This post is brought to you by the ever bastardly Bricu Bittertongue.
Two weeks ago…
It’s wings unfurled, the nether drake soared among the eddies, thermals and currents that made up the Twisting Nether. In between the broken land masses of a shattered world, the drake let itself drift in the ether that flowed through Outland.
“Obaden, yeh done fuckin’ ’round then?” Bricu said from the back of the drake.
“Always such a hurry with you, Bricu. Let the currents direct us to where we need to go. Besides, it has been ages since I have been this free.”
“Don’t be melodramatic yeh fuckin lizard, yeh’ve been out flyin’ e’ery damn month since I’ve known yeh!”
“And no sense of fun! How many of your kind have experienced flight like this!” The drake said. He flapped his wings and started to do a barrel roll.
“Oi! No bloody tricks!” Bricu screamed, “not without a good saddle!”
Obaden straightened his flight and laughed, “And no sense of adventure!”
“Let’s just focus on the ask at hand–finding a ruby the size o’me fist. Yeh sure yeh can find it?”
“Given time, I could find anything in my homeland–but time is not on your side. So we will follow the currents.” Obaden replied.
“Yeh’ll excuse me cynicism, but the currents in the Nether are that clear? ” Bricu asked.
“If something, or someone, was lost in old town, and I asked you to find it, could you?” The drake asked.
“I see where yer goin’ boyo. Back home, there are a few points where the flotsam an’jetsum o’city life collect. The Nether have anythin’ like that?”
“It did, then it did not. And now it does again. And that is what I am following.”
“We’ll mate,” Bricu said with a smile, “fly faster.”
The skies were clear enough that even Bricu could see the tiny figures scurrying around once thriving mana-forge. “Yer sure they’re not gobbos from 52?”
“A handful actually are. Along with a few disaffected humans, Sin’dorei and dwarves’. I can count ten outside.”
“Yer a bloody show off, yeh know that? Put me down at 52, an’ I’ll make me way there.”
“Make your way here, do you have a story prepared?” Obaden asked as he flapped his wings and headed further north. “And what do you plan on doing when you get to the forge. What if…”
“Just fly yeh bloody lizard. First we need ta see if folk are there. Then we need ta make sure it’s the professor’s issue. This’ll take a few days, ‘fore there’s any fightin’, alright big lad?”
“I’m sure when I describe your death to Mrs. Bittertongue, she will rest easy knowing that you had a long term plan.” Obaden cackled as he soared through the thermals. Bricu tightened the straps on his armor and watched as chimneys and foundries of Area 52 came into view.
One week ago…
The grey haired goblin took off his eye piece and glowered at Bricu, shouting as loud as he could. “What the hell do you think, pinko, that I keep records on every damn idiot that heads off to a manaforge?”
“I think,” Bricu said softly, “that yeh do.” He dropped a bag bulging with gold directly in front of the goblin.
“Clever lad.” The goblin said. He lowered his nose over the bag and inhaled. “Three hundred or so? What’s so important?”
“Debts boyo, debts.” Bricu said softly. He leaned in towards the goblin. “Now, what can yeh tell me ‘bout the prospector in B’Naar?”
The finger that the goblin had thrust into Bricu’s face was now in the air, asking him to wait a moment. He reached under the counter and pulled out a book that was nearly as large as the goblin. He set it on the table in front of him and turned the pages.
“There was someone who was interested in that forge ‘bout a year ago, haven’t heard from him since….lessee. That’s it. Sekten Cogwheel. Oh yeah, I remember him. He came in here with a doozy of a ruby and he was muttering to it.” The goblin looked up from the book, “A lot of diggers and saps head that way. He sends a few recruiters in once a month for supplies–but I haven’t seen him in a long time. This the one you’re looking for?”
“Could be.” Bricu said after a long pause. “What’s the rumor floatin’ ‘round ‘im.”
The goblin gestured to the coin purse on the counter. Bricu shook his head. “Charge me fer a rumor that’s already spread an’ died? For what’s on the table, that should co’er what yeh know ‘bout this gobbo.”
“Nothing for free, friend. But we can make a deal. Two questions, another hundred?”
“Three, fer seventy-five.” Bricu said.
The goblin rubbed his chin. “Sold. First is that this one is trying to carve out a kingdom in the Netherstorm, the second is that he talks to the ring…but the doozey? The good one? The rumor that I think most true? The piece de resistance…”
Bricu rolled his eyes. “Get the fuck on with it, boyo. What?”
The goblin looked left, then right, as if looking for someone.“That the Sekten isn’t even a goblin anymore. That he’s changed. They say he doesn’t’ care about money anymore–or power. That he’s a slave to his ring.”
Bricu glared at the goblin for more than a few moments, then deadpanned. “This is yer best rumor?”
The goblin grinned a wide, toothy grin.“It’s all in the delivery, friend!”
“Right then. Use some o’the gold ta get lessons in story tellin.” Bricu walked out of the goblin’s shop.
The goblin yelled after him, “Hey! Cheapskate, what about at tip for my performance!”
Five figures in dark purple robes stood side by side in the central chamber of the once great manaforge B’naar. They were silent, but the forge hummed and crackled with magical energy that was siphoned from the Nether. Heat rose from the pipes and conduits that channeled the energy into the forge’s newest edition: A living altar. Made from the living stone of the rock giants, the altar groaned and creaked from the magical strain. The giants’ eyes adorned the edges of the altar–and those eyes darted between the figures that stood silently in the chamber.
From the far end of the chamber, came a skittering, chittering sound. The sounds echoed through the manaforge, as if it came from all sides. As the chittering got closer to the altar, the five figures at the altar began to chant in dark and foul tongue. Part of ceiling detached and floated down, behind the altar. It stood on its six legs, a full head taller than the tallest robed figure.
Its voice was the sound of breaking glass. “A year ago, we freed our Master and began his work. So far, the master is pleased. Yet the master desires more. To serve him in his work now, we begin our ritual…”
“Oi.” Bricu shouted.. As the figures turned to see who interrupted their work, he struck his match and lit his cigarette. “Which one o’yeh fuckin’ tossers has the damn ring?”
“It wants the Master’s Key. End its existence!” the tall one shrieked.
The five robed figures turned and ran towards Bricu, their robes fluttering, revealing their own deformities: Bent knees, additional arms, multi-faceted eyes and spiraled horns. They charged en masse silently, no howls or cries. The lunged with their claws and snapped with their teeth, but Bricu called upon the light to shield himself–then he drew his blade. He dispatched the closest one–the shortest–with a slash to its throat that nearly took its head off. Spinning with the momentum of the strike, he stabbed another through the heart. He pulled the blade from the cultist’s chest in order to parry a flurry of claws.
Mobbed by the three cultists, Bricu kept his eyes on one behind the altar. He could see the essence from the nether pouring into ring. One of the cultists blocked his line of sight, bringing its head to bite Bricu’s throat. Bricu tuned and slammed his shoulder into the cultist’s jaw, then brought his elbow to the back of its neck. Gripping his sword a with both hands, he brought his blade down on the head of the same cultist, and brought it back up to guard against a flurry of claws.
He was met by horns. The cultist gored him, knocking him backward, then leapt upon him with his claws. Bricu’s sword clattered to the ground and spun away. Bricu rolled to his left, away from the sword while dodging the cultist that lept as well as the cultist that moved with him. He pulled himself to his feet, then ran to his sword. The cultists leapt for the blade as well. Bricu called on the light to stun one–it fell unceremoniously right next to his blade. As the other soared towards him, Bricu steadied his feet and brought his fist squarely on his chin. The cultist landed with a thud.
Bricu picked up the blade and dispatched both cultists. He lit another cigarette. “Now then, yeh fuckin’ toad, gimme the bloody ring.”
The ring–a gold setting with a sharp sliver of a ruby–was plainly visible. A jet of ruby red fire lanced from the ring, lighting the remaining cultists features. As Bricu pulled to the left, he could see there was something left of Sekten’s goblin features–the nose, the sharp chin, the beady eyes, his large ears. But the master’s magic had warped the goblin far beyond anything Bricu had ever seen– six articulated legs and hands with far too many fingers. The flame drilled into Bricu’s shoulder, spilling over the right side of his body. The enchantments held, but the heat was still hard to bear. Bricu moved so that Sekten was on the opposite side of the altar.
Sekten did not seem to mind the obstruction. He skittered forward, over the altar, screaming all the while. “You have not ruined anything.” The ring began to glow again, the same ruby red. “You have not stopped anything. The jailer is now the prisoner! You are…”
“Shut yer fuckin’ GOB!” Bricu charged towards Sekten, bring his sword up and slashing him from hip to shoulder. Ichor and blood poured from the wound. The ring’s light faded, and Sekten fell to the ground. Sekten struggled to move, but that only hastened the bleeding. Bricu stood over him, ready to end the suffering. “All yeh had ta do, yeh worthless gobshite, was hand o’er the damn ring. That’s all.” Sekten gurgled, spitting up blood as he tried to say something. Bricu shushed him. “Now its ta damn late fer yeh. May yeh find forgiveness an’ pass on inta the light…though we both know yer headed straight back here.”
Sekten lifted his the ring and aimed for Bricu. As the light flared, bricu put his gauntleted hand over it and pulled the ring off. The light, and Sekten, died.
Bricu started to pull of his left gauntlet. Studying the ring, he continued talking to Sekten. “If Tarq was here, yeh’d have been convinced t’hand it o’er. Lore would’ve stolen the damn thing. Tirith would’ve snuck in, stolen the ring, an’ then slit yer throat. Illi’d have wrecked the entire damn place. Kost woud’ve co-opted the ritual. Annie’d ha’e just made yeh gi’e it ta her with a smile. The missus would’ve pieced the ritual t’gether… But yeh were lucky enough ta get me. Cle’er words, violent acts, figurin’ out what the fuss ‘bout the ritual was…”
He grasped the ring with his left hand. The hair on the back of his neck rose and his skin began to burn at the touch of the ruby shard. His vision tunneled and a voice filled his head.
“YOU ARE NOT HIM. NOW YOU MUST WEAVE INTO THEIR BOND. FINISH THE RITUAL. WEAVE INTO THEIR BOND.”
“What’d yeh need, squire.” Bricu said to the ring.
“CONTROL THE ESSENCE. LET IT FLOW THROUGH THE RING TO ME.”
While the ring still burned, a new sensation came over him. He could smell the sharp tang of bourbon–he could nearly taste the smoky, semi sweet liquor. All he needed to do was place the ring on the altar and complete the circle.
Bricu dropped the ring and spit on it, clearing his mouth of any trace of the liquor.
“O’er played the hand, yeh fuckin’ bastard.” He stomped on the ring as he put his gauntlet back on. A spark from the ground confirmed his suspicion: The setting constrained the ruby’s power. Now that the gold was bent and broken, the shined with its own power.
He bent to pick up what was left of his handiwork: Kro’thar’s prison, a ruby he had cut for the Professor years ago.
“Yeh poor sod,” Bricu said, looking at Sekten’s still bleeding corpse. Shard in hand, Bricu looked over the Altar. He saw where the ring should have gone–There was a hole in the altar. Putting the ring there would have completed a series of runes. He had no idea what they said, but staring at them made his skin crawl. He was sure that when he looked at one set, the others started to dance on the stone.
Weave the bond. Kro’thar’s command was not clear–why did he need the essence? The bonds that held Arrens? Bricu shook his head. If Kro’thar had the professor, then he had to have a source to power his own bonds; otherwise, the professor would wiggle his way free. What other bond…
“Oh fuck, Aely. Q. “‘Arrens, yeh fuckin’ ijiot…” He said. The soul-bond. The ritual that kept Arrens and Aely connected so neither of them would be pulled into the Nether. Bricu thought. That’s the damn bond he wants ta weave the Nether? If Kro’thar puts the nether itself inta the bond, he can, what? Control ‘im both? Ride it like the bloody Tram? Pull Aely t’him? Track her? Worse?
But could the bond be used to find Arrens?
He knew what he had to do. Bricu looked at the shard and the altar. He set the shard in the altar. Without the setting to control the power, the altar began to glow with magical energy. The altar began to whisper, “No no no. Too much too soon! No no no!” But Bricu wasn’t finished. He made a blessing and said a quick prayer to the light–The Prayer of the Condemned. A shaft of golden light formed engulfed the altar. Slowly, the light formed a blade that descended on the shard. The blade pierced the altar, causing it to scream–the sounds of an avalanche echoing through the entire mana-forge. When the hilt of the blade touched the shard, it the shard shattered and burst into flame.
Kro’thar, through the Altar, screamed, “The bond! NO!”
Bricu bowed his head and made another blessing. He prayed outloud, “Arrens, yeh fuckin’ dolt. Yeh may not forgive me, but yeh’ddan well better understand I’m keepin’ her safe from yer stupid ideas.”
The Light faded, but the fires were hot enough to make Bricu step away. He stayed until the fire burned itself out. Minutes passed before the altar collapsed upon itself, melting itself into slag. There was no sign of the runes or the rubies. The altar, like the soulbond, was ruined. Bricu looked around the forge one last time before walking outside to wait for Obaden to land.
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