Mists of Daven, Part II - Page 3 - Myth-Weavers


Mists of Daven, Part II

   
Love it as usual. You going to bang out the fight with the brothers for this month or leave it for next?

Best assume next month, even if it shows up before. I feel what I'm doing here is suffering a bit due to illness, so it needs extra work above and beyond the normal. Tuesday or Thursday would be the next earliest that I can put together a decently-sized update anyway. Doesn't leave much time for editing.

EDIT: (Heh, editing. Ugh I feel terrible.) I might be able to churn out a decent cliffhanger in time, just as the ambush is launched on our heroes. No promises, but the idea just came to me of how that might look.

Okay, let's push it off to next month then so I can plan as to what to include in the update.

Breathing shallowly through the thin wrap about his mouth and nostrils, filtering the evening`s thickening fog from his lungs, Little Wulfram ran over the plan one more time in his head, searching for the flaws that would end him. First, hope that those Farlandish brutes were not so eager they broke from hiding before the right moment. Second, ensure that right moment was when rogue and warrior were divided between street and underworld. Third, the New Master`s messenger, who`d be watching invisibly from its perch, had to be assured this was to protect the New Master`s interests.

Especially since they said they had a wizard of their own, the gnome reminded himself. Big unknown there. Is he a spellslinger? Hell-caller? Brain-binder? New Master can handle him, obviously, but oughtta not have to.

Four shapes grew in the gloom and Little Wulfram steeled himself as they became clear. The half-elf and hositan he knew at once for what they were, and guessed the robed dwarf was their wizard, but quailed to see their true muscle. Had he not known of the Farlandish trio`s fondness for certain, hideous, nameless concoctions of poison, he`d have dismissed any chance of them triumphing over the towering monster before him.

"If you`re all ready, we`ll be heading off quick now," he said hurriedly, letting his nervousness come through. "There`s no sense in us being interrupted by, well, them things you hear about in the stories. Definitely have some about tonight with this air. Right unhealthy it is."

The hositan smiled mirthlessly at him and Little Wulfram shivered, suddenly more afraid of her than any unseen shambler or even the cruel brothers of distant Farland. It was with genuine caution that he edged around the quartet of adventurers, fearing to turn his back to them before he had to. When at last he had no choice, he swallowed hard and began to lead them to his ambush.

"We go onto Mattock Lane first, then take the second left, right, into Gilbert`s, the street I mean," Little Wulfram heard himself gabble the directions, hating himself for it. "From there we have to go round the One-Ear`s patch, lest you has a liking for being hooked like fish. He don`t like guests he ain`t invited down to the docks himself. Then it`s just-"

The half-elf warrior interrupted suddenly: "Ludwig One-Ear? The pirate lackey who pretends to be a guildsman. Infamous enough that even we foreigners have heard tell of him. Or are you talking about a different One-Ear who runs things by the sea?"

For a moment, Little Wulfram was tempted to try an earlier division, but then remembered the old adage - it is easier for a cripple to split a clam than for a man to split a party - and abandoned that line of thought. He looked back at the half-elf and, slowly, deliberately, shrugged. It was as clear an answer as any outright agreement and the hungry look briefly returned to the warrior`s eyes, before being shelved as a future project.

Though Little Wulfram didn`t like to think of it, the sight reminded him of an old story he`d once heard. It wasn`t a scary story in the usual sense, but it still made his hair stand on end. In it, a man known for being mulishly headstrong had gone after the one who`d wronged him, only to be murdered before getting his revenge. But afterwards, bad things began to happen to this villain, the sort that even made powerful wizards refuse to help, until everything he`d built and stole and earned alike was gone, even his life. Of course, what else was the cause, but the stubborn ghost of the adventurer, kept from his afterlife until he`d revenged himself?

The gnome thought about the way certain scary stories, and the truth behind them, worked in Elder Daven. He wondered to himself if maybe this foreigner was enough of a bull-head to stick around after he died. Maybe Ludwig would start getting nasty visits in the night, being on the half-elf`s list, as it were. Little Wulfram thought that would make a scary story like that quite funny, if only to himself.

Either way, he was getting ahead of himself. The warrior would have to die first, before he could start his haunting.

*****

Ragar spat a curse, drawing his cloak tighter about himself. The wind rushing over the rooftops was far colder than when it meandered by at ground level, especially without the cover of fog up here. It was a prime location, with clear lines of sight to all three streets and, thanks to the gable on this building, afforded an excellent guard for missiles from below.

Thinking of this, he inspected the gable again, taking in the peculiar scratches along its surface. A different chill eased its leisurely way down his back, goosebumps rippling along his arms. He shook himself, looking away quickly. It was almost as if some unseen observer rested there, annoyed at his intrusion. A ridiculous notion, for there was nothing that could stand atop that outcropping so silently, visibly or otherwise, without collapsing the structure.

To more important matters then. Ragar ran an expert hand over his crossbow, feeling for the minute changes in wood and metal that the growing chill would cause, making the most subtle of adjustments as needed to compensate. The bolt locked in its groove waited patiently for release. Ragar brushed his thumb across its tip, smiling at the dark up-welling from his veins that now stained it.

To this would be added the poison resting in a fish-bladder, his own ingenious addition to the standard design. As the first bolt flew, it would score the narrowest of grooves across the bladder, becoming coated with its content. Future bolts would not be quite so deadly, for with the initial relieving of pressure, the bladder would release the poison only slowly. Still enough, Ragar knew from great experience, to drive even the strongest man into fits of agony.

That was his task here tonight. It was his duty to send that first, terrible missile plunging into the most dangerous of their victims, the wizard. Muscle, blades-skill, marksmanship - all threatening talents, yet paling to insignificance next to the unknown sorceries that they would face if he chose a different target. It would be up to his brothers to eliminate the other dangers.

Marrol he could even see from here, typically slouched beneath a pile of rags, reeking of something that aspired one day to be vomit. No luckless vagrant looked more the part, even down to the red pool dripping from him. Ragar smiled at the memory, this illusion of robbery having accomplished by them simply bleeding a drunkard earlier and making a slight incision in the blood-bag now tied to Marrol`s chest.

When the outsiders were divided and startled, it would up to Marrol to keep them off-balance for those precious few seconds whilst Ragar reloaded and Danith finished off his own. Marrol was good at that, being an adept of a bizarre fighting style from Cadocia that relied upon unpredictability and obfuscation. When neither combatant knew where he was going to be from one moment to the next, or what attack he would make when or where, Marrol`s ability to confuse and distract was unparalleled. And if by some chance that was not enough - there were more direct strikes that could cripple as well as any weapon.

Below even this, below the ancient cobbles, below that iron cover to the foundations and sewers of Elder Daven, Danith waited in the strangler`s alcove, that hidden indent from which grasping fingers or a taut wire might extend, to squeeze the breath from any descending the ladder. He was a master of this art, patient like a spider and perhaps deadlier still. Ragar had seen him appear from the shadows like he was born of them, to sever an artery or tendon with the lightest of touches, or make play with a weaker enemy by pursuing an exposed eye or groin.

Thinking of his brothers, Ragar recalled the glorious dance they had once performed for the Azure Viper in Hangeria. The exquisite songs that Danith had drawn from the shieldmaidens of Belendale. The beautiful puppetry Marrol had shown with the orcish warmasters in their barbarous fury. Ragar thrilled to remember the applause for his audacious choice of venoms, in the delicate artwork of burned veins and melded skins of human and hositan alike.

At first they had refused payment for their survival. The ecstasy of their triumph was reward enough and even the Azure Viper, unmoving and unspeaking on that gilded throne, had for the briefest of moments shown interest in this. Had they not seen, with their own eyes, the unreadable gesture to the attendants? Had they not thereafter found themselves immune from prosecution even unto Or City, till at last their restless feet took them beyond Orland?

And this, marveled Ragar, was but one of their past glories. They were young still and much beauty lay before them to explore in all manner of ways. There was Kale or even the Wild Lands to the east, as yet untapped by their expertise, or Kelerak and Anaria northwards. It was time, perhaps, for them to move on again and find new playthings elsewhere. One last dance of death in Daven, then new realms of experience awaited them.

Ragar wished only for that damnable feeling of being watched to go away.



>>>>>

Actually ended up being quite badly ill, hence the delay in this. Will get at least two more updates of similar or greater length out by the end of the month to compensate. Had plenty of time whilst recuperating to work out some of the initial kinks.

Compelling as always. Once I started reading, I got drawn in. Can't wait for the fight, and glad you're on the mend!

As typical for this time of year, a thick fog began to roll in from Goblin Bay, the icy eastern winds carrying it to Elder Daven, swaddling the ancient city in a salt-scented gloom. Isolde noted that their gnomish guide barely hesitated even when he could surely see no more than a few feet ahead of him. He had clearly walked this way many times before, despite his earlier assertion that his master required attendance during clear days, and Isolde could already feel the warm glow of vindication keeping the chill at bay.

She wondered from where the ambush would come. If she could figure that out before it actually happened, it would be a simple matter to pick the appropriate counters. An attack from above was exceedingly unlikely, due to the fog, but not necessarily impossible. Isolde eyed the faint outlines of the rooftops, barely visible, calculating the likelihood of an archer or three lurking there. After some thought, she decided that even if any were stationed there, none would try their luck for fear of hitting their allies on the ground. Thieves and murderers though they undoubtedly were, being able to trust each other was paramount in order to keep their group united against opposition.

"Nearly there," called the gnome from the front. "Two minutes, maybe, then you`ll get your meeting with the New Master. Why you`d do that to yourselves I doesn`t know, but then, why would I? Nobody tells me nothing they`re wanting me to hear, less I`m supposed to tell it to someone else."

Now aware of how close they were, Isolde turned her mind now to the other ambush options. She spotted one of them immediately, the disguise so wonderfully complete that its very inconspicuousness made it stand out. The reveler dumped in that doorway, apparently stabbed and bleeding out, was too perfectly positioned near to their destination. She bit back a smile and instead feigned an expression of worry, turning to Embla and reaching for her hand as though for comfort. When Embla looked down in surprise, Isolde flicked her eyes to the side urgently, baring her teeth momentarily.

"You be much worry, little one," Embla rumbled haltingly, in a nearly impenetrable accent that even Isolde found convincing. "No are stupids danger here. Me looks there and there and there, sees none. Calm you, all safe by me."

Isolde could practically hear Aidan`s eyes rolling, but at least the message had got across. The would-be assassin soon would not be. The halfling shook her head, frowning at herself for risking distraction with too-clever-by-half wordplay. That was an amateur mistake she did not intend to make. There were still dangers to look out for and warn the others of.

The gnome stopped suddenly and she renewed her focus, scanning the surroundings. It was surprisingly open here, with at least two other streets merging onto the one they were on, though the smaller one on the left wasn`t suitable for launching an attack from, being cracked and loose cobblestones on a steep hill. On the right, however, was a broad avenue leading to the heart of the city, the towering inner walls forming a darker backdrop against the deepening shadows. Easy to hide a half dozen or ten, or more, thugs along there.

Then her attention was pulled back to the gnome by a harsh, metallic scraping sound. Their guide had pulled aside an iron grille set in the wall of the ancient buildings, revealing a small alcove with a ladder that dropped down below street-level, no doubt leading to the foundations of Elder Daven. Knowing that time was short, her mind began to race through the options she had considered for this type of scenario, ignoring the gnome`s hasty explanations. Though it felt like years, it was only a matter of moments later that she came to her conclusion.

"This time it is you who shall go first, Aidan," she heard herself announce imperiously, enjoying the role she had to play for the onlookers. "But then, you already knew that. Turnabout is fair play. Quick quick now, man, don`t keep us all waiting."

Aidan looked at her with an unreadable expression. She smiled broadly as he stomped into the alcove, cursing under his breath. As he stood over the descent into blackness, Isolde could almost feel Embla`s breath quicken in anticipation, whilst her own hands drifted towards the daggers she had so carefully whetted that evening. The moment was nearly upon them. Then Aidan sighed heavily, gripped his warhammer and jumped down the hole, his back to the ignored ladder.

Not three heartbeats had gone by before battlecry in old Altarian sounded and chaos erupted around them.

*****

No sooner had the colossal woman-thing spoken her broken sentences than Little Wulfram knew he had underestimated the adventurers. The classic image of the dim-witted brute she portrayed was just too perfect to be true and his spirit quailed at the thought of the ruthless cunning of the hositan, against whose wits he had dared hope to match his own. She had to have seen through the disguise of the street-level brother, whichever of them it was, then somehow warned the titanic warrior to be aware of him.

Little Wulfram`s confidence in his plan was further shaken when she gave her orders to the half-elf. There was a code of some sort hidden in them, one he didn`t understand fully, except so far as to see that it meant she was saying to beware of ambush. Or perhaps and even, he though to himself with growing horror, how to overcome an ambush. Then he saw the half-elf ignore the ladder, thus not leaving his back exposed to the Farlandish brother waiting below, and his suspicions were confirmed.

"Forgive me, great messenger!" he screamed, already turning to run. "The New Master must be troubled by his hunters!"

He dived into the thickening fog, resisting the urge to cough it up and give away his position. A faint shout in elvish reached his ears, meaning the underground brother had begun his attack. Much closer to him, however, was a roar of fury, louder than the thunder, and he knew the others from Farland were playing their parts. Little Wulfram could hear nothing that sounded like spellwords, so he guessed the wizard had been put down already - though it was no consolation to have this one piece of his plan go well.

Corner after corner he turned, until he saw that he had done so to the same ones twice over already. Cursing his panic, he forced himself to stop and get his bearings, lest he continue running in circles. He quickly placed himself on the wrong side of the inner walls, far too close to the Driddaren patrol routes for any self-respecting Davenian`s liking. Relative safety lay elsewhere and he resumed his flight, though somewhat more composed than before.

Passing back through the great gates dividing the city`s districts, he began coughing violently, the fog thick enough here to choke. Something in the back of his mind stirred at this, but it wasn`t clear enough, or important enough, to be recalled. He paused for a while, leaning heavily against a wall, fighting to catch his breath. It was made trickier by the revolting smell that permeated the air, a heavy and sickening aroma like spoiled meat.

When he recovered, Little Wulfram looked around him, wondering if perhaps he`d made a wrong turn despite himself and ended up by a butcher`s or furrier`s. This seemed not to be the case, confusing him, but then his ears caught the sounds of the ongoing battle between the Farlandish brothers and the adventurers. Little Wulfram was astonished at the tenacity of both parties, but knew now to head in a different direction. Almost immediately he crashed into a tall figure lurching around the same corner he had chosen, knocking the gnome onto the cobbles.

For some seconds, the pair stared at one another silently, each as surprised to see the other. In his head, Little Wulfram screamed at himself to get up and run, but his body would not obey, even as the rotting fingers began to reach for him eagerly. From the streets behind him, the unmistakable shriek of an enraged crow reached his ears. Suddenly Little Wulfram found himself remembering the destiny he had been promised by the messenger of the New Master. If he stood strong, no matter what, he would earn a place at the New Master`s side.

But only if he stood strong. Only if he stood. So he stood. He pulled himself back from the clutching horror, heart pounding. It moaned and shuffled after him. Little Wulfram thought for a second that the sounds echoed strangely, then he knew the truth. Standing strong was all well and good, but running and living was better. He turned and ran back the way he came.

Behind him, Elder Daven disgorged its former citizenry.

*****

When he had dropped out of sight of the others, Aidan had still held out the faintest hope that this was nothing more than Isolde`s paranoia. Then he had landed heavily some feet below street level in almost complete blackness and his opinion changed. Despite having been denied the opportunity of a slow descent down the ladder, his enemy was already moving in to strike, emerging from a strangler hole, or whatever it was called.

Aidan knew better than to underestimate whoever was ambushing him, for they moved easily in the lightless environment as though born to it. For his part, his elf-keen vision was enough to make out the surroundings well enough and he did not like what he saw. The close confines would make it impossible to use his hammer properly, for one thing - and for another, he could not move from the ladder to allow reinforcement, even assuming his friends were not yet under attack themselves.

There were no other options here. He had time enough to yell a challenge, then the silent assassin was on him. Aidan nearly fell at once under the frenzied assault, barely parrying lightning thrusts at all heights and from all angles, impressed despite himself. For all that he had hoped to strike from hiding, this man was a truly skilled fighter. The nigh-invisible sliver of metal in his hand looked harmless, but Aidan knew it would be either horrifically poisoned or sharp enough to slice through flesh and muscle effortlessly - or, more likely, both.

Time ended. The world beyond was no more. There was only the desperate struggle and the harsh panting in blackness. Soon, the weight of his hammer became too great and at last, Aidan felt his arm fail him. His enemy`s blade darted past, but withdrew as the paladin forced himself to defend against the lethal blow. Too late, Aidan saw the ruse for what it was. His side was now completely exposed and the assassin struck with a delicate precision that he could not help but admire.

A blood-crimson flower of agony blossomed and his nerves shrieked their protest. He staggered, falling back against the ladder. He let out a pained, yet somehow appreciative, bark of laughter in salute to the foe who vanquished him. Then Aidan saw the look of bewilderment on his enemy`s face. The man was holding up his hand, trying to examine the shattered blade held there.

Sensing the battle was yet to be won, Aidan heaved himself forward, acting without thought. He thrust his warhammer forward, feeling the great head sink into the man`s stomach, doubling him over. Summoning all of his strength, he hefted the weapon from side to side, using the very walls as anvils on which to beat the life from this ferocious adversary with brutal, almost metronomic blows.

After several such impacts, Aidan let the broken body slide from his weapon. A hand reached to his injured flank tentatively, feeling for the wound and finding only deceptively light metal. Relief flooded him and somehow Aidan managed to laugh. Neither he nor his father had put much stock in the value of heirlooms valued only as heirlooms and had taken pains to maintain them in readiness for their original purpose. It seemed as though this attitude had been proven justified. What should have been a perfect killing blow had literally broken against his ancestral mail.

Breathing heavily, ribs aching, he gave the limp corpse one last strike to the temple for good measure. Seeing it stay motionless, not even twitching when the skull caved in, he allowed himself to smile with relief. Then he took hold of the first rungs on the ladder and began to climb. He could not rest just yet.

*****

In his ragged disguise, Marrol watched the marks go past, wondering which of them he might have the most fun with. It would be wisest to kill either of the big ones first and quick, but halflings were only half as fun, in his experience. They just lacked stamina. He knew that he was just looking for an excuse to kill something small and helpless. Nothing wrong with that, after all. Even masters like himself weren`t obligated to make every artwork their greatest.

Besides, that really big brute with the sword looked almost like it was a woman, but didn`t even sound like one, not even when he thought of the various bitch orcs he`d met over the years. He really wanted to know what was happening there. If he got to dance with that one, he`d make sure not to finish it until he found out what was what. There was a story there and Marrol loved stories.

So it was decided. The hositan first, so he could imagine it was the gnome - what was his name again? Ah, no matter - and then he could play with whichever of the fighters did not go to meet Danith. That elf-breed looked like he knew a thing or two about fighting fair, which meant he`d be so much more boring. Danith would love it if he got to play with that one. Their songs of pain so often had such lovely spoken parts to them - very daring artistry.

Just a little more patience. The gnome was finishing his job of luring the marks to where they needed to be. Looked like the half-elf was going to be meeting Danith after all. Marrol smiled to himself, happy for his beloved brother. It was not easy to make fun in a place so dreary as Elder Daven, for all their efforts. Maybe it was about time that they moved on to pastures new. He would suggest that afterwards, he decided. This one last dance of death, with a sweet dessert of the gnome just because, then they ought to leave.

Still, thoughts like that were meant for later times. The half-elf had disappeared, only to scream soon after. Danith was no doubt beginning to compose and Ragar would surely wait no longer. Marrol tensed, then lunged, casting off the filthy rags in all directions. With a sharp tug, the blood-bag tied to him came loose and splattered open behind him, infecting the air with its coppery stench.

As he closed the distance, the cowardly gnome yelled something and began to run away, which amused him immensely. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ragar stand up on the rooftop, take aim and fire at the dwarf that was the most important of the marks. The bolt flew true, diving into the dwarf`s chest and burying itself there. The dwarf immediately sank to his knees, blood pouring from his mouth. For a few seconds, he struggled to stand, then collapsed face-down in the widening red pool.

Then a strange thing happened. The dwarf disappeared completely. Ragar`s bolt stayed behind, but now it was firmly buried in the street, with no blood about it at all. Marrol very nearly stumbled in his charge, but was composed enough to know their best chance was to eliminate all of the wizard`s allies before he could recover himself at all, whatever trickery he was attempting. In fact, more of that would be up to Ragar than they had previously thought.

Marrol watched in bemusement as the hositan was picked up by her gigantic companion and, with an animal bellow that shook the windows, was simply hurled straight upwards to the gable next to Ragar`s position. Almost as soon as she touched it, it began to crumble under her weight with a peculiar bird-like squalling that Marrol had no more time to think on, for his immense adversary was already turning to face him, sword in hand, at an incredible speed.

In fact, everything seemed to be moving far faster than it had any right to. Including the fog that swirled away from him as he completed his charge. And the dwarf had reappeared again just a few feet away. This was not going to plan. He promptly abandoned thought, for if he didn`t know what he was going to do, his enemies could not plan for it, even if they were so fast. For a moment, it even seemed to work, as he slid around behind the wizard before any spell could be cast, giving him the perfect opportunity to break the old dwarf`s back.

That was when he noticed he was falling. His legs had just refused to carry him any further and this puzzled him, because they had always served him well before now. One of them had apparently decided to abandon him no less, at this critical moment in battle. As Marrol looked at it, wondering what had happened, the pain began to spread. He gasped as the first few seconds of shock left him and understanding broke through - that everything else was still moving at the speed it ought, but he had been slowed down.

The next thing to break through to him was the great sword that had already claimed a leg. This time it took his head.

Excellent! Love the use of the slow spell. I enjoy how you use D&D mechanics but make them realistic and compelling. But I'm confused about what happened with Ragar. It seemed to end rather abruptly.

Yeah, I realised as I was writing it that I'd need to split the battle proper into two parts. Ragar's fate will be revealed in the next part, along with what Little Wulfram is leading back there (though come on, this is Elder Daven...I think we can all guess with broad strokes ). If all goes well, I should have it up by Monday.

Plus a few other bits to lead the story where it needs to go. Action is all well and good, but there is a dearth of plot that the ontological mystery of it can only partially alleviate.

Alright, sounds perfect. Monday's bit will be the last part of this installment?







 

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