Urging her black steed into a gallop, Mystiqe hurtled towards the camp. She didn't want to be late for this appointment. She was damned if she'd give him the pleasure of a melodramatic entrance. The open country rolled beneath her, mile after mile, bringing her ever closer to her destination. Despite an early start, it was already nightfall. Dark shadows lingered, smothering the landscape with an eerie gloom. Small creatures skittered about, shapeless and unseen.
Upon entering the forest, trees swerved past, a fraction away from impact. She ducked beneath flailing branches, snapping some aside with a gloved hand. A wave of exhileration pulsed through her veins. Cool wind rushed through her long hair, wrapping stray strands around her neck. She pushed them aside hurriedly and gripped the horse's flanks hard between her thighs, encouraging it to keep up the frantic pace.
A glow of fire was visible, plumes of smoke rising from a large clearing. Reigning her steed to a halt, Mystiqe leapt down to the ground. The camp lay before her, a bustling hive of activity. The smell of roast meat and bitter ale filled the air. A dim buzz of chatter throbbed and wavered. Running her fingers through her hair, she took a deep steadying breath, then stepped forwards into the yellowish light.
March 24th, 2004, 04:24 PM
"There's news. We've got a few minutes before the Ogre returns, I think."
Reed sat at one of the buckets turned upside down, his eyes closed, rubbing his temples. Things weren't going well, so he just said, "Go away, Gilli."
"My, aren't we grumpy this fine day?" said the voice cheerfully.
Reed opened his eyes and looked at the wraith. "It's not what I would call a fine day." He pointed at the pack of frumpleweed in his lap. "A reminder from Sharn. Complete with a letter. Scare tactics. I am to have the Ogre feint with some weed, escape, and then carry on with my task. Or..." Reed rolled his eyes. "I'll lose big."
"Aww, don't worry, now. You know I'll protect you, as I always have."
"I'm not that scared of Sharn, yet." Reed shrugged. "Oh, and by the way..." He fished in his breast pocket for the key, and held it into the air, "Could you find out what this one unlocks?"
Gilli drifted closer and had a look. Then beamed at him, "Anything for you." Reed had always been amazed at the photographic memory Gilli had acquired after her death. Might have something to do with not having to bother with brain capacity, anymore.
"So what's the news?"
"Okay, so: First, there are some new players: A dark elven rogue, who Juzza seems to share a... um... past with. And a pair of elderly adventurers. Boldar and Bass. I'm sure you've heard of them." Gilli chuckled.
And Reed, despite his foul mood, had to grin. "That Bass, who took that figurine from..."
Gilli nodded eagerly.
"And there's a dark elve coming along?"
"This is going to be fun, isn't it?"
Reed didn't reply, but gave her a smile. "Okay, so what else is new?"
"Secondly, I haven't been the only one eavesdropping. I've spotted a mouse displaying distinctly unmousish behaviour."
"My guess would be Alakaster. You do remember the stories you heared at the Acadamy?"
"Calls himself Albert, now." Reed nods. "You could be right, there. What d'you think he's looking for?"
Gilli shrugged. "Why don't we ask him?"
Reed nodded. "Okay, anything else?"
"The Kult'ar appears to be with a certain Lady Danika Longress."
Reed's head turned abruptly towards Gilli.
Gilli frowned. "What's the matter? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Reed raised an eyebrow at her.
Gilli giggled. "Well, you know what I mean."
"Dani..." said Reed. "I met her once. Played cards. Was curious what she'd do if she found out I cheated, so I let her find out."
"And what did she do?"
"That's a bit complicated and involved four other pissed off players. Anyway, she ended up one of the few people who can trust me uncondictionally, though I don't want her to know that." Reed rubbed his temples. "If she... then the odds are good that Juzza... ****, this is getting personal. Not good for business."
Gilly pouted. "If I was still alive, I'd have to hate you, now. I thought I was your little girl."
But Reed didn't pick her up on the joke. "This isn't... this is..." He shook his head. "****."
"Well, I'll just unlock that door, shall I," said Gilli, and drifted into the lock, bursting it open by the force of compressed ectoplasm. "Come on, the Ogre can't be long."
When Hornsmash returned he found the cell empty, except for a parcel and a note. He picked it up and read:
The enclosed Frumpleweed may aid you in your escape, it seems the Ogre has a tendency to faint in its vicinity.
I trust you will not fail me, if you lose this little wager, you lose big.
Dear Mr. Albert,
My sources tell me you've been eavesdropping on Lovable Rogue Inc. in the shape of a mouse. Is this true? If so, I propose an information exchange pact. Interested?
I do not take kindly to scare tactics. You should have known this, and yet you resort to that tedious, tedious tactics. I'm disappointed.
By now, Lovable Rogue Inc. are aware that I am working for you.
Do not insult my intelligence again!
This is Reed. Remember me? I cheated at cards.
This is a letter I'd rather not write, but there are things you need to know.
It has come to my ear that you currently own the Kult'ar. You must take care of yourself.
Lovable Rogue Inc. will shortly set out to acquire said artefact. One of the main players there is Juzza. If you've seen the ad, you'll know more than I do about that. There are two more people you have to prepare for.
Juzza will be travelling with one dark elf named Mystique Yassassin; she's the woman he deserted you for. Also on the team is Kahn, the berserker you'd escaped from.
I know, I'm shouting against the storm here, but don't let LRI distract you. Promise me, you won't let them distract you!
Okay, don't promise. But you've got a bigger problem than Lovable Rogue Inc. And it's called Searka Sharn. That's right. Sharn's after the Kult'ar; and he isn't a nicy wicy pussy cat, like Juzza.
I've most likely managed to get myself on Sharn's death list, so don't bother writing back. Take care of yourself.
Regards to Fluerre,
March 24th, 2004, 05:14 PM
Having determined to confide in his oldest friend, and seek advice, Bass tottered out of the tavern in search of Boldar. It did not take long, and he found him sitting on his bedroll near a small fire, nursing a flask of what he knew would be brandy in his huge hand.
"Err... Boldar, there is something I'd like to, well... tell you."
Boldar looked up. "Formal and nervous is never good news, old man. Last time someone adressed me in that tone it was a barmaid telling me her father had learned I'd gotten her with child." He paused and looked at the crinkled older man. "All right, what is it?"
Bass sat down gingerly on the ground. "Have you ever heard of a demon bottle?"
Boldar shook his head side to side slowly.
"Well, first of all, its not so much a bottle as a..." seeing the look of incomprehension on Boldars face, he moved on. "Err, yes, well, to get to the point, it all started about one hundred and fifty years ago. I was part of a society known as Red Thunder in the south at the time, and like many young and powerful warlocks had a thirst for knowledge and arcane items..."
He spun his story slowly and in detail, allowing Boldar to absorb the full impact. Eventually Bass just sort of ran out of words and sat quietly awaiting some response from Boldar.
Boldar just sat for a minute quietly, and then said, "It seems like we may need to find some allies in this little adventure. Just like you to complicate things just when they were getting fun. Do a little scouting, why don't you and figure out who we may want to align oursleves with against the drow should such a need come about." He paused. "And in the future, try to give a little more warning on these things. I'd just as soon leave you behind if your going to get me killed before the adventure begins..."
March 24th, 2004, 10:41 PM
Reed was lying on top his bed in the Fluttering Bat Inn, staring at the ceiling. He hadn't bothered locking the door. Recent events had left him unsettled. For all he cared, he could lie here, waiting for whoever came through that door first. If it was one of Sharn's assassins, so be it.
"Oh, come on, cheer up. I can't stand it when you're in one of these moods." Gilli lay down beside him, or rather, she positioned her spectral body in a way she recognized, from memory, as lying. The mattrass wasn't impressed.
"They never last long, though, do they?" said Reed with little enthusiasm.
"Is it her? Are you worried?"
Reed rolled onto his side, looking his friend into the eye. "She can take care of herself. She's a local hero down south, and if you see her, you can almost believe all the things they say about her."
"Yes, but, are you worried?"
Reed smiled sadly, but said nothing.
"What is she like, this girl, Danika?"
Reed took a breath. "Woman. She's a woman. A wild, wild woman. And somewhere inside that woman, there's a little girl, still hoping... Come to think of it, just the opposite of you. You're a girl, but deep down inside there's the woman who knows. Or used to be, when you were still alive... Oh, I'm rambling again. I don't know her as well as you might think..."
"I don't mind. Ramble on..."
"You know, I wonder, why do you keep hanging on..."
"Reed, we've been through this before..."
"Humour me. One of these moods..."
"But you don't even like my answers."
"Because I wish you could rest in peace. I'm not worth the trouble..."
"I disagree. You've saved my life..."
This made Reed laugh. "I stood in the doorway, while that bully of a 'customer' stabbed you again and again and again... 'Bad Vanessa, bad Vanessa'. If I'd saved your life, then, you'd still be alive, now."
"But you're not a fighter. Never were. What could you have done? You can't talk them out of a frenzy." Gilli paused. "Two, three men a night. I was afraid of the brutal ones. I dispised the kind ones. I hated myself. And then you came along... you payed me, so I could talk to you. I've had others who told me their worries, and frankly, I couldn't take the whining anymore, but you..."
"What's the big deal? I didn't have anything better to do. I liked you. It's not like I was trying to save you from this life."
Gilli giggled, "You're the most naive cynic I've ever met."
"I don't get you."
"Do you remember my death, now, because you feel you can't save her? History repeating itself?"
"As I said, she can take care of herself. And she's got the dragon. And besides, who knows if she's really in danger."
Gillian nodded. "What would she say, do you think, if she heard of your death? Let's say, an assassin hired by Sharn killed you, while you were lying on your back, on top of a bed, in a room with an unlocked door?"
Reed smiled. "I don't even know if she remembers me." He extended a hand, which passed right through her "skin". "I wish I could hug you."
"I wish you could hug me, too."
March 24th, 2004, 11:28 PM
"You sure you're reading that map right?" she demanded.
"I've sailed the seas, I can read a map," Mya smiled, stroking the mane of her clydesdale.
"This isn't the sea."
"Gina, does this seem right to you?" Mya asked after a moment.
"What do you mean?"
"Doesn't say what they're after," she shrugged. "So its important to someone.
"Well, you'll have to ask when we get there," Gina shrugged, then scowled. "If we get there."
"We're here," Mya said, nodding down the road.
It was a camp. Mya studied them for a long moment, then nodded. "Something serious alright," she said. "Come on, let's find this Loveable Rogue and get some answers."
March 26th, 2004, 06:46 AM
"I should have killed him when I had the chance," said Mik cracking his knuckles.
"Well he is a pain in the arse," said Juzzza. "I'll give you that and whilst he may not actually be an Imp, he certainly likes to make things complicated.
"I could have done without him writing to Dani, ESPECIALLY about Mystiqe but if this Sharn is after the Kult'ar too, I'm glad he gave her a 'heads up'. At least she is prepared now."
"That's as may be," said Hume. "But she is going to be in a pretty foul mood and may not be interested in anything you have to say, she was unlikely to hand the Kult'ar over to you anyway, now she thinks you have raised an army to take it from her she is going to be very guarded and may even feel threatened."
"How powerful is she?" asked Mik.
"Very," Juzzza and Hume answered as one.
"Even without the dragon," continued Juzzza, "Dani has immense kinnetic and psychic ability. Weapons are useless, you wouldn't get close enough to use them."
"What about an archer?" asked Mik.
"We'll do whatever we need to do Mik, but I will try and talk to her first."
"And the Kult'ar?" said Mik. "What if she retrieves it and harnesses its power?"
"Then we're f****d," said Juzzza.
"What about Albert, he must know everything now?" said Hume.
"That was expected. A quest involving something as dangerous as the Kult'ar was bound to get his attention. Whilst I doubt he will travel with us, he will be close on our tails keeping an eye on things. We may need him down the line and you can forget about him working with Reed, he'll likely roll up that note and smoke it in his pipe. B'sides, our shapeshifting friend can be just as mischievious as the Imp when he wants to be.
"And no one knows everything Hume, not even you. There are things I am keeping to myself intentionally."
Hume looked a little hurt, but he knew his friend was not being personal, Juzzza always had his secrets and for as long as they had been friends had always carried a little mystery.
"Is everything ready for the morning?" Juzzza asked Mik.
"Yes. The horses have arrived. Boldar, Bass, Mya and her companions have all checked in. We are still waiting for Mystiqe and Kahn to arrive."
"I am meeting Kahn shortly, he may or may not be joining us depending on what he has to say about his history with Dani."
"It doesn't sound too good, "said Mik. "Holding a woman prisoner... Do you want me to come with you, this Berserker may be a handful?"
"I'll be fine," said Juzzza smiling.
"There's one more thing you should know," said Hume. Juzzza noted the concerned look on his friend's face and he sighed.
"Lay it on me," he said.
"Dargeth Yassassin," began Hume. "He was murdered."
"I received a letter from Captain Arkell, they found a dagger at the scene carrying our emblem. He says it is all a little too neat however, he has to follow it up and will be coming to the camp tomorrow afternoon to question you."
"But he must know via Crom that we are leaving in the morning," said Mik.
"Of course he does," said Juzzza before heading towards the door.
"What about Mystiqe?" asked Hume. Juzzza pulled the door open and did not turn around to answer.
"If she arrives before I return, do not tell her about Dargeth, I will tell her."
"She may already know," Mik said.
"In that case she will find me... Or rather, you will find my body."
The cabin door closed behind the Rogue.
March 26th, 2004, 07:37 AM
"Nice Goblin," said Juzzza.
Kahn didn't look up to answer, instead he gestured for Juzzza to take the seat opposite.
"They have their uses," said Kahn.
"They do?" asked Juzzza sitting down opposite the Barbarian.
"Great pick-pockets... And particularly repugnant to dragons. Throw the little bugger into a nest and it's like throwing a skunk into a brothel."
The barkeep came to the table loaded with two large plates piled high with roast beef, sweet potatos and gravy. He left the food and scurried away, flinching as Urk snapped his fangs at the seat of his pants.
"Also handy for terrorizing pain in the arse barkeeps," Kahn added.
Juzzza smiled. "I'll cut to the chase Kahn, I can tell you are a man who cares little for wasting time."
"I need to know about your history with Danika Longress," said Juzzza. Kahn took his knife and fork and cut into the meat on his plate.
"Never heard of her," he said. Juzzza raised his eyebrows.
"Think hard," he said.
"You said you were going to cut to the chase Juzzza, so do so. What did I do to her?"
"I'm not sure... Other than holding her prisoner."
"A few years ago now I would say. She escaped from you camp."
Kahn finished his mouthful before responding. "It's been nearly seven years since I had a camp, I've been travelling since then, I rarely stay in one place.
"If she was held prisoner, it wasn't by me. There are a few things you need to know about me, and you may not like them but I keep no secrets about my past, it ain't pretty but there isn't anything I can do about it either."
"I'm all ears," said Juzzza who had so far ignored the food set infront of him. Urk's nose appeared by Juzzza's elbow, attracted by the meat on his plate. A swift boot from Kahn sent the Goblin shrieking off to the other side of the tavern. The Barbarian continued.
"I was a prisoner just as much as this Danika you talk of. I am a Berserker and amongst Pagan Tribes that makes me a kind of demi-God, a 'chosen one' by the Earth Mother. My people believe that I was sent to protect them from their enemies, my warping ability when my Berserker rage sets in, makes me an almost unstoppable killing machine.
"My village kept me permanently in a transitional state so they could control me, half man, half warped monster. I had little control over my actions. They saw it as worshiping me, honouring me if you like, but I was kept caged up like a freak. They kept me fed and watered and had a kind of harem going for me, mostly made up of captured women from conquests.
"If this Danika was held for this purpose, I feel sorry for her. If she managed to escape, I respect her."
"How did you escape?" asked Juzzza, picking up his own knife and fork.
"My village was attacked and most of my tribe was wiped out, I was locked in my cage so could do little about it. I almost starved, but that helped me, the drugs my people were using to maintain my half-warped form wore off. I've been learning to control my warp abilities since then and without the drugs my memories of past lives have returned. I amaze myself sometimes with what I have achieved." Both men laughed.
"This Danika," asked Kahn. "She is your woman?"
"No. The quest we are about to undertake, leads us to her and she is going to be angry enough when we get there. Having you with us may just piss her off even more."
"Ah, I doubt she'll recognize me unless I am warped."
"She knows you are travelling with us," replied Juzzza.
"So I am still being recruited?"
March 26th, 2004, 10:08 AM
"You rode her too hard," said Juzzza from his hiding place.
Mystiqe did not flinch but he had startled her. She cursed herself for allowing him to get so close without detection but then, he was the only human who could have achieved it, even if her anticipation and excitement of entering the camp hadn't dulled her senses. She did not look round, she needed more time.
"She was bred to ride hard," she said. She heard him laugh at that.
"I am glad you are here Myst," he said.
"I had to come," she snapped.
"I couldn't find a Lava Toad," she heard him laugh again, she had missed that laugh. He was closer that time and goose bumps rippled along her spine, the hairs on the back of her neck raised.
"So what is the quest you have for me Loveable Rogue?" she asked.
"There is time for that later Myst, there is something you should know first, something bad." This time his voice came from directly behind her but she could still not face him.
"It's your brother, he was found dead... Murdered. And whoever it was they are trying to pin me with it... Myst, I am so sorry." A hand rested on her shoulder but she recoiled, snapped around and slapped him hard across the face. He remained where he stood, genuine pity in his eyes.
"Myst," he said but she shook her head, tears welling in her blue eyes. They formed grey lines as they cascaded down her ebony cheeks.
"No Juz... No," she pleaded, half angry half grief stricken.
"Not another one, I have no one left now, NO ONE..." She tried to slap him again but he stepped back just out of range then moved in quickly to hold her.
The embrace was brief, she pulled herself free and shoved him back, wiping the tears away with her hands.
"Who did this?" she demanded.
"We don't know, but we will find out Myst and when we do they will pay, I promise you."
"I don't want your promises human, I want your gold and when this mission is over I never want to set eyes on you again, is that clear?" She turned from him and strode towards the camp.
Juzzza sighed, she was beautiful, more so than he had remembered. He untied the reins and led her horse towards the camp.
March 26th, 2004, 12:39 PM
Mystiqe stumbled around the perimeter of the camp, fresh tears blurring her vision. She rubbed them away roughly with the back of her hand. She'd been a fool to come here. She should never have left Dargeth alone. Better to have killed him with her own blade than for some cheap murderer to claim his blood. She froze, chilled to the core. For one brief moment, she had wanted to wrap her arms around that murderer and cast aside the lost time. The sound of his voice, so familiar, had reawakened something deep inside. She trembled slightly, ashamed by her own reaction. Even when he had revealed the news, she had been torn in two, wanting to slap him over and over, and hug him tightly, never letting go.
A man strode towards her, blocking her route. Gruff and uncouth, he called out to her, offering some food. She brushed past him dismissively, knocking a filled tankard from his hand.
"Blazes, watch where yer going drow!", Mik cursed, staring at the spilt ale.
She span around, piercing him with startling blue eyes. "What did you call me?".
"You heard me, drow!", the big man's fists clenched, knuckles white.
She stepped towards him, slowly and deliberately. "You'll take that back, oaf".
Mik gazed in wonder, his clenched fists falling open. Juzzza had said this one was different. He hadn't believed it until now. The rogue was always full of long words and other nonsense. But this drow... this dark elf, he corrected himself... she was fiesty and hauntingly beautiful, an intoxicating blend. He didn't bother to hide his admiration, bluntly rolling his eyes over her smooth dark skin and graceful limbs.
"I apologise, lady", the words came out rough and unpolished.
The blue eyes continued to pierce his own, probing and assessing. Shadows flitted across their surface, a spark of life or possibly amusement. The dark elf moved nearer, taut muscles relaxing. Although tall for her kind, her head didn't reach his shoulder. She smiled, features illuminated in the firelight. Traces of tears were visible, scattered down her cheeks.
"Thankyou. Regardless of my reputation, i'm not an evil spirit or troll. I can assure you of that."
He hesitated, fiddling with his belt, uncertain how much she knew. "I'm sorry", he murmurred gruffly, "Sorry about your brother."
Mystiqe tensed, face hardening and eyes darkening. "So am I". She lowered her head, staring at her boots. "Did he... was he... i mean...", her words faltered.
The big man stood there, looking uncomfortable. He began to reach towards her with a large, dirt-stained hand, then swiftly withdrew it. "Nah, some b*****d framed Juz. He's in real trouble. News travels fast. It'll be back with the master assassin by now."
"My father's successor", she said quietly, staring into the fire.
March 26th, 2004, 02:23 PM
Boldar watched the dark elf intently as she strode away from Juzza, finding himself unable to help admiring the lass. "Now that's a woman I'd like to tussle a bit with," he mumbled.
"Find a she-bear and tussle with it, you stupid oaf, assuming you still can tussle at all..." Bass was hunched, not hiding really, but hunched near Boldar, using his bulk to shield him from the view of the drow, not that he thought she was paying attention. His voice betrayed his nervousness.
"Come on, surely a powerful spell caster such as you has nothing to fear, even from a lone dark elf?"
Bass rubbed his bald pate. "When it comes to vengeance, and when it comes to this particular bit of history, I don't think we'd be dealing with a lone dark elf. They say that drow have no friends, only partners in retribution."
Boldar started to rise. "Perhaps I should just go and kill the bloody elf. Hide the body in the woods..."
Bass jumped up and literally squeeked. "No! Don't hurt her!"
Boldar stopped rising and dumped his huge frame back onto his bedroll. He eyed the diminuative older for a moment. "Now that response, even to a thick headed fighter such as me, speaks to more than just concern over my ability to take the wench out. Spill the rest of the story, and don't leave anything out this time."
Bass trembled, seeming to be wholly inwardly focussed for a long minute before responding. "Not even for you, Boldar. Some secrets must be kept. Besides, nothing is ever as simple as one wants to believe it. Let me just say it is not so simple as my bedding her at some time. No, nothing like that. There are just... complications... that I can't talk about."
"Fine then. Have you made any progress on finding allies within the group to protect you from her?"
"Yes, yes, I have made some progress and met some, well, interesting people. I think I may have certain aligned interests with a few that may serve the need."
"Good then." Boldar lay down and squirmed uncomfortably a moment. "Could you..."
Bass chuckled. "Not the feather light spell again... God's man, can't you even handle sleeping on the ground for a single night?"
Boldar glanced around to ensure no one overheard. "Don't you worry what I can or can't handle... just cast the damned spell unless you want to deal with a very grumpy companion all day tomorrow!"
Bass smiled and cast the spell.
Within moments his huge companion was snoring loudly enough to wake any within fifty feet, a ripping tearing sound that made Bass flinch.