Paths, pt 4

Friday, May 30, 2008 - 3:33 PM

Bound, the magician glared defiantly at Sargon, who looked back at the man impassively.

“You have no power left,” said Sargon, matter-of-factly, and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his powerful knees. “You fought us. But you work magic, and so we are offering you this chance to join us, and become free.”

The magician gave him a mirthless grin. “You are all utterly insane,” the magician said with great certainty.

Sargon dropped his brows a notch and sighed. He was a Lightbringer, and this was something he hated about his duties. Chained to their by-rote incantations and their books, the outlander magicians were always too attached to the tyranny of their arcane science, and never wanted to give it up.

“Be reasonable, as we are,” Sargon offered, but the magician was ignoring him now. Sargon continued anyway, keeping his low voice reasonable and mild. “We respect that you know magic, and can use it. But you must see that these limitations you put on yourself are not only controlling your magic, they are constricting who you are. You are caging yourself.”

“And this is your answer? You send ... that... to attack me in my sleep!”

The magician jerked his head towards Trammel's slender, wiry form. The addict was absently rubbing the magician's formerly enchanted ring against his pale cheek, keeping half a heavy-lidded eye on the prisoner.

“That's just strategy. He could have killed you, but he didn't, did he? He just stole your power so we could more easily talk to you.”

“Very diplomatic of you,” spat the magician in reply. “What did you do to him to make him that way?”

Sargon paused. This was not a question he'd been asked before, but he expected there would be many more, in time. “He was born that way. There are many like him, and they serve the Bethorans just as all Bethorans do.”

“Born? You see, that's what your skybending gets you! You ruin the land around you, and then your own children!”

Sargon frowned a bit. “There's no need to be insulting. There's nothing wrong with Trammel. I've trusted him as a comrade in arms since we were both young men.”

The magicians only reply was a sardonic chuckle, and a shake of the head.

Sargon folded his burly arms and cocked an eyebrow. He did not want to kill the man, but they couldn't very well let him go as he was. Their Skyhammer, Nariste, was working a great divination, and he could not ask her for guidance.

He glanced over at their Heretic, Avara, who was some distance away sorting the piles of loot they'd gathered from the small border fort. Ever attentive, she looked up abruptly, like a wolf scenting prey, and he signaled her closer.

Like Sargon, Avara was a warrior. Both had the swarthy complexions, dark hair and golden eyes typical of the Bethoran pure-blooded, but her long-limbed body was far taller than his, all sinew and muscle. Avara was the same without as she was within, stripped of all but purpose.

“What do we do,” he asked her in Flametongue. “He will not see reason, and I dare not disturb Nariste.”

She turned her thin lips into a frown, and replied in kind. “We have time yet. He may come to understand what we bring to his people. It will be two days yet until we move further north.”
He nodded, and was about to reply when the magician spoke up.

“Trying to decide what to do with me? I warn you, savages, I am a member of the Greenstone Tower! If I am killed, my brethren will seek you out and destroy you, and by the God of Ceria- “

“THERE IS NO GOD BUT MAN!!” howled Avara, and smashed the magician in the face with her gauntleted fist.

Sargon was not fast enough to stop what happened, though he'd tried as soon as the magician invoked a deity. He stood up and gave Avara a bland look.

“...Avara, this is not going to help,” he growled.

“I claim Heretic's right,” said Avara immediately. “He blasphemed against Humanity.”

“But he was a magician, he could have joined us.”

“He WAS a magician. But he swore by a false god. And that makes him a slave.”

A reedy sigh interrupted them, followed by Trammel's soft, mellifluous voice. “And you have made him dead. Problem resolved.”

Labels: , , ,

Paths, pt 3

Saturday, May 24, 2008 - 8:59 PM

Three of the golem-men marched past Kivv. They did not see him, squeezed in an old ore fissure, and when they were ten paces away, he slipped down the passage in the opposite direction.

Something serious had happened. Kivv and the others had heard the conflict echo through the old mine tunnels, but it had stopped abruptly. Now, the golem-men were all on alert, patrolling with scimitars drawn, and the strange humans with the arrogant eyes and vicious features also moved in groups. Before, many of them seemed idle.

Kivv had been sent to discover more, and he'd seen the bodies being carried back through the tunnels. Someone else had come against the Dollmaker, and they were accounting well for themselves.

Confusion to my enemies, Kivv thought, and again regretted Tinka's order forbidding him to kill on his outing. Kivv hated wasted opportunities, but an order was an order.

He froze, stone-still except for one long ear which cocked itself to track approaching footsteps. His wrapped feet merely whispered as he moved to crouch behind a support beam, and shortly two of the strange humans strode by. To the kobold view, they were sword-faced, with long features and narrow, wicked eyes. Their heads were wrapped in long silk scarves and they wore long draping coats, but Kivv knew they'd both have light armor underneath. Like some of the other servants of the Dollmaker, these seemed to be very pleased at the idea of combat.
Decadents, Kivv thought, watching them go. But no less dangerous for that... just more worthy of contempt.

Like most kobolds, Kivv's personal philosophy revolved around the linchpin of Advantage. But as a slanik, he lived a fairly ascetic lifestyle, and had a vague disdain for those who loved comforts. He felt that indulgence was a trap, something that softened you against hardship.

Gliding through the tunnels, he clambered quietly into an air shaft, wormed his way upward with typical kobold rapidity, and then rolled into the old crevice he'd found earlier. Some movement of the earth years ago had split the stone between the air shaft and an upper mining tunnel, and from there, he quickly made his way to the hidden camp where his compatriots were resting.
Enek the shaman was keeping watch. Kivv took a moment to spot Enek's soot-covered form, inwardly grinning at the shaman's aptitude, and then moved past him into the grotto where Tinka and her son Tanaruk were.

Tinka turned her shrewd and regal eyes to him. “What did you discover?”

“It is true. Someone else is attacking the Dollmaker, and has destroyed many of the guardians in the lower passageways. They're all on alert now, and are searching for the enemy. They think what we've done is the other group's work. There are still many of the chanters and monastics left, and I cannot get further in to the Observatory without being noticed.”

He recited the locations and numbers of the guard stations he'd seen, and Tinka questioned him briefly. She then turned to Tanaruk, who had been sitting somberly with hands folded.

“My son?”

“...The advantage is ours. Have Enek prepare a distraction below-tunnels. They will be on alert for this. But their resources are tightening. The Dollmaker will not directly intervene, she is too dedicated to her work. Divine when the others may assault again, and trigger the distraction about the same time. When this occurs, we stab for the Observatory.”

Tinka sampled this plan, narrowing her eyes in thought, and then slowly nodded. “That is what we will do. Kivv, bring Enek here and stand guard for him.”


Kivv slipped back down the passageway, grinning, for he knew their time had come at last.

Labels: , ,

Paths, pt 2

Friday, May 9, 2008 - 8:06 PM

Few recognized Tepektu as a seer. He loomed over most men, with a champion's shoulders and the grace of some unnamed, forgotten hero. Bereft of his hood, his face was broad and regally handsome, an emperor's portrait carved from polished teak wood. He'd used this proud bearing to his advantage for years, building a business as a spice merchant, and later, as a broker for goods one had great difficulty finding. He was often assumed to be the half-noble by-blow of some Betrani prince, and in time, he'd become the rich and powerful merchant lord everyone assumed he was.

Few would recognize the true reasons for his success, also. He kept his arcane skill a secret, for he knew how much power the unknown gave him over others. But Tepektu's ability to read the Influences was profound. His talent in sifting through the facets of causality had kept him moving, kept him reaching for more opportunity.

It had also infected him with a degree of fatalism.

Before him, moving under his huge dark hands, discs named for events and people shifted back and forth in a web, and he scowled at one small collection of them. Tepektu rubbed at his chin, considering the patterns.

This is how he ferreted out secrets. He would map the Influences, watch the names shift back and forth through the web, and he would note where they did not go. He would study the areas that went untouched, and then he would divine where those areas matched. In those blank spaces, secrets hid.

For some while now, the problem was in four parts, each bumping into the areas he intended to explore. There they were, again, and again: the Lady of Mirrors, the Wolf-Queen, the Star-binder, and the Gate Warden. Ever since they'd beaten him to the tomb of Camwhyr, he'd been dedicated to staying three steps ahead of them, and so far he'd done so. But lately, in his map of fate, they were leaping through obstacles like lightning to the earth.

Tepektu noted other groups moving along similar paths, but none so close to his as they. They knew of him, but they'd never seen him except once in a vision. He knew they were doomed to meet eventually. No matter what decision he made, if he remained dedicated to his course, they would meet. This did not trouble him; there had been others, before.

Tepektu was still here. The others were not.

Watching the four progress through his map, however, troubled him. Tracing the Influences that pushed at them, tugging their path into swerving here or there, he saw grand and dreadful things. The eruption at Sinid that destroyed a city, the death of one of the Three from poison, the strange dead-star that fell on the plains of Uryashar, the raising of a massive temple near Pesh, the hollow man epidemic at Yhelm, the hags from Dourmoor; whether or not these four were involved or even close to any of these dreadful events didn't matter.

The pattern mattered. The ripples pushed and pulled at the choices the four had, and steered them ever onward, driven by whatever their own ambitions might be. They were carrying a great momentum, and finally, he saw now the empty space that these events surrounded. There were portents, huge and far-flung, and Tepektu was watching at the right place and right time to understand what they enclosed.

At the moment, he did not know if the four understood. But he believed they did.

Tracing his hand along the threads, he examined the silvery collection of icons close to him. Around the Ring-Maker were the Locksmith, the Riddled Prince, the Fire Twin, the Eclipse Daughter, and now, finally, the White Ribbon. Reading the Influences underneath his outspread fingers, he let his hand shift along with the whorls and pools of event and counter-event.
Tepektu's quick, grasping mind studied the icons on the way, and chained them together with symbols. It was inevitable. The four would cross his path again. Both of them were aimed at the Moonstone, an icon prefacing the large hollow in the center of the pattern.

When he came to a conclusion and finished interpreting the Influences, he sat back in his chair, folded his massive arms, and frowned. It was with deliberation and determination that he selected a new icon, one made of burnt black wood, and set it firmly into the center of this space.

His study was utter stillness for some while before a voice addressed him.

“And what is that marker for? The end of the world?”

“No,” replied Tepektu. “It is a time when the world wishes it could end.”

Labels: , , ,