Part 25 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion
The Split Falchion, and their two companions, ate lunch in one of the better inns of the travel hub, Passage. When Professor Langhorn had first suggested stopping there for lunch, and continuing on a later train, they were at first nervous. Kidnapping the leader of the city’s guard puts a rather large target on one’s back, but fortunately it appears that the Eldeen Reach still had Merrick tightly in their grasp. None had heard of their indiscretions.
The professor’s assistant, Shakris, seemed unusually curious about the mercenaries, firing questions at them seeming at random. At first, Langhorn had tried to suppress her, but realized the futility of trying to subdue the inquiring mind of a natural researcher.
Now, with the six enjoying the most decent meal any had had in a few days, Shakris launched another salvo out of the blue.
“So how’d you join this gang?” she addresses Marwyn, who was sitting opposite to her.
“Uh… hmph,” he gags, trying to swallow quickly. “Here,” he forces out, before clearing his throat, “I met them here.”
“Few months ago, now,” Marwyn reminisces, “Vargard picked me out of a gutter, literally. Really didn’t believe it when he said he wanted me on his team.”
“What drew you to Marwyn?” she asks, switching abruptly to Vargard. He’d grown used to her interrogations over the few hours since Fairhaven, finding them slightly irksome but tolerable.
“Dunno,” he shrugs, taking a drink, “My team had been down a healer, seemed like Marwyn here’d work for cheap. It was a low risk run, thought I’d give him a shot.”
“What was it like, your first job?” she returns to Marwyn, mentally making notes while attacking both bard and roasted bird.
“It was… illuminating,” Marwyn responds after a pause, “Though I don’t think I should go into details…”
“Well, must’ve gone well enough,” she reasons. Marwyn mentally enjoys the irony of the statement, but is careful not to give the voracious apprentice anything to latch onto.
Lesani changes the topic, reflecting a question back at Shakris, “What made you interested in Langhorn’s tutelage?”
“Ah, that’s a story,” the woman sighs, “My family’s lived in Fairhaven for generations. Had uncles, aunts, and grandparents who fought in the war.”
“Not siblings?” Vargard asks.
“No, fortunately,” Shakris answers, somewhat solemnly, “I’m the oldest of the current Valderis generation. Accepted to the University of Wynarn at age 19, five years ago now.”
“Saw her when I was roped into teaching one of the introductory courses,” Langhorn picks up, warming to the conversation now that it had turned from the mercenaries’ pasts, “Was absolutely adept at beginner spells, but she didn’t rest on her laurels. Always trying to find ways to expand her talents.”
“You are well-versed in spellcraft?” Lesani questions, looking closely at Shakris.
“Well enough,” Shakris confirms, “Certainly more than any other in my class.” She returns the careful probing looks of the warlock, and says, “Not as well as you, perhaps.”
“I have had more chances to learn,” Lesani says, gracefully accepting the compliment.
“Yes, and what of your bard?” Langhorn asks, looking to Marwyn. “Please, don’t take offence, but you and the hobgoblin hardly look the type to study magic.”
“None taken,” Vargard says, while Jorduna merely remained silent, as she had the entire time thus far. It wasn’t a malevolent silence, more that of one who was completely uninterested in the conversation.
“I’m…. learning,” Marwyn says, “Though honestly I’ve been more focused on my archery.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed your bow,” the professor returns, eyes drawn momentarily to the bluish-white stone hung from the center of the stave.
“He is learned in several rituals,” Lesani defends, “As well as… well Marwyn, I’m sure you’d like to explain.”
“Yeah,” Marwyn says, grateful for the assist, “Well, most of the spells I know enhance my archery.”
“Really?” the professor says, dragging out the word, “I’ve heard of that style, but it’s rare. How did you come by it?”
“Professor Omidan gave me a tome with instructions,” Marwyn explains.
“Where does this Omidan study?” Langhorn asks.
“Uh, Professor,” Shakris interrupts, “He’s at Wynarn.”
“Ah!” the professor exclaims in embarrassment, “Well, I can’t really know everyone at the university. My… old university,” he pauses for a moment, then asks, “But surely you aren’t just interested in those spells? Sending is definitely a must for any competent spellcaster, though I do detect the stones you all carry,” he banters, “But surely you’d be interested in spells such as invisibility?”
“Eh, yeah,” Marwyn nods, “I’ve just never had the time to focus.”
“Well, I could try to walk you through some of the primers,” the professor offers, “There is little else to do on the train.”
“I… that’d be great, thanks!” Marwyn says.
“It is no trouble,” Langhorn replies, smiling.
In contrast to his first ride of the day, Marwyn arrives at the Passage station in plenty of time for the afternoon south lightning rail. Making what seemed like an agonizing decision, Langhorn decided to pay for sleeper cabins. “Not that I don’t enjoy your company,” he explains, “But I really should be getting to Sharn as fast as possible, and this way we won’t have to spend the night.”
“Those cabins are expensive,” Vargard observed, “Sure you don’t want us to chip in?”
“No, I couldn’t accept. I am hiring you after all.”
“How long will it take?” Marwyn asks, somewhat excited to be riding in the best that the rail had to offer.
“Two, maybe three days,” the professor answers, “It depends on how long they stop between segments, but we should be at least to Wroat the day after tomorrow.”
“I’ve been there too, you know,” Marwyn talks with Langhorn as they boarded the train.
“Marwyn seems to like Professor Langhorn,” Lesani says to Vargard, as they walked in behind the rest.
“Well, he’s a kind old mentor figure, offering to teach him the ways of magic. Sound familiar?” Vargard says.
“Are you calling me old, Var?”
“Yes, but only because I know what that makes me,” Vargard smiles.
“This is just an escort, right boss?” Jorduna cuts in, sneaking alongside the other two. “We’re not sticking with them at Sharn.”
“Just an escort, Jor, your distaste is noted,” Vargard says. He puts most of his things in the cabin he shared with Marwyn, the loss of Cletus reducing them to even numbers once again. He thinks of the dwarf briefly when he does so, and the pang of loss hits him once more, souring his mood. But he was also grateful, in a way, for the grief. It should never be easy to forget a good friend.
The lightning rail they were on was underbooked, but even so there were those residing in the neighboring cabins. They were of richer stock, and made every attempt to ignore those who had tramped into the adjacent compartments.
Marwyn enters the cabin a few minutes after Vargard, stowing most of his equipment as well. He kept his bow, though, not willing leave his most valuable possession unattended.
“That’s a new ring,” Vargard observes, watching Marwyn from his bed. “Blew through your money already?”
“Only… most of it,” Marwyn responds, unsure whether he should tell Vargard the truth.
“Well, for an enchanted ring, it’s been forged oddly,” Vargard appraises, “Looks more like a wedding band than something you’d wear into battle. I hope you didn’t pay too much for it.”
“Didn’t know you were an expert,” Marwyn says evasively.
“Not entirely. What’s it do?”
“It… uh….” Marwyn says, trying to think of a lie, but his mind was buckling under Vargard’s interested stare, “Just… don’t tell the others.”
“Why?” Vargard asks, confused by the bard’s sudden embarrassment.
“I bought two…” Marwyn begins, “and… gave the other to Mevalyn.”
“A nice gift, I suppose…” Vargard comments, before remembering his previous words, “Wait… you didn’t.”
“Yeah,” Marwyn nods, looking out the window, “Thought I’d throw caution to the wind. I didn’t think I’d be… here, so I wanted to know for sure if we were going anywhere.”
“I’m sorry, Marwyn,” Vargard commiserates, “I guess that explains why you changed your mind. Could’ve given you back the ring, at least.” Vargard waits for a response from Marwyn, whose gaze remains fixed on the passing landscape outside.
“Marwyn? She said no, right?” Vargard asks.
“Var, uh…” Marwyn coughs nervously, “She didn’t say no.”
The warrior seizes Marwyn by both shoulders, turning the bard to face him, “What the hell are you doing on this train?”
“You don’t want me here?”
“No, Marwyn,” Vargard answers, releasing him, “No, but you’re making a mistake. Even if you’re having second thoughts, you shouldn’t run to the other side of Korvairre to…”
“Var,” Marwyn interrupts, finally realizing that his coyness was causing more harm than good, “It’s not what you think. Just… let me start from the beginning.”
Meanwhile, Two Cabins Over
Shakris had stowed her meager belongings away fairly rapidly, and had been spending most of the time since boarding staring out the window. It wasn’t that she was impoverished, but many of the belongings she had treasured were property of the University of Wynarn. Delicate magical tools, volumes on all sorts of obscure and tantalizing schools of magic, they all had to be left behind. Still, she reasons, there will be more of their number in Sharn.
Having just left Passage, her view was mostly of the so-called Eldritch Woods. They didn’t look eldritch, to her. Just a collection of trees, unique only in the fact that it had been the first proper forest she had ever seen. Shakris wasn’t ignorant of the terrible power true magic could hold, but she refused to believe that the overgrown sticks rushing by her were malevolent.
“Ms. Valderis?” a voice interrupts her thoughts.
“Hmm?” the young woman asks, turning to her mentor.
“I was just asking how the departure from your family went,” Professor Langhorn repeats, looking up from a leather bound journal, “I hadn’t the chance before, with us in mixed company.”
“Ok. As well as it could,” Shakris says stiffly, “I told you Professor, I’m not close with them.”
“Indeed, though I had hoped… It matters little,” Langhorn cuts himself off. “You seemed rather curious about our companions, for one who initially objected to hiring them.”
“It wasn’t that, I was just surprised,” she answers, “There’s little else to do now, so I found little harm in small talk.”
“Small talk indeed,” Langhorn chuckles, “At the rate you’re going you’ll be an expert in the business by Sharn.”
“Are you really going to teach that bard?” Shakris asks, after a pause.
“No harm, really,” Langhorn replies, “As you yourself said, there is little to do now. I can hardly study here, comfortable this cabin maybe,” he observes, throwing a wide glance around his surroundings. “I hope you don’t find my offer in competition with your education.”
“No, of course not Professor. I was just…”
“Curious,” Langhorn finishes, with a smile, “Well, no one can ever fault you for being insensitive to your environment.”
There was a light knocking on the door, to which the professor lays down his journal and stands. “That would be him, I imagine.”
“Need me to clear out? Should be a good view of the sunset from the aft car,” Shakris says.
“Only if you want to, Shakris. And please do be careful, I am sure one of the mercenaries will accompany you if…” the Professor admonishes, opening the door for Marwyn.
“I’ll be fine, Professor,” Shakris says, smiling.
Marwyn waits for her to pass before entering. After hearing his story, Vargard was a little surprised and skeptical about Mevalyn’s prodding him to rejoin the Falchion, but he believed Marwyn.
The bard enters Langhorn’s cabin hesitantly, unsure of himself. He’d brought only his bow, and his ritual book. When the professor sees him pull out the latter, he waves Marwyn away. “No, you won’t need that.”
“Oh,” Marwyn says, replacing the book.
“So, I don’t claim to have an encyclopedic knowledge of spells, especially bardic ones, but I could train you in one more universally practiced.”
“Invisibility. I did mention it earlier. I imagine this will be quite useful in your career,” Langhorn explains, which piques Marwyn’s interests.
“You think I can cast something like that?” Marwyn asks.
“Oh, it’s not that hard a spell,” the professor says dismissively, “A first year university student couldn’t pull it off, certainly, but we’ve got wardings in the more sensitive areas of the university for good reason.” He thinks for a moment, and his eyes fall on Marwyn’s bow, “Here,” he begins, opening the cabin’s window, “Show me your best trick.”
“Sure,” Marwyn says, stringing his bow.
“Is that a dragonshard?” Langhorn exclaims in surprise, seeing the gem once the bow was out of its sheathe.
“Yeah. Got it uh… earlier,” Marwyn says, thinking it best not to mention exactly how he had acquired it. “Acting weird lately.”
“How so?” Langhorn asks, curious.
“Well, here, watch,” Marwyn says, nocking an arrow. Langhorn hurriedly steps to the side, giving the Bard enough space.
Marwyn draws back on his bow, willing a great deal of arcane force into his shot as he prepares to fire. Still slightly fearful of the dragonshard, he takes care to release the bowstring evenly, so as to not throw the shot wide. The shard acts as normally, under inspection by both Marwyn and Langhorn.
“Well, from what I’ve seen,” Langhorn says, seeing the arrow fly deep into the Eldritch Woods and land with a solid thunk into a tree, “The spell should be well within your abilities, given practice. As for the shard, I saw nothing which deviates from what I know of such artifacts.”
“It was only that one time,” Marwyn explains, reminiscing. “It… drew power from somewhere, I guess. Almost blinded me when it happened, but it made the arrow really powerful.”
“Where were you?” Langhorn questions, retrieving his journal and reading a page intently.
“Uh…. Thrane, nowhere in particular,” Marwyn answers evasively.
“No latent magical energies or natural phenomenon?”
“No. Not that I was looking, but I didn’t see anything,” Marwyn answers.
“Well, the shards do have a connection with Siberys. Those do, anyway,” Langhorn says, “I do not subscribe to the theory that our plane was once a great dragon, not like the dragons of our time certainly, but each plane does contain great power. If I had to guess, I would say the area you travelled through temporarily became a Manifest Zone.”
“A Manifest… a Manifest what?”
Langhorn sighs, and repeats, “A Manifest Zone. The divisions between planes are not entirely perfect. Sometimes they… leak,” he says, searching for a word, “Sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily. Sharn is an excellent example of this, an entire section of the city rises into the air solely because of a Manifest Zone which links Siberys to that region,” Langhorn lectures, “Specifically Syrania if memory serves. Effects of Manifest Zones differ, but if one were to appear that was linked to the dead space between planes in Siberys, or as it is more aptly called, ‘The Sea of Siberys’, I would imagine it would greatly enhance magic related to the zone.”
“Why would it make my bow more powerful?” Marwyn asks, not entirely following.
“The Sea of Siberys is cold, Marwyn. Very cold, according to legends of the place. As those who prescribe to the progenitor theory say, when Khyber struck down Siberys, those parts of it that didn’t become the planes we know today decayed violently. Some regions grew hot and bright, and the light cast from those became the stars we see today,” Langhorn says, gesturing to the darkening skies while he closed the window, “But most simply died altogether, becoming cold as the grave. Of course, the origin of the Sea of Siberys is debatable, though most agree that it is extremely cold. I imagine that channeling energy straight from this region would be very effective in combat.”
“Oh,” Marwyn says, somewhat understanding. “It… it was snowing, that night. Maybe that’s why it was so cold.”
“Hmm yes….. what?!” Langhorn exclaims, after fully digesting what Marwyn had said.
“Well, I was just thinking,” Marwyn tried to explain.
“No no, I did not mean to…” Langhorn begins, “You just… revealed something that I should have considered. The implications are… impossible frankly, but it does open new lines of…” he trails off. “Right, I believe we have strayed from our stated purpose. If you are ready, I will begin teaching you the art of invisibility.”
“Uh… sure,” Marwyn says, confused but relieved that they were leaving territory he was lost in. He replaced his bow in its sheath, and readies himself mentally for the lesson.
Lightning Rail, Aft Balcony
Shakris was enjoying the quickly fading sunset from the back end of the lightning rail when she heard movement from behind her. Quickly readying a spell, she turns to face who was approaching her. She lets the built up magic drain when she recognizes the hobgoblin Jorduna. She was surprised to see her, seeing as the rogue had remained practically silent throughout the trip so far.
“Didn’t take you for a fighter,” Jorduna comments, catching the flow of arcane energy.
“Girl’s gotta be prepared,” Shakris says. “What are you doing here?”
“I’d rather not see one of our clients get through from the back of this train, or something,” Jorduna answers, taking a place at the railing beside Shakris.
“I can handle myself,” Shakris answers defiantly.
“Had a friend who could do the same,” Jorduna speaks, not rising to the apprentice’s challenge.
“Your mentor first offered us five tickets aboard this train. Seemed he knew someone we had worked with,” Jorduna explains, “I think you’re smart enough to tell me how many we are now.”
“What happened?” Shakris asks, watching the sun finally disappear behind the Eldritch Groves.
“He made a stupid choice,” Jorduna answers, then reluctantly adds, “And saved my life.”
“And your… I’m sorry, I don’t know how to respond to that,” Shakris says, “Why are you telling me.”
“You asked,” Jorduna shoots back. Silence falls, and remains, as the two watch the landscape pass them by.
“Is that professor full of it?” Jorduna asks suddenly.
“What do you mean?” Shakris says, defensively.
“The weather thing. Everything getting colder,” Jorduna clarifies, “Something that big, seems impossible.”
“The data is there,” Shakris explains, “Normally the sun’d still be up for 30 or 40 minutes. Something’s causing the day to be shorter.”
“’s called winter,” Jorduna says.
“No, don’t you think we thought of that?” Shakris exclaims, annoyed, “This is why no one cares. Everyone knows it gets colder in the winter, days shorter. But we are talking about effects beyond that!”
“Sounds like it’s just a cold winter,” Jorduna argues.
“Argh! Whatever, I don’t have to debate this with you,” Shakris says, frustrated.
“Fine by me,” Jorduna responds unmoved.
“I’m going back to my cabin,” Shakris announces, the hobgoblin having spoiled the mood.
“Fine by me,” Jorduna repeats, slowly.
Marwyn had a restful slumber. It had been the first time he’d ever shared a cabin with Vargard, and the warrior’s presence in the next bed over made him feel safe somehow. His lesson with Langhorn had gone well, well enough that the professor had declared that Marwyn was capable of finishing by himself.
Taking advantage of the time they had, the six had stopped by an inn close to the rails. They didn’t have all morning, but the train wasn’t due to leave for another hour.
“One of the train workmen said we’ll be in Wroat by dusk,” Vargard says, joining the others at a table with his breakfast.
“I assume we’ll be stopping there for the night?” Langhorn asks, to which Vargard nods, mouth full with food.
“This journey is proving to be quite peaceful,” Lesani comments. She had risen earlier to take breakfast, and solely had coffee before her, too early in the day for stronger stuff.
“As I hoped it would be,” Langhorn agrees, “Though I am confident in your abilities if circumstances were to change.”
“Not that I’m complaining, but what makes you say that?” Vargard asks, clearing his throat.
“Working with your bard, the other night. If he’s as competent as I observed, I fear what would happen to one who makes an enemy out of the more experienced member of your outfit.”
“He learns quickly,” Vargard agrees lightheartedly.
The conversation is interrupted, however, when a loud shout is heard in the distance. Their train was about to depart.
“Burning Khyber!” Langhorn curses, “I thought we had more time!”
“We did,” Vargard said, quickly placing some coin on the table, “Not anymore.”
The day’s travels were mostly uneventful after the initial rush to make it back to the train. Langhorn and his assistant remained mostly to themselves, as did the mercenaries. Recent experiences aside, lightning rail travel was dull. Reading and staring out at the fast-moving landscape were two of the most common ways to spend ones time.
Marwyn took the opportunity to further his training. Ill-fitted to archery as the train was, he stuck with the invisibility spell taught to him earlier. It was two-thirds the way to Sharn when he finally succeeded for the first time.
“Var!” he exclaimed, while gazing at his now invisible hand.
“Wha… oh,” the warrior says, reacting instinctually with surprise at the apparent lack of bard before remembering Marwyn’s practicing. “Good, that’s good. Might come in handy someday.”
“Yeah, but it’s really taxing,” Marwyn complains, still invisible, “I mean, I could probably cast it a few more times, but…”
“You’ll get better at it,” Vargard says, finding talking to thin air slightly disconcerting, “Probably couldn’t do that when you were first with us.”
“I guess. I can still remember figuring out my healing spell,” Marwyn recollects, “It was before I left Wrendale. It’s what really made me leave, you know. Realized I could be… more for the first time.”
“Go show Les, Marwyn. I’m sure she’ll want to see this too,” Vargard suggests.
“Good idea!” Marwyn exclaims, opening the cabin doorway.
Vargard sighs as the bard exits. He was happy for Marwyn, truly. It was just that spending a day and a half with the bard in one room could be… taxing on Vargard’s resolve.
Lesani had been spending her day much like Marwyn had, in magical concentration. She, however, had focused on her journal, which was considerably less wearing on her companion. Jorduna, for her part, had returned to sleep shortly after they had reboarded, and then had taken to watching out the train window, absentmindedly twirling a knife in her hand.
The knife flew across the room suddenly, seemingly sticking in the air after a certain point. Lesani cries out at this, reaching for her wand. Marwyn too cries out, in pain, and the illusion around him fades to reveal the injured bard. The knife had struck him in the arm.
“It’s me! It’s just me!” Marwyn cries out, clutching at his wound.
“Don’t sneak up on me, kid!” Jorduna yells angrily.
“How did you see me? I thought I was…”
“Just because you’re invisible doesn’t mean you’re inaudible,” she says, grabbing the knife and pulling it out of the wound.
“Is everything alright?” Shakris asks, poking her head through the door.
“We are fine, just a misunderstanding,” Lesani says, waving her off. Vargard, halfway between the cabins, stops at hearing this.
“Well, I am glad you have learned invisibility, Marwyn,” Lesani says, as the bard treats his wound, “Though I wish you had been slightly more prudent in using it.”
“I didn’t think Jor would stab me,” he argues, wound still aching as the flesh reformed.
“I didn’t stab you,” Jorduna corrects, from across the room, “You walked into this room, invisible, and expected me not to notice. I’m offended.”
“You’re offended?!” Marwyn cries, “I’m the one with the knife wound!”
“And I’m the one who has to clean blood off my knife!”
“Yeah, my blood!”
“Both of you, stop,” Lesani mediates. “Marwyn, you are healed. Jor, you are always polishing your knives. Does anyone want to continue this fight and have us removed from the train for causing a scene?”
When neither challenge the elf, she nods and says, “Good. Now, Marwyn, do you need anything else?”
“N… no. I’m just going to go,” Marwyn says, backing out of the room.
“It was a good throw though,” Jorduna mutters under her breath, when Marwyn had left.
“You were aiming for his arm, right Jor?” Lesani asks.
“Sure,” Jorduna answers, “Sure I was aiming.”
“Hey, he probably wouldn’t have died. I’m not that good. And it’s not like I knew it was him.”
“That is a good point,” Lesani sighs, “Between this and his initial experiments with the unseen servant, I fear Marwyn may have a penchant for using his talents unwisely.”
“His what?” Jorduna says.
“His… nevermind,” Lesani cuts herself off, not willing to carry through the rest of the conversation. She hadn’t seen Marwyn cast the ritual in some time, probably due to the high cost it entailed. Still, she thinks to herself, returning to her journal, there may be a way around that.
The Next Day
The six had slept through most of the layover in Wroat, the train already in motion before most had awoken. The trip from Wroat to Sharn was far shorter than the previous day’s journey, and there was every expectation that the group would reach the great city before noon.
And indeed, they did. Marwyn marveled at the grand structure, visible miles before they arrived. Marwyn would always remember Fairhaven as the most beautiful work of architecture he had even seen. But it couldn’t hold a candle to the mere size of Sharn. Easily the largest city on the continent, it reached far into the sky with grand towers. Far into the earth, as well, down to the molten layer which provided thermal power to the city.
The city was so large, in fact, that when they arrived, Professor Langhorn needed to call a skycoach to allow them passage into the High City. From there, they travelled to Menthis Plateau, the section of the city closest to the center. There was housed Morgrave University, the destination of the groups cross-Khorvaire journey.
It was at one of the gates to the large university that the Professor bid his companions farewell.
“This is our stop, as it were,” Langhorn says, relieved to have finally arrived. He hands them all small bags of coin, payment for the Falchion’s services.
“Sure you can handle yourself from here?” Vargard asks, making effort to be thorough.
“Yes, Mr. Garodin, and I thank you for your services. I’ll certainly keep you in mind if I find myself in need of such gallantry again.”
“Very well then,” Vargard nods, speaking for the group, “and… fare thee well.”
“Indeed,” Langhorn chuckles, “I believe I see our guide approaching. It is time for Shakris and I to go.”
Vargard merely nods, and the professor steps through the gate, his apprentice following.
“So… what now?” Jorduna asks, watching the two figures depart.
“Get on with our lives,” Vargard answers, “Should be plenty of work that needs people like us. I’ll introduce myself to some people, see what happens. City like Sharn…” he pauses, taking in the surroundings for a moment before continuing, “Anything can happen.”
Continued in Part 26, The Way Ward Job – Delving Deep