Monday, June 13, 2016

Hakaar - Chronicle 47.1 - Smoke and Magic


The shuffle of feet and jangling of keys echoed through the cell door. My head was still swimming from alcohol as I lay on the cool stone bench. I took in the cell interior, a smallish stone room with a heavy door set into the far wall. There was a small window set high, just within reach. From it, I could hear the sounds of the city night below, but wasn't inclined to make the effort to take a look. The rising moon created a patch of light on the floor that slowly crept toward me as I stared. I pressed my eyes shut not wanting to remember why I was here in the first place. I couldn't feel Silah. She was outside of the range of our bond and the wound in my side was throbbing relentlessly because of it. I grimaced and shifted on the stone slab, trying to get comfortable.

I lay on my side, eyes wide open and thoughts came flooding in. I grit my teeth against each moment that flashed by.

This city, Hanover, had flowed over me in waves. I felt the first waves crash as we moved into the vulnerable underbelly of its great gray walls. The dark interior of the murder holes and overlooking arrow slits gave the feeling of being silently perused by the eyes just beyond those shadows. My skin itched at the thought. Silah remained in the sheath for nearly the entire day after her dance with the lightning. Then, after encountering her malevolent sister, I was more than anxious about word getting around. I had no intention of revealing her in this place.

I only wish I had known how badly that decision would end up for me.

Sleep wouldn't come as I watched the patch of moonlight creep. I pawed at my face, not wanting to remain adrift in this state between being awake or asleep. I could feel the coolness of the night float through the cell window like a whisper. I shook myself, stood, and then paced to and fro.

I had resolved to keep Silah in her sword form. Whether it was a word that would leak from these walls and reach the wrong ears or whether it was the strictness of this city and how it treated magic. Or revered it? This didn't extend to the divine, after all. They had extorted Danin for admission saying it was for his protection.

I chuckled, remembering how the group turned menacing when the gate keepers requested more gold after taking note of Danin's holy symbol. Danin was calm about it. We were here for the order of Derrum Ebbar, after all. Making a fuss would have had a direct consequence to what he was here to accomplish.

But, from what I had seen so far, it was a long road to properly establish his order here. The ruling mages would have none of it. They seemed to have great suspicions of all things divine. It wasn't terribly dissimilar to how everyone else felt about those who followed the arcane.

For me, since I had walked through those gates, I'd felt useless. And—with Silah hovering over my shoulder, unable to participate—I felt an anxiety I couldn't shake. Talking with her in the relative sanctuary of our room in the Tipsy Crow made me realize how much she resented each passing moment. She spoke of the flows of magic she could feel as we moved through the streets with a longing I hadn't seen. So, I took a chance and snuck out with Tagaern later that night. Even as I let Silah roam free. She was distant from me, resentful, walking painfully close to the edge of our bond.

And that was just the beginning.

I leaned against the wall, pressing my forehead hard into the cool stones then reared back and giving the wall two solid thuds, sending my brain sloshing.

"She wouldn't listen! I tried to tell her that it was for our protection." I whispered hoarsely then sighed, "Why do I have to be the responsible one? I'm at least a thousand years younger than her."

My thoughts continued to race. Sig wasn't happy with our little adventure. He was right, too. I had gone against my word as well as put everyone at risk. The ache in my side throbbed again, reminding me of my distance distance from her.

I wonder where she is.

I sat again on the stone bench and put my head in my hands, running thick fingers through my black hair. I could see that the moonlight had crawled a good distance across the floor. I stared at the square of moonlight as I thought.

Danin's order had received a message from a powerful family in Hanover, the Sagars. Orphea Sagar collected stories of heroes as her hobby and we had just so happened to make it on her list.

The Sagar's, along with the other two Tobacco Guild families, were the key to allowing Danin's order more freedom within the walls of Hanover. Those in the upper ranks of Derrum Ebbar saw fit to send him off to make a good impression.

"I wonder who thought that was a good idea." I grumbled.

When we had received the invitations, it was clear that Orphea Sagar had done her research. Silah's name was printed clearly on the invitation. I remembered feeling queasy as I looked at it. She was expected and here I was trying to keep her a secret.

Floki and I went to the edges of the city, letting Tenner hunt, and providing enough distance to allow me to reveal Silah and return to the gatehouse to have her properly declared.

All the while she was frosty, barely speaking. Normally, she couldn't seem to give her tongue a rest, but now she was silent and straight backed as we approached the city.  I could barely make eye contact with her, unable to face the fires that burned behind her eyes. Helping her from the horse, our touch was empty. The echoes and feelings that would come with her touch had been held back.

I gave a half-hearted smile to the man who took note of Silah's presence.

"The man who normally handles these permits isn't here at the moment. Come back in the morning to get the permit for your weapon." He had said nodding toward Silah, but barely glancing at her.

I was furious how these men simply saw her as a thing, but I held my tongue to keep the peace.

I always held my tongue.

It was no wonder she'd chosen to spend the evening on Danin's arm. He offered and I balked, but then fell silent, already feeling ashamed at wasting her time. My heart dropped with the gesture and I grit my teeth and gave the dwarf a stern look.

Let Silah play her games.

Part of the dressing of an event like this was who was on your arm. Tagaern had made a connection with a woman named Morrigan. She had been helping us through the labyrinth of who's who as well as the delights and dangers of Hanover. We went to Monta'Guevarra, a brothel of great renowned. Apparently, it was also the beating, lust ridden heart of information exchange in this city.

I chuckled, remembering how Bromm was offered a choice for whom he should bring. He waved them off at first, then stopped, he took a step toward the redhead and then took a step back. His indecision was pure comedy. I could see him considering each of the bloody bulletholes he'd weather from crossing his love, Robyn.

"I'll take the brunette." He said with a stately tone, but I could see both desire and fear in his eyes.

When the offer was extended to me, I considered briefly. Even attempting to play that game would result in disaster, so I refrained. Besides my being completely transparent, it would have been a spiteful and hollow gesture. It was all too clear how I felt and I could rarely disguise it. This had always been my bane, to be unable to play this game that Sig, Danin, and Bromm did so easily.

Another wave crashing over me, a mixture of magic, money, and smoke. And, again, I was out of my depth on all counts.

I slipped to the floor of the cell. Splaying out on the well worn stones, watching the moonlight continue to push closer and closer to the wall. It had shrunk to only a sliver at this point. My head was burning up. I could feel a walking hangover coming on but resting on the cool stones helped.

The Sagar estate had been laid open to us. There had been a play, a dinner, and a show that was done exclusively for us and our visit. We sat in places of honor with the vibrant hostess and the gentlemanly host looking on.

Ffion Sagar was sickeningly wealthy from the tobacco trade and Orphea was his prize. He gave her whatever she wanted, which played in Danin's favor for establishing a greater presence in Hanover. While she appeared to have everything she could ever want, her hobby was that of collecting tales of heroism. Journals, statues, and accounts from all corners of the continent.

Orphea doted on us, asking questions, and looking on in wonder with the answers. She was surprised and concerned, wondering why Silah had taken her place by Danin. I tried to dismiss it. But she, being immediately aware of the discomfort, gracefully allowed the moment to pass.

But I was fully aware of it.

I hadn't realized how much I depended on Silah. And it was splitting my heart in two. I resented how she refused to listen to reason. I've wanted to let go so many times before. Release her from this bond so she could find someone who could keep pace with her. The chaos of her passion, wonder, and contempt, often overwhelmed me. There were times that I longed for solitude.

And those would be the things I missed most.

Her heart held such pain. Ages upon ages have passed for her. Each time she was wielded anew, she had very little recollection of where she had been. Only recently had she gained enough power to fully recollect those pieces of her history she was allowed to remember. Which was why the revelations at the Sagar Estate were far more bitter.

The Earl explained that he was on a manhunt. A man that had appropriated the bones of a Titan King of the Vale. While that, in itself, wasn't a crime where we stood, the man had lied. The Titan King, Silah's father, was alive and the man had pilfered his deceased wife's bones.

I made the connection there and my eyes went to Silah, still on Danin's arm. She was perfectly still, a look of pain frozen on her face as she listened silently. This answered the unspoken question. This was Silah's mother. I wanted desperately to be there for her, but even at an arm's length away, she was completely out of reach.

What was worse, as it was explained to us, this bone could be used to summon the soul of the Titan which would be used in a ritual to fight for political dominance. I shuddered. While Silah seemed to resent her father, her mother was dear to her. This was yet another painful twist of fate.

And there is nothing I can do about it.

Their old friend, Raenir, was there. He was with his own bond, E'sVa'tou, the woman who had brought him back to life. This life debt had extended into something far more. You could see it in rare moments, while he talked animatedly. She'd drop her guard and regard him warmly.

Silah had done that to me in the past. She had looked beyond what even I thought I was and saw something else.

Something better.

The music continued as the night began to wind down. Danin stole a dance with Lady Orphea, spending his time, no doubt, impressing on the lady the oppressive political atmosphere and the mistreatment of his order in this city.

As he made his case, I looked to Silah. She stood perfectly still, seeming small and vulnerable. I could see that she was still reflecting on the news from earlier.

I took the opportunity and approached her, offering my hand. At her touch, I felt a trickle of our connection, but she still withheld herself. We danced in silence for a time, but I could also see her anger toward me fading. Likely, she was well aware of my stewing, sifting through my memories and motivations.

I stumbled on the dance floor, anxiously tripping over my own feet. I cursed loudly and she put a precise finger to my lips then her thin arms held me up easily. I was reminded of us again. Us before Hanover. Us before the Vale. Back when I was just Bromm's bodyguard and nothing more.

Danin had a smile on his face as he moved away from Orphea. He was a step closer to his goal. The rest of us began to ready ourselves to leave even though there was no pressure to do so. Orphea seemed content to let this night continue for as long as it needed to and was gracious as we bid our farewells to her and her husband, Ffion.

We moved to where the wagons were parked and I stared blankly ahead, not sure what to do next.

"Perhaps it is time to mend?" Silah said.

She offered her arm while Danin was on her other arm. I winced, but obliged. Then walked them to the wagon.

"I'm going to walk. I need to clear my head." I said, holding out a hand to help her into the carriage. I attempted to play off how I felt, but, from the look on her face, I could see I had failed. I stood and watched as the wagon moved off into the night.

And you forgot the permit, fool. You thought it wouldn't come back to bite you.

That was hours ago. My eyes were bleary from lack of sleep. I could see the starry black sky through the cell window taking on a lighter hue.

I sighed.

It wasn't far from the Sagar household that guards had appeared on the street. Floki and I had been walking home in an awkward silence. Silah was usually the one to break that silence and Tenner would keep Floki occupied. It was strange to realize that we hadn't said more than a handful of words to each other directly.

"Hakaar?" The voice was stern in the darkness, but I could see him clearly as he stepped into the street. He wore the garb of a Phirian, one of the city guard.

The voices from the shadows brought an instinctive wariness to Floki, but once I saw them, I waved my hand dismissively.

"You need to come with us," The leading guard said, "Where is your unregistered weapon?"

I explained that she was currently in someone else's care. It hurt to say. It hurt far more than the wound in my side from her absence. This raised some eyebrows and I beckoned them along. Floki hung back following with a little distance.

As we approached the Tipsy Crow, there was a flash of glitter that spread across the road in front of us. Silah was in the middle of it, blasted with Sig's magic.

"How do I look?" She said, spitting out some of the glowing glitter, "Wait. I can't see."

"It'll pass in a minute or two." Sig said, then nodded to me, "It was her idea."

I caught the guards exchanging glances.

"I am not surprised." I grumbled.

But I was surprised. Had she done that for me?

She stumbled around and I reached out for her.

"Oh, there you are!" She said.

I felt that rush at her touch and I held her close.

"We have a problem. These men are going to take us back to the gatehouse. We're in trouble because I failed to get the permit." I said.

"The weapon? Please?" The thin man between the guards stepped forward with long spindly fingers.

"I'm sorry." I whispered to her.

I took her hand and willed her into a sword. I made the automatic motion to sheath her, but was quickly interrupted by a snap of the man's fingers.

"Here. Please." He said sternly.

There was a rush of confusion from Silah that immediately slipped away as I released the blade into his hands.

And things had been going so well.

The sounds of morning began to spill through the barred window and light from outside was now filling the cell. Above the cacophony, I could hear shuffling sounds from outside the heavy cell door. There was a bell that sounded and a changing of the guard. I pulled myself to the bench and sat, facing the door, blinking against the pain in my head and side.

"Hakaar? I am Vizier Orincloud. Sorry for the unpleasantness, but this is the law. It is dangerous for both you and for others when a fine weapon like yours is not declared properly." He said, his words coming out with a smooth execution.

"We wouldn't want anything dangerous to happen," I said with a growl, "Can I pay for this permit and we can be done with this?"

"Oh, it's not that simple. Unfortunately, your weapon must go through a rigorous questioning process." He said dismissively, "This takes some time. I expect you'll be able to retrieve your item in three days time."

"An interrogation? Wait. She is not simply a 'weapon'. Don't you know who she is?" I growled.

"She is a fine weapon. Truly remarkable." He bobbed his head, maintaining eye contact with glassy eyes.

"She's not just a weapon! She is not a thing to be possessed." I found myself shouting, my hands gripped so tight the blood drained from them.

"Truly, truly. I understand you are passionate about this as is expected from your kind. No need to get worked up. Would you like to go now? Or would you like to stay here?" He said, his eyes now showing his disgust.

"I would like to participate in these interrogations," I seethed, "She is not to be touched, poked, or prodded in any way."

"Oh, nothing like that. And your request to participate in the interrogation is quite unusual, but if you wanted to come back mid-morning, we may be able to accommodate you." He said smoothly.

I clenched my teeth and moved through the door then turned on him.

"I will be back. And if anything untoward is done to her? Believe me, I will know. And you will pay dearly." I said with a hiss and strode out.

(Get to know Akeron.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Hakaar - Chronicle 44.1 - The Path of Least Resistance

My eyes opened to light pouring through the small squares of window, sending out ribbons of dust laden light. There was a tremble running through the floor as I heard others milling about down below, tending to the horses and preparing to disembark.

I turned my head to see only Dulinar the Monk, looking both very blind and very sullen. The man had a woollen blanket lay haphazardly over his shoulders while he sat with his legs crossed. He was very still, holding a cup of foul smelling tea close to his face, breathing in the vapors while sipping occasionally. He didn't cough like he was on the verge of death as before, but his face was miserably pale.

I recognized the look. I could imagine that I'd felt that way before. One never does well when faced with their own mortality.

Part of the conversation from last night was how I had learned their names. Unlike the meeting in the Hlofolk Tunnel, there was nothing but time and opportunity to have official introductions. The Oracle's name was Aphres and, while she didn't dwell on where she came from or what she was, her desire for a peaceful existence and a place to call home was clear. Dulinar of Seven Oaks was her companion, brought together in a way that spoke of mutual necessity. She needed his protection and he needed her to need him. The key was that both were not dangerous to one another and, while the their requirements of each other were simple, it had created a mutual loyalty that had grown deep.

I could hear the others milling around below moved to the edge  to sit watch.

"About time you woke up." Bromm said, tilting his head at the change in light, "Get down here and help."

I dropped down to help and found the group seemed to be more about passing time than packing. Aphres stood at the edge of the bustle, wringing her hands when they weren't otherwise occupied. It seemed that there was an ongoing conversation that was muffled by the sounds of horses and buckles.

"Isolation is hard to find. It was found this place, but it has proven to be even more dangerous." Aphres spoke, her voice wavered.

"The abandoned homesteads should have given you some indication." Floki said.

"To an expert eye, maybe." Aphres said defensively, "We have little experience in these matters."

"But you're an Oracle, right? You can see the future?" Floki said with a hint of spite.

She clamped her mouth shut and her lips compressed, leaving them bloodless.

"It doesn't work that way." She growled through clenched teeth.

The silk hood fluttered and her hands clenched into small fists. Floki turned away to mask a slight half-smile. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was looking for a little danger. This oracle's display of anger prompted Bromm to stop what he was doing and intercede.

"No harm meant, m'lady. But perhaps you should enlighten us? It is our intent to help, after all." Bromm spoke with a gentle sureness.

She calmed by degrees and looked up to the second floor. Dulinar had approached precariously close to the edge in absolute silence, his white eyes open, scanning our direction. It was clear that didn't need sight to sense each of us.

"You should realize I see little more than flashes. There is little context for what I see and usually an impression around strong emotion," She paused, seeming exasperated, "Perhaps it would be best if I showed you. I owe you that much."

We ascended to where her grand chair stood and she sat with a smooth motion, motioning forward with both hands to no one in particular. Floki approached first, putting his palms into her upturned hands. Her fingers closed around his hands and she leaned her head back. She spoke in cryptic phrases, telling advice as well as  situations or people to avoid.

Bromm, Tagaern went next, with similar results, but each reading took effort. I settled in front of her and felt her palms growing clammy while her hands shook. This gift, whatever it was, took it's toll.

What I heard was unfamiliar: "Side with the Baron", "Bear no false witness", and, the one that resonated with me most, "Sister Enemy".

I glanced at Silah whose expression grew sullen. We both knew that this was likely about Sgaith, the rogue protector of the Veil. She had been travelling the world, destroying other swords that shared her nature. Silah and I had been warned a month ago that she and her wielder were on the hunt. It was said that her wielder was an elf, a master swordsman, who had been bonded with Sgaith for a century, at least.

While Aphres did seem to want to establish more context to these visions, we were all tight lipped in what we saw. However, my reaction, meeting eyes with Silah piqued her interested, but I wasn't inclined to divulge.

"It will happen as it happens." I said, "And there's nothing more that I can say of it."

Aphres nodded at the small amount of information, but seemed like she had strained herself to the point of breaking. She broke contact and slumped back in her chair.

"Oracle, I know you are looking for a safe haven," I said, "I could provide that to you. I have come into some land from this business with the Hlofolk and would set aside space for you."

"Is that so? Why would you do this?" Aphres asked, her head tilting slightly.

"I, myself, am in a strange land. I want to offer a home to those who have none. To those deserve it." I said with a rehearsed finality.

She nodded.

"You would come back for us then? See us through the Hlofolk Tunnel?" She said quietly, her breath barely stirring the veil.

"I believe all of us would like to see you settled safely." I said with a nod.

There were polite coughs behind me, but I didn't turn to look.

"How long would it take for you to set up this promised space?" Aphres asked.

I choked on my words. There hadn't even been a proper survey of the lands, and here I was offering what I envisioned as the safety of a walled city.

"While I admire what you're doing, Hakaar, perhaps we should take this one step at a time." Sig padded up behind me, clapping a small hand on my back.

He continued, "There may be another solution. There is an old lighthouse on the edge of Hlofreden that needs a Keeper."

There was a little flutter of pain in Sig's eyes as he mentioned this. His grandfather had lost his life because of the witch that had taken the lighthouse. The woman had worn the face of the old keeper and insinuated herself into the workings of Hlofreden. The lighthouse itself seemed to require very little maintenance as it was based on a magicked mechanism with chanted glass to light up the dark skies at night.

Given that the stains of blood and the smell of death had been dealt with, it could be a place of perfect isolation with just enough space for her followers to settle in. Perhaps even be able to clear the fields of brambles from that upper reach..

"A lighthouse. I have no training in such workings." The Oracle said with a shake of her head.

"It wouldn't matter. You would just need to make sure it keeps spinning. The rest is automatic." Sig said, looking to the others.

I agreed with Sig's thoughts while the other's heads were nodding in turn.

"I'll consider it. Will you come back this way and take us there?" The Oracle said, fatigue lacing her voice.

There was a hesitation in Sig's expression. He had not returned since that fateful night. He looked haunted.

"We'll arrange for it." Sig said after a moment, seeming to choose his words carefully.

"Thank you. I'm not sure how I've earned this kindness, but we both thank you." She said, breathlessly. "I need to rest now. May your journey be safe. Return when you can."

It was a quick ride back to the road over the thriving, but abandoned fields. The Oracle's parting words were that they would try to keep their place in the mill for as long as they could. They would attempt to move to the mouth of the Hlofolk Tunnel if they felt unsafe.

The next stop on this path was a place called Crescent. It was a village of small folk set deep in the old trees to the Southeast of us. They seemed to appreciate visitors, but the others had said the Oracle warned them about overstaying their hospitality. It seemed a number of her followers had confided in her regarding their trust of strangers.

The path was a perfectly straight line where it entered the forest. The only deviations seemed when nature itself attempted to reclaim portions of the mercilessly cut path.

This was dwarven work, for sure.

Even with the natural rise and fall of the gentle hills around us, the path continued flat and straight. You could see far down the road with the gathered darkness at points obscuring what lay ahead. I was dumbfounded by the manic precision.

The procession fell silent as we moved, traveling with barely a word spoken. The sun climbed, visible through the thickening canopy above as we moved deeper into the forest. It was Floki who halted the approach, turning his monstrous wolf around. The eyes of the wolf seemed to be bored, but lazily glanced from horse to horse. The horses, in turned, voiced a few worried whinnies as their eyes met.

"Danin. Do you feel funny?" Floki said as Danin brought up the rear.

"No, why?" I heard his gruff voice ask.

I turned and quickly stifled a laugh. Danin's long hair and braided beard were raised in a near circle around his head. I could feel it now, too, a crackle in the air that reminded me of the battle between titans I had witnessed during the Ten Years War. Lightning bolts from a massive elemental blasting chunks of wood from the elven titan, sending flaming debris to the ground, setting alight fields with terrifying results.

I looked back at Silah who had a wide expression of joy and wonder on her face.

"This place makes me feel fantastic!" She said, holding out her hand and showing me as electricity arched between her fingers.

I gave her a worried look, but she was far too enthralled by the experience to recognize my concern.

"We should probably stop until we know what is going on." Floki called out.

While the others stopped, I dismounted and began rifling through my saddlebags to get to my rations.

"I see some black stones. They look like what we saw on Sidhe Lara." Sig said, pointing at something a ways into the woods.

"Huh." Floki said, "Looks like there are some on this side, too. And there's a fox watching us. It doesn't look like it's just observing. It's watching us."

Floki pointed off and took a step in that direction which prompted the stone he advanced toward to glow a little brighter.

"Uh, no. That's not good." He whispered.

"What is it?" Tagaern asked, his hand was on his sword, but seemed lost at what he would be fighting.

"We should stick to the path. This obelisks seem to be reacting to us." He said, then eyed the fox that was very close to the standing black stone, "To us, but not the wild life?"

"Silah, do you think you could touch one of those stones?" I asked, half joking.

"Sure!" Her voice was bright and excited, she began to approach and the stone began to glow brighter.

"No, I was kidding. You don't have to…"


Lightning arched from the stone and blazed into her. She staggered back, a scorch mark burned through her white linen dress. She turned and looked at me with a wild smile.

"That was fantastic!" She said, her eyes wide.

Her body danced with the arcing electricity.

She moved forward with a surge of incredible speed. The lightning lit against her, slowing her for brief moments as she fought against them. The thunderous cracks sounded like rapid-fire from Bromm's pistol. Each echoing readily through the woods. She moved up and touched the stone and other stones joined in the madness as they pounded her with lightning.

She returned on foot quickly, moving out of their range until the lightning ceased. She jittered madly, face flush, and her arms holding what little remained of her clothes for modesty.

"P-p-perhaps I sh-sh-should go b-back into th-th-the sh-sheath?" She stammered.

She was nearly glowing. I grabbed her hand and willed her into sword form quickly, feeling the hilt hiss in my grasp. I quickly placed her into the sheath then I frantically pulled out a waterskin to soothe the burn.

"Ouch." I said with a grimace.

I could feel the heat from the hilt dangerously close to my neck while I looked at the pattern of burns that were likely permanent on my palm.

As I glanced around, the others were dumbfounded. Floki was still looking into the forest.

"The fox sure seemed intent on what Silah did just there. When it finally turned away it looked like it had three tails. Anyone heard of a three tailed fox?" He asked.

There were a few shrugs, but Tagaern piped up.

"Well, I've heard a story. A drunken story from one man, but the details were very specific." He said, his face pinched as he struggled to remember, "From what the man said, the fox had five tails and could appear as a woman. It was a creature of the forest that protected the trees."

"Protected the trees?" Bromm said, "Perhaps these stones are here for the same."

"Metal weapons." Danin said and nodded.

"Anyone want to test that?" Floki said and looked to me with a smirk.

I fished through my pack and pulled out a small spike for mooring rope to walls. I tossed it between two of the stones. The raucous of lightning sparked again and again, only stopping after it had pulverized the metal to nothing.

I shuddered.

"We stick to the trail, then?" Said Bromm brightly with a smile.

Just ahead, a large hillock rose, but the path continued, straight and level, tearing through the ground, sharply splitting the hill in two. The dwarven hands cut through it's heart out because it dared defy them.

It was no wonder the stones were put in place. I thought with some trepidation.

A noise rose from the wood, a tortured shudder that seemed to echo as a cloud passed overhead, covering us in shadow. The air grew chilly as a thrashing far off the path sounded then quieted. I took hold of Silah by the handle, feeling her warmth maintained from the dazzling encounter earlier.

"Can anyone see what that was?" I whispered harshly as the horses gathered closer together.

"Yep. It's coming right at us." Floki said bobbing his head off to our right then unslung his bow in response.

It was relatively blending with the horse's footfalls, but as they stood still the smashing of branches became apparent. A blackened beast bounded toward us on all fours through the shadows of trees and clouds. It's eyes shone a milky yellow, catching the light around it. Flaps of its skin had unknitted from along its spine back revealing angry red viscera that hung down from it's sides. Each movement sent this skin flopping about like broken wings as it tore through the undergrowth.

"Form up!" I shouted dismounting quickly and pulling Silah. I looked to the bracers I wore and willed my arms to extend, preparing to swing.

Fire and sparks spurted out from my right. The bullet impacted, but did not slow the creature's gait. I felt others fall in behind me and arrows flew from my left, hitting everywhere but the creature.

I swung too late as it leaped toward me. I could see the blackened fur sloughing off in wide patches, the wide but unseeing milky eyes, the jaw opened wide exposing a jagged set of teeth, broken and intact, protruding from a rotting maw. It slashed at me with its claws, tearing deep into the flesh as he clamped around my shoulder, jerking with it's head, trying to tear my shoulder loose. Then, firmly attached, it began to flay my midsection with its powerful hind legs.

I felt a shock of sick as wounds opened and I could feel the blood boiling out of me.

I need your help. I tried to keep my thoughts clear, but everything was a jumble.

"What can I do? Should I heal you?" Her voice echoed in my head, eager.

No, I need you to help me strike true. I can't afford to miss.

"As you wish." Her voice in my head was low and fervent and I could feel her power rush in, guiding my hands.

I fought against the pain, calling on my inner strength. I pulled Silah back around along the creatures ribcage stroking clean through the flesh and cracking through the individual ribs exposing a blackened bile that flowed freely from the wound, another slash nearly severed the right hind leg.

A harsh roar through the rotting maw told me it wasn't done with me, but a stroke from Tagaern's sword broke through the spine and nearly severed the head. Its head lolled as it slumped to the forest floor. The hulk of rotten meat was still.

As the throbbing red faded from my vision and my strength subsided, I felt the sick rush back, clouding my mind and forcing me to lean back on my horse.

"I need help." I said hoarsely.

I groaned as Danin dismounted and looked where my wounds were the worst, focusing on the torn midsection and deep bite marks on my shoulder. While I could feel the wounds begin to bind together, the was a sting that didn't subside.

Some of that filth was still in me. I cringed at the thought.

I began to feel better from Danin's attention. I stood and took a deep breath.

Danin's eyes were concerned.

"You should try to defend yourself." He said sternly.

"I'll try a little harder next time." I said, annoyed.

"Another tiger. This one—I'm not even sure what to say." Floki said, looking at it with dismay.

He used his foot to push it around while the others looked on. Sig covered his face, fending off the stench that began to rise from it.

"Do you want to skin this one? It looks like most of the work is already done." I said.

Floki gave me a disapproving look.

"It looks like it was working on something just inside the woods there." He said, not breaking eye contact, "You want to check it out?"

"What about the stones?"

"It moved past them without a problem. I'm sure you can figure it out." Floki pointed to the grisly mass.

"Alone then?"

"It's up to you." Floki said with a shrug of his shoulders, "You're the only one who can fight without weapons."

I nodded, not happy with the thought, but it was true.

I hung all of my metal laden goods on my horse and moved toward the stones. It remained inert as I moved up to it. I touched the shiny black surface.

"Nothing at all." I turned and said.

I saw Floki roll his eyes and he handed a gold coin to Bromm after a brief exchange.

I moved deeper into the forest. A deer lay on it's side, eviscerated, showing signs of a bubbling black infection from it's neck. The sun emerged from the clouds, bright spots of light drifted between the branches expanding the scene. Black filth covered the forest floor where arterial blood sprayed the area. There was an animal trail that continued through the forest with another large beast tracking the remaining deer.

I felt a chill as I looked on. I gathered what I could from the scene and moved back to the others, moving easily between the stones.

"You should call Silah and see what happens?" Floki called out.

"No, I'd rather not." I growled in response as I approached.

"There was a kill, but it didn't look like it intended to eat. It just tore the thing apart. It had an black blistering mass on its neck." I said as I donned my armor.

Sig and Floki looked me over carefully.

"What?" I demanded.

"Oh. Nothing." Sig said.

I growled again and slid back into the saddle.

The sun was nearly directly above us as we began to see piles of ashes with the bones of small creatures in open areas along the path. This was followed shortly by signs of civilization. There were many of these in a clearing that greatly expanded widened distance between the lightning stones.

A cove appeared off the edge of the path. A small man sitting on the edge of an entertainers wagon. Other small people were busying themselves around the wagon. It appeared that they had been packing up from a potential performance or perhaps just lunch. Colorful silks clung to the sides of the wagon which was half the size of my horse.

The man craned his head up.

"Ah, visitors! Welcome to Crescent!"

His voice rose with a rich throaty character. Something I'd heard find from those whose profession it was to speak or sing.

He sat and spoke with us while the others moved around him. Their eyes were at first cheery, but a moodiness began to sink into them. The bard seemed to carry right along though his smile seemed to falter at times.

"What of the bones and ashes?" Sig asked.

"Oh. Uh, something strange going on. Sick creatures have been coming in." He chuckled anxiously, "Perhaps some trouble in the forest? We've put those we've seen to rest."

One of the women helping pick things up shot him a glare and he went back to his pained smile.

I looked at the others.

"To rest? Burning them to ashes seems a bit overzealous." Bromm said.

With such measures, I wondered if we should have done the same.

"I only work here. Well last night I did. Which, unfortunate for you, we're moving on. But I'm sure you could talk more of this to the village Elders?" The man seemed to be intent on breaking off the line of questioning quickly.

I was about to ask more, but held my tongue. Bromm nodded to the man and tipped his hat and clucked to the horse which continued down the path.

He waved with his smile still wide, watching us as we moved out of sight. Just beyond the small village of Crescent unfolded ahead of us. I dismounted and walked the warhorse down the small paved street. The road through town was just as wide as the swath that the dwarves had cut to this point and, clearly, everything here was built to the little folk's scale. Small buildings sat at the edge of the thick forest. Some buildings stood only as high as my shoulder making the world feel like it was full of playthings. I was a giant standing among these buildings.

The road widened into what looked like a common area. To the side was a tavern with canvas draped over a mixture of large and small tables. The city was a sea of little folks with hair varying shades of mousey, except for one who emerged from the tavern with a bundle of mugs skillfully grasped with both arms. She sparkled with her golden hair among the other, more humble looking folk. And, clearly, everyone knew it. Boys and men, it was hard to tell which was which, all had their eyes on her as she moved through the tables with a broad smile.

"There boys. Be good now." She said, placing the mugs on the table and then craning up to the rest of us, "Tall folk! Join us, if ya will. We've tables over there just for ya."

Her little head bobbed sending her glittering gold hair tumbling.

There were a few glances back and forth between the group.

"It's a little early, but I don't mind staying." Floki said with a shrug.

"I wonder if they have anything here like Old Law?" Bromm added.

The table, while they accommodated the others well enough, still forced me to wedge myself in awkwardly. The bench groaned as I tested it with my full weight. Tagaern chuckled at the look on my face but said nothing.

The small woman came back out, depositing food at another table and came up to us, smiling, wiping wet hands on her small apron. She was stunning. Her appearance against the others was uncanny. Looking around, I tried to pick out any of the females and it was surprisingly difficult. She seemed a completely different creature—and she knew it.

"‘Ello, Gents, name's Javalia. Before I start chitchattin', do you want anything to start ya off?" She purred, taking a commanding position at the head of the table.

"Do you have any harder spirits?" Bromm leaned in.

"It's a bit early for that, lad, isn't it?" She leaned in herself, drawing us in with a whisper, "Since you're new here,  ‘ow about I fetch ya some of our specials."

She tilted her head, sending her golden locks bobbing again, and her eyes moved quickly to each one of us. Floki shrugged, disinterested. I could see a fire light behind those eyes briefly, she wasn't use to resistance.

"I have a few special selections you won't find anywhere else, lads." She said, her voice laced with a warning.

Javalia began to run through a series of fruity and nutty sounding ales. The one that stood out to me was the Deep Chestnut Lager. Bromm leaned toward a Rosewood Amber, but then the woman paused with her eyebrow raised wickedly.

"Above all, I'd recommend the Longdeep Tea. A special blend from the forests that only us folk know. It has, eh, special properties. Given your wear, I could say this would be of some benefit to you." She said, with a half smile.

"Wear? I'm not sure what you mean?" I said.

"And, a'course, yer the first to talk. Bloodied from head to toe and stinking of death, your clothes slept in. Perhaps we should draw a bath as well?" She looked over the others with a wrinkle to her nose. "Not sure what met you along these roads. You sure seem worse off for it."

My lips pulled tight into a straight line and grumbled, looking at the table. "I'll take the Chestnut. And, maybe, some of that tea."

The rest chose just the Longdeep Tea, quickly willing to try a new experience. Bromm sat there, unfazed, and smiling at the pint-sized fireball.

"I'll get those out immediately!" She said, bouncing slightly with her words as she moved toward the kitchen.

There were a couple of Halflings that sat near us, giving hesitant glances our way. Their voices were low and murmured, but it wasn't so much suspicion as one was gathering his courage to talk to us. They seemed to have several bowls of foodstuffs that had come up empty and were unconsciously pawing at them, realizing, over and over again, that each bowl was empty.

"You talk to him."

"No, you!"

This exchanged went back and forth until Javalia came back. She has a hawklike eye trained toward the others, making sure there was nothing funny going on. As she delivered the drinks, she stood again at the head of the table. She drew a deep breath and began to roll through the food specialties of the day. She was only just past the first meal item when Sig cut her short. Her eyes widened with fire, but she held her tongue and waited for his response..

"Why not get all your specials? An order for each of us." Sig patted his pouch hard enough that it jingled.

This drew attention from many of the surrounding folks. Ears keen on hearing the sounds of plentiful coin. This seemed to embolden the two bickering halflings that sat close.

Javalia smiled graciously, her countenance smoothing to a placid gentleness that didn't seem at all accustomed to being there.

"A round for all ya Gents! We're goin'  t'have ta stock up on the pantry after this." She said with rich laugh.


I realized that Silah wasn't among us, since our encounter earlier, I had left her in the sheath. I felt it might be too much to reveal her here, so I let her remain.

I sipped at the Chestnut Lager, which was almost chewy with the sediment floating in the brew, this added to it's oaky richness. I looked around as others sipped on the Longdeep Tea. Bromm's eyes popped open, and he looked into the mug. I plowed through the mug of Chestnut Lager and picked up the Longdeep Tea. There was a punch in the sip I took. Not sure where it came from but my cheeks flushed and I felt a tingle running from my belly to the tips of my fingers. Small cuts and bruises that persisted after Danin's attention seemed to fade further and further with each draw.

There were wide eyes among the group. Each of us seemed to experience a similar effect.

While food preparations were being made, the two little folk sauntered over to the table and began talking with whoever would talk to them. I sat and watched as they chattered among themselves, then turned to Sig, who had been eyeing the package that one held in his hands. It was a wax paper wrap similar to what Sig had for his tobacco leaf.

While the first presented, the other bent close.

"You want to buy some Juh-Juh? I've got a special for you tall folk."

"Stop it! You're making me look bad. Let me talk."

"You're too slow at this! You gotta get them excited!"

"I've got this. Back off!"

"That's mine, you know. You are selling my Juh-Juh."

"Yes, I know. C'mon! I'll get you more!"

Their rapid fire banter made me think of two chittering squirrels fighting over a nut. It made my head hurt. I turned and looked at the others looking on. I saw a frumpy little woman who was bent over an elaborate little drum instrument. Her brow was furrowed as I glanced her direction, but she tried to replace it with a pained smile as she saw that I was looking at her. I tried to look friendly, but she clapped a hand to her head and broke eye contact. She seemed frustrated with herself and went back to looking away gloomily, not meeting my eyes again.

Complex little creatures, these. I thought.

While the tavern was beginning to fill for an afternoon crowd, there was another pair who stood off to the side. A dark haired woman and her elven companion. They were aloof, lingering around the outskirts. The woman seemed restless, moving away and then coming back to the elven man. His manner was extremely relaxed, but I could see a slight glint of annoyance as he looked on her movements. He tipped back in a chair, balancing skillfully without any fear of breaking the thin wooden legs or slipping over backwards. His eyes moved to mine, like he had felt them observing him. That calm, self-assuredness made me shiver, but I held the gaze and gave him a nod and he returned the same before looking back to his fidgeting companion.

Javalia came out with an expertly balanced tray, placing it in the center of the table and moving each of the dishes in front of us, before sliding the tray out and standing it on the ground and leaning on it. I saw something stir out of the corner of my eye as Javalia effortlessly leaned on the saucer that was nearly as big as her and smiled warmly at the rest of my group. The drummer girl had tensed, glaring at Javalia. It was the look of one as she picked her mortal enemy apart with her eyes. Suddenly, her awkwardness became very clear.

"That's a Mushroom cake. Packed with herbs, breaded, and fried for ya gents. That's just ta get ya started. Next will be RopeGrass soup and Scud Shells! These are spicy and served hot. Ya might want to get more ta drink."

She waited as her suggestion took hold. I decided to try the Blackberry Stout. Floki picked another Longdeep Tea. All the while the orders were rolling in, she was watching Sig barter with these two chittering halflings. Her eye was wary as she looked them over.

Sig had been sampling the wares with his dragonbone pipe. It was then that I noticed Sig's eyes glazed over and he was looking at around with a wide smile, which would quirk into a troubled furrow and back again as he observed the world around him. His movements were long a slow, and he called after Javalia well after she had disappeared back into the tented area. Floki had a close eye on him, too, wondering exactly what this pipeweed was doing to him.

"We need music." Bromm said, "This is a joyous event, after all."

He looked to the pile of angry self-loathing with the small drum.

"You there," Bromm said, then, when her head came up, "What's your name?"

"Ripinni, Ripinni Alesong."

"Can you beat us out a tune on that?" Bromm's eyes moved to the drum.

The woman straightened up and nodded vigorously. She started to tap out a tune, but, perhaps it was nerves, she gave an unremarkable performance. Her eyes glassed a little as she struggled to get it right. It took some doing, but she finally seemed to relax enough to let the music flow through her.

The elf rocked forward putting all four legs of his chair on the ground, interested, but still staying aloof.

Bromm, who sat closest to the elf, engaged in conversation. He introduced himself as Galwaihr. There was a strange tension to his voice, as he, clearly, was not quite comfortable with the line of questions. Bromm explained his origins in Hlofreden and the man began to relax, as was Bromm's way. The woman came over to his side, her expression was sour and her eyes seemed distrusting and volatile.

"Did you come from Hanover, then?" Bromm asked.

"We thought to, but the admission process is a nightmare," Galwaihr said evenly, "Far too many questions. None of which either of us want to answer."

"We were thinking of heading that way, ourselves. We'll keep that in mind." Bromm nodded. "So, heading North then?"

"Yes, to Dowry. To visit a member of her family," the elf said.

"We just came from there. It should be a relatively easy journey up. The tunnel has been opened recently."

Galwaihr shrugged. He seemed indifferent to the troubles that may have lain ahead. I wondered if his confidence would have been shaken if he had know what he would have been up against? This set me to wondering. This prompted an itch in the back of my head, something I was having trouble placing, as I watched Bromm drive the questions on. The woman stood completely, still staring him down with a sour expression. Galwaihr didn't appreciate it.

This unnatural stillness immediately reminded me of Silah.

"Sgaith, please. Be civil."

It was like a spike had been driven into my mind. I looked down at the half eaten plate of Scud Shells and realized who these two were. I slowly moved my hand to the hilt of Silah, twisting her in her sheath so the sword pressed against my neck.

"It's about time! That's them! My 'sister' and her wielder. The one that Lord Embron and Far'rah warned you about." Silah's voice was anxious.

I shuddered, trying to collect myself as I looked at the others around the table. Sig was all but unconscious, his head lolled back and forth as he stared at things that weren't there. He was focused on Javalia's hair, now, reaching out a hand that she readily avoided. Just moments before, he had put a pile of gold on the table and started pushing it toward the two halflings that were unbelievably giddy, but Javalia stopped it before the actual exchange took place.

"It's not nice to take advantage of guests." She glared at the men who now looked merely like boys. "Now, shoo!"

Another of the smaller gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and I spun my head quickly his direction. My mind was running too fast and I couldn't focus. I wanted to get out of there, but I needed to tell the others.

"Sirs? You seem a formidable sort, the lot of you. The council is looking to have someone look into this business with the, ahem, forest situation." His words rolled over me and I stared at him blankly.

The man paused for a moment, then asked, "Are you mute?"

"No," I growled at him, prompting a wide-eyed look of panic, "I'm fine. What do you want?"

"The council has tried to resolve the problems in the forest, but we don't know anyone who can help. We had given the Lord of Hanover fifty gold to look into it, but we haven't seen him since." He said, glancing at the man behind him who kept nodded, "The village elders need someone who can resolve it. Perhaps you could?"

"I'll talk to the others." I said, keeping my voice low.

I looked at him, my heart was still thudding away with the recent revelation. Javalia had presented the final portion of the meal, a dessert called Bee Pock. This took some care to deliver as the standing milk held a floating fried dough ball slicked with honey. My stomach had dropped out and those Scud Shells, or snails, slugs or whatever, were not mixing well with the news.

I stood and I motioned to the others. Floki helped Sig from his seat and Tagaern sidled up next to me.

"Son, you look like you've seen a ghost."

"I think I have."

He looked at me with narrowed eyes.

"Do you know that elf? From the war?"

"No. Worse. That's the one who's been destroying the others like Silah."

Tagaern's gait halted for a second before continuing. We all moved out into the fields where the horses were left to graze. Sig was enthralled with the amount of dirt that covered Floki. He was running a fingernail down the ranger's cloak leaving a dirt trail, then he seemed to be noting how much dust rose when he flicked it. Floki was getting more and more annoyed as this went on.

"What's up?" Floki said, turning from Sig.

Tagaern spoke up as I was collecting my thoughts.

"That duo out there? That's the one that Hakaar was warned about. The one who might try to destroy Silah." He said succinctly.

I should thank him for that. I thought.

"I am not sure what we could do. We could attack now, while they don't suspect it. We might get the upper hand?" I said, feeling very unsure.

"They've been together for nearly a century." Silah echoed, "They will be very hard to beat."

I sighed and the others looked at me. They seemed to be very aware when Silah was talking in my head.

"This isn't the right place for it. I need to understand more. Plus, this village is not a place to start a battle." I said, shaking my head, "Let's just move on. How far away is Hanover?"

"We could get there tonight. According to the map it's not that far off." Floki said.

"The elders of that village wanted us to help them get rid of whatever is tainting the creatures, too. I'd like to help them, but probably not now." I said, "Let's go."

When we returned to the tavern, our table had been cleaned and others began to occupy it. Javalia saw us walk back in and moved up to us. She could see we were ready and leading our horses.

"That was a bit quick without a g'bye, are you headin' on?"

Bromm nodded.

"Things to do. But we more than appreciate the hospitality."

"My pleasure," she winked and gave a slight curtsy.

"One of the council swung by just a moment ago looking for ya. What should I tell 'em?" She said with a smile, but her eyes were concerned.

"We'll come back this way, I expect. Then we'll talk." I said, unsure of either.

"Best see that you do! You take care of yourselves now!" She pulled a white towel from her apron and waved it as we moved off through the town toward Hanover.

(Get to know Akeron.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hakaar - Chronicle 43.1 - The Other Side

When we had emerged from the Hlofolk Tunnel, Sig produced a bottle of Old Law with a satisfied grin.

"We should have a toast. This is the furthest I have ever been from home." He said as he raised what was about a thimbleful of the strong spirits.

There weren't enough glasses, so the toast went in stages, but it was well received. Danin, Bromm, and Floki all exchanged glances with smiles and nods. I couldn't say the same as Sig, since Hlofreden was likely the furthest I'd ever been. However, this was a new land with different rules. It was strange that as we had cleared the Hlofolk tunnel, we hadn't taken the time to savor the victory by stepping through into the light on the other side.

Perhaps we just overlooked that part?

We did manage to meet the masked woman earlier. She had resided in the rooms at the end of the long tunnel. The Oracle, as she called herself, but there was more to her. While she was kind and accepting of our company, there was a menace about her demeanor you could feel, like an itch you couldn't scratch.

She wore a shroud that covered her head to the tip of her nose. She appeared young, but there was no telling her true age. The woman's lips wore a sad beauty, expressing an aching half smile that spoke of difficult circumstances. Her words were light, but her lips drew into a tight line as we had explained the purpose of our visit. She had glanced around, seeing another home begin to fade. The shroud that covered her head bubbled and shifted eerily with her discontent, but she seemed to accept what fate had come and resumed her genteel approach at our company. It may have been her tight connection to the threads of fate may have ultimately softened the blow.

Only after we had left the first time was I told that she was a Gorgon. And we had found a hallway for those who were either unfortunate or who had faced the brunt of her curse.

Now she had moved on, the room she had occupied just before the Southern exit had been cleared of all finery to the stark stone walls. We had left our horses outside in the hallway. They were stalwart mounts, mine was impressively tall and bulky to hold my frame. Still, it felt odd to me. I found myself wanting my feet on the ground as much as possible, which was unfortunate for how much I'd paid for both the horse and the saddle.

I looked the creature in the eye, narrowing my eyes and it pawed the ground impatiently. I'd have to name him before long.

Our trip into the dark woods beyond was moody. While we often joked along the path, the darkness clung to you. The grand trees standing overhead swooned with the gusting winds overhead, but light rarely touched the ground leaving carpets of moist pine needles, mushrooms, and shed redwood bark. While the darkness didn't bother me, it seemed to have a dampening effect on everyone as the day wore on.

At one point we had encountered discarded wagons that were deposited at a tricky point in the road, leaving behind signs of traffic this far South. One of the wagons had run headlong into a large cut stone. From Floki's eye, he said that it had been nearly a month before. Great claw marks shredded the surface, leaving an indication of what had happened to both the occupants and the horse that had pulled it.

The woods began to thin and the grasses rose. Floki stopped as we rounded a particularly brightly lit corner. A gloriously clear pond opened up to the sky above. On the far shore, a large stag, flanked by several other deer, stood absolutely still. They all held impossibly still as we milled around the boggy shore of the pond.

"Are those real? I haven't see them move." I helped Silah down, then dismounted myself.

"Shhh…" Floki hissed angrily.

He didn't make a move to draw his bow, he just watched calmly. The stag was majestic, crowned with an impressive array of horns. It stood quietly until, in just a moment it turned and bolted with such speed it was gone long before the deer that followed chanced to turn and run. There was a moment of wonder as I looked on before I heard shouts behind me.

I spun to see a flurry of white, orange, and black tear Sig from his horse, spraying his saddle with his blood. Another beast towered over Danin. This time I could clearly see a large striped cat attempt to unseat him, slashing repeatedly at his armor, tearing skin and spilling blood in the process.

I could hear Danin's voice rise up and power emanated from him. I couldn't see Sig, but Danin's worried face looked less drawn with his actions.

Floki responded with a number of arrows and gunfire erupted from Bromm's drawn weapons. I charged into their midst, pushing past Silah in the process. I lifted my hand to strike and called out to her, but she didn't appear in my hand, as she was supposed to. The look on her face showed she was just as surprised about this as I was.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Her voice stammered as she looked at her hands and looked back to me in disbelief.

"Can you still become a sword?" I said, incredulous.

There was a quick motion and she turned into a sword, then thumped to the ground.

"What...? Change back and come to me!" I growled.

I was still unaware of where Sig had fallen, but Bromm and Floki had bloodied the creature considerably so I turned my attention to the beast who had just sunk his teeth into Danin. I reached toward the creature, my arms extending an unnatural length, and gouged through the fur with my hardened fingernails.

Tagaern stepped up to help on the other side of Danin and was met with a fury of teeth and rippling muscle. I saw the creature lung and turn it's powerful hind legs against him, raking over his arms and tearing through his armor.

I was focused on the creature in front of me, but heard Floki and Bromm call out as the creature had begun to drag Sig by his head deeper into the forest. I looked around, seeing Danin and Tagaern looking bloodied but still standing.

Just as I started to move Silah's hand slipped into mine and she shifted immediately into her sword form. Her voice echoed repeated apologies in my head, but I didn't have an ear for it. I moved forward and the creature leapt at me, dropping Sig in the process, it's claws ready and slashing. I felt the sting as it tore through my skin. I responded in kind, slashing at it, while arrows punctured and gunshots roared sending the large cat into a bloodied heap.

I turned seeing the other creature also attempting to disengage as Tagaern spent his fury on the beast, pushing it back by the strokes of his sword. Danin struck true as well. I stepped close and sent the blade deep into the creature with two great thrusts. It jawwed absently and its eyes slacked for a moment, then it slid from the blade limply.

I glanced around, looking for threats. I could feel the throbbing world begin to settle with a cool and silent breeze. The wind danced over my wounds and I could feel them begin to sting. I saw Bromm rush forward and help Sig up from the ground. He was barely lucid and showing far too much blood.

It was then I realized that Silah was still muttering bewildered apologies.

"That's never happened before. I'm so sorry. I am not sure how to make it up to you. It doesn't make any sense." Her ramblings echoed in my head.

I cleaned the blade and willed her back to human form.

"Please. Don't. Don't worry about it. We had it well in hand." I said, glancing anxiously toward Sig while Danin stooped to attend to him.

"What if it was worse? What if you were in a dire situation?" She continued her eyes wide.

"I don't think we could be in a much more dire situation than that." Tagaern said with a cough.

Both Danin and Tagaern looked worn. Links of armor had popped with the ferocity of the attack and there was still blood dripping from the armor even though Danin has been focusing his energy on the wounds.

"One more bite and I'd have been another pile of meat." Tagaern said as he pressed a hand gingerly to his bloodied side.

"I think I had you beat." Sig said, pain eddied through his voice as Danin was now focused on him with his hands outstretched. The robes that Sig wore had been shredded showing lacerations underneath that began to knit together with Danin's words.

"Well, I think we know what frightened that stag away." Floki said, looking over to the raised clearing on the opposite side of the pond.

"... I'm not sure what could have happened to…" Silah's voice had dropped to a fevered whisper.

"Silah, please. We'll figure it out." I said.

"What was that, anyway?" Floki asked Silah, "You just flopped on the ground as a sword?"

"Nothing. Really." I said with a shake of my head.

"Nothing? I didn't come when he called for me." Silah said plainly, "And I have no idea why."

"Huh. You couldn't..." Floki said, pausing and looking at Tagaern who smirked.

Floki covered his mouth, but his eyes crinkled with a suppressed laugh.

I grit my teeth.

"Enough of this. Can we go?"

"These are magnificent beasts, I can't just let them lie here." Floki said.

"Why not?" I growled.

"Trophies." Bromm said simply.

Danin made sure that each of us was tended to before Floki settled in to skinning the beasts. I looked on as Floki spread the remains of the large cats—tigers, I was told—all over the forest floor, right along the path. After a few hours, what remained were guts, sinew, and the large, well muscled corpses of a male and female tiger.

"You made a mess of these pelts." Floki said as he gathered up the fleshy skins.

"Hey, I also helped with that." Tagaern said, leveling a hard eye at Floki.

"Yes. Yes you did." Floki shook his head, now annoyed with Tagaern, too.

We moved through the trees, finding the path back to their lair which held no surprises. The den itself was empty, but bones were strewn around the grounds leading to it, a warning that we didn't have the fortune of seeing.

We continued South along the path. An unsettling, raucous laughter rattled through the trees ahead of us. The path seemed to continue off to the right where the noises of laughter.

"I want to see what's going on there." Floki said, dropping his hands to his side with a huff and shaking his head. "I don't think I can stand it any longer."

"I'll go with him", Bromm piped up almost immediately.

I shook my head, with a sidelong look at Silah.

"It's unnatural," I muttered, "Whatever it is. I think we should avoid it."

"You know what's unnatural," Sig offered, then looked at Silah seated behind me on the warhorse.

Silah's hand was tucked around my side, and lay flat on my belly. Her body tensed up as she scowled at Sig, and suddenly I couldn't breathe.

"Stop. Stop." I croaked, pawing at her hand.

"Oh, sorry." She straightened, regaining composure, but I could see her mouthing threats to Sig from out of the corner of my eye.

We waited for a long while before Floki and Bromm appeared followed by Tenner, Floki's hulking wolf.

"I'm not sure what I was seeing there." Floki said, his face nonplussed.

"And what did you see?" Tagaern asked.

"Trees. Fruit that looked like they had faces. Couldn't tell where the laughing was coming from." Floki shrugged.

"And a red man that was very intent on those trees." Bromm added.

"A red man?" I asked.

Both of them shrugged.

"Should we continue then?" Sig asked.

"It's up to you. Not really sure myself." Floki said, but he climbed atop his wolf and urged the beast forward.

We fell in line, letting the laughter fade behind us.

The wood faded from around us and we found ourselves on a plain with thigh high grass stretching off to a hilly region to the South and Southwest. The grasslands were starting to resemble the places of my childhood. At least, those that I could still remember. There was a certain foreboding as we spied derelict structures dotting the landscape as well. Remnants of fences and fields that had long since fallen into disrepair. I dismounted from the warhorse and moved toward the closest building.

"It's well built. You could even repair it." Floki said, following me in, "It looks like the left quickly. Nothing valuable, but things you'd want to keep. Cups, utensils, and the like."

"Not a fight, then? They just left?" I asked, picking up a cup that had a crust lining the bottom of it.

"Yep. And quickly." Floki nodded, "I'm sure there's a good reason, too. For a small homestead, a lot of care went into it. That's hard to leave behind."

"Nope, nothing in there." I said as I walked out, followed by Floki who moved to his large wolf and climbed into the crafted saddle.

I turned and looked over the plains and saw an old standing mill with an unmoving water wheel quite a distance out. Just below that was a series of smaller shapes jutting above the tall grasses with a slight haze lingering over them.

"It looks like there are tents out that way, maybe smoke?" I said, pointing toward the mill, "It might be worth a look?"

"If they're friendly," Sig said and his voice quavered a little, "I'm not keen on staying in the forests if I can help it."

As we started across the plains, the sun was nearly touching the bluff that enclosed the area. It would be dark soon. Strangely, the light didn't fade from the skies, but were slowly replaced by shifting colors. It wasn't clear what was happening until Sig pointed out that Osterman Flats lay just beyond the bluff.

"Why would it do that?" Floki asked Sig.

Sig responded with a shrug.

"It's the only thing I can think of. I've never seen anything like it. This is all new territory for me." Sig said, glancing up at lights for a moment then back to where the horses were going.

"It's beautiful." Silah responded, her voice was filled with wonder.

Her response was accentuated by pulling in closer and resting her head on my back, head angled up, facing the lights.

At a stone's throw from the tents, it became clear that it was in serious disrepair. Floki's eyes skimmed the horizon, spotting for trouble. There was a smell of burned flesh and the wisps of smoke were rising from a blackened husk on a spit that had been knocked into the fire below. Each tent's canvas had been peeled back from their wooden skeletons, showing scattered trinkets and belongings. The ground was dotted with bloodied spots, but not a single body was found. It was quiet at our approach except for the winds, crickets, and rumble of rushing water from the obscured river.

"Hunting party. Very big humanoids. Probably ogres, by the pattern of the foot." Floki said, as he looked closely near one of the coagulating pools of blood on the ground.

"Do you think they'll be back?" Tagaern said, his hand was on the handle of his sword.

Floki shook his head.

"They probably have enough food to keep them sated." Floki said with a grimace.

The thought made my stomach turn.

"Any survivors?" Bromm said.

He had his pistol in hand looking into the deepening darkness.

"We could check for tracks in the morning, but I don't want any light giving away our position. Anything could spot us for miles out here." Floki said.

"Why were these people here?" Silah asked, bewildered.

"Who goes there?" An unsure female voice wavered from within the derelict mill high above us.

A face peered down from the topmost window. Around the face, there was an unsettling motion, like thick bundles of hair that had of mind of their own. The head tucked back in quickly.

I thought for a moment, suddenly realizing who it was.

"Oracle?" Bromm called up, allowing his voice to carry only so far.

"Come. Come quickly into the mill. I will meet you." Her voice said with a quick desperation.

The inside of the tall building showed the mechanism driven by the grand wheel outside. It had long since stilled, even while the waters still tugged at it. The gears themselves were broken beyond repair. There were a number of floors with stairs that had long since fallen. Debris scattered over the floor and the tracks from the Ogres showing they had muddled around for a bit before they left. A ladder lay on the ground with the second floor a good ways up.

I took the ladder and placed it while I heard stirring up above us, and the oracle's light voice as she mumbled.

"Is it safe to come up?" Sig called out.

He put a hand to the ladder and glanced up warily.

It was a moment before she responded.

"Yes?" She seemed confused for a moment, then a realization crept into her voice, "Yes. It is safe to come up."

I held the ladder as Sig ascended and each of the others followed him. Silah was last, and she gave me a strange look as she climbed. I furrowed my brow at her consternation then mounted the ladder myself.

All seven of us took our places awkwardly forming semi-circle. I assumed we looked imposing, all our eyes on the diminutive and vulnerable veiled woman who stood just a short distance from us. The defensiveness in her stance proved that threat and a concern shown on her visible lips. There was a cautious silence, with all parties suddenly unsure of the other's intent.

"My lady." Bromm said, in his charming brogue. "Is there anything we can help you with?"

She shifted, gazing at us from under her veil. The silks that covered her head bubbled and shifted in the same anticipation. She took a deep breath.

"Sorry. It's hard to know friend from foe these days." She said, her voice halting with the words.

Bromm nodded.

"We, I assure you, are friendly." Bromm continued.

The Oracle visibly relaxed at his words and bowed her head while exhaling.

"It has not been a good few days. As you can see outside, those that follow us were driven from this place. Chased off, or captured. There was little we could do but watch."

She retreated to her soft chair and sat heavily.

"Please. Please, make yourself at home." She said, gesturing weakly.

Her words seemed to carry the considerable weight of her desperation. There wasn't much up in the sitting area. There were a few cushions facing her grand chair. We filled the room easily, as this floor wasn't meant to hold so many. There was a second ladder that went to a third floor above. I could faintly hear wheezing and short, small coughs from up above. The smell of perfumed silks and cushions mixed indelicately with the smells of vinegar and sour medicines that wafted down from above.

"My man has been unwell. Something caught in his lungs and he's been struggling," She continued, "I am not sure what to do. We have no place to go."

"We offered to help," Sig nodded, "We'll do what we can. Danin? Maybe you can check on our friend?"

Danin nodded, standing, and looked toward her silently. She was unsure at first what he waited for, her head tilting with a question, then she nodded quickly at the unspoken request and motioned up the ladder. He quietly turned and ascended the ladder.

"What about you? What can we help you with?" I asked.

"A little company would be nice?" She said, still sounding unsure.

The others began to settle in. I made sure that the decaying floor could hold me by giving it a few thumps before picking a spot to get comfortable.

"Do you want to bring the whole thing down on us?" Floki said, his brow furrowed.

I shrugged as I watched dust fall from one of the cracks above.

"Looks sturdy enough to me." I said roughly.

As we settled in, the conversation began to flow. Bromm and Sig spoke easily with the oracle, drawing her further out until she relaxed and even chanced to smile. Bromm had withdrawn a bottle of Old Law that was close to empty and passed it around. Danin descended and reported that he had done what he could, and that the man's body would have to do the rest. Fortunately, the wheezing and coughing had subsided, letting the man rest easier.

There was very little light in the mill. It came from a small contained stove for making the medicinal tea shone from above us, but little else and weariness from the road had begun to settle in. The oracle herself had been living on the ragged edge of fear for so long, her head began to loll as the fear that sustained her vigilance began to subside.

"I can watch first." I said, standing myself to avoid being swallowed up by the exhaustion, I turned to the oracle, "Get comfortable and sleep. We'll watch."

Her response was quiet, but with her exhale was the feeling of a great weight being lifted. I looked to the others and saw Bromm, Danin, and Floki hold up their fingers for the watch they'd take. As everyone settled in, Silah and I moved down the ladder and stood out in the plains.

While I was feeling the tug of sleep, there was also the wonder of what flitted above us to the West. Colored lights painted the plains below. It was fascinating, like watching a fountain of shooting stars burn up into different colors.

"I should be fearful of that," I said, quietly, "but, for some reason, I can't be."

"You've always been mystified by beautiful things." She said.

I could see and much as hear the corners of her mouth turn up with the response. I nodded with a toothy grin and she flashed her pearlescent smile as she looked to me and took my hand.

"You trust and then you don't trust. Your reasons for choosing to do either are beyond me. I'm sure there's a sort of wisdom to it, but I couldn't even begin to fathom what guides it." She spoke in whispers, but her voice was clear as day in my head.

"Like that woman in there," she continued, "Perhaps you don't know what danger you are in with her. I've seen that you do know this, but you don't hesitate to offer your help."

"Trust is a fickle thing. I can't say I'm good at people, but I know trust is mutual. It's easy for me to open myself to others because I feel I can take whatever danger or disappointment comes from it." I said, mumbling, but also echoing those words in my head.

"I'd say that you are the most dangerous thing to me." I continued, with a chuckle, "Because I trust you far beyond all others."

She thought as she walked, taking long steps at my side. All the while, tapping her free hand on her smiling lips.

"So, should I trust you this much?" I asked with mock concern.

She gave a light mischievous laugh, but said nothing.

"It's my thought to invite the oracle to stay on the property." I said, "Give her a home if something else doesn't fall in place for her."

Silah nodded then shook her head.

"Again. You seem to be ignorant of the danger there and still you'll power through it. It's commendable, in a sort of foolhardy way, but it's also sweet."

"If you didn't have a place to be. If you were looking for a place to call home, I would have invited you as well." I said, feeling certain.

"You say that now. You have changed much since after we first met." She said.

She rounded on me her eyes intent, bringing me to a stop. She then turned my hand over, and looked at them, tracing her elegant fingers along the lines of my palm.

"In all honesty, I may not have accepted the invitation."

She spoke with a certain heaviness and looked up to me again, her eyes reflecting the shifting rainbow above us.

"Time is strange." She said, trying on a pained smile, "While I say that you have changed, I have also changed. You have changed me. It's impossible to know what that really means for me, but..."

She broke off and gave a contemplative pause then drew breath.

"It means everything right now."

I took both her hands in mine, bent low, and kissed them, then looked at her with a smile.

"Perhaps we can call this a sign?" I said, looking up at the colorful star bursts in the Western sky, "And a sign as beautiful as that is a perfect time to make a wish."

(Get to know Akeron.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hakaar - Chronicle 42.1 - Starry Night

We had settled next to one of the large oaks in the Gardens. The moon hung low, setting alight the alabaster walls of the castle and sending a shimmering response off of the bay that surrounded the Isle of Cennet.

You could say it was unseasonably warm, even with the cool humid air running over the bluff and across the water out to the sea. There had been a defining characteristic of Dowry, both a perpetual and wrathful storming at odd times of year. In our trip into the Hlofolk Tunnel, we understood the source of it. We had since resolved the eternal dispute, but kept it a close secret. We couldn't be sure if the "god", if that's what it could or should be called, that we set loose would turn on us or end up supporting the formless, but, in all, the creature seemed to be a victim of circumstance.

We were mere mortals, after all, and while potentially foolish, we were decisive.

"Would you stop chattering in your head and just enjoy the night?" Silah voice overrode my thoughts, sending them fleeing. Her timbre was uncharacteristically thin.

She had her arms roped around me, one under the small of my back and the other rested on my chest, her hand spread over my heart. A glance down confirmed that her eyes were half open, staring over the rest of the garden not focusing on anything in particular.

"But I am?" I mumbled aloud, the words coming out like a deep growl that vibrated my chest.

Others had fallen into pillows and blankets provided by the princess's servants when we asked for the favor. They stirred slightly with the rumbling. My eyes opened further and I fell quiet.

"Nice." Silah echoed with a chuckle.

I sheepishly retreated to my mind for our conversation.

What do you want to do tomorrow?

My thoughts brought her into my mind. She wore the black dress, the jewels sparkled more fiercely here in this unreality, creating blinding star-like patterns in my mind's eye. As she strode toward me, an echo of the garden surrounded us, but without the walls of the castle or the others. She stood with me, eye to eye, golden horns curling through her short brown hair. It was just us, alone on the mound of Cenet. I wasn't sure if this was based on a long ago memory or her imagination.

"It is entirely up to you. I can see by the amount of noise fluttering through your mind you have a few plans."

I nodded, both to her visage and silently against the tree.

It's been a long time since I could relax. I thought.

"It's definitely deserved." She said.

I tucked an arm around her stunning visage and gave her a small smile.

You made quite a ruckus. What started out as a meeting that seemed purely business ended up as much more. I thought. I didn't quite expect your singing. As well, if not better, than Sabella.

"Better, I assure you." She said with a grin.

Better keep that to yourself when we get back to the ‘Witch. I thought.

"We'll see. When do you think that will happen?" She said, pursing her lips.

I shook my head with a long, slow motion.

Sig is more than sensitive to the idea. His eyes were full of shame as he talked to his father. It was hard to watch. I thought.

"His father didn't seem to recognize it. Or, if he did, he ignored it. There was nothing he could have done to save his grandfather." She said, dropping her eyes and digging a bared toe into the imaginary soil.

It doesn't change the shame, that sense of loss. I shook my head again.

"It'll be up to him to forgive himself or let it go." She looked out toward the sparkling sea where the moon had risen further. "We can just watch and wait."

After a moment of silence, Silah turned back to me.

"You're committed to this idea to take on the outcasts of the world, whoever they may be, correct?" She said, looking at me pointedly.

I nodded at her words.

"Who do you have in mind? At first, you seemed to be especially keen to have half-orcs join you. What of other humans? Elves or half-elves? Dwarves?"

I'm not that concerned. I shrugged at the thought. If they don't feel they have a home and are willing to do honest work, I'll give them a place they can call home.

"Opening the door that wide might bring some bad eggs in." She said, her eyes narrowing slightly, "Be sure you know who you're inviting. You're sweet, but gullible. Enemies aren't just those who hold visible weapons against you."

I shot Silah a hardened glare. The kind I'd used on men just to see them cower. She chuckled as my attempt.

"You see, that's a good way to keep them in line. Use that more and you'll weed the bad ones out quickly." She said, moving into me and rocking me back slightly.

"You should get more sleep. There's much to do and you're incorrigible when you're grumpy." She said in a soothing tone.

I blinked at her words, unsure, as the imagined world faded to black. She leaned in and kissed me, running her fingers along my chin before fading herself. I blinked blearily against the lights reflecting across the harbor from the shore, then let my lids fall shut. The darkness crept in further and I heard Silah was singing sweetly in a foreign tongue from very far away. The tune pulled me deeper and I drifted back to sleep.

(Get to know Akeron.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hakaar - Chronicle 41.2 - The Shaping of the Future

"I can read this. I'm just not sure what it is saying." I said.

I had been pouring over through surveyor's notes for some time now. The Princess's men had provided it shortly after the coronation. These notes had been transcribed and handed to each one of us in turn. Clearing the Hlofolk Tunnel had cemented the Princess's faith in us as those who were loyal, but who also could get work done. Defending her from the assassin during the race had made that loyalty even more apparent.

You could see it, as she looked on some of the other nobles with disdain, she looked on us with a sort of pride that I had rarely seen. It brought my thoughts to Duncan, which made my heart ache.

We were doing right by Duncan, though. In a way we never thought possible. Tagaern's plan for gaining the lands that the Princess had offered in exchange for clearing the passage were solely to allow Amalia a chance to grow the new established township of Lyon, on the land where Kellas House stood, into a standing monument to Duncan himself. Tagaern promised her that she had control of her fate in this.

The burden with these lands ended up being that they were meant to be made profitable and essentially be taxed by the Princess. The thought of making these lands profitable was daunting and looking through the tiny handscrawl of notes was beginning to make my head hurt.

My indirect plea to Silah had fluttered past her as she had settled into our room at Butterwicks. Her only intention was to relax and let the day's events flow over her. She wasn't quite naked, wearing a clean tunic of mine that hung mid-thigh. The billowy sleeves swallowed up her thin arms and she flapped them around as she lighted from bed, to mirror, to my shoulder, and then back to the bed again.

I raised an eyebrow at her as she smiled glitteringly into the mirror.

"You're adorable." I said with a chuckle then continued, "Can I ask where your head's at?"

"Oh, just... That felt good." She said, drawing out the words.

She tipped her chin my way, looking toward me briefly, then back to the mirror.

I nodded.

Vague, but fitting. I thought.

I focused back on the page and looked over the map. I could feel the heat rising in my head again, creating a tinge of pain as I scrunched my face at the infuriatingly small words.

"I need you here. I am not sure what to do and taking this on has me worried." I said.

It was an understatement. I was terrified. I tried to meet her eyes, but she was spinning across the floor, the flapping arms twirling with her movements.

"I am not like Sig and Bromm, I can't make money from nothing like they seem to be able to do." I said, feeling the panic edging into my voice.

Silah clucked her tongue.

"You just need to right people to help you." She said, still spinning, but her voice remained perfectly steady.

"And how do you propose that I find those people? I am not a people person. Sig and Bromm had all sorts of connections."

She stopped, smiled, and tilted her head.

"And you don't? Who was your friend at Fenton's? Who knighted you?" She righted her head and giggled again, "Oh, my Beast. Your willful ignorance is stunning."

I grimaced at her, feeling the heat rising even further and that twinge become an ache. I turned back to the maddening scrawls and map that laid out a semblance of my future, if I could somehow decipher it.

"Oh, don't take it personally. You do realize that you don't consider yourself capable and you simply dismiss yourself. I still ask why, but still see that you believe you are a soldier following orders." She draped her warm body over my shoulders, catching her head in the nook of my neck.

I could see her purse her lips as she perused the maps and other paperwork.

"You should realize that you haven't been taking orders for a long time." She said absently, her eyes speeding down the laid out pages. "You're being treated as an equal, even if you refuse to see it."

I closed my eyes against her touch, feeling her warmth seep into me and I let my mind wander toward her. Feeling her cheek press to my neck.and her fingers lazing on my biceps.

"What do you want to do?" She asked, her body vibrating against me with her words.

"I have no idea." I said, giving my head a slight shake as she pressed against me.

"That's not an answer. Be decisive. You had a thought when you decided to accept the lands." She said it sternly, but didn't move from her perch.

"I wanted a place for those who'd feel like outcasts. The displaced. Those I'd consider my people, whether they were half-orcs, elves, dwarves, humans, it doesn't matter. It's a fresh start. A chance to put down roots."

"You continue to both amaze and confound me. A bloodthirsty romantic. You are one of a kind, my love." She mused then her voice sharpened, "Wait, you plan on setting down roots?"

"Well, not me." I said with a shrug, flopping her arms in the process.

"Good. Roots are boring." She said tersely, then continued, "Do you have someone in mind that you'd put in charge? Bromm has Erland back at the Brewery. They have a solid foreman at the mines. They have Beidrick handling their shipping."

I suddenly felt overwhelmed and now felt that throbbing at my temples.

"No. Don't disappear on me." She said, tapping my arm as she picked up on my shift in mood, "This isn't as hard as it seems. Let's put the word out there, just like Sig and Bromm did and they'll come to us. I'll help you interview."

"I'd appreciate that." I said, letting out a sigh.

"Think of your friend earlier. There are people like that all over. And you said exactly what you needed to get both his friendship and his interest."

I nodded at her words.

"You're a natural, you just don't know it." She said.

She turned and kissed my neck, sending warmth percolating through my body and I shivered. She laughed into my neck with the reaction. She arched her back and rose from my shoulders.

"So, we know you'll need people to run the space. What do you intend for those people to do?"

"I thought of mining or farming, but it all seems so trivial. The Princess will want more than that." I furrowed my brow, looking over the words again. "The others will likely want a place on the council to defend the Ether Tree. I like the idea, but there's nothing interesting in those lands there for me."

Silah moved to the window, looking out at laborers breaking down the stands and moving straw bales from what was once the Landframe race track.

My finger slid over the lines on the description and I stopped short.

Plot E - 900 acres. The old camp occupied by the army during the liberation of the area is still in evidence on the site. Jack trenches and abandoned siege equipment as scattered over the area. A number of piers were built to aid in access to the river during the siege. They are still in good order. Good quality granite has potential to be a quarry for any construction needs.

"I think I've got it. Why not a quarry? All of this new construction is going to need stone. With an investment in the right skilled laborers, we could be turning a profit almost immediately." I smiled in spite of the overwhelming fear that came along with it.

Silah turned, the light from the window revealing her elegant shape through the baggy tunic. She flopped the oversized arms into a folded position and she nodded with a smile.

"That sounds like a fine plan. I'm glad I thought of it." She said, rocking back and forth.

"Uh huh. Sure." I said with a furrowed brow and started looking more closely at the map as she padded over.

"Bromm mentioned running a barge up and down the river here. There is a pier stretching out to the river from this plot. The surveyor says it's in good shape." I said tapping on the map.

"Then what's next?" Silah asked.

It had become obvious that she'd been prompting me to make decisions, but it was becoming less intimidating with each decision made. I was starting to see the pieces come together. And with both the winnings and the payoff from the Princess for helping clear the Hlofolk Tunnel, I could invest enough to get the property well on its way to turning a profit.

"Cranes. Tools. Housing. Carts and tracks. That barge, perhaps Bromm and I could go in on that together? An alchemical barge! I bet the engineers could work something like that. I could rent that out to the neighbors, too."

"Maybe down the road. You're getting the hang of it. Just don't get ahead of yourself. Let the investment pay for itself before putting too much money down."

I nodded.

"There is old siege equipment out there. I bet engineers could make those into cranes and rigging? Perhaps we can even have the barge built from the scraps?"

"Good use of existing resources, as long as they're still sound." She said with a nod.

"And contracts. Yes. Maybe I could negotiate contracts for deliveries?"

"You? Probably not. Me? Maybe. Who knows, maybe Sig's father could help?"

My eyes widened.

"I wonder how much his services would run?" I looked to her and nodded.

"It doesn't matter. You'll be making enough money to compensate. You choose the people who are best for the task. When you are being told you'll eventually be in charge, you begin to realize that it's impossible to do it all yourself. Find those you can trust. Keep them happy and you'll be in good hands." She spoke evenly, but a flutter of pain crossed her face for a moment.

I nodded, watching her closely.

"So, people first." I said, looking back to the paper and starting to scratch away with ink and quill that came with the room.

Stone Cutting and Shaping Tools
Rail Carts
Rail Tracks

Silah padded over and looked down at the scrawls on the parchment.

"Your handwriting is awful." She shook her head with a grimace. "I'm not sure if we'll be able to fix that."

(Get to know Akeron.)