Here's a work in progress. The original copy of the story was from an RPG in a writing site. Here goes:
UPDATED [FEB 1 || Chapter V: Reunion Too Soon]
A Fantasy-Adventure Story
After five years of searching for the truth about his real father in far off lands, Master Thief Ezkil returns home and finds himself in yet another mystery: an ongoing string of murders of elves and dwarves has sent his nation, Granilad - a country mostly populated and ruled by humans - into disquiet. Ezkil delves headlong into the mystery as tensions escalate and even threaten war between nations of different races. He finds that the true underlying motive behind the unfolding events, however, goes far deeper. The moonlighter must now embrace what he discovered of his origins to help his allies halt the cogs of an oncoming cataclysmic war. A war not just of humans against elves against dwarves, but a war of demons against gods.
Prologue: The Master Thief Returns Home
“While my brethren in faith seek out the truth in Raghunan, I assure you that on my watch, no further murders shall occur!” The dwarf statesman roared. He was aggressive, passionate, and quite drunk.
“See what I mean?” The barkeep intoned softly, making certain only Ezkil could hear. “As rowdy as any dwarf I’ve seen with a belly full of ale.”
Ezkil waited a few seconds before answering, taking in the deep, dark swirls of the black tonic in his mug. “Indeed. Perhaps that is what endears people to him.” He looked up as he answered. “You know how drunk humans are far worse than they already are. He, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to change – ale or no. The…honesty, if you could call it that, seems refreshing.”
The barkeep smiled, then abruptly changed the subject: “Why suffer tonic, friend? Have something stronger.” The dwarf behind them was already making another din along with his closest supporters. Ezkil found himself in a queer situation. He was in a bar in an inn full of humans who support a dwarf statesman, and the only one he could talk to without the topic drifting into statecraft was the elf barkeep who seemed more human than he was elf.
“I always claim my greatest asset is my guile, and ale and strong drinks dim my wits. What have I but my guile, barkeep? Here, keep the change” Ezkil smiled wanly as he put a copper stag on the bar to pay for his tonic. He turned his head sideways to observe the fray behind him, and was just in time to observe an interesting event.
The dwarf was seated in the middle longtable with his supporters, and was ordering something from a human servant girl. As the girl bent over to lend an ear to the dwarf’s requests, she deftly dug one hand into one of his cloak’s pockets and brought out a small satchel. With one smooth motion her hand went from the dwarf’s pocket to her own, swiping his pouch. She stood straight and walked towards the kitchen, seemingly intent on relaying the dwarf’s request.
Before she could take ten steps, however, the dwarf unconsciously slipped his hand inside the very pocket she had just stolen from – perhaps out of habit. He found it empty.
“Wait!” Another roar from the dwarf, though this time not out of passion. The servant girl cringed and turned.
“Little thief! Where is mine purse?” He stood. He was a full foot taller than the human servant, who was barely five feet in stature. And like most dwarves, he was built like a small mountain, while she was a waif.
“I…I d-don’t know, m’lord.” She managed to stammer as she shrank back, slowly making her way backwards and straight to Ezkil.
“Come now! I understand y’might be needy, girl. But stealin’ shan’t be your trade!” He moved towards her as the crowd watched on. Frightened, the girl turned and fled – and crashed right into Ezkil. He managed to turn around swiftly enough to catch her and prevent her from falling over. She pushed him away and ran for the back door, just as the dwarf reached out and tried to grab her.
This time, Ezkil stepped slightly to the side and let the drunk dwarf stagger past him. The statesman almost fell, propped an arm on the bar for support, and caught his breath. The girl almost made it to the back door but she was stopped by a few men.
“I won’t hurt ye, girl. Just hand it over.” The dwarf said as he let go of the bar and staggered backward, leaning onto Ezkil for support. He got his footing back and half walked, half danced his drunken way to the girl.
“Please! I really don’t know! I…!” And then the dwarf was upon her, searching her pockets while she was being held by a couple of human supporters. The crowd was hooting and jeering.
“That’s harassment right there!”
“This ain’t that kind of tavern!”
The good natured, albeit drunken, jeers didn’t reach the dwarf’s ears, however, as he was having trouble finding his purse. A few wolf whistles and catcalls later, Ezkil spoke loudly to defeat the noise of the bar.
“Perhaps you should look inside your pocket again, statesman.” He said with a smile. It was just another jest on the drunken dwarf, and no one knew better.
The dwarf turned. Annoyed he may be, but he did as he was bid. In a few seconds he found his purse right where it should be – to the jovial laughter of the crowd. The girl thief, however, was surprised. Ezkil collected his sword where it leaned on the bar, and went for the door as the dwarf was apologizing to the girl while being heckled good-naturedly by the people in the bar.
As Ezkil passed the longtable where the dwarf’s peers were seated, a hawkish man with sharp eyes stood and stepped forward. They spoke.
“Where might ye be headed, traveler?” He asked softly for the conversation to remain silent.
“West.” Ezkil answered.
“Raghunan, perhaps?” The man averted his stare and seemed deep in thought. “If ever you find yourself slightly south of Hampreid, two towns North of Raghunan, in a small village called Drury, you might find it in your interest to join a small sporting competition there.”
Ezkil eyed the stranger closely. “Why would I be interested?” He asked.
“Well…” The stranger thought for a few moments. “A man of your…proficiency, would do well in it. And of course, ‘tis good sport.”
“Anything worth winning?” Ezkil asked.
“Oh, more than a silver stag, I assure you.” The man smiled knowingly. Ezkil just had to smile back.
“I’ll keep it in mind if I ever find myself there.” He nodded, and was off.
Once outside he went straight for the main road, though before he could get there, was stopped by a female voice.
“Sir! Good sir! Please wait.” Someone called out. Ezkil turned. It was the servant girl.
“What is it, girl?” Ezkil asked.
“You are travelling?”
The girl held out a worn out cloak of dark green. “Please, take this. And accept my thanks.” She bowed low, turned, and headed back to the bar.
Ezkil unfurled the cloak. Inside the ragged cloth was a swathe of fine teal silk that would fetch a fine price in a market or auction. Ezkil wore the dark green cloak which effectively hid the short sword he wore on the small of his back, and decided to wrap his other, more conspicuous sword in the silk. Just then, a cart passed by. Ezkil hailed it.
“Hello there, farmer.” Ezkil greeted. The old tiller driving the mule that hauled the cart slowed to a stop.
“Yes, young feller?” He asked jovially.
“I was wondering if you were headed in the direction of Raghunan?”
“Yes I was. My destination be yonder, but I’ll go by the city, yes.”
“Could you spare a traveler a ride? I’d be fine at the back along with all your hay.” Ezkil motioned to the back of the cart where an abundance of hay was stashed.
“Aye, that’s fine. Hop on, lad.”
“You have my thanks.” Ezkil said as he walked behind the cart and hopped on. As they went on their way the farmer began humming a fanciful tune, which he soon began singing – and he was rather bad at it. Ezkil sighed. He reached into one of his pockets under his new green cloak and withdrew a silver stag. It was pure silver, the size of an egg, though it was rectangular. It was the most valuable piece of coinage in the dwarf statesman’s purse, Ezkil assumed, when he took it from the servant girl’s clothes and felt through its contents with one hand. Returning the purse to the dwarf’s pocket would have been futile if the purse was empty, so Ezkil decided to just snatch its most valuable asset, leaving the rest.
“For a silver stag I can secure myself a good meal, lodgings, and a mighty steed in Raghunan.” Ezkil whispered to himself. Of course, there was no need for that. His home was in Raghunan.
The road they were traveling on was sufficiently flat, without too many bumps or dents, that Ezkil was able to relax. The hay behind him did make his backside itch, however. He was wearing his usual garb beneath a ragged, dark-green cloak, but knowing the hay was there made his backside itch nevertheless. The ridiculous notion failed to make him smile.
He read the letter from his father again, tolerating the grinding and slight swerving that the cart's crooked wheels caused.
I hope to have you for dinner soon. Before I hear of what you learned, however, I'm afraid I bear ill tidings. Know that during your absence, the scout's guild I helped found in Raghunan is no more. I now head the Scout's Guild in Galhearn, along with a few other Scout Masters. Suffice it to say I'm too old for the field.
Know also that in recent days Raghunan has had its share of wayward incidents, gruesome deaths of fellows not human. The tension is palpable, my scouts report, as races look upon others with unveiled distrust. The same is happening in other towns, I fear. As this is the case, I enforce upon you my will as your father: pack your belongings and leave Raghunan. Come stay with me here in Galhearn for some days. Despite my old age, I have learnt a few new veteran scouting tricks, and these, my son, I must teach you. I shall await your response.
I sent a scout ahead of your return to secure me the details of the current situation in Raghunan, and also to meet with you. Send your reply through him, if it please you.
Your Father as always,
Ezkil folded the letter and slipped it back to its compartment inside his garb, beneath his cloak. A fine return this is to be, and a fitting end to a journey of five years with its own unsettling revelations, Ezkil thought.
"Are you okay there, young feller? Hope it isn't too bumpy for your preference!" The old cart driver intoned, making the donkey pull slightly faster.
"Oh it's perfect, my dear old host." Ezkil reached behind him to scratch involuntarily. "But your hay is going up my backside!"
The old farmer laughed heartily. "Try to fend the stalks away, m'lad, or they won't be too good for my cows when I get back."
Dawn had settled, shining triumphantly. Ezkil's mood was not as vibrant as he reached out to scoop up the apple beside him before it fell off the cart. He placed it in an inner pocket of his cloak, then stared forlornly at the sword lying on the hay to his left. It was sheathed in its dark blue, onyx-mithrilate scabbard, imbued with suppressive runic incantations on the inside that helped contain the blade it held. The sheathed sword was wrapped in fine, teal silk tied to the tip of the scabbard, going around the length of the sword to the hilt and up to Ezkil's left hand, where the other end of the silken strip of cloth was sloppily tied to his wrist. Parts of the dark blue scabbard can be seen, as can the tip of its black hilt.
Five years discovering the Eastern Continent had yielded this treasure. And Ezkil wished it was not his right to have it, and that he did not have it at all. His thoughts were disturbed by his host's enthusiastic, terrible singing. It was a haphazard rendition of the same farmer's song the old tiller had been singing since the middle of yester night. Ezkil was about to tease the old man again when he felt imminent danger. He twisted in his seat to look forward, just in time to see a black figure shoot out of a nearby bush, knocking the old singing tiller out of his coach-seat.
The two tumbled away from the cart as the donkey pulling it stopped and snorted in alarm. Ezkil alighted, and stood back to observe the small scuffle. The old farmer was being beaten by his human assailant's bare hands in a frantic flurry of strikes. Every strike was pure fury and bloodlust – it was that or the rogue was a plain idiot. Not a lot of people would consider robbing a poor farmer of a cart of hay.
Ezkil stepped forward a few seconds after he was quite certain the old farmer did not have enough fight in him to fend off the attacking brute. "Pardon me," he said in a friendly, albeit loud, tone. "You are keeping my coachman from bringing me to Raghunan."
The attacker stood, a wild glint of fury in his eyes. The farmer shrank back, thoroughly bowed. The rogue appraised Ezkil: his dark-green, almost tattered cloak had its hood drawn over half his face, and he held in his left hand what seems to be a sheathed weapon wrapped in marketable silk. Obviously the rogue thought the weapon and the silk cost something, as he drew two weapons clumsily hoisted on his back.
Ezkil slightly cocked his head in bemused confusion - the attacker held two dwarf's battle axes in both hands. The dried blood on the blades and handles could have been from a battle the night before.
Ezkil surmised the battle axes did not belong to the brutish rogue. He thought the rogue himself did not belong where he stood – it was, after all, a beautiful day with calm dawn skies and a restful breeze whispering. The rogue motioned to Ezkil’s sword using one axe.
“I shall take that.” The hoarse voice spoke as if it were inescapable. “Come now. Hand it over little plunderer.”
The rogue fell victim to Ezkil’s favored method of lying: keeping the truth within another truth. His green cloak seemed fit only for coinless peasants or nimble-handed thieves. Yet Ezkil was no petty thief; he was a cunning Moonlighter. And his Master Thief senses now worked the cogs of his mind. Brute. Violent. Simpleton? Shall we see?
“This is but an ornament, the only one I lifted off a traveling merchant in the town prior. ‘Tis worth less than what you wield.” Ezkil’s voiced cracked with fear as he held his sword behind him, away from the brute’s sight. The brute snorted a repetition of his prescience: “I shall take that.” He threw down the unwieldy battle axe he held in his left hand, and reached out with it. “Come. I’ll let you scurry away if you hand it over, thief.”
Perhaps less than a simpleton. Two dwarven battle axes would indeed be too much to heft, yet he should have at least kept his imposing stature that bore with it considerable threat to intimidate, like most rogues oft did.
Ezkil’s eyes swept over his quarry once more. Strong enough to wield the axe to destructive effect. His offense should be straightforward. And with his weapon and demeanor, an overwhelming overhand strike that suggests superiority would be the first choice. Simple to dodge or parry, yet it might be perfect for his presumably rugged combat style, if he had any. Why let him relish a favored path of attack?
Ezkil shyly stepped his right foot back, standing perfectly sideways towards the threatening brute. He started to hide the sword under his cloak as if to keep it from being taken away as he took a few, hurried but small backward steps away from the threatening rogue.
See your prey. He does not even look at you as he flees. Ezkil’s cloak hid his down-turned face, and how he intently watched the rogue’s shadow, long and fine in form from the rising sun. His sideways profile presented a slimmer target not ideal for an overhand strike. The rogue, thinking his prey about to escape, would probably lunge, axe in right hand, and slash downwards to the left, attempting to chop into as much of his prey as he can. With Ezkil’s alert observance of his shadow unbeknownst to him, he will confidently rush in to slaughter, expecting no resistance from a foolish, cowardly thief who was not paying attention.
As a wolf bays before an effortless kill, the brute attacked with a throaty laugh of triumph.
The brute’s shadow was not an ideal means to gauge his distance closing in, yet it affirmed that Ezkil’s plan to prevent an overhand strike was fulfilled. The axe was hefted high to the right, set for a diagonal blow intent on slicing Ezkil in two. They stood eight paces away, and if his assailant came with the speed with which he tackled the old farmer, then he was but a second away from striking distance.
Ezkil recalled one of his father’s first few words of scouting wisdom: distraction is your friend. Since then Ezkil used one distraction after another to scout, steal petty and not so petty items, and commence an offensive that swiftly ended most of his undesired scuffles. He drew his partly eaten apple and threw it sideways to where he surmised the brute’s face would be, and hit him on the chin.
The distraction was sufficient for the sudden attack to lose momentum. And within that moment Ezkil stepped sharply towards the brute, lodged the handle of his sheathed sword in the middle of his attacker’s neck, and stepped back to appraise the damage. The brute fell to his knees, letting loose a pained gurgle as drops of blood bubbled from his crushed throat. The axe fell to his right side, instead of falling straight down onto Ezkil if the brute chose to attack with an overhand swing. The rogue’s each breath was drawn with difficulty and tinged with blood. Ezkil took measure of the short scuffle.
The trap might not have been obvious, but it was clumsy. Too much supposition. If he were not in a rage and ruthlessly straightforward, my advantage of having the first move – setting the trap – would have been whisked away.
Ezkil sighed, shrugged, and thought: I am weary, and this place has not changed. He walked by the struggling brute to where his old host stared bewildered at what happened. From where he was he could not have seen what transpired. “Come, tiller. I still need to get to Raghunan, and you need to tend to your wounds in the small hut you so fancifully told me about earlier. Your wife would dress your wounds instead of mourn your loss today.”
The farmer found his voice after blinking away confusion a few times: “Yes…Thank you, laddie.” He looked at the struggling rogue while Ezkil picked up the first axe and threw it onto the back of the cart. “I might need that.” He said.
“Should we not help him, young lad?” The farmer stood weakly, motioning to their attacker. Ezkil looked at him dubiously. “He would have taken your life with his bare hands, old sir.” He said.
“Well, you’ve all but taken his. That is justice enough. Please, help him up so we may bring him to Raghunan for due punishment.” Ezkil stood still for a moment, then obliged. “A heart as giving as the lands you till, farmer, is a treasure worth keeping.” Ezkil said softly as he picked up the now unconscious rogue and manhandled him to the waiting cart, an unwilling and unknowing companion on his return carriage home.
The dank cave was alive with livid shadows, and the howling wind, befouled by the unmistakable stench of decaying flesh, whispered obscene realizations in his ears. He had woken from a nightmare, only to live out another: dismembered figures of dozens of plunderers, murderers, rapists, and pillagers lay about, their rotting flesh infested by critters who fed the Earth.
His eyes slowly adjusted to the deep black of the gang’s den, an ancient cave hidden in a dense part of forest. He espied his new-found sword still skewed to a slain warrior nearby. It was near enough to allure his senses and excite his blood as it did several days past, when he used its blade to bloodthirstily lay waste to the gang of hoodlums he tracked down.
He remembered the thrill of the tracking, then the panic of discovery. He recalled how he was outnumbered, cornered, and wounded. All that was left was to pull the Nihilus from its scabbard and let bloodlust reign. That or he perished, and the choice was not easy.
The crazed dance of demonic strength and speed soon left his mind blank. The last sane memory he had, before the toll of calling upon forbidden heritage set in, was the frantic attempts of escape by the men he ruthlessly cut down. Until finally, there was no life left to snuff out, and his body succumbed to wounds, bruises, spasms, and jolts brought about by moving beyond his physical means. He collapsed some paces away from the Nihilus, which he now stared at blankly, several days later. He could almost hear its siren beckoning… Ezkil…
Ezkil opened his eyes and was stung by the light of day, brighter now as dawn had just passed. He was not asleep, rather, in a trance, remembering an event he buried deep within himself. He noticed his left hand clutching his sword, the Nihilus, in a vise grip. The beginning of its silver-black blade was visible between the scabbard and hilt, as the sword was slightly drawn from its sheath, somehow, sometime during the restless jigging of the cart. He quickly sheathed it completely.
He looked at the unconscious rogue he subdued earlier, then at the old farmer egging his mule onward. Beyond him, the Western walls of Raghunan were in view. Somehow this homecoming is less than nostalgic, Ezkil sighed.
Soon they were at the Western gates, and Ezkil and the farmer parted ways. After reporting the incident with the unconscious rogue to Raghunan gate sentries, Ezkil was questioned fully by their superior – a city guardsman official. Ezkil presented himself as an honorary scout from the Ashka’lah Scouts’ guild in Galhearn, which he is, given that his father was a founding scout master there and it was in fact named after him.
The axes hefted by the brute were identified to belong to one of several dwarves that have been found dead near the woods to the south of the city walls. Ezkil asked about the slayings.
“All dwarves, this group. Though they were not as… ritualistically murdered as the ones before, we think we are certain that the same culprits behind the other bizarre murders afore are responsible.” The official said.
“Ritualistic? Were the murders religiously driven?” Ezkil asked.
“It would appear so. Given that the most recent victims were dwarven or elven priests of the dwarf and elf deities, and that the rest afore them were all dwarves and elves, ‘tis rather easy to point fingers at a religious cult of overzealous humans.” The official answered, obviously uneasy.
“That is too simple, is it not? Granilad is a nation almost entirely populated by humans. Only recently have there been elves and dwarves dwelling in our country in numbers. All of it seems too tailor-suited and suspicious.” Ezkil opined.
“Yer not the first to say thus, scout. Yer not the first. ‘Course now no one knows what to believe, what to suspect, and what to fear.”
“Any breakthroughs worth knowing – about any suspected groups?” Ezkil asked next.
“Well, the group of dwarves slain this morn was part of a larger group. Their party had a brief scuffle against another yester night, and a couple of the dwarves’ companions were hurt. One died, I hear.”
“This other party, were they all humans?”
“That’s what’s queer – they were a mix. Humans, some elves, and even dwarves.”
A few moments later, Ezkil was walking towards a familiar sight: the Dragonsbane Tavern. It was just a few houses away from his own abode, which he did not immediately head towards. Though Ezkil should be looking forward to the tavern and greeting its homely keeper Lillian, he was more concerned with observing the people he found on the street, and the whispers in the alleys.
While people still walked the streets and performed their daily routines, they were vigilant and weary. Everywhere Ezkil walked and asked about the murders he was greeted by suspicious stares and answered only with reluctance. After finding out as much as he could from an uncooperative populace, he decided to get something to drink.
The tavern retained a certain familiar atmosphere, but a veil of apprehension stifled the air. Lillian fetched another keg of ale for a pair of Raghunan guards, then went back to their conversation.
“I tell you, Ezkil, Daekyl’s group is in the thick of it, but they are not the culprits!” Her voice was slightly louder than a whisper. She already told Ezkil how her testimony to her little bard friend’s defense fell on dubious ears in the inn, at best. She would have walked up to the Raghunan magistrate and proclaimed her side of the story had her counsel been of any significance to them. This Daekyl character was a female dwarf, a bard, and one that had been staying in Lillian’s Inn next to the tavern, paying for her stay with magical performances of storytelling.
“And I tell you, Lillian, that I have heard you say that all five times you repeated it.” Ezkil feigned exasperation. It has been little over six years since he last saw the old lady, before he set out to Galhearn to meet his father before heading off to the eastern continent. “I can feel your resolute loyalty to your bard friend. But what of her companions?”
“Any friend of Daekyl is welcome in the Dragonsbane Tavern, I can tell you that much. That bard’s got good senses on her.” She nodded in certainty.
“For her sake, I do hope so.” Ezkil sipped his black tonic. For the casual observer he was another patron having a drink at the bar. To keen eyes, the only person drinking tonic instead of ale or a similarly stronger concoction at the bar would be conspicuous. “For now I believe your story, and everything else I found out seems to support it,” Ezkil reflected at the sights, sounds, and naysayers he observed on his way to the Dragonsbane.
“The murders followed a certain pattern with religious zeal, almost in ritual warning. The fight between the group of dwarves and your friend’s group might be related, but to the objective mind it is rather difficult to pin the other murders on the bard’s group.” He paused in a moment’s contemplation. “The succeeding murders prevented the other dwarves of the larger group of dwarves to tell their tale, and are probably not the handiwork of the bard and her compatriots. It was an ill-timed twist of the daemons, or perhaps a sound tactical move.” Ezkil did not notice he called the deities by the ancient label they shared with demons in times long past. He espied the familiar green cloak of one of his father’s scouts nearing his abode.
“I’m glad at least you believe me, boy. When will you start drinking men’s drinks?” Lillian motioned to Ezkil’s mug.
“Ale dulls my senses, Lillian. And what have I but my guile?” Ezkil finished his drink, set the mug on the bar, and said “On my father’s tab, please.” A smile crossed his lips. Lillian shook her head. Billing a guild master from another town for a single drink was preposterous. Ezkil collected the silk wrapped Nihilus leaning on the bar, and set out to meet his father’s scout.
Before heading out the tavern, he turned on his heels and shuffled back quickly to Lillian, “And can you really not tell me where it was your friend Daekyl was headed?” Lillian hesitated. She had known Ezkil since he was a youth with promising scouting skills sharpened by training under his father Quilst. If Daekyl could use more help, why not? Lillian thought.
Chapter I: Advent of Misadventure
The scout eyed the young master’s dwelling, feeling lost – something scouts are not accustomed to. It was yet undisturbed, no signs of the party he wishes to receive were evident. He moved to try the door when a voice called out behind him.
“I’m not home, scout.” A young voice said in a friendly manner. The scout turned, and found his young master smiling at him.
“Welcome back, Master Ezkil!” He said as warmly as he could. “Your father awaits you at Galhearn, I hope you’ve read his letter.”
“Yes I have.” Ezkil remembered the letter and the reply he drafted in the city he went by before Raghunan. “Do you have my portrait, scout? I don’t think we’ve met.”
“No sir, we haven’t. I was taken in as apprentice scout in the newly formed Galhearn scout guild when Sir Ashka’lum arrived and took over. I merely saw you with your father a number of times.”
“I see. Well, the five or so years you spent in the guild were not wasted,” Ezkil said, motioning to the scout’s tunic markings designating his position as lead scout. “Well, lead scout, I may have a task for you. But first, I must visit my humble abode. I’m afraid ‘tis not much to look at, and having been gone five years, I’m certain having you inside would only do you injustice, knowing you’re my receiving party.” Ezkil looked towards the Dragonsbane Tavern. “I suggest you pick your poison in the Dragonsbane while I tend to my business. I won’t be long.”
Half a cup of strong mint tea later, Ezkil called to the scout by the door of the Dragonsbane.
“Come lead scout, we have much to do.” He turned to address the barkeep, “Lillian, thank you for a warm welcome home.” The barkeep Lillian nodded and smiled.
The scout met him outside the tavern. “Now, I need a horse for myself, and I wish for your company for a short while. I’m certain my father will approve.” He handed the scout the silver stag he stole before dawn broke, in the town where he met the farmer.
“Certainly, sir. I shall have a fine horse from the town stable sent. With which endeavor may I be of service?”
“In the endeavor of chasing down the suspected culprits of the recent slayings.” Ezkil smiled while rummaging in a rucksack, ignoring the scout’s unveiled surprise.
“W-would you hunt them down and bring them to justice, sir?” The scout ventured.
“Justice? Only the guilty are smitten by that concept, scout. And don’t call me sir, I’m just an honorary guild member.” Ezkil pulled a decent, grey cloak and wrapped it about him, hiding his rucksack from view. “What’s your name, lead scout?”
“Monty, sir – I mean Ezkil.” The scout replied, flustered. He had heard of the guild master’s son’s whims. His adventures and misadventures were infamous even in his youth.
“Well Monty, I shall have you join me until we find the suspected group. Thereafter you shall take my letter of reply to father. And the letter is for his eyes alone.”
Monty merely nodded.
Monty was ill at ease – they have just gone through an unruly part of town, past the docks, and the looks he received from some of the townsfolk in this nether region of Raghunan were flustering. Ezkil paid the stares no heed. They were merely curious why a scout clothed formally would saunter by this place. Monty wondered how many petty thieves and murderers were in this part of town, and how he as a lead scout has enough authority to make arrests under extended decree of Raghunan law. Perhaps their presence here would be seen as a threat. He couldn’t reach for his slung crossbow, as a move so threatening can be disastrous depending on interpretation. Soon they were out of the town, and by a creek near the western gates.
Ezkil was looking skyward, noting the dying plume of smoke that was visible between the overhanging branches and leaves of the taller trees. He looked to be in deep thought atop his mount. An unconscious tick was flexing Monty’s left cheek, borne of an uncertainty of what Ezkil wants to accomplish. He tried to make conversation.
“So you apprehended a mugger, I’ve heard?”
“I suppose. The farmer persuaded me. The rogue’s dwarven axes were more intriguing.”
“It was a dwarf?”
“No, Monty. Dwarves like fighting, not mugging. He had two battle axes, dwarven in origin and design. Bloodied.”
“..And?” Monty sensed a story behind the axes.
“They belonged to some of the dead dwarves found near the southern walls this morn. The rogue could have stumbled upon the mess. He took the two axes. Driven bloodthirstily mad by the scene – which, from what I hear was quite ghastly – suddenly wanted to mug someone in broad daylight.” Ezkil looked at Monty. “Someone who probably didn’t own anything worth mugging too. The old farmer he attacked only had hay stowed in his cart. And myself.”
“I see why you thought him mad.”
“No, his actions were erratic, true. Wild and savage, maybe. But his eyes were the decisive evidence of madness lusting for irrational bloodletting. I’ve seen eyes like those before.” In my reflection in a small pond in the eastern continent, Ezkil didn’t add.
“We are headed towards a dwelling, probably a shed of some sort, where that smoke rises from.” Ezkil pointed to the plume of smoke.
“They may have already left.” Monty offered.
“Tracking them would be easy enough with you by my side, Lead Scout. But we will not approach them directly. Come, let’s make haste and go around them. I wish to meet them as they leave their encampment.”
With that Ezkil strode forward on his horse, and Monty reluctantly galloped after him.
Their mounts galloped with haste, and Monty’s apprehension quickened with each stride. Ezkil was forward, a bit to his right, tackling the main road flanked on either side by lush tree line. The young master had informed Monty that they were to go around the spot where the fishing shed lay, and approach the hut from that side, if they found no telltale traces of their target party’s leave. While Ezkil did not say the two of them were confronting the group, Monty feared the worst.
In front of him, Ezkil let go of the reins and fiddled with the small rucksack on his belly, tucked under his grey cloak. All the while his horse never slowed. Monty was once again reminded how the young master’s adventures were fraught with reckless abandon, almost all of them. More times than not it was up to his father to disentangle the mess he either got involved in or caused. Monty was not of a mind to tackle a group of many races, able enough to lay waste to a good number of battle-seasoned dwarves, with just 30 short narrow-tipped crossbow arrows he hid under his green scout’s robe. He did not even bother to note his slender short sword, as he was useless with blade. He'd probably cut himself before his assailant could attack him.
“Lord Ezkil,” the weary scout called, the wind rushing past him almost drowning out his words, “Should we not take more men with us if we are to track down the suspected fugitives?” Ezkil merely looked back slightly. Monty persisted: “Flamboyant words of arrest would mean nothing to them if there are but two of us, your fancy sword and my 30 quill arrows!”
Ezkil slowed, and abruptly stopped. Monty was late in reining his horse, so he shot past Ezkil, stopped, pulled his horse back towards the young master, and resumed his close-to-desperate plea. “No guild master’s will or legislator’s warrant would cause them to willingly lay their arms my lord. No dried ink on parchment hefts weight but for a band of armed upholders of the law behind it.”
“Monty. My name is Ezkil.” He sounded exasperated. “And I will not confront them. I’d sooner join them than take them in.”
Monty’s look was a cross between horror and disbelief. “My lord! They are suspected to be tied in with the murders!”
“I believe Granilad Stature decrees subjects in suspect innocent until proven otherwise without a shadow of a doubt.” Ezkil said, feigning thoughtfulness.
“I’ve spoken to Raghunan’s representative, my lord.” Urgency was in Monty’s voice, “They are willing to all but hang anyone remotely suspected of playing part in these crimes, all to calm the restive populace.” He slid a piece of scrolled parchment from a small clothbag from behind him and handed it to Ezkil. “This is their governance’s decree, to be whisked off by all scouts and freeriders who come Raghunan’s way.”
Ezkil held the piece of parchment, looking expectantly at Monty. Why read if you can be told?
And tell Monty did: “They wish full cooperation from towns and villages united under common Granilad order to bring the suspected fugitives to Raghunan authorities, where they are to be questioned; tried, if need be; hanged, if it quells the panic of the people.”
Ezkil had to read it then. He knew Monty was exaggerating, but he read between the lines of the eloquently worded order that what Monty professed was not far from the truth. They’d rather a scapegoat than none at all. Chagrinned but nonplussed, Ezkil turned to Monty.
“Well, they’ll have to find them first. Good thing I know the only person in town who probably knows their whereabouts.” He folded the parchment and handed it back to Monty, then he noticed the scout’s expression. “What is it, Monty?”
“You believe them to be innocent, my lord? Ezkil?”
“Yes. I know them to be.” He did not explain how, though.
“Then I have done you an inconvenience.”
Ezkil kept from sounding impatient, “And what inconvenience is that?”
“They gave me descriptions and hand-drawn portraits of the known members of the suspected group. I met and exchanged short words with one of them shortly before making it to Raghunan.”
Silence followed. Fleeting. “And you told Raghunan authorities where you met.” Ezkil finished the revelation.
“It was a scout’s duty, young master.” Monty said with some pride, but a tone that betrayed his defending his actions.
More silence. But shorter, as Ezkil brushed aside the irk and the urge to curse his lineage of bad luck and sought how best to move forward, and he did so quickly. “When was this?”
“My talk with the representative? In the morn, and the shadows grew longer only by a hand when I found – rather, when you found me – later on.”
Ezkil looked up and noted the sun perched high, but far from noon-high yet. “Then we may have bureaucracy on our side. I dare think the Raghunan guards won’t march ‘til the glaring heat of noon.” Ezkil sighed, hopeful. Monty stayed quiet, torn between confused and half-guilty.
“All the more reason to hurry. We must warn them.” He thought for a second. “No, I must warn them. The sight of you might cause more confusion.” He handed his letter of reply and sent Monty off. “And remember Lead Scout, for my father’s eyes only.” He pointed to the letter. Monty nodded and strode off, not knowing what words to say to reconcile his little folly.
Riding hard and fast, Ezkil pushed his mount as forcefully as he can. A group of dwarves is one thing, but a troop of Raghunan guardsmen is another. If they can fight their way through the guard troop, they'd be adorning the dwarves' murders with their group's signature. And I'd wager they'd fight - fight to flee as they must - but fight nonetheless. Surrendering now would be disastrous folly.
The river ran its length to his left. Beyond it, on the other bank, a thick line of trees hid the fishing shed he seeks. It's somewhere in there, Ezkil thought, its nearness fueling his sense of urgency. He found a shallow part of the river and led his mount to cross it. Soon he was at full gallop, racing hard on the riverbank he was only looking at earlier. He could force his way through the trees and the uneven terrain, but following even the slightest of trails would make him good time.
They're not in the middle of the mess if they had no part to play, no knowledge of something behind the murders. I must hurry.
Every breath of his new mount was heavy as they hurried past the green blur of trees to their left and the sparkling blue-brown of the small river to their right. Ezkil thought about slowing his pace to mind the foliage for a game trail of some sort, but as he rounded a bend he saw he was riding straight for a group of people huddled by the bank.
He never slowed, and never wandered off his intended course. Knowing a rider coming straight at them at full gallop would make any sane group a bit wary. But the time did not call for courtesies, it called for haste. So it was that Ezkil kept his hurried pace, until the group of four people were on their feet and looking his way.
He slowed abruptly, thinking they were on the brink of taking up their weapons to defend themselves. He appraised them at a glance: three humans, one elf. The wounded human looked like a duelist, wary but as yet only waiting on what happens next perhaps. The young human girl's eyes were veiled with suspicion, as she moved slowly towards the duelist. The other man was probably a foreigner, from the look of his garb. His hands in his pockets were probably not empty. Ezkil chose to speak to the hooded lady elf.
"Pardon the interruption friend, but I seek a group with a bard by the name of Daekyl. I need to speak with her - or anyone in her group - urgently. Pray tell if you know her, and if you travel by her side."
“Might we ask first who you are and what your business with this bard is?”
Ezkil knew he would be greeted with suspicion, but the lady elf's icy tone was colder than he would have expected. He looked briefly at the duelist, the young girl edging by his side, and the seemingly relaxed foreigner.
"A friend." Ezkil tried, "But a bearer of ill tidings. Please, my lady elf, I understand your need for caution, yet I fear I need more of haste instead. If you know not of this Daekyl person, then I only ask your fellowship's leave to pass."
My lady elf might not have been the right path to tread, as the elf's eyes under her hood suggested. Ezkil looked in turn at the duelist, the foreigner, and the young girl, who now was between him and the duelist, hoping to find answers from them if not from the elf. The young girl spoke.
“You can be hasty or you can be wise. Lay your weapons down, dismount, and we shall speak. These are dangerous times, you see, sir.”
Ezkil had to smile at that. The girl was young and rather comely, and she just spoke something Ezkil always hears. In different words and from a different mouth, but always nonetheless. His own father's words echoed back to him every time he chose to forsake caution and wisdom – too many times, to be sure. "Well, I was never one to be called wise, that much is true. You come to know me too soon, my lady."
He stifled a sigh of exasperation and dismounted from his horse. From the saddle I could see all of them. From the ground the elf and the young girl partly hide the foreigner and the duelist from my eyes. On the horse I have a quick chance of escape if they attacked, on the ground all I have is...
He moved slowly and drew Nihilus, still swathed in teal silk, from behind him. He drew the silk back to show it was a sword, and threw it two paces from his reach. Well, so much for my only hope. They must belong to the bard's group. Else it's two long paces to my cursed blade.
His tone turned serious again. "Now, please tell me you know a bard called Daekyl. I have an urgent message from a friend we have in common in Raghunan – the same friend that helped her escape." Half a lie. I need to win some trust with which to buy haste, it seems.
Under suspicion and wariness he saw a flicker of recognition in the eyes of the elf and the duelist behind her. He was more certain of them now, so he continued before anyone spoke.
"I feel as though I have the right audience, so I might as well tell you now." He pulled his grey hood from his head and brushed his black hair back. "I know where the fishing shed is. Seeing that you're still here, I assume your group is still encamped." He looked at the foreigner openly. There was no news of a foreigner in the group – but according to the parchment Monty let him read the only known people were the bard, the duelist, which Ezkil guessed was this one right here, and an elf and two dwarves. "Unfortunately, Raghunan authorities also know where it is. And unless they mean to sit there and scratch their backsides until late this afternoon," He looked up at the sun, nearing its highest point, to emphasize his words, "you had best make haste to wherever it is you plan to go." He let that sit for two seconds.
"Now bind me hand and foot if you must, but be quick about it. I really need to see your bard."
That's better, Ezkil thought as the duelist handed him Nihilus without taking his eyes off him. They agreed to take him to their makeshift camp: a fishing shed. The wounded duelist motioned for the group to follow a good trail that led into the woods – and the shed, without a doubt. Ezkil took his horse by its reigns and led it forward, and let the duelist fall behind him. This one is true to the duelist code, observing every inch of me as best he can. He can feel his eyes on his back. True to the duelist code of honor as well, perhaps? I wonder what he'll think if he knew I was a Moonlighter. Has he ever seen a Master Thief before?
"I apologize for my abrupt appearance," He decided to introduce himself as they walked to gain something other than suspicion, "My name is Ezkil.”
Their brisk pace did little to shorten the trip from the riverside to the shed, and Ezkil was thankful they told their story as they went. They started investigating the murders around Raghunan when they heard news of similar occurrences in other towns and major cities across Granilad. The group was originally the bard, the duelist, and the elf. Recently, they have gained compatriots who wanted the truth as well – since Raghunan authorities were doing nothing about the murders aside from doubling guards and patrols on the wall and cleaning up corpses.
“And the dwarves last night?” Ezkil asked.
“Well…” The duelist, who introduced himself as Kevar, answered. “Some of the dwarves from our group found out that those dwarves were intent on pinning the blame of the murders on a group of elven priests staying in Raghunan… they wanted vengeance by their own hands for their slain dwarf brethren.”
“I see. The Old Hundred Year War?” Ezkil asked without needing an answer. The Old War was a hundred year war between the elves and dwarves that was said to have happened millennia ago. During the struggle, almost both races perished until peace was forged through treaty, and strengthened with understanding as centuries passed.
“We would assume so. I suppose for the dwarves, the culprits were either the elves or humans.” Kevar said.
“So you confronted them? And I reckon they did not hear you out?”
“Not one bit.” Kevar touched his wounded shoulder. “A fight broke out, and soon we were fighting for our lives as much as the elven priests’.”
They were nearing a clearing. Ezkil looked up and saw the plume of smoke reduced to a thin grey line reaching up to the heavens. “The rest of the dwarves are dead.” He said. His four new acquaintances stopped and stared.
“They were murdered this morn. All of them. Not in the methods with which the others before them were killed, but still.” Ezkil observed their reactions. No. This group just found themselves stuck in the middle of something they could not avoid. They are not involved.
“All the more reason for us to leave, then.” Kevar said with a heavy heart. Raghunan must have been home to him.
“I shall go ahead and speak to Daekyl. You all should be on your way before noon. I give you my word I shall persuade the Scout Master of my guild to vouch for you.” Ezkil said and turned. Before he could leave, the human girl called after him.
“Why would he listen to you and not to Raghunan authorities?” She asked.
“Because he’s my father.” Ezkil said, then trotted towards the shed.
"Your man is late." Captain Renard told the silent man next to him, brooding over the best angle for his horse's saddle to be. He looked at the Captain with no hint of emotion nor acknowledgement. Then he turned back to his queer task. Renard spat.
The sun will soon be near its highest, and yet the bounty hunter they were waiting for is nowhere in sight. The other guards in the Captain's party were slowly being defeated by ennui. None were excited by the prospect of the hunt for the suspected fugitives. None but Renard. He knew the human described in the reports of the scout from Galhearn. The one he exchanged a few words with before he reached the gates. Kevar. I'll get my hands on you yet, boy. He spat again.
Kevar was a human duelist who had been staying at Raghunan, helping the authorities with petty crimes here and there. He was honest and just – which is why he inevitably crossed Renard, an ambitious, corrupted Captain of the Raghunan Guard.
Just then, his silent companion uttered a single word: "Yollo."
Renard looked up and behind him, where a tall, slender figure in a green cloak and hood stood. He spoke. "It's been some time, Sefecles."
"Finally." Renard interrupted their small talk. "Did you get lost, tracker? That would have been funny." He stood, and found himself a foot shorter than the bounty hunter that was to lead them into the hunt.
"Near noon it was agreed. Near noon it is." Yollo the bounty hunter said. "Shall we get going?" He asked Renard.
"Captain. I'm Captain Renard." He said with a grimace. He could not help but be intimidated by the aura surrounding the tracker. Renard was no slouch with his sword, but he doubted he could win against this man even if he was blindfolded. "Sefecles, gather the men. Have your scout report back to Gremarin. Tell him we be bringing 'im heads. Lots 'o heads."
Renard stared as Sefecles rounded up the thirty men they took with them. A score would go by the road opposite the riverbank the scout from Galhearn reported, to draw attention, while he, Sefecles, and the ten other guardsmen sneak close to their targets through the woods, led by Yollo.
He mounted his horse. I'll get my hands on you yet... Renard thought, remembering how the boy Kevar almost cost him a valuable informant. He had to stick his neck out for that piece of trash, and so Kevar, the duelist found out. He found out that he has enemies in principle in high places. He could feel a vein in his neck throb at the thought of Kevar’s idealistic drivel. He was too annoyed to listen to the tracker Yollo’s instructions:
“Those tracks are false, Renard. Led around the forest, you shall be, if you follow them.” The intimidating man said.
“Captain! Call me captain.” Renard almost shouted. “They seem good to me – follow whatever trail you please. We’re too close to miss. The spot the scout from Galhearn told us about is right here someplace.”
“As you wish. I shall signal you with a whistle.”
“No.” Renard said as he led his part of the group towards what he believed to be genuine tracks. “Sefecles shall go with you. His skills should prove better than your whistle.”
Yollo looked at his acquaintance, and said “Indeed.” The two headed their own way, and Renard and his troops went into the forest by his command.
The fishing shed was old and forgotten, but the camp site beside it was new. Renard was thinking of the boy and his companions who were just there a few hours before, trying to take his mind off his folly.
The fire had been recent, and their tracks are still fresh. Without Yollo, however, Captain Renard would have to track them down on his own, and he’s lost enough face as it is. The tracks that he had insisted they follow before circled back and led them to the same spot they began. It was by pure chance that they stumbled upon this camp site by a fishing shed, and here again he was led into a trap.
He walked gingerly across the interior of the small fishing shed and looked out from its dilapidated doorway. Some of the ten men of his hunting party were tending to their burnt feet – those whose boots were too thin. The others were starting to walk around. “Gods be damned.” Renard spat. The magistrate will not be pleased. Gremarin would have a laugh at his failure, but would be cross with him for not bringing the several heads he promised nonetheless.
After the embarrassing episode by the riverside where his distraction party of twenty riders had to double back and tell him he’s been leading his men in circles, they regrouped yards away from that accursed spot. Captain Renard led an advance party of ten men blindly towards the place where he thought a plume of smoke earlier in the day could have come from. He commanded the twenty riders to follow several yards behind in loose formation. The size of his host scattered a few roosting birds, and he knew he had to hasten his pace lest his targets get away.
They got to the shed, and saw a group still sleeping inside it. Renard charged. His ten men followed. Their feet burned as the soles of their leather boots boiled from a trap set around the perimeter of the shed. Worse still, during the chaos the figures inside the shed never moved. The Captain was sure they were dummies meant for some other trap. It turned out they were illusions, probably set by that blasted dwarf bard.
A rider galloped forward. “Captain, we can try to follow the tracks. They seem to lead to the main road…” The young squad commander of his diversionary riders informed him. Renard wished he could ride down with them. He swallowed his spite and hoped he sounded more dignified than he looked as he gave his command:
“Take fifteen of your best riders. Leave five here to assist us. Run them down, boy. Run them down!” Renard’s head was splitting with frustration, and his feet still stung where the worn-down soles of his boots gave way.
“Sir!” The rider nodded and doubled back to where he came from. Soon fifteen cavalrymen were riding hard and fast down the main road, intent on capturing the group that was just there in and around the shed. Renard looked up. It was early afternoon.
Daekyl shared all she knew, which confirmed which rumors circulating around Raghunan were truth and which were mostly stories borne of fear and suspicion. But more interestingly, she gave him an amulet.
“You found this on one of the bodies?” Ezkil asked again as he held the golden amulet up to see it more clearly. It was pure gold, and the chain was silver. Its design was a triangle inside a circle, with the three corners of the triangle labeled with inscriptions: ancient glyphs that represented the three races of elf, man, and dwarf.
“Yes. We followed a shadowy group ‘til midnight. Unfortunately, we could not stop what they did. They murdered three elven priests that night. And strung over one of the priests’ necks was this.” Daekyl motioned towards the amulet. “We know that it is the amulet of the Church of Tyranis’s Pure, a radical church that worships the human deity. They have been advocating the concept of human superiority over other races.”
Ezkil shook his head. “Not a good dogma.”
“Indeed.” Daekyl said as she finished packing her belongings. All around him Daekyl’s group was getting ready to depart. “Of course Tyranis’s Pure, like all other churches in existence, has factions. The radical faction who once used that amulet as a symbol was thought to have died out decades before.”
“The triangle is a literal representation, is it not?”
“Yes. Elves and dwarves are equally beneath humans – this is their church’s doctrine, and what the amulet represents.”
Ezkil pocketed the amulet. “I shall keep it safe. Where will you go now?”
Daekyl thought for a moment. “We are too many. We shall part – two groups heading opposite ways.”
Indeed there were too many of them – more than ten people of different races gathered in and around the shed. All of them were prepared to leave.
“Well, Ezkil, please send Lillian my warmest regards. I bid you luck.”
“I reckon you need it more, bard.” Ezkil said. He looked towards the young human girl who was with Kevar. She was scattering red dust in a circle around the perimeter of the shed. When she was done, she knelt, touched a few fingers to the dust, and recited an incantation. The circle of dust burst into flames for a second before disappearing from sight. Ezkil walked forward and was about to ask what that was when she spoke: “A simple trap. Anyone who walks over it will get their feet burnt.” She smiled.
Daekyl walked up as near as she could from the trap set and started reciting her own incantations. She sounded as though she was telling a story in a tongue only she could understand. Then, to Ezkil’s awe, illusions appeared inside and by the shed: figures lain down, seemingly sound asleep, and a small fire was close to burning out just outside.
“Impressive.” Ezkil said.
“You should hear me tell a story.” Daekyl said. “Those illusions should be enticing enough for our enemies to not notice the trap she set.” The bard said as she looked towards the young girl. They’ll be fine, Ezkil thought. With duelists and weavers of illusions and other people of different talents and skills, they should be fine.
Before noon they said their farewells, and Ezkil went along with Kevar’s group who were headed towards Shalin, the next city Ezkil wanted to visit in his quest to unravel the mystery of the murders.
Yollo had become much faster and agile in the years Sefecles and he had been separated. Sefecles could hardly keep up as the bounty hunter all but flew across the forest floor, in search of quarry skilled enough to make grown city guards look like fools.
“Your captain.” Yollo said as he slowed to survey the surroundings.
“A blundering fool. He is of no consequence. My liege instructed me to bring back any evidence the group we are after might have collected. Renard is just an excuse.” Sefecles said, between hard breaths. He was thinking of the golden amulet gone missing from a murder scene. The amulet was central to the message they were trying to send. Somehow one of the people in the group they were tracking got a hold of it before the murdered elven priests’ bodies were found.
“A blundering fool.” Yollo repeated, apparently agreeing. His head snapped to the right, and he was on the track again. Sefecles was forced to follow. Soon they were making their way towards the main road, but before they could get there, Yollo halted by the border of a clearing in the woods.
“Near. Several people.” He scanned the surroundings. “Many eyes in the woods. Some dangerous.”
Sefecles merely nodded. His skills meant little here in this situation, so he simply supported Yollo and did as he bid.
“Come, we shall soon see who we hunt.” Yollo urged him forward. They came upon the break in the tree line, and from there both of them could see a group of people in the distance. Yollo studied them as they moved slowly away. “Queer creatures.” He commented drily. Just then, his hairs stood on end and he flashed a brilliantly frightening smile. “Well, why am I not surprised?”
He turned to Sefecles. “Stay well away from us. Observe. Do not engage. We will not fight today.” And with that, Yollo strode forward nonchalantly.
“I beg your pardon, travelers!”
Ezkil turned and was met with a grisly acquaintance from years past. He was with Kevar’s group, making good time towards the main road to Shalin through the forest, just as a gruff voice behind them called out for their attention.
“How many times do I have to kill you, halfblood?” Yollo asked Ezkil. He shrugged off the grey cloak he was wearing and threw it away.
Ezkil was taken aback, but he could not let his surprise show. “How far will you chase me, bounty hunter?” he asked Yollo back. Kevar turned to him “You know this person?”
“Partners once. We were. A good deal. An easy job.” Yollo answered for Ezkil. Ezkil walked towards him mainly to put distance away from himself and the others in his party. “You’ve killed me thrice. Haven’t had enough yet?” Ezkil asked when he was sufficiently near Yollo, and sufficiently far from Kevar’s group. They are in no shape to fight, especially not against this monster, Ezkil thought.
Yollo drew two identical double-edged bastard swords from behind him; their scabbards easily hidden from view by his great bulk. Ezkil heard someone behind him draw a sword swiftly. That should be Kevar.
Ezkil shrugged off his own cloak, exposing the short sword on the small of his back. He drew it and held it at the ready in his right hand, while his left still held the sheathed Nihilus. “Do we fight today, Yollo?”
Yollo twirled his bastard swords lazily. Looking at each of Ezkil’s group in turn. He stopped suddenly and planted both swords on the ground. “No. We don’t fight today.” He announced.
“A word, Ezkil. For old times’ sake I’ll forego slaying you a fourth time. A word is all I ask.” Yollo stepped back from his two swords. Ezkil looked back at his party, and walked towards Yollo. As he reached the two bastard swords he threw and planted his own short sword near them, but he held on to Nihilus as he had his conversation with Yollo.
Their talk lasted but a few minutes. Ezkil turned away.
"You still use that cursed sword?" Yollo asked after him.
Ezkil bent to pick up his short sword, planted on the ground. "Barely," he answered without looking. As he was wiping the dirt from his short sword's blade, he heard Yollo whisper: "Is that so?" Ezkil turned just in time to see Yollo lunge.
Ezkil jumped back as Yollo took one of his swords with his right hand and swung upwards. As Ezkil's feet touched the ground, Yollo had picked up his other blade in his left hand and was lunging forward again.
This time Ezkil dodged to the right. If he kept moving back he'd soon entangle his party in Yollo's warmongering inklings. But just as he was bringing his swords to bear, Yollo was already attacking him with both his bastard swords. Ezkil jumped back each time the hunter delivered blindingly fast swings. He knew where Yollo was leading him. To his back was one of the oldest trees bordering the clearing. Its girth was ideal for a scout loosing arrows in a skirmish, but it also suited Yollo's cornering tactic quite well. In five consecutive backward leaps Ezkil was upon the tree, and Yollo was upon him.
Yollo's right blade missed Ezkil's neck by two inches, burying itself deep into the trunk of the ancient tree behind him. Ezkil used the sheathed Nihilus to block Yollo's left blade closing in for a pincer strike, and he crossed his right arm over his left to bring his short sword up to his assailant's neck, poised to slash it open.
Yollo let go of the sword stuck in the tree and stepped back. Ezkil walked away. "Don't think I can't make you draw that cursed sword, halfblood." Yollo told his back.
Ezkil turned. "I have no doubt." Then he sheathed his short sword, picked up his cloak, and went back to his waiting companions.
As he returned he told them of what he and Yollo spoke. "Yollo told me his current contract is with a particular Raghunan official. He was with a hunting party of ten and a cavalry unit of twenty riders. They were separated after they encountered a false trail," Ezkil looked at the lady elf who was with them. He guessed it was her who laid out the false tracks. "Yollo will not be engaging us, though he said that next time he will be, hunting party or no."
"The bulk of the force probably went and prodded around the shed,” and most probably fell victim to the illusion and the trap, Ezkil thought. “But they may be hot on the other group's heels by now. It might be best we pick up our pace." Ezkil said to no one in particular. He turned to look at Yollo, who had already disappeared into the early afternoon shadows cast by the trees of the forest.
Chapter II: Shalin
Monty led his horse in a speedy trot, not feeling the cool breeze rustling his brown hair. Now he rides for Galhearn, to bring the young master's letter of reply to their Guild Master. Lord Quilst would scarcely like the news I bring, but he might not be surprised.
Parts of his conscience were wrestling with the majority of his duty-bound honor. The young master Ezkil himself believes the group innocent, yet duty dictates that I spread their tale (a one-sided tale, at that) everywhere I go, and their names and faces, those who were unmistakably identified.
He was hardly paying the road any mind. How many towns must I stop by before reaching Galhearn? Gods, I'd spread false accusations through several as it is... His thoughts parted to make way for a reluctant conclusion. He must spread the word, as is his duty. The group is suspected, and wanted. I am not undoing the knots to the rope of the guillotine's blade by playing the messenger. Or so he wished.
The ride had made a dusty mess of him. His horse was lapping up water from the same stream where he washed his face, and probably had half a mind to drink the stream dry. Monty had just ridden into a small farming village a day away from Shalin, the city nearest Raghunan. He made impressive time riding at full speed for most of the morning after he parted ways with his master's headstrong son. But in exchange he will need to rest this afternoon at least to keep his mount from dying of exhaustion. And then the going would be normal, if not slow.
He looked around at the outskirts of the small settlement. No walls; just three watchtowers patched together with unpolished oakwood. Farmers and tillers and their wives and children – this place was easy to sack and loot. But who would bother? Only the most ruinous of wars can drive soldiers to put such a small, helpless village to the torch. But then again only the most ruinous of wars are heralded by murders such as the ones hounding three major cities of Granilad, perhaps more.
He was sufficiently refreshed and had enough time to catch his breath. He was not entirely presentable, but the villagers wouldn't mind. He just needs to inform them of Raghunan’s tidings. He just needs to perform his scout's duty.
Late afternoon was upon him by the time he finished posting posters and speaking in what amounted to the small village's public square. He needed to find an inn or bar to fill his stomach. For the most part, Monty found the people of the farming village to be detached to the situation. They have only heard of the heinous murders, and perhaps the fact that all of them were human means none of the population is in any foreseeable threat.
He spoke, but none promised cooperation. It would seem if the group settled here, they might have no problems for a day or two. There might be some villagers who needed the money that telling on them could provide, but for farmers and tillers, going to Raghunan would be too much effort.
Monty found an inn, ordered stew and a flagon of wine, and ate listening to conversation.
"The guardsmen at Shalin must have stuck their spears up their backsides! Why, they almost wouldn't let me in without taking me clothes off!" One farmer said to another he was eating with.
"That be lies! Whoever would want to see yer naked arse aside from your blind wife?" Was the reply he got.
But Monty knew this news bode ill for Ezkil and his group, if he ever found them. Monty wished he hadn't.
His horse had sufficiently rested, and though his late lunch lacked enough flavor to satisfy his palate, it satisfied his stomach well enough. Monty rode for the next small village, where he will only stop to spread news, perhaps hear in on some rumors, and then set off post haste to Shalin before it gets too late in the day.
He looked back at the small village as he left. He saw a group of riders who looked like Raghunan guards emerge from the far side of the woods. A search party? Monty hoped his young master Ezkil was sane enough to choose to be safe.
The letter he meant to deliver to his master Quilst bothered him. He knew he should not have opened it. But the guildmaster himself said that scouts are as much emissary as they are spy, the cloak part of the cloak and dagger business. He opened it again.
It would be nice to dine with you again, though I thirst for something else. I'm certain you know me well enough to not expect me at your dinner table anytime soon. I shall try my best not to get in trouble before I share your jests, old and new. I feel that my homecoming is less than what it ought be.
I have found what I sought. I cannot say I am fulfilled. You knew what my real father was, did you not? I need not even ask this. You told me you knew him. You were friends and comrades in arms. Legends say he was half elf. Most of the eastern continent did not even know if the stories of his war were real or myth. I know now, all too well, they were real. He left me his sword and a message. There was a note meant for you.
It said that once again, your scout's instinct was right. He knew. Still, he marched. The note goes on to thank you for keeping me, and apologizing for the burden.
And now I am burdened. This truth I sought out and found has all but rid me of the principles I once believed in. So forgive me, father, but your jests and dinner will have to wait. I need to find a purpose again.
For now he had to put it aside and focus on his mission: Shalin by dark.
Night had fallen, and Monty traversed two days’ worth of travel in only a day; his horse was near death. Before Monty are the gates of Shalin – and a gruff Shalin guardsman.
"I mistook you for a sickly dwarf, scout!"
"What do you mean?"
"Well the sun isn't up yet, and only a few travelers go by the main gates at this hour. Trust me, I've been a sentry for, what...five, six years now? But earlier a group of dwarven priests sought entry."
"Yes, yes. They serve their dwarven god...er... whatever his name is. Much like human or elven priests. As I was saying, they wanted in, so I let 'em. I find it strange that they came here at this hour. Hey Milton, hurry up and lower that portcullis! You know all about the murders?"
"Yes, that's why I'm here. I bring word from Raghunan - "
"Raghunan, is it! I would hate to be livin' there right now."
"Yes, the tension is...palpable. I bring word for - "
"You bet it's palpable! The murders started there! Everything started there. We'll see how far this whole mess can get before it's straightened out."
"Well, I was hoping to do that by delivering my urgent message to - "
"I'd hate for Shalin to get dragged into it. Grew up here, you know? Born and bred. I intend to die here, but not before I make little versions of me first! Ha! And I haven't been able to do just that, so I'm not getting myself involved in this mess of Raghunan's! You can be sure of that."
"Good for you. Can I see Shalin's magistrate?"
"At this hour? You mad? If my superior doesn't have my head for asking, Magistrate Picelle will! And then he'll go back to sleep! He hates being disturbed. What you need to see 'im for?"
"Hmm.... Raghunan requests and welcomes any assistance... hrm... urgent that the fugitives be found and brought to justice, eh? ah.... a dwarf bard and a young human duelist among them... hrm... okay. Well... I suppose I should ask the captain. You shoulda said something about this in the first place, scout. Wait here."
After being hurried into a formidable fortress straight from the gates he entered from, Monty found himself before a thickset door of hundred year old Mahogany, propped by steel and adorned by bronze.
Nothing like waking a self-important noble before dawn. Here we go. Knock knock.
"Come on in."
"I apologize for the hour, Magistrate." Though you don't seem to be in your bed gown...
"Nonsense. You can see I'm dressed for waking hours. I've been thinking, and thinking unfortunately deprives me of sleep. Come, sit."
"Thank you." Now read this piece of parchment so I can get my sleep. "Magistrate, Raghunan sends word."
"Ah yes. Let me see that."
His ring... a triangle inside a circle… Tyranis's church? He must be part of the liberal sect of the church...otherwise he won't dare sport such a controversial insignia on a prominent ring in times such as these.
"Give me a moment to read this... ahm... what did you say your name was again?"
I didn't. "Monty Parve, Magistrate. A Lead Scout from the Scout's Guild in Galhearn."
"Lead Scout Parve, yes. Give me a moment to read this."
Take your time magistrate, it's not like I've been riding all day and night without rest here. I can barely keep my eyes open. Remember Master Quilst's lessons... The scout is part spy and part emissary. The field requires the spy, diplomacy requires the emissary. The spy looks without being seen, the emissary sees without looking. Watch his every reaction. Is there something here of significance that I need to observe? My head is too redolent of sleep for my eyes to see even when I'm staring outright, how can I see without overtly looking?!
"Parve, your Guild's assistance is most welcome here in Shalin. As for Raghunan's message… yes, I agree. These fugitives must be sought out and brought to the people's justice."
Good, may I have a room to stay in now? Perhaps an inn to take my half-asleep body in? "Shall I take a message back?"
"No need, I'll send a raven. Heavens, they only sent you because it was convenient. They'd reserve a bird for something else and you can even spread the word while on your way. Now, look at you."
Yes, look at me. Smile, Monty, smile.
"You can sleep in the guests' quarters on the third tier of this fort; I'll have you escorted. Sleep, Lead Scout. You'll need your rest. I have more tasks for you come the morn, if you would be so kind."
"It would be an honor, Magistrate." Whatever you say, just get me to that room!
The journey was blissfully uneventful. They trimmed down a two-day voyage to one and half, and despite the mid-afternoon glare of the sun, they could easily see Shalin's walls in the distance.
Kevar’s group settled in a small village last night without incident. It would seem Ezkil could easily make it into the walls of Shalin in a few more moments without trouble. Or, if he wanted to play it safe, the settlement outside the western walls of the city might present a good starting point.
Ezkil did not think they were at heightened risk of being apprehended. The witnesses and Raghunan guards need to identify a dwarf bard, some dwarves and elves, and a human duelist. The only good lead is the dwarf bard, Daekyl, whose name and description they should have, and she is with the other group. Some guards might also know Kevar by sight, however, so caution is still needed. At least until they part ways. Kevar and some of his group were intent on heading straight to Tyranal, the city named after the human deity Tyranis. It was there that Tyranis’s Pure were once headquartered.
Tyranal was not that far off, and this sect called the Tyranis's Pure is the most probable suspect to the slayings. However, Ezkil wanted to investigate in Shalin first.
Once inside its walls, the group chose to part ways and pick several different inns and spots to rest. Kevar and the others will depart tomorrow morn for Tyranal.
“Fare you well, duelist.” Ezkil said.
“And you, scout. I feel we shall meet again.” Kevar said.
Ezkil paid for a room in the second largest inn Shalin can offer: The Steel Wing Inn and Tavern. Once rid of his other belongings he took his small satchel and slung it casually over his right shoulder, while his left hand, as always, carried the sheathed Nihilus. He set off to meet with the city Magistrate as an honorary scout. Now was the perfect time to learn more about the situation in Shalin from its magistrate himself.
I wonder if Monty's still here, Ezkil thought as he was ushered in by the city fortress guards and led to a waiting antechamber where the Magistrate will welcome him. Monty was headed straight to Galhearn, which would mean he would have gone through this city as well. In the antechamber another guest waited. It was an elf, who by the look of her pure white robe appeared to be a member of the ancient wood elf Priory, an organization that, along with two others, lead the elven race as figurehead rulers.
“Pardon me, my lady elf. My name is Ezkil Ashka’lum, a scout from Galhearn.” Ezkil began as he was sitting down. The elf bowed slightly.
“I come to meet with the magistrate regarding recent troubling events. I must admit, because of my cause, seeing you here had given me pause for thought.” Ezkil continued.
“How so, young scout?” The elf said in a flowing, musical voice. Ezkil was only 23, young both in human and elven years – but so much so for the latter, as the oldest of wood elves live for as long as three hundred years.
“I know of the Wood Elf Priory, and its stature in the countries ruled by elves. If they have an ambassador here in Shalin, I know not if I should expect good tidings or ill.” Ezkil said. As ambassadors of peace, the priory members were tasked to bring news to nations across the known seas of peaceful resolutions to conflicts. They are, however, also tasked to spread word of war, and indeed, to deliver declarations of it.
The elf smiled. “I fear I cannot divulge details of my task, scout. Know, however, that the recent events do not bode well for relations between races, and several elven nations are cross with Raghunan authorities for allowing it to happen.” The elf said without any hint of emotion.
“May I ask how cross they are?” Ezkil asked in half jest.
“You may, but I shan’t answer.” The elf replied. Ezkil smiled and bowed slightly, a respectful gesture that indicates his leave of the conversation.
During the rest of the wait, words were few between pretend-scout and ambassador elf. They were both looking forward to getting a good story from Shalin authorities. They had no idea how good.
After being seated in the antechamber for a while, a commotion broke out in one of the halls leading deeper within the fort. Shouts for assistance drew armored footfalls signaling a rush of soldiers from almost every direction, and soon they could hear steel clashing and curses flying. A couple of soldiers stayed by their side to serve as impromptu guards, though their guards seemed more perturbed by the incident than Ezkil. The wood elf likewise kept her air of calm and control, until the chaos subsided as quickly as it started.
An old, but suitably healthy man with rich, heavy clothing and officer's ornaments stalked out of the hall along with soldiers to his every side. The Magistrate - Picelle, I think is his name, Ezkil surmised as he observed the man’s regal gait. The elf ambassador stood. As if her manners towards the important-looking man were not enough to confirm Ezkil's suspicion, the officer walked towards them and introduced himself.
"Ah, our guests. I apologize for the inconvenient timing of this incident. A chore boy just tried to slit my throat, you see." He started.
For someone who just walked away from death, he seems pretty composed, Ezkil noted as he stood to pay respect.
"Fortunately, I was talking with a dutiful scout off of a Galhearn scout's guild and he fended off the attack...paying for it with his own life, I'm afraid." his expression seemed to be of genuine distaste tinged with regret. Monty? Ezkil held his tongue for now.
"Unsettling news, magistrate, I hope you are unharmed?" The elf intoned.
The Magistrate shook his head and breathed heavily. "Yes, I am unscathed, but that poor lad... The soldiers made quick but sloppy work of the intruder - he managed to kill one and wound another before he was subdued." he clicked his tongue.
"Well, come, come, ambassadors. I shall receive you in my library's solar. I... I shall mourn for the loss of life and deal with the aftermath of this mess later." With a tired dismissive wave of his hand he sent his four guards away and led both guests into the library, the entrance to which brought them close to the scene of the attack.
Soldiers were pulling away the dead body of either a young boy or a small man in servant's garb – Ezkil could not see his features to ascertain his age. Lying nearby was the dutiful, dead scout. Ezkil could not see him fully, though he saw that he wore the colors of the guild of Ezkil's foster father. Ezkil merely glimpsed the body, and he was certain now, Lead Scout Monty gave his life performing his duty. Ezkil passed in silence.
Once seated opposite them across a formidable oak table, the Magistrate's shoulders sagged and his breathing became more labored. "Again, I'm terribly sorry for the commotion." He used his left hand in a futile effort to fan himself briefly, flashing a beautifully ornamented gold ring with an insignia that drew Ezkil’s attention – it was the circle and inverted triangle of Tyranis’ Pure. "I grow too old for such chaos. And that scout... an unfortunate loss. The city shall honor his deed, and I shall remember it to my deathbed."
A moment of stillness passed. "Well, let's get straight to the point, shall we? What would you like to discuss ambassador...?"
"Henthias Luvre, Magistrate, from the order of ambassadors of the wood elves: the Priory. And this is Ezkil, an honorary scout from Galhearn, the same guild our savior hailed from, I believe." Statescraft etiquette dictates that the higher ranked party should speak first, and on occasion, introduce others.
The magistrate looked at Ezkil: "Truly?"
"Yes, magistrate. My father is the guild master of Galhearn's Scout's Guild, the Ashka’lah Scout Guild, and Monty's mentor."
"Yes, Monty was his name. Goodness I didn't know. Please accept my humblest apologies and condolences, he was a good lad."
"Yes. Dutiful, as you said." Ezkil replied. "Magistrate, ambassador Henthias’ business with you does not concern me - at least not yet - so if it please you, may I survey the scene outside and take a look at the room Monty was staying in?"
"By all means, please. I'll permit you access to his room and his belongings." The magistrate called an assistant and Ezkil was escorted out and onto the scene, where only bloody traces of the fight remained along with a handful of soldiers standing sentry. He will look at Monty's body later. He asked his guide to bring him to the fallen scout's room.
There Ezkil found everything in order, even all the parchments and scrolls Monty was carrying with him. All was in place – except for his letter to his father.
Secrets, Ezkil thought. Is there too little mystery in life, death, and everything in between that we must bury ourselves in our own secrets?
They reached the secret opening the magistrate spoke of during their short talk. "Think on what I said, young Ezkil." Magistrate Picelle said, as he lifted a lever on the side to access a panel of the wall that opens to the late afternoon yonder.
"I shall, Magistrate. I do hope you sleep soundly tonight." Ezkil stepped out and into the night's advent.
"Oh, not too soundly, perhaps. Otherwise there will be no dutiful scout to save me in my sleep." he sighed heavily, not the first of the day, nor the last. "Well then, I wish you well."
With that, he shut the opening. Ezkil looked at the oakwood and onyx badge he was just given: a magistrate's Abettor of Justice badge. It should be recognized by Granilad authorities everywhere. And as the old man himself put it, if Ezkil does not show the name behind the badge, soldiers can take it to mean he was an abettor of their city magistrate. The old man's days have not withered his mischief. Sure enough, this mischievous little symbol can afford me a lot of convenience in the days to come.
After the Priory Ambassador left, the Magistrate called for Ezkil. They spoke of recent events sparingly, and soon it was time to exchange information. Sharing privileged information is shadowy and risky business. It is the underside of statecraft that Ezkil found thrilling as he found playing chess against a seasoned opponent thrilling. Ezkil began with a gamble.
“Magistrate, during my time in Raghunan and my brisk journey to your city, I have acquired some valuable information that may lead to the group responsible for the murders.” Ezkil said. His eyes were emotionless, and his tone was casual.
The magistrate wore a wan, relaxed smile as he answered: “Well your information-gathering skills are quite honed. It takes only two days to ride from Raghunan to Shalin - ” The Magistrate started.
“My companions and I made the journey in a day and a half, Sir.” Ezkil interrupted. “But as they say: Drink in enough taverns…”
“…and you shall know all the stories of the world.” Picelle finished the oft used adage for him. “Then it appears I am fortunate to have been the Magistrate of Shalin, otherwise you would have gone to another person with this information.” He said.
“In truth, I speak of what I know because of the fortuitous fact that you are the Magistrate. Elsewhere, faced with another magistrate, I’d have stayed my tongue.” Ezkil said.
The Magistrate’s smile never even flickered. “Why is this so?”
“Your ring, Magistrate Picelle.”
“You know of this ring?” Picelle answered instantly, without a hint of surprise. This old man would be impossible to decipher when gambling, Ezkil surmised.
“I know of Tyranis’ Pure.” Ezkil chose bluntness, seeing how the pace of the conversation did not change and Picelle never took on a more defensive stance in neither words nor actions.
A slight pause, and the smile faded away. “Ah yes, the Pure. I believe you speak of a different faction, however, than the one in which I currently belong.”
Picelle freely told him about the Pure’s short history – barely a hundred years. In every race there is a faction of religious zealots that preach race superiority, claiming that their deity preferred their race over others. Tyranis’ Pure once became the most controversial and destructive of such factions. The final straw came when armed members of the Pure sacked and burned villages of other races, massacring the inhabitants in the same fashion as the murder victims of recent events were slain.
“That was the old Pure. Like any religion, Tyranis’ Pure also progressed beyond its former preachers’ erroneous teachings and beliefs. The Pure of today retains that a human deity does indeed watch over the race – but in equal standing with the other deities.” Picelle finished.
Ezkil was silent for a moment. “Why retain the insignia?”
“The Pure of old used amulets. We use rings.” Picelle said, as he studied his ring. “As you can imagine, the Pure of today are being quite careful in reentering the fold, so to speak. The heinous acts of the past will never be forgotten, after all.”
Picelle stopped and looked intently at Ezkil. It was his turn to share important information in this equal trade. He told the Magistrate about Daekyl and Kevar’s group without going into too much detail, and also about the amulet, leaving out the part where Daekyl hands it to him.
“I was concerned this might be the case.” Picelle said solemnly. “As for the situation of your compatriots: I fear I cannot grant them pardon over the truth and blamelessness of your words, scout, even if the Ashka’lah Guild is of repute in several cities around Galhearn.”
“You honor my father too much, Magistrate.” Ezkil replied.
“Not at all. If I had known Monty was from Ashka’lah I would have afforded him a more decent quarter to stay in – your father’s guild is influential in more circles than even you know.” Picelle said, as he pulled out some parchment from under his table.
“I see. I’ve been away for too long to know my father’s reach today.” He was still waiting for what else the Magistrate was going to do or say regarding Daekyl and Kevar’s group. Picelle was writing something down on the parchment. As he finished, he pulled out a badge from a drawer and handed both items to Ezkil.
“A scout of your repute will do well with more authority. Become my abettor. Your authority now equals that of the Minor Abettors of the Halls of Justice. If you meet your friends again before they are captured, perhaps you may lead them to a fair trial.” The magistrate said with an air of finality. Ezkil knew he was not willing – or able – to do more. He started to rise when Picelle interrupted.
“By the way, I cannot have you leave by the way you came in – for reasons I cannot say, for now. I hope you understand.” With that, Picelle got up and led Ezkil to the secret passage. As they went Picelle advised him on how to use – and misuse – his new badge and the authentic writing that came with it.
He hid the badge in a pocket under his stitched leather mail within easy reach even if he had to pull it out from under the suit and a cloak or cape. He set his hood upon his head, secured his short sword and two Karambit – the small, curved blades hidden under the leather protectors over his forearms – and set out to find his way back to the Steel Wing.
The grassy track leading from the round tower of the fortress led him to the heart of the other part of the city, where the marginalized population drudged in scores. They filled the ranks of laborers whose work was harsh and compensation unfair. Those who could not or would not lend their backs to heavy work found less than legal means to make ends meet. Just a few rows of houses into the thick of that part of town he already saw three thieving characters, two fights, and a handful of men who gave poisonous looks. He was aware that even under his hood and cloak he was fortunate that he did not exude the aura of someone easily preyed upon.
They eyed his sword, however. The gracefully carved and adorned handle and scabbard of the Nihilus, while colored in dark shades, remained incongruous to its surroundings. Ezkil could see eyes weighing the chances of stealing a nonchalantly carried weapon. It seems none who wondered took action, however, because he was already nearing an exit to that part of Shalin without incident.
Near the partly demolished wall that separated the city's poor from everyone else, there was a crowd and a line. Drawn by curiosity, Ezkil wandered near. They were laughing and gesturing one time, listening intently the next. Soon Ezkil found what they were all gathering around for: a blind old woman telling fortunes for a pity.
The crowd's numbers dwindled. The line of people wanting their fortunes told receded into a trickle. When at last Ezkil was alone with the old woman, he approached silently.
"Fortunes for a pity, sir." The old woman croaked.
"Not so blind are you?" Ezkil asked.
"Oh, I am, good sir. I've walked in darkness for three decades now. So much so that I can sense when people are near."
"And the 'sir'?"
"I merely guessed that you were a sir." The woman smiled an old, wrinkled smile. "Fortunes for a pity, sir?" She repeated.
Ezkil looked around. "I shall give you a few coins, but not for entertainment." He sat beside her and her small mug of pities. "How old were you when you lost your sight?"
"Hmm... I was two score and twelve, if I remember, the year the old magistrate fell. Oh, those were chaotic times... " the blind woman answered.
Ezkil dropped a coin into her mug, making sure she heard it. "How many magistrates have you seen come and go, in your eighty years?"
"Four, good sir. An old sire who wished to put his son on his seat one day - he was the first. He was able to do that. When I was young, he seated his son as his heir to the position."
"Unlawfully." Ezkil said.
"Yes, indeed. Granilad law was already in place, and no magistrate can choose his successor. He and his son were disgraced and thrown down into the dungeons of the fortress."
"The third? Fourth?"
"The third magistrate was the man who led the first two to their fates. He was the captain of the fortress guard. A soldier he may have been, yet he had enough connections within the statesman faction to rise to power. But..."
"It was said he was a good soldier. I'm afraid he was not a good leader. He built the very wall you see before you. The wall that separates us from them. The wall that led our part of the city to ruin. Even before he built that stone wall, however, he already built invisible walls that segregated the people into classes."
"I can see the results of his actions. You need not tell me more of his deeds. What about the fourth?"
"The fourth magistrate rose when the third one died in a skirmish. He was a soldier, so he took it upon himself to lead every battle and skirmish - to his death." She paused for breath. Ezkil waited.
"The new Magistrate, Picelle, was his opposite. In the council his voice was the most stagnant opposition to the third magistrate's rule. He had few supporters, but a fire that gutted the fortress's mess hall consumed most of his party's opponents... people say it was no accident."
"Of course they do."
"Well, everything I tell you is what I hear. But once, I met magistrate Picelle. I was blind by then, a few years ago. He seemed to genuinely want to set things right..."
"A few years ago? Could he have not set things right the moment he sat the magistrate's chair?"
"The council rules. The magistrate arbitrates. The merchants’ guilds decide what the council rules out. This is how we state Shalin's rule."
"Hmm..." Ezkil was lost in his own thoughts for a moment. In this area of Ganilad it seems the Merchant’s Guilds are in power. He put another coin in the old woman's can. "And what of the murders of late?"
"Ah, the magistrate wishes that none speak of those. He got rid of the bodies quickly and ordered threefold patrols. None have occurred since...until two days ago."
"Two days ago?"
"Yes, a dwarven worker, a devout churchman, was found dead. Naked but for scars etched deep within his skin. Scars in the shape of his faith's holy symbols."
"He's been restless, it is said. I think he believes this all to be shrouded in magic! He despises magics and magicians."
"I see." ‘Twas not magic that put him on edge – ‘twas the scars that further implicate the old Pure. He put a final coin for the old woman's stories, and started to get up.
"Thank you sir. Should I tell you your future, for the kindness you've shown?"
"It was only a few coins." Ezkil shrugged off her offer.
"Oh not that, young sir. I meant for your listening to my stories. You'll find that old women want men to listen to them as much as young women do." She chuckled, stifling a painful cough rising in her throat.
Ezkil sat. "I'm sure. Then please, what should I do?"
"Your hand sir." Ezkil gave her his right hand.
After gestures and expressions falling short of theatrical, the old, blind woman spoke.
"The truth you seek, you shall find...ah, but your journey will end ahead of its time." She blurted out something unintelligible and added "...ah, I do not mean that you shall die young, not exactly... it can be vague you see..."
"I'm sure." Ezkil said with a smile. "It might be because you've been blind for too long, but unless you aim to be amusing before your foretelling, perhaps 'tis best to not gesture and make faces as much." He said. "Thank you. I'll take my leave now."
The truth I seek I already found... he thought. Die young, eh? Well, I don't fancy growing old and wrinkled too much anyway.
Chapter III: Surprise, Suprise
I need more information – information only others of my trade can provide, Ezkil thought.
As he left that sprawling, squalid part of the city, he passed a bard performing on the street. A small crowd gathered to listen to his tales, and eventually, hear him sing songs of valor and victory. He stopped to watch the crowd and the passersby from a nondescript corner. This place is close enough to the marginalized area he was certain things often go amiss around here. And soon his guess was confirmed. A pickpocket wove her way in and out of the crowd, seemingly jostling to see the bard up close only to walk away defeated. She'll try again, and give up the same way. Each time she did so, Ezkil saw the pouches on her belt grow in number. She'd stop and put extra pouches into a larger pouch on the small of her back when she thought no one was looking. Each time she did that, she pulled on its ties to make certain they were tight.
Ezkil emptied his pouch but for a few coins and made sure it was dangling freely, and loosened its restraints. Then he walked to join the crowd gathering around the talented bard, making sure he was in the path of the thieving girl. Soon enough, she made her way towards him. Up close he saw her hand slipping under cloaks and tugging at pouches, every one out of four attempts she claimed her bounty and discreetly tied it to her own belt. Ezkil smiled. His days of petty theft were amusing, but he quickly outgrew them.
As the girl made her way towards him, he suddenly moved towards her, making it seem unintentional. The girl bumped into her, which made for very good cover that enabled her to easily swipe his pouch of meager coins. She looked up and whispered an apology. Ezkil waited until she was out of sight, and moved into an empty alleyway where he could observe her.
She went back to the same spot where she undid the pouches tied to her belt and started to reach for the larger pouch on her back - but it was not there. Ezkil watched bemused as she reached further back only to discover that the ropes tying the bag to her waist have been cut. Under his cloak, Ezkil sheathed his right hand Karambit into its cover under the bandages of his left forearm, and tied the girl's pouch - full of bounty - to his right side. Without a stash for more pouches, the young thief would have to return to her hideout.
Frustrated, the thief did just that. She was soon walking away from that part of the city and into the area Ezkil just came out of. He followed her.
The manse she led him to was expansive, with its hind outer walls towering over the walls of the slums behind it. Ezkil intended to force the thief to quit her hustling early and head back to her hideout, but it seems his plans backfired and she was after bigger loot. When Ezkil thought she was headed to the slum area, she changed direction and walked along the slum’s separating walls.
She casually walked past the elaborate gates of the grand mansion and slipped into the arm’s width space between the walls of that house and the walls of another, less ornate yet still higher class abode. From his vantage point atop a window sill of an empty house a short distance away, Ezkil barely saw the shadowy image of the thief quickly bounce off the walls until she was able to leap over the fence of the more extravagant house.
I need to be nearer. If she takes what she wants and leaves a different way I might not see it from here. Ezkil started to look for a more suitable viewpoint where he can easily cover the areas of the house where he presumes it is easiest to escape. Just as he found a seemingly suitable place, a carriage rolled to a stop in front of the gates and a well-dressed man stepped out.
Typically Ezkil would turn around and abandon his small endeavor. Experience beckons him away from the scene, yet he found himself dashing from alley to alley and wall over wall to get to the same space the girl thief used to climb over the fence. Before the presumed master of the household opened the gates, Ezkil already found a point of infiltration which he used to quickly get into the house.
He found himself in a small back room of the kitchen, which was spotless, enormous, and well stocked. He found the main hallway and cursed as he saw signs of recent disturbances that to the keen observer would instantly tell on an intruder: barely noticeable tracks on the floor, doors left ajar, and much to the moonlighter’s horror, even a glass freshly used and left on the oak and silver dining table. How amateur can you get? Ezkil thought. Either that or someone else was in the house – both scenarios bode ill.
After a flight of steps and another hallway he found the room the thief was in just as the household owner opened the front door. He peaked inside the room’s door and saw the thief rummaging through a dresser, leaving everything else untouched. Footsteps were ascending, coming from the staircase. Abandoning a final nagging shred of caution, Ezkil silently slipped into the room and closed the door softly in one motion. He went straight for the distracted thief.
He threw Nihilus onto the bed and without warning nabbed the pickpocket, twisting one arm behind her while holding a Karambit to her neck to nip the bud of a potential struggle. “Silence, little miss thief. The master of the household is home.”
“W-what are you - ”
“Quiet!” Ezkil wrestled the girl towards the bed and held her down while listening for the well-dressed man. She started squirming. He pushed her head down on a pillow. “By the daemons, will you keep still?” he whispered in her ear. “I just saved you from getting caught you little amateur. The least you can do is help me spare us both that fate.”
The girl started slamming her free hand on the bed, in the process making Nihilus bonce towards her. Ezkil instinctively reached for it and the motion was enough for the thief to untangle herself from his hold and attempt a classic kick to the groin.
Ezkil swept the blow aside and stepped back just as they both heard a door close somewhere near. The girl jumped to her feet on the other side of the bed, taking out a concealed knife pathetic in stature, but crude enough to kill.
“Who… Who are you and why are you here!?” She demanded, outstretched hand holding the knife visibly shaking.
Ezkil took a deep breath. He slowly took out the rucksack he stole from her and threw it on the bed. The girl’s eyes filled with recognition.
“You...You! I don’t understand - ”
“’Tis a long story. I wanted to force you back to wherever you hid and follow you there. I did not think you’d be foolish enough to think up a final gimmick before doing so.” He motioned to the rucksack full of her loot. “There, I’m giving it back. One thief to another.”
Her eyes shot up to look at him.
“Now let’s get out of here before the owner of this damn palace finds us.” Ezkil quickly collected Nihilus from the bed. Ignoring the girl’s cautious demeanor and knife held at the ready, he quietly strode to the door and peeked out.
“You’re a thief?” The girl asked.
“Moonlighter, to be exact. Some Master Thieves would be insulted to hear you call them just thieves.” Ezkil answered nonchalantly as he spied a near door open. He watched closely as the house owner strolled along the hallway in the opposite direction, holding a candelabra dripping wax from several candles lit. “Mjara? Mjara darling, are you home?’ The owner called.
“Moonlighter? Master Thief? Are you serious?” She withdrew her knife and seemed to be more relaxed, albeit surprised.
“No. I’m really a garden gnome with a penchant for little thieving girls. Of course I’m serious, do I look like I jest?” Ezkil looked straight at the girl. In the darkness of the room he could barely see her confused face.
“Ahm.. well…” Before she could speak the man of the house started back the corridor with his candles, lighting candleholders along the way.
“He’s almost here.” He seems to be an able individual who can hold his ground, but surprise is on my side. Ezkil thought up a plan of escape which involved very little violence. Before he could voice out his plan, the thief girl grabbed him by an arm and shoved him towards a closet door.
“Hide in there!” The girl said. Ezkil simply stared. “Quickly!” She motioned frantically for him to oblige.
“Mjara! Are you in your room?” The voice was right outside the door. Ezkil was about to move forward to implement his plans when the thief girl answered the man: “Yes father, I’m here. Give me a moment!”
She threw down her cloak and tried to brush her hair with her fingers, to little result. She looked sideways and saw Ezkil was still there, and she shooed him with both hands – a quiet, inarticulate gesture to hide. So much for surprise being on my side, Ezkil thought before he slipped into the closet door.
The girl opened the room door and a splash of light from the man’s candles illuminated part of the room.
“I was calling out for you. Did you not hear me?”
“I’m sorry father, I was distracted.”
“Yes, yes. I can see you were. Have you been out in the slums again? Wait, don’t answer that. ‘Tis plain to see.”
“I told you I was just playing with the children and giving them food to eat.”
“And I told you that you should stop. The slums is no place for a highborn girl.”
“Lady. Highborn lady. I turned 18 three moons ago!”
“Ah yes. Your behavior shows just how much you’ve matured. Come downstairs and have dinner with me, my lady. Perhaps we can discuss choosing a husband for you – one from the slums.”
“Father - ”
“Just tidy up and see me downstairs. I have more pressing and serious matters to speak to you about.”
Ezkil heard the door close, followed by footsteps fading away, and a heavy sigh. He stepped out of the rather immense closet he found himself hiding in. The room was aglow with the light of the candle the man, her father, gave the girl, Mjara.
“It was rather stupid of me not to see that coming, wasn’t it?” Ezkil asked as he pulled away the hood of his cloak.
The girl shrugged. “You never asked.”
“You never told.”
“I was going to… but then you said you were a Moonlighter and I was sort of… you know.” Mjara looked down, was reminded of how she looked, and blushed. “I… I better get dressed.”
“I’ll find another room to hide in, I suppose.” Ezkil started for the door.
“No!” Mjara stopped him. “My father will probably find you, Moonlighter or no. His senses are ridiculous. My room is the only place he leaves alone most of the time.” She walked back to the closet, took out a few garments, and led Ezkil back inside it.
“I feel like wardrobe.” He commented drily.
“Just stay put and don’t dare peek out while I’m dressing.” Just to be sure, she locked the doors of the closet. Where’s the trust among fellow thieves? Ezkil thought.
After a while, Mjara opened the doors to the closet and left Ezkil to himself while she went to a bathroom adjacent to her room to finish tidying up. When she returned, she looked like a proper lady. She’s rather cute now that she looks normal, Ezkil told himself.
“So tell me Master Thief, why did you follow me here?”
“I seek valuable information only other Moonlighters can provide.”
She raised her brows. “To be frank I always thought becoming a Master Thief was only the stuff of bedtime stories. I mean, who determines when you reach that tier of… thievery?”
Ezkil chuckled. “Artisans, free lances, merchants, knights, and hunters have their own gatherings. Why shouldn’t the more shadowy specialists have their own guilds? There are overseeing organizations that rank assassins, thieves, and dark mages in their own right. Of course, finding them first is already a difficult task.” He paused to sit down on her bed.
“For thieves, once a thief commits a theft of certain proportions or against certain people with particular statures, their overseeing organization endeavors to find them. Each city or major township in all the continents should have a resident Master Thief to claim that particular territory. Few work alone or wander, as I do. Most establish small rogue guilds of thieves.”
“And you wanted to see if my hideout was such a meeting place?” Mjara inferred.
“A farfetched hope, though I could have found out other interesting tidbits otherwise. Like for instance, why is a highborn lady stealing from the common folk?” Ezkil eased off his cloak and laid it across the bed.
“Well… I… that’s none of your concern Master Thief.” Mjara countered. “If you’re after Shalin’s Moonlighter, you came to the wrong place. I did not even know there was one.”
“Evidently.” Ezkil sighed. “Well then. I apologize to have caused you some confusion. If you tell me the quickest and safest way out of your home, I shall leave you be.”
Mjara was silent, obviously contemplating something. Ezkil propped up his chin atop the Nihilus he was holding vertical in front of him. “What’s the matter, Mjara?”
“Take me with you!” Was her immediate reply.
This time it was Ezkil’s turn to contemplate. “What?”
“My father, he’s the city-appointed Constable of Justice. He should be the reliable man of justice that people in the city can turn to. Even people from the slums!” Her words were gushing forth now. “But he ignores them! I… I help the children and the old as best I can, but I have to take what I give them from others… you see, my father doesn’t approve of my helping them. He says they should rise out of their misery on their own! But, but…”
Ezkil held up a hand. “So you steal to provide for some needy people despite your father’s objections. I assume he doesn’t know you steal to help, and he just knows you visit there and see what you can do. I think I know enough of the grand scheme. What does this have to do with you coming with me?”
“I can’t make a difference!” She almost screamed. “What little help I offer is always never enough. The children still starve, the old still die of sickness, and men are still driven to violence by their misery on the other side of that wall… I don’t want to stay here….” Mjara looked down at her feet.
Ezkil moved to a window overlooking the slums and that presented a marvelous view of the mountain beyond. The majesty of the mountain was in stark contrast to the dire situation of the homes in the slums.
“I understand your urge to help and the empathy that moves you. But your decision to leave is both a rash and irresponsible choice.” Ezkil said after a long silence. In an instant they were like close friends confiding frustrations and soliciting advice from one another.
“You take me for a fed up, sniveling little girl.” Mjara said with a tone of resentment.
“Are you not?”
“You chose to help them. Leaving now would go against your own endeavor. ‘Tis just plain quitting. If one approach does not give you what you want, think of another. Thieves take what they want. Common thieves wait for the opportunity. Master Thieves make the opportunity.”
“You’re young. From what I’ve seen you have more skills than the typical pickpocket. Better yet, you have a true purpose. If there is no Moonlighter in Shalin, you’re better off trying to become one than coming with me.”
“I’ve been at it for three years now, you know? I think I’ve gotten far. I thought I did. But then every day I go into the slums more bad news greets me. More than the day before, usually. I guess I really am just fed up.”
“You didn’t pick up the mantle of do-gooder thief because of ennui, did you? You made a significant decision when you chose to steal to help. Don’t shrug it off with a decision made in haste and judgment blinded by emotion. You women are something else.”
“Excuse me, but ‘tis not because I’m a woman.”
“Of course, of course. I take it back. ‘Tis never because you’re a woman.”
“Of course not!” ‘Tis just… my father…”
“He has his own reasons, perspectives and convictions. And to tell you the truth I agree with him.”
“But is it not kind of merciless?”
“Mercy will not get the people you want to help out of their predicament. Even if you give them a helping hand, if they don’t have what it takes to rise, they shan’t. ‘Tis quite simple. Ruthless, perhaps. Simple, nonetheless.”
“Enough of this. I need to get out of here.”
“Okay. Shall I see you around town, Master Thief?”
“I might need a day or two to find what I need.”
Mjara smiled, having found a confidant with whom she shares a valued secret. “It should be easiest if you came out the way you came in, which I presume is through the kitchen.”
“Correct. I know the way, my lady. I shall not keep you from your dinner.”
“And one more thing, Master Thief, what is your name?“
“Ah I forgot, my name is – “
“Mjara, how long shall I wait for your - ”
Ezkil was about to give his name when the bedroom door opened. Ezkil was moving to take his cloak from the bed and Mjara was right next to him when her father burst into the room. A silence unlike any Ezkil had heard before ensued for a few moments.
The father’s face contorted into so many different phases of emotion that Ezkil could not tell what he thought. But finally he collected himself, straightened his suit, and spoke:
“If your little tryst is over, may I ask you, Mjara, to step outside. And you, young sir, I would like to speak with.”
“Father, let me - ” Mjara’s bright-faced plea was cut off.
“Mjara, I wanted to speak to him. Step outside.” Her father exclaimed. Ezkil left the cloak where it was and put down Nihilus by the bed.
“Good evening sir.” Was all Ezkil could afford at the moment.
“It was indeed seconds ago.” Mjara’s father intoned. Mjara stood behind him and was giving Ezkil the most sheepish look. “Do you intend to take responsibility for this?” The father went on to ask Ezkil.
Okay, this is getting way out of hand. He smoothly took out a parcel of parchment that attested to his scout’s guild membership.
“Sir, I believe you misinterpret what you see. I am a scout from the Ashka’lah Scout’s Guild in Galhearn. My name is Ezkil Ashka’lum” He handed the parchment over and noted Mjara’s surprise. “I helped your daughter out of a troubling situation in the slums and she treated a small wound on my back here. You came home rather suddenly and her panic got the better of her good judgment. She hid me inside her closet for fear that you might misunderstand the situation.”
The father eyed the document closely and was satisfied of its authenticity. “Hmm… I see.” It still took time for him to sufficiently calm down. “Is your wound dressed properly scout? My daughter is not the most delicate of women.”
“It is, lord constable.” Ezkil replied in his most gracious tone. The constable looked nonplussed.
“I see my daughter has told you about what I do.” He grunted his displeasure. “I apologize for the confusion. I’m certain you understand my position as a father.” Before Ezkil could speak, the constable turned, but looked back. “Now I’d love to have you for dinner, scout. And I’d also appreciate it if you got out of my daughter’s room.” He looked sternly at Mjara “Which really is not an ideal place for dressing wounds anyway.” With that, he stormed off.
Ezkil was left with Mjara by the door.
“Scout?” She asked.
“A Moonlighter is never only a Moonlighter.” Ezkil replied. “I’m also an honorary scout and more recently, an instrument of justice like your father, it would seem.” The lesser and higher Abettors of Justice answered to the Constable, Mjara’s father.
“Justice?” Mjara became more confused. Ezkil took his cloak and sword, and felt the abettor’s badge in his inner garments.
“Forget it. Looks like I dine with you tonight.”
“Geoffrey, son of Lord Pernith made his interest known.” The Lord Constable said as he sliced off a portion of beef from his plate.
“Made his interest known…? How gentlemanly.” Mjara said. She barely touched the rich feast her father readied for them.
“‘Tis a business arrangement dear. You know how these marriages go. Worry not, I won’t pick any lad with questionable character.” Her father will soon finish off his second plate.
It was obvious to Ezkil that the discussion was one they had many times before, probably ever since Mjara turned 18. It was equally obvious that the girl wanted nothing more than to excuse herself from the table and the conversation – as she had requested twice before to no avail. Well this is a fine situation I find myself in, Ezkil thought. They were seated around a long, lavish dining table, with father and daughter on either end. Ezkil took a seat somewhere in the middle, facing an ornamented hearth built into a gigantic, square pillar.
“Lord Constable, pardon me for asking, but do you always prepare your dinners on your own?” Dinners? That’s what I can think of to lighten up this mood? A conversation about cooking?
“Well, Ezkil, we do have servants. Though usually I indulge myself in cooking and preparing the food I serve for my young daughter. Just like today - so I dismissed them from their duties early. Mjara’s mother passed on early, so I was always the one to prepare her meals and such. I could not leave such tasks to servants when she was so tender and young as she was back then, you see.” The Lord Constable spoke. He was neatly arranging his utensils and plates, preparing to tidy up.
Ezkil merely nodded. “An admirable facet in a Constable and father, sir.” Something about the way the Constable held his utensils has been irking Ezkil’s senses. He held them firmly yet flipped them over in different positions with a flick of the fingers. His affinity in tidying up after himself also shows through.
“Well, a trait molded through time perhaps.” Mjara’s father answered. He never offered his name, and Ezkil will not presume to ask. He was a guest at dinner, grudgingly invited merely out of manners. He even wanted one more serving but etiquette holds him back. I’ll just grab a bite to eat at the Silver Wing, he thought.
“Excuse me, I like to clean things up quickly.” Mjara’s father stood and collected his utensils. Mjara was still pouting at the other end of the long oak table. As the constable made his way across the dining room to the kitchen, Ezkil watched him more closely. He moved with a certain gait – light but surefooted. His steps made no noise. When he first arrived and was looking for Mjara, his demeanor was more carefree and loose, Ezkil remembered. His instincts were whispering conspiracies in his ears.
“I’m sick of talking about marrying someone I don’t even know.” Mjara commented as her father left the room. Ezkil scanned the room more carefully, noting that there was nothing suspicious about it all; everything was perfectly in their place – a fair warning that there was something amiss. The grand hearth lined with copper plates was in the center of a thick supporting pillar. Behind the pillar, a wall separated two hallways, one leads to the kitchen, the other to the receiving area and the stairs. Aside from the entrances directly beside the pillar and hearth, there was another exit directly behind Ezkil. Wait, is that pillar too thick, even for a manse of this stature? Ezkil would have gotten up to inspect the gigantic pillar that stood as an immense four sided foundation for the manse, but the constable just returned.
“You shouldn’t tell our guest about your woes so easily Mjara.” He said as he sat directly opposite Ezkil in a seat at the middle of the table, his back turned to the hearth.
“I don’t mind at all, constable. I would be honored to become a friend to your lovely daughter.” Ezkil’s response was unconscious, as his eyes still took in a few more details about the room which seemed odd. A thick table by the side; weapon ornaments that did not look authentic; even candleholders that had no wax remains of candles or any traces that they were ever used. The candles they used at dinner were the ones on the table, while the corridor chandeliers provided the ambient light. The entrances and exits to the dining room appeared to be viable choke points that could easily be defended against intruders. Ezkil’s senses are beginning to become a constant nuisance. There is nothing to suspect here… is there? Ezkil was starting to give in to doubt.
“Well, Ezkil. I might not.” Mjara’s father said. Ezkil felt a strange sensation fall over him as he looked straight at the constable’s eyes. This was not the overprotective nature of a doting father, it was something else.
“Father! Have you lost your graces?” Mjara was asking from the far end of the table. But Ezkil and the Constable were locked in a staring match. Ezkil noted the constable’s piercing eyes, aggressive demeanor, and most of all the venomous aura pouring from his stare.
“You’ve been taking in the entire room ever since you stepped foot in it. You really are a scout, aren’t you? But what else are you, I wonder?” The constable said with a touch of sarcasm. Ezkil was genuinely confused.
“Father!” Mjara was up and walking towards her father. Before she reached him, however, a dull latching sound echoed throughout the dining room. A short screeching followed it. Ezkil thought it came from somewhere behind the constable, and he noticed the man’s surprise as he turned around. Mjara stopped a few feet away from her father to look at the hearth behind him. The constable stood. In his hands were arched daggers which Ezkil had no idea where he kept hidden until now. He took the Nihilus, leaning on the table to his side.
“Mjara, move away from the - ” The constable’s warning was cut off by the sound of rock gnashing on rock as the hearth began to give way. Ezkil watched as the ornate fireplace opened into a dark, gaping hole as the inner walls of the hearth collapsed inward and out of sight. Still seated, he slid Nihilus’ silk wrapping away and pulled its blade from it scabbard by a hair’s width. Already, he was feeling some of its effects.
Shuffling steps and labored breathing came from within the hole, coming closer
“Scout, take my daughter and - ”
“Father, what is - ”
“Mjara, listen. Go with Ezkil and find some city guards. I need you to - ”
“Damn….you…..” A hoarse voice from within the darkness of the hole interrupted the frenzied dialogue between father and daughter. The shuffling and breathing drew nearer until the form of a man emerged from the hole. Bathed in the light of the many candles around the dining room, Ezkil could clearly see what he was mad about: his white robes were dirty and bloodied, and his flesh where it weren’t covered by leather armor and white linen robe was just as crimson. Cuts, bruises, and gouges adorned his arms and face. His wounds appeared deep and fatal. His blood dripped down to the lush dark green carpet of the dining hall, lending a darker shade to the animal fur it was made from.
“Will he be joining us for dinner too, Constable?” Ezkil asked from his seat, senses on full alert.
Mjara started backing away slowly from the wounded intruder. The Constable and Ezkil were unmoving. Murderous intent flowed out of the bloodied stranger, though his life seems close to being snuffed out.
“Damn….you….and your traps…..” He managed to spit out blood and guts with his words. He took another step, stopped, and collapsed to one knee. His breathing became more labored and his back was racked with spasms. Soon enough, he lay a few steps away from the open hearth, dead in a bed of crimson-dyed carpet.
A heartbeat passed. The constable spoke: “No, scout, it seems he will not be joining us.”
Mjara made her way back to her seat and tried to collect herself. She might have been a street rat, but death was not in her regular routine. Ezkil stood to take a closer look at the now lifeless intruder, which the constable was walking towards.
“Are you well, Mjara?” He asked as he neared the dead man.
“I’m fine, father…but…”
“Questions will have to wait.” He said as he sheathed his daggers behind him and leaned down on the dead body. He found his pulse quickly, and shook his head slightly. “He’s dead,” the constable announced.
Without completely sheathing Nihilus, Ezkil moved towards Mjara just as the constable stood and turned away from the body. Just then a translucent sheen of silky white enveloped the entire dining hall area. Magic, Ezkil instantly thought, and his next thought – imminent danger – proved correct. He heard Mjara scream in horror. He turned to where she was looking and saw the constable kneeling down using his hands to stop the blood from gushing from his slit throat.
Behind him, the previously dead intruder stood, holding one of the constable’s daggers in his left hand.
“I would actually love to join you for dinner,” the murderer spoke in a rugged tone, “but alas, I have people to kill and an artifact to retrieve.”
Chapter IV: Moonlighter
Mjara was in shock behind him. Before him, the constable was gurgling blood, writhing on the floor in front of his murderer – a previously dead stranger. Surrounding them, a translucent, milky white sheen of magical barrier kept something out, or kept them all in. Ezkil guessed it was the latter. There was nothing left to do but draw Nihilus.
Ezkil drew his father’s sword in one quick stroke. The black blade and its violet sheen glinted reflections of the candles all around them, the light of which was obscured by the magical barrier. Ezkil’s body felt the advent of a familiar sensation: hairs standing on end; blood rushing to his extremities; his eyes are becoming more focused; his hearing is becoming sharper. All of this just a second after the full length of the Nihilus’ blade left its protective sheath.
The undead stranger cocked his head in a gesture of interested amusement. “An uninvited guest at dinner, how queer.”
Ezkil was about to answer when two dark figures rushed out of the hole in the hearth, one heading for him and the other for Mjara at the end of the long table. Too fast, Ezkil thought, as his attacker came straight at him over the table, short sword aimed for his forehead.
The assailant’s sword missed Ezkil, and its blade hit the silky barrier behind him, shattering the alloyed steel of the sword to pieces. Ezkil was instantly in front of Mjara, holding the Nihilus to his right, having sliced off the left arm of the hooded figure that was about to attack the girl. Half a second later, the long oak table was destroyed, as Ezkil had to go through it to stop Mjara’s would-be assailant in time. Split in two with hundreds of splinters flying, one of the table’s halves flew to the left of the opening in the hearth, hitting the white barrier and further splintering what was left of it. The other half flew in the direction of the dead man who had slit the constable’s throat. This piece of oaken table disintegrated into thousands of small pieces before it even hit the stranger.
Ezkil heard it then. That same voice. “Ezkil,” it whispered. “Ezkil Azrael, the Jinn of Nihilus.”
As the wooden splinters settled, both attackers regained their footing. The one that attacked Ezkil drew out a long chain with a curved blade at its end and began twirling it around. The one whose arm Ezkil just cut off showed no signs of pain or struggle as he drew a crescent-shaped blade behind him with his right hand. Just then, behind him, Ezkil heard Mjara sob. “Father!” She exclaimed as she started out of her seat to rush to her dying father’s side. She appeared not to realize everything else that transpired, being transfixed on what suddenly happened to her father.
Ezkil took stock of the situation. In front of him, a one-armed attacker is about to use a curved sword. To his left and farther away, another was aiming his bladed chain right at him. Behind him, Mjara – oblivious to the ongoing fight and in a frenzied panic to reach her father – is standing up and will soon run towards the constable, still futilely attempting to stop the blood from gushing out of his opened throat. In a second Ezkil will have to defend against two attacks, worry about Mjara’s careless actions, kill a stranger who was already dead moments earlier, and try to dispel the magic barrier that kept them inside and prevented them from calling out for help for the dying constable.
All in a day’s work for something like me, I suppose. Ezkil noted with sarcasm as both assailants launched their attacks at the same time and Mjara went past him to run towards her father. Ezkil swung the Nihilus diagonally to the upper right, shattering the crescent blade intent on striking him and beheading the attacker in a single stroke. He stepped back slightly as he did so, letting the mid-range attack from the chain-wielding assailant slip past his neck. Ezkil grabbed the chain as it went past him and stuck the Nihilus onto the carpeted floor, pinning the trail of Mjara’s dress and preventing her from moving further. The girl stumbled and fell.
Now Ezkil was in a tug of war with the other assailant as the body of the one he just killed fell to the floor, and he also had to prevent Mjara from rushing towards her father, where the formerly dead stranger was observing the skirmish. Mjara was sobbing uncontrollably now, trying to claw her way to her father, despite being stuck to the floor. The attacker with the chain started to draw something from behind him using his other hand. Ezkil stopped him by pulling the chain violently towards him with one vicious tug. The assailant was drawn towards Ezkil as the Moonlighter pulled out his short sword from behind him with the same hand he used to pull the attacker to him. He brought the short sword to bear on the incoming body, skewering the attacker’s midsection through and through.
Ezkil held the body of his impaled victim off the floor with his short sword, while his other hand rested on the Nihilus which was preventing Mjara from going anywhere. His eyes were ruthless and lacked human emotion as he observed the stranger who was most probably responsible for the magical barrier surrounding them.
For a few moments the only sounds were the constable struggling and Mjara’s incoherent sobbing and mumbling as she desperately tried to be free of the Nihilus. Ezkil did not know enough of his final enemy, and in his caution he had to let this pathetic scene play out: Two individuals at war, and between them, a dying father and a daughter who cannot reach him.
“Impressive.” The stranger said, though his voice was full, deeper, and markedly different from before. “You must be Ezkil.” He smiled.
Ezkil gave nothing away, but he felt all the strong emotions of the room welling up inside him. Pain, panic, grief, hate, regret, desperation. And now annoyance at the mystery of how this stranger knew his name.
He had misused his body enough to render him incapacitated for a day, as every time he moved beyond his physical means, he had to deal with the damage it reflects on his body after he returns the Nihilus into its sheath. No mortal can move the way he just did, and use strength he just used. His body will have to pay the price – broken bones, torn muscles, and immeasurable fatigue is forthcoming. Ezkil knew all this, but standing before him is a magic user with enough skill to fake his death and craft a powerful barrier around the room and probably around himself as well. Ezkil remembered the long piece of oaken wood shattering into pieces before it ever reached the stranger.
“I was right about you. You’re…” he paused for effect, seemingly allured by the pitiful sounds of the constable and his daughter, “quite an interesting character.” He motioned towards the body Ezkil was still holding aloft. “You can put him down now. I’m certain he’s dead. From here it looked like he not only skewered himself on your sword, but also hit a brick wall when his body hit you.”
Ezkil found an excuse for an attack. He moved to seemingly let the body he held slip off of his sword and onto the floor, but before it did he threw the corpse straight at the stranger. This time, instead of letting the body hit his invisible shield, the stranger moved swiftly to his right to avoid it. As soon as his feet touched the ground Ezkil lunged forward and thrust the Nihilus where the stranger’s heart would be.
Before reaching the stranger’s body the Nihilus tore through an invisible but strong material that Ezkil surmised must be the personal barrier. Strong as it may be, it did not stop the Nihilus from impaling its second victim of the night. Its dark blade punctured the stranger’s chest cleanly.
Freed from the Nihilus, Mjara half-crawled her way to her father, and held him in her arms, rocking back and forth as she sat on the floor. “Father! Oh father, you’ll be alright! Just wait, father, just – ”
“I was indeed right about you.” The stranger said, taking Ezkil’s attention away from the constable and Mjara. Ezkil looked at the man impaled right in front of him. The stranger’s eyes were a strange hue – the color of a corpse’s eyes. He spoke and his breath stank of decaying flesh: “Come now, Ezkil,” he reached out with his right hand and stroked Ezkil’s left cheek, and Ezkil noted that the stranger’s hand was as cold as marble, “let’s see how unique you are.”
The dead stranger’s eyes started filling with a red tinge; Ezkil realized it was blood. His eyes were filling with blood. The stranger – eyes now dark red as blood – smiled as red streaks of blood tears ran down both his cheeks. He whispered a curse that Ezkil knew only through stories told in taverns: “Thanatos Exsecrare.”
“You old fart! Don’t be telling wives’ tales now!” An old farmer told another one.
“Silence, you ignorant worm-grubber! This curse is like a courtesan’s curves – ‘tis quite real, but you can only dream about it because ‘tis out of yer reach!” A stream of boisterous laughter from the two tillers’ audience filled the tavern.
“Now listen here you. Three forms of magic, this world of ours has. Spoken, runic, and blood.” The laughter was replaced with whispers now, low and excited, as the story was nearing its climax.
“Spoken magic is simple child’s play with trivial effect, but you gots to have the right skills to practice it! Runic magic requires a monk’s knowledge of runes and how to use them runes and their powers.” A short pause, and then the storyteller continued: “But blood magic, now that there’s the real scary stuff. Existed since the ancient times of the oldest, oldest elven races. Existed even in the age of dragons, I be told. Blood magic requires not runes, but blood. Sacrifice in any form, so long as an equal exchange of sacrifice and power is made.”
A long stillness pervaded the room. Then Ezkil spoke, just another traveller listening to a conversation between tavern regulars. “So if we were to sacrifice you, old farmer, we can perhaps make it drizzle for the crops outside?” A spattering of laughter, and then the other tiller spoke: “No lad, we be getting only a slight breeze – why, that’s all he’s worth!”
Ezkil realized that the dead stranger offered his eyes, his sight, as the blood sacrifice for this magical curse. As he remembered the scene in that tavern a few years ago, he waited for the curse to take hold. After a few moments, there was nothing.
The stranger’s smile faded, his mouth twisted into an expression of grave confusion. Ezkil was still alive. Ezkil started to hear Mjara again, in the background, screaming. “Ezkil! Ezkil, please! We have to get him out of here!” Ezkil looked deep into the eyes of the stranger.
“And I was right about you, stranger.” He started. “You never faked your death. You were dead to begin with.” Ezkil maneuvered the skewered body and lay him down roughly on the ground, driving the Nihilus hard onto the floor, effectively impaling the dead stranger in place. “You are a feat of ancient blood magic. A puppet. That is fortunate for whoever crafted this spell.”
Ezkil held out his right hand and grabbed the dead stranger’s head, covering his eyes with his palm and grasping his forehead. “Because otherwise, I’ll be using this on him.” Ezkil’s voice was starting to pulsate. As he spoke, it was if several other voices could be heard speaking, albeit not as loudly.
“Spoken, runic, blood magic.” Ezkil had multiple voices now, a conflagration of different pitches and tones all speaking at once. “None of these will work on me.” He started to feel a burning sensation on his skin, as if it was slowly being lit on fire. “Let me show you a fourth kind of magic – a line of power that no mortal can ever wield without giving life in exchange.” Ezkil’s urges all wanted him to do one thing: destroy. He spoke, and all his voices spoke as one: “Odius.”
After a second, Ezkil quickly let go of the body and grabbed the Nihilus. He found its sheath and placed it back. He went straight for Mjara and the constable. The girl was still cradling her father, who was close to death. She had stopped screaming for Ezkil’s help. She knew it was too late. Besides, Ezkil knew he was not powerful enough to break the magic barrier set up around them, which was strong enough to break oak tables and steel blades. If he had killed the conjurer, the magic might dispel. He dispatched of only the puppet, however, and not the master.
He stood as a silent witness to the last moments of Mjara’s father.
She was crying as her father tried his best to smile, tried his best to reach out and stroke her hair and touch her cheek. It was cruel that in his last moments he was unable to tell his daughter all he wanted to say. Mjara was whispering over and over: “I’m sorry father, I’m sorry. I love you. I love you. I’m sorry.”
Ezkil could see it in his eyes – the constable was mere steps away from death’s door. As a last gesture of love for his daughter, he held her as firmly as he could as he smiled a sincere, heartfelt smile of contentment. His daughter grew up to be a fine lady, he could almost say. And he was fulfilled. He loved her. He loved her. He need not say he loved her.
Mjara embraced her father one last time. During this final embrace, the constable looked at Ezkil with a knowing glint in his eye, gestured weakly towards the entrance in the hearth, and then gestured towards his own neck. Finally, he gestured to Mjara – take care of her, Ezkil could almost hear. Though slightly confused, Ezkil obliged and nodded to the constable’s mysterious final requests.
Mjara held onto her father for a long time after he died.
In the silence, Ezkil could only respect her and her grief by not unsettling her from her embrace. He looked for his short sword and sheathed it. Then he looked towards the now completely dead stranger. The part of his face where Ezkil’s hand had been was a decaying mound of flesh, and where parts of the skull were visible, the bone was blackened, charred, and cracked.
Ezkil looked at his hand. Then he realized that he was still standing. The spasms, jolts, and injuries he had come to expect from drawing Nihilus have yet to come. Bewildered, he simply shrugged it off and waited.
He waited a long time before Mjara let the constable go.
She placed his body gently on the floor, found a piece of the tablecloth and covered him with it. In a trance, she almost unconsciously walked to her chair, which was the only item in the dining room that remained in its position, and sat down, holding her head in her hands.
Wait, that’s not true, is it? Ezkil asked himself. The chair was not the only thing that was left untouched by the chaos that just ended in the dining room. He looked at the ornaments, the candleholders, and the thick side table he noticed earlier. Some ornaments were strewn across the room but one or two remained where they were. The weapon ornaments above the opening in the hearth were still. He moved toward it when he remembered the constable’s enigmatic gestures. He knelt down on one knee beside the body of the constable and drew the tablecloth away partly.
The constable clearly wanted them to leave the room by the opening in the hearth. He also wanted Ezkil to take care of Mjara. What about the gesture towards his neck? Ezkil thought. He looked. The fatal wound was raw and gaping. Then he noticed something, a thin, fine trail of a necklace chain. Ezkil followed it and found a small golden pendant fashioned in the insignia of Shalin. Engraved in the face of the pendant were the words “Cristina and Mjara.” Ezkil turned it over. The back was blank, save for one engraved word: “The Unhailed.”
Ezkil felt an all too familiar feeling rush through his body. It was excitement, exhilaration, and awe all at once. The emotions he always feels when he realizes something of vast significance.
Everything instantly made sense – from his odd senses about the constable’s movements and demeanor earlier to the secret opening in the hearth. “The Unhailed” was the shadowy organization that afforded Ezkil his Moonlighter title. The constable, Mjara’s father, was Shalin’s Master Thief.
Chapter V: Reunion Too Soon
“And how about that one?” Clement asked Kevar. They were sitting at a tavern near Shalin’s great wall that divided the filthy poor from everyone else. Right outside the wall that ran the diameter of the entire city, villas and manses were lined up as if trying to cover up the masses beyond the wall.
Kevar looked at the man Clement was referring to – slightly stout build; towered over most humans; toughened muscles not from battle but from work. After a few more seconds Kevar said: “He knows how to handle himself – he’s been in a few brawls in his time, I think. He probably has two or even three hidden weapons.”
Clement looked at the man as well. “And how do you know that?” She asked Kevar with narrowing eyes full of playful suspicion.
Kevar answered: “He has a worn cloak wrapped around his waist. It probably conceals at least one weapon, otherwise I cannot say much about his taste for apparel. Though faint scars pockmark his bare arms, he appears to be physically fit. Yet when he walked from that counter,” Kevar pointed at the side counter near a window, “to that servant over there,” he pointed to the servant who helped the tavern owner to collect bills, “his gait was unbalanced – he seemed to favor his right foot. But as I said, he seemed in perfect physical condition, which could mean that he had a heavy knife in his right boot. And finally, since just two hidden weapons would help him escape from a dangerous situation but not an all-out skirmish, I’m just assuming that he has a third one somewhere.”
Clement was wearing a faint smile, making her look even younger than her 16 years. “You have keen senses when it comes to fighting and analyzing the combat prowess of people, yet you fail to notice even the simplest of sleights,” her tone turned coy, “like the drug I slipped in your tonic just now.”
“What?” Kevar exclaimed, looking into his mug of tonic as if it were the vilest of poisons. Clement’s shoulder-length hair bounced and weaved as she laughed heartily. “It was a jest master fencer. I would not do that to you.”
Kevar sat bemused. “Come now, Clement. With what we just learned about Shalin I expect you to act more mature.” Kevar felt his brow knitting together in thought – he remembered everything they have uncovered since entering Shalin earlier today, when they and Ezkil parted ways. It was night outside, and the darkness was growing deeper. In just one afternoon it was plain to ascertain that Shalin, though supposedly autonomous and led by its magistrate which was influenced by his council, was actually controlled by the merchant guilds.
“Act mature? You mean glum and mean-looking like you?” Clement asked with a smirk. “I’m a fledgling little witch, Kevar. I’m enjoying my studies. Let me be.” She said as she looked around – wearing an expression Kevar thought was a cross between mischievous and girly.
He sighed. “I thought the Purest was the root of all this.”
“Can’t it be both?” Clement asked without turning to Kevar. “Can’t it be both the Purest and the merchant’s guilds that are causing uproar?”
“We know that the murders are related to the Purest, but from what we gathered here, the merchant guilds of Shalin are sowing the seeds of chaos that allowed the Purest to freely murder.”
“I am not getting you.” Clement answered with a flick of her hand.
“What?” Kevar asked, lost in his own thoughts.
“Nothing.” Clement said. “Let’s just go back to the inn and see if some of the others are still there. Better yet, let’s see if we can’t find Ezkil.”
Kevar was silent. He believed Ezkil to be doing them good, despite his initial intentions clearly being childish – he merely wanted adventure, Kevar was sure of it. Yet there are a few things that to Kevar seemed utterly dangerous about that man.
“What do you think of that Ezkil fellow, by the way, Kevar? Any hidden weapons? Combat potential?” Clement lifted her legs up on her stool, perching atop of it and holding onto her ankles, like a small girl.
“Hidden weapons? Yes. A good number of them.” Kevar said, not bothering to add that he thought Ezkil’s most dangerous hidden weapons were those that aren’t forged of steel. “I can feel danger emanating from him. A silent warning from my innermost senses.” Kevar said in a barely audible whisper.
Clement agreed. “Definitely. Rather charming and mysterious, isn’t he?” She smiled a girlish smile. “Besides, I felt some sort of magical energy from him, or more particularly, from his sword.”
Yes, that sword, Kevar thought. It felt…
Before he can think of how it felt, a loud noise outside the tavern caught his attention. People around them, including Clement, were looking towards the windows.
A brawl had started outside. A handful of humans and a single, bulky dwarf who wore what seemed to be cleric’s robes. Kevar’s righteous intentions took the better of him, and before Clement could stop him, he was outside planning to stop the scuffle.
“Pardon me, gentlemen,” Kevar began.
“Another one, eh? Come at me, then, boy!” The dwarf howled. He had already flattened two of the four humans who picked a fight with him. The other two looked uncertain whether they wanted to continue.
“I’m not here to fight, I’m here to - ”
Kevar is cutoff by a mighty downwards swing of the dwarf’s two-handed battle axe. Kevar strafed wide to his left and away from its blade which the dwarf turned sideways, meaning to pummel him but not slice into him. The force of the blow crashes hard on the soil and sends a gust of wind all around. In an instant Kevar knew his opponent’s strength was great. In the next moment, he found that his opponent was also agile, for despite the bulk of his person he managed to step to the left and swing the great axe upwards and to his right, again positioning the blade sideways, all in a split second.
Kevar jumps back and draws his blade. “Sir, I do not wish to fight!”
“Well if I were you and I was fighting me, I would wish not to fight too!” The dwarf answered, his speech clearly slurred from heavy drinking. He sways back to an upright position, and lunges forward before Kevar could speak again.
This time Kevar counters, charging in deep into the downwards motion of the battle axe to avoid its conjoined blades, meaning to slice its handle in two. He hits the handle and goes past the dwarf – and he knows something went wrong. He looks back, and sees the battle axe coming down again. The dwarf is already sending in his next attack, and evidently, the handle of the axe remained intact.
Knowing he was quicker with his arms than his legs, Kevar knew it was too late to step away from the sideways blade’s reach, so he takes his sword and parries the powerful blow using a diagonal block, causing the battle axe to stray from its downwards path of destruction and to his side. Despite parrying the battle axe, the overwhelming force brought him hard to his knees.
Stunned and momentarily unable to move, Kevar was in the mercy of the dwarf’s next swing. He looks up to see the dwarf towering over him. He doesn’t move to raise his axe again, but instead leans back and starts bringing his head down, intent on banging it against Kevar’s face. Kevar relaxes his legs, planning to let himself fall over backwards to avoid the brunt of the headbutt.
Kevar falls to the ground, and in the next instant he hears a muffled explosion from his right, the dwarf disappears, a gust of wind howls past, and a loud crash is heard somewhere to his left.
Kevar looks to his left and sees that a large block of bricked wall had hit the side of the tavern they were in earlier. He sees the dwarf somewhere near, struck down, with his left arm bleeding from the shoulder underneath the tattered cleric’s robes. The bricked wall falls down from where it struck, revealing that the dwarf’s battle axe was between it and the side of the tavern. Kevar looks to his right, and sees a gaping hole where a portion of brick wall was visible amongst the hanging moss. Darkness and settling dust were within. After a second, someone walks out, and in the dim light of the late afternoon, Kevar saw that it was Ezkil.
Ah, the master fencer is indeed artful in his skill. Clement thought as he watched the swordsman dance his way around the hulky dwarf’s battle axe. Soon, however, it was apparent that Kevar’s unwillingness to attack the brute may lead to his defeat. When Clement saw Kevar go down on one knee, she started casting a quick spell to assist, but then a section of the far wall of an enormous manse on the other side of the road flew open. The piece of bricked wall flew between the dwarf and Kevar, actually hitting the dwarf slightly, disarming him, and sending him flying, before smashing into the side of the tavern with a thunderous crash.
Like all other spectators in the crowd that gathered to see the fight, Clement looked at the darkness within the hole that the piece of bricked wall revealed. Ezkil walked out, still holding his sword in its scabbard. Clement was at a loss for words – it was Ezkil, but something was markedly different, as if a dark and cold shadow embraced him, and his eyes looked crazed.
“Oh,” Ezkil said, “It’s you, Kevar. Looks like we’re reunited sooner than I thought.”
His voice also shows hints of a subtle change you can’t quite place. Other than that, Clement noted that he looked as dashing and deviant as usual. He started to walk towards them as Kevar started to get up, but then a girl also came out from the same hole.
“We made it, Ezkil!” She exclaimed in subdued triumph. She was quite pretty, Clement decided. She also decided to play match-breaker between her and Ezkil, whoever the girl was. As she reached them the dwarf stirred.
“You…” The brute took his time getting to his feet. “What beastly manner of attack was that?” He looked around and saw the slab of bricks and his ruined battle axe. “Aw, my treasure!” He seems in no way alarmed by the sudden turn of events, and shows no signs of recognition regarding his shoulder injury.
“You!” He started towards Kevar, then stopped in his tracks. He stared at Ezkil. Clement looked at Ezkil – he was wearing a slight smile. Both chilling yet hauntingly alluring.
The city guards finally arrive. They start surrounding Kevar, the Dwarf, Ezkil, and the girl. “Great timing. I suppose you two brought them here.” Ezkil commented, looking at Kevar and the dwarf. Then he pulled out a small, wooden trinket from beneath his garb and showed it to the approaching guard squad leader.
“We require assistance. The constable’s been murdered.” He said to the squad leader. Then the girl he was with started to talk to the guards.
Clement stood next to Kevar. “Well, that was surprising.” She said.
“I’ll say. That piece of brick wall nearly hit me.” Kevar replied without taking his eyes of off Ezkil. Even the dwarf stared in silence, even as the crowd was questioned by other guards and a couple of guards approached him. Looking at Ezki again, Clement saw him pat the girl’s shoulder, and the girl clasped his hand. He said something and turned to them. He was back to normal, more or less.
“What happened here?” He asked.
“What happened there?” Clement said, nodding towards the hole in the wall.
“It’s a long story.” Ezkil replied. “Right now you should know that the guards are looking to arrest the parties involved in a scuffle that was reported by a tavern owner.” He looked at Kevar.
“I was trying to help.” Kevar said.
“I know, fencer. Yet somehow every time you try to help you seem to find yourself becoming the center of the chaos instead of the savior of the day.” Exkil smiled. “Just like me.” He said. Kevar was about to say something, but thought better.
“I can probably persuade them to let you go.” Ezkil said, then looked at the Dwarf talking to the other guards “And him?”
“He was just a drunken cleric, from the looks of him.” Kevar said.
“He was busy pounding on two humans before Kevar decided to dance with him.” Clement said.
“A cleric?” Ezkil thought for a moment. “I might need to speak to him. Come, let me deliver him from the guards’ hands and let’s see if we can’t get this strange situation straightened out.”
Prologue: A Silver Stag
Chapter I: A Return Carriage March 11
Chapter II: A Reveille
Chapter III: An Advent of Misadventure March 14
Chapter IV: An Innocent Party
Chapter V: A Tracking Party
Chapter VI: An Amulet
Chapter VII: A Duel March 22
Chapter VIII: A Conflicted Scout
Chapter IX: A Lead Scout's Foibles March 24
Chapter X: An Omen of Conflict
Chapter XI: A High Price for Duty April 12
Chapter XII: A History Revealed
Chapter XIII: A Fortune Told April 20
Chapter XIV: A Fledgling April 22
Chapter XV: A Doting Father April 30
Chapter XVI: A Bloody Dinner June 26
Chapter XVII: A Dead Stranger
Chapter XVIII: A Revelation January 18 CHAPTER RESTRUCTURE February 1 Restructured Chapter V: Reunion Too Soon
lol yes been made not a long ago
lol the title of your story catch my attention
i had a nice reading on my coffee morning and something new at last here
btw put it yours in the library directory as well
What's life without Laughter? Just laugh "You must prove more patient than a caterpillar, more willing to survive than a cockroach, and more stubborn than a leech - or you will definitely fail" ~ Legendary Moonlight Sculptor
What's life without Laughter? Just laugh "You must prove more patient than a caterpillar, more willing to survive than a cockroach, and more stubborn than a leech - or you will definitely fail" ~ Legendary Moonlight Sculptor