Friday, February 27, 2015

Hakaar - Chronicle 16.2 - Dowry Fire Brigade

I charged out of the curio shop, getting my bearings quickly. The smoke was trickling from two large buildings with an enclosed walkway between their upper floors. The only visible entrance was on the ground floor of the leftmost building. I caught sight of flickering fire through the elevated windows. People began grabbing buckets and lining up between the water barrels that had been overfilled from the previous week’s incessant drizzle.

The rest of the group emerged from the shop, looking for various ways to help. Floki seemed to lag behind, appearing to question his involvement. Sig pulled at the alchemical mask we had used to explore the Poulterhaud Mines. I did the same. I intended to be at the forefront, if possible.

“Silah. You can join me or you can stay here. Do what you wish.” I said, perhaps a little too dismissively, not expecting her to want, or care, to help.

I grabbed one of the buckets after the mask was in place, and dunked it into the barrel. I looked to see if she had heard what I said, but Silah was already by my side. She looked sternly at me, her beautiful face showing a tiny furrow in her brow, then grabbed a bucket of her own. She moved with me to the smoking building.

Wisps of smoke rolled through the doorway as people stumbled through. They were no worse but for the smoke, coughing and squinting against it. With the mask in place, I stepped in feeling protected. I saw a man coming out of a back room. I called out to him, urging him to follow the sound of my voice. I waited a moment for him to get his bearings and he clomped heavily toward me. The upstairs seemed to be where the smoke had started to drop. The upper level was filling rapidly, pushing more smoke down. I was fearful, knowing that the other building was likely engulfed and unsaveable. Lives would be lost.

Silah touched my back, letting me know she was there. I bounded up the stairs, seeing flames to my right for the first time. A body lay in the walkway. I knelt quickly at his side, he had likely been overcome by the smoke, as no flame touched him. His breathing was shallow, but he was alive.

The fire was creeping along the left wall, threatening to spring toward us. The wall was coated with flame, advancing the char with each passing moment. I tossed my water on the fire. Silah then gave me her bucket and I repeated the process. The intensity lessened, but we needed significantly more water to push it back.

“He’s still breathing. Could you get him to safety?” I asked, apologetically.

She had seemed hurt that I didn't expect her to help. She obliged, nodding quickly. Silah effortlessly gripped his collar in one hand with the empty buckets in the other, and dragged him over to the stairs. I felt Silah edge up to the limit of our bond, but she did not cross it.

As Silah disappeared from sight, others had filled in the ranks, including Sig. He wasn't wearing his mask anymore, which made me raise an eyebrow in his direction. Instead, he had wet his cloak and wrapped it around his face. He and some others from the street moved forward with buckets. I took them and kept dousing the wall, keeping the fire from advancing. Ahead and down the hall, however, the fire was filling the room beyond us. A man ran out of a side room, distraught and panicked. I flagged him toward me, but the fire was pressing in on him.

“Come to me! I’ll douse you with water!” I yelled toward him, but his panicked glances toward me showed me he was too scared to advance.

A window broke behind him. I thought I saw a familiar face, that of Bromm, but I couldn't see it clearly enough. The man turned and hopped out the window. The fire, seeing a new escape, surged toward the air and, licked the edges of the window frame.

The crowd pressed in, handing full buckets quickly up the line. Sig had joined me on the front of the fire line. We doused the wall until the flames were subdued into steam and then moved forward. Sig’s eyes were red from the smoke and coughed slightly under the wetted robe. There had to have been a good reason that he removed his mask.

Silah was at my back again with more water, but she was no longer needed in the line. She handed off what she had, but stood there unsure of how she could help. She stood expectantly in the hallway while we advanced with the buckets of water.

Another man showed up, but this one through the already burning door that seemed to lead from the first floor. He also looked panicked, but his was a different sort of unease. I looked closely at his eyes, seeing that they darted around, looking for an escape, but the flames themselves licked against his skin without harming him. His clothes were in flames, but his hair remained perfect. His eyes and face were gaunt and hollow, looking like death itself. This man didn't belong here.

He’s got to be the reason for the fire.

I braced myself, knowing that it would be up to me to stop him and figure out what was going on. I waved him toward me, just like I had to the other. He looked for alternatives, but avoided the already broken window that was next to him. Not seeing any other way, he began to run my direction. As he moved past me, I reached out to grab his tattered shirt, but he slipped right past. The second time, he ducked a shoulder, almost seeming to know exactly what I was attempting to do.

“Silah! Slow him down!” I called ahead.

Silah saw him, and stepped to the side letting him pass. The adorable furrowed brow deepened even more, her eyes glowered dangerously toward me. I felt like I may have crossed a line that I would deeply regret later.

“I think that guy started the fire. I need to get him. Sig, you got this?”

He nodded, but looked at the man running away. He had been shielding himself from the light pouring through windows. He squinted warily.

“You might need some help with this one,” he said with some concern.

Seeing his nod, I immediately bolted past him. I continued past a peeved Silah and rushed toward the man’s back. Further back out of the room, a solid line of people had formed, rapidly bringing in buckets to the fire. They didn't seem as concerned about what was happening just a few steps away and kept the train of buckets going.

I grabbed the man from behind, locking my fingers together in front of his chest. He bucked backwards and lift his arms almost effortlessly. His strength was greater than mine, which left me incredulous. I felt my grip slip and he broke free, continuing forward. He jumped down the stairwell.

My opportunity to stop him was fading fast. It wasn't worth trying to subdue him. Whatever he was, he wasn't natural.

“I need you!” I reached my hand toward Silah. She seemed to get over her moment of anger and sprinted toward me. I touched her hand and she immediately formed into the greatsword at a thought. I felt a charge of energy from our mutual excitement. I had no fear, no doubts. The trepidation of using her in battle had completely disappeared. I ran to the stairwell and tossed myself over gracelessly, swinging the massive blade down at the man. His uncanny reflexes  kicked in again and he narrowly avoided the flashing blade. I was enraged. He had been able to avoid me on every turn.

“Stop him!” I bellowed.

I landed heavily on the stairs, bruising a rib or two in the process. I heard Sig mumbling above me. I looked up and he cackled at the man as he continued to run. Sig frightened me sometimes. I was sure it was in our favor, but the things he did sent shivers up my spine.

The man continued to push through the crowd, the woman on the landing screamed and cowered into the corner. Just beyond her, I hear a pair of familiar voices. Floki was the next in line with Bromm standing just inside the building door.

“Vampire!” Floki called out.

I opened my eyes wide. It sent my mind spinning. I’ve only heard myths of such things. I felt a little trepidation as I recalled stories I’d heard. It was almost all folklore, but, even if partially true, these were bloody and ruthless creatures.

As I stood, I heard a pistol ring out and a bow string hum. I was able to get up just in time to see the man run out the door. I sprinted after him, negotiating the already disrupted crowd. Light blasted through the smoky haze and I could see that this man was starting to sizzle and smoke in the sun. I raised Silah up during the run and sliced the man’s back flaying his skin neatly and nicking more than a few ribs in the process. I felt a shiver of satisfaction come from the blade.

He didn't slow, though. Yet it was very clear that he was hurt. He ran into the shade of the bridging walkway and the sizzling stopped. I heard a crash, and saw Sig tumble onto a man just outside of the second floor window.

We were now out in the open. The bucket brigade was still hurriedly moving full buckets up the stairs and to the fire. There was a violent ringing approaching, the sound of a large wagon creaked just out of sight around the corner. It looked like help had arrived, but people continued to work, even with the bewildering goings-on happening in front of them: the smoldering human scorching in the bright sunlight being assailed by a varied mix of strangers. The echo of vampire had rung out from the building—Floki's own voice, even—there was no doubt that the city streets would be talking about this for months.

Bromm and Sig converged while Floki let a series of arrows loose, striking the man in quick succession. We caught up to the vampire on the far shadowed corner of the raised walkway where he was hesitant to strike out across the sun drenched street.

“Why are you running? If you stop, we won't kill you.” Sig tried to reel him in with words.

While Sig was right to try, I wasn't likely going to hold my blade once I got there. This being wasn't natural and needed to die.

He bolted into the sun and hissed at us over his shoulder, “I'll come back for you later!”

My vision blurred with the threat. He had to die, and he had to die now.

You can threaten me, but never ever threaten my friends.

I followed him out into the sun and I struck him again, slicing a matching gash that crossed through the first. He grunted while the sun set to scorching him again. I charged at his back as he bent down and easily flipped the lid to the sewer and dropped soundlessly below. He had avoided me the last time he did this.

But not this time.

I flipped Silah, the greatsword, blade down, and gripped her in both hands. I could see the highlighted edges of the sewer shaft, but little else. Even in the darkness below, my vision wasn't clear enough to know what I was going to end up in. It looked deeper than I expected, but I could take it. If this didn't finish him, though, it might be a very bad ending for me.

I didn't let the thought take hold, I gripped my greatsword tightly and dropped.

The blade drove in, the tip piercing the crook between his neck and left shoulder. She slid all the way in to the hilt and came protruding from his lower right gut. The shudder and sigh came both from blade and from the impaled man. It took me a while to notice that I had raked down the side of the hole while dropping into the sewer. My side battered and bleeding and my ankle started to swell. The passion kept the pain at bay.

“He’s … still alive,” Silah spoke through the blade her voice enraptured with the experience.

It was then I heard voices above me who had likely been yelling down for some time now.

“You need to finish him! Take off his head!” Sig yelled down, Floki and Bromm also looking down expectantly.

“Wait,” Silah caught herself between breaths, “Just a moment more.”

I could see the man’s body slowly stitching itself back together.

I must act now.

“Yes. I just needed a moment more to see," She seemed to right herself, "Take him!”

I drew the blade back with some difficulty, sending the body thrashing with pain. I dropped him to the ground and let the blade drop on his neck. The fluttering stopped and his head rolled away. I grabbed it by the hair and looked in the man’s face. Pale as death with fangs visible from the slack jaw.

“Catch!” I yelled up and tossed the head skyward, “I don’t think he is coming back!”

I half expected the head to come back down and hit me, but Sig caught it and let out an exclamation I couldn't hear.

“This thing you just killed was more deadly than a whole pack of Orcs.” Silah said, her voice still quavering from the experience. “I thought we were going to err on the side of caution?”

She sounded somewhat distant as she said it. She seemed to expect me to fight her, but I listened quietly, breathing heavily from the exertion. She had been silent through the whole pursuit. I smiled to myself.

You let me do my job.

I was feeling my wounds now as my passion subsided. She may have been right, when he dodged each attack, the way he broke free from my grip, and when he tossed that sewer lid. All of those were indications of a strength far greater than mine. But this was very personal.

Maybe I needed it to not be personal each and every time.

“I'm not upset that you chased him down and killed him. Far from it. Just remember this moment the next time my ambitions put us at risk.” She said, almost motherly.

I breathed deep, feeling a need to defend myself, but then she encircled me in her warm, invisible embrace.

“I like you like this.” She whispered closely.

I stood for a moment. Enjoying the experience, but pain started to flow in more readily and I felt exhausted. I hefted the body—which was surprisingly light—over my shoulder and put Silah in the second sheath. I climbed slowly up the rungs of the shaft to the surface. The others lifted him off of me when we broke back out into the sunlight. The body had immediately started to hiss and scorch as it did earlier. The skull I had tossed up just moments ago had already nearly evaporated.

I watched as the body dissolved and all that was left were the remaining tatters of clothes and a few trinkets. I looked all directions and down the street, we were largely alone with everyone being so focused on the fire. I scooped up the cloth remnants. Perhaps our friend at Mont Brooks could help identify this when we got back to Hlofreden.

It was just moments later that warehouse doors facing us slid open and Danin stepped out. He seemed immensely pleased with himself.

“Fire's out,” He smiled broadly.

Floki pointed at him emphatically.

“Now, that guy. He is the Dowry fire brigade.”

(Get to know Akeron.)