Fruit of the Fallen

The Great Thrane Robbery

Chariots of Gold

Part 23 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

Vargard sighs, and rubs his face before replying, “Thrane?”
“Yes, the next link in the chain of our investigation into those documents we recovered from the Warfallin warehouse,” Agent Drider explains, closing the document tube and evening out the parchment. He pauses, realizing something, and stands, “Radio, this needn’t concern you. It really is good to have you back.”
He shakes her hand as she too rises, and she returns, “As is you, Drider, though it’d be nice to see your real face once and a while.”
“Hazard of the job. I’m sure they’re still not done debriefing you, best get it over with now.”
“Indeed,” the other agent nods, and departs without addressing the others.

“Uh, Drider?” Vargard says, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“What?” the agent asks, unsure.
“The pack of lycanthropes that tore up the Thranes,” Vargard explains.
“None of your concern,” he answers dismissively, “We’d ask Thrane for more help if we felt a special need for being rejected, though I highly doubt those you encounter haven’t turned tail and headed into the Reaches.”
“They… told us as much,” Vargard admitted, watching Drider finish pinning down what appeared to be rough schematics for a lightning rail car. “Why am I looking at a train?”
“This,” Drider answers, tapping the parchment, “Is your target.”
“A train?” Jorduna blurts out, incredulously, “We’re supposed to smuggle that out of Thrane?
“You aren’t exactly novices in the field of train heists, rogue,” Drider cuts back, “And you won’t be going alone on this one. Let me start from the beginning.”

Drider, still standing, paces along the length of the table while clearing his throat. “The papers we recovered from your last escapade were, in short, a dead end.”
“The Eyes couldn’t find anything?” Vargard asks incredulously.
“We found enough to execute Grynhorn on multiple charges,” the agent reasons, “Though our shadowy opponents seem meticulous about covering their traces. Had we the resources of every kingdom on Khorvaire at our disposal I am sure we would untangle their web, but…”
“But I thought you had people everywhere,” Marwyn says.
“Ha, we do,” Drider chuckles, though his laugh was somewhat forced, “But we can’t just compare every shipping record everywhere at once, even if we can get our hands on them. That isn’t even counting the amount of shipments that go unrecorded… well, I digress. No, our next lead was provided by Radio, in the form of this,” he finishes, again referencing the diagram.

“Why are we interested in a Thranish train?” Vargard asks, trying to discern the answer in the parchment.
“It’s a secret project under development by Thrane. Surprised the hell out of us when we heard.”
“What does it do?” Lesani questions, equally puzzled by the schematics.
“Put simply, it… jumps,” Drider answers, “This train is capable of short term flight. Most of the railway throughout the continent doesn’t have contingency track, and this enables shipments to bypass delays.”
“How? Airships are one matter, but even they have stringent requirements on material. Lifting an entire iron railcar…” Lesani begins.
“Would take a tremendous amount of energy,” Drider finishes. “For what it’s worth, the full schematics show some precautions taken towards reducing weight, but the key is the multiple engines the train contains. One to propel it forward, and several scattered amongst the cars to propel it upwards.”
“But this is hardly practical,” Lesani rants, strangely incensed, “Assuming you could even bind the requisite elementals, it would be prohibitively expensive to move all but the most precious of cargo.”
“Precisely,” Drider agrees, “Which is why we believe that Thrane is not truly behind this. It’s too much a stretch to think they’ve developed this themselves, what with the Silver Flame’s word being two steps from declaring the arcane heresy. We’ve long suspected that they have been at least a part of this cabal, but not the head. This reeks of something more… sinister.”
“Why go through the trouble?” Vargard asks, “They’re able to hide themselves from you. There’s got to be a better reason.”
“Here’s where it gets even more interesting,” Drider teases, flipping over the parchment.

On the backside was a map of Northern Khorvaire, including Aundair, Thrane, and Karrnath. Drider runs a finger from the road leading north of Flamekeep, and continues, “We’ve known for some time that Thrane was constructing a new line to Daskaran. That in and of itself indicated something was going on, which is when we assigned Radio to keep an eye for new developments. This was several years ago, before the Mourning, and we more concerned with possible troop movements to consider anything else.”
“But now?”
“Now,” Drider sighs, “With the jumper in play, it becomes clearer. The bridge between and Thaliost can never support the weight of a train, not without a massive magical undertaking. But this new train could clear it without a second thought. This is just pure speculation, but we believe it may even be able to cross the gap to Rekkenmark.”
“That… it would have to sustain flight for a few minutes,” Lesani says breathlessly, “But I can begin to understand the appeal of such a development.”
“Indeed,” Drider nods, “Even if the jumper was capable of such a task no more than once per day, it still bridges a gap that was broken long ago. For whatever reason, this seems to be the long-term goal.”
“So… we’re just supposed to steal this?” Jorduna, who had lost interest in the more technical aspects of the briefing, asked.
“Yes,” Drider affirms, “Understand that this is a monumental undertaking. I refuse to believe that there could be more than one such train in existence without us learning of it before now. Stealing this train would be a massive victory for us.”
“What of the any political ramifications?” Lesani asks.
“We… consider that less important than gaining an insight into this train’s wards and enchanments. These specifications don’t really go into much… look, right here, it just says ‘elementals go here’,” Drider reads, flipping over the parchment again to display the diagrams.

“So… what’s the mission?” Vargard probes, eager to move on.
“Right. This is a top secret operation in the heart of one of Aundair’s greatest enemies, so it’s assumed it’s treason if any of this gets out. There’ll be two teams on this one, you, and a group of our operatives. You’ll secure the train and eliminate any guards on board, while my men will ‘encourage’ the lead designers and mages to defect to Aundair.”
“Just like that?” Vargard says, unconvinced.
“We’ve pulled most of our Thranish operatives for this, Mr. Garodin, do not make light of the situation,” Drider, suddenly serious, responds, “Recon work has been going on for a few weeks. I had hoped the Warfallin documents would have given us better insight… but no matter.”
“How are we going to get there?” Marwyn asks, dread beginning to build as he realized just how serious this was getting. Thrane was always a place he held as alien. He couldn’t understand the religious zealotry of the place, and all Aundarians held at least a little conflict-born distrust of the Thranish folk.
“That’s the easy part,” Drider explains, “We have an embassy there, and we’re putting it at serious risk. Nevertheless, our teleportation circle there will get you in, though we’ll have to get a bit creative about you leaving to avoid tying you to the place. This operation is already risking outbreak of war, we cannot afford to get caught in the act. From there, it will be simple. When the op starts, you’ll capture the hanger where the jumper is stationed. We have good intelligence that suggests the Thranes are preparing it for a test run soon. Security will be high, but they shouldn’t know we’re coming.”
“Shouldn’t?” Jorduna asks skeptically.
“Don’t,” Drider reassures, “From there, we’ll have a short window for the second team to get their objectives onto the train. If… if for whatever reason they don’t make it, you’ll have to get out on your own. But, if all goes according to plan, we’ll head north, jump at the Daskaran bridge, and head straight to Fairhaven. After that, we’ll have both the jumper, and the people who built it. Someone has to know the next person up the chain.”
“How exactly are we avoiding going to war? It’s going to be pretty obvious who stole their train,” Jorduna argues.
“Maybe, but this was never a public affair,” Drider counters, “We can’t dissuade them, but without the train itself, other nations cannot for certain say that Thrane was the true developer. Magical development is more our forte, after all. There’ll be fire thrown on both sides, bargains will be cut, but no one really wants another war.”
“Exactly how much resistance are we talking?” Vargard asks, “I’m not leading my people into the jaws of a battalion.”
“Experienced soldiers, to be certain. But considering what our spies have observed so far, it is more an honor guard. You will also have some of our agents as back up.”

Vargard pauses for a moment, and the others look to him. “I’m not sure about this, Drider. It’s beginning to feel like a suicide run.”
“Mr. Garodin, let me be clear in saying that this is the most important operation we have planned in some time,” Drider says, “If Thrane is allowed to develop this technology, not only will it further the advances of whatever cabal lurks behind the scenes, but it will significantly empower one of our greatest enemies. Jumper trains could become the basis of a new alliance between Karrnath and Thrane, used to deploy troops far faster than any airship.”
“Didn’t you just say no one wanted a war?” Jorduna counters.
“Well… yes, but needless to say this is not a technology we can allow Thrane to have. I’ll put it simply, gentlefolk, we cannot allow this operation to fail. So, if you refuse, you will be detained until it is complete.”
“What?!” was the general response, save for Vargard, who merely stared at Drider.
“You could have mentioned that before telling us the plan, Drider,” he eventually says, once the protests had died down.
“I honestly didn’t believe you’d refuse,” the agent admits, “If successful, I can assure you will be rewarded hansomly.”
Vargard sighs heavily, and then states, “Anyone against this, speak up now. I’m not agreeing to this if even one of you isn’t certain.” The four mercenaries look to each other with quick glances, seeing if anyone else dared speak up. But with The Split Falchion, Vargard’s judgment was always deferred to, and they remained silent. “Alright, Drider, you win. When do we leave?”
“Now,” Drider responds, a smile on his face.

The teleportation circle was similar to the one Marwyn had seen in Trolanport. Secluded, underground, and under heavy guard. This was a place where enemies could unexpectedly breach at any moment, if the wrong people talk.
“I assume you have everything you need?” Drider asks, as the circle was being prepared.
“Yes, though the innkeep…” Vargard starts.
“Will continue to be paid for the rooms until you return,” Drider answers the concern. There is an awkward silence as Drider does not leave the circle.
“Drider…” Vargard says, noting this.
“Yes?” the agent looks quizzically at Vargard. The circle continues to grow brighter, and would soon activate.
“Shouldn’t you be leaving?”
“I didn’t tell you?” Drider returns, and then realizes, “My mistake, I will be acc-

The Royal Eyes agent is cutoff by the ritual’s completion, the magic firing the six inside of the circle away, towards Thrane.
“-opanying… well, as you can see,” Drider finishes, “This is my masterpiece. Fitting that I should be at the helm.” The others weren’t paying attention to him, however. Heavily armored guards had weapons levelled at them, and it took the members of The Split Falchion a few moments to realize they were Aundairian.
“Agent Drider?” A voice from behind the muscle asks.
“Indeed, Ambassador Garland,” Drider confirms.
“Welcome to Flamekeep,” the Ambassador greets him, “Shame you were never here.”
“Indeed,” Drider repeats, and starts walking with the Ambassador. The Split Falchion follows, “Our passage out of the city?”
“Secure. It will be tight, but passable.”
“Good. We’ll leave immediately.” The ambassador leaves, as does his men, leaving the six alone.

“Where are we…” Marwyn begins to ask.
“Please, Mr. Verdani,” Drider cuts him off, “Nothing further until we are outside of Flamekeep. This is one of the most delicate parts of the mission.”
Chastised, Marwyn merely nods in understanding. Everyone keeping quiet and following Drider, the group climbs a staircase to another floor, presumably the ground floor. Marwyn could definitely tell that they were not in Fairhaven, though the décor of the embassy was Aundairian, the bones of the structure were all wrong.
Though they heard voices from behind closed doors, or down the turn of a corner, they met no one in the hallways. Soon, they arrive in what appear to be a large stable, with warehouse doors closed on one end. A large carriage sits in the center, unattended but ready for travel. Drider walks to the back end of the carriage, where a large cart was hitched. It was packed with various supplies, such as grain shipments or bolts of cloth. Pushing aside a few boxes, however, Drider reveals a small hollow space in the center.
The group looks to the spy in disbelief, but he urges them in. The six just barely manage to squeeze into the space. Drider, the last to enter, rearranges the few boxes he can reach. Having reestablished the camouflage, he holds a finger to his lips, and gives a sharp glare to his companions.

Waiting, in the near dark, Marwyn notices that parts of Drider’s body were… obscuring the sides of Cletus and Jorduna, those who had entered before him. He had kept the form of the burly man, and Marwyn realizes that his constant was making him larger than he really was. The effect was… disconcerting, and it was hard for Marwyn to tear his eyes away from it.
Entranced as he was, Marwyn didn’t notice the passage of time until voices filled the stable, made virtually incomprehensible through the crates and cloth piled around him. Soon after, the cart jerked forward, and the sound of doors shifting fills the room. The sound of wood on cobblestone replaces wood on straw, and the noise in general picks up.
Cramped and practically deaf, the hidden Aundairians are ferried through the heart of Thrane by an unwitting carriage driver. Keeping still and silent was proving to be one of the hardest things Marwyn had ever done, but he managed it, just barely. It is a few hours before there is any discernable change in their environment, by which time the bard had nodded off several times, only to be awoken by a fresh muscle cramp. A piercing bird’s song suggested they were out of the city, and a short while after, the cart stops for the last time. Drider, who had seemingly slept through the entire ordeal, holds up a hand.

Half an hour after the voice of the carriage driver had last been audible, someone knocks in a specific pattern on one of the outer crates. Drider effortlessly reproduces the pattern, and a voice calls to them, “Drider, you bastard, you made it.”
Light spills into a newly made hole, nearly blinding Marwyn, who was facing the opening. He adjusts quickly, for it was the light of the moon, and not of the day. A hand helps Drider out, and the rest follow.
“Rakh, how are we?” Drider addresses a slender human woman, who was dressed in dark robes. They were standing in a small forest clearing, a cool breeze in the air.
“On schedule. Come on, let’s get underground,” the one called Rakh answers. She walks deeper into the woods, expecting everyone to follow.

They do, anxious to be out of sight, and after a short walk, Rakh stops in a seemingly random spot. It wasn’t until she fully opens the trapdoor that the illusion lets up, and the group sees a ladder descend into near darkness.
Continuing to follow the mysterious agent of The Royal Eyes, the small tunnel angles downward until it evens out into a well-lit space. The furnishings were spartan, and plain. It seemed impossible to tell when the beds had last been slept in, never mind who would have called them home.
Rakh lets out a deep breath when all enter the room, and banters, “So you’re ‘_The Split Falchion_’.”
“And you are?” Vargard asks, coughing slightly when his voice at first fails him.
“Agent Rakh. I’ve been here ever since you left for the Chantles. Sorry you couldn’t see Flamekeep.”
“Not that I wanted to, but I was under the impression our target was there?” Lesani questions, sizing up this new contact.
“Not exactly,” Drider says, overriding Rakh, “A cramped city is hardly the place for secret technologies, especially one the size of a train. No, Flamekeep is like our capital, in that the main lightning rail line is outside of the city proper. There’s a warehouse district that the Church of the Silver Flame bought up, and converted into their workspace. Each car was assembled in a separate warehouse, under heavily armed guard.”
“Drider,” Vargard interrupts him abruptly, sensing another long exposition coming,“This is all very interesting, but can we get some rest? It must be past midnight, and I’m far from fighting condition.”
“Of course,” Drider says, gesturing to the empty beds, “We will have a few days to make final preparations. Rakh, I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah,” she says, “I’ll be outside.”

Exhausted from the day’s ordeals, The Split Falchion easily fall asleep, despite the torchlight being cast nearby. Further away, and near the ladder to the surface, the two Royal Eyes agents converse quietly.
“He really doesn’t know?” Rakh asks.
“No,” Drider shakes his head. In his hands, he holds a simple looking cap. However, to the magically attuned, it smoldered with energy. “Spent four hours cooped up with him and he couldn’t tell. Not that he has over the years, anyways.
“Never understood why you always wear that,” Rakh comments, noticing how Drider’s hands fidgeted with the cap, “You’re really the only one who’s that meticulous.”
“Simple,” Drider responds, “I like not many people knowing my face. And I admit, there’s a little pleasure in being able to change one’s appearance at the… drop of a hat.”
Rakh grimaces at the joke, and lightly punches him in the arm, but the mood was light-hearted. “You’re a very different person off the clock, you know that right?”
“Work’s serious. And I’ve got to keep up my mysterious persona, after all.”
“What if one of them walked up on us just chatting like this?” Rakh asks playfully.
“We’d hear them before that,” Drider comments, with mock seriousness, then lightly chuckles, “Though it would be interesting.”

Their conversation stalls for a moment, and then Rakh asks, “Did you really have to come, Dri?”
“It’s my big moment, Rakh,” Drider answers, “My mark in the history books no one will ever read. And I’ll not miss the chance to personally stick it to these bastards.”
Rakh sighs, and says, “That’s what I’m afraid of. You play the cool operator, but I know how Thrane can get under your skin.”
“Honestly, Rakh,” Drider whispers, a dark tone in his voice, “I wish the mist have claimed them. Even if it meant Thaliost along with them. They’re certainly more deserving than Cyre. I could just feel the… hypocrisy, right after I stepped out of the portal. I wanted to tear the city up from the bedrock and cast it into the river.”
“That’s not the mission,” Rakh reminds him.
“I know, Rakh. I know. Another day, maybe,” Drider capitulates.

“Radio make it back ok?” Rakh asks, changing topics.
“Yeah,” Drider nods, looking to the side, “It got hairy towards the end, but Vargard pulled through. If he puts his mind to it, nothing can stop him.”
“You’ve got a high opinion of the man,” Rakh observes.
“He’s run a mercenary operation for years now, and hasn’t lost anyone. Despite facing far odds, monsters, curses. I honestly don’t know if he’s blessed by the gods, or if it’s just luck,” Drider comments.
“Wasn’t always that way,” Rakh counters.
“You know about that?” Drider asks.
“I read his file. The parts I could, anyway. He was really ordered to say his men survived?”
“Well, raised, more like it. From ears, no less.”
Rakh scoffs at that, and answers, “I really dislike that kind of propaganda. I mean, why even bother, it’s not like he’s going around telling everyone about the time he saw a dragon.”
“Strange thing to dislike, given our profession.”
“I respect the dead, Drider. Even though I have to put that on hold sometimes for the great good.”

They stare at each other for a few seconds, conversation pausing again. Rakh puts a hand on the ladder, and finally says, “You should get some rest, Drider. You’re probably more tired than they are. I’ll check on the scouts.”
“Stay safe,” Drider bids her, donning his cap once more.
“You too, Dri,” Rakh says.

Meanwhile
Maybe it was the place, geography evoking long suppressed memories. Or perhaps it was the unease that hid in his very core, doubt that had waited to surface until his mind was at its dullest. For whatever reason, tonight, Vargard had his first nightmare in years.

But not just a nightmare, no, it was as if he was reliving that day, decades ago. Six years old is a terrible age to lose one’s father, and for it to be on a distant battlefield…
His mother had tried to hide it. Told him that the men in dress uniforms had only come to check on them, but she couldn’t hide the tears after they had left. Always frail, she couldn’t take the loss. Young Vargard would awake the next day to find she had passed in her sleep from a broken heart.
He’d never hated them, for it. Vargard had only hated, truly despised one man, and he had killed him himself. Vargard just couldn’t bring himself to loathe a people, a nation. It didn’t make sense to him at that age, how a kingdom could have killed his father.
But as the night goes on, his dreams turn more pleasant. He remembers first moving in with his uncle, how quickly the friendship between himself and his cousin was fostered. Finally, his mind dissolves in a haze, truly resting. He wouldn’t remember the images that assaulted his mind the next morning, but he would awake with a strange confidence borne of them.

The Next Morning
Normally accustomed to the sun waking them, it wasn’t until Drider gave a shout that The Split Falchion (save Lesani, who had risen from her trance some hours earlier) awoke in the cave underneath Thrane. The mercenaries went through their normal morning rituals, and then assembled in the small common space that took up half of the space. Drider was the only other there, Rakh was absent.
“So, what’s the plan?” Jorduna, who had been unnaturally silent thus far, pipes up.
“Operation Night Riders will commence in two days’ time, five hours after dusk. A rough overlay of the complex is on the table,” Drider begins, indicating an arrangement of rectangles placed on the table. Marwyn noticed that they were made from light paper, and looked extremely flammable. Come to think of it, everything in the cave looked flammable, capable of burning within seconds. “The Thranes are in the process of finalizing the construction of the target on the tracks between the warehouse, here,” he says, pointing to what looked to be a small ladder lying flat along the center of the rectangles. Must be a track, he thinks.
From the generous amount of time he had yesterday to observe Drider, Marwyn realizes that the agent had changed his appearance yet again. There was something… slightly familiar about his new form, though Marwyn was unsure if the agent had merely used it before.

“Our total force is 20 operatives, including you,” Drider explains, “Our best agents will be split in groups of two, responsible for grabbing five key personnel involved in the jumper’s development. They will be operating under stealth, before the main assault. Each of the targets live here,” he says, indicating a rectangle slightly smaller than the rest, and off to the side, “The rest will support you in storming the main platform,” he says, again pointing to the central track. “The train can be fortified from the inside, so it is imperative that you take control of it quickly, and then shut out any attempts to retake it. Timed correctly, the platform should be ours just after the second team returns, and just before reinforcements arrive. Once on the jumper, we can outrun anything the Thranes try and throw at us.”
Lesani looks up from the model, which she had been studying intently, and questions, “Powerful magic must have been needed to bind the elementals to the car. Will not some of these ‘targets’ be capable of resisting us?”
“No,” Drider shakes his head, “We aren’t after the magical brawn, so to speak, but the minds that designed the spells themselves. This base is about half a mile north of our position, through the trees. It would normally be a difficult approach once we reach open ground, but fortunately,” he smiles, “No expense was spared on this mission.”

Drider opens a crate below the table. Inside were belts, on which were several flasks. “Invisibility potions. Be warned,” he cautions, “The spell only holds up so long as you move slowly, and neither attack nor cast spells.”
Marwyn was the last to take a belt, deferring to the others. He marvels at the nearly translucent liquid inside. It would probably taste terrible, he thinks to himself, but the thought of being invisible was exciting enough. Almost enough to counter the terrible, terrible dread that had been consuming his insides since he had arrived in Thrane.
“Anything else?” Vargard asks evenly.
“No, no I think that’s it,” Drider answers, “Today, you may rest. Tomorrow, the rest of the team will be here so you can meet them. The day after, we’ll make final preparations, and then commence the operation. I believe that’s it,” he finishes.
“I have another question, actually,” Lesani cuts in.
“Need me, Var?” Jorduna whispers quickly, sensing another long conversation she had no wish to be a part of.
“At ease, Jor,” Vargard concedes, then turning back to Drider.
“What is it?” he asks.
“How do we operate the train? I am assuming we will be the most able to do so, given our positions,” Lesani explains.
“Ah,” Drider says, understanding, “We… haven’t had a good look at the actual… control mechanisms of the train. I’m sure they won’t be too difficult to understand, and the plan is contingent on capturing those who do. There is one particular item of note, however.”
“Oh?” Lesani cries, “When you were planning on telling us this?”
“There are control units on each section of the train, 6 in total,” Drider explains, ignoring the elf’s tone, “I assume they are backups, though we will have plenty of operatives to man them if necessary.”
“Well, I hope the controls are as easy to manage as you make them to be,” Lesani responds irritably.
“Are you having second thoughts about this mission, Windhailer?” Drider asks, starting to get on edge.
“No,” Lesani answers, “I am just wondering what else lay in surprise for us.” She turns back to her pack without a further word, and withdraws her journal.

“She won’t be a problem,” Vargard reassures, he and Marwyn the only others left at the table.
“I know. Her concern is understandable, there is every chance for disaster. But once we’re in the jumper, there’s nothing the Thranes can do to stop us,” Drider reassures.
“Unless they’ve added a way to remotely disable it,” Vargard counters, thinking.
“Nothing we’ve seen suggests this. Thrane is exceedingly confident that this project has remained secret. Radio was our only leak, and she was deep cover for longer than you’ve been an asset. This is a good plan, Mr. Garodin, and I have faith that it will work.”
“We shall see,” Vargard enigmatically answers.

Two Days Later, Operation Night Riders
Patrols were light at the Thranish compound. A few men were scattered amongst the rooftops, and a couple on the ground made their rounds near the mammoth construction that lay center to the formation of long, tall buildings. A pair of guards patrolling the building which sat at the end of the complex stop for a moment, shivering in the cold. Winter had come, and with it the first snow of the season, a rare occurrence in Thrane.
“’s cold,” one says to the other, rubbing their hands vigorous. Both were men in standard guard uniform, with little padding between the metal and their skin. Both were clearly unprepared for the freezing temperature.
The second man takes a drink from his flask, enjoying the feeling of warmth that it restored. “When’s the last time you’ve seen snow like this?” he asks after finishing. Brotherhood among the guard as it is, he offered the flask along with his question.
“Must’a been before the war ended, cheers,” the guard says in thanks, taking a quick drink and then returning the flask.
“Feels… too early,” the first responds, “What, it gets this blasting freezing once, twice a year?”
“’t’s the weather. Fickle’s me old woman, and ‘s stubborn.” The alcohol was hitting him harder than his friend, though that was more due to his generous imbibing moments before taking patrol.
“Still, I don’t know. What, with the Mourning, who the hell knows,” the first man says, turning to scrap some snow from the low ledge they were standing next to, “Maybe this isn’t real snow, just the start of…” he shudders, and says, “No, the Flame wouldn’t allow it.” He sighs, and continues, “You’re probably right. We should probably ge… gah!” The man gurgles, as a thin dagger is brought into his throat. His companion had received a similar treatment, the blood from their wounds turning the fallen snow red.
The dark figure standing over the guards speaks softly, just above inaudibility. “Guards down. Back entrance to facility clear.”
Drider’s voice comes over the stone, equally muted, “Rakh and I are proceeding to our target now. All teams move in, second team will storm the platform in 10 minutes. Do you have a good look of the courtyard?”
“No more than 5,” the agent reports, as their partner quickly searches the bodies, pocketing the flask from the second man, “Can’t… detect anything else. Either that’s it… or they’ve got a serious mage behind them.”
“Intel doesn’t suggest so,” Drider counters, the sound of him moving audible over the stone, “But give the panic sign if you raise the alarm, we need to move on a moment’s notice if that happens.”
“Roger,” the agent acknowledges. Their partner nods to them, indicating the agent was done searching. Without a further word, the two move out.

Facility Edge, Marwyn
Marwyn had watched most of the agents slip through the underbrush surrounding the warehouse complex, two advancing before the rest. He’d lost them several times, despite trying to track them with his eyes. Drider and Rakh had gone ahead as well, they were after the head designer.
They’d been given sending stones attuned with the rest of the agents, and he’d also been taught how to broadcast to all stones connected to his. If they needed to run, everyone needed to know in an instant. Marwyn had wondered then exactly what the limits on the stones were. Now, however, his heart was racing.
Strangely, though, he didn’t seem nervous at all. It was… excitement. He’d never been this animated before a life or death situation. He didn’t know whether to feel relieved… or worried.

His thoughts were interrupted by the scout’s announcement, and Drider’s reply. The four agents who remained with The Split Falchion conversed with Vargard briefly. The leader of the four, a good-natured half elf by the name of Agent Warg, addressed the rest when they’re done.
“Alright,” he whispers, “The bunkhouse is five stories high, who knows how low, and probably filled with guards. It’ll be best for our guys if we don’t raise the alarm until the last moment, they’ll be dragging out the Thranish bastards after all. Ms. Jorduna,” he winks at the hobgoblin, with an honest smile, “if you’ll kindly accompany us while we take out the last of the rooftop guards, the rest will lie in wait until we’ve cleared the roof. They’ll eventually wonder why the guard on top aren’t checking in, which is why we might as well hit them as soon as we’ve got higher ground.”
“Don’t want me on top?” Cletus asks.
“You’re stick thrower’d be pretty good up there, I admit,” Warg replies, “But I’d like to keep both forces equal. I know you’re the sneakiest of the bunch, but Jor’ll be in a better position to flank coming down from the roof.”
“Only my friends call me that,” Jorduna interrupts.
“S… sorry,” Agent Warg replies, taken aback.
“Don’t be,” Jorduna responds slyly, throwing back the wink Warg had given her. Accustomed to her sour nature, Marwyn was a little disoriented by his casual… flirting (for there was no other word for it) with the agent.
“Right,” Warg concludes, mentally shaking himself, “wait for us behind one of the warehouses. We’ll signal when we are in position, and the guards are closest to you.”

The snow had begun to accumulate on the ground, though still not enough to signal their approach. Four invisible figures rested against the far wall of one warehouse, while the others continued on.
Marwyn himself began to shiver slightly, and invisibly. Now he remembered his earlier excitement, and the reason for it. He’d been admiring the flasks ever since he’d got them. He’d obviously been accustomed to magic, but this was stronger stuff. Lesani had commented during their long wait that he himself would be able to learn the spell someday, given that he kept up his arcane practice.
“Something’s wrong,” Vargard comments, breaking Marwyn’s train of thought.
“They should have contacted us by now,” Lesani agrees. Marwyn jumps slightly when he turns to face the speakers, only to find nothing, before he remembers the invisibility potions. She withdraws her own stone, and concentrates for a moment.

“Var!” she whispers sharply, panic evident in her voice, “It… this stone is dead.”
“What?!” Vargard exclaims.
“It is disenchanted. Our communication…”
“Jor, respond!” Vargard speaks, a stone hovering around where his head was.
“Var!” the voice comes back, full volume, “Warg’s dead, it’s an ambush! Get out here!”
“Move, now!” Vargard orders, returning to his normal voice.

As they rounded the corner, still invisible, Marwyn first sees the train before him, taking up the foreground. It stretched for several hundred feet in both directions, and several cars dispersed among the line seemed… bulkier than the rest. But that wasn’t what held his attention for long. On a distant rooftop, above the train, there was clear signs of fighting. The noise, muffled by snow and distance, didn’t fully reach them until they were out in the open. Surrounded by men.
“Lay down your arms,” one says slowly, aiming a bow in Vargard’s general direction. The fighter curses when he realizes he had left clear footprints in the snow. They were outnumbered two to one.
“Var?” Marwyn asks helplessly, grasping his bow.
“Don’t have a choice. Jor, try and make it to us,” he says, addressing his last into his stone before quickly drawing a sword.
“They’re still communicating!” the leader yells, picking up on the use of the stone, “Someone put an arrow through that mage next time you see him.
“Not if I put one through you first,” Marwyn menaces, drawing courage from… somewhere. He draws back heavily, mentally activating the bow’s innate power as he does so. For the first real time in combat, he feels the dragonshard hung near the center of the stave lend its power to augment his shot.
He had almost forgotten about it, and wouldn’t have noticed it if not for the sheer force that suddenly flowed through it, almost mentally blinding him with its cold brilliance. He releases the arrow, almost in a panic, and the arrow turns into a streak of brilliant blue midflight. It strikes the leader dead center, drawn to his left breast. He lets out a grunt, and then drops, skin freezing over.
“Marwyn, what did you…” Lesani begins, but then turns her attention to a swordsman, who charges at Marwyn in retribution.

Her bolt knocks him off kilter, and he slips in the snow. It reveals her position in the center of their formation, however, and soon Vargard and Cletus are forced to reveal themselves in self-defense. All but one of the remaining seven engage the group. The last, a cleric by the looks of it, gives Marwyn a stare of utter horror, and flees in the opposite direction. Marwyn doesn’t have time to process this, as the swordsman renews his attempt to reach him.
Not willing to let him close, Marwyn draws back again, somewhat fearfully. The dragonshard powers his shot again, but this time it offers merely a fraction of what it once had. The arrow that flies from the stave remains mundane, besides the aura of arcane magic that he normally applies. Combined with the treacherous ground, the arrow foils the encroaching enemy’s attempts to reach him, who screams in frustration at this. Vargard and Cletus, meanwhile, deflect the attacks of four who are attempting to reach Lesani, while the last targets her with arrows. None seemed particularly keen on engaging Marwyn.

The bard turns to target the struggling knight again, and stops for a moment. He almost pitied the man, completely unable to reach him. But Marwyn steels himself, and finishes him. The archer, meanwhile, tries to nock another arrow, but her throat gets viciously torn open by a knife from nowhere. Jorduna appears, invisibility wearing off. She must have drunk a second dose, he thinks. She moves to flank the remaining combatants, meanwhile reporting, “The bastards were waiting for us the moment our backs were turned. The others were just… decoys. They stabbed Warg in the back!”
“The others?” Vargard asks, sheltering behind his shield while Jorduna rakes at his attackers’ backs.
“Dead!” Jorduna cries, “Dead, dead, dead!” she continues, punctuating each word with a stab. Her fury, assisted by the rest of the group, makes quick work of the remaining attackers.

“Jor! Jor, calm down!” Vargard yells, dragging her off of the last opponent, “We’ve got to get that train moving. There’ll be more.”
“I… we don’t even know how,” she counters.
“Var,” Cletus interrupts, pointing, “Some survived.” His eyes were keen, the rest noticed three figures fleeing from the main entrance of the farthest building.
“Jor, Cletus,” Vargard says quickly, “Drider said the train could be down. See if you can figure that out here, and let me know if there’s anyone else in there.”
“But…” Jor protests.
“Go!” Vargard orders roughly, and the hobgoblin nods, mind back in the game. “Everyone else, follow me!”

As they close on the fleeing figures, Marwyn recognizes them as Drider and Rakh, carrying another he didn’t. As he takes in his surroundings, he also registers the fact that it had ceased snowing, though this hardly mattered to him at present.
“Drider!” Vargard yells, when he recognizes him too.
“Get in the train!” he yells back, shoving the man he was ‘escorting’ into the entrance to the main car. Rakh followed, though it became apparent she was being chased by soldiers in Thranish armor. They reach the door just as it closes, and seem to have trouble opening it. Vargard darts towards the closest visible door on the train, and the rest follow.
“Var!” Jorduna yells through the stones each carried, “The doors can be barred. We’re closing every one we find. Sounds like people are trying to find a way in.”
“Keep it up!” he yells back, as he enters the train. Lesani and Marwyn follow, the bard slamming it shut behind him. All notice the heavy bar that could be dragged across, preventing the solid door from behind swung inward. Vargard engages it, and then says, almost breathlessly, “Right… right, Marwyn, head down that way to the next section, Lesani, stay here, I’ll… I’ll meet up with Drider and get this train moving.”
“They were waiting for us,” Lesani answers, “How dowe know we can.”
“We have to try!” Vargard yells back at her, “Just do it!”
Chastised, she nods, and runs to the closest door, barring it. Marwyn was already sprinting down the central corridor.

Vargard reaches the second section of the train just as the first soldier, a lanky elf, almost out of breath. “Get. Off. My. Train,” Vargard menaces, grasping his sword with two hands.
The elf gives the warrior one solid look, and instinctually backs up. Vargard slams the door in his face and bars it, then turns to the adjacent one. Rakh was running his way as he did so. She had a gash on one of her arms, but was elsewise unharmed.
“Well this has gone to Khyber,” she says, tinge of desperation in her voice, “How many of yours survived?”
“Just my team,” Vargard answers, “Warg…”
“Doesn’t matter,” Rakh cuts him off, “Are your people securing the train?”
“Yeah,” Vargard nods, “How are we getting out of here?”
“We got our objective, at least.” Rakh answers, “Called the rest, and got nothing. Stones were dead, and we got ambushed as soon as our guard was down. Should’ve brought more men.”
“Drider can get the train moving?” Vargard asks.
“Yeah, but jumping’s another matter,” Rakh answers, “Never patched the main control spells to the individual compartments. Each section has to be triggered on site, simultaneously. It’ll be impossible to coordinate without…”
“These,” Vargard answers, holding his still-functioning stone.
“Blessed Sovereigns” Rakh sighs, “I’d forgotten, we can still clear the bridge. Get to Drider, I can hear you yelling from there. Put your rest of the men at the controls, Drider will walk you through it.”
“Right,” Vargard answers, and takes off, relaying the situation to the rest of his team.

When he reaches Drider, the sounds of an assault on the door filled the cabin.
“Do it!” Drider yells, crossbow at the back of an elderly gnome.
“I am! Just don’t…” the gnome protests, then stops when Drider jabs him lightly with the tip of the bolt, “Alright, just don’t…”
“Drider,” Vargard says, winded.
“Vargard,” the agent turns, “Good to see you survived. It appears so few of us have. This… I can’t believe we were trapped so…”
“Doesn’t matter. Train?” Vargard asks abruptly.
“Powered, just don’t shoot me,” the gnome answers, “This lever controls the train’s forward momentum, I assume you want it…” the gnome stops talking when Drider forces the indicated level all the way up.

The train jolts, elementals below awakening and being forced to generate forward force. The pounding on the door stops, replaced by frantic yelling as those assembled back off from the recently powered track. “Boss, I’m at the end console,” Jorduna reports, who had started farthest from her target, “Glad to see we’re moving.”
“Everyone else,” Vargard asks.
“Here,” was the general response.
“You’re stones are still working?” Drider asks, in amazement.
“Just seemed to be yours affected,” Vargard answers, nodding.
“Right. What countermeasures are on this train? Can it be disabled remotely?” Drider asks forcefully, again pointing the crossbow at the gnome.
“No, but…” the gnome begins, but what interrupted by… the soft chiming of a sending stone, coming from behind a panel.
“What now,” Drider says, aggravated, and tears off the cover, revealing a small stone.
“Wait, I wouldn’t…” the gnome tries to say, but before he gets the words out, Drider grasps the stone.

The agent cries out in agony as his fingers make contact. Vargard rushes to help, but the gnome steps in the way. “No! I tried to warn him! Don’t touch him!”
“Drop the stone, Drider!” Vargard yells, watching the man writhe in agony.
“He… he can’t,” the gnome explains, “It’s cursed! A countermeasure in case of hijacking. He’s already dead. Trying to save him will only doom you!”
“Turn it off!” Vargard orders, bringing the sword to the gnome’s neck.
“I would… but I can’t! I’m no mage!”
“Les, get down here!” Vargard screams, as the train picks up speed.
“Var… wait…” Drider says, drawing enough breath to speak, “Don’t….”
“Drider…” Vargard cries, noting the failing strength in his friend’s voice.
“Never… hah… told you…”
“Stop talking, Drider.”
“Var, what is happening?” Lesani asks.
“Drider’s dying, he’s been cursed,” Vargard explains.
“It’s too late,” the gnome says, morbidly. “If you want to get out of here, that elf needs to stay where she is.”
“Why?!” Vargard yells.
“Var… Sorry it had to… end like this,” Drider coughs out. The pain seemed to be leaving him, though not because the curse was letting up, “Gotta… tell you… before…”
“What?” Vargard asks, forgetting the gnome.
“Surprised you… never guessed…” Drider continues, reaching for his head. “Thought you… might have…” He removes a light cap from his head, dispelling the illusion surrounding him.
“John…” Vargard says, in shock.
“Cousin,” John Garodin answers him, “Bring… bring my body to father. Please….” the man’s voice fades, his strength nearly gone.
“I will,” Vargard swears, accepting the inevitable, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“Thought it’d be… funny…” John answers, mustering the last of his strength to laugh, before his strength flees his body entirely. Spell having run its course, the hand holding the stone releases its cursed grasp. The stone rolls towards the gnome, who jumps away from it. It comes to rest in one of the corners of the main train car.

“Var, what…” Lesani begins.
“Jo… Drider is dead,” he answers, “Everyone, stay at your stations. We’ll need this thing to jump if we’re getting out of here. How do we do that?” he directs the last question at the gnome.
“This lever,” the gnome answers, indicating which on the control panel, “It isn’t labelled, the key is the handle design. Look, I would’ve stopped him if I…”
“I don’t care!” Vargard yells back, “Sit in the corner, I’ll deal with you later.” He feels the train curve, as it meets the junction to the main line. He notices two scrying orbs, one on either side of the console, and indicates them with a sword point. The gnome answers, “Left is behind, right is ahead.”
Vargard takes a look through the right one, and sees a view taken from what appears to be directly above him, focused along the front of the main engine and the track ahead. It seemed clear, and still covered with snow. They also seemed to be moving at an alarming rate, far faster than any normal lightning rail.
Vargard steps away, and moves Drider’s body away from the console, slumping the corpse against a corner gingerly. “How long to the bridge?” he asks the gnome.
“Top speed…. 10 minutes. The jumper cells push magical energy forward when not in use. Increasing speed was our original goal, before…”

The gnome is interrupted, however, by the chiming of the cursed stone again.
“Must think I’m stupid,” Vargard mutters, along with several curses directed towards the foul object.
“Never,” an elderly voice calls out from the stone, to the surprise of both Vargard and the gnome. “Mr. Morvario, before you finish spilling all your secrets to Mr. Garodin here, I advise you remember the terms of your contract. I imagine you know what we require of you.”
The gnome begins to protest, but holds back. He looks fearfully at Vargard, who realizes what the gnome was about to do. It’s too late to stop the gnome, however, as he launches himself at the cursed stone.

“Don’t blame Morvario,” the voice continues in measured tones, completely oblivious to the screams emanating from the fallen gnome. Unlike Drider, the gnome seemed determine to expire quickly, and did so.
Disturbed by the morbid display, Vargard remains speechless. He had cut his stone’s connection after relaying Drider’s death, though Rakh’s approaching footsteps were audible.
“Stay back!” he finally says, “I’m alright.”
“But,” the agent begins.
“If the line is blocked we may have to jump, just stay at the console!” Vargard yells down the train.
“Sound thinking,” the voice taunting him replies, “But as I was saying, don’t blame Morvario. We do have his family, after all. They will be very grateful to hear of his sacrifice.”
“Who the hell are you?” Vargard seethes, barely containing his anger, though he dare not go near the gnome’s body.
“After so much, this… may be hard to believe,” the voice answers, “And I have no doubt you will initially reject this. But… Vargard, I am Nimerin. Your father.”
“I’m tossing you out the train like the garbage you are. Don’t you dare…”
“I beg you, before you lose more of your friends, stop the train. You will be detained by the Thranes, of course, but I will protect you in the end.”
“You expect me to believe you’re my father, right after you kill John!” Vargard cries, gesturing pointlessly to the body of his cousin.
“His death was… unfortunate. I can risk you escaping, but not him. He was dogged in pursuit of me… and my compatriots. But please, stop this before you do something I cannot forgive, son.”
“To Khyber with you,” Vargard replies, “To Khyber with you, and this thrice-blasted train! I don’t care who you are, I will hunt you down for this.”
“I have no doubt you will, my body,” the voice returns, unphased, “But forgive me if our reunion won’t be on your terms.”

“Var! I can see a train around the next bend! It is stopped on the tracks!” Lesani yells through the stone, “We must engage the flight systems. I have informed Rakh and the others, but I need your count-off.”
“Don’t do it,” the voice from the stone pleads quickly, “Please, my son, stop, before someone else you love is hurt.”
“I’ll see you in Khyber,” Vargard answers, and, unbarring a side door, used his sword to toss the gnome’s body, still clutching the stone, out of the train.
“What?” Lesani replies, confused.
“Nothing,” Vargard replies, returning to the central console, “I see the train. They were ready, even for this.”
“Let’s jump!” Jorduna cries.
“No,” Vargard counters, “Not yet! Wait… wait…,” he says, watching the train get closer, “Now!” he yells, ragged throat cracking slight, but projecting enough to reach the next car over.

The train shudders, as the magics surrounding the elementals is changed, forcing blasts of magical energy downwards. It’s rough, but the train hovers, clearing at least 30 feet. Its momentum slowed, however, as the force was redirected.
Jorduna yells through the stone as they clear the train below, which seemed unharmed as the elemental energy passed through it. “Var! They shot something at the back of the train. It looks like… grappling hooks.”
“They’re trying to slow us down,” Vargard responds, realizing their purpose. Indeed, as they continued forward, a sudden jerk causes all aboard to fall to the floor. The train lands heavily back on the track, dragged downwards by the chains connected to the other train. Fortunately, the energy spewed from the individual engines guide it back to the rails, though the train’s speed is noticeably slowed.

“Var, I’m trying to cut through these lines, but my knives aren’t doing anything,” Jorduna reports. “I can’t detach them.”
“Var, ask the prisoner if we can detach the cars,” Lesani says, thinking quickly.
“He’s… dead,” Vargard responds hesitantly.
“What? Var, you did not…”
“No, he threw himself out while I was focused on the console,” Vargard lies, “Guess he thought he’d rather take his chances with the Thranes.” He wasn’t sure if they believed him, but he couldn’t worry about that right now.
“I’ll see if I can figure it out,” Jorduna replies.
“Be careful!” Lesani admonishes, “If you trigger it prematurely, you will separate yourself from us. We will not be able to save you.”
“Going to have to figure it out quick,” Vargard comments, gazing through the forward scrying orb. Even with the other train slowing them down, they were still moving at breakneck pace. The newly laid rails gleamed across the landscape, and it was clear they were baring down on Daskaran faster than he expected. The track was starting also starting to hug closer to the coast, diverging from the main road.

“Var!” Lesani yells again, “I… I have found a way to separate the cars.”
“Good,” Vargard responds, relieved, “Jor, get out of there and we’ll…”
“Var,” Lesani interrupts, “The mechanism can only be engaged from the control panel in the center of the car.”
There’s a few moments of silence as everyone realizes what that meant.
“We… we’ll jump with them still attached,” Vargard says, nervously watching the train speed further across the Thranish plains.
“No way,” Jorduna responds, strangely calm, “Var, the moment they started pulling on us we went down. We can’t jump a damned river like that. I’ll hop out and make my own way back.”
“No!” Vargard yells, “I’m not losing anyone else on this damned mission. Don’t pull that level!” He glances at the other scrying orb, seeing a view of the harpoons that had impaled their train. Chains dangled from the barbed heads, leading back to massive crossbows that had been attached to the roof of the following train. From the sparks on the ground, it was clear they were desperately trying to slow down. Looking out a side window, he sees the road to Auxylgard blaze past.

“Jor, don’t do it!” Vargard orders, but there is no response from the hobgoblin. “Jor!?”
“What’s wrong?” a faint voice echoes from down the hall, Rakh had heard him.
“They’ve got another train hooked to ours! We have to disconnect the last car or we can’t jump!” Vargard yells back, “But it’s a one way trip!”
“I… could do it,” Rakh says hesitantly, “If anyone could get past these Thranish bastards…”
“Whole train of them behind us, and you won’t get there in time!” Vargard counters, seeing the structures of Daskaran approaching. “Jor, damnit, Jor, don’t pull the lever!”

“Jorduna, answer me!” Vargard cries into his sending stone.
“He… the bastard,” Jorduna responds after a moment, “Cletus sucker punched me, threw me into his car and barred the door behind him.”
“What?!”
“Sorry… boss,” the regretful voice of the dwarf comes through, “’t’s ta’ only way. Couldn’t let Jor have all the fun.”
The train rocks suddenly, picking up speed again. “Damnit Cletus, you shouldn’t have…”
“Var, you’ve gotta’ jump,” the dwarf cuts him off, “I made my choice. Save ‘urselves.”
The warrior, seeing the river fast approaching, realizes the dwarf is right. The tracks crossed the road to the foot bridge here, and then end shortly before the bank of the river, before the land starts to drop. On the other side, tracks had been laid similarly, and he could just see where they connected with the older line.

“Everyone… get ready to jump on my count,” Vargard says, loud enough for Rakh to hear, but the strength in his voice was gone. The engines activate as before, but the discharge of energy is… more intense. Marwyn and Lesani especially feel the elementals raging against their bonds, and as they hover across the gap, begin to escape. The delicate magical mechanics of the train had been disrupted by the severing of the last car. Fortunately, they carry enough momentum to fully clear the water, landing with a jolt back on the rails. Vargard’s heart sinks, however, when he sees the train behind him crash into the water, carried by its momentum.

The train swerves, as the rough landing had warped the rails. Enough elementals remained trapped to propel the train forward, but the speed had been reduced drastically. Limping, as it was, it heads to the main line. Rakh appears behind Vargard, but doesn’t speak for a second, instead starring at John’s body.
“What,” Vargard says, leaning against a wall, trying to make sense of what just happened.
“We…” Rakh sighs, tearing her eyes from John, “We have to switch the tracks. Vargard… I’m so…”
“Don’t,” Vargard says, “When?”
“Soon,” Rakh answers, “Dri… John had the plan, but I know enough about it. I can get us to Fairhaven… you should go…”
“Why didn’t he tell me?” Vargard asks, suddenly.
“Initially, he was under orders. When you finally earned our trust… I assume then he just liked the game.”
“I… I never thought John of all people…”
“It’s why he was recruited,” Rakh explains, “Plain personality, innocent face, but a shrewd mind and stolid loyalty. Eventually, a pretty good actor too. He’s… he was one of our best agents.”
“Get us to Fairhaven,” Vargard says, done with the conversation.

The now four of The Split Falchion met in the center of the train. All were downcast, none wanting to speak. Eventually, Marwyn picks up the courage to speak.
“What… what happens now?” he asks.
“We go to Fairhaven and get paid,” Vargard answers simply.
“Oh, they’re going to pay alright,” Jorduna says angrily.
“No, Jor, they’re not paying anything but gold,” Vargard counters. “They pay us, and then we’re done.”
“Done?” Lesani asks, “We are… disbanding.”
“I don’t know, Les. Cletus… isn’t answering,” Vargard says evenly, tossing his stone against a wall, “His car went into the water. Practically everyone else on this mission died. What do you want to do?”
“We… we need to regroup,” she answers, “try augury or some other divination to find Cletus… or discover what happened to him.”
“I’m just… done Les. Done with the eyes,” Vargard repeats, “Just found out they were lying to me from the start. I’m done.”
“Not that I’m complaining about that,” Jorduna says, “But… what’ll we do?”
“Whatever we can find, so long as it’s as far away from damn politics as possible. I’m done saving the world.”
Disheartened, broken, and all but defeated, no further words are exchanged by the members of The Split Falchion, and they return to Aundair.

Somewhere Else
A man sits on an opulent chair, finishing a glass of wine. A rough stone, which clashes with the rich fabric of the tablecloth, sits ignored next to him.
“Did he believe you?” someone asks the man.
“I don’t believe so,” the man answers slowly, “Though I wouldn’t either. The loss of Project Chariot is a disaster, but fortunately I never backed it. Too costly, and it would have drawn more attention than it would have been worth. Still, with the design team ‘taken care of’, I highly doubt Aundair will figure it out. Especially considering reports that it has been irreparably damaged. I imagine those who supported the project will be finding themselves in quite a dilemma. This should create… interesting opportunities.”
“One could almost say your son did you a favor.”
“Yes,” Nimerin Garodin answers, smiling, “I suppose that is true.”
“Considering you revealed yourself, might I suggest we ‘acquire’ him before others learn of you?”
“No,” he orders forcefully, “I believe his standing with Aundair’s pet spy ring has been diminished, and I doubt they’ll want to risk anymore assets chasing ghosts. The work can continue without making my son’s life more of a living hell than it already is. That is all I require from you tonight, leave me.”
“As you wish, sir.” The attendant departs, leaving Nimerin alone.

He takes a small pendant from the table, which had been lying next to the stone, and turns to face the fire raging behind him. The pendant was garishly simple in design, a small wooden eye surrounded by a diamond-shaped shell composed of tendrils of wood. “Someday, you’ll understand,” Nimerin says to himself, “And maybe then, you’ll forgive me.”
Filled with sudden disgust, Nimerin tosses it into the flames. The eye at the center of the design stares blankly at him as it turns to embers, watching its own destruction helplessly. And for all the warmth that the fire gave, the old man felt a sudden chill, as the pendant finally crumbed to ash.

Concluded in Part 24, A Turn of The Page – Quitting Time

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