Part 17 of The Adventures of _The Split Falchion
Somewhere West of Fairhaven
No one quite knows what happens to those being teleported. Most lay people never even contemplate the ordeal, their mundane lives affording not even the slightest chance of ever encountering such a rarity. For those who do, but don’t reside in floating ivory towers, they never really give it a second thought. This was especially true of Marwyn, who had far more important things on his mind.
Marwyn catches his breath as he lands, exiting the teleportation. Even with his previous experience with such transport, this was his first time casting the spell. From the gasps of the others surrounding him, Marwyn guesses their trip was similar to his. As he recovers, he sees himself surrounded by a low cave, barely enough room for him to stand.
“Gods, tha’ was…” the dwarf that had given him the scroll started to get on his feet, brushing the dust off his knees.
A voice cries alarm from one of the tunnels leading from the cave, and several men in patchwork clothing come out, leveling crossbows at the group. The lead guard, an elvish woman, lowers it when she recognizes the dwarf. “Daigre… what the hell? You were supposed to be here a week ago.”
“Sommthin’ came up. Bastards were waitin’ at the scroll mechan’. Had to spring our guys,” the dwarf responds.
“Well at least you… wait,” the leader takes a look across the rest of the escaped prisoners, including Marwyn. Anger flashes in her eyes, and she yells, “Where the hell is my sister, Daigre? And who is this idiot?” she asks, indicating Marwyn.
The dwarf curses in his own tongue, and hesitantly says, “She… didna make it. If we’d waite’ for ‘er they would’ve caught us.”
“You… bastard,” the elvish woman curses, then orders, “You, and you, take Daigre and put him somewhere dark and confined. I’ll deal with him later. The rest of you, follow Vershol and get ready for a fight.”
“Alaina?” one of the guards, the one she called Vershol, asks. The dwarf, Daigre, meanwhile, was protesting as several of the armed men carried him away. Marwyn noticed them removing a small totem from around his neck. Must be his focus, he thinks to himself.
“Telma…” she pauses painfully, for just a moment, “Telma knows the location of our hideout. And considering that idiot Daigre broke a dozen prisoners out, I’m sure they’ll spare no effort in getting it. She’ll not be able to hold out long.”
“Yes mam,” Vershol says, and starts leading the recovering escapees through one of the tunnels.
“Not, you,” Alaina says menacingly, as Marwyn attempts to leave with the rest of the group. Marwyn looks hopelessly as the two remaining guards by Alaina level their crossbows again, pointing directly at his chest. “Who the fuck are you?” she asks.
Meanwhile, The Crowned Leper
The innkeep at The Crowned Leper looks up in surprise as the front door bursts open suddenly, slamming against the wall. She begins to shout at the man who entered, but stops when she recognizes one of her best patrons, the mercenary captain.
Vargard glances at the door as it slowly moves back to its resting position, noticing a dent in the inner knob. He tosses a golden coin at the innkeep as he rushes upstairs, expertly landing it on the counter before him.
“Les, Jor, pack it up. Meet me at the West gate before dusk,” Vargard orders, to the two women resting in their room.
“We get a job?” Jorduna asks, sitting up. She recognized the commanding tone that Vargard always got on the clock.
“Yeah. I’ll explain on the way.”
“What about Cletus and Marwyn?” Lesani asks, “I haven’t seen either of them today.”
“Cletus’ll know where to be. As for Marwyn… as I said, I’ll explain on the way,” Vargard replies.
“M…marwyn,” Marwyn stutters, eyes darting between the two bolts pointed at him.
“I didn’t ask for your name. I have half a mind to shoot you now, but you might be useful. Start talking.”
“I’m, I’m just a bard! A mercenary, they… I helped them get out,” Marwyn pleads.
“Didn’t think any of those idiots could have used the scrolls. Telma was…. you,” the woman looks at Marwyn coldly, “You and that imbecile Daigre, YOU are responsible for her death. I’ll enjoy watching you suffer.” Aliana pulls out a knife, flipping it in her hand a few times, switching the grip. She sheathes it, though, and adds, “But later. Throw him in the cell with the dwarf. Make sure he doesn’t have anything on him, and then help with the others.”
“Yes boss,” one of the guards, an orc, says.
“Wait, I didn’t,” Marwyn beings to protest.
“And shut him up,” Alaina orders. The orc bashes Marwyn across the head with the butt of his crossbow, and it all goes dark.
A few hours later, around midnight
Marwyn wakes to a sharp prod in his ribs, and he coughs.
“Right mess we’re in,” a familiar voice says. Marwyn recognizes it as Daigre’s. A quick look at his surroundings grants him a view of the cell he’s in, but the influx of light also amplifies his headache. A magnificent bruise was forming from where the crossbow had hit him.
“Who..?” Marwyn tries to ask. He finds himself a little shaky, still recovering from the knockout.
“Who what?” Daigre asks
“Who are you guys?”
“Ack, well… we’re a group seekin’ to better Aundair, ‘course. Though, might say I’ve been discharg’d, wha’ with Alaina lookin’ to kill us both.”
“Why does she want to?” Marwyn questions, rubbing his head and sitting down against a wall.
“Well, we did leave ‘er sister to the wolves. Tech’lly, you did, but tha’s beside the point.”
“Wait,” Marwyn says, bristling, “You told me to go.”
“True, true. Dinna make much a difference in the end.”
“Well let’s get out of here! Go through the walls and get the key or something,” Marwyn says. He takes a look at the cell door and sees that it does indeed bear the traditional locked door. A small table and accompanying chair is on the other side, but it appears bare. No guards either, they must be defending against… Marwyn thinks, then says, “Wait, why were your people arrested if you want to help Aundair?”
“Well, ta’ tell you the truth, some people’s definition of ‘elping dinna agree with ours. Those people being those leadin’ the nation.”
“You mean you’re a terrorist?” Marwyn asks, backing away slightly.
“Some people’d say so. As for the walls, canna do anythin’ without me totem. Besides, walls aren’t nearly ordered to do tha’. Need quarried stone, not this effin’ dirt,” the dwarf spits, casting a sharp glance towards the cave walls. “So now, we gotta think a way outta here before Alaina guts us, or the Aundair guard break through drags us ba’ to our ‘angings.”
“We could try forcing the door?” Marwyn says, standing and moving towards it.
“Dinna think I’d already try it? No, we need some magic ta get out. You got anythin’?” Daigre asks.
“No,” Marwyn shakes his head, “I’d either need an instrument or a wand. I’ve got neither.”
“Blast,” the dwarf curses, and scratches his head, “Dunno, could try making a flute outta reed?”
“Don’t see any here,” Marwyn says, taking a look around, “Besides, I prefer lutes.”
“Bah,” Daigre goes back to what he had been working on prior to Marwyn’s awakening, drawing of various animals in the dirt. It seems he had found a particularly sturdy root in the wall, and was using it as a stick. The scene gives Marwyn an idea.
“Can I see that?” Marwyn asks.
“Why?” the dwarf looks at him oddly.
“Because I could try something. It’s never worked before, but… if it does, I think I can get us out of here.”
A small detachment of Fairhaven guard take refuge in a gathering of trees, settling down for the night. Though they had ridden for the better part of it, no fires were lit, and no tents were erected. Near the center lie four of The Split Falchion, sitting close to each other.
Vargard had already told the rest of Marwyn’s predicament. He had left the Royal Eyes out of it, as he always had when working one of their assignments. Jorduna had predictably expressed her distaste for rescuing Marwyn, though Vargard sensed this was only a façade. Not to suggest she cared for Marwyn, likely Jorduna was indifferent. Right now she was resting against a tree, trying to get as much rest as possible before the upcoming fight.
“I’m curious,” Vargard says softly, breaking the general silence, “What did you turn up while you were looking for Marwyn, Cletus?”
“Barman denied seein’ him,” Cletus sighs, rousing himself from half-sleep, “Though others claimed ta ‘ave seen him after a few coins. Dinna get too much else before ya’ sended me. Ya’ know how ‘e got tangled up in this mess?”
“No,” Vargard answers, “Though I’ve been promised answers when we get back.”
“So it’s back ta’ politics then?”
Vargard sighs, and answers, “Yes, as much as I’d like to be rid of it.” Cletus grunts, and moves his head back down into his chest. Vargard, unable to fall into anything deeper than a light nap, shifts restlessly. He looks enviously at Lesani, able to flit between states of consciousness with less than a moment’s thought.
The fighter moves some distance away from his crew, though keeping his distance from the Aundair troops. He runs through his equipment, double-checking everything.
The leader of the Aundair detachment, a guard Captain by the name of Malgrave, approaches him. Vargard suspects that he isn’t truly in charge, that an agent was disguised among the ranks, but for all intent and purposes Malgrave was running the show.
“You’ll be ready in time?” Malgrave asks.
“Yes,” Vargard says firmly, “Are you ready to tell me what we’re getting into?”
“Soon,” the captain answers, “Once the perimeter is secure, I’ll brief you along with the men. Tell me, I’m curious,” the captain continues, “What made you leave the service? You were a higher rank than I was.”
Vargard gives the man a curious glance, not suspecting the sudden change of topic. He wasn’t sure if the Captain meant the army, or the Royal Eyes. They didn’t make themselves known to all of the ranking officers in the Fairhaven guard, yet Vargard found it hard to believe they would send one so ignorant on one of their missions. He decided to play it say, all the same. “What, you looking to follow?” he asks.
“No, no,” Malgrave shakes his head, “Just wondering why you gave it up.”
“Honestly, I ask that myself some days,” Vargard says, somewhat guarded. “Felt like the war was becoming more and more of a stalemate. Major incursions into enemy territory hadn’t happened in some time, alliances were solidifying, as were the borders. I just didn’t want to end up rotting in a trench somewhere. Mercenary work seemed the best way to get action.”
“Hmph,” Malgrave grunts. Vargard can see the man doesn’t believe him, though he’s thankful the captain doesn’t push further. “One of my men will let you know when it’s time,” he says in parting.
Marwyn, Two hours later
“Ya’ sure this’ll work?” Daigre asks, worried.
“No,” Marwyn replies, frustrated. He starts clearing the dirt in front of him of the magical symbols he had been drawing. “You sure no one will come by?”
“Pret’y sure, ones we rescued were ‘bout ‘alf our forces. Alaina’ll be expecting a large force. She’ll ‘ave to split ‘er men between digging another way out and defendin’ the tunnels. Won’t have a man ta’ spare.” He chuckles, and goes on, “I told ‘er not to dig so close to ‘airhaven. Guess we’re lucky she dinna listen ta’ me.”
“I’ve almost got it,” Marwyn says, pacing, “I can feel it. The magic I mean.”
“Better hurry then. Alaina’ll gut us soon as ‘er men take down the attackers.”
“Maybe…” Marwyn goes over to the far wall, where he had scrawled several glyphs. He crosses out one, as he had done with others. His memory had improved since the prison, though that wasn’t helped by the fact that he had never pulled off a ritual without any of its components. The bard ticks off a few of the symbols, and says, “Let’s try this.”
“Wha’ever,” Daigre says, “So long as it gets us outta here.” The dwarf sees Marwyn kneel back into the dirt, and goes back to sharpening another root he had found. If Marwyn’s plan fails, the druid wasn’t planning on going down easy.
Deep breath, Marwyn thinks to himself. He had rushed the first few attempts out of panic and completely botched the spell. Slowing down had helped, but that wasn’t everything. Rituals are a precise art of magic, requiring both the talent and materials to accomplish. Marwyn had the former, but as for the latter…
Well, it is true that bards commonly learn to route around this barrier. Though unknown to both Marwyn, and his mentor Lesani, this only applies to rituals with particular requirements. Of those, the bard is able to substitute some of their arcane power. The rituals Marwyn was attempting, that of summoning an unseen servant, was not one of those rituals.
However, that was about to change.
Marwyn feels the magic building around the circle, as it always had. Yet this time, something was different. He could feel an emptiness, a hole in the spell, and he willed it closed. Marwyn gasps slightly as he feels… drained, yet also elated as the spell goes to completion.
Daigre looks up as he picks up on it too. Druid or not, he was still familiar with the arcane arts. “Canna believe ya’ actually did it.”
Winded, Marwyn tries to respond, but falls prone instead.
“I… I’m fine,” Marwyn says, standing back up. He felt cold at first, but warmth was returning. Whatever the spell did, it appears to have been temporary.
“We hope they were careless,” Marwyn says, “I’m telling it to look for your totem, or something to help us get out.”
“Long shot, but I guess it’s better than nothin’.” Daigre’s eyes follow the servant as it exits the cell, and down the tunnels. “What’s it see?”
“I don’t know,” Marwyn says, “Won’t know what it gets either until it returns. Just gotta wait.”
“Cap’s ready,” one of the soldiers says to Vargard. The fighter stirs from the state of half-sleep he had fallen into.
“Let’s move,” he says, to his three companions.
“Any idea what to expect?” Jorduna asks, rubbing her eyes.
“Briefing,” Vargard answers shortly, “Lieutenants will then deliver their final orders to their units. We’ll have a few more hours to rest up.”
“Hmph,” Jorduna sighs, “Don’t like this.”
“Don’t have to,” Vargard answers, outwardly rebuffing her, but mentally agreeing with her.
“We should move,” Lesani cuts in.
The Fairhaven force numbered about 50, separated into 6 teams of 8, with Malgrave and his direct subordinate making the last two. More soldiers would have been helpful, however they were expecting close quarters combat in tunnels. Reinforcements are a quick ride away, of course, yet a larger force wouldn’t have made much of an impact.
Captain Malgrave and his Lieutenants are circled around a map, stretched out across a crate. Thankfully, the earlier rain had abated, though the ground was still rather slick. Vargard joined the inner circle, while the rest hang back with the rank and file.
“Good, we can get started.” Malgrave says, and then starts yelling to the general throng, “Men, today we will be routing out vile scum who had been plotting against our nation. They are holed up in a system of old tunnels, used to be part of a smuggler’s den. Main entrance is hidden in a shack about half a mile from these woods. That’s where they’ll try and bottleneck us, which is why our casters will take the lead. Give them something to worry about that will cover our infiltration. Thankfully, we have strong intelligence, including a rough map of the tunnel system.” The Captain briefly glances at the map. Vargard follows his gaze, and is impressed how fast and how detailed the Eyes were able to draw it up. He also shudders inwardly, thinking about how the information was obtained.
The Captain continues, “Your teams of 8 will sweep the tunnels, and incapacitate all insurgents you come across. Keep them alive if possible, though take no chances. You will all be issued several sets of bindings which should restrain targets, for this purpose. Team leaders will go over the specifics after this.” The Captain clears his throat, then says firmly, “Now I want everyone’s full attention. These rebels have a prisoner, a half-elf by the name of Marwyn Verdani. Medium height, brown hair, golden eyes. If he’s still alive, he’s probably being held in one of the strongrooms, which have been marked. I don’t want to count him among the dead when all this is over. Am I understood?”
There is a general round of “Yes Sir!”’s and “Affirmative!”’s, and the Captain nods in approval. “We move out in 30 minutes.” The Lieutenants salute and break up, leaving just Vargard and the Captain in the center of the camp.
“Call your men over,” Malgrave says, back in his normal voice. It seems almost too soft, given the authoritative tone it had so recently taken.
Vargard gestures to Lesani, Cletus, and Jorduna, while asking, “I thought we were hitting at dawn?”
“Change of plan,” the Captain says, “Found the entrance earlier than expected, and I don’t want to give them more time to fortify. Or run. I assume you’ll want to breach as soon as possible and save that bard of yours.”
“Of course,” Vargard answers.
The others catch up, and the Captain addresses all present, “Most of the tunnels appear to be small, your presence there won’t help much. There’s a main one, though, runs right through the heart of the complex. I’ve assigned two teams there, and you’ll be riding along with them. It’s also a straight shot to the back of their lines, where they’re holding Marwyn. Here’s a copy of the map with your route,” the Captain says, handing Vargard a smaller copy of the map before him.
“Wait, we’re not taking orders from your guys, are we?” Jorduna asks, somewhat perturbed.
“N..no,” the Captain answers, thrown by the question, “But you’ll be expected to work alongside them…”
“She won’t be a problem,” Vargard says, with an air of finality. Malgrave looks back and forth to Vargard and Jorduna for a moment, then refocuses. “Good,” he says. “Any other questions?”
“One,” Lesani speaks up, “Are you aware of the size of the force we are to expect? As well as their magical capabilities?”
“Ah,” Malgrave says, somewhat relieved, “Thank you for reminding me, Elf. Yes, we are expecting about 30-40. We’ll have the numbers, but they have defender’s advantage. I’d expect some traps and casters, but nothing too over the top.” He gives Lesani a once-over look, and continues, “Definitely nothing that could match you.”
“Thank you,” Lesani responds, accepting the compliment.
“Anything else?” the Captain asks.
“No, that’ll be all. We’ll be ready to move on your order,” Vargard says, looking up from the map he had been given.
Marwyn, 1 hour later
“’ow long’ll this take?” Daigre asks impatiently. He and Marwyn had been waiting for any sign of the servant. So far, they hadn’t heard anything but distant shouting and sounds of digging. The fact that no one had come to check on them was perhaps a stroke of luck, but more likely a result of panic amongst the rebels.
“As long as it takes to find something. I told it to take something no one would miss.” Marwyn answers. “I could call it back, but that’d be pointless.” The two fall back into silence, straining their ears for any sound. Finally, to their mutual relief, they see a floating hand crossbow moving quickly towards the cell. Marwyn’s eyes light up as he realizes his mistake, moments before the crossbow clangs loudly against the metal bars of their cell. The crossbow fires from the impact, adding to the noise.
Both he and Daigre hear a voice from far away shout, “What the hell was that?” Marwyn quickly scrambles for the crossbow.
“Give me the bolt!” he yells, voice cracking out of fear.
“It’s too far, I canna… oh,” Daigre says, as he realizes Marwyn was speaking to the servant. “’ow’s this gonna get us outta here?”
“Stand back, and get ready,” Marwyn says, leveling the crossbow at the door lock, “Servant, retrieve the bolt after every time I fire, and hold it close out to me.” He had almost said ‘give it to me’, but after the grapes incident, he had learned to carefully phrase commands.
The bolt rapidly grows hot in the crossbow, and as Marwyn fires, sparks fly. The lock heats up after the bolt impacts into it, warping. The bolt is quickly withdrawn, and Marwyn ceases concentration on the spell in order to handle the bolt. It was warped from the first shot, but still usable. Not for many more, Marwyn thinks to himself.
“Good work boy,” Daigre says in astonishment. He gives a swift kick to the door, lock giving way. He glances at Marwyn, and whispers, “They’ll be comin’. We’ll have to fight our way out. I can sense ma’ totem, it’s not far. As for now,” he brings his fist down on the flimsy table, just outside of the cell. It breaks down, and he takes the most intact table leg, wielding it like a club. By the sounds of incoming footsteps, at least three were coming, and were almost on them. “Get ready.” The dwarf stands beside the frame of the tunnel, readying his weapon.
“I’ll wait for the first one to pass you,” Marwyn whispers back, steadying his crossbow, “Hit the second one.”
The dwarf gives a subtle nod, agreeing. The voice from before, closer this time, yells out again, “Who the hell was watching the dwarf!? For fucks sake we can’t have this right now!” A man holding a sword rounds the corner, merely ten feet away from Daigre. He sees the broken cell door, and Marwyn behind it. “How the fuck…” he says, rushing into the room, before Daigre’s club catches him in the sternum. The blow causes him to double over, winded, exposing the dwarf behind him. Marwyn looses his bolt, and catches her in the head.
Marwyn is shocked by the impact, he had been expecting a taller target and hadn’t meant to kill. Daigre, however, brings the table leg down onto the man’s head several times, ruthlessly dispatching the downed rebel. Marwyn shakes himself, and orders the servant to clean the bolt before handing it to him.
“Think we’re clear,” Daigre says, “Though more’ll come ev’ntually. Gotta get to the surface.”
“How?” Marwyn asks.
“Only really the one entrance. Fairhaven’ll be coming through there. Though there are sev’ral tunnels that come close enough. They’re prob’ly digging out onna them now. Other’s buying time for ‘em. If we can find ma’ totem, I can get us out.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Marwyn agrees, and tries to slot the bolt, only to have it misfire. Fortunately neither he nor the bow were harmed, and the sound was minimal enough. “Dammit!” he curses to himself.
“Tha’ dwarf’s got one like yours. Prob’ly has bolts too.”
“Thanks,” Marwyn says, but doesn’t move close to the dwarf. Of all the things the mercenary life that had attracted him, the actual killing was the least palatable to him. Also, the body was… excessively damaged. Marwyn would be a happy man if he never had to look on it again. He instead ordered the servant to withdraw the crossbow and satchel of bolts.
He grabs the other crossbow with his left hand, then tries to grab the bag awkwardly.
“I wouldna’ try ta’ do that,” the dwarf admonishes, watching Marwyn struggle to load both simultaneously.
“I’m more used to a bow,” he admits, deciding instead to stow one on his belt. For the first time Marwyn thanked the Fairhaven guard, for leaving him his own clothes.
“Just use tha’ one, and cover me,” Daigre says, taking the man’s sword.
The move slowly down the tunnel. Daigre holds up a hand, and whispers, “Hear that?”
“No,” Marwyn answers, straining his ears.
“Fightin’. It’s faint. Looks like we’re running outta time. Fairhaven soldiers’ll kill us both if they take the tunnels.”
“But I’m not a terrorist!” Marwyn protests.
“No, but ya’ did break out several from their prisons. And, ya’ not exactly lookin’ like a prisoner now,” Daigre argues back.
“Dammit!” Marwyn curses again.
“We need ta’ keep movin’,” Daigre says, “Fightin’ll draw most away. The rest’ll be the ones diggin’. Won’ have ta’ deal with Alaina or her best, just tired diggers. Should be a breeze.”
“Do we have to kill them?” Marwyn asks, as they quickly start moving again.
“Yes,” Daigre says decisively. “We’re doin’ them a favor anyways. Soldiers catch ‘em, it’s a slow death by torture. Us too.”
Marwyn doesn’t question him any further. Rather, he steels himself, preparing himself for what he’d have to do. Just get through this, Marwyn thinks to himself, and it’ll all be over. Vargard’ll sort it out. I just have to get to him.
Vargard, 300 feet away
Vargard withdraws his sword from the scabbard, and readies his shield. It had been a while since he had seen real combat, and that was against that… thing. The bodies of four men lay around him, as Aundair soldiers file past him. The infiltration had gone according to plan, two fireballs down the hatch had killed or scattered most who had been waiting.
Malgrave and his battle cleric move with down the left column, where there was the most divergence in the tunnels. Vargard’s group was the last in, the flanks advancing first. The warrior was somewhat relieved at his positioning, with a sizable force and a relatively large battleground to work with. Moving slowly through 7 foot wide tunnels, shield in front of his face, wasn’t his preferred method of fighting.
“We’ll advance first,” the first Lieutenant, defacto leader of the two squads accompanying The Split Falchion, says. “Our cleric and paladin will prioritize our own men first, it looks like you can handle yourselves.”
“Understandable,” Vargard says.
“Have no fear, Lieutenant,” Lesani interjects, “We are well equipped.”
“Quiet,” one of the Aundairian rangers, a scout, says. The Lieutenant glares at him, reprimand at the ready, but notices the man was listening intently.
“What do you sense?” the officer asks softly. The rest of the men, including Vargard’s, ready weapons.
“Tables being overturned,” the scout says, “right in front of us. Too many footsteps to count, though not overwhelming. Looks like they’re trying to make their stand there.”
“Well men,” the Lieutenant says, “Looks like we’ll have the honor of breaking the enemy line. Loose formations, I don’t want us getting clustered into a spell or something else.” The men form up, and start advancing. The tunnel ahead was wide enough for perhaps 10 men to march abreast, yet the shield-men, four in number, kept a slight separation.
Jorduna sidles up to Vargard, and asks, “Where do want me and Cletus?”
“Towards the back,” Vargard answers, “For Marwyn’s sake we have to hurry, but we can’t advance without the soldiers. Les knows what calls to make, if I’m too far away to issue orders you’ll listen to her.”
“Gotcha,” Jorduna says, fading to the back of the formation, while Vargard advances. Time to get to work, he thinks. Hold on Marwyn, we’re coming.
The Aundair formation advances. Sounds of fighting are heard around them, though the only noise from ahead is the occasional cough, or the sound of shifting armor. Eventually, the near silent order of halt is called out, and Vargard, who had joined the shield wall, stops too. “They’re just around that bend,” the lieutenant whispers, relaying his scout’s findings. The tunnel ahead swerved to the left, and it was evident there were signs of life beyond. Flickering torchlight, and the aforementioned sounds. “We’ll give them one chance to surrender. After that, weapon’s free. Don’t immediately charge, Palmorin will open up with some fireworks.”
He must mean their wizard, Vargard thinks, remembering the second lieutenant’s light armor and lack of obvious weapons. The fighter mentally prepares himself for combat. These traitors wouldn’t go down without a fight.
The sound of battle reaches Marwyn and Daigre as they continued down the tunnels.
“We got lucky,” Daigre whispers, “Not runnin’ inta’ anyone. Most must be fightin’ now.”
“How much farther?” Marwyn returns.
“Not far. If we’re lucky, one o’ the tunnels close ta’ the surface’ll be empty.”
“What are you going to do?” Marwyn asks.
“Shift the earth,” the druid explains. In his left hand lies the totem that had been taken from him, found thrown against a tunnel wall, “Canna shift too much, which is why I gotta be close.”
“What about after that?” Marwyn says. He was worried about reaching his friends overland while avoiding the guard. And even more worried about what the dwarf might do.
“We go our sep’rate ways,” the dwarf answers, “Gonna say we’re even. No need ta’ complicate things.”
Marywn nods to himself. As far as he could tell, Daigre wasn’t lying.
Moving farther, and the sounds of battle fade. It isn’t long before Marwyn is able to make out the sounds of digging. And to figure out that Daigre was leading them right towards it.
“What are you doing? There’s people ahead.”
“Guard’ll be on us faster thanna can tunnel. We’ll have to use theirs to escape.”
“But they’ll try to kill us!”
“No, don’t think so,” Daigre argues, “Alania’ll have kept her best to fight. These men’re just lackeys, hangers on. Prob’bly tired and more’n willing to cut ‘n run with us.”
“Alright,” Marwyn says hesitantly. The sound of digging gets louder. Soon, Daigre holds up a hand.
“Next room,” he mouths, and holds up 5 fingers. The number decreases slowly, but it isn’t until 3 that Marwyn gets their meaning. When the last finger drops, the dwarf bursts into the room, totem flashing with energy. Marwyn quickly follows, both hand crossbows at the ready. The five men digging look up in surprise, shovels in hand. By the looks of the moved earth, they had been digging ever since Marwyn had teleported in.
“Daigre, what the hell? You’re supposed to be locked up!” One of the men yells, but sees the crossbows leveled, and totem flashing with primal power.
“It’s ya’ lucky day, boys. Soldier are killin’ everyone here. We’re gettin’ out, ‘less you wanna stand in my way,” Daigre menaces.
“They’re here? Already!?”
“Here ‘n killin’. Move,” Daigre shouts. The four other men look to the one who first spoke, must be someone with authority, Marwyn thinks.
“Damnit all! Alaina should of known better. Just… make it quick, before they get to us.” The man yields, running behind the druid and dropping his shovel. The others do the same.
“This’ll take some doin’,” Daigre says, “Best get started.” The totem in his hand glows brighter, and Marwyn feels the earth beneath his feet shake.
Vargard was cleaning the blood from his sword when he felt the rumble. The defenders had been soundly defeated, proving no match for the Aundairian soldiers’ superior training and numbers. The last to fall was presumably their leader, she who had shouted orders during the fight. They were disorganized and some frightened, however. Signs of poor leadership, he had thought.
Now, however, the earthquake brings immediate attention.
“What the hell is going on?” the first lieutenant asks,
“Primal magic. Strong,” the second lieutenant answers, “Someone’s shaping the earth a distance away.”
“Godsdamnit, they’re getting away! First platoon, secure this site. For the rest of us, move on towards the rear of this complex.”
Vargard grabs the lieutenant by the arm briefly, to get his attention. “We’re looking for my man,” he says, “You can handle it from here.”
The lieutenant starts to protest, but then looks at his soldiers, half of which are moving deeper into the tunnels. The earthshaking had also gotten more intense, though the tunnels looked like they were holding. For now.
“Fine, fine! But rendezvous with us when this is over.”
Vargard nods, and the officer sprints after his men. The mercenary’s three companions, who had stayed near the edge of the fighting, catch up to him.
“What are we doing now? Are you hurt?” Lesani asks.
“No, I’m fine. We’re looking for Marwyn and getting out of here before this place caves in. Let’s move!”
Marwyn looks in awe as the dirt and loose stone in the wall in front of him swirls and shifts, forming a hollow space in the center that curves upwards. His arcane eye was impressed. Not the strongest magic he’d seen by far, but above what he was currently capable of. The process was slow, however, gaining only a few feet per minute.
“Can’t you go any faster?” The man who had challenged them earlier yells over the shuffling earth.
“Not if ya’ want this place comin’ down on top o’ us. Donna interrupt me!” Daigre shouts back. He starts slowly stepping forward, hands pushing against some invisible wall, at the same rate the dirt ahead retreated. The noise made it impossible to concentrate on anything other than advancing behind Daigre.
After what seemed like ages of slow advance, Daigre finally lets out a shout as he releases the spell. The earth at the centermost part of the moving wall bursts outward, revealing daylight. Among the rebels moving beside them, there are cheers, as they quickly move through the opening. Marwyn and Daigre soon follow. They are greeted by a typical Aundairian plain, the sun a few degrees above the horizon.
The other five look to each other, and break up in different directions, running as fast as they can. I wonder where they’ll go, Marwyn thinks. He wasn’t sure where he would go either.
“Finally outta there,” Daigre says, a little winded. “Here’s where we part ways.”
“Can’t say it was fun,” Marwyn replies, “But I’m glad we made it out.”
“Yeah…” Daigre says. He looks to the side briefly, what can only be described as a guilty look in his face. The dwarf continues, “Listen, I’d find someplace warm for the winter.”
“Why?” Marwyn asks.
“’t’s gonna be cold. Colder tha’ anyone can remember. Just gotta feeling,” he shakes his head, “Bad times’re comin’.”
“What?” Marwyn says, thoroughly confused.
“Dunno. Just gotta feeling.” Daigre says. “Likely be patrols ‘round the area. Best get moving. Don’t follow me.”
“But…” Marwyn tries to say, but the dwarf had already started moving towards the West. His steps grow longer, speed enhanced by some enchantment. Marwyn looks around hopelessly, trying to decide where to go.
“Var, these tunnels are destabilizing. We have to move!” Lesani shouts to Vargard. They had split off from the Aundarian guard not 10 minutes ago, since the rumbling had began. They quickly found an area containing cells, though all were either empty or apparently forced open. The group tried to move quickly, aware the rebel’s tunnels were near collapse.
Now, it appears they had run out of time.
“Gods… you’re right Les,” Vargard responds. He realizes soon after that his voice was louder than necessary. The distant rumbling had stopped, though the trails of dirt descending from the ceiling hadn’t. “Everyone make for the way we came!”
“Too far!” Cletus yells back, breaking his usual silence. “They musta’ broke to the surface.”
“How the hell can you know that?” Jorduna replies.
“Trust me,” Cletus answers simply.
Vargard thinks for a moment, then nods his head. Cletus’ senses were always the sharpest of the bunch. “It’s our best bet. Lead the way.”
As if in vindication of his decision, the group notes a new rumble, from behind them. The tunnels had begun their inevitable fall, near the center, where the earth pressed the most against them. The wooden braces lining the walls begin splintering, pressing them to run faster. At one point, Cletus nearly trips over himself as he suddenly switches directions at a fork, trying keep his bearings. Eventually, though, they see light at the end of one of the tunnels.
The four break to the surface, gasping for breath. The opening that had allowed them escape remained so as they caught their breath, but soon folded in on itself after.
“That…” Jorduna begins, still somewhat short-winded, “That… never again. I’m done with caves.”
“What of Marwyn?” Lesani asks, worried.
“We would have seen him… I’m sure of it,” Vargard says, though his tone betrays some trepidation. He looks to the surroundings, noting the shed they had concealed the tunnel entrance in the distance. The plains were, as usual, nearly featureless. A few figures stand in the distance, near the shed. Likely the guard detachment. Or at least, those who got out, Vargard thinks morbidly.
His hand is at his sword belt before he consciously acknowledges the motion. His allies had weapons drawn as well, sensing a figure rising from the grass near them.
Vargard lets out a sigh of relief as he recognizes the figure as his wayward bard, Marwyn.
“Var!” Marwyn shouts. He runs over, oblivious to the weapons raised at him.
“I… I don’t believe it.” Jorduna says, sliding a dagger back into her belt. She stares as Marwyn runs at the group, embracing Vargard, and then Lesani. “I really, really don’t believe it. What the hell? How did you…” she stops, realizing she was being ignored. “Hey! What the hell?” she shouts.
“Jor…” Marwyn says, in the midst of exchanging a handshake with the much more reserved Cletus. “I, I’ve had a really long day. Can… can we just go back to Fairhaven? I’ll explain everything over a drink.”
“Sure,” Vargard answers, giving Jorduna a pointed look. “We’ve got your gear back at camp. It’s not far.”
“Great,” Marwyn answers. “Now I’ve got one for you. Where are we?”
Later that day, road to Fairhaven
The sun was setting as the reunited Split Falchion crested over a rise, the walls of Fairhaven close. They had left the Fairhaven guard back at their camp. Most of the guard had survived the collapse, the only casualties being a small group who had gotten trapped while fighting the remaining rebels. Excavations were being planned in an attempt to recover their bodies, as well as any intel that could have survived.
Lesani suddenly perks up, noticing something. “Marwyn… how long have you had that servant?” she asks.
“Oh! I forgot.” Marwyn says, energy coming back into his voice despite his fatigue. “I did it! It’s how I escaped. I’d been trying for hours to do the ritual, and I finally managed it.”
“That is… quite impressive. Especially without your ritual book,” Lesani compliments him. “You’ll have to repeat this technique at some point. After you rest, of course.”
“Yeah.” Marwyn nods, pride showing clearly on his face.
After midnight, Fairhaven
Vargard leaves The Crowned Leper quietly, careful not to disturb any of its sleeping patrons. They had returned just after dusk, Marwyn almost passing out as they crossed the threshold of the inn. Obviously he wasn’t going to hear his side of the tale tonight. But there were others who owed him answers.
His journey through the tunnels of Fairhaven went far faster than the previous time, due both to the time of day and Vargard’s impatience. After a short time, he is shown into a small room. Within it, waits his contact.
“I had a feeling you’d make haste to return.” The figure says. He, this time a male human, had discarded the shadows from which he had normally conversed. A fact that would have interested Vargard under normal circumstances.
“You owe me answers,” Vargard says plainly.
“M’yes, that we do. Congratulations, by the way, on successfully retrieving your ward.”
“We’d never have had to if you hadn’t gotten him arrested.”
“I assure you his arrest was not my doing. That matter, unfortunately, must wait until tomorrow. We are, in a matter of speaking, bringing your team into the fold. Best the situation be explained in full, at once.”
“I…” Vargard pauses for a moment in surprise. “You’ve always remained adamant I try my best to keep… this from my companions. Save the Lancaster job, of course. What changed?”
“Let’s just say things have changed. I believe there is another matter, however, that we can discuss. Or rather, that you and Professor Gilmont may discuss.”
“He’s here?” Vargard asks sharply.
“Yes. He’ll be in shortly. I, on the other hand, have other issues to attend to. The deaths of several guardsmen for example. Lots of paperwork that go along with that, even if most of it never sees the daylight.” the man stands, adjusts his tunic, and departs.
“Craigor!” Vargard stands to greet his friend, as the dragonborn enters. The man was obviously wounded, however, and walks with most of his weight on a sturdy cane.
“Friend,” he says, rasping, “I had hoped to see you sooner, but my injuries…” he collapses in the chair the man had occupied before.
“What… what happened? Are you…”
“I will be fine my friend, eventually. A hiatus from the university and I’ll be fine by spring.” Gilmont rubs his brow and continues, “You don’t remember much of the battle, correct?”
“Yes. I was worried for you, friend,” Vargard answers.
“My doing, I am afraid. Do you remember the nature of how my son came to be?” Craigor asks. Vargard nods, remembering the tale that was told in the university tower. “That which beguiled me those years ago was a dark creature, one whose power was based on knowledge above all else. Those who came with him proved to be no warriors of my kind, but illusions, phantoms of a sort. I suppose my son found it more troubling than it was worth to get official support. Our kind can be very… xenophobic, and don’t pay much attention to external affairs.”
“Craigor,” Vargard says softly, “The battle…”
“Yes,” the professor answers, snapping back into focus, “Whatever possessed my son’s body was surprised to be confronted by a team of mercenaries, in addition to me. The illusions vanished quickly, though a small host of daemons surprised us from the earth. It was a tough battle, but we proved superior. In a last ditch attempt at my life, the daemon unleashed a wave of… well, I am not entirely sure now. Dark knowledge, I suppose. It threatened to drive us all mad, so the only recourse was to purge it from our minds. Fortunate I was skilled in such techniques.”
“But we awoke in our tavern, far from battle.”
“Yes, well the effects of the spell aren’t exactly fine-tuned. You could have lost more but, well, this is more preferable, I assure you.”
“Wait,” Vargard says, confused, “How is it that you remember this, then?”
“I…” the dragonborn sighs, “Well, I’m not exactly unaccustomed to dread knowledge. While I was briefly overwhelmed, I managed to fight it off, so to speak. Banish the toxic thoughts to a far corner of my mind, rendering them harmless. Spending one’s life studying magic does give you mental fortitude, as it happens.”
“Are you sure you’ll be fine?”
“Yes, old friend. All will be well. I assume your companions are in good health?”
“Yes,” Vargard answers, “Well… they are now. A story for another time. But Craigor, you never told me what became of your son.”
“Dead, Mr. Garodin. By my hand. Though in the eyes of my people my name is still dishonored, at least now I can be content with myself. I would press you for that story, yet,” the dragonborn takes a shuddering breath, “I am still to recover fully. You don’t need to worry about me, Aundair still remembers who its friends are.”
“Good,” Vargard says. “You need anything, you let me know.”
“Likewise, Mr. Garodin.” Professor Gilmont says, in parting. The dragonborn stands, and begins slowly walking back towards the door. Vargard can see on the other side attendants, who assist the dragonborn as he enters the walkway. He himself stands and turns to leave.
Vargard feels relieve, both in the recovery of Marwyn, and Craigor’s survival. However, in the back of his mind, curiosity and apprehension lingered. The Royal Eyes had a job lined up for him, something that somehow involved his bard’s arrest.
“Damn politics,” Vargard curses, walking out of the tunnels.
Continued in Part 18, Threads of the Tapestry – The Thranish Connection