I'm sorry that your life fell apart,
that I wasn't there to help you put it back together.
Instead I was an unstable pillar.
And I'm sorry for that too.
Currently on hiatus. Will resume in July, or sooner.
Current story updates:
Current story interludes/Side stories:
Every other Saturday
Every other Saturday (Saturdays I don't run the Interludes/Side Stories)
During certain periods updates may come more often; at other times updates may come less often. This schedule is my hoped-for goal.
Monday, 15 June 2015
The Prince sat on the floor, legs folded beneath him. Books were stacked around him in small piles of three or four, sorted based on subject matter and usefulness.
Unfortunately, the “useful” piles were all abysmally small.
Taking a moment to survey his work of the past half hour, he simply unfolded, the motion carrying him to a standing position. As he stretched, he looked around the chambers that had become his cell.
After that first failed meeting with the Blood Red King, the guards had escorted him to this suite, and suggested that he wait inside. There was a place to freshen up, a bed to rest in should he desire it, and reading materials, as well as refreshments.
Sometime during the next three hours that he had spent reading, they had locked and barred the door. Then they had moved a large weight in front of it, and opened up the hatches on this strange device they called a dumb-waiter.
The first time it had arrived, rattling down the shaft to deliver a letter and some food, the Prince had thought it an attack.
Only after he had leaped to his feet, drawing the longsword that the Captain had let him borrow, and charged to the foyer to repel the intruders, had he realized that the door was locked, and gone looking for the source.
The letter had calmly explained that until his loyalties could be decided, he would be contained “for his own safety”. He would have food delivered three times a day, the best food there was to offer, and he would have any reading materials and other activities for past-times that would not allow him to escape.
So far the books had all been sub-par, and useless. They had not been informative about the subjects they supposedly were about, and worse, they were clearly chosen for their lack of substance.
Every day that passed led him more and more to the belief that the Captain, Weeros, the Blood Red King, and his two bodyguards, were trying to hide something from him.
Something that more knowledge might allow him to figure out.
They don’t want you to remember who you are.
The voice had been his near constant companion the past two days. It had taken it some time to come out of hiding again, but once it seemed to realize that he was truly alone, and would be for some time, it piped up.
And now it wouldn’t pipe down.
Mostly it rambled on about the same old things, his mysterious forgotten self, how he was better than this, how he shouldn’t kill others, but if he needed to he needed a good reason, even for these pirates, etcetera, etcetera.
However, the Prince still listened, as the voice would occasionally have some tidbit of previously unknown, or forgotten, advice or lore. These rare pieces, that so hinted at the shape of what he was missing, made all the pious advice and ramblings worthwhile.
His stretch and his reminiscing finished, the Prince walked over to the dumbwaiter. They were at least kind enough to send him sheets of parchment, and ink and a quill so that he could make requests.
Taking up a new sheet, he quickly scratched out five or six topics that he had come upon in his readings and found interesting, and then filled out the list with less important items and topics.
He’d been screening the things he really wanted with numerous flimsy and unimportant requests (he asked for a courtesan almost every time he made a request; he was interested to see how they would fulfill that request if they tried) in hopes that the important ones wouldn’t be pieced together or paid as much attention to.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t seemed to work so far, but at least the practice of coming up with the smokescreen was an entertaining diversion.
He’d also been working on a plan to try and get out for some time.
Currently the options were limited: wait to be released and fight his way free, shift bricks/dirt/tiles until he had a tunnel out to somewhere, push on the door until it gave, and, his personal favourite, get really bored, tear the dumb-waiter out of the shaft, climb up, and butcher everyone close by with his bare hands since his sword likely would make the climb near impossible.
But none of them would really work, and most resulted in him being alone on a strange island, or full of crossbow quarrels.
Waiting, and reading, was his best plan for now.He finished the list, added “door key” for fun, and rang the bell to summon the dumb-waiter. Maybe this time they’d send him some interesting books…
Monday, 8 June 2015
Saturday, 6 June 2015
Interlude: True Magic
Sigils and Sketching have long been accepted as the only kinds of “magic” in the world.
In fact, they are so common and well-understood, that they are more a science or an art than magic. Sigils, Sigilians, and the Sketching process are all easily studied, easily qualified and quantified.
Sketching makes sense, the only unclear part being the reasons for the limits on only one active Sigil, and why only one house may have a given Sigil in their Sigilian.
But, asides from that, Sketching is too logical and understood to be considered magic.
However, before the Sigils, there did exist a kind of magic, now known as “True Magic” among its supporters.
Those who revered the Eldritch, ancient beings said to have slumbered since the dawn of time, gained the ability to alter reality in tangible ways. The Stormcallers of the Seven Seas were one such cult of “magicians” of such ancient times. Other notable cults were the Doomhounds, the Sun Scorchers, the Terrans, the Life Wardens, and the Wind Walkers.
The existence of these cults, and of this magic is now questioned. There exists no proof that such things ever existed.
However, there will always be support for such beliefs. For example, the argument that there is no proof, that if they could change the world, these magicians would have left their mark, is often countered by the point that even had they left such a mark, the passage of time would have erased it. As well, several key documents in well-respected libraries do mention the six notable cults. There are in fact no other known cults; those six may have been the extent of the magicians, or they may have been a minor group chosen for the treatise for an unknown reason.
In modern times, “True Magic” does not exist. If it ever did, it has long since been replaced (somehow) by Sigils. The leading theory is that someone bound “True Magic” into the many Sigils in response to some world event.
However, some do say that “True Magic” does still exist in this world, just in a reduced form. These crazed theorists have no real proof, yet point to the Stormcallers of Faron Rek as proof.
The Stormcallers are a cult of torturers and rodent tamers who have inhabited the catacombs beneath Faron Rek since before the time of Lady Tasha Destria. They practice their strange ways, forcing the survivors of shipwrecks, and those sold to them, to participate in their initiation rites, the so called “Deep Trials”. These Deep Trials often leave the participants as maddened and crazed as the rest of the Stormcallers. The most rational of individuals can become a fervent cultist, forever lost to the realm of the sane, within mere weeks, sometimes days.
These Stormcallers are supposedly to blame for the massive hurricanes that occasionally spring up around Faron Rek, as well as the massive Cave Rats, beasts the size of small dogs that wail constantly when not trying to eat anything that moves.
There is little truly known about the Stormcallers. The Blood Red King will occasionally use them as tools, taking advantage of their skills to get stubborn prisoners to break and spill their secrets. As the prisoners are usually useless afterwards, the Stormcallers usually gain a new cultist out of the deal, which is why they agree to help.
As they don’t ask for sustenance from the inhabitants of Faron Rek, and are rarely seen out of their catacombs (except when in prayer; see below) it is unknown as to what they eat, asides from perhaps the rats that they are known to breed.
The reason that they are credited with the hurricanes is because of the Stormcaller’s prayers to their “god”, one of the so-called Eldritch.
These prayers are often wailing, in a foul language that hurts the ears to listen to. They march to their chosen places of prayer, and then adopt the chosen pose; balanced on their left leg, right leg folded in half, arms stretched high over their heads, heads thrown back to expose and elongate the neck.
They then maintain this position with an unnerving stillness, the only movement being of their mouth, tongue, and throat as they chant.
These prayers usually last between half an hour and half a day, with no more precise measurement than that known.
The cultists do have several other strange behaviours or descriptors that fuel these rumours.
They always smell of sea brine, no matter how long they have been away from their catacombs. In a similar manner to the smell, their robes are always, at the least, damp (which is not saying much on Faron Rek), but are often dripping wet for hours at a time. Finally, they never remove their robes, and their hoods seem to cast more shadows on their faces than they should.
However, most of this information is gleaned from the tales of pirates, and so is, by its very definition, unreliable.
There is no other evidence of “True Magic” to be found in modern times. Two hundred years ago a woman claiming to be the avatar of the Eldritch of Fire was repeatedly burned at the stake, without dying, upon her own insistence. After this time, and when she repeatedly refused that she had a Sigilian, she was beaten unconscious, and drowned as an abomination. However, it is assumed that she was the missing daughter of the House that, at the time, held the Sigil of Fire, and was trying to impress the populace.
Friday, 5 June 2015
Natasi smiled as she walked back to her tent. The captain of the guards was finally hers, as was everyone else in the group. Nothing would now stand in the way of her finding Robert.
And once she had the Prince in hand she would be able to tell Hiros to start the wars.
Soon, soon everything would come to fruition.
Her smile faded when she walked into her tent to see the quill Linked to Hiros’ scribing a message across the page that was always kept in place for such an event.
Running to the desk, she read the message, then read it again, before letting out a scream of frustration. Despite being riddled with spelling errors and crossed out words, the message was clear enough.
The Prince is on Faron Rek. I think he was hurt, because now he is a Beshadowed. The man who brought him says that they did that to save him. I think they did that because they were the idiots who almost killed him in the first place.
He can’t remember anything, and is happy to be my bodyguard and assassin. What do you want me to do?
After taking a moment to calm down, Natasi switched out the paper, and began to compose her reply.
Find the Stormcallers. They’re a group who spends most of their time in the lower catacombs of the island. They use older powers than Sigils, the only true type of magic this world knows. Don’t let their singing rats scare you.
Ask them, kindly, to call up a storm around the island.
I’ll send you more messages every day at dusk, and tell you when to drop the storm. I’ll be arriving on the island as soon as I can to take charge of the Prince.
In the meantime, keep the Prince safe, and nearby.
One last thing; ask the brothers about starting the war. Tell them that I said it was time, or show them this letter. Then follow their instructions. Start this before asking the Stormcallers.
As frustrating as the turn of events was, it at least meant that they had located Robert.
But a Beshadowed…that was bad news. Notoriously hard to affect with unwelcome Sigils, extremely difficult to kill, heightened perceptions, so hard to lie to, and terribly strong, probably good enough at fighting through brute strength and speed to kill the brothers.
But, at the same time…that made the Prince a prize far more worth capturing. It almost made him as interesting as ruling Destria. Almost, but not quite.
Anger warred with a budding sense of excitement for control of Natasi’s face as she lay down to sleep.
Hiros was tired, and sore, and annoyed.
He’d spent the last two days mustering pirate crews, getting bands together, sending them to their ships. He’d drafted letter after letter using Linked quills, which was tiring, and gave him headaches from staying in the State for so long.
But, it was finally all done. He had sent the messages, mustered and dispatched the crews, let everyone know that there would be no leaving the island for the next few days if they didn’t leave now…
It was a long list of stupid jobs that the brothers had given him. But, he was finally done it. Thankfully.
Or, maybe not. The last item on the list had been the one Natasi had given him.
That long walk, down, down, into the catacombs beneath the island.
The eerie dripping of water, false light of the dancing will-o’-the-wisps reflecting off the chips of shiny rock in the walls, the calling of the supposed “singing rats” (Hiros had not seen any, so he refused to believe that the wailing song suffusing the area had come from anything less than human) and the hooded guide that smelled of sea brine and was dripping water had all added up to something that Hiros never wanted to repeat.
He shuddered at the thought that he would need to go down there and talk to that…council again someday.
But for now things were relatively safer and less eerie. Unfortunately, only relative to that trip into the catacombs.
The winds tore at Hiros’ cloak as he huddled at the entrance to the tunnel leading here.
Here was a platform jutting out from the edge of the mountain, more than three quarters of the way to the top. The jagged rock was slick from the rain coming down in sheets, and there were no handrails.
Which, in Hiros’ eyes, made the feat performed by the five Stormcallers all the more insane.
They had walked out onto narrow spires extending even further from the cliff than the platform did. The spires were spaced roughly equidistant from each other, and pointed in five different directions, all out to sea, but some more or less elevated than others. They got narrower and less stable the further out they went, until at the end, where the Stormcallers were balanced (one on each spire), they were about an inch or two wide, and little pieces kept flaking off as the rain poured down.
The Stormcallers apparently needed to balance out there and chant for what felt like hours, in order to call up a storm.
Although apparently it only took five bloody minutes to call up a rain heavy enough to soak Hiros to the bone, and winds cold and strong enough to set his teeth chattering in an instant, to try and pull his cloak from him every other moment, and succeed in tearing away his hat.
And their chanting set his teeth on edge. Part wail, part moan, part guttural yet sibilant language that lingered at the edges of his hearing, it was making a bad experience worse.
The Blood Red King was not at all happy.
But the Stormcallers had insisted that he either come with them, or stay in the catacombs until they finished, that they might make sure that the storm was satisfactory.
Throwing his mind what the catacombs had been like, Hiros re-evaluated (for the third time in as many minutes) his opinion of how bad the storm was.
Above the mountain’s peak thunderheads and clouds still heavy with rain began to thicken and swirl, slowly, with the island at their center.
Wednesday, 3 June 2015
Hey all, sorry for the late update.
My brain forgets that the day doesn't end when I sleep, but when the clock strikes midnight. I'll set alarms for the future.
My brain forgets that the day doesn't end when I sleep, but when the clock strikes midnight. I'll set alarms for the future.
Rens stared at the campfire. His head hurt, he was tired, and he was confused. They had tried, and tried, to track Robert. For a time they had been, Rens thought, on the prince’s trail. And then it just…petered out. Vanished at that small town after the fight with the bandits.
Natasi had insisted that they keep on, choosing directions seemingly at random, but even she seemed to be more and more at a loss, more discouraged every day.
And then there was the fact that he didn’t even know if he should be trusting her at all.
Or why all his soldiers seemed to like her so much.
Why they were willing to go against his orders and had seemed to lose all faith in him as a commander.
And, worse yet, there were rumours about the Duke’s beginning to maneuver for a Succession. The last thing Destria needed was another Succession.
If nothing else, he should at least be by the King and Queen’s side during this time. He’d be able to advise them on courses to take, and what to do, should they want his advice.
At the least he could lend them his blade and skill as a commander should it come to warfare.
He shifted on the log, uncomfortable in his armour, with the heat from the fire making him sweat too much, turning the armour from only mildly uncomfortable, to a nightmarish sauna.
They were running low on funds, and supplies as well. While they could always request more from the guardposts that they passed, there was only so much they could ask for. The soldiers were ranging farther and farther from the main column each day, just to find food and hunt animals for the meals that night.
Hence the fire; Krendor had taken down a young buck with a lucky shot. So, it was time to cook it.
He’d been sharing his concerns with Krendor over the past few days. That nagging memory, that hole in his thoughts kept tugging at him, trying to pull him towards some realization.
But it just wouldn’t fit together. The puzzle pieces refused to fit, no matter how he turned them or tried.
It was almost infuriating. But he didn’t have the energy to be infuriated anymore. The amulet was taking a lot out of him, and in his paranoia he didn’t even take off his armour anymore.
He always needed to be ready. Always. For anything.
“Captain, are you feeling okay?”
Rens pulled himself from his thoughts and stared across at Krendor.
The flames were flickering, casting his second’s face in shadow, casting the whole camp in shadows. The stark contrast of dark night, and bright flames was startling and made his eyes hurt.
The shadows were easier to look at.
He’d gotten lost again. He shook his head to clear it, and raised his hand to ward off any further questions. After a moment he nodded, and turned again to look at Krendor.
“Yes, I’m fine. Just…tired”
“Understandable sir. Maybe you should take a break? Have a quick sleep, let me cook your food for you. Or, why don’t you go talk to Natasi? I know that the amulet is a drain on you. She’s a Sketcher, she might be able to help figure out why, or if it can somehow be mitigated”
Rens began to nod, then froze.
The thought had been there again, stronger this time. He was missing something, something key.
Something that had to do with Natasi, or the amulet, or Sketching. Or maybe all three.
Krendor seemed to be waiting for a response; dimly he heard himself ask another question.
“I’m not sure if she could help really. What was her Sigil again?”
“I…I can’t remember actually. I’m not sure she ever said”
“Hmm. Too bad. Maybe I’ll go ask her about it”
As Rens stood and began to look around to locate the noblewoman, Krendor came around the fire to take over the spit.
“I think she said something about setting up her tent…”
The words came to the guard captain as if through water, from a long way away. The orange light of the fire started to fade to match the shadows, and then suddenly he felt his knees give way bonelessly, as the thoughts in his head swelled to a roar, then destroyed themselves in bursts of distortion.
Rens’ eyes snapped open. He was lying on his side, and his head felt better than it had in a while. His stomach felt slightly queasy though, and as he moved to sit up, the clearing swam.
“Get the surgeon, the captain is down. No, don’t stand there gawking soldier, run!”
Krendor’s bellowing was clearer than before he fainted, but still off slightly. Not quite through water, but maybe from far away.
His voice was, oddly enough, a croak.
His second was at his side instantly.
“Are you ok? You just fell over, you were muttering something, and then you dropped”
“How long have I been out?”
“About ten seconds. It took me that long to get a runner here”
“Ten seconds…discipline is getting sloppy”
Krendor laughed as he helped the captain onto a log.
“One track mind eh? Next you’ll be telling me that instead of going to nap like you’d said, we’re going to break camp and go find the prince”
There was something wrong there too, but it was unimportant.
Rens nodded, a rueful smile making its way onto his face, before he turned to his second and pulled the man closer so that they could speak quietly.
His second’s voice was full of concern, his eyes filled with the same.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Where is my amulet?”
Krendor began to pull away, his face settling into disbelief, before he felt the dagger pressed into his side.
“Answer me Krendor. My amulet. Where is it, and why did you lie to me about how long I was unconscious for?”
“I…I didn’t! You fell over, and then I called a runner, and then the runner was there, and I was telling him what to do!”
His mind becoming clearer by the minute without the strain of the amulet, Rens swept the clearing with his eyes.
“Fire has burned lower, much lower than it would in ten seconds. Visibly lower. The meat is off the spit, and to the side. The camp is quieter, and the night birds have stopped. What is going on?”
Krendor began to look truly desperate, sweat breaking out on his brow as he struggled to answer.
“I swear, captain, I swear to you, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Rens growled in frustration, and withdrew his dagger. Sheathing it, he stood up and began to look around.
“I’ll go find it then, it can’t have gotten far. Krendor stay here, don’t move. If you’re forgetting things again-”
He turned to his second, eyes suddenly wide with horror.
“You’re forgetting things again! The Sketcher, same as last time, the reason I was wearing my amulet! This is their plan! Where is Natasi, she’ll know these things, she is a Sketcher; she’ll know how these things work, and can maybe explain…oh no”
Krendor stared back at him, his eyes slowly glazing over.
“I’ve been a fool haven’t I Krendor? I’ve let a wolf in amongst us”
Turning, he grabbed his sheathed sword from where it lay, and started off into the camp.
“Well, I’ll put an end to it now, before it is too-”
His sentence remained unfinished as Krendor tackled him from behind. With his armour still on, it must have been painful for his second, but he overbalanced, and fell forwards, Krendor landing on him, knee in his back, arms scrabbling to pin his.
“Krendor! This is treason! High treason, betraying the royal family! This goes against your oath of duty not to strike a commanding officer! You have to stop this, do what is right!”
“No, actually, he doesn’t”
Natasi strode out of the forest, fingers trailing light as she began Sketching a complicated, looping Sigil.
“You see, his loyalty is now to something greater than Destria. His loyalty is now to my Sigilian, to me, and nothing can break that when someone threatens me with harm”
The guard captain glared at the traitorous woman as Krendor finally got him pinned.
“Why? What do you even stand to gain by a Succession? If that is even what you’re after”
“Ah, Rens, you silly man” Her laughter was a cruel tinkling noise, fake, and practiced to best mock its target “Even were I the kind to divulge my plans, it won’t matter to you soon enough anyways. After all, you’ll be helping me to complete them just as soon as I finish Sketching this. I thank you for fainting by the way. Otherwise I would never have been able to make my move and get that amulet off you. Stubborn man, tried too hard to protect yourself. Tsk tsk”
There was silence for a time, broken only by Rens’ attempts to break Krendor’s hold. The clearing began to glow more and more as Natasi’s Sigil grew closer to completion, the eerie half-light of a Sigil mixing with that of the fire.
“You know, it almost doesn’t matter anymore”
Natasi’s voice broke the silence suddenly, startling both combatants. Rens went still as he craned his neck to look at her.
“I’ve lost track of Robert. He must have taken a different path than the one that that map maker showed me. Either that, or one of us got lost. I’m none too thrilled with that. But, you’ll at least be under my control, and we can do things my way from here on out”
The silence descended again, everyone contemplating the recent turn of events.
And as Krendor relaxed his grip slightly, as his attention just slightly shifted away from the captain, Rens threw the other man off, and lunged for Natasi, his dagger scraping free of its sheath.
He raised it up as Krendor scrambled to get him pinned again, but Natasi’s face split into a triumphant smile in the Sigil’s ghostlight.
With a flourish she finished Sketching, Rens dropped his dagger with horror and threw himself to the side to miss her, and Krendor stopped trying to pin him.
“My lady, I am so very sorry”
How could he have attacked her? She was too perfect for that.
“It is okay Guard Captain. I forgive you. Now then. Why don’t we all get some sleep, and get an early start tomorrow morning? I’ll let the men know that you’ve ceased your foolishness and that they should follow you again, and over breakfast we can discuss new marching orders”
Rens bowed again, and smiled at the thought of better serving his Lady.
Monday, 1 June 2015
Hiros had had an…interesting conversation with the brothers last night. It seemed that Natasi had a much bigger part in mind for him than he had ever known. It seemed that his little Sigil of Sketching was about to become very useful.
He stifled a laugh. And to think, here he was, a king. He was going to have every luxury he could ever have dreamed of, and be too busy to enjoy them.
Not too long ago he had been blowing smoke rings in the bandit camp and thinking that he was a king among men for he was able to lord it over his other bandits and some female captives. He had looked at kings as something to aspire to, as something to envy and call himself when he was succeeding.
Now he truly was a king. And more people wanted him dead now than ever had when he was a bandit. He had ten, a hundred, a thousand times the responsibilities of then, and while he had perks and benefits to match he had no time to enjoy them.
Who would ever want to be king?
But he kept the rueful laugh inside, for it would look bad to chuckle while being crowned.
He sat on the throne, which had been wheeled out from its usual place to the formal audience hall. Like bandits and pirates knew what the hell a formal audience hall was.
This one was filled with drunken idiots who were here to celebrate with the free booze and whores that the Blood Red King’s coronation mandated.
His clothes were as far different from those of the ragged labourers as they could be. Theirs were stained, faded, often torn and patched; his were fresh, new, made of silks, satins, and furs, in regal purple and red colouring. He thought the colours made him look like a bloody idiot, but they were apparently traditional.
The scent of old blood surrounded him, making him nauseous; the clothes were not stained red with dyes, but rather with deaths.
The crown sat atop his head slightly lopsided, and he had his pipe clenched between his teeth. The pipeweed they had given him as the king was good. Better than anything he could get his hands on in the alleys here.
But, it was still horrible compared to the stuff they’d stolen from duke’s caravans back in the day.
Ah well. He was king now, better get used to it.
The coroner…no, that wasn’t the word, was it? Hiros couldn’t be bothered by trying to remember the proper word. Oh well, the coroner it was then. He was droning on and on about something, but all the people wanted to hear was “Eat, drink, and be merry”, although in slightly more vulgar terms than that.
Hiros was also looking forwards to those words. He had wrung a promise from the assassins that he would be allowed one night of fun before the work started. He intended to make good use of that night.
The best women, the best wines, the best pipe weed (god, this stuff really was horrible compared to what he was used to stealing from his bosses), and the best wine-induced sleep he could put himself into.
He would enjoy being king, even if only for one night.
Just as Hiros began to lose himself in his little fantasy, the coroner finished his speech.
“And now, a few words from the Blood Red King”
Ah. This part. Well, the brothers had told him what Natasi wanted him to say. May as well get it over with.
“Ladies and gentlemen”
The crowd snorted at that.
“We’ll, I hope, have a long and illustrious time together. I am the Blood Red King, and I intend to bring big changes to our lives! We’ll see riches like we’ve never seen before, victories aplenty, many chances to cheat the world, perhaps even a kingdom under our thumbs! We’ll lie, swindle, and be merry! But first, first my friends, there is a very special ceremony we can’t forget. Tonight it is time to drown yourselves in wine and forget your troubles with a beautiful lad or lass! Tonight we celebrate future glories!”
The crowds cheered, and the cheers echoed from all across the city.
Of course, there would be many who would not be drinking; plenty of people would take advantage of the drunkards to settle old scores, take some marks, earn a few coins. But they were in the minority. Most people, all across the city, would be celebrating the rise of a new king, just like they’d have celebrated the defeat of a challenger.
And Hiros would be joining them. He grinned round at his court, grabbed the nearest wine glass, and drained it in one go. If he died of poison, well, he’d already Linked (and made those Links permanent) his own heartbeat with the heartbeats of those closest to his position in a one-way link. If his stopped, so would there’s. He grinned, both at the thought of a good night, and at the certainty that if he died, so would anyone close enough to have stood to gain by poisoning him.
The Shadow Prince stared across the bridge in confusion.
The wall across from him was shining with light, and the entire cavern resounded with the sounds of cheering.
“Ah. Prince, it seems you have arrived just in time to hear about the old King either beating down a challenger, or being deposed”
Weeros stared past the Prince at the city alight with lanterns and torches.
“Since the lanterns are red it means the city is bathed in blood, symbolically. You have a new boss”
“You said that sometimes the new King’s have the old Princes killed”
“Ah. Yes. I did. But, you see, you are not really the old Prince anymore, are you? You are a new Prince. You don’t really have any memories of your past, but you have the same skills. You’ll make a fine new Prince for the new King”
The Sketcher and the Prince were escorted by five of the crew of the ship, and a guide. The captain had stayed behind to “arrange for a new cargo”, leaving the increasingly nervous ship’s Sketcher to guide the Shadow Prince to his meeting with the Blood Red King.
The Prince was sorely tempted to grab the Sketcher, take his coinpurse from his coat (which held the necessary letters, and the gold), and toss the runty fool over the bridge.
But that would look bad with the crew, and then he’d be at the mercy of an unknown city. He restrained his temper.
“Right. And if he doesn’t want me, I’ll snap his neck and make my own way out”
As the Prince turned and began to walk across the bridge, the Sketcher opened his mouth to contradict his ability to do so…then snapped it shut as his broken hand twinged, and hurried after the bigger man.
The city was alive with lights and drunkards. Thieves and pirates fell out of doorways into the Prince’s path with almost every step, and every other step was taken over the body of some poor fool, either passed out or dead.
The crew behind him simply trod on the downed men, but the Prince took care to not step on the bodies. The dead deserved their rest, and the drunk would have enough worries in the morning without bruises from him.
“Up the hill, yes, to the very top. That’s where we’ll find the king”
A few minutes after arriving in the city proper the Prince had decided that it might be fun to ignore the ship’s Sketcher and see how long it took him to get annoyed. It had been a count of three thousand and sixty seven since he had started. One corner of his mind had started a counter then and hadn’t bothered to stop.
So far the Sketcher seemed more than happy enough to be avoided by the man leaking shadows.
Time to change the game.
Spinning, the Prince stared the Sketcher right in the face.
The smaller man jumped at the sudden movement, came down on a body, and went sprawling.
The crew sniggered.
“Ah, ah, yes Prince. The top. You had said you wanted to explore the city, but as it is getting late I suggest that we maybe make our way to some stairs?”
“That is fine”
His language was…odd. It seemed too precise. But the Prince didn’t know how else to talk. It was as if his memories of his past life had taken with them the casual tones and grammar of the others when they fled.
Yes, you were raised to speak that way, and you’ve forgotten how not to.
That damn voice in his head again. For the past hour (three thousand six hundred and ninety eight count) it had been radiating silent disdain for the city and the situation. Now was the first time it had spoken in a while. The Prince decided to ignore it too.
Instead he looked around for some stairs.
The court of the Blood Red King was an even bigger mess than the rest of the city. While it had been true that the higher they climbed the more drunken fools there were and the less sober murderers, this building seemed to fly even in the face of that.
This was debauchery on an entirely different level.
The Shadow Prince negotiated a minefield of men and women engaged in sexual acts, pirates and thieves seeing visions from narcotic substances, and rowdy gamblers who were so drunk they could barely see straight.
Twice he had to break limbs when drunken brawls had threatened to pull his party into their midst. Even when drunk beyond all reason, a man leaking shadows folding their friend like a pretzel was a warning sign.
The crewers looked almost green with envy while Weeros just looked green. He seemed to have a weak stomach oddly enough.
“Ah, ah yes. It should be left”
Continuous interaction with the monster he had created had drained all the sibilant promises of pain from the Sketcher’s voice.
The Prince crossed the room as rapidly as the room itself allowed, and entered the doorway on the left. It was more like a hole in the wall, as they were in something more properly resembling a cave system than a building. Weeros promised that these led to the Blood Red King’s quarters, which were indeed more like proper rooms, but the Prince didn’t particularly care either way.
So long as he could see the King and get what he wanted, he was happy.
Standing guard at the next door were three surly looking men. They seemed particularly unhappy, possibly because they were not allowed to join in the revels.
“Nobody sees the King. He’s busy” The middle one, widest in the shoulders and with a face like an ape, glared at them as he stepped into the Prince’s path.
“Ah, well, we have special permission. You see, he is the…” Weeros’ speech faded under twin glares from the Prince and the ape-man.
“You deal with it then”, he squeaked at the Prince as he thrust papers into his hand.
“I’m the Blood Red Prince. I’m the King’s right hand man”
The guard looked at him quizzically.
“The Blood Red Prince huh? I don’t remember the King having no Blood Red Princes”
The Shadow Prince offered the guard the letter; with a wary look the man took it and, squinting, looked the page over.
“Ah. The Blood Red Prince. Yes. ‘Course”
Pocketing the coins that had been hidden within, he turned and waved the other two guards away.
“We’ll let the Prince pass, if he offers the toll”
Sighing, the Shadow Prince stepped forwards and punched the man in the kidney. As the thug collapsed, the other two drew steel, ugly looking daggers with spikes on the hand guards.
“That fool just recieved the only toll I am in the mood for paying. Are the two of you going to delay the meeting with my liege any longer?”
The two exchanged looks and shrugged.
“I think you should go see the King”
“And if you off him then we get another party”
The Prince ignored the fools once they’d put their weapons away. The door swung open into luxurious apartments - You once had nicer - that were decked out in reds, golds, and purples.
The Prince found himself in a sitting room with comfortable looking arm chairs and couches everywhere. There were two doors off of the chamber; one was closed, while the other opened into an opulent bedroom.
Stepping forwards, he looked through to see a man in a ridiculous purple and red raiment, a thick cloak trailing behind him through the puddles of wine on the floor.
Two men in boiled leathers the colour of midnight leapt to their feet, hands going to swords. They looked like brothers, the one on the left the taller of the two. The one on the right had a scar across his cheek, and both wore longswords and daggers at their belts. Scar had a longbow across his back.
The man in blood-stained raiment was currently emptying his wine glass onto the stomach of a woman lying on the bed, and trying to smoke a coin purse.
Weeros stepped forwards, eager to take control again, and bowed to the man, who had not yet noticed them.
“My liege, might I present to you the Blood Red Prince of the late King. And my Prince, let me introduce to you his majesty King Hiros, the newly crowned king of Faron Rek”
Once Tomas had killed the pirate captain, the pirates had, of course, gotten quite angry. Storming the ship, they had begun to carry out their threat of putting people to the sword, starting with the three on the quarterdeck.
A swarm of arrows, followed by a group of infuriated pirates, had come racing their way.
Laerian smiled as he thought back on it. They really hadn’t stood a chance.
The arrows had proved ineffective as Tomas mysteriously managed to dodge them all.
Even stranger were the arrows that came towards Laerian and the merchant captain. They’d been, well, some of the pirates swore that Laerian’s scarves snatched them out of the air, or deflected them into the paths of other arrows, but that was crazy. It wasn’t like the two they had brought aboard were Sketchers were they?
No, it was more likely that they too had managed to dodge most of the arrows, for three had caught the merchant; two in the legs and one in the shoulder.
Then the pirates had managed to close with the trio, and things had turned into a rout.
What Tomas had lacked in skill with his blade he made up for in speed and strength, each strike either taking a pirate out of the fight, or setting him up to be able to do so.
The pirates had found in him an unbeatable foe, but perhaps Laerian was the worse one to be fighting.
He had coiled those scarves out like whips (they must have wires and weights sewn into them, the pirates said, for otherwise they couldn’t move, and strike, like they had done that day). After the enraged men and women had stared at him for a moment, they’d tried to kill him.
And failed. None got closer than the reach of his “whips”. Each movement of his arms took down another pirate, or threw one into another, or turned them about so that their swords met the flesh of their allies.
Fighting Tomas had been simply impossible, in appearance and reality. Fighting Laerian had seemed entirely possible, victory certainly within their grasp. Questing for that impossible goal was what had so defeated them in the end.
And that defeat had led to Laerian’s current position.
He leaned against the elaborate woodwork at the back of the ship and couldn’t help but smile again, the expression splitting his face.
He and Tomas were being escorted, by three pirate ships, to Faron Rek. Once a lull had appeared in the fighting and the impossibility of their task was realized, the pirates had retreated to let the captains confer.
They’d all agreed; these two were more trouble than they were worth. They’d deliver them to Faron Rek, take an extra price from the merchant ship to cover the losses they’d suffered, and go about their lives.
At the thought of the price paid by the merchants Laerian’s expression did grow somewhat more somber. They hadn’t all deserved to be stolen from, especially not all their cargo and anything at all of value on the ship.
After all, only the captain had been in league with the pirates.
But, if they had tried to stop the pirates, they likely would have only ended up securing a death penalty for everyone aboard the ship.
Three more days to Faron Rek. He could live with that guilt until then.
The Blood Red King turned blearily, his eyes flicking back and forth before finally focusing just to the left of the Shadow Prince’s face.
The two men stepped into the Prince’s path, eyes narrowing. Then, almost in unison, their eyes widened, and they turned to look at each other.
“I’ll delay them. You explain to the King” His last two words dripping with sarcasm, Scar turned to the newcomers and ushered them back into the previous room. As they left, the Prince could see the taller one lifting a bucket towards the King.
Likely the man was not in for a pleasant awakening from his stupor.
But that didn’t interest him at the moment. Scar did.
“Who are you?”
The guard turned at his question and looked him over. The Prince knew he was an impressive figure. He was tall, and many had described him as handsome, both faint memories, and also women in the port before they noticed his shadows. His eyes, a dark, shadowy grey, were matched by the black stubble of his beard. His flesh leaked shadows, he was clad in loose fitting white pants and a sleeveless leather jerkin that he had borrowed from the pirates. Sitting on top of that was a long red coat, taken from Captain Dashiel’s private collection. Belted at his side was the longsword that he had been found with. However, thankfully, the scar on his chest, more a shadow-filled trench in his skin, was hidden from sight. That would have attracted more attention than he wanted.
But that hadn’t been what had startled this man and his, the Prince assumed, brother. They had assessed him as a threat, and then they had noticed his face.
That was when they had exchanged looks. So, who were they to recognize him, and what might they know of his past?
“Ah, Blood Red Prince, this would be one of the King’s three bodyguards, loyal servants who…”
The Prince turned slowly to look at Weeros. The Sketcher would interfere with this chance to learn about his past, this he was sure.
One part of him knew that the easiest way out would be to break the smaller man’s neck.
But you know that would be wrong.
Even though he was an enemy-he is of Lomwar, and a pirate, a great enemy-the voice now insisted that killing him would be wrong.
But would he have any other chance to find out who he was?
“…and then they usually get rid of the old bodyguards, but sometimes keep them on. Although, who knows about the loyalty of hired dogs? Afterall-”
The Prince turned to tell the ship’s Sketcher to silence himself, but apparently Scar took offense at “hired dogs”. Weeros stammered to a halt as the man’s sword was suddenly pressed to his throat.
“Speak again, and die”
It seemed that Scar was a man of few words.
“Prince”, he half turned to nod in recognition, “We didn’t think you’d be here yet. Or that you’d be so grey”
Apparently he was also a bit of a comedian.
“I’m who he said. Bodyguard of the King. But he’s drunk now. You can wait for him. My brother is trying to get him to lucidity. He can answer your questions. I won’t”
The Prince shrugged and settled in for a wait. Talking to Scar would likely be pointless, and he didn’t seem like a man that you wanted to press.
He’d wait, and then he’d talk to the King, and then, if he didn’t get some answers, maybe he would ignore the voice in his head, and kill some people.