Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hakaar - Chronicle 20.5 - Robyn's Farewell

I felt some urgency as we descended from the Crow’s Nest. I did not want to end up too late to see Robyn’s entrance. Whatever happened, I wanted to see if first hand. Silah, who was on my arm, smirked, her eyes sliding to meet mine.

I gazed at the encroaching twilight and slowed down from a brisk walk to a casual stroll. The seaward breezes now rising from the land, pushing warmth from inland over the harbor and then out to the sea. We watched the warm sun turn from pink to red as it hovered above the Western bluff. I took in the sights, reviewing every detail. Whatever lay ahead, I would hold on to these memories. I licked my lips, feeling them cool in the breeze.

The tavern was an inviting place, fond memories folded in around me with the bustle and noise. We sat at one of the smaller tables. Silah looked incredible, elegant. I tried to reflect her grace, sitting straight backed at the table we had occupied. Bromm, Floki, and Sig joined us, while Danin and Rana sat together at an adjacent table.

Bromm smiled and nodded toward me.

"You look good." He said with a subtle nod.

Silah cleared her throat.

"And you, too, m'lady, it goes without saying." Bromm said with a touch of bravado.

"I like to hear you say it." She simpered.

"Now we need to get you in there, Sig. In fact, Denton has offered to give your workers a discount on a work clothes." I tried my awkward hand at talking business.

Sig immediately shook his head at me, looking disgruntled.

"What benefit is that to me?" He said with some disdain, "Hakaar, you should leave business to the businessmen."

I pulled my lips tight, failing at presenting Denton's case.

"Then go talk to him. You should, in the least, get something new for yourself." I attempted again.

"In time, sure." Sig gave a patronizing smile at my persistence.

The door opened and a gust of wind blew past, breaking up the stuffiness that built up from more bodies moving in. The dwarf, Withy, waddled up vacantly to the bar. Macaulay was there, giving the stout form a pitiful look. He moved behind the bar and filled a mug halfway, then filled the rest with water out of sight of the vacant eyed dwarf.

I nudged Silah who was already watching the proceedings, then laid a hand on her.

He's the one who saw—you know—that thing down in the mine. I thought.

"I'm going to go talk to him." She said aloud as she glanced around the table. The dwarf wandered to the side of the front door, looking glossy eyed out the windows onto the now moonlit harbor. I watched as she stooped and talked to him. There was emotion in her eyes, as he reached forward and gripped her shoulder, his own eyes pleading.

The front door swung open again, breaking my focus. A gaudily dressed man pushed through, his loud entry actually quieting the tavern floor momentarily. He looked at the numerous eyes focused on him and responded with a broad grin, soaking in the attention. You could say he was dressed courtly, at least, if you were referring to the court jesters of old. His demeanor was open and genuine, though. The man leaned into the bar and put his own tankard on the bar. Macauley looked at it with some disdain, but, apparently, he had dealt with this before. With some annoyance, he swiped it off of the bar aggressively and filled it with Shatterhammer Ale and put it back in front of the loud jester.

The man looked to us and moved over to the table.

"Hello Hamish," Bromm said, sounding a little reserved.

Sig and Floki also nodded, but they were in the midst of a long pull from their mugs. An especially long pull.

"So," He started awkwardly, "Where did your friend go off to? He was really excited about that book he brought to me. Yollari's Journal?"

There was recognition of this book's name around the table, hooded glances between the others. Hamish himself put a hand to his lips looking a little sheepish about saying it out loud. I was bewildered by the reaction from the table.

"Raenir," Bromm wet his lips, "Went his own way. He didn't tell you?"

"He was pretty excited about it, but that was the last I heard from him." He said thoughtfully.

"Last we saw him, he was alive and well. Just going a different direction is all." Sig said, dipping back into his mug immediately after saying it.

I felt queasy, now understanding the reason for the dodging. This Raenir was the man who had died and was brought back to life by a snake woman. What did they call her? A Lamia? Because of it, he owed her a life debt. They had all but said they never expected to see him again.

Hamish put the tankard to his lips, seemingly exhausted with trying to pull answers out of the tight lipped group.

"Enjoy boys!" His cheerfulness, only slightly dampened, returned and he moved to the bar corner bar on the opposite wall of the tavern, vibrantly engaging Bromm's younger brother, Faolan.

Silah was suddenly by my side again. She reached over and took my mug from in front of me. I raised an eyebrow in her direction.

"Who was that?" She said nodded toward the retreating Hamish, not giving her thievery a second thought.

"The court jester?" I said, prompting some smiles from the others, "He's... well, how about I tell you later?"

I waved my hand in the air to Macaulay, "Another stout?"

He nodded toward me and I caught a few baleful glares from the others.

"You can drink all the Shatterhammer you want. I've had enough amber ale to last me a good while." I glared right back, "You invest in a new recipe—put a proper stout on the market and then we'll talk."

I was about to reach over and pull the mug from the counter when Sabella swooped in taking it off of the counter, her dark hair swirling and her impish blue eyes regarding me with a wry expression.

"How am I 'posed to earn a living if you all serve yerselves?" She gave a stern look as she put the stout in front of me.

My eyes followed her as she moved out into the crowd. Those were the only words she had uttered directly to me. My stomach fluttered briefly, then looked guiltily at Silah who seemed engrossed in drinking from the mug that she had claimed from me.

"How was your boy over there?" I asked Silah, while looking for the dwarf who had apparently slipped outside to continue his wandering.

A sadness touched her eyes as she looked at me.

"I'll... tell you later." I nodded with a grimace, feeling the heaviness start to edge in again.

The Nightwatch Captain and another one of the Bluecoats walked through the door. They were followed shortly after by a man dressed overtly as a wielder of magic. The man spoke to Macaulay with an awkward haughtiness that made Sig cringe. It was clear he wasn't respected. He went to the far end of the bar, near the back of the tavern, taking advantage of the opportunity for free drinks.

The Nightwatch Captain Magra, a sturdy half-Orc, was very pleased to be invited. After getting a drink with his Bluecoat partner, leaned in toward Bromm.

"Thanks for the invite, my man. I could have sworn that Robyn despised me." He said with a toothy grin.

I smiled at his exuberance. I raised a mug as he walked by and he bumped it with his own. I took a long pull from the mug and looked down at Bromm. There was a look in his eye that I couldn't quite read, but he seemed to know something I hadn't quite grasped.

There was a pileup at the doorway as some of the dock workers pushed their way in. Some of which had no idea there was a party and were readily surprised by drinks on the house. They were followed shortly by a series of red coats. The Salamanders had arrived, even with their smiles around, there was a tightness in my chest.

Igul approached our table and raised his mug high.

"Gentlemen, it's good to see you." Igul was a disarming sort of charming. His smile was easy and self-assured.

There were nods around our table.

"Is our guest of honor here, yet? I want to introduce myself."

Bromm bobbed his head around, feigning his search of the room.

"It doesn't look like it? Ah, she'll come in due time and introduce herself to you." Bromm said and reflected the same easy smile to Igul.

Igul nodded.

"Enjoy the night, gentlemen!" He stepped away, looking toward his fellows.

Bromm eyed them as they shuffled through the room. The bulk of the Salamanders moved to a long table in front of the unoccupied stage. The stragglers that didn't fit, meandered around the room finding other seats. Bromm focused on one that sat near the entrance.

"That one there, Rikvald, he's such a sourpuss." Bromm said, crinkling his nose. "How about we get him a drink?"

"Sabella?" Bromm called toward his sister.

She gave Bromm a particularly grumpy look.

"Are you a tipping customer?" Her fierceness was reminiscent of Bromm's own which, apparently, ran in the family.

"Why, yes!" Bromm said, pressing a few coins into his sister's hand.

She smiled, "Then, dear brother, what'll you have?"

"Naw, not me. That grumpy man in the corner there. Two, two shots of Old Law Whiskey. And if you get him to drink 'em, I'll double that tip." Bromm said, smiling.

Sabella's eyes sparkled at the challenge.

She moved to the bar and Macaulay set them out on her wooden tray. She gave a confident nod to Bromm. She stood over Rikvald's table, putting down the tray gracefully and moving the drinks from the tray to the table in front of him. Her long dark hair spilled over her face and she twisted expertly, moving her hair out of her face without her hands. The gyrating provoked a response from some of the other onlookers at the table. I could imagine his view from where he sat.

She returned to her standing position, still talking to him. Now she was laughing as she slung the hair away from her bosoms. Rikvald was a hard nut to crack, though. She then sat down looking to get comfortable. He smiled and nodded, but the smile didn't touch his eyes. He looked to her and took one of the shots and downed it. She took the empty glass and stood, tray at her side, leaving the other behind.

Her polished smile maintained as she turned away, but immediately her countenance darkened as she looked toward Bromm with an exasperated look, giving him a near imperceptible shake of her head.

"I could have done that." Silah said, with a bit of a sneer.

I smiled at her.

"But, that's her job. We're trying to be all subtle-like. Right?" I looked to Bromm, who was giving a polite wave to Rikvald.

There was applause and we looked around. Robyn had soundlessly moved through the door. She was hard to miss, wearing a vibrant blood-red outfit that mirrored the style of Bromm's own. She had an confident smile and beamed as she moved into the fray, shaking hands, receiving hugs and well wishes.

She hovered over our table for a moment, eyeing the lot of us with an appreciative smile.

"Thank you all for coming."

She bowed slightly with a flourish from her hat. The long coat she wore remained rigid. Bromm stood, giving Robyn a solid embrace.

"I have a gift for you!" Bromm said, smiling widely.

He snapped his fingers at Macaulay, who did not appreciate the call to attention. He glared at him and stood on his tip-toes to retrieve a wooden box that held a bottle of Elven Absinthe. It was something that Bromm had retrieved from the supplies that Erland had rescued from the storage area.

She breathed deep, withdrawing the bottle from the box, admiring the brackish liquid. She looked to Bromm and gave him a remarkably affectionate hug accompanied by a lingering peck on the cheek.

"Would you like to join me?" Her eyes sparkled with the words. She looked to Bromm with the softest look I had ever seen cross her face while she broke the seal.

"Two glasses, dear?" She glanced to Macaulay, who was in a better mood with her delight at the gift.

Two glasses were proffered and Robyn took them and set them side by side. She ran the liquid into one then smoothly filled the other in the same pour; not a drop spilled. She laid her hand to the base of the one closest to her. Bromm took his as well. They lifted their glasses and tapped them.

"To us." She said mildly, and, without waiting to hear if Bromm echoed, she tossed the viscous liquid back. She turned away quickly, moving deeper into the tavern.

"Put that back on the shelf, Macaulay. That is not on the menu." She called behind her.

Macaulay obliged, tamping the cork back in place, boxing it, and putting it back in its own nook.

As she moved into the other section of the tavern, a few more glasses rose in the distance. Others hardly looked up from the drinks in front of them, enjoying the free beverages alone. The Salamanders were now collectively aware of the new player in the room. Rikvald wore a scowl, but Igul nodded to her openly. She seemed to recognize him, or, at least, the Salamander uniform. She joined him at the bar on the far side of the tavern.

"Let's move in closer." Bromm said, looking to a table adjacent to the bulk of the other Salamander's and close enough to hear the conversation between Robyn and Igul.

Each of us stood from the table in turn, staggering our departure to the other table. I was last to leave as Floki stayed back, watching the door. Danin and Rana moved to the table just as I was leaving. They looked on, curiously, asking Floki what was going on.

Igul and Robyn were already lining up shots. It was a competition based purely on their fortitude. I could see a humorous defiance in Igul's eyes as he looked at Robyn, who faced away from me. Silah sat across from me, her eyes were wide, watching the room carefully. Her hand was on the table, laid my hand on hers and, suddenly, I was seeing the entire tavern from her view. It took me a moment to get my bearings, but then I began to comprehend what I was seeing.

Many of the participants were oblivious to the bout of wills happening just to our side. However, each of the Salamander's eyes were on the competition, my back itched seeing some of the adjacent Salamander's sizing me up from Silah's perspective. Perhaps my standoffish attitude toward the largest one in the group, Preben, had played in my favor?

Silah stood close to me, in my mind, her vision rolling out before me, she pointed out what she saw in the room from her own vision. My grip on her hand tightened.

"Not yet, my beast. They are all waiting on Igul." She said evenly, then a touch of humor entered her voice. "Oh, that poor Captain. So much for a night off."

She pointed beyond the wall over at the main bar. Magra's eyes were instantly sober and wide, watching the tension ramping in the room without having any way to stop it. I was reminded of the foreboding I felt as the huge crab claw came crashing down on me just weeks earlier. He had one hand on his blade and the other was prodding the man next to him at the bar who had already had consumed a bit too much.

Igul and Robyn took another set of shots. This time, Robyn turned and leaned against the bar. What she'd had so far seemed to have had some affect on her hearty resistance, but she combed the crowd through smile crinkled eyes.

"Oh, she's good." The smiling Silah, crooned over my shoulder. "You're right to admire her. She's got moxie."

Remind me to ask you what moxie is after this. I thought.

Igul turned to face her.

"One more?" He said, holding up his glass.

"I think you're one behind, mate." She said, dipping into a more casual tongue.

He smiled, his eyes watered slightly from the pace. But there was a genuine respect there. He looked to his men, taking the same pose against the bar as she did.

Silah and I watched, my grip on her tightening with each passing moment.

"Calm. Keep calm. They're waiting for something." She whispered soothingly in my head.

Igul nodded, "You're probably right."

He tipped back, putting the shot down easily.

"One more, then." Robyn slurred.

Igul turned to her sluggishly and shook his head.

"One more." She said sharply, her tone intimidating.

Now, that was the Robyn I knew. I thought.

Igul let out a sigh, obliging.

Faolan, who was manning the second bar, was eyeing Macaulay across the way. There was a nod between the brothers and another two shots were poured. Igul turned to pick up the shot. Robyn didn't turn, but retrieved the shot, still facing forward. The pressure of the tavern changed as the door opened.

The man with the soft hat had joined the party. It was a foppish thing that that hung down slightly over the left side of his head. His court attire resembled what the man, Hamish, wore except both more subtle in its coloring yet more extreme in its design and flourish. This was the first I had truly laid eyes on the man, and the disgust of his fellows among the Salamanders seemed well earned with the haughtiness that dripped him.

Igul was about to turn, but when he saw who it was, he faced toward the bar, putting the shot glass down, and steadying himself.

"E'robyn Abegale Beckett." The man called out toward her, standing a few strides away.

"No one has called me that in quite some time. How, if I may I ask, do you come to call me that now?"

"I am an agent of your Mother." He said formally. "She is bereaved by your father's passing and seeks to reconcile."

"Hmmm, your timing is good. I was having a bit of a soiree." She raised the shot glass and passed it under her nose with some drama, "Word of my good fortune precedes you."

"Indeed, it seems good news is fleet of foot." He said flatly, he chanced a glance toward our table, but his eyes settled on Bromm.

"My friends are gathered here to see me off." She saw his gaze and pulled his attention back to her, "I'm sure mother will be pleased to see me again. Tell me, how is her gout. Has she managed to find a cure?"

"She did not mention that among her afflictions. Perhaps it was cured some time ago." His eyes narrowed with the question.

"You have travelled a great distance on my Mother's behalf." Robyn's voice had a fierce edge to it. "Tell me, How does an emissary of Akeron come to work for my mother?"

"Surely you can understand the sensitive nature of these dealings. Your mother was being thorough." He seemed cowed by her intensity, glancing toward Igul whose back was still facing him.

Robyn stepped away from the bar, shot glass in hand, standing defiantly in front of the man. She was still a pace away. She waved the shot glass in the air. She tossed the contents it back into her mouth, and smashed it to the ground. The drama of the action held everyone's attention.

Igul began to turn from the bar with the breaking glass.

"I think it is more likely that you are here on an old score." She breathed menacingly.

"Oh." Silah uttered distantly in the hollows of my mind as she caught something I failed to see.

The red faced man, took a deep breath to yell toward the sluggish Igul. And, while everyone was focused on the shot glass smashing to the floor, there was a pistol ready in Robyn's other hand. Two shots rang out, burrowing two holes into the man's skull. There was a spurt of blood as he buckled to the floor. Silence closed in as the gunshots faded and smoke rose from the still outstretched pistol.

"Tell Queen Stilletta she will have no satisfaction today," She said, dropping the pistol with a clatter to the floor, and putting her hands in the air, "Night Watchman, I surrender to your custody!"

The glassy eyed Igul looked on, stunned.

"Put the gun down." Floki's voice rolled harshly over the silence.

His bow was taut and an arrow was trained on a scowling Rikvald, who lowered the half stock musket he had trained on Robyn from the corner.

Igul spat on the floor. The Salamanders were now watching him as Magra, the now very sullen Nightwatch Captain, moved with both duty and trepidation through the glares and posturing toward Robyn. I felt sorry for him, he wouldn't live down being a pawn in this game easily.

"Robyn Beckett, you are under arrest for the murder of," He looked at the oozing body on the floor with some disgust, "this man."

"Now, that's my name." She said with a half smile toward Igul who refused to make eye contact.

"Fedr, come on, man. Help me escort Ms. Beckett to jail." The clerk stumbled forward, wide eyed and completely incapable of moving without steadying himself on the walls or tables.

Magra's eyes had a slight gloss to them, but he was sober enough to cast a glare around the room, waiting.

"Stand down, men. This is not worth it." Igul looked disgusted, then added with a hiss, "It never was."

"Then get out." Magra hissed through gritted teeth toward Igul, "What's done is done."

"Outside." Igul called to the table full of his men.

He turned back to the bar and picked up the shot.

Bromm stood from the table, bristling, sending his chair to the floor. I got to my feet as well, but kept my distance.

"You knew." Bromm said fiercely, needling his finger toward Igul. "And here, you tried to make me feel bad for not trusting you."

"I wish we had met under better circumstances." Igul said, letting Bromm's anger roll over him. "That's all I can say."

"You sold your soul for a bounty? Is this how your queen operates." Bromm pushed.

"Don't turn this into something more than it was." Igul clenched his jaw, "This was business and I have a duty to the throne."

"Petty revenge, and on foreign soil, no less." Bromm clenched his fists, I moved forward and put my hand on his shoulder, steadying his nerve.

Bromm held back. Igul shook his head. He cleanly finished the contents of the shot glass and put it down with a gentle tap.

"I'm going to report that E'robyn Abegale Beckett is dead by our hand when she attacked and killed him." He nodded toward the man with the collapsed face on the blood slick floor. "And, it's true. This dies with him. She can keep her own name and this godforsaken place."

He began to walk toward the door.

"We leave first thing. Don't make me a liar by letting her step foot in Akeron." He said while he walked, casting his eyes about, glaring at everyone and everything, "It won't end well for any of us."

Danin moved to the side of the clearly dead man, checking vitals, but also rifling through his pockets. I glanced sidelong at him. He suddenly reminded me of a particular battlefield cleric I knew: save the ones you can, take from those you can't.

I was watching the go Brach family converge near the main bar as they determined how they were going to clean this up when their father, Hagan, walked in sniffing at the air then saw the body, blood seeping into the floorboards. He threw his hands up emphatically.

"What the hell is going on in here?"

(Get to know Akeron.)

Hakaar - Chronicle 20.4 - Fashionably Early

"This is like scrubbing down a horse."

"Have you ever scrubbed down a horse?"

"No." Silah paused, "But I'm sure it's a lot like this."

"Yeah? The horse would likely enjoy it more." I grumbled looking at Silah with a furrowed brow, "A horse. That's what comes to mind? Heh."

Silah wore a scowl, her eyes shifted to and fro with the brush she was grinding across my forearm. The residue was a bit trickier than originally thought. After it had dried, it was nearly impossible to remove outside of rubbing my arms raw in the attempt. My teeth were clenched with her effort, but, even with the pain I felt, I knew she was restraining herself for my sake.

"I think that's it." She said, looking at my raw arms, blood had started trickling from a particularly nasty spot. "Sorry about that, there."

Even with the apology, she caught some of the blood on her finger and sucked it clean. I grimaced and shook my head at her. She looked at me, her face showing mock innocence with her finger in her mouth.

"Again, another item to know for next time. Rinse off nasty pink slime before it dries." I said, letting out a heavy sigh while I mentally put aside her fondness for my blood.

"You've got quite the list now. Are you sure you're going to be able to remember all of this next time around?"

"I doubt I'll forget. I expect I'll also be revisiting all of this in my dreams."

Silah slunk in close, "Ah, and, in there, we can kill them together."

A smile stole across my face. Unfortunately, my dreams weren't always fair in situations like that. Even if she might be able to keep them at bay for a time, countless waves of foes never ended well for me. I shuddered again.

"We have some clothes to pick up." I clapped my hands together, breaking free from my thoughts. "I can't believe I'm actually excited for clothes."

Her giddiness was apparent, she bobbed back and forth with a smile, her childlike essence coming through as it had so many weeks prior.

"Oh, I'm sure you'll look handsome." She oozed with a silk lined voice. "And I'm sure I will look fabulous. Although, I have taken a liking to this one, too."

She spun back and forth. The milky white dress responded by blossoming around her feet, folding around her elegant legs and hips, then blossoming again. I watched her with a smile while putting on the battered breastplate. It was now extra work to get in place with the leather strap that had nearly failed during the first acid bath.
I guess I better find a wall for you, too. I thought sadly, thinking of Duncan's words about my old campaigner blade.

"He did say he'd hold it for us if we wanted it?" I motioned to her dress while jimmying with the leather straps.

"Let's go and see!" She shot forward and grabbed my hand pulling me from my concentration.

We were down the alley in moments, heading out onto the street. Her anticipation dragged us both along at a wearying pace back up to the Crow's Nest and within sight of Mont Brooks.

"I expect, nay demand, that," I gasped, "That you acknowledge the limits of humanity."

I slumped to a wall, a couple strides from the front door of Mont Brooks, taking a moment to catch my breath while the tireless Silah looked at me impatiently. It took a few moments before I could hear anything else above my pounding heartbeat.

"This city lifestyle is making you soft." She said, arms folded, striking a pose accenting her impatience.

"Soft." I growled dangerously at her. Something snapped in me with the jab and my aggravation rose sharply. My body went rigid and I could feel my already flush face turn fiery.

Her eyebrows raised and she dropped her arms from their folded position as I glared her direction. I closed my eyes slowly, calming myself, feeling my heartbeat slow even further. My hands unclenched and I stood slowly. Being within an inch of my life just earlier today, apparently, had reminded me of my own frail condition; mortality. Silah, being immortal, calling out my weakness touched on the same point I had continually pushed aside. This reminder of our separate ways, especially today, was too much for me.

"Please. Don't say that." I breathed.

She nodded, eyes a bit wider than normal. She moved toward me and reached for my arm. I stepped back and held up my hands.

"No, not now." I said evenly, "Let's go inside."

It was such a simple thing to feel raw about. It had gone pent up for a while and wearing it on my sleeve now would do little more than put a cloud over my improving mood. I let if flow past me, knowing it would be topic for later. The time I allowed myself to cool off would give me a better perspective.

She looked concerned, perhaps even hurt, then turned slowly toward the door that was a few steps away. I moved forward quickly, pulling the door for her. She looked up, surprised, but nodded appreciatively.

There was a jingle and the perfect temperature of the room flowed around us as we moved from the warm evening. It looked like they were winding down and getting close to closing up shop. Denton had stood as soon as he had seen our shadows approach, he was directly in front of a cushioned chair which seemed to be making an effort to regain it's shape from where he had sat. The chair was near one of the alchemical temperature regulating devices.

"Are our clothes ready?" I asked Denton, doing my best to smooth out my voice, clearing my momentary aggravation.

Denton smiled and nodded. I wondered if this was a sincere gesture, but didn't think much further than that. He moved toward the back and brought out the uniform-like outfit I had selected, as well as the royal purple dress we had brought in for repair from the unfortunate incident at Kellas House.

A grin crossed my face as I watched Silah light up at the sight of her dress. She glanced up at me with her wide smile, which widened as she saw my grin. She nodded to me, a sort of unspoken understanding crossed between us, putting my outburst behind us.

"Sir?" Denton approached with his smooth intonation, with some caution, holding the tunic up to me. His eyes traced the lines and he nodded at the cut. "This should do nicely."

I caught hold of the fabric, feeling the heavy cloth. The black fabric around the seams had a slight give to them, allowing them to remain close without being too rigid. He smiled at me as I tested it.

"Try it on, you'll see what I've been telling you." He said, a bit lower than his usual timbre.

I attempted to move to a dressing room and found myself far too large. I emerged, removing the scabbards, beaten breastplate, and rough boots out on the open floor. I gathered them and leaned them against the wall. I saw Denton grimace at it as I moved back into the small dressing room.

Heh. I guess I'll give him more of a show. I thought.

I peeled the still damp undershirt off. It hadn't held up well against the bile and acid. I twiddled my fingers through the blood stained holes where the creature clamped onto my side. I shuddered, remembering that sickening feeling from the trauma. I tossed it out over the dressing room door so it landed in the center of the room.

I pulled the tunic over my head, the seams stretched appropriately as I pulled it in place. There was a standing collar that brought a more regal appearance. It hugged my shoulders and across my chest. I rotated, feeling it cling like a second skin without binding up around the arms. I removed my breeches and pulled the similarly designed coverings that seemed to be a cross between breeches and pantaloons. I then pushed through the dressing room to see Silah's smile and Denton's bemusement awaiting me.

Denton stepped forward, running his hand along the outer seam and over the black shoulder patches. These seemed to be both padded and reinforced to accommodate where the rucksack would rest.

"Arms up." He said with some force.

I raised my arms as he followed along the seam under the arm down the length of my body. He nodded. He pulled at the waist to make sure the tension seemed appropriate and patted up the inseam to the point where I was a little uncomfortable. They were more snug at the bottom allowing them to be worn inside my boots.

"Does it pinch or affect your mobility?" He pointed toward a tilted full length mirror at the edge of the shop.

I moved over to it and tipped it back until I could see my full frame. I moved through forms, pretending to hold a blade.

"Now. This is not meant for battle." He said with a grimace, glancing at the ruined undershirt, "I am not sure what you do in your off time, but if it doesn't including fighting, then, by all means, wear it."

"You say that believing that I always know when things are going that way. I'm a bodyguard, after all."

"Heh, a bodyguard," Denton was readily showing his true self, Silah seemed shocked until she saw the smile on my face, "How about this, if you're putting on that breastplate, you might as well put on one of those ratty things instead."

"What is the repair policy on this, then?" I asked as I turned away from the mirror.

He put his hand to cover his closed mouth in a gesture resembling my own response to aggravation.

"Normal wear? I'll fix as part of the arrangement. Damage from battle? There will be a fee." He said, after considering for a moment.

"Fair enough."

I offered my hand. He placed his smaller hand into it gingerly. I clasped it gently and did a single shake. He gave me an appreciative glance as he withdrew, grateful his hand still worked.

"Are you still planning on following through with our arrangement?" Denton asked.

I nodded.

"Now that I'm clothed, sir, I can demonstrate your fine work." I beamed, feeling positively royal.

I continued, "By the way, what should I call these?"

I gestured to the not breeches on my legs.

"Trousers." He rocked his head back and forth, "Of a fashion, but most closely resembling trousers."

I mouthed the word and shrugged.

"M'lady?" Denton turned toward her, his timbre rising appropriately with a gentleman's tone.

She seemed stunned by the whole exchange. It seemed similar to look that I wore when Atticus repeatedly reminded her of her inhuman quality, but more disconcerting, how unfazed she was by it. Her eyebrows were furrowed, glancing between the two of us seeming to wonder what game we were playing at.

"Go on." I smiled at her, "Let's see the repairs?"

Silah recovered and retrieved the dress from where Denton hung it on the wall. She moved into the dressing room. It was only a moment before she stepped out with a sparkling smile on her face.

The sight of her took my breath away. Now, she was undoubtedly royalty. She strode statefully out, moving toward the mirror, tilting it forward. She spun again, as she had done just earlier. This dress was heavier, more complex than the milky white one she had been wearing, but the effect was the same.

"You look beautiful in that dress." I felt my throat clamp up with the words, feeling the weight of my adoration for her come crashing in all at once.

She turned to me and smiled sweetly.

I looked to Denton, who was also taken by the display. He seemed completely disarmed by her shimmering quality. While he was focused on her, I slid my boots back on, making sure the trouser legs worked well within my boots. I slung my scabbards over my shoulders, then rucksack with the breastplate buckled to the back of my rucksack. I wanted to be presentable, for once, perhaps even stand out for the event tonight. I figured that this was one of those times I could get away with not wearing my breastplate.

Well, maybe until the party? I thought, still not sure what may transpire.

Denton moved into the dressing room and took the milky white dress from the wall. He moved to Silah and held it out to her, draped over both arms.

"This deserves to be with you." He said, with a stately bow.

Her smile widened further as she took the dress and responded with a deep curtsy.

"Will that be all for the lady?" He turned to me.

I shook my head, more than satisfied. If any more were laid at her feet, she'd likely burst.

We turned toward the door. I held it open for Silah and she slipped through.

"I have high expectations." He called after, still smiling, but with a slight edge to his voice. "Please. Make me proud."

I gave Denton a wry smile and moved out in the evening air.

(Get to know Akeron.)

Hakaar - Chronicle 20.3 - Atticus

We emerged from the courtyard into another world. The streets were bathed by the mid-morning sunlight. Passersby milled about, unfazed by the terrors that were lurking just below the surface. Right now, we were the most dangerous looking things on the street: blood stained, scorched with acid, and greased with the slick pinkish ooze. Floki's wolf got extra attention as well, it bared its teeth at those who walked too close, sending a few anxious people dancing away.

I envied them. Ignorance. It brought a certain peacefulness, or, perhaps, let you worry about the simple and mundane; those everyday tasks that kept your mind occupied in those moments in between. Right now, my mind couldn't possibly fathom why these people were not running for their lives. I took a deep breath, shaking the thought from me. I turned back and saw Silah paused by the Courtyard entrance, looking demure as she pulled the door shut.

I looked up to the bell tower, it was hard to see against the bright sunlight, but the lanterns were lit in the temple. I nodded slowly.

It would have to do. I thought.

I reached a hand out to Silah and she moved close, moving past my hand and curled around my arm. I looked ahead toward the glittering harbor that lingered a ways down the road. I was reminded of watching her walk off of Beidrick's boat. I held to that memory, rolling the evoked emotions around in my head. Last night everything changed. My heart hurt with the thought.

"I was wrong when I said we had more time. I am sorry." She said, her presence moved onto the stage in my head, appearing in a simple violet dress.

She was her normal human size—which she had rarely worn in this place. Her eyes remained lit with their preternatural yellowish glow as she looked up at me somberly. I moved forward in the darkness and embraced her.

I can release you to do what you need to do. I thought, feeling heartbroken as I thought the words.

She pulled back and looked up at me her face suddenly pinched with sadness and aggravation.

"Do you think that's what's next?" She said sharply, I could hear the emotion in her voice, the volume set off an echo rolling against the edges of my mind.

I blinked. Did I?

"We should go to the Regent and report what happened here." Sig said, interrupting the moment.

Silah remained still, looking up at me in my mind's eye, her expression was a violent tumult of emotions. I tugged at my arm gently, trying to withdraw from Silah's grip to break away from this intensity, but she held fast. I decided to focus on the conversation at hand, doing my best to quiet my mind. And, perhaps, I could reclaim some of the peaceful ignorance I had lost.

Bromm looked to Sig and nodded.

"What about the other temples?" I said, looking to Danin. "Can't your people send them a message?"

"What do you mean my people?" He looked up at me, raising his bearded chin defiantly.

"I, well, nevermind." I felt suddenly sheepish, wondering what he thought I meant.

A few suppressed smiles fluttered from face to face. Bromm cleared his throat.

"Let's go talk to the Regent first and see what we'll need to do from there." Bromm said, furrowing his brow to look serious in an attempt to cover his mirth.

No one made a move to walk. Floki, rolled his eyes, looking annoyed, set the pace. Everyone automatically followed suit.

"If I wasn't here, you'd all just stand around like lost puppies." He muttered to the air as he picked the path.

Rana lingered close, standing separate from the group, then moved to Danin's side and began talking with him. She was shaken like everyone else, but there was more than fear in her eyes; sadness, betrayal. I turned away. It wasn't my place to help or reassure, in fact, I could use some of that myself right now.

Silah, still very present and visible in my head, looked at me relentlessly. I couldn't tell what she was thinking, but it was clear that she wasn't pleased. She held tight to my arm, walking with me as we followed. There was nothing I could say that she couldn't already read from our contact. The imbalance of our connection was very clear in times like this. I grit my teeth, feeling exposed.

She relaxed her grip on my arm, stroking the inside of my bicep. I closed my eyes while moving forward and focused on the sensation. Her form in my head softened from anger—quieting into a reluctant sadness—then faded away, leaving me alone.

It was a long walk up the street in Crow's Nest to get to the Regent's estate, which was nearly at the top of the bluff. I looked over at Mont Brooks as we passed.

"We need to get our clothes." I said aloud, nudging toward Mont Brooks.

Silah nodded, she looked up to me and spread her winsome smile. I caught my breath at the sight of her, I reflected her smile. My own heartbreak softening to where, again, I felt like the luckiest man alive.

The entryway to the Regent's offices were well guarded on the inside with only one standing guard outside. We were ushered into a long receiving hallway that seemed to be very similar to the lobbies I had seen in the Hlofreden city offices. Sig and Danin explained the situation to a representative who sat at a receiving desk. Bromm stood, somewhat aloof, perhaps feeling that his family's influence might taint the engagement? Eventually, the Regent himself took the message and came directly. He looked worried. I wondered if he comprehended the significance of what had happened beyond the obvious implications of a slaughter in one of the holy places in Hlofreden.

The guards eyed the rest of us, especially the wolf, Tenner, whom Floki refused to leave outside as he walked in. What was more interesting was the fact that, with Silah on my arm, the guards only considered me briefly. Apparently, even while I was bespeckled with blood and ichor from just earlier, the fact that a beautiful woman was at my side disarmed them. It brought a slight smile to my face.

If they only knew how much more dangerous I am with you. I thought.

There was a shudder of a giggle that reverberated through our connection. I could feel layers of heaviness sliding off of me with each passing moment with her.

We moved outside after Sig and Danin had finished the conversation. The Regent had taken the responsibilities on himself. He was sending messages on to Dowry and sending a contingent of the guard to inspect the priory.

"I told them that they'd find us at The Sea Witch if there were any questions." Sig said. "Even if they leave us a message there, it shouldn't take long for us to get it."

He continued, "I was thinking, Hakaar, that I would like to introduce you and Silah to my Pop-pop."

I nodded, but then wondered if this was a good idea. Silah bounced excitedly, jostling me around.  I withheld my reservations. It took me some time to present her true nature to Duncan, who was, in almost all respects, both my father and my most trusted advisor. I felt anxious, even to the point where it felt like a betrayal.

I sighed, with a grimace.

At least I did get a chance to talk with Duncan before this. I thought.

"Don't be so worried," Silah's sleek form appeared, smiling, now standing at eye level, "This should be fun!"

I'll hold on to my reservations, if you don't mind. I thought.

There was a patronizing pout from the visage, and I held back a chuckle. I felt strange. Just as I was on the edge, thinking everything would change. She came back to me as she was when we first met, alive with wonder—her vibrant natural pulling me from the brink of despair.

"Fine. We can do that." I said aloud, still feeling a lingering shadow of doubt that this was a good idea.

Bromm and Floki headed toward The Sea Witch while Rana and Danin began to wander elsewhere. One thing was assured is that we would all be ready and presentable at Robyn's farewell.

We had been following Sig for some time, moving down the different streets. We were headed back out to the bay. I had never met Sig's "Pop-pop". I wondered how similar all of the Richter men would be if they were stood side by side. Sig and his father held similar discipline's when it came to business, social engagements, getting people to what they wanted them to do. However, the two were quite dissimilar in their approach. Afterall, the things I'd seen Sig do…

I shuddered at the thought.

"Here we are." Sig said, and he pressed through the door into the storefront. A tall, lanky blonde boy manned the counter. The boy looked up in anticipation, but then relaxed slightly as he recognized Sig.

"Where's Atticus?" Sig said abruptly, immediately putting the boy back on edge.

"Upstairs in his room, sir." He said quickly, then put up a hand of warning as Sig began to move that way, "He's got a little, uh, stomach trouble."

Sig nodded. I glanced at Silah with a worried look, but her countenance was unaffected.

He had us stay at the front of the shop as he moved through the back. There was a creak of stairs as he called out for his grandfather. I heard a door open and shut and the stairs creak again as conversation started between Sig and his grandfather. The two of them walked into the lobby of the store. Atticus creakily motioned for us to sit.

We obliged, sitting in the separate seats. Atticus moved to the counter.

"Boy, I need you to," he said, speaking loudly in what he may have thought was barely above a whisper, "Clean up my room."

As the man turned from the counter, the boy's jaw clenched and his eyes shone with disdain as he turned to deal with his newly assigned task.

"To what do I owe this visit," his eyes were slightly sunken in their sockets, he looked physically frail, but there was still a lively spark to him. He unconsciously ran his hand over his out-of-control beard, as he spoke. Sig's eyes shimmered with what he wanted to say.

"Pop-pop, I'd like to introduce you to Hakaar and Silah." Sig said putting the extra emphasis on Silah's name.

"You're a big boy." He sized me up with his words. I gave him a slight smile. I wouldn't want to frighten the poor man to death.

"And, oh my, you're a beauty, dear." A wily smile spread across his face.

He looked to Sig, wide eyed and nodding, giving an unsubtle wink. I felt the beginnings of a scowl pulling at my face with the direction this was going.

"Where did you two meet?" Atticus continued.

"Well," Sig chuckled, "It's a long story."

"Most of these kinds of stories like that are." Atticus was giddy, looking between the two.

Silah, who sat between us glanced at me with some amusement, observing the whitening grip I had on the chair. She reached over and rested her hand on my forearm. My restrained menace calmed slightly as I watched a puzzled expression dance over Atticus' face, which then turned into a frown.

Sig, seemingly ignorant of the exchange, nudged him, "Really look at her."

Atticus watched Sig muttering a spell and nodded, then started to do the same. My skin itched as I watched the two of them subtly wave and speak to the air.

I watched recognition in his eyes. Sig watched him with a smile. There was a moment while Atticus squinted at Silah closely. I was curious at what they saw, but quickly abandoned the thought with disgust.

"That is a fascinating bit of magic. A construct? Is it autonomous? Does it take orders?" He talked to Sig like she wasn't here.

I looked to Silah who seemed perfectly at ease with the conversation and didn't speak up. A gnawing inside of me, watching them talk about her like an object; a thing.

"She's right here. You can talk to her like you would a person." I said, simmering with anger.

"Oh. I don't really know how this works." He said to me then glanced at Sig with some concern. "Can, uh, she talk?"

"Yes," Silah said, "I have my own mind."

"Ah, yes." Atticus clapped, fascinated, "Why were you created?"

I grit my teeth at his unwillingness to see her as a person.

"I am a weapon, made as a defense for this plane. I help protect it from those who would destroy it." Silah's tone was all business except for her hand running along my arm soothingly as she spoke.

"How were you created?"

"It was a very long time ago." She said evenly, but her soothing gesture on my arm trembled briefly with whatever she was feeling, "I don't have a clear recollection."

Did you just lie? I thought.

Silah did not respond.

"Fascinating!" His eyes rolled around, looking distantly around the shop, clearly deep in thought. "I will see if I can find any references in my books. Silah you say?"

Silah smiled and nodded at that, she seemed genuinely interested in what Atticus would find.

"Now, my boy, this was a surprise, but I'm sure this is not all you came to visit me about." He patted Sig on the leg.

Sig grimaced and laid out the events from just earlier in the day. Atticus took note of the condition of my armor as Sig retold the story. His eyes were wide with the descriptions of the creatures we had thwarted. Atticus scratched at his palms while he listened, looking apprehensively between each of us.

"That must be it, then. Something changed about a week ago. I have felt my abilities increasing. I fear it may be because of these events you spoke of." His voice had a slight tremble to it.

Silah's gaze dropped to him, piercing. Atticus looked down at his hands again, breaking eye contact.

"You draw your power from the Formless Gods?" Her soothing touch went still, her hand gripped my forearm tightly.

"I have my suspicions," Atticus looked to and fro, still avoiding Silah's penetrating glare, "I still don't fully understand the connection. I just know that something has changed."

He looked up to her after some thought, finally meeting her eyes, "This is my home. Regardless of the source of my powers, I have no intention of allowing them to set foot in this plane."

Silah eyed him warily and finally acknowledged what he said with a nod. Her eyes slid to Sig. There was an unspoken question there, too.

Atticus cleared his throat, breaking the silence.

"That portal—the one you told me about in that abandoned mine shaft—this is where they came from?" He asked, trying to move on from the tension that had built up.

Sig nodded.

"Will you be returning soon?"

"I expect sometime in the next week. You could come with us!" Sig said, a smile pulling at his lips.

"Oh," He shook his head, brow furrowed and looking to the floor, "I would just be a burden."

"I'm sure we could accommodate." I said, wondering exactly why I was offering to help.

"Come on! It would be an adventure!" Sig put an arm around his grandfather and rocked him a little.

A grin spread across my face. Even with these revelations, I saw the same excitement that Sig had captured with his father just earlier in Dowry. While Sig had his own ways, many that I didn't agree with, his heart, quite often, was in the right place. That well meaning nature reflected on Atticus as the man who raised him. I was torn by the thought, I glanced toward Silah who was looking at me. Her hand was still tight around my forearm and her expression was unreadable, but the fire in her eyes was unmistakable. Curiously, she remained silent on both fronts.

"Atticus," I said, clearing my throat, "If you could keep this—her nature—to yourself for now?"

He nodded, understanding the concern.

"I am just as worried as you, I assure you." He said, looking me in the eyes.

"Soon, Pop-pop, I'll let you know when we're ready to go down to the portal." Sig said, standing up.

We stepped out of the shop and I felt a wave of relief. Atticus had brought us to the door and we said our goodbyes. Silah spoke with him for a moment longer as Sig and I stood close, looking on over the harbor.

"I think I'm going to The Sea Witch." He said absently, seeming unsettled from the conversation.

He was looking at descending sun. It was close to dinner time. My appetite had only just caught up with me, but remained only a minor annoyance. I still felt the distant ache of the battle behind us that tempered those pangs.

"I plan on being there before…" I trailed off, looking down at myself.

Caked bile from the those creatures crackled on my forearms as I flexed my hands and there was residual blood crusted where my numerous wounds had been before Danin's help. Sig frowned at the scabby mess and shook his head with a patronizing tsk-tsk.

"I really need to get cleaned up before I head into Mont Brooks," I said aloud but mostly to myself.

"Why yes, yes you do." He said with a patronizing grin.

"When you're tired of staying clean, floating around at a distance, feel free to join me on the front lines anytime." I gave him a smirk.

"Oh, I think I'm just fine where I'm at." He reflected my expression.

Sig started to turn to leave when Silah stepped up after speaking with Atticus.

"Wait, Sig, we'll join you. The Sea Witch is the only place I'm going to be able to clean up anyway." I said, beckoning Silah and falling in step with Sig.

As we walked, the briny winds from the small harbor pushed up against the land for the last few times this evening before the seaward winds took hold. From the feeling in the air, it was going to be warm until the wee hours. There was a lingering thought about the farewell. Robyn was a mystery and had said far too many cryptic things about what might happen. I shook the thought off. This was another thing that wasn't my concern. In my mind, the issue was resolved when she demanded I leave her problems to her. I grimaced at the thought.

Sig walked into The Sea Witch while I moved down the alleyway.

"I don't want to get caught up in there just yet." I said back to Silah who had just about pushed through the door behind Sig. She had an annoyed look on her face as she caught up.

"You could have told me you weren't going in." She said, exasperated.

"Haven't you been poking around in there all day." I smiled to myself.

"I thought you could use some space." She said, sounding almost timid.

I shrugged at her and moved up to the well. I drew the first bucket and put it to the side. I rifled through the outbuilding and found a set of scrubbing brushes. I looked at them with disdain as I walked back over toward the edge of the well.

"This'll have to do." I said to myself.

Silah moved close.

"Need any help?" She said, a sly grin spreading across her face, showing her near luminescent teeth.

The bent breastplate was now etched with holes from the acidic spray. It was hard to see it in such bad shape, it was an active memory finally coming to rest, just like the campaigner blade strapped to my back. It was becoming apparent that I would need a replacement soon. I looked at it, running my fingers over the etched Grasslions sigil, then placed it on the ground with some reverence.

"Are you going to take off that ratty shirt?" She said with some disgust.

I glared at her and she threw the glare right back at me.

"Seriously? Put on a clean one, at least." She said tossing her hands up.

"I want Mr. Denton to know exactly what he's getting into. He said he had made an outfit that wore well. I guess we'll see if he's up for the challenge."

I dumped the bucket of water over my head and set to scrubbing.

(Get to know Akeron.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hakaar - Chronicle 20.2 - The Fall of Kols

Time ticked by, the sun was still hovering low over the Eastmost bluff. It shone through the unshuttered, open air windows glinting off of the viscera coating the bell tower floor.

Silah, now in human form, inspected the twisted and torn bodies that had fallen. She was considering the scene, her eyes afire.

"Kols' throne had been weak for a time. His influence waning." She looked to me, "How long did you say that I was in that mine?"

I glanced up, feeling distant. As my rage had faded, a bone-deep fatigue had swept in to replace it. The horrors we had just encountered made me yet more weary of the world I found myself in. I looked at Silah blankly, eventually recalling her words fresh from my memory.

"Nearly fifty years?" I said, absently.

She tapped her lips, musing. She was seemed unaffected by what lay around her. Perhaps she looked on the dead as simply casualties for a greater cause. It tore at my confidence, my trust and reliance in her. It was hard to shake the feeling that I may be yet another pawn in this game.

"If Kols' throne has fallen then there are other thrones currently at risk." She motioned to the bodies on the floor, "These. They would have come from Hod or from Gevurah. The last I fought them was nearly two hundred years ago, if what you are saying is correct."

If it hadn't been clear before now, this was her war; her intensity and knowledge were proof of that. Unfortunately, everything she was saying was so far beyond me. I could hardly begin to fathom what we had just gotten involved in. The others seemed to have more of an inkling about what she had mentioned, but seemed equally distant or, perhaps, lost.

She looked around the group and grimaced, seeing how listless the rest of us were.

"Do we know of any other active temples?" Sig finally said, filling the silence. "Maybe we could send word to them?"

I shrugged. I didn't recall Materune having a Temple for Kols. That was the last major city I had visited. Of course, I wasn't looking for an order to join. Seeking out another thing to be beholden to after my time in the 10 Years War. I had been under enough authoritative thumbs to make resent yet another set of rules to follow.

From what I could tell, the rest of us hadn't spent any time outside of either Hlofreden or Dowry. Suddenly, I was very small in a very large world and the boundaries of that world had just been shattered.

Danin was looking quietly out the opened shutters toward the East. His eyes were distant. These twisted horrors wore the flesh of his fallen kinsman. And, if what Silah said was true, the God Kols, had likely fallen with these final few dedicated souls.

Among the other remains, there was a pile of personal items piles on the floor, stripped from the priests and clerics of the order before they were infested and hung in these cocoons. I shuddered, wondering if they were aware of what happened to them or if they were dead before their bodies were used as hosts for these parasites.

"I'm going to light the lights. They may not be here, but we can still fulfill their duty." Danin said somberly.

He moved through the bell tower, standing the fueled lantern that had remained lit for the ages before now. Before it had been consumed by the darkness. Rana joined him in his efforts. All of this had happened less than a week ago, just after the break in when Erland retrieved those supplies.

Floki combed through the personal items. Sig pointed out a few things that he saw that were especially valuable. Bromm looked on, with a pained look on his face, watching the collection. The look persisted as he turned and made for the stairway down.

"There was a slate board downstairs," Silah said quietly, the heaviness of the group weighing down her own fervor. "We should talk about what you've seen here. When you're ready, of course."

After Danin and Rana has set up the lantern and lit it and Floki and Sig had retrieved the valuables. Floki rang the bell with the bell pull. A booming, somber tone rang out, you could hear the echo roll through the city streets and, eventually, off of the distant bluffs that encased Hlofreden.

We moved to the basement and faced the slate board. Silah looked at the roughly drawn plan to defend the basement. She picked up the rag to wipe it clear the markings then waited a moment, staring at the board. They must not have had a chance to act. There was a grisly reminder of their failure at the distant rear of the room. Eight doors smashed in. They barricaded themselves and their own defenses, the bars on all of the windows, worked against them as they listened to each one of their own as they were beaten and dragged off screaming to their fates.

I let loose a shuddering sigh with the thought.

Silah wiped away the marks quietly, turned, and then waited. Our collective sense of urgency to tell someone about the temple had dwindled as the realization came that the damage was already done.

"Tell me about the mine, specifically the portal." Silah asked of everyone, "Hakaar … showed me what he saw, but I want to know what all of you saw in there."

The distant Bromm focused in on Silah. It was he and I that conspired to step through the portal initially.

"Hakaar and I tested the portal and I went through with a rope tied to my waist. Hakaar held me from the other side." Bromm said.

Sig was in the background, shaking his head. He thought it was foolish then, and he obviously thought it was still foolish now. Counter to his response, was the slightly devious smile from Silah and her eyes sparkled, looking between Bromm and I.

"Then, what did you see?" Silah's demeanor faded back to business as her eyes pierced Bromm with the question.

"There were many doors. All of them solid rock. There was a mural at the far end of the room." Bromm shrugged, "A man on a throne with people around him."

Silah nodded.

"Do you know the significance of the mural?"

Bromm shook his head. His weariness was catching up with him and started to withdraw again.

Silah looked to the others.

"Flicky, you were there, too."

Floki's eyebrows dropped into a deep furrow and he looked at her with an awkward mix of offense and incredulousness.

"Weren't you?" Silah asked, pressing past his resistance, not understanding the reason for Floki's expression.

He slowly nodded.

"I didn't go in there for long. When the light showed up and that … creature started hovering toward us, I was out." Floki looked to the rest of us.

She nodded and looked to Sig.

"You saw it, too." She asked.

He nodded to her.

"I had to push these two fools back through the portal. They froze and just stared at it." Sig glanced at us with a frown.

I felt sheepish. I may have unintentionally forgotten to mention that to Silah in my recounting.

Silah glanced at Bromm and I again.

"It's a good thing, too." She said, then added with a wistful tone, "On many levels."

She tipped her head back, voice strong again, "These emissaries have that effect on people. One touch and they can destroy your mind. I believe we are talking about an emissary of Gevurah. He, or it, shared the throne with Kols."

She turned to the newly cleaned slate board and began to draw circles in three columns.

"I use the word share loosely." Silah said, as she continued to scratch out a diagram.

Her hand moved precisely, creating perfect circles and interconnecting them with perfectly straight lines. Her unnatural precision was both fascinating and unnerving.

"Each throne is a place where a balance of power is required. It isn't necessarily a balance of good versus evil, but a balance of those who would protect versus those who would consume this world. This level of existence, plane if you will, was once wholly controlled by the Formless." She was able to divide her focus easily, continuing the conversation while drawing.

"Have any of you heard this?" She said, still facing the slate and completing the drawing.

I could see the others wanting to say something, but they looked to each other wanting someone else to take the lead. She turned back and saw the same trepidation.

"You've heard something about the Formless, at least?" As she said it, there were nods around.

She looked annoyed. I was lost. All of this talk was so alien to me, it was frustrating. I vowed to learn more about this.

"Fine. Let's see what you know." Her annoyance made her eyes especially piercing as she looked to the group. "What do you know of the Planes?"

Bromm quietly looked to Rana first, who returned a befuddled look. It was a strange exchange, but then I realized he wasn't comfortable with that question with her in the room. But then he took a deep breath, forging on.

"We went to the island to find an old friend of ours. Someone we lost a very long time ago. We thought her lost forever to us, perhaps dead." His eyes were on Silah, now. His voice was intense as he delved into memory. "We had visited Sidhe Lara as kids. A joyride to the forbidden island using Beidrick's father's boat. We didn't even make it further than the beach. We fled, not realizing that Keela had been left behind."

His eyes glistened, but he did not tear up.

Bromm continued, "Beidrick received a box a couple of months ago. We assumed it was from Keela, though we weren't sure. Bad things happened that night. The dead rose from the waters and attacked Hlofreden. We fought them back, but needed to know why. If it was Keela. I needed to know."

Rana's expression had swung a wide range from rage to sadness at the recounting. She held her tongue, admirably, even with the questions that lingered in her eyes.

“We took Beidrick’s boat—the same boat, even, that he had eventually inherited—and made sail to Sidhe Lara again, wiser, more prepared. At least, that’s what we had told ourselves. It was there that we discovered a large tree surrounded by stones with glowing runes etched into them.” He nodded to me, “A lot like those pillars where we encountered the Orcs and helped Rana and the old rancher.”

Mention of that day brought up my own awkward memories. I looked to Silah who was still listening intently, focused on Bromm. My mouth pulled into a thin line at the recollection wondering if she had moved on from the painful experience of learning to work with each other after our initial bonding.

"Our friend, Raenir, and Danin determined the nature of the tree. Raenir knew more about it than all of us through his studies, but what we discovered through that tree was beyond any of us." Bromm seemed to touch on a difficult part of his story and looked to the floor.

"I was the one who went through first." Danin, nodded.

"And what did you see?" Silah asked Danin, eyes narrowed, a slight smile touched her lips. I could only assume that she was appreciating everyone's sense of adventure.

Danin seemed to have trouble voicing things as succinctly as he'd like. Sig put his hand in his backpack and easily withdrew a small set of bound pages from his backpack. He began to thumb through it.

"Each symbol led to a different plane." His eyes sped over his written words, "A place of bones. Creatures without skin nor flesh. The tree sits in a warrens of tunnels burrowing in different directions."

He held the notebook up to show the symbol that corresponded to the description. He flipped through a few pages then continued.

"A place of a great battle, the tree sits deep in an embankment, with pennants lining the risen edge of the embankment that was full of massive bones and skulls." A few more pages passed through his gaze and he read on. "Then there was the way to our world."

I caught a change in Silah's demeanor out of the corner of my eye as Sig described the battlefield. She softened briefly as heartache touched her eyes, but it was immediately replaced with a fierceness. Her teeth clenched. She looked resolute.

"There was a world like ours, but strange, light were coming from the wrong angles. Rocks stacked funny. Led to Briarsgate." Sig looked up and added, "We figured out why we could stack the rocks in strange ways."

He looked down again at the notes, grimacing as he read further along.

"And the large floating," he furrowed his brow as he read it, "Baby? Unborn, complete with cord seeming to come back to the tree. Stars in the background."

"This was what Danin spoke each time he looked. Raenir also saw some of this. He wrote them down and I took copies of his notes." Sig folded the notebook and put it away. "Before… he left."

I remember Bromm mentioning Briarsgate to the Salamanders as he explained his weapon's origin. I was starting to piece some of this history together, myself. I understood, now, what Silah was doing. She was making sure everyone knew the same information.

Rana, who seemed equally in the dark as myself, was unaware that her jaw had completely slacked as she swung her head between Bromm, Sig, and Danin.

Silah waited for a moment, allowing for some time for the others to speak up. Silence filled the room and she nodded.

"Did you look closely at the pennants? Were they damaged or removed?" Silah asked, suddenly looking deadly serious.

"I saw them, but did not look closely." Danin said frankly.

Silah frowned slightly.

"Those pennants are a symbolic barrier protecting this world from that world. Signs of damage show that we are failing to hold them back. I am sure we would see something now." She looked from one to the next.

The look of concern she had was that of a general without an army. She saw a war coming and she was powerless to keep it at bay. I closed my eyes, bowing my head slightly feeling my inadequacy. She should be in the hands of someone who could do something.

"The Formless—specifically Gevura—are no longer interested in this place as they have toppled this seat of Kols, maybe even the last seat. That portal you discovered was their way to attack." Silah put an X through the circle on the board, and circled the now weakened thrones. "The temples that are associated with these three are now under threat and will need to push back to stem the tide."

"We could blow up tunnel in the mine?" Sig offered. "That would keep whoever broke into the mine the first time out, too."

Silah glanced at Sig, "Ah, that was right. Someone did break into the mine. Gevurah has agents in this city."

Sig nodded.

"Raenir ran into one, but we didn't really know anything about it." He shrugged.

She looked at us and I could see her weighing everyone's reactions. She looked to everyone's battle weary eyes blink back and forth between her and the etchings. My heart sunk deep as I saw her start to retreat, suddenly introspective. Perhaps the realization was finally setting in; we were young, inexperienced, and all of this was far greater than any of us.

Bromm stood from sitting on the edge of one of the desks.

"This is not us. We can't do this and I think you know that." He said, looking Silah in the eye and shaking his head, "We are not heroes. At least, I'm not. Perhaps Hakaar, he's free to do as he will.  Perhaps he can take you to the front lines, but…"

Bromm trailed off, he glanced at me. The look in his eyes was one of concern for my well being. He had been the first to welcome me, paying me to join them on our first trip to the Poulterhaud Mines. From there, the bonds I had formed since then had gone so much deeper.

Silah's arms slowly dropped to her sides as she—with some effort—pushed her passion aside.

I had kept my thoughts to myself, but as Bromm opened with his frank opinion, I knew I would have to do the same. What we had done here was in defense of our home—this quaint city on the edge of nowhere. Whether I was here for Duncan or myself, I was here to find a quiet place to hide from all of the things I had seen lurking out there. I had seen titans clash in battle, I had seen the Mad Elven king fall, I had seen war and destruction.

I still sought adventure, it was true, but these were situations that I could control. I wanted, with all my heart, to avoid participating in being ground up and spat out as a tool for another being's grand schemes.

Now, we were staring at an all consuming menace that threatened to swallow up everything we had worked for, and we were powerless to stop it.

"I am no use to you in this. I would do it, but I know that my strength would fail and you would have to find another champion." I said simply.

Silah's expression was unchanged—which surprised me. Her eyes seemed far away as she quietly retreated behind her eyes.

Silence consumed the room, dust motes traced through the air, lit by the rising angle of the sun coming through the barred basement windows. The sounds of breath and the impatient scratching of Floki's wolf were the only disturbances that echoed through the chamber.

Silah put the piece of chalk down, then laid her hand on it, as if silencing it.

"We have a party to prepare for, yes?" She said, the smile she put on her face didn't touch the pain in her eyes, but it was a noble attempt.

(Get to know Akeron.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hakaar - Chronicle 20.1 - Outsider

A reverberating clang, and then another.

"Evard! Where are the clean pots? These are all dirty!" A gruff voice penetrated the failing grip I had on sleep.

"Sir! Those had been set to soaking." A small, boyish voice said with some amount of indignation. "The clean ones are there."

"Put them up on the shelf like I asked, then!"

"I can't even reach there," The small voice raised to a piercing pitch with annoyance then there was a brief pause, "Sir."

There had likely been a glare prompting the trailing sir.

My eyes opened, grittily rolling around in my head, taking in the barely lit sky outside. I tried to ignore the tussle and fuss going off in the distant kitchen of The Sea Witch. I pinched my eyelids tight, grinding in the sand. The headache wasn't exactly there but everywhere echoing inside and out.

"Poisoned." I muttered, croakily, remembering what Silah said last night.

"So you said." Silah chimed in inside my head, sparing me the pain of actually hearing anything beyond the distant reverberations from the kitchen.

I rolled my eyes toward where her head lay; it was bent at a very awkward angle, looking up at me.

"That looks like it hurts." I said aloud, looking at her painfully craned neck.

She shrugged, flopping her shoulders while her head remained unmoving looking up at me. Then returned her head to my chest, then after a moment, moved to sit on her knees. She glanced beyond me; I followed her gaze, looking over the inert bodies tousled behind us.

"We should get moving." Silah said sensibly, thinking it was a good idea.

I propped myself up and looked around at the slowly stirring mass.

No, it was not a good idea. 

She saw my expression which prompted a grimace. She sat, wringing her hands, then stood, looking on, standing unnaturally still.

Footsteps moved in from that back. The gruff older man who was the cook for The Sea Witch, walked into the room. He shook his head as he looked between familiar faces.

"Oi!" He targeted Bromm, kicking his boot, "The dining room is opening! Git movin'!"

The grumbling echoes from the others started to emerge as the man stirred up a racket. He might as well have been shouting with his low grumbling voice. Bromm—who had apparently been awake, but vying for more time with his eyes closed—slowly opened his eyes and looked at the man.

"Bill." He said mildly. I could see many different mouthed words, likely curses, but a few of them found a voice, "Breakfast around, we've got a big day ahead of us."

Bill's brow furrowed with Bromm's smoothness and an annoyed smirk spread across his face.

"Fine, boy. Then get this cleaned up and move the tables in." Bill gestured to the tables around the walls and turned to walk away.

Bromm shot a glare at his back; a glare to a someone who should know better than to push him. After Bill moved on a few steps, the affront rolled off of Bromm and he glanced around at the others.

"You heard ‘em." He said groggily while he got to his feet, taking a deep breath and stretched in the pale glow just coming through the window. It was very early.

The rest of us stirred to standing. Silah was a fixture, watching impatiently, as the room flowed around her. As I moved tables, I watched her and the haunted look she wore. She must have been like this all night.

"Soon, my dear." I said, giving her a pained expression.

She nodded curtly.

Food came shortly after and the sun started to warm the Eastern walls of The Sea Witch. Bill, as grumbly as the man was, was a still fantastic cook. He did a miraculous blend of both salted pork and a boiled grain mash seasoned with sage and mixed with lightly cooked eggs. A warm, salted butter sauce was haphazardly splashed on it, but it brought the meal together in a marvelous way.

The conversation eased around us. Silah didn't eat, she had a hand on my arm, glancing absently around at the different faces with a blank expression.

Surprisingly, it was Floki who acted first. He stood and craned his neck to and fro stretching for mobility.

"Shall we go see what's happening at the Priory?" He said it slowly, wiping his face with his hand.

Silah was on her feet before he completed the sentence. I was startled, but I slowly pushed back in the chair to join her. Everyone took turns, eyeing the intense Silah.

A groggy Macaulay moved from the back of the tavern, surprised by the bristling group. Incredulity fluttered over his face. He made as if to say something, but the settled into an amused look.

"Let me get that for you." He moved through the group clearing tables as the group readied themselves.

Rana and Danin gathered their things, they were standing close and speaking quietly. That same lingering question of where Danin's heart was arose in my head.

Time will tell.

It wasn't long before we moved out into the crisp air. The skies were clear with milky white clouds lingering off in the distance to the North. Silah entwined around my arm, looking up at me, urging me forward with her intensity, her eyes harried.

"Just… be prepared." She said aloud, gripping tightly, almost uncomfortably, around my arm.

Sig, Floki, and Bromm seemed to be debating something. I overheard it as a discussion on how to split up the profits of their business venture. Floki was especially heated, pushing back on Sig's words. The suppressed grin on Sig's face told a different story than his own lips, though. How often this push-pull of wills happened as the close friends had grown up was pretty clear. Bromm seemed to be the one to disarm things as they got closer and closer to the boiling point. I smirked at the thought, finding it only slightly ironic that Bromm took the role as a voice of reason.

The group was nonchalant on the walk back to the temple. I looked on, quietly. I was feeling increasingly wary at Silah's intensity. The foot traffic was light, mainly bakers delivering fresh loaves. Few vendors would expect any activity this early. The extra heads wandering the streets were starting to diminish as they either settled into Hlofreden taking on other work or, perhaps, had returned to Dowry.

The walled entrance was quiet. The temple itself stood alone as a place of solace for the worshippers of Kols, which had been waning. Times, apparently, had become less honorable and had moved away from the values that Kols upheld. I shrugged absently at the thought.

The wall was joined with the steepled roof of a chapel area. A grand stained glass window depicting Kols and his monstrous boar overlooked the street on one side. Opposite of that was a bell tower attached to the main building, but remained separate from the wall. The massive, precisely laid stones were a penchant of the Dwarves who had built it. It was meticulously cared for, too. Spotless except for subtle disturbances. The front gate was open, swinging loose, as we had noted from last night.

Rana and Floki walked along either side of the wall before entering. Sig and Danin looked to me and I looked at the door.

"If you wouldn't mind, Hakaar?" Sig said, glancing anxiously at the door in anticipation for way lay beyond.

Rana was jumping repeatedly to look into the courtyard and Floki eyed the tower.

"It's silent in there. I don't see any movement." Floki looked bemused.

I pushed through the courtyard door, Silah close behind. The others filed in, spreading out. Again, the interior was pristine, but now signs of struggle were apparent. Blood splattered on the stones leading to the chapel and a battered door. Rana approached cautiously, holding her bow and arrow in one hand while putting the other to the cracked door attempting to push it open.

"It's been barricaded." She announced as she pulled back.

"Whatever it was, it didn't keep them out." Bromm said, his voice thin.

I moved toward the door, peering inside, then pressing against it gently. It began to open, letting loose a howling grind. I grimaced back to Floki who rolled his eyes at me. I turned and kicked the door open, pushing away the remains of a pew and a shattered bookshelf.

They moved in from behind me; alert, weapons drawn. Silah remained at my side, her eyes were wide, taking the room in. She bristled with each step, rubbing her arms to calm the goosebumps—I hadn't seen her with goosebumps. I reached toward her absently, making sure she was within arm's length.

"This room is clear." Floki announced, nodding at Rana, after a quick review. He had even spent time considering the ceilings in the process. Strangely, his attention to that detail worried me much more than I expected. He pointed out more blood slicks soaked into the floorboards, drag marks leading toward the interior door to the tower.

Rana nodded and we looked toward that door. I put my hand to it and it swung open easily, without resistance. The base of the tower was lined with books of the order. A large shrine with Kols and his Boar consumed a hollow made by a turning staircase that started on the left of the shrine. The shrine itself was standing above a pool of nearly dried blood, the courtyard where we had entered with directly behind me, the light penetrating the windows showed the dried specks of blood, sprayed from some unfortunate soul. The smeared trail of blood ascended the stairs, Danin filed in behind both Silah and myself as I took my first tentative steps up.

The floor far above our heads creaked, a sound of quick movement. There was a scampering sound toward the courtyard behind us followed by a heavy thud.

"Outside. It's outside." Silah hissed fervently.

She gripped my hand and put her taught arm in my grip, clasping it closed with her other hand.She gave me a determined look, a look that wondered what I was waiting for. I envisioned Silah in sword form and she melted immediately.

"Outside in the courtyard!" I shouted, hoping there was time for them to prepare.

There was movement up the stairway. A twisted, humanoid creature, its skin frayed beyond recognition, showing the chitin of an insect tearing through what remained of the poor being that had been consumed by it. The hollowed skin gaped and flexed as it twitched down the stairs. It's skull had split into a spiny upward facing mouth which was covered in a viscous pale pink ooze that spiderwebbed as this new mouth worked in anticipation of prey.

"Danin, fall back. We need to get whatever that is out there." I said, as I turned on the stairs, "And, see if you can hold that door. We won't survive if we get flanked."

I bolted as I saw the shadow of something massive moved past the windows. The creature behind me thrust forward and snapped, clamping on my thinly protected shoulder, it's spiny teeth worming their way into my skin. I pulled back against the bite, almost pulling it with me. It released in anticipation of falling. I furrowed my brow at the bloodied wound dealt by the horror. Things already looked very grim. I saw Danin's eyes widened as he fully saw the creature that had descended the stairs. He muttered something that sounded like "unholy beast".

As I moved into the room, the large creature from outside pounded past the door and moved into the center of the group. It was covered with clawed arms, positioned both high and low. It’s insect-like shell around it's trunk glimmered with the morning light that trickled through the stained glass. A large, eyeless, and teeth-lined mouth protruded from the top of the beetle-like armor around its trunk, it’s many arms swarmed out, as it anticipated what it planned to do next. It had moved in, facing Sig and Floki. Rana had her bow drawn, and launched some errant arrows in its direction.

Bromm raised his new Pepperbox and it dramatically misfired, falling from his hand and spinning on the floor. He cursed loudly as he blinked at the misfortune. Floki backed up, drawing his bow. The arrows skittered over the shell. My eyes went around with each failed attempt, fearing for the worst. I moved close, and it anticipated my movements, flailing out at me with my approach, the clawed arms failing to connect as I moved close.

"Strike. Now." Silah said, resolute.

I brought the blade down hard on the shell, cracking it wide open. As it penetrated the flesh underneath, a gout of foul smelling liquid sprayed out, coating my arms, breastplate and face. I gasped in pain as a hiss erupted from all over my body, holes were being etched in my skin as I gritted my teeth. My armor, which was already in bad shape, had burrowing holes in it now. The leather straps began to slack, but still held.

I heard Danin push through the door behind me, holding whatever creature had descended the stairs at bay.

The beast in front of me, turned to focus on me. It lashed out with two of its clawed hands catching me. The rest of the arms brought the circular maw in line and it pulled me toward it’s pink slime-covered maw. It bit deep, pressing it’s spiny teeth into my exposed right side. I felt sick from the amount of trauma. It promptly dropped me, and I landed on my feet, but only barely. The acid still sizzled, etching away at my remaining strength.

Arrows ineffectually rattled around me and Bromm was focused on retrieving his weapon and readying it to fire. I gripped the sword tightly, swearing at the pain.

"One more. I can feel it." Silah said, evenly. "This is yours."

There was no other choice. If I fell, the rest may fall as well.

I … feel weak, I need your help to strike true.


I swung, my own effort was not enough with the attempt, but her will pushed the blade true, striking deeper this time. The creature's many waving arms convulsed with the impact, the maw went slack, as fluids from its disemboweled body spread over the floor. The sizzling on my skin stopped, even as I braced for it. I was at the edge of consciousness, pushing back the waves of pain rippling over me.

Silah's impassioned echo was more of a war cry at the killing blow. Her ferocity was more tangible, and her purpose, absolutely clear. This felt like a worthy cause, even if it may take me to my grave.

Danin appeared at my back, putting his hands to me, pushing healing into me regardless of my currently aggravated state. I turned toward the door, Floki's wolf stood at the foot of one of these human husked insectoids. I glared into the room.

"Get this thing out of my way!" I bellowed,

"He'll bite you if you try to move him." Floki said, cautiously, but with a snide overtone. It was more attitude than I was willing to accept considering the amount of pain I was currently in.

"Why do you think I'm asking?" I growled, I waited for him to call his wolf back.

I heard Floki whistle and the wolf moved out of sight. I descended on the creature in the doorway, slicing it easily, breaking through the chitin, ragged flesh, and reforming bone.

Danin continued to push healing energy into me, sending bursts through everyone close by. I felt a shock and a reversal of the damage done with each pulse. I caught sight of Sig and Rana exiting the building. Sig was floating eerily and he swooped through the doorway. Rana called after him. Floki remained back, complaining of my size filling the doorway and blocking his shot. Bromm took a position on the chapel wall, watching for movement outside.

"We should move in, there might be more upstairs."

I looked at the stairs, and yes, there were more descending. I moved quickly, letting others fill in behind me as needed. I blocked the stairs. Another twitching monstrosity descended, a torn face pierced with spines and faceted eyes looked eerily on. The newly formed glistening maw worked, grappling at me. One claw landed, piercing my flesh, but the other failed. I brought the blade down easily, making short work of it. Floki and Bromm moved in behind, followed by Danin. I looked down the stairs, realizing there was no easy way for them to close and engage in such close quarters. I continued moving the mayhem upstairs.

I rounded the corner at the top, this floor had many of the shredded shapes, haplessly wandering humanoid shapes lingering in the bell tower. Some dripping, freshly emerged from the gristly cocoons that hung from the ceiling above. Some of those were still occupied, twitching with rapid movement. Agitated by the noise I had made from storming up the stairs.

I heard Rana cry out downstairs, shouting obscenities.

"Another one!" Floki shouted, followed by a yelp and a growl.

I grit my teeth and made to turn back toward Bromm. As I turned, I saw Sig hovering, weightlessly, outside the window. He called out to me, waving me back. Then he weaved his hands in front of him. My skin itched with his motion. As he called out, a near viscous cloud of yellow white erupted from the center of the room. I covered my face and moved backwards.

"Can you hold here?" I said to Bromm, coughing as the stench laden cloud rolled around me.

Bromm shrugged and nodded to Danin who was moving rapidly up the stairs behind him.

"Make way!" I shouted, pressing past Bromm and Danin. At the bottom of the stairs, the wolf faced off with another of the giant creatures. It was bearing down on the blood-soaked animal. Hissing steam was rising from the wolf. The spray had come from a few arrows that penetrated the glossy shell of the many-armed, beetle-like beast. It was readying it's claws to grapple with the wolf.

With just enough time to level my blade, I lanced forward, driving the blade just below the thick neck of the gyrating maw. I braced, waiting for the spout of acid to come pouring through, but the liquid that sprayed out was inert, as the beast slumped to the floor. I glanced back, seeing a bloodied Floki standing just outside the tower door, bow raised. The shadow of his sister stood next to him. She said something and I heard concern in her voice, Floki whistled and his wolf returned, also no longer affected by the acid. That was the second time this happened.

Please, remind me, if I ever forget, that the acid goes inert on the creature’s death. I thought to Silah.

Silah acknowledged in her way, giving my a feeling of a short nod. She was still gaining her composure after taking yet another creatures life. There was a completeness to her, a feeling of fulfillment beyond the thrill of taking a life.

"These, creatures. I haven't fought them in a very very long time. The smaller ones, they, become these drones. These aren't smart, though, built for battle and operating from a commander that would operate somewhere safe." She echoed in my head, then paused, "If we had waited any longer. There wouldn't have just been two. This city would have been under siege before long."

Her voice quavered with the words.

And we would have been dead. I thought to myself.

I nodded, but I was unwilling to reflect on the possibilities at the moment.

"This door. Is this where it came up?" I said aloud to anyone in earshot, pointing at the door opposite the stairway, I had completely overlooked it before.

"That goes to the undercroft," Rana spoke through the doorway, "I'll come with you."

The smell of burnt bread rose from the basement, as I moved into the cramped hallway. There was a smoke-filled kitchen to the left and a door to desks and a study area straight ahead. Rana moved in behind me.

"Want to check in there?" I rocked my head toward the kitchen.

"Got it." Rana said with a curt nod, moving low and slow, keeping below the smoke with her bow partially drawn.

"Some doors in here, but they're locked. They were attacked while they were making bread!" Her voice was dismayed at how mundane their final tasks were.

I moved among the desks and bookshelves that lined the walls. There was a chalkboard with a drawing of the interior of the temple. Were they planning defensive strategies? Near the back was another shrine. Blood stains covered the floor. There were eight respective chambers, each had heavy doors bashed through. Blood and flesh lined the walls of each one.

"Kols. Where are you when your people need you." I growled to myself, looking at the statue that was bespeckled with dried blood spray from another life taken.

Floki moved in behind me, his wolf sniffing ahead. He looked through the scene quickly.

"They were trapped down here, each one tried to pry through the bars in these rooms. Some almost got out, but," He grimaced, "Almost."

"What a way to go." I shook myself. "I'm going back upstairs."

I darted through the study and, glanced at a locked door on the way up.

"We should get into that locked room, see if someone survived?" I didn't pause for a response and continued my way up the stairs, taking them three and four at a time.

Past the first level, I nearly ran into Danin, who was wearing one of the masks we had retrieved from the Poulterhaud Mine, it was—leaking. He looked to be in bad shape and was process of prying the vomit filled mask off of his face.

Ah, that gas Sig put in the room.

I moved up next to Bromm who was looking into the room. Another of the fleshy, insect body lay at his feet with smoking holes in it.

"Are you hurt?"

He looked at me and shrugged, he had a slight smile on his face in spite of the dire circumstance.

I looked into the clouded room, whatever Sig had done was starting to dissipate. I could hear shuffling and retching, but also Sig's mumbling followed by a thud. I looked back at Bromm, a question on my face about what I was hearing. He shrugged again.

I waited a moment then held my breath, pushing into the room. The six I had seen earlier had been reduced to three. Sig was dutifully sending them to the floor with his words and using his dagger to finish the job. The first one stumbled toward me, barely able to move. I slashed at it and it fell in a heap.

Bromm moved in behind me and unloaded a barrel into another to my right, the creature rocked back and forth with the blow. I looked at Bromm with a question, holding my blade ready.

"By all means." He motioned toward the creature.

Another swipe, and the head rolled away. Another lay at Sig's feet, I nodded toward him, waiting for him to finish it.

"For you, or, really, her." He nodded at the Greatsword.

"This feels like cheating," she whispered.

We could always let him do the honors.

"No no no. This... Go ahead." She braced again. Sig held it up by the scruff of whatever remaining hair it had, and I swept the head from Sig's hand the blade catching it and sending it crumpling into the wall with a spurt.

"Thank you, Sig." I nodded.

I looked up at the dangling cocoons. Slashing through each one in turn, sending the bodies tumbling to the floor. There was a large pile of refuse just below the cocoons: remnants of clothes, trinkets, dotted with gold and silver coinage. I spent time wiping the slimy remains from the sword, before having Silah join us.

She looked herself over, seeing that she remained pristine in her milky white dress. She looked toward me, waiting to catch my eye.

"Look at you. A perfect gentleman." She said, admiration in her voice.

She smiled warmly and did a slight curtsy with the compliment. I immediately felt my face flush with her attention.

(Get to know Akeron.)