Sunday, May 9, 2010

Free Fiction Friday: The General's Assassin

“I don't care about your thrice-damned vow!” I believe the crying elf's name was Malin. “Pick up the sword,” he said. The tip of his rapier quivered against the old man's throat, threatening to draw blood.

Daskegandé didn't move toward the thin elven long-blade on the ground beside him. “I'll not fight you,” he said, “not over this or anything else.”

Malin scowled and flicked his wrist. His blade nicked the priest's jaw, drawing blood and adding a fresh scar to his already battle-worn face. The human didn't flinch. “Fight me,” Malin screamed.

“I will not do it.” The old man's voice was as calm and centered as when I'd known him all those years ago in Kairlown. Word had spread - no more than a stupid rumor, really - that the General had returned from the grave a broken and weakened man. I hadn't believed it. Superstition. The end of a legend being made out of the deeds of my late commander, but here he stood. Even with that poor elf's blade at his throat, there was strength in his voice. Power.

Malin was a dead man and didn't even know it. “I will kill you,” he said, but his voice cracked. He'd come to the temple looking for the Butcher of Kairlown, a monster - a mass murderer or a tyrant. Daskegandé had done naught but good in the years since he came here.

He carries the weight of the past on those broad shoulders - it bears him down. But in the time I've been here, watching him, I have seen him smile easier than he ever did in Laerian's company. He does the temple's work with the same passion and conviction he once used to command armies. The other priests look to him for direction - they follow him the same way the Luxlucitus did.

If not for his loyalty to Laerian, he might've made himself King at Three Cities, and I suspect he could rule here if not for his loyalty to Pelor.

Malin's movement snaps me back into the moment. The elf is fast. Luckily enough, I'm ready. My dagger pierces his hand and sends that fancy rapier of his to the ground before he can run it through the General's neck. The tainted black metal, I know, is already loosing its poison into his blood.

The elf screams out and everyone but the General jumps when I stretch myself out through the edges of the Feywild and teleport behind him. My blades are thirsty for blood.

“Leave him be, Callien,” the General says, still calm - even after this bastard made a play for his life. “You master did not send you to kill this refugee.”

Malin weeps at our feet, clutching his arm. Rather than heal him, himself, Daskegandé (ever the skillful diplomat) calls his brothers to tend the wounds. The look on the elf's face says that this is not over between them, but just beneath that, I can read the relief at not having to refuse the General's aid. Daskegandé is right though; this is none of my affair.

“How long have you known I was here,” I ask.

“I first noticed something was amiss a tenday ago,” my old commander ushers me toward the Morning Grotto. “I didn't know it was you until three days ago, when I smelled that perfumed jasmine you insist on oiling your hair with.”

“When you took tea with that portly dragon-man from the Village?”


“I moved too close. I thought the teas would mask my scent.” I smiled, but his expression was grave.

“Callien,” he said once we were out of earshot from the Brothers tending his would-be assassin, “why are you here?” It wasn't really a question.

“There is a whispered rumor that the Old Woman did not die below the Western Wall at Narvellan, but was seen leaving the battlefield wearing the colors of the Three Cities.” I leaned against a Morningberry Tree, trying to appear casual and not at all like I was keeping my hands near the two daggers I wore under my arms. I once watched General Daskegandé kill a man in a barfight with no more than his fists. I do not shake, though, and that is a credit to my training. “No one believes it,” I said, “more of a jest than a threat. But you don't know how paranoid Laerian has become.

“Since he took the Boy-King's Throne, he jumps at every peep from the Blacknives. At first, he laughed too. The thought of the Weeping Cyclops crying so hard he'd lost his armor and lost his way. But then the whispering started. He murmured about your missing body. It grew worse and then worse still until he sent me to find and kill you.

“He's convinced you're building an army to take his crown.”

“That's ridiculous,” Mohan said. Talking to him like this, not stalking him, he was the General again. My friend. He said, “even when I carried the sword in Laerian's service, I never had designs on Thrones or Crowns. Those were his ambitions.”

“I remember,” I said. “Laerian however, frets on his throne, figiting at every threat he imagines and he remembers that you were a leader of men. A damn fine one, at that.”

Mohan shook his head, but I said, “The Shadow Cloaks followed you, not him. The regular army looked to you, not him. The Solis keeps Laerian's Order now, but back then, you went were he led you and so Luxlucitus did too. They appeared to be his men because you were.”

I didn't finish. He didn't want to know that the Blacknives were already looking for a replacement for the Blood King. And he might have followed me if I led him back to Narvellan. He'd be miserable, but damn his eye, he'd feel responsible.

“And what now,” he said, his shoulders stiffening. “Are you Laerian's man?” He wanted to know if I was going to kill him.

“No,” I said. “I told the king you were dead and this was a fool's errand. I'll return to Three Cities in a month or so and tell him again.

“I don't know what led you from Luxlucitus to... to this; but even if you're a viable threat to Laerian, you're no danger to him.”

The cleric finally smiled. “You're welcome to remain at the temple if you like, spend your month doing good in the name of the Sun Father.”

“I think I'm looking for something more along the lines of free-flowing wine and a bevy of loose women.”

Now he laughed. It made me feel good. I don't know if I ever heard him do that before. “Stay,” he said, “you can bed down in one of the mission suites. There's a good-sized village called Yllian, just over the southern hill. It's a trade route, and there's a nice tavern, and more than a few farmer's daughters looking for a charismatic Eladrin to sweep them off their feet.”

I've never been one to turn down the needs of a lonely farmer's daughter, so I took him up on his offer. I spent my days doing Pelor's work - tending crops and helping to build a shelter for the poor - all alongside the man I once knew as the most ruthless military mind alive. At nights I made myself known to the people of Yllian. It was a good ten-day. It took me that long to convince the cleric to join me for a drink.

We rode for town just after Prayers at Dusk.

“Something's wrong,” he said, just before we crested the big hill. At the base of the hill, where Merigan's Farm should have been, there was only a blasted smudge and the last embers of the fire that had left it.

Mohan's steed broke into a full gallop. I spurred my own horse to follow, but there was no need to rush. The buildings were gone, the family all dead.

The big priest was off his mount before it stopped. He strode toward the first of the charred corpses. By the size of it, I'd guess it was the heavyset woman - Merigan's wife. I never learned her name. She made a very good Morningberry tea.

He knelt beside her remains, but he was looking around us - at the ground. “What do you make of it,” he asked. It was my General speaking now, not the priest I'd come here to drink with; made my hackles stand up and take notice. I pushed it down and looked around.

“Kobolds,” I guessed. “There's none dead but the humans, but if I had to bet on it, I'd say these were kobold tracks. That or huge biting lizards, and biting lizards don't set fires.”

“They live in low caves to the south of here,” Mohan said, standing and dusting the soot off his hands. Somehow, his white robe was still clean. “They're left alone, because they do no harm. I guess they forgot that.”

He produced a small pouch from beneath his robes and set about a bit of priestly magic. A rabbit appeared from the low brush at the edge of the farm and made its way slowly toward us. Mohan spoke to it, and clapped his hands. The rabbit darted off in the direction of the Temple.

“I've sent for priests to look after the bodies,” he said. “I must go to the caves and have words with the Kobold Chief. It's none of your concern, so I'll understand if you wish to continue on to the Prideful Notion.”

“My General,” I said with a mock flourish, “it would be my honor to ride with you once again into battle.”

His countenance darkened. “I do not go to fight,” he said. “Kurrtikshek and I have spoken before. I'll speak to him now and get to the bottom of this.”

I said, “because Kobolds are so well known for their even tempers and not at all excitable natures.”

“Go or stay,” he said. “I've work to do.” And he did. He mounted his horse and set off for the South without so much as a bye-your-leave.

“Mohan,” I said, following after him. Following after him again. “It seems the height of folly to approach a kobold warren without thought as to how you're going to kill them, or at least get out alive.”

“It's very simple,” he said, “we approach from the north-east. Kobolds, for all their growling and teeth gnashing, fear men. I'll announce us to the guards and have them lead us into the warren to speak to Kurrtikshek. As we go along, we watch for traps and ambushes. If things go sour, we leave. I'm here to ask questions and be answered, not slaughter kobolds.”

Maybe the old rumors did have a ring of truth to them. “You're either very sure of yourself,” I said, “or you've become addle-brained.”

“I am sure of Pelor,” he said. It did not reassure me, though as it turned out, I had nothing to fear from kobolds.

After an hour's hard ride, we came to the base of the southern hills, and a clearing in the wood. Hidden behind loose rock and a large, fallen tree, was the entrance to the kobolds' caves. I might not have seen it if not for the dead beast lying in the shadow of the tree.

“Someone's come before us,” I said.

Mohan dismounted and strode toward the corpse. “So it would seem.” He situated his holy symbols - I hadn't known he wore so many beneath his voluminous robes - and turned toward me. “The kobolds will not be so open to talk, I fear. And we may find worse than these in the caves.”

I drew my knives. “I am ready.” It felt quite uncomfortable to walk into those caves. Striding, really, not sneaking. Mohan led the way, his Faith shining forth and lighting the way for us as we ventured into the dark.

I have never been in the twisting warrens of the kobolds before, and I was quite amazed at the intricacy of their winding tunnels. They went on forever, and down into the earth. Traps lay about aplenty, as well, though most of these were sprung or disabled. Everywhere we went, we found dead kobolds and their pets.

“We're following some sort of adventuring party,” I said.


“I suppose that means the kobold threat is over and we can return to the Prideful Notion and have a drink.” There was something going on here that made me nervous. I said as much to my companion in a low whisper.

“I am no less unnerved than you are,” Mohan said, his own voice dropping low to match my own. “But something compels me to go on. I have to believe it is my Faith.”

I nodded. I may not have the faith of my old compatriot, but I learned a long time ago to trust his instincts. When he started further down into the tunnels, I followed.

“Stop.” The voice was like thunder and ice. I cannot explain it any better. It came up at us from out of the cavernous darkness ahead, followed by the shimmering form of - words fail me. A giant of a man, made of thunder... and ice. With wings of the same, and armed in gold and fire.

It did not land as it descended toward us, for it had no legs - it's body trailing off into the aether. “My Lord commands,” it said, “heed this warning, Mohan Daskegandé.”

Mohan knelt before the creature, and so I did also. “I listen and obey, mighty one,” he said. He was trembling.

The magnificence of the being before us was enough to blind me, and when it spoke, it did so with words I should not have been able to comprehend. The Supernal words of creation itself. They twisted in my mind and made meaning out of chaos.

“You stand at another crossroads,” it said, “and you must make a choice.”

“What am I to do?” Mohan asked the question and I could hear his voice quavering. He was as afraid of this wonder as I, and that multiplied my own fear.

The angel - for what else could it be - moved closer, the light of it filling me with the warmth of the First Light. “You may return,” he said, “leave these caverns and go back to the gardens and duties at the Temple of Weeping Dusk. Live your life as you have these past years.

“Or you may continue down these tunnels. Within the next chamber, you will find the perpetrators of this slaughter. They are wounded and regrouping, considering retreat. Without a healer, they will die. One of their number, Nerik, is the child of those slaughtered corpses that directed you here. He seeks justice, while his companions are here for his sake, and for any valuables collected by the kobolds over the years."

"There is no choice," Mohan said, and started to walk past the angel.

It looked like the holy creature was about to smile. "This is good, Mohan Daskegandé. And I charge you thus. Travel the world of men and beasts. Look after those who would look into the lost places and shed the light of knowledge and understanding in the darkness."

The angel sheathed its fiery sword and dissipated. Even the magical light of Mohan's holy symbol could not fight the darkness left in its passing.

After our eyes adjusted, we went forward. Nerik and his men were surprised and distrustful of us at first, but warmed quickly when they realized Mohan brought the healing light of Pelor with him.

The General watched over the adventurers as we marched into the Chief's cave. I did my best to help, and we were really outmatched by the demonic forces Kurrtikshek had summoned against us. Without Mohan's aid, we would have perished to a man.

When it was done, we sat outside under the red and gold rays of morning. We were exhausted and battered. Beaten but alive. The kobolds had over-extended their reach by calling on the forces of the Abyss, and lost their leadership to the chaotic demons they sought to employ in their bid for more power. Now both threats were exterminated.

Mohan performed the funeral rites for the kobolds, and the banishing rituals to ensure the demons did not return from whatever hell we sent them to. And that was where we parted ways.

I still had duties in Three Cities. The king needed to be told that General Daskegandé was really dead, and then the Blacknives needed to find a way to oust the king.

I bid my old general, and friend, farewell, and watched as he and Nerik's band rode out toward Haesenflay. I may see him again, I do not know. But I've no interest in adventuring or noble causes. My work is for the shadows, not the Light.

I'd travel with the General again - after the Blacknives changed our mandate to seeking out a suitable replacement for the Blood King, and killing all other usurpers - but that is another tale.

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