Mystique stood in the darkness watching two old men wander back towards their fire.
Mostly though, her attention was on the one called Bass. An oldster, he appeared, and yet such power...
And, such familiarity. Like a thunderbolt the pieces of the puzzle slid into place. It was HIM. After all these years, HE had come back into her grasp. Not only would she have what was hers back, but she would have answers from him.
She smiled. She would be careful with this human, very careful. He was powerful, and made more so by the bottle. And, if the rumors were true, he was important. Important to her, and important to her people, if such a thing could be countenanced.
Being around humans always created such fun, she thought. Well, if the old man declared himself, it would make the mission a bit easier, though she doubted he would put himself at risk.
March 29th, 2004, 10:27 AM
As the camp slumbered, Bass clawled out from his blankets and tottered off into the darkness of the forest. He looked around for a long minute to ensure that no one was watching and began to incant a long and complicated spell.
As his surroundings blurred, the transport spell made his innards lurch. The darkness of the forest was replaced by utter blackness, and he stood alone in the dark with only the beating of this heart for company.
"Why are you here?" The voice was a deep monotone, and seemed to come from all around him.
"Many paths are coming together on the world above, and I would once again renew the bonds between us, for both our might will be needed in the time to come."
"As you say. Many paths come together. A new time may be coming, for all of us. The pact need not be renewed, it is binding for all time. However, it is comforting to renew, and it may lessen my pain for a time."
Bass incanted a minor cantrip. A small light glowed and before him he saw the form of a shrivelled drow chained to the wall. To his inner eye, the drow glowed like a beacon of power, however. He walked over to the chained figure and took out a small knife. "Let us begin."
"And pray to our mutual god, my partner, that things do not go wrong above."
"Boldar and I will look after that."
Blood flowed and was mingled. Spells were cast. Bonds were renewed. And yet, Sacrifice remained chained at his post when Bass returned again to the surface world.
March 29th, 2004, 12:43 PM
Weaving her way through the cluster of tents, Mystiqe honed in on one in particular. She glided beneath overhanging branches, listening to the faint stir of the surrounding forest. The darkness enveloped her form, wrapping her within its silken folds. She felt safe and at ease in its familiar embrace, able to relax and move instinctively.
From the outside, the tent was unspectacular, bearing no markings or distinguishing features. Dull green canvas covered its small frame; the cloth was worn and frayed around the edges. The entry flap was fastened, sealed from the inside. She grinned, a slow languid smile. It took only a moment to draw her curved dagger. The handle slid into her palm, shaping itself to the grip of her small fingers. The blade hovered in the air, perfectly balanced, an instrument of both pleasure and precision.
One swift motion and the canvas flap was sliced open. Noiselessly, painlessly, artistically. She smiled at her work. The interior lay quiet and still, undisturbed, awaiting her impeccable entry. A gentle, red haze crept across the torn cloth, warm and inviting. Heart pulsating, she sneaked inside, sliding her lithe body through the carved hole. Canvas brushed against her body, rough but enjoyable. The tent flap sealed behind her and the red haze faded into oblivion, devoured with the last embers of the fire.
All lay dark and still. Soft sounds of breathing vibrated through the cool night air. Predictably, the rogue was sleeping. A light, fitful slumber. He remained fully dressed, hand resting upon the hilt of a dagger. Mystiqe disappeared into the shadows, and emerged resting by his side.
"What took you so long?", Juzzza asked teasingly, eyes closed.
"I visited all the other tents, left you till last", she replied, sliding her dagger into its sheath.
He laughed, a rich warm laughter. "Am i forgiven for your brother's death now? It wasn't me, i swear".
"Yes, but... you still have an awful lot to make up to me, rogue." She rested on one elbow, tracing his jawline with the tip of her finger.
He sighed softly and wrapped her small hand in his own. Light blue eyes gazed into their mirror image, playful and intense. "I've missed having you around, Mysty. I'll have to think what i can do to make amends."
"I'm sure you'll think of something. You always were very... imaginative."
He grinned wickedly. "You weren't too bad yourself in that department."
She smiled and leant against his chest, resting her head. He stroked her long hair, letting the strands fall between his fingers.
"You were right about Reed", she murmurred, "I should have let you kill him tonight. How did a b****** like that tame a creature like pegasus? That man is dangerous."
March 29th, 2004, 12:48 PM
Movement in the corner of his eye, and then the dart. The vague hissing sound it made, as it slithered through the air, then a slight clang as it hit something that clearly wasn't there, and a soft thud as it hit the earth. Reed moved no muscle, waited. He had made sure he wasn't hard to track, as he made his way to a wilderness clearing in the woods. The tough, ugly stump was moist, but otherwise comfortable to sit on.
Someone approached from behind. Rapidly, lightfooted. Pausing now and then. The dark elves. So they were the first.
"It is not advisable to attack me," said Reed, not bothering to turn around. Gilli materialized beside him.
"You have the aid of the dead?" said a husky voice. "No matter. You will accompany us, in the end. The less resistance you put up, the less painful your interrogation will be. In any case, your death will come as a relief."
Reed sighed. "You are most impolite. And foolish, I must add. Bluffing a gambler. But with one thing you are right. My death will be a relief. But not yet. Not yet."
Something glittered in the trees, and then a quarrel whizzed through the air, passing above Reed's head. Rapid movement behind him, and a sharp thud and splash, as the quarrel buried itself in the mossy ground.
The elf hissed in anger as a large man stepped forward, carrying a huge sword. He was flanked by two men, crossbows loaded. Sharn's henchmen had arrived, just in time.
"You wish to take the traitor, eh? We can't let you know what he knows, though, can we? Retreat now, and you will not be harmed."
"We take no orders from a human," the dark elf hissed. "You will not back down, and neither will we." The swishing sound of a sword leaving a scabbard. "I see no alternative."
The large man grinned. "Then protect him if you can." And he took a step forward. No sound from behind; the most disconcerting thing of all to hear.
And then Reed stood up. "Stop. You do have men positioned in the trees, both of you? Behind the tree-line, they should be safe. I need survivors. Somebody to spread the word, or this meeting will have been pointless, a waste of lives."
The man stopped in his tracks, and stared at Reed in confusion. Still no sound from behind.
"As soon as one of you attacks me, you are all going to die. Behind the tree-line, you should be safe. Choose life, or death. I don't care."
The man frowned, hesitated, but then: "Bah, enough of that nonsense." And he advanced on Reed.
Behind him, a single word, hissed in a mixture of anger and frustration. "Fool." And then the sound of feet pushing off the ground. A leap.
Instantly, the shadows expanded. And then there was carnage.
It did not last a minute.
When all was quiet again, Reed stood up and looked around. Nausea took hold of him, but he kept his composure. It was impossible to count the bodies in the mess that covered the ground. None of the three humans could possibly have survived. He wondered about the dark elves. Were there guards positined in the trees? "Go and spread the word," Reed shouted; and was, indeed, answered by a rustling in the trees, from two sides.
Gilli stared at him in horror. "You've invoked the Shadow Legion."
Reed nodded, concentrating on not throwing up.
"But they kill indiscriminately," Gilli said. "Surely, you can't want that."
"What I want... not important," Reed managed.
"No more company for me. They hunt me, they die. I will look for Danika. Talk to her..."
"But once you invoke them, you cannot send them back. You walk into a tavern, sombody doesn't like the look of your face, punches you. Instant carnage. Inn keepers, merchants, carpenters... everybody."
"No more taverns. Too late, now. Path chosen. Your protection pointless." Bile was burning in his throat.
"My protection pointless? Reed, you can't... don't..."
"Can only die by my own hand, now. Which I will, eventually. As the dark elf said: relief." Stomach revolting, gullet protesting...
"Reed, we can find a way. Please..."
And then Reed couldn't keep it in, anymore.
[Edited by myself, because I was worried the content was too "graphic" for a PG13 board. I got carried away...]
March 29th, 2004, 11:33 PM
In heart of the Crystal City...
Cromwell and Mik stood out in the marketplace like a pair of pumpkins in an apple bushel. They waded together through the sea of people passing merchants selling everything from cure-all elixers, to ancient swords, to fresh fruit to butchered meat that wasn't quite so fresh.
"You know, if Juzzza wanted his scouts to blend in, he could have picked a better pair."
Cromwell moved about, partially paying attention to his companion. He reminded Mik of a dog, more interested in what he smelled than the task at hand. Still, the people didn't run from the beast, as he'd seem many do in dozens of the other "higher class" cities. In fact many bowed their heads.
“Didn’t your armies attack this place a few years back?”
“Not mine. Others. We regiment of Imperial army. Fight against most ogre tribes.” He pointed to the LMR tattoo on his shoulder, just over the sergeant’s triple chevron tattoo. “Many of my tribe die defending here. Maybe that why Juzzza want us here ahead of everyone.”
“I think it had more to do with what you are then who you are, my friend.”
“I did a little research before I left. A magnalopithicus is virtually immune to psychic assaults – short of someone using telekinesis to throw a spear at you.”
“We’re here to gather information on this Danika woman. Juzzza knows a lot about her – emphasis on knows – you know?”
Cromwell nodded. He looked like a kid pretending to understand. Mik had already spent nearly a week on the road with the ogre and he knew that sometimes that meant he was confused. Sometimes he understood. It was hard to tell, but he was quickly learning to give the ogre the benefit of the doubt.
“She’s a telepath, mate. If she knows we’re coming, and we’ve no reason to believe she doesn’t, there’s no way to gain the upper hand on her. But she won’t be able to see what you’re up to.”
“Her got the skull pushers and dream sights.”
“Yeah, something like that. The problem is that I don’t know where to begin. It’s not like he gave us an address. And from what I understand she’s lying low right now.”
“We start here.”
All Mik could do was mimic the ogre. “Huh?”
Cromwell sniffed the air then glanced across the square at a small bakery. He walked a little closer and leaned forward, crouching down to look like a big old ogre crouching down in the middle of a city square.
“This is no time to be thinking of your stomach, Crom.”
“Not food. See fish. Come.” He moved around the square quickly, politely pushing his way through people with Mik following close behind. Crom pointed to a scruffy looking man lulling about a few yards away from the bakery. He looked nervous, his eyes darting about.
Then when he figured no one was watching, he quickly shuffled by the bakery, snatched a loaf of bread, and shoved it under his shirt. His movements were smooth – well honed. He didn’t run right away. He moved quickly away, without looking like he meant to move quickly. Then, once he was well out of the baker’s reach, he broke into a run.
Too quick. The baker saw him running. “Stop! Thief!”
Mounted watchmen quickly picked up on the alarm and kicked their horses into a full gallop.
The thief ran for his life, pushing through the crowd and then ducking into a small alley.
Cromwell waited patiently and with a massive arm, snatched him up by the scruff of his neck as he ran by. Without missing a beat he carried the man in behind Mik.
The watchmen looked down the alley as they passed. Surprised, Mik watched Cromwell look right at them and shrug his shoulders. In their haste, the watchmen carried one, cursing.
“Oh, thank the heavens,” the thief said. He was a scrawny little guy. His face was covered in a wiry dark beard and he didn’t even have any shoes. His feet were black with grime and by the way Cromwell held him out at arm’s length, it was easy to tell he didn’t smell nice. “You’re not going to turn me in are you?” he asked. “They’ll cut off my hand – for food. It’s just a loaf of bread. I have to eat.”
“What is name?”
“Evin,” the thief answered.
Mik began to catch on to the ogre’s plan. “Well Evin,” he said. “Do you know this city well?”
“What I mean is have you lived here all your life?”
“Perhaps you could be of some assistance to us. We need a guide. And it looks to me like my friend here has just scratched your back.”
“You got money?”
Mik knew better than to answer that with the truth. “We can look into paying you. We could have tossed you over to the watchman. It seems like you owe us.”
“Sure. I suppose.”
Mik turned to Cromwell. “Nice.”
“Cromwell got the smarts.”
March 30th, 2004, 03:56 AM
"It seemed different," said Mystiqe facing him. He was stroking the side of her neck and cheek and delicately kissing her nose and lips.
"In a bad way?" he asked.
"No, not a bad way, it just seemed... Intense," she said.
Juzzza leaned up on his elbow and she turned over onto her back. In the darkness of the tent, the whites of her eyes were a stark contrast to her charcoal skin and even in the poor light, the blue of her eyes was brilliant.
"It was intense," said Juzzza. "I have never stopped loving you Myst and I thought I would never see you again, let alone that you would still have feelings for me. After... When Tularis..."
Mystiqe placed a finger onto his lips and pulled him down into a passionate kiss.
"He was going to kill you," she said. "You had no choice and I think he knew he would fail. I know he would rather die by your hand than by the hand of his own daughter." A tear traced a line to her ear and the Rogue wiped it away and kissed her cheek.
"I am sorry I vanished Myst but I couldn't face you and I couldn't put you in that level of danger. Your uncle made it quite clear what would happen to you if I stayed."
"Belaris can go to hell," she said. "He was over the moon when he heard that my father was dead, he has wanted to be Master Assassin his whole life and he begrudged my father for holding the position and he begrudged the birth of my brother, he is an insane, greedy oaf, and now a dangerous oaf but the Emperor does not see it."
"You know whatever happens you will not be able to return to Derudin," said Juzzza.
"I wouldn't want to return there anyway Juz, I have no family there and besides it's a sterile tomb and I am used to the surface world now, I like the noise... I am even starting to like the sun," she said. Juzzza laughed.
"Those eyes shouldn't be shut away in the darkness anyway," he said.
She smiled at the compliment but otherwise ignored it. "If we fail there may not be a Derudin anyway... There may not be any dark Elves, there may not be a world."
"We can't fail," he said.
"And if we succeed?" she asked.
"Then my Rogue days are over... I will focus on just being loveable," he smiled.
"And how long are you going to keep up this charade?" she asked, referring to the tent.
"The deception is necessary, we have many enemies."
"And what about when the fighting starts?" she asked.
"Hume can handle himself Myst," replied Juzzza.
"Who else knows?"
"Mik, you and Kahn."
"Kahn?" she was surprised at that.
"Yes, I can trust him. I needed to see him face to face before he joined the LRI and that meant revealing myself."
March 30th, 2004, 05:05 AM
Xcel walked into the clearing, he placed each step a little harder into the soft forest earth than he normally would, he wanted to announce his arrival.
"I would advise against attacking me," said a weary voice. Xcel looked over to the log, where a man sat watching him.
"I have not come to attack you Mr Reed, I have come with an invitation from the Master Assassin himself."
"You are a little late assassin, I have already declined your invitation." Reed waved a hand across the scene of carnage.
Xcel looked at the bodies and carefully moved between the gore.
"Elves," he said.
"Very perceptive," replied Reed.
"Then someone else in Derudin is interested in your information Mr Reed, the Master would not send amateurs like these fools. My name is Xcel, I am the Master's apprentice." Xcel bowed low before sitting alongside the human on the mossy log.
"I am honoured indeed," said Reed. "Usually when one meets a Master's apprentice, you are already dead."
"There is plenty of time yet," smiled the dark Elf. Reed laughed at that.
"So what can I do for Belaris Yassassin?"
"I am sure you are aware of the history between the Rogue and the city of Derudin," began Xcel.
"Ah," sighed Reed. "Yes indeed. The betrayal, the affair with the Master Assassin's daughter and perhaps most importantly of all, the theft of the Kult'ar from the Citadel."
"It is the one wound inflicted during the Great War that refuses to heal for my people. It still divides the city into two. Those who feel the Kult'ar should be destroyed and those who believe it belongs to Derudin and should be returned."
"And of course for your Master there is the added insult that his brother and niece were partly responsible for the theft. But which side is your Emperor on, surely your Master must conform to his wishes?" Reed smiled.
"The Master Assassin serves the people of Derudin, not the Emperor," Xcel replied.
"Fascinating, and I take it Belaris believes it is in the best interests of the people to retrieve the Kult'ar? The trouble is my friend, I know what the Kult'ar is capable of and I also know that Belaris would not think twice about wiping out the human race. And therein lies the problem, you see, whilst I had no choice about being one, I am nonetheless a human. So you could say that short of that idiot the Rogue getting his grubby hands on it, your Master possessing the Kult'ar is the worst case scenario for me."
"And so your response to my Master?" asked Xcel.
"That whilst I am honoured, I have decided against accompanying you to Derudin and that I am more than happy with where the Kult'ar currently resides and even happier with who protects it. In fact, Barnabas Reed, for the first time in his life, is going to commit to one single goal... And that is to do everything within my power to protect the current guardian of the Kult'ar."
For a moment no one spoke. Xcel considered his options, it was clear that someone or something was protecting this human and from the look of what had happened to the last group who had tried to hurt him, force would be useless. For a brief moment, a patriotic streak made the Elf wonder if he should sacrifice himself for the good of his people and kill this arrogant man. But he decided his future was too bright to end it now.
"Did you do this?" Xcel finally asked, pointing at a collection of body parts.
"Oh no, not me," replied Reed. "I abhor violence. Unfortunately for your friends and those foolish humans scattered about the place, the Shadow Legion get quite upset should anyone attempt to harm me."
"A very dangerous spell," said Xcel, a slight look of concern on his face.
"Only for those who wish me harm," replied Reed with a smile but there was no humour there.
March 30th, 2004, 06:31 AM
Reed excused himself from the company of Xcel and continued on his way.
The assassin eyed him curiously. A strange man with powerful connections beyond his modest appearance. For the briefest moment Xcel was tempted to loose an arrow into him, "Haughty little man. He behaves like an elf." he muttered to himself.
The clearing was already growing ripe with the smell of death. Xcel swept his eyes over the tree boundary of the clearing one final time before sprinting silently on his way.
"Ugly humans!", muttered Urk as he listened for the footsteps of the assassin to grow faint in the distance.
He scampered into the clearing and began robbing the fallen bodies, collecting arrows, short bows, long knives and anything that took his fancy, purring in orcish to himself at his find. His ears pricked at the slightest sound of disturbance and twisted in all directions, scanning for any warning of danger.
"Death is good today!", he chirped, continuing his plunder.
Having procured as much as he could carry , he sniffed the air cautiously before scampering off through the bracken back to camp.
March 30th, 2004, 09:13 AM
"With the greatest respect my Lord, I have an obligation to put the people of Derudin before myself and even their Emperor," said Belaris, managing to keep the corners of his mouth from turning into a smile.
"And with mutual respect Master Assassin, can I remind you that whilst you do not answer to me, you are bound by the laws of my senate," responded the Emperor not amused.
"Your law states that the Kult'ar must not be used against the humans, it does not however, state that I should not return it to its rightful place in Derudin, into the hands of its creators."
"Why do you persist with this pointless obsession Belaris? The Kult'ar was created to bring peace for our people, a peace we managed to secure without using the weapon. We have our independence and strong trading agreements with the humans," said the Emperor.
"Strong trading agreements whilst we have the diamonds and gold in our mines. What happens when the mines dry out my Lord, what do we use to trade then, Lava Toads?"
"There is no proof that the mines are drying up, it is propaganda to strengthen your argument for the retrieval of the Kult'ar and you know it," demanded the Emperor clearly annoyed.
"Open your eyes my Lord, the mines are drying up. Do you honestly believe that the humans will be so hospitable when our trading power vanishes? Our people will become nothing more than slaves to the humans, labour our only export. Derudin will become nothing more than history, the birth-place of the human slave," the humour from Belaris's face had vanished, his passionate hatred for humans spilling over.
"You fear change Belaris, our people must venture out from Derudin, we must find new marketable products and income streams. Clothing, food and culture already accounts for almost thirty percent of our export product, minerals are not our only source of trading power.
"It is you and your trade that is drying up Master Assassin, not the mines. There is little need for your craft in times of peace," it was the Emperor's turn to smile.
"We shall see my Lord, we shall see," Belaris hid his annoyance well.
"It was your brother's obsession with the Kult'ar and this Rogue, which shamed your family name Master Assassin, make sure you do not inherit his shame along with his name."
"My brother was a traitor!" spat Belaris. "He trained the humans how to kill his own people and allowed his whore of a daughter to lie with a human, he should have been executed when I suggested."
"His punishment was agreed upon by myself and my senate, either he took the life of the Rogue or he died himself. The punishment was fitting for his treachery during the Great War and indeed, any grievance this city has with the Rogue died with him. The Kult'ar is gone and we are at peace."
"The Rogue was sent to destroy the Kult'ar but he did not fulfil the contract. He hid it, which means the humans could use it against us. The Rogue owes Derudin and he owes me. I will see the Kult'ar returned to our people and I will see the Rogue dead, even if it is my last act as Master Assassin," said Belaris rising from his seat.
"One more thing my Lord," said Belaris. "Can you explain something to me?"
"I will try," said the Emperor.
"If you are so uninterested in the Kult'ar and who possesses it, why is it your men were sent after the human, Barnabas Reed?"
The Emperor shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I never said I was uninterested in who owns it, I said I would not risk the trading agreements with the humans to find it."
"Ah," said Belaris. "Then perhaps you do have need of my craft after all my Lord. You see, whilst the body parts of your men are in crates at the gates of your castle, my apprentice is following Reed as we speak, who happens to be on his way to meet the female who knows the whereabouts of the Kult'ar and beyond that, has the power to wield it."
"If she can wield it, why would she do as we command?" asked the Emperor.
"Find out what it is that people care about my Lord, and use it. It is one of the first principles we learn as an assassin, and whilst we are drying out like our mines, some of our principles are still effective, even in modern Derudin."
"And if she still refuses?" said the emperor.
"Then we take it and find someone else to wield it."
March 30th, 2004, 11:31 AM
Mya returned to her tent, shaking her head.
"Fools, fools all," she scowled as she climbed inside. "Making a weapon that harms all is stupid. They all become like a pack of wild dogs, each fighting over the same bone."
"So you're not interested?" Gina asked.
Mya sighed, then nodded. "it is a challange. I go, but for reasons of my own."