You are here

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Author: 
Shrike
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
205

The following document was recently discovered during an excavation many miles south of the Arberdan, along the west bank of the Sober, enclosed in a magically sealed chest. Both parchment and chest have been positively identified as pre-plague. The magus in the dig party needed four days to successfully disarm the trap, which he referred to as �beyond anything our Art can currently achieve�. While the author is unknown in current histories (and indeed, I have not been able to correctly identify the city he refers to), the below-mentioned �Gray Brotherhood� is even more of a mystery. No such organization has ever left known records in any of the former Imperial provinces. Furthermore, the footnotes listed at parchment�s end, while possibly meant to explain matters to the uninitiated, do little to answer the questions raised by the words in this document; more questions are raised than answered. I hereby submit this document to the Council, with attached report, that you might grant me a sabatical, at which time I will travel to the excavation site and search for more clues.

-Theodrin, Lorescribe/2nd Circle of the Arberdan Library





 

I�m no wordsmith; better to hire some scribe or minstrel and have him spin this tale�but I am dying, as all men are prone to do, and I have no time left.

This all happened years ago, before the Footpad Skirmishes (1) that divided our Brotherhood, when the great Davran Stoneheart was a mere cutpurse, a back-stabbing lad of 14 known as Davey Ninefingers. I myself have no difficulty remembering the time; I had recently gotten into a bit of trouble with the Brotherhood - something to do with a failure to report certain activities and pay my full percentage of yearly dues - and as a result of this I was staying grounded for a time. I never did well with authority, and the membership fees were almost as steep then as they are today�but I digress.

At the time in question, our Brotherhood was perhaps enjoying a golden era of prosperity - and I mean that quite literally. Not a blemish from these years can be found in the Official Histories, but those who rely only on what is written often find that history�s events have passed them by. I allude indirectly to what our Brotherhood called the Dancing Man.

The Brotherhood knew next to nothing about him (and I refer to our subject as �he� for simplicity�s sake alone). Was he, in fact, a she? Was he even human, or perhaps a rogue elf�or something stranger still? All unknown. What the Brotherhood did know was that an unidentified, seemingly unidentifiable assassin was roaming the city, stalking its members - and exclusively its members. Thieves, murderers, scum, and rogues of all ilk were dying. The only connection besides an unsavory occupation was the position in which the bodies were found - limbs bent and spread in a specific, ever-changing pattern, reminiscant of several dancing styles popular in my granddam�s time�hence the assassin�s name.

The Good ones are sly, cunning, honorless, ruthless, and lucky. The Great ones are all of this and more - they can twist even the most unenviable circumstances to their favor. I know my worth; my exploits will speak for me long after this tongue has stilled, in large part because I was very good. Good�but not Great. Only three can claim true excellence in my eyes. One is Ninefingers; one is Legs (and these scars bear witness to an encounter with that spider-spawned bastard that I barely survived and will never forget); perhaps the greatest is Sung Lan, son of an emperor who founded our Brotherhood years ago - if half the stories are true, he was a living god. However, I will say that once, perhaps twice in the lives of the good ones, there comes a time when greatness looms�when one senses untapped potential, and perceives in ways unimaginable. Perhaps there truly is a patron god of thieves, and I brushed against him that once, when I decided to end my exile and return to the ranks of the Brotherhood�



 

I made my way into the city of Khazun that I had come to miss, made wary by the price on my head; some shez might have decided to foresake tradition and take a crack at me. The tradition I refer to is what the youth of today call The Day of Broken Chains; we simply named it our �free day�. For one day only in the entire year, all internal conflict in the Brotherhood slid to a halt. All assignments, no matter how lucrative, were put on hold (2). It was supposed to be a day of rest (rest being a relative term for the Brotherhood), but on the day I came, the city�s dark underbelly was squirming. Of course, I knew why; I had heard the rumors that reached even my ears - a rogue in exile is still a rogue, and words travel on strong winds if you have the know-how to seek them out. With slow steps, I made my way to the Turtle District, and the Beggar�s Trick.

This tavern of ill-repute has long-since burned down (it had actually burned twice already, but the owner - a stubborn old coot named Josef, who is still alive today - always seemed to have the damn place up and running in no time. It was known for three reasons: The Trick served the best steak in the district; it had the prettiest (and most elusive) wenches; and it was a cover for some of the Brotherhood�s operations. I thought longingly of the first two features, but in truth it was the last quality that made me choose the Trick. My days almost ended the moment after I walked through the door, when I felt something uncomfortably sharp sticking into my ribs.

�Ah, Turndagger, ye shouldn�t have come back to us after what you pulled. Now yer meat fer the crows, laddie, with me ta take the bounty.�

I knew the voice and instantly relaxed. A renegade bounty hunter wouldn�t hesitate to separate me from my life and possessions, but Moby was a member. �You forget yourself, little one,� I cooed. �It�s a free day today, and the scum get to walk amongst you lordies. Rest assured, I�ll be gone before sun�s kiss upon you tomorrow morning.� Sensing the dagger slowly being removed, I threw caution to the wind and strolled to the bar.

Leaving a fuming Moby in my wake, I moved to stand before the barkeep. He was a small man, with shiny-bald head, a merry laugh, a thick beard and smiling eyes. His name was Thomas King, and he was a King, so to speak - no man in the city was more ruthless than he, and no man as powerful, for he led the Brotherhood at this time. He also served a mean Dragon�s Kiss, which I promptly ordered.

�You have nerve, Master Turndagger,� he chuckled softly. I wasn�t fooled for a moment; behind that laugh lurked a menace that few could stand against. If I crossed this man, I would be dead, free day or no free day. I made my pitch, right then and there.

Thomas King arched an eyebrow after I was done - from him, a sign of great surprise. �You are sure that you can identify him? We�ve had the best of our Hunters on the job, and none have been spotted since. Not even bodies, for them.�

I nodded. Thomas King remembered my reputation and abilities, and he knew that they could serve him here. Besides, if I truly had the advantage I claimed�the barkeep was interested, and I continued: �All I need, as I said before, is access to the Storeroom. There is a specific item in stock that will prove invaluable.�

The barkeep shrugged. �Whatever isn�t being used at present, you have access to. See the Treasurer about it.� He gave a friendly smile, and I was suddenly wary. �Anything else, Master Turndagger?�

Throwing my dice onto the table, so to speak, I nodded again. �I require two other things, Thomas. First, the matter of my reinstatement into the Brotherhood, with all dues waved. Permanently waved.� As Thomas King�s face darkened to an ugly red, I went on: ��and Second, I will be given access to the Hidden Storeroom - the one that�s supposed to only exist in faerie tales. Any one item I choose will be handed over. Again, permanently handed over.�

Thomas King�s finger twitched, and I saw my life flash before my eyes. He gave a sickly smile, his voice barely a whisper: �No dues�hidden storeroom�you are mad, Turndagger��

Time to throw the dice again. I gave a shrug, saying that if he wasn�t interested in my services, events would surely work themselves out. There were, afer all, only so many thieves in the city. With a grin that I later became notorious for, I turned on my heels and walked out of the Beggar�s Trick, giving a last wistful glance toward a red-head that was serving tables.

I would get either a dagger in the back or an offer. When the common room suddenly went quiet, and I counted to seven and found myself still breathing, I turned back to the bar. The barkeep looked murderous - I wonder to this day if anyone had ever seen the jovial leader of the Brotherhood like this before or after - and after another moment�s pause he rubbed his bald (and now bright red) head, suddenly laughing. �Very well!� he cried, staring daggers at me. �I accept your terms, if you can rid me of my problem. If you fail, I pass the red knife on you. No one can hide forever, Turndagger. Remember�my reach is long.� And with that, he walked across the room to the far door that led to his private area, that eerie smile still on his face, and slammed it shut behind him.

As you must have guessed by now, the service I had promised to perform was none other than to rid the city of the Dancing Man�



 

I had a limited time in which to act; once the free day had passed and a new day dawned, my hide was dust if it still resided in this city. With midday fast approaching, I set out for the main storeroom�

The Treasurer was an old man, which is a rarity for the Brotherhood - most members feel the headman�s axe sooner or later, regardless of skill. Even so, the best of the best often end up �retiring� to a more sedate lifestyle, and impart their skills to other, younger minds. The Treasurer had long since ended even his teaching days, and now the old man simply took naps inside a renovated warehouse, guarding the entrance to the Brotherhood�s cache of items mysterious and magical.

The storeroom was always open to a member, but it often paid to know what exactly you were looking for. The Treasurer was reputed to know the name and function of every piece in the storeroom, but he was old and befuddled even in my time. A man could spend days searching through the boxes and chests, all for naught. I remember thinking these things as I approached the warehouse. I was given a few dark stares, but word travels fast, and few rogues would go against King after he had bargained with me as he did. Besides which, I was working to remove a menace from the Brotherhood�s view�no, for the next few hours at least, I was safe as a babe in it�s mother�s arms. I strode inside, heading straight to the back wall, where a man sat in a rocking chair, snoring. The old man was even more ancient than I remembered him being.

Even as he continued his loud snoring, one eye opened. It twinkled as he spoke:

�Ah, lad, welcome home. I never forget a face�the name that it belongs to is another story, I�m afraid. It matters not; you call yourself Turndagger now, if I recall,� he mused between snores. He sprang to his feet suddenly then, all pretense of half-sleep gone. �What have you come for, lad? My joints are aching, and that chair is mighty comfortable.�

I gave a mocking bow. �I seek, Master Treasurer, only a small thing; a trinket. There is a copper bracelet inside this door you guard, that does not shine no matter how polished, no matter how bright the day�s light. It adjusts its size to fit the wearer. There are runes inscribed on the inner��

�Yes, yes,� the old man interrupted with a snort. �I know of what you speak, but it is surely a strange request. Most items have a function, but this one, while magical, has no obvious use. Such things are dangerous, and I�m sure you know the policy on unidentified equipment - one day�s usage, no more. It has to be back in the storeroom by tomorrow afternoon.� He reached into a pocket as he spoke, retrieving a small key, which he inserted into the door and turned. I nodded slightly before turning my attention to the task at hand.

The room was huge. Indeed, I could have spend a lifetime gazing at the wonders herein. As it was, it took over two hours to find the bracelet I sought, even with precise directions from a trusted source (3). When I picked up the item in question, I scanned the runes, reading without comprehension; I recognized some strange half-circle, checked against a scrap of paper with more strange runes, and nodded in satisfaction. One errand done, but another awaited, and I was loathe to do it. I nodded to the Treasurer on my way out, but he had already returned to his slumber�

The walk to my second stop should have taken no more than a half-hour, but I dragged my heels. Seeing the mage was always a difficulty for me, even then, and I probably took ten side streets, circled the city twice, and danced a jig and a ratza before finding myself standing at the base of a large tower. It was located on the edge of the city, near the western wall south of the Wagon Gate, and few frequented this area. Mages might be looked upon with trepidation today, but in my time it was no less so, despite what some people might say or think. The Tower itself often scared away many of those who thought themselves brave enough to take a peek; statues of wretched, writhing men lined the second parapet, and a soft fog always seemed to cling to the ground here. I shrugged away my fears; this would be my most lucrative venture ever, and the man inside could not - would not - harm me. After a few moments� searching, I found a small bell set inside one of the low bricks, and gave it a soft shake. One of the stone men detached from the Tower and jumped to my side in a single leap. �Ah, it�s the boy! Welcome, welcome�� it spoke in a harsh, grating tone.

�The name�s Turndagger,� I snarled. My nerves were truly frayed; not a good sign for the coming evening. Taking a deep breath, I continued, �Turndagger, here to see the master of the tower.�

The stone thing closed its eyes for a moment before nodding in approval. �Of course he will see you. Was there any doubt, boy? Come hither, come�� and with a leap, the thing returned to its high post. My gaze followed its magical assent, and when my eyes returned to the tower�s base, a doorway had appeared. I opened it, and entered.



 

How could any man doubt that he stood within the residence of a mage? The damn tower was as unsettling as ever for me, and my footsteps now hurried by oddities and wonders, as I headed straight for the staircase. My destination was the tower�s study, at the top. The stairs winded, curling around the center of tower as they stretched skyward�and yet they were held by no support structure that I could see. Floating stairs weren�t even the worst of it; a pungent smell had permeated the tower long since, and despite (I assume) the mage�s best efforts to alleviate the stench, the damn place was forever smelling of rat droppings. Even worse - and I know that even you won�t believe me - the inside was larger than the outside. The tower was possibly 100 hands tall, surely a large tower, but from the inside it was at least 500 hands! I remember my fear, and my anger�I remember running up those floating stairs, taking them two at a time, just to be done with the damn bastard all the more quickly. His study door was open, and I entered to find him sitting in a soft chair.

�Join me, boy. It has been too long.�

He was a good 30 years my senior, although he didn�t look it. The face was free of wrinkles, the hands delicate and graceful; these spoke of a young man, at the height of his physical strength. The expression that held sorrow, curiosity, and a thousand other emotions spoke of experience. The eyes held much that a young man�s would never have attained. The magus held out his hand; I simply sat. �Let�s get this over with,� I growled.

With a ridiculous shrug, he faced me. �Do you have the item I named to your source?� His voice was suddenly wavery, tense, and I drew strength from that. Without a word, I withdrew the bracelet from one of my cloak�s hidden pockets, and tossed it to him, seemingly careless and at ease.

Mumbling strange words as he ran his hands over the item, the magus looked up at last. �Yes, boy, this is it. Do your superiors even realize how powerful, how dangerous this is?� he questioned, although I knew his focus was on the object, his thoughts quickly returning to his new prize. Time to get things over with, I thought.

�Do you uphold your end of the bargain, old man? I�ve got little time for this, unless you want me dead with a knife in my back. If you want me as a pincushion, by all means, keep blabbering��

The magus started, his attention returned to the moment. �Ah, er, of course. Of course, lad.� And he withdrew from his robe what appeared to be an identicle twin to the bracelet I had given him. I raised an eyebrow, and he replied, �Only a mage who has specifically studied Kaplant�s Praxis would recognize the difference. The key is noting a specific shift in resonance that the original gives off, whereas my duplicate�oh, er, my apologies. Your reward.� Again, his soft hands reached into his robe�s recesses, and they withdrew holding a small quill, and a few pieces of parchment.

�What is this, old man?� I growled, anger growing inside of me. �I asked for a means to defeat him, not invite him to a tea party!� I stood and made a single step toward the magus, but he stopped me with a hand.

�No, wait, boy! You were always impatient with things you didn�t understand. This parchment is magical! Yes - 5 sheets are all I had, but even one should serve the purpose. If you but draw a thing onto this sheet, it will come to life, free of the paper, complete in form. You must simply envision it in your mind, and it will appear, as long as you have seen the form in real life at one time. Here, let me show you, let me explain�trust me, boy, it will serve the purpose at hand�now, there are a few simple words, as well��

It took perhaps 20 minutes to learn the words and the method of use. Ideas were already taking hold in my mind, and I felt a web of thoughts connect into a plan. My work here done, I made eagerly for the study door.

�Wait, son! Don�t go; we�ve had no chance to talk��

My rage unleashed at last.

�Don�t you dare call me that! Not now, not ever! I am no son of your blood,� I spat at him.

�You cannot deny what you are!� the magus responded, his voice now also rising in volume. �You have the gift! I could teach you; walk away from this disgraceful life you now live, and I can give you the birthright that is yours! My so�my lad, please, please��

I came close to ending him, then. I remember that my vision blurred for a moment, and when it cleared I was several paces closer to him, my hands clenched. It had been an effort to regain control. �No,� I replied, my voice soft and icy cold. �I remember how you value your charges. I remember how my sister was sold to the Emperor�s entourage, to become a footservant - all so that you could have your damn staff.� I turned, pointing to a dark corner of the room. �Was it worth it? Did you find the knowledge gained to be worth the kindred lost?�

Tears fell from the mage�s eyes as he answered, �No, I�I�ve changed. I�and I regret deeply some of the things I�ve done. But you must understand, I want to make amends. We�we can�oh, son. Come home��

But it was too late for the bastard. I was already walking away, parchment in hand. The man that used to be my father was left behind to wallow in his damn tower; I had work to do, a pardon to win, and some loot to gain.



 

I set up shop, so to speak, near the edge of the Snail District. The last two murders had both occurred nearby, and my gut told me that the killer wasn�t straying far from his nest. I certainly wasn�t advertising - a roll in the mud and some soot, a few rags, and I looked the perfect beggar. In truth, it is an old profession that I remember well. Simpler life than that of a Brotherhood member, but small rewards to match. No beggars had been murdered as of yet, and it was the safest way to see without beeing seen. Slumped in the back of an alleyway with three mugs of Dragon�s Kiss, I began my first drawing.

The sketch was crude, and little resembled the man I had in my mind�s eye, but if that mage�s words were indeed true, I thought, it would matter little. I softly murmured the proper words, silently said a prayer to the Goddess of Luck, and tore the paper in half.

A man appeared before me suddenly. With a grin, I rose to meet him.

�Bobbert, what a pleasant surprise,� I said with a smirk.

�Who the�wha�where am I?� the man responded with obvious confusion. If what I understood was correct, the man standing before me was not Bobbert Skym at all; he was, instead, the memory of Bobbert that I retained in my mind. An illusion that somehow was real, at least for a time. I make no claim to understand how it works, even today, but I know that it works. It worked then, and I had before me a man I had killed three years before. He was known as a drunk, a womanizer, and a small-time crook. He was also at one time reknowned as one of the best Seekers in the world; he was certainly the one of most ill-repute. He would do - I handed him a mug of Dragon�s Kiss and began to speak...



 

Bobbert certainly wasn�t pleased about the situation, but he�d set off on his errand. I had explained it all (excluding the point about him being an illusion; I made up some shez about my summoning him with a powerful relic, and told him that he would return home with vast riches and sensuous women after he completed my task). After I�d set him loose, my mind ran over the possibilities. My advantage over the Dancing Man was twofold: first, he didn�t know that the hunter had become the hunted; and second, he didn�t know that I did have powerful magic at my disposal. I had to keep things that way as long as possible, and that meant using the parchment to create realistic illusions. No one knew for sure that Bobbert was dead, and unless a sea dragon suddenly sicks up, I�d long ago made sure it would stay that way. He was skilled, he could find my prey for me, and he was the perfect cover. Oh, and he was also over an hour late�

If the situation were different, if I�d had more time to stalk my prey, I might have waited. It wasn�t an option, and I turned once again to the parchment�s magic. When my sketch was complete, I tore my second sheet in half. When I looked up, a full-length mirror stood across from me, with jewels encrusted on its edges. I�d seen the thing before, years before, and I knew how to work it. Looking around to make sure no one else was in my alley, I began:

��Mirror, now I tell you true,

none is fairer yet than you.

Mirror, now I cannot lie,

�tis you that make my heartstrings fly.��

�Do you mean that? Oh, do you?�

An image of a rotund, ogrish young woman had appeared in the mirror, replacing my own reflection. Her face was painted, but not in the manner of a modern lass; I guessed it to be a varient on the Korma patterns (4); it mattered not. I knew the way of this particular game, and mattured irritably, �Yes, of course I do.�

�Oh, oh�� the woman in the mirror beamed, and began to prune.

�Fair Mistress of the Mirror, you who were created by one of the greatest of our Order, I beg a question of you.� I asked, the words coming back to me. The original mirror had actually been made by a magus, and set with several layers of magical traps. I remember fleeing that house in terror, so long ago, but I also remember watching the magus activate his possession. The damn thing needed attention; if I threw it a few more kindnesses, it would keep mooning and tell me what I needed to know.

The woman focused on me, as if for the first time. �A question I will answer, if ye but ask, good magus. I just adore helping mages in need - it�s almost as good as eating dumplings. Almost, mind you; not quite the same. Do you have any dumplings? I�wait a moment, you don�t look like a magus��

I tried to stay a step ahead. �I am in disguise, Fair Mistress. A�a daemon from the netherworld is seeking me even now, and it seemed prudent to�ah��

The woman glowered now. �You cannot even make yourself presentable for me? Hah! I won�t answer a question. Not a single one!� Her voice was now shrill and petulant. I quickly glanced towards the other end of the alley, but no one had entered thus far.

�No, no,� I cooed, �your beauty is so far above any other, I knew that any show I made of matching it would fall short. I come as a beggar to demonstrate your divinity, your grace, your�your divine grace�� I remember silently cursing myself then for wasting one of the parchments on this damn mirror.

The woman relented, thank the Creator. �Oh, I suppose one question woulnd�t hurt. You know, I remember the year Mother died. She had eaten too many sausages; digestion couldn�t handle it. The pallbearer looked just like you, only cleaner. Ask away, loyal supplicant!� And ask I did.

�Oh,� she replied, �that�s easy. The person you want is in a warehouse less than a thousand hands away. I will show you in the mirror�you must turn left at the road and�by the way, do you have any dumplings on you?� she asked, eyes narrowing.

�Yes, yes, I know the place,� I snapped. At last, results.

The woman�s eyes narrowed further.

�That is, uh, I am most grateful for the brilliance of your wisdom, the light of your smile, the, uh�um�� A pause, and then inspiration. �I have dumplings.�

Close enough. She was smiling again, and I proceeded to my next question:

�Is Bobbert with him?�

She looked confused at that.

�Bobbert. The�the magical illusion of Bobbert, that is�ah, how would a mage say it��

�Oh, yes, there is a weak force of mobile magical energies centered in the warehouse. I assume you refer to�wait a moment, now! You said you were a mage! You said you were of my creator�s Order! You�you�you bad man, you! For your next question, you most first spend 5 weeks in prayer before me, extoling my beauty. Well? Begin!�

What could I do? I knelt before the damn mirror, mumbling some shez about her lips and her eyes. After about two minutes of this, she began to sing softly to herself, a song about a house made of sugarcane and osada spice. I made my move. �Oh, Perfect One, please�one more question�tell me who the Dancing Man is?�

Her eyes, closed until now, darted open. �For that,� she hissed, �you will have to start over. And now - 10 weeks in prayer! Now give me my dumplings!�

That was enough. I rose to my feet and told her that I�d rather kiss a toad than look at her ugly face for another moment. Her surprise turned to fear when she saw me pick up a rock and take aim. �You�you wouldn�t��

I gave her my best rougish grin as the stone hit the glass. Instead of shattering, to my surprise, the mirror simply disappeared. With a shrug, I downed the last of my drink and set off for the warehouse, parchment and quill in hand. I knew where he was - whoever he was - and with one more sheet I would take him.



 

There was only one way in; the place was well-chosen. It didn�t matter to me though, for the time for secrecy had passed. I had everything I needed. Confident, I strolled through the door into the abandoned room. The darkness was no problem - I knew exactly what I was looking for, and wihin a minute I had found the secret passageway that led downward. He would be waiting for me at the bottom. Time to roll the dice one last time, I remember thinking. I reached the staircase�s end - a small wooden door. I opened it, walked inside�

�and stood face to face with the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes upon. Moreso, she wasn�t human; pointy ears, almond eyes, the whole shabang. Hair the color of honey seemed to flow like a river across her face. Hands as delicate as flowers, with a single ring for adornment. She was elven. She also was sitting next to a man who was sprawled on the floor, lying in his own blood. It was Bobbert. Still alive (as much as any illusion lives), but missing two fingers and half an ear, he was whimpering softly. His eyes help panic as they rose to meet mine.

�It�s a trap, you bsatard�� he began, but the elfmaid seemed to touch him, gently, at his side, and Bobbert screamed in pain. �Elf bitch!� he sobbed between screams.

�Now, now,� she sighed softly, and her voice was melodious and cool. �You malign my race. I thought I could teach you empathy for demihumans by cropping your ear, but it seems you haven�t learned your lesson. Perhaps I need to be more�complete. Your other ear is still so�well, so round�� she finished with a chuckle. Bobbert screamed again, but this time she touched him near his neck, and he passed out immediately. The elfmaid turned to face me.

�You must be this man�s employer! How marvelous to meet you,� she said with a smile, and her eyes twinkled starlight.

I kept my voice casual. �What are you doing in a Brotherhood safehouse, madam? I am kept up to date on all guild entries, and you are certainly not one of them.�

She laughed and stood. �No, employer, I am certainly not one of the Brotherhood. I do, however, have a certain��understanding��with your esteemed leader. I might, however, ask the same of you? Who are you, to know of Brotherhood safehouses? You aren�t on the roll either. An inactive, perhaps?�

�Not by choice,� I answered. I remember that my insides were churning.

She nodded curtly; my explanation was enough. �You know who I am, of course. I am pleasantly surprised at your choice of snoops - a lesser mind would not have detected him. Your name?�

�Turndagger.�

Her voice was like a melody. �It�s time to end things, then, Turndagger. I�ll set up your friend while you stay here, and then I can deal with you without having to divide my attention. Imotus.�

Do you know, gods be damned, that she held my feet in place with that word? She was a magus - a damn magus! Even as my hands struggled to unpin my feet from the floor, my mind turned this new information as she continued.

�Shall I arrange him as a rimbali line dancer might have stood?� she asked, glancing my way with a small smirk on her face. She knew that I was helpless, that I would be next, and that I knew both of these things. I made my move.

�You won�t be harming my servant, little one. Dancing Man or no, Brotherhood or magus, you don�t want to cross this line.� She merely raised an eyebrow, and began sauntering closer to Bobbert.

I recalled the downfall of The Lady of the Mirror and smiled. Raising my voice, I bagan to shout nonsense at the top of my lungs: �Iggledy, piddledy, poggledy, poo, moggledy, mohogany, mysterion, myst�uh�mystery hystery bistery bop��

She actually laughed at a few of the words, but continued forward until she reached her victim. Reaching a hand down, she touched him�

�and I ended my rant: ��PIGGLEDY!�

Bobbert disappeared. I must admit, the timing was perfect.

�Now that,� the elfmaid said, turning to face me, �was very unusual. Perhaps I�ve underestimated you�a clever thief and a master of, um, magic.� She snickered as she mentioned that. It didn�t matter - I had her now.

I smiled a winning smile; there was only one more thing I wanted to know. �Tell me, madam, before I die; what reason do you have to kill any man or woman with the Brotherhood�s mark? (5) I must know�� I finished, watching her hands - those dangerous hands - very carefully. If they moved, I wouldn�t have much time.

The elfmaid paused, looked me up and down. At last, she smiled and sat on the ground a few hands from me. �The Brotherhood is mine,� she stated calmly. �I founded it over a hundred years ago, and I collect a sizable percentage of each leader�s take, plus half of all yearly dues. King is a puppet, but an adventurous little tadpole. He stopped payment, which is not an option; I own all of you. And now, Turndagger��

�Wai�wait,� I stammered wildly. �I have a deal for you. I know I don�t stand a chance against you in combat, even with my, uh, my magic. Fact is, I came here to strike a deal. It wouldn�t hurt you to hear me out. C�mon, madam - a few moments of your time.�

�You are delightful, young man,� the elfmaid chuckled. I haven�t had this much fun with a victim since old Fogerty let slip that he had a higher up. I do like my privacy, you know.�

I suppressed a gasp. Fogerty Roob, or �Bloody Ruby� as we affectionately called him, led the Brotherhood 14 years ago. The stories said he was trampled by a horse. I knew, right then, that it was indeed time to end this. The elfmaid, whether or not she was telling the truth, was dangerous. Dawn was fast approaching. I was getting hungry.

I made my pitch. �In my left pouch�no, the one near my dagger�no, the other dagger�yes, there�s something inside. From King, for you. A gift from a supplicant to a master. I don�t know anything else; he said to give it to you, that�s all.�

With a casual shrug, she lifted my pouch and looked inside. Her face suddenly paled, and I knew that I had her. She took out, slowly, reverently, a small blue stone. I had seen it before only from a distane, and I hadn�t been sure of my memory until I saw her countenance.

She stared at it long and hard. She cast some kind of spell on it. Finally, she turned to me. �Do you know what this is?� she asked in a harsh whisper.

I shrugged. �King didn�t tell me, but I know. It�s the Emperor�s��

��stone,� she finished for me. �The focus of his power, his life-force. He�s spent years making it. All the gold in Khazun couldn�t buy this!�

�I�m free to go, then�� I asked, still pulling at my glued feet.

She ignored me, and instead began murmuring softly. Arcane energies crackled around her, and she turned to me, a triumphant expression on her face. �All of his power, mine. All of his magic, mine. All mine. I will be Emperor!�

�and her smile turned to a hideous look of horror. She dropped the stone, and suddenly clutched at her gut. My feet weren�t free yet, but I knew I had won. I spoke softly to her, as if telling a child a bedtime story: �I remember it well. Geoffrey and I had the audacity to sneak into the Emperor�s tower. I was the washerwoman because he refused to wear a dress. We found it in the basement, after posing as servants for days. Geoffrey got to it first; he was elder, and better with the knives, besides. The damn thing passed all of our magical tests, it was safe. I remember his look of triumph, how it turned to one of pain�so similar to yours�

�It was a fake. I copy, and a deadly one. The poison is fast-acting, magically-based, and very painful. I killed Geoffrey to more to silence his screams than out of any sense of mercy; for you, I will let it linger these last moments.�

She reached for me, a feeble hand outstretched, but it was too late for the elfmaid. In moments she was still, and as her eyes closed I could feel my feet freed from the floor. I want to examine my prey - and found her alive! Apparently, the illusion of Geoffrey�s bane could simulate death, but couldn�t cause it. Nonetheless, it had served it�s purpose. I left her body lying where Bobbert�s had been; her blood ran where his illusionary blood had once seemed to touch.



 

I gave her ring to King as proof of my deed. I didn�t tell him that she was dead; only that she agreed to stop the killing. If he had learned of her demise, he might have become too secure, which in turn could lead to a lack of payment on my part. I got my duty-free membership perk; I got access to the Brotherhood�s secret storeroom, where I took not one, but several interesting goodies. As for the Dancing Man - who knows? I seriously doubt she was telling the truth about her position of authority over King, although it admit it is a possibility. More likely to me is the chance that she was a scorned lover, taught too well by her old master. Elves would never have been allowed into the Brotherhood officially, but leaders can make exceptions. Can�t you see it? King putting his best teachers to work on her - a mad, beautiful elven creature�it wouldn�t have done for him to tell the rest of us who exactly our foe was, and why she was picking us off, one by one. It doesn�t matter anymore; she�s dead, as is King. I�m almost there - after all the years, to be stabbed in the back by a two-copper boy playing at brigand. You have my words, though; you have them all now. Here, take this quill; the parchments have all been used. Give it to my father; he still lives in the tower near the Wagon Gate. Give it to him and tell him�tell him we are even. Tell him�that him that I am home; have been ever sense I joined the Brotherhood. Tell him for me�tell him that I spit on him from hell�



 

1. The Footpad Skirmishes is what the Brotherhood calls its brief period of civil war. Many of the members revolted against Hargosh One-Eye, who led at the time, when he instituted his Leash Rule. Magically-fitted neck bracelets were to be attached to every member, and could be removed only by the Brotherhood�s leader. These collars acted as automatic tracers, allowing the leader a constant knowledge of the whereabouts of his underlings. Such invasion of privacy (and side-venturing) enfuriated many to the point of open rebellion, and for a time the whole city was covered in a blanket of anarchy. Out of this mess rose a new leader, Davran Stoneheart - so named for the callousness with which he summarily tortured and executed all members of the opposition (including Hargosh).

2. The free days are not always rigorously held to. An enterprising rogue might even try to wrest opportunity from its original holder, so to speak, by interfering with an opponent�s score. The more cynical refer to free days as �Contest Days�, and a certain contingent of the Brotherhood is as active on these days as on any other (and quite possibly more - the level of competition on Contest Days is staggering, even for Brotherhood standards). Of course, if another member was able to prove the culprit�s misdeed, there would always be severe repurcussions�

3. Despite my best efforts, Turndagger spoke to me no further on his hidden source of information; obviously, a precise list of items in the storehouse would be a valuable piece of knowledge to have (or to sell).

4. The Korma was briefly in vogue with some women in the merchant class over 50 years ago; it involved tatooing what were known as �heart-runes� on one�s face using a very dangerous spell. The runes conveyed, supposedly, beauty, sexuality, and appeal; too often, they led to madness and imbalance. The Emperor outlawed all Korma tatooing less than a year after its inception. The creator of this style of magic is unknown.

5. The Brotherhood�s mark is a tatoo of a gray hand, fingers outstretched. All members have had occasion at one time or another to show their mark, especially when accosted by another thief who doesn�t realize their connection. The most famous case of this occurred several years ago when Tarpy Rabbittooth was killed while displaying his sign to a fellow rogue who had mistakenly demanded Tarpy�s money at knifepoint. Tarpy had chosen, when he received his tatoo, to place it in a rather hidden spot, so as not to be detected by the authorities. At the Brotherhood trial, Tarpy�s murderer was given a complete pardon; his defense stood on the fact that he misunderstood his victim�s intent, and thought he was in fact being mooned. Ever since, members have chosen a safer, more accessible location.





Home is where the heart is� © Shrike

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
  • up
    50%
  • down
    50%