August 15, 2013 – 9:35 am
A few explanations are, I think in order, if only to assuage my own slightly guilty conscience.
Several people have been following this storyline, for which I am very honored. I’m glad you guys are interested in the things I (and my fellow Feathermoonies) write. But unfortunately, this really is where the story ends. There will be follow-up fic, and fall-out fic, but as of right now?
Arrens is dead.
Well, or not dead. He’s technically “Lost in Time and Space” (to borrow an Arkham Horror term) that essentially makes him a useful future plot point (if Kro’Thar corrupts him and sends him back to kill us all), or just a bit of character past that Aely has to grow past. This way, should the stars align and Arrens’ player come back to WoW, we can write him back into the story. But it effectively makes him gone and impossible to find for now. Which really is as good as dead.
Before you get out the pitchforks, Arrens’ player approved of this plot almost three years ago, when he quit the game and deleted his blog. He’s told me since that day that Arrens was mine to do with as I wished, and if that meant splitting him and Aely up, or killing him off, that was my decision to make. While I still argue that’s a little bit bullshit (he’s not magically going to appear in my head, and I can’t magically write as a character that someone else built), the sentiment was there.
When Arrens’ player quit, I wasn’t ready to take that step.
Almost three years later, however, it’s what I needed to do. I’ve talked before about assumed RP – in fact, I’ll go ahead and quote myself on this one:
Don’t rely on “Assumed RP” – you know, the kind where you say “well, my character’s not online, so everything is hunky dory and they’re happy and nothing is really going on but it’s all happy and good” – That’s extremely unfun for the person who IS playing their character. Suddenly they’re responsible for fending off IC questions about their friend/lover/child, and they are forced into a sort of holding pattern. Not at all fun.*
* A note about Assumed RP: Most RP situations occasionally rely on Assumed RP, especially if both players have to be away from game for awhile. That’s absolutely OK and not any sort of problem. The problem with Assumed RP is when one player suddenly stops playing a character, but will not give up on the already existing relationship. If you can’t devote the time to a RP connection, find a way to break it off for awhile – making other players wait around in a holding pattern where they can’t play their character but they want to is kind of rude and rather unfair. It’s also not at all fun, and can ruin a character for another player. Take a break, let there be an IC break, and let the character “go free” if you’re not willing to put the time into that particular RP story.
The assumed RP was getting to me. I had my own issues to deal with for awhile, and that was okay – for Arrens to be gone while I was sick and unable to play? Didn’t really bother me. But since I’ve been playing again, and RPing again, it started to feel like Aely was trapped. Three years is a long time in game, and a long time in real life, and to be stuck on “everything in their relationship is hunky dory and the same as it always was” just… felt wrong. At the same time, I didn’t want to write up a messy divorce – that wasn’t fair to either character involved, especially when it didn’t seem true to the characters, who really did love each other deeply. Nor did a quiet “parting of ways” seem to be true to the story.
So with some help from friends and a lot of encouragement, I tackled this story. I wanted Arrens’ end to be fitting – both as a warlock, and as the character I loved and that Aely loved. I wanted the end to be fitting for the work that Arrens’ player and I put in together, and to be a source for creating more RP. So I decided to go big or go home, opened up the story, got a lot of help, and Old Enemies was the result. Arrens’ player has approved of the story (To quote him on twitter: “Just read the story. Nicely done by everyone involved. Still say you should’ve nuked the dirty SOB. ;)”) and of its outcome.
I’m only just touching on the emotional fallout from this – Aely wasn’t prepared to lose her husband so suddenly (as if anyone ever is), and Arrens touched a lot of players. His character ran a University, he ran a guild. There will probably be more gut wrenching conversations and fic to write about this, the grieving process, and where I take Aely from here.
But the important thing is – I’ll have my character back. She’ll no longer be tied to a relationship that exists only in name and no longer in spirit.
It’s not been easy to do, but I think it’s the right decision for me (as a writer) and for Aely (as a character). Arrens and I created an amazing relationship together, and wrote a lot of stories together, and I hope you all find this ending to be a fitting way to close that chapter in my RP history.
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August 14, 2013 – 10:35 am
Another post by Lorelli. I don’t know how much fiction will result from the aftermath of the Old Enemies storyline, but I’ll try to post it all here for you to read.
The halls of Stormwind University echoed, empty in the early morning hours. The sound of her boot heels on the floor brought back memories of the year she spent here as head of security. They’d met in the stockades of all places, almost four years ago. Lorelli had just returned to Stormwind and had made a total mess of her life. She hadn’t cared whether she lived or died and yet Arrens Caltrains took a chance on her. A lost woman he hardly knew, in a jail cell. She always figured she owed him her life more than a bit.
In just a few hours the halls would fill with students rushing to their classrooms, unaware, currently that their headmaster might never return. That was indeed the hardest part. Not knowing if Arrens was alive or dead and having completely lost any trail to continue pursuing him. All the warlocks–and there were quite a few of them hanging around and in her life suddenly–seemed to agree that he was likely alive. Yet they also agreed that death was probably the kinder outcome.
Lorelli was tired. Sleep had not come easy. She couldn’t imagine what it could possibly have been like for Aely or what it would continue to be like. The rogue had lost a dear friend but Aely had lost a friend, a husband, a man she had likely seen herself starting a family with one day.
Lore had done her best to keep it together last night for Aely. She had done her best to make sure her friend mourned and didn’t try to “pretend that it didn’t hurt.” She had held it together as folks shuffled out, through the hug from Threnn, continued to try to keep it together with Prayce later. Then she had eaten her words. That charming bastard had slipped through her walls far too easily and she had cried and told him things even many of the Riders didn’t know. Yet, she was still trying to convince herself they could keep it casual and there was no significance to their relationship (when she even designed to call it that). Ever the fool, especially in these situations.
Things were a mess and they were about to get worse. Lorelli paused in front of the door to Landris’ classroom. She had come up with a dozen different ways to break the news and they all seemed trite and unfeeling. So Lore would do what she always did. Make it up as she went. She took a deep breath and stepped inside. The diminutive professor was standing on a small step-ladder making notes on the blackboard. She turned to look as she heard the click of Lorelli closing the door.
“Good morning, Madam Lorelli, too what do I owe the hono…” Landris paused as realization struck. “You’ve found the headmaster. How bad is it..?”
Lorelli raked a hand through her hair, the form of address didn’t even bother her this time. “Extremely. He… likely won’t be returning.” Not the best she could have come up with, but the dialogue was started at any rate.
Landris shook her head sadly but said nothing. Lorelli couldn’t remember ever seeing the professor speechless.
“Landris, m’sorry…” Lorelli began.
The gnome shook her head. “No Madam Lorelli, I am sorry. You were friends. We were merely colleagues.”
“S’not true. Arrens considered you a friend.”
Landris smiled a little but it was short lived. “What happened?”
The professor wobbled slightly on her step-stool and Lorelli was there in a moment to help her down.
“M’sure you don’t need me to go into detail.”
“No, no. Certainly not and there is nothing further to be done?” Landris questioned.
It was Lore’s turn to shake her head. “Not as of yet. All we can do is keep an ear out.”
“Of course. If it is alright, I shall have a word with some of my best students? Perhaps eventually they will come across something in their studies.”
“I’ll check with Aely. Like as not she won’t want some poor kids meddling with whatever it was that got Arrens, but I’ll check.”
Landris blinked, “Oh dear, how is poor Madam Caltrains doing?”
“About as well as can be expected, all things considered. She’s in good hands at any rate.”
“Please, send her my condolences.”
Landris patted her on the side of the leg as it was the only part of Lore the gnome could reach. “I suppose I should go make an announcement. I’ll cancel classes for the week and finish assuming what’s left of Headmaster… former-headmaster… Caltrain’s duties.” If Landris had aspired to be headmaster one day, Lorelli could guess that this was not the way she had wanted it to come about.
Lore turned and made her way back to the door.
The rogue stopped, turning, “Hrm?”
“Just because the headmaster may no longer be with us does not mean you and Madam Caltrains get to be strangers.”
Lorelli smiled, hand on the door knob. “Right, I’ll let Aely know.”
Lore opened the door and was met with a crowd of students just arriving. Some stared at her, some looked anywhere but at her, none seemed to recognize her. Many of the student she had known during her time at the school were gone. Some had graduated. Some died in Northrend. Many died to Deathwing at one point or another. So many had passed before her when she had fully expected–and in some cases even welcomed–death long before now. Lorelli slipped through the crowd as she heard Landris telling the students to proceed to the main hall and wait for her there.
Lore stepped outside and the sun shone brightly, casting its merry yellow hue across the front walls of the school and everything else it touched. She pulled her hood up against it’s assault, the light harsh and seeming wholly inappropriate. She closed her eyes and felt the tears on her cheeks. She dashed at them, irritated. After the Sha she had been sure she couldn’t feel anything at all, obviously that now proved to be untrue, though the timing could have stood to be better.
Lorelli took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. There would be time enough for that later. Right now she wanted to go check on Aely.
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August 12, 2013 – 10:05 am
This is written with help from Hinote and Annalea. There may be more that happens, but this is the last planned piece of this particular story.
Previous posts in this series include Coming forth by Day, The Magical Rogue,Demonology 101, Intellect Reason and the Self, Trailing off (Part1 and Part 2), Bail, Searching Outland, and A Needle in the Netherstorm.
It wasn’t like any of the reports had been good. Hinote and Shaila had said they were pretty sure he was in Outland. Lore confirmed that he wasn’t on Kalimdor, but that he had probably tried there too. And then Kyraine came back, saying that some sort of epic fel battle had happened at one of the summoning altars in Shadowmoon, and that something … wrong… had gone on there. Not that anything good happened at the Altar of Shadows anyway, but…
There was only one place to go now.
After a moment’s hesitation, she picked up her buzzbox. Hinote? Are ye there?
The warlock responded after only a few moments. Yeah. Something happen?
I jus’ spoke wi’ Kyraine an’ her crew. They tracked him ta Shadowmoon, ta th’ Altar o’ Shadows. Found a big fel mess, came back quick. I think … Aely paused, weighing her words. I think I’d better go see it. An’ I wis hopin’ ye’d come wi’ me. Th’ shard may help there.
The next response didn’t come immediately either, but when Hinote spoke again, she did so with a determined resolve that was audible even over the box. Yeah…alright. Where should I meet you?
Shattrath. I’ll meet ye by th’ gryphon master.
There was no reply, but Aely didn’t really need one. Hinote wasn’t a woman of additional words, and she’d proved herself to be trustworthy over the last few weeks. She would be there.
Aely had one stop to make before heading for the Dark Portal, however. There was a good chance this would end poorly, and Tarquin had promised the Riders help. She didn’t think they’d need backup – things were probably already well decided, with as faint as all the trails had been – but heading into Shadowmoon Valley was never a sure thing. Outland was notoriously unstable, and Shadowmoon was about as bad as it got. While the remnants of the Ashtongue Deathsworn were trying to clean out the remains of Illidan’s fouled temple, there were still loose demons in the area they were headed. Someone needed to know where she was headed, in case …. well, she didn’t want to think about in case.
The Pig and Whistle was fairly quiet for midafternoon, in between the lunch and dinner crowds, but it was as good a place as any to try to find Tarquin. Aely blinked several times, her eyes adjusting to the dim light inside. Other than two elves in a side table, the bar’s only visible occupant was not, in fact, Tarquin. Annalea sat at the main table, letters and missives stacked into piles in front of her.
Aely slid into a chair at the table. “‘lo, Annie.”
Annalea glanced up and set her current letter — from the tiny, packed scrawl, likely a Merchant’s Guild squabble given print — atop the pile to her right. “Evenin’, Aely.” She peered at the paladin a moment before asking cautiously, “What’s the news?”
“Not good. Kyr’s back fra Outland. She an’ Rhett an’ Gervas found something. Everything else’s turned up loose ends air old trails. He’s likely gone that way, an’ I need ta go an’ see about it. Hinote’s gonna bring th’ soulshard she used ta track him in th’ Blasted Lands an’ we’ll see what it turns up. I was jus’ gonna leave word so people knew where I’d gone.”
“That’s a hell of a place to be on your own. Even with Kirase.” Annalea stacked the piles atop one another, creating one big heap that, presumably, she’d be able to sort again later. “Let me get my coat.”
Aely paused a moment. “I dinna think ye need ta put yirself inta danger fir this. I’ve no idea what we’ll find, an’ I…” she trailed off, thought for a moment, and sighed. “An’ yir probably right. I told Hinote I’d meet her in Shattrath.”
“First point: we’re Riders. Letting you do this on your own isn’t even on the table.” She looked down at the papers. “Or if it was, it’s under the pile and that’s where it stays.” The grin she flashed Aely faded. “Second: another set of eyes out there can’t hurt. And if those two aren’t enough, Tarq asked if I’d go. Likely as much to keep an eye on Hinote as anything, but I’ll feel better even if I’m just standing guard while she does… whatever it is she’s planning.”
“Tarq figured oan me goin’ out there by myself?”
“Not in the haring-off-foolishly sort of sense. He wanted to make sure you had backup in case you needed to get out there on short notice.”
Aely nodded. “I dinna ken exactly what ta expect goin’ out there. Hinote’s got a soulshard she charged at Arrens’ summonin’ circle ay th’ University, so she’s got a way ta tell if he’s been there, but I think it’s just magical resonance ay some sort. Kyr found some kinda fel-looking chaos ay th’ Altar of Shadows. Whate’er is there, it’s likely not going ta be pretty. I’ll be glad t’ have ye with me.”
“Good. I promise not to instigate, either. Don’t tell Threnny, but Mama always said I was the better-behaved.” The priestess might have been lying, but her smile was damn near angelic.
Three women met near the gryphon master in Shattrath, but exchanged few words before setting out towards Shadowmoon Valley. The atmosphere was generally grim, and the fel-green ambience of the demon tainted valley only added to the sickly feeling of the entire endeavor. Kyraine’s directions said to head out to the eastern edge of the Valley, to the Altar of Shadows – that they would know what they were looking for once they got anywhere near it. After a quick stop at Wildhammer Stronghold, they set out on horseback. Hinote kept Arrens’ charged soulstone out, reading some sort of signal out of it’s mysterious flickers.
“Can ye read anythin’ out here?”
“Yes and no. There’s still too much interference, but if we can get to where he was trying to cast it, that should work.” Hinote turned back to guide her dreadsteed around a group of elementals that was passing off to the north, leaving the other two women to follow behind her.
They picked their way around the various lava pits and fel pools of the Valley, staying away from Eclipse Point and the Sanctum of the Stars, and following a lava river out towards the edge of Shadowmoon, where the altar should be. It didn’t take long before the soulshard’s erratic flickering became a soft glow, and then a steady pulse.
Hinote reigned in her dreadsteed as they approached the Altar, the earth all around it blasted with fresh scorch marks and fel ooze. Annalea was close behind. “Well, something’s been here, and whatever it was appears to have exploded.”
The warlock’s voice was constrained in response. “There was a fight here, and…judging by the marks, somebody had a bad time of things.” She took the soul shard – now glowing brightly – and began to walk it around the perimeter of the Altar, the remains of summoning circles etched into the ashen earth all around the two great pillars. “I think…it’s strong enough here that I should be able to show what happened. Or at least…some of it.” Hinote muttered a soft incantation, and the shard began to float in front of her, emitting little pulses of light and small purple bolts of energy.
Aely watched from the back of her charger, unwilling or unable to get down. “Is it… him?”
Hinote merely nodded, floating the soulstone up above the grimly stained surface of the altar. “Can you see it?”
“No. ‘s just purple flashes t’ me.”
“I can read them though. Hold on a minute.” Annalea dismounted as well, moving to stand between the Paladin and the glowing soul shard. She too muttered an incantation, and Aely felt Annalea’s presence inside her mind for a moment, before her vision snapped forward several yards. “Steady now. I think you can see it through my eyes this way. You should be able to read what it’s saying if you don’t think too hard about how you’re looking through someone else’s vision.”
Hinote began another incantation, this one channeled into the soulstone, and it bounced around above the altar for a moment, before flying over towards where Aely and her charger were standing. Aely watched as Arrens walked down the pathway, almost as though he was made of shadows instead of flesh and blood. Shaaroon wasn’t with him, which was unusual – the felguard nearly always accompanied Arrens when he was out working on things. He looked almost starved, his face gaunt and lined with years that hadn’t been there when she had seen him last, and in his arms was a large, leather bound book.
Then he vanished, and the shard danced around again, this time flying to settle in front of the altar.
Arrens appeared again, pouring something out of a vial onto the surface of the tainted altar. It bubbled and fizzed, and then seemed to absorb into the stone itself. He then lay down a chalk line in what was perhaps the most complex summoning circle Aely had ever seen, drawing directly on the altar itself. He placed several crystals at intersections on the stone, building a grid on top of the circle, and faintly, above the stone, the image of a Pit Lord wavered into view, as if through a Draenei communicator. After a few moments, he referred back to the book, and then began to chant – his voice coming through the shard with a hollow buzz. The words were not discernable, but the intent was plain. Then again, he vanished and the shard danced away.
After flitting about the two stone pillars several times, it settled on the far ledge of Shadowmoon, where the fel ooze spilled off into the nether. Well behind where Arrens was summoning, a hand reached up to grip the rock, and slowly, a great being heaved itself into view. It was covered in spikes, it’s head deformed with crests and ridges, it’s body gargantuan and muscled. It bared its teeth in a deformed, twisted mockery of a grin, stretched out one hand, and blasted a jet of fel energy directly at where Arrens’ image had been standing. Then it too disappeared.
The stone returned to it’s original floating place, above the altar, and several images appeared in rapid succession – Arrens flinging some kind of barrier spell. The Eredar laughing in his face as it blasted through the barrier and blew up part of the rock wall behind them. Another barrage of spells from Arrens, one of which hit the Eredar in the shoulder. The Eredar lunging for the book on the altar; Arrens chasing after him.
Then Arrens’ visage twisted, great wings sprouting from his back, and he transformed into the demon that Aely knew he had once fought so hard to control. The Eredar stopped, mid stride, turned, and lunged for Arrens instead, his claws raking through Arrens’ now exposed flesh. Two impossible seconds and he was in the Eredar’s grasp. And then Arrens disappeared.
The Eredar turned, as though he could hear her. The sick, twisted grin flashed across his face again, and with another incantation, he, too, vanished.
The soul shard exploded.
Hinote stood there for a moment, stunned, though it was unclear whether it was because of the soulstone shattering or because of the scene it had played back for them. Perhaps both. She lowered her hands to her sides slowly, as if in defeat. So, she thought to herself, this is how it ends…for now, at least. The warlock let out a tiny sigh, inaudible to anyone save herself. She’d known from the start that things were likely to turn out like this, but that didn’t make it any better to see it happen. It never did.
“I’m…sorry it had to end this way,” she said somberly, not turning to face either of the other women. “I know that doesn’t help. Nothing…really helps with things like this.”
Aely slid off her charger and walked unsteadily over to the now-silent altar. “So that’s it then. Just gone?”
Hinote sighed again, more audibly this time. “Yeah…looks that way.” She looked up to the pitch-black sky for a moment, thoughtful. “And…in this case, ‘gone’ might be the worst case scenario. Even if he’s alive…nobody stays the same after being the prisoner of an Eredar.” There was a slight pause as the warlock seemed to consider that. “Who was that, anyway? Eredar don’t usually show themselves so openly without a good reason.”
Aely leaned heavily on the altar, her hands sticking in the thin layer of fel-ash that coated everything out here. “Arrens made an enemy, some years ago, ay an Eredar named Kro’thar. Said he’d bound him, an’ tossed him back where he’d ne’er be seen again. I… think he may ha’ found a way ta set himself loose. I canna think ay anyin it’d be otherwise.”
“Prisons never hold forever…” Hinote trailed off quietly. “So…somehow he got loose, and came back for revenge?”
“Seems’at way. I’d na put it past an Eredar ta have orchestrated th’ whole event, down ta findin’ that bloody book.”
The warlock pondered the idea for a moment. “I doubt it was entirely by chance that Kro’thar showed up when he did, but…I’m not sure he planned the entire thing out. It’s equally likely that he just saw an opportunity and took it.” She shook her head slowly. “Doesn’t really matter, I suppose…the end result’s the same.”
“Gone. An’… th’ soul link isn’a workin’. He’s either dead, air beyond where I can feel him. Th’ link wis supposed ta keep us both fra bein’ lost in th’ Nether. Brought him back th’ last time Kro’thar thought ta meddle. But there’s nothin’ – I’ve felt nothin’.” Aely stopped for a moment, thinking. “Gone.”
“It’s possible it was broken. Someone as powerful as an Eredar could reverse the spell without much effort.”
“Especially as it’s what thwarted him th’ last time.” Aely sighed and turned away.
Hinote looked over her shoulder at her for a moment. So this is what that looks like, she thought. A wave of guilt suddenly washed over her. How many times had she done something like this now? Was this how it looked every time? She thought of her sisters, her parents, her foster daughter, the other Roses; did they suffer like this every time she disappeared somewhere? The warlock liked to think she’d built up something of a track record of coming back whenever she abruptly vanished like that, but inwardly she couldn’t help but wonder how much comfort, if any, that really was. “There’s…nothing left for you here,” she said finally. “Whenever you’re ready to leave…we should go.”
Annalea came over then, offering a hand to Aely. She brushed it off and turned back to where her charger stood waiting. “Nothing left here. I suppose yir right.” She swung up into the saddle, and after one last look, turned and rode back up the path.
Comments Off on Old Enemies: A Needle in the Netherstorm
August 10, 2013 – 6:59 pm
This post is brought to you by the ever bastardly Bricu Bittertongue.
Previous posts in this series include Coming forth by Day, The Magical Rogue,Demonology 101, Intellect Reason and the Self, Trailing off (Part1 and Part 2), Bail, and Searching Outland.
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.
June 3, 2016 – 11:21 am
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August 4, 2015 – 12:22 pm
An old story, reposted here as I’m shaking the mothballs off Ankona and needed an easy way to show people a little bit about the (batshit) things she gets up to. Enjoy, and don’t be too creeped out!
It really …
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November 13, 2014 – 12:30 pm
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November 11, 2014 – 3:09 pm
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October 24, 2014 – 12:01 pm
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Actually, it was white linen pants and a shift, but the effect was approximately the same. The little chapel was warm, on the edge of …
June 29, 2014 – 4:39 pm
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