable Rogue. Sounds perfect to me!"
"One of these days," Mik replied, "Juz is going to get tired of your crap and kill you, or ask me to."
Mya suddenly glared fiercely. "I hope its you, big man."
Mik looked at her with a combination of interest and confusion.
"Heard it before, and I'll hear it again. Let's pack." Boldar broke the momentary silence, looking closely at Mya.
As the group all moved to begin packing, Daniel darted back in. "Yippee, we're going on a trip!" He landed on Boldar's shoulder and turned his long neck to look directly into Boldar's eyes. "Are we there yet?"
Several hours later, they were traveling steadily upwards in the dark. Boldar and Mya had dropped to the back of the pack, Bass and Quinot just ahead of them, and the others further ahead.
Boldar reached out and touched Mya's arm to get her attention. "Mya, what was that with Mik?"
"Come on, I know you better than that. You never even pay attention to him, and yet sometimes I see you glaring at him when he is not looking. What is it?"
"History, Boldar. Just history."
"You know I'd support you..."
"No Boldar. It's my history, and I have to determine what to do about it. Sometimes I think I have the answer, and yet other times..." She stopped speaking a moment, then picke up at a different place. "Do you think him a good man?"
Boldar shrugged. "He seems decent, if not a bit serious. He's dedicated to Juzzza for certain, and while that seems odd to me, I appreciate honesty and loyalty as a rule."
"When the time comes for truth and consequence, I'll take that into consideration."
Boldar looked a bit confused. "Truth and consequence?"
Mya giggled. "Sounds a bit presumptuous doesn't it?"
"I figure you'll explain when you are ready, lass."
"Perhaps I will."
Daniel swooped back and hoovered in front of Boldar. "You smell something?"
Boldar shook his head. "No, Daniel, I don't."
The drake belched mightily. "How about now?" And he darted away.
"God's" Coughed Mya. "What the hells does he eat?"
"I can't imagine anything in the hells he couldn't or wouldn't eat..." Boldar answered, waving his hand in front of his face trying to clear the air.
May 24th, 2004, 11:02 PM
Bass walked along at the front of the group with Quinot. The boy was holding a heavy brass lamp, struggling with it a bit.
"Why don't you magic up some light?" The boy asked in a whining tone.
"Because magic is not to be wasted on such things."
"That's not why. You just think that it is good for me to do some work!"
Bass looked at the boy. "Do not read my mind boy! You have no idea of the dangers of digging around in the mind of other mages..."
"That's another lie! I know it. You are just mad because you can't read minds! You... ooh..." the boy staggered a step and put his hand to his head. "It hurts..." He staggered another step and then stopped. "Wait, it went away!"
"And I can make it come back every time you INVADE my thoughts boy!"
"You did that?"
"But it hurt."
"There is always a consequence for bad behaviors, Quinot. That is something you should remember."
"I will." The boy sounded sullen. "But I don't want to carry the lamp."
"We need the light, Quinot."
Quinot set the lamp down. "No we don't!" A small light sprang up in his hand. "See! I can do it!"
Bass waved his hand and the light went out. "Boy, you have no idea what you are risking!"
Quinot scowled, bent, and picked up the lantern. "I can do it, no matter what you say..." He trailed off sullenly.
"Quinot. I will teach you, but you must listen to me, and trust me. What you just did, though a simple cantrip, can burn a hole in your hand if not controlled."
"I didn't know..." Quinot sounded concerned.
"No, you didn't. You will not try that again unless as part of a lesson, which I will give you each night. Understood?"
"Good." Bass said smiling. "Now hold that lamp up a bit higher."