The Realm, The Quill by Merwin
My Team Leader at work requested I write a story during slow call flow days, for the sake of team morale. It was intended to be a stress relief effort.
James Ferrell was my Team Lead at the time and our team was called The Kingdom.
I sent out a questionnaire to our team members to have anyone who wanted to be a character to respond. Below is a later example of the questionnaire, and most of the replies, then the story.
Please bear in mind that I could only crank out a couple of paragraphs a day, and some paragraphs are better edited than others. I also have the intention of finishing it soon, it is very close to being finished now. I hope you enjoy it, here it is...
These instructions were sent out before... I have too many characters as it stands, with some of us having moved from West for employment elsewhere and might not, therefore be used. What a relief..!
Trying to find a way to fit everyone in was a tremendous task. That being said, no new characters will be added to this story. I have included the Questionnaire for the sake of informing the readers of how the process worked for the next story (if there is one), and to provide understanding for the readers of this one.
However if you have an idea for a really interesting character for yourself, please respond with the pertinent information as described below, and it will be considered for exception.
Thank you, Merwin (Jester).
At any point if you wish to be added to the story you may select your character. As an example, Alicia B. wanted to be a centaur and would have been one too, but she became employed with another company. Dalton chose a Dragon named Auger, Kelly's character is Cicero... a Spy, Maranda (also one of you Avengers), has mentioned she would like to be a Pixie or a Fairy though I do need her final decision in a email sent to me. You do not have to pick a name you may use your own real name or have me pick one if you wish. If you would not like to be included in the story at all or at least not now, please let me know that as well. Remember your descriptions will likely show on the list of characters though I will edit misspellings and bad grammar if I catch it. Below is the original questionnaire sent out before the story began...
The Realm... set in medieval times, Kings... good and evil, knights and castles and the occasional dragon. Wizards, trolls, elves, ogres, pixies, faeries and more gather together for intrigues, abductions, revenge and battles of forces from both sides.
If you would like to be a character in this episodic story line you will need to let me know and what type of character... human or otherwise, evil or good - or undetermined and mysterious.
Give some thought about your character title and name and then provide me with your decision as soon as you would like to make your entry into the story and it will happen within days afterward.
Please bear in mind this will only be fiction and has no bearing on or with reality.
Aaron Endresz... replied with this, I thought it too good to not pass along to "The Realm".
"Aaronel Stratos - the King of Dust and Ashes - is a foul Necromancer-Lord ruling over the blasted ruins over the Shattered Lands. A festering canker in the heart of the Realm, Lord Aaronel is a constant threat to the safety and stability of the Kingdom and it's inhabitants, marching to war at the head of an endless, shambling tide of the undead upon his Gravewyrm, the corpse of a once-noble dragon enslaved to the necromancer's will by vile sorceries."
Looking forward the first entry in this epic tale!
Alicia B. would like to be a Centaur, her character trait is undetermined, and as yet has not confirmed what name she would like.
Tarter has decided that his name will be Lucio and to be a Knight of the Realm under the banner of King James.
Corey H. has selected the name of Kane, with an undetermined character trait, and his value to our story is also to be determined. "I would like to be known as Kane, a mercenary who is neither good nor evil. He does what he must to support his motherless children that he has at home. His tendencies are towards the good, as he is a caring father, but he will do what he must to ensure that his family is cared for. "
Crystal A. has selected the name of Isis and her character will be undetermined in her words "mysterious".
Dalton P. chooses the character of an Ancient Dragon by the name of Auger, to be sure he a most unusual Dragon and a trusted counsel to all, and confidant of the King.
Faith W. chooses the character of Daedra and says of her character... "could totally be a mysterious sorceress who may, or may not have had something to do with the dark realm :P she has a wealth of knowledge but is cautious about sharing it with any one she doesn't think she can trust. she has slightly good intentions =) "
Greg R. has selected an undetermined character who happens to be a Golden Elf, by the name of Montgomery.
Jesse T. Story name Absentio, Troll, one of the Kings closet body guards and his rear guard on the battlefield.
Levi B. chooses to be a Knight, Sir Leon Studhorse, , and an Inn Keeper who once was advisor to the chief of a wandering tribe of nomads known as the Occhai (Hundred Eyes) who dabbles in divination of the stars, and other forms of natural magic. Leon often is said to have powerful insight to future events that have little or no direct relevance to the world around him, and pursues the craft in hopes of predicting anything more tangible then when his wife expects him home for dinner. he is one of many Royal Counselors though Lady Shai (Brandi N.) is concerned about her husband being taken advantage of.
Lynette R. has not responded.
Merwin R. has selected the name Jester, Wizard from the Order Inspiritus and fellow chronicler of this legend. He is ally to His Majesty King James, and a traveler through many Realms.
Michelle H. has not responded.
Sherry E. has also not replied.
Sierra P. chooses to be Princess Aello sister to Seraphina, saying..."Okay so i would like to be Princess Aello and Teressa is going to be a princess also she will be my sister and i am going to be good and she is going to be evil. I want to be taken hostage and captured by one of our knights under King James Orders. (: "Teressa E. chooses Princess Seraphina definitely evil.
Zac T. chose the character of the Red Knight Sir Brutus, an evil mercenary hired by the evil King of Dust and Ashes Aaronel Stratos to do his bidding.
Faith W. Chooses the name Daedra
Nathan L. Has asked to be the drunk beggar known as Brachus.
Kelly P. Has selected a rogue pirate as his character, loyal to James working as spy by the name of Cicero
Taylor B. "Wizard please. Like Merlin but with a background that is smoky and while my time in the kingdom has been virtuous, my motives are often questioned because of the unclear background I have and rumors of time spent as a dark necromancer."
James M. said of his character... Character name does not matter, Assassin in the Realm. Money is not his motivation, but knowledge and power. Will work for anyone as long as it benefits himself in some way. Good/Evil does not matter so much as long as personal gain is involved. He uses magic/poison/mundane methods to accomplish his tasks.
Some of his goals:
To start/run a guild of assassins/mercenaries.
To own a small island/piece of land to run such guild on.
Jonathan G. "Sikh - A mercenary capable of hunting down any enemy and eliminating him in the most efficient manner possible. Can quickly eviscerate an entire enemy unit in a matter of moments. Character is not good nor evil, but rather very neutral, and does not appreciate authority of any kind and will not take a job that would lend control to one side or another and is very likely to take hire with a weaker force, even for less pay for the sake of providing balance. Does not take orders but merely accepts requests (and coins) for rendered services."
Jeffrey J. has opted to allow me to select his name and character... accordingly, I have selected his name to be Jeffrey (I know... no imagination on my part right?) He is a Griffyn and an senior-wizard of the same order as Taylor and Taylor's chief councilor.
Maranda M. has selected the name Neon for her Pixie character and says her character is good and definitely not evil.
I Jester... Wizard in good standing with my order, Inspiritus... am required by my order to chronicle to the best of my abilities what has transpired in the last few years within the Realm of His Majesty King James.
This is not a simple task as I am not privy to all transpirings, and with many incidents I am hard pressed to find the full measure of truth, so... I've been counseling with Auger the Dragon, whose only desire leans to unbiased information. I then attempt to glean bits of information from here and there, and sometimes even the Royal drunk known only as Brachus, his cares and loyalties are constantly drowned with the product of the vine. I must be careful with his interviews, to weigh his comments against the knowledge that he may simply be fabricating a lie to acquire a new goblet of wine. All in all, I have compiled enough for a start.
We are not through our dark days, but my endeavor to record what has happened must be launched in order bring us current lest I lose the opportunity altogether, for these are dire times indeed and none may survive. I must insure that the true history does remain with my order, even if the Kingdom of James falls... and with it truth.
It began a few years back, though I would be hard pressed to gauge exactly how many years it was.
Hard pressed indeed... when was it, that the first evidence of a Dark Realm within the Realm of His Majesty King James was revealed..?
I would say that at the center of where the dark abode now is, there began lamentable minor notes being sung by birds that would normally provide joyful melodies and then the small area of this sorrow grew. I noticed this for months travelling through the region one could feel a chill though the sun shone brightly. Then at the center of this growing concern, the songbirds could no longer find habitation as the hardwoods cast their green leaves before their time, and appeared to join those that had already wept.
These the first senses of something sinister.
Later there were visitors, harbingers whose names precede them... among them, Isis from the nether regions of the East, she came yielding prophecy concerning the soon demise of dynasties. The return of a Golden Elf, seen almost as an amber ghost on edges of the forests that still live, and rumors of Centaurs. Then the Inn Keepers Lord and Lady Studhorse, whose keep is not far from the Dark Kingdom's present borders, were met in those days with changes within themselves that could not be explained.
When I interviewed Auger in those early days he simply shook his great head rustling his scales with terrible noise and uttered two words, "Look beneath." and did not speak again for days.
Then perhaps six seasons after these subtle yet sinister influences manifested... the first structures of the black castle seemed to spring from the ground itself.
We can assume that what can be seen now as the tallest turret, on the tallest tower... was the first structure to break ground.
They that gained those first glimpses, stated plainly that it seemed as though that someone had removed a black tower and then with it a roof top, and set them atop a mound that welled up from what had aforetime been flat, lush woods. They reported a sense of foreboding, the pungent smell of mildew, that warm chill and a dreadful inner compulsion to leave the area. It is this latter sense that overwhelmed their natural curiosity, and any further views of the castle as it grew to its present grand dimensions were taken from the nearest hill crest some five miles distant.
And now, even to attempt to see it from there, is to risk madness or death. The prophecies of Isis continued. Her passage through every Village and Hamlet in the Kingdom leaves behind despair, confusion, and a wonder for her utterings. Are they meant for a well intended warning, or for an icy construct of fear to stifle a valorous heart?
It must be said, never in our Order's chronicles has there ever been recorded such a number of sorcerers, majical beasts, and mercenary warriors converging in one Realm... dark times indeed.
As mentioned earlier, there were subtle changes in the character of they that lived close by, or even those that frequented the perimeters of the affected area. These changes, took on sinister manifestations as the overall condition matured. A person who might have exhibited mild bitterness from time to time would have their bitterness intensify and incidents become more frequent. They that were sometimes skeptical, grew paranoid and would scrutinize the intentions of their long time friends. And the borderline aggressive, became violent... even, in some cases murderous. The jokingly lecherous became even more perverse and it became apparent they no longer joked in their advances and oftimes these too, became violent... showing that they had given in to their baser leanings.
The King who is a warrior at heart, was forced to become more of a Judge, to pass sentence on the most despicable criminals convicted of vile crimes, some sentenced to hanging, some to beheading, while some were summarily banished for seditions against the King.
The most prominent among these was the Red Knight, formerly a friend to the Realm and a trusted member of James' Court... now, he can not be numbered among the King's Knights. He is suspected as having joined himself with the Black Castle's Ruler, and on the day of his disappearance the King's oldest Daughter Aello could not be found. The King's youngest Daughter Seraphina accused the Red Knight of her abduction, and the King has vowed her retrieval, and the Red Knight's head on a platter.
All who heard the King's declaration, knew war was afoot.
As it must be with any military campaign... preparation is of utmost importance. Just after the abduction of Princess Aello, the King's most trusted spy known as Cicero was dispatched to the coasts of James' most likely adversary, with the hope of finding word through the boastings of their port inhabitants.
Cicero's reputations were cloaked in secrecy, but nevertheless profound.
They that knew of his methods and results, were curiously robbed of his real name and description. No one knew of his comings and goings, and who in truth he may be. They knew only that his methods could oftimes prove deadly and brutal, with lifeless bodies in the wake of his passing... and they that managed to survive had no recollection of how they came by their injuries. These, were the sometime happenstances of Cicero's intelligence gathering. For the majority of his assignments no one even knew of his presence or absence.
The rare meetings between the King and Cicero always happened deep in the forest, during the darkest hours before the dawn, some have even speculated that the King himself knew not the person he engaged for these tasks.
The week that Cicero was dispatched, marked what everyone agreed was the end of the first year of woe.
This was agreed, because of Auger who marked it by stating that it had been just under a year since I brought my questions to him, and it was the bloom of the crocus' in the places where they still grew.
Only the King, myself, and Auger knew of the deployment of the Arch Spy, and it was only the King, who knew what was needed from the mission.
The Studhorse Inn became the hub of activity for the curious, the nefarious, and they that came for mercenary hire. What had been before a meager living from the Inn, after a year of this growing threat and the abduction of Royalty was then resounding enterprise. Lord and Lady Studhorse were forced to hire new help for their kitchen and grounds. The need for two barrels of wine, and ten kegs of ale for any given month had increased tenfold.
There grounds were populated with stranger's tents which kept the grounds keepers busy protecting the herb garden from poachers.
They that were beasts of majic and the Golden Elves kept to the forests but they too had come, compelled by forces unseen to involve themselves in matters that they could only guess at. War was brewing but the true enemy must be confirmed before mobilization... or the King and his subjects could easily find themselves fighting on two fronts.
As it was, no one was claiming credit for the abduction of the Princess, and intelligence pointed in two directions, the Kingdom of Taylor, and this Black Castle.
The King comes from a long line of warrior Kings, and as such his stoic strength in facing absence of his first born Daughter was as nourishment to those who would otherwise become frail with despair.
It was during the first reports of raids in the Southern most reaches of the Realm that caused opinion to sway a little away from the Realm of Taylor as our antagonist. There was no signs indicating troop movements to there, too far from his own territories, quite some distance, North and East.
These silent unknown raiders needed to be dealt with effectively and so His Majesty deployed his enforcer Absentio (Jesse), and his Knight Lucio (Tarter) to investigate for, and trap any of these bandits for interrogation.
Then arrived the days of fledglings leaving their nests, but before the snows melt in the hills that news came to the King of the first sighting of the Red Knight since his banishment.
He was seen on the perimeters of the area of devastation, on the nearest barren ridge arrayed in full battle regalia obviously a challenge of sorts. This report was from the drunken lips of Brachus, but vouched for by myself, for I too had been there and viewed it from the shade of one of the Studhorse Elms.
The Villain remained on that ridge for the better part of an hour, he and his black steed silhouetted against the gray overcast that hangs like a shroud over that nether region. His horse occasionally rearing and begging to be rode, was his only movement until finally he rode off digressing beyond the hill, deeper into that black realm.
Then came news to the King from his Spy.
It has... been for such a long time been a source of amusement for me to notice or to hear from Auger, of the arrival of the King's messenger pigeon to the north ramparts of the castle. Invariably I would wait a day or so and then request audience with His Majesty to inform him that I knew by supernatural sources that he had received word from his Spy.
This produced such an astonished look upon the King's visage the first few times, and I in turn must have appeared very amused at his astonishment, that in past campaigns when humor was reckoned by all as welcome, that we had never dispensed with our game.
In past campaigns however, the King had not suffered betrayal by his Knights, nor had his heirs been in jeopardy.
Still I waited the obligatory day before seeking audience and what news from Cicero's latest dispatch.
I came before the James sensing that the notice he received had not given him more hope... rather, it had taken from him that bright expectancy that had bolstered him, over those many weeks. Hope, that perhaps the agents of Realm Taylor, had abducted his eldest child.
Instead, upon entering the council room, the King bid me join him standing next to his map table and said as I approached, "So old Jester... not as I expected, not what I had prepared myself to hear."
"What news my King?"
"From Cicero... he states that the Ruler of that Realm" he gestured toward the East with disgust, "...has announced his intentions to join our enemy as an ally... as soon as our foe reveals himself. And further, it is my Spy's opinion that though Taylor has vowed against our truce by allying himself preemptively with our foe, that he indeed is not the originator of our present woe."
My discourse with James that day centered around his eldest and how to first find her... then how to retrieve her, either by ransom or rescue. War, though a potential... needed to be considered for a time when the safety of his Daughter would not be compromised by troop mobilization. Or even the safety of his subjects serving in war, by the enemy possessing the heir apparent and manipulating the Royal Army's chivalric sensitivities.
At one point in our exchange His Majesty stated, "Were it a captured Son... then, if we knew the enemy... we could march, and chivalry would not command our forces, as it is, we are forced to tread more carefully!"
A cry from the watch on the North Rampart, echoed in through the portal announcing, "Red smoke from the Elm Forrest!"
This signal meant Cicero had returned from his venture. I knew then that war with Taylor was not a near imposition. For were it something we were on the very verge of... Cicero would have remained there to convey to us their movements. Odd too, that it was a mere two days following the arrival of his messenger pigeon. The return of Cicero was perhaps the best news for the Kingdom in a little over a year.
It was then the King invited me to go with him to meet Cicero for the first time, and to his opening comments I voiced certain hesitations, "Are you certain James? Anonymity is the safer choice for Cicero is it not?"
"He and I have had many exchanges regarding the wisdom of this decision, and we agree, I have more than the loss of my most valuable Spy at risk... there could be the loss of my heirs and rule. If this is a legitimate concern I then must then put the safety of the Realm at the forefront of my reasonings. This, and the fact that Cicero himself, had broached the subject and nearly insisted upon the meet even for his own safety, after all... were I felled, either by battle or treachery he might not be able restore the Kingdom without aid." The King gestured to the door of the council room stating, "I am glad for your council old one, but my mind is certain of this path. Meet me in the Courtyard at the change of the mid-evening watch and we will go see what news from my Spy, and make certain your weapon has a good edge."
That evening we left Castle and silently made our way south, across the fully moonlit pasture to the Southern Forest, and I esteemed it clever to place the red smoke announcement in the Northern Elm Forest to indicate they should meet in the Southern Forest. I would later discover that different colors of smoke had other meanings and red meant more than the opposite direction for the meeting, it also meant danger.
James was sure of his direction and though I was very familiar with this forest and even at night, we seemed to be traveling in parts unfamiliar to me. Our route seem circular, though it never seemed to cross over itself, and by this I assumed it was a spiral of sorts, with us having begun at its outer edge. It was not very soon but soon enough, that we arrived at a tiny clearing among the huge Elms. In the middle of the clearing was a huge flat rock with three lit candles whose flames were not stirring nor fluttering, the air was still.
Initially there appeared to be just myself and His Majesty in the clearing but as my eyes adjusted to the added light of the candles, I noticed the ever so slight move on the immense Elm opposite us beyond the centerpiece, then he stepped forward, breaking his illusion fully. And for the first time I was able to see and know, what few had ever seen and knew... the man of the reputation.
"We have spoke with each other on many occassions old one, though, at each episode of our exchanges you have perceived me differently." Cicero glanced at James and handed him a scroll, and continued his remarks to me, I watched the Kings expressions as he silently read the scroll. "Of course you know better than to rack your mind to remember me or my disguises, so I will tell you that at one incident, I appeared as a nearly incoherent drinking companion of Brachus. As you interviewed him for information, I did not contribute to your gain of information from Brachus, but you showed your kindness as you gave us both the same reward, and by this I new you had a good heart. This encounter occurred during the troll conflcts... at least twenty years ago, as Brachus and I reclined against the trunk of the chestnut tree near the Studhorse Inn."
As the King read, I noticed that as he held the scroll with both hands, three of his fingers of his right hand became pronounced away from the rest. I assumed this meant that there were at least three assassins hiding amongst the trees. Cicero continued, "I have long wished to make your acquaint..." With a single fluid movement, Cicero produced from his sleeves two daggers, one in each hand, which he threw beyond us. Each dagger striking a bowmen, the one bowman in his neck and the other bowman in his bow shoulder... the third assassin was a broad-swordsman who rushed the King from behind with deadly intent, having his weapon raised above his head with both hands to bring it down upon the King, as he advanced.
James' reaction was immediate, as soon as Cicero moved, he dropped the scroll and drew his short sword, turned and met the assassin's blow in mid swing. The King's slice to off both hands of his would be murderer, and his left hand caught him by the throat. The Kings momentum took them both to the ground.
My sword in hand, I advanced toward the bowman with the shoulder wound as I kept alert for any more who could be hidden from Cicero's notice. As I reached my target, with his good hand he quickly drew from his garb an item he put into his mouth, I heard him crunch it with his teeth for I was now upon him. He soon seized, frothed, and perished.
The King's combatant was not as fortunate as either the neck wounded or poisoned, for they both died... neither would be subject to the interrogations of Auger and Brachus.
Cicero divulged as we worked to stop the flow red life, from the surviving assassin, that these murderers were not from the realm of Taylor. Taylor had announced his alliance with our enemy as a ruse, and he suspected this would cause enemies of both realms to surface. It was welcome news indeed to have Taylor as a possible ally, though the ruse must continue for some time, things appeared to make a slight turn in our favor.
The cry of Isis was heard repeated for the next few days through many hamlets... "It has begun... FIRST BLOOD! First blood!"
The interrogations of Auger and Brachus brought no new information, the assassin's tongue had been removed as a youth, probably in the earliest days of his apprenticeship. The mesmerizing comfort that Auger usually invokes upon those he interrogates... along with the fine wine and confidence provided by Brachus, is normally enough to loosen the tongues and minds of the the most hardened agents, and though Auger is fluent in every form of communication, there was no real opportunity, for the veteran assassin passed into Catatonia days after the interviews had begun and he never recovered.
It was shortly after the declarations of Isis, that the Golden Elf glimpsed hither and thither among the Elms, sought audience with the King. He introduced himself as Montgomery, and though his name is reknown among the Northern forest dwellers and myself, I must confess I had never met him. It seemed that at the times that I had visited the regions of the Gold Elves as a guest of his Great Uncle Bartholemew, he had been dispatched on some quest or another, and now it seemed... this was the latest of his dispatches.
The King informed me of his meeting with Montgomery, and that he brought regards to the King and myself from his Great Uncle. And he also brought the announcement from Bartholemew, that though this impending doom may take on monumental proportions it would not be something that he may send aid to stop. He further announced that in their Northern reaches they deal with a variation of the same threat. but as a gesture of solidarity, Montgomery would ally himself to the King's cause.
This was also the day that the King's Knight Lucio and James' Body Guard Absentio, returned from their forays to stop the raids of what then appeared to be independent raiding parties from the Realm of Taylor. They announced upon their arrival that these raiding parties were punished by Taylor's ambassodors for having crossed into James' Realm, for they did not have Taylor's approval.
Montgomery's first visit was a courtesy from the Golden Elves, a formality to introduce himself as an Ambassador of sorts, and to declare his support to the Kings cause.
Cicero's intelligence as always was absolutely dependable, and it was not long before his counter part for the Realm of Taylor had borne an "unofficial" declaration from Taylor, delivered to Lord and Lady Studhorse bearing the Wizard Taylor's seal. It was Lord and Lady Studhorse themselves that came to the castle to present the unopened message from Taylor... and for Lady Shai Studhorse to voice certain of her concerns to the King.
"Your Majesty... James... is it not as I have said previously?"
"I have stated plainly and repeatedly that this danger threatens our hearth before the homes of others. We are located closer than any, to this growing doom and there are many in our care."
"And yet, it has not made enroads upon your property... it seems to be growing around as opposed to through..."
"Your Majesty... I doubt not the value of Jester's abilities in stemming this tide, to keep it from immediately overwhelming us. But, his powers are not absolute... and there are new concerns, by day we view the challenges upon the distant ridge by the banished Red Knight, and then in the darkest hours of the evening we can hear the movement of troops in that nether region. And all the while the Dark Castle grows."
"Lady, I will send a divison of my personal guard, place them under the command of Sir Leon and set up a line of communications to keep me apprised of further developements... Shai will this do for now?"
That day James did deploy one of his three divisions that were his personal guard... valorous men of reknown veterans of many conflicts, including many old enough to have seen duty in the troll wars. He also sent Absentio to be Sir Leon's Captain and Brachus with some of the Kings messenger pigeons to provide His Majesty with updates. These forces would be billeted between the Studhorse Inn and the areas affected by the desolations.
It was the next day that a Mercenary of much reputations both good and nefarious offered his services to James.
Kane had come to the courtyard having announced himself to gatekeep and given entry. The gatekeep sent for the Yeoman who upon reading Kane's hiring references escorted him to the courtyard beyond the vestibules. The King was informed of Kane awaiting audience in the courtyard and let him wait until early evening. Kane... I was told did not sit nor stir, but stood motionless until the King gave him leave at his approach, "At ease Mercenary, I have been told you seek employment?"
Kane replied, "I did not expect my first trial to prove my worthiness, would be to endure my own impatience at being neglected."
This had the obvious desired effect of causing the King to smile, though it was a moment of silent stares before this occured.
It had been some time since I saw a glimmer of humor warm the King's countenance, it was welcome indeed.
"Your Majesty..." Kane bowed low and graciously but did not leave eye contact with James. "I bring news directly from your lands that have been commandeered by those dark forces and I hope my intelligence will provide commensurate reward of employ. I have seen your abducted child, she is alive and apparently unharmed, as of three days ago."
The King's eyes welled, and his smile was broadened, "Glad... glad tidings."
Kane... pretending not to notice the King's obvious relief continued, "I had heard of your troubles and was coming here to seek hire. And unkowingly, a fortnight past, I took the shortest way that happened to pass me through the desolate land. And I happened upon the grim personage of your banished Knight, who brought me before his Lord, one Aaronel Stratos."
Intent to hear more, James gestured for the three of us to venture inside the castle and Kane continued as we crossed the courtyard. "Knowing my status was less than tenuous, I presented myself to that self proclaimed King as a mercenary searching for hire. Stratos uttered no words with me present, but merely nodded and gestured for me to be removed and I and my things, were taken to a high tower that overlooked his stables, such as they were."
I asked, "You were allowed your weapons?"
"I think the Master of that... place, had no concern about one mercenary who happened to stumble into his control."
We made our way to the banquet hall where places were being set for us on a smaller table not far from the larger table full of various maps. We three approached the map table as the servants duties continued preparing our supper.
Overlooking the the King's main map scroll anchored at its four corners with silver candlesticks, James' concern was again evident as he asked, "How is it you were afforded the opportunity to see Aello?"
Kane, had been leaning over the map table reading the lay of the lands with his previous explanation, but with James' direct query regarding his Daughter, Kane stood erect and addressed him directly... "Your Majesty I remained in that high keep for ten days and nights, then the Yeoman of Stratos a sinister appearing creature part dwarf, part troll by the look of him... who smelled of rotten meat, brought me before Stratos' empty throne. There I stood for the better part of an hour, when Lord Stratos, The Red Knight and two other imposing body guards entered, Stratos seated himself on the throne, I of course bowed upon his entrance."
The Kings Yeoman cleared his throat and bowed announcing the meal was ready and a servant stood behind each chair.
James did not seem to notice as he was intent upon hearing of Aello. Kane continued, "Once the Dark Lord was seated the Red Knight took his position, standing to the Lord's right and bellowed his command, 'Bring the two wenches before the King!' the aforementioned Yeoman and two soldiers appeared from beyond the doorway and the Knight announced, 'Mercenary... the girl on your far right is one we captured from the Wizard Taylor, she is the Sorceress Daedra, the one nearest the throne is our most precious prize... it is the first-born of King James!'."
Kane took a half step closer to James, leaned a little toward him and said, "She had every appearance of being harrased and harried but not humbled. She held her head high in defiance."
James replied, "So the purposes for her captivity, at least for now, appear to be merely leverage as a hostage. I don't expect ransom to be demanded. But if it is, I fear it would not be for something mundane and simple, as silver or gold. Kane, what can you tell me of this Dark Lord's army?"
"To inform you of this I must tell you of my escape, if it is indeed an escape. After the Dark Lord showed me his trophies, his Knight informed me that his Lord is still considering my status and there was more time needed to come to a decision. I was then escorted back to my accomodations in the tower. From there, in previous nights I could hear but not see the sounds of troops and arms. There were comings and goings in the stables beneath my window but I could see litte more than the roofing over the animals, and it was no different that night, and then I slept.
It was before the sunrise of that next morning that I heard outside my door a sound that woke me, it was evidently the felling of the guard and the work of Daedra who unlocked my door and explained that she had managed to escape. She further explained that she had come to set me free as well. I asked her of her intentions with the other captive, and she stated she did not know where she was kept. But when I was escorted away from the throne room she simply ascended the same stairs she seen me leave the throne room by.
There was perhaps another hour and a half before dawn when we escaped... I saw no troops, no activity at all. Daedra asked me if I would go with her to the Realm of Taylor, but I answered that I was originally on my way to your Realm your Majesty and intended to finish that journey, and we parted company just after she gave me directions on the most unobstructed route..."
James interrupted with a question, "You said, '...if it was indeed an escape" ...as he gestured to the supper table.
We three walked toward the setting and Kane replied, "It all seemed to convenient, too easy. It might have merely been a device, whereby you could be unofficially advised of your daughter's status."
It was but a few days after the hiring of Kane that he and I ventured to the Studhorse Inn for his assignment with that division in close commradship with the Absentio, under Lord Studhorse.
Brachus was present seated in the shade of the Chestnut tree with his old friend and he sought to introduce us, "Jester... perhaps you recall my old friend Petros..."
I said, "The face I remember, but I do not think I was given his name before... we briefly encountered each other under this same tree with you, during the troll wars, was it not?"
Petros answered, "You've a great memory for such an old Wizard, no insult meant. I wonder old one, what order you are of?"
"This order... does it give counsel in matters of marriage?"
"It does indeed."
"I have no crowns with which to pay you for your counsel..."
"Our order never charges..."
He turned to Brachus as he rose from his chair saying, "Please excuse us my friend, for I consider matrimony."
As we walked I asked the disguised Cicero, "What news?"
He looked over his shoulder to measure our privacy then replied, "I have discovered the source of those assassins, they were but pawns of a more nefarious assassin, one that works the darker orders of sorcery. That was how I had been discovered, and once discovered much easier to follow. I have not been able to find a name or origins of his power, only that he exists and that he is a threat to every realm... he apparently has but one loyalty, and that would be self promotion. I will need your Wizardry to safeguard and inhance my abilities in order to find him."
"Consider it done, and I will press my order for assistance in the matter, I know our principals would not allow his behavior, but that does not mean he could not be a rogue. When you find him, he will likely be at least two steps ahead of you, take care not to engage him alone, I will go with you."
I ventured another question, "How did you discover this Higher Assassin and that the others were merely pawns?"
Cicero answered, "I think we all three suspected that they may have been little more than apprentices... novices of their trade, who likely were not good in the craft. They were tongueless, a sign of not being trusted by their Master and equipped with poison a sign they did not trust their own abilities. But after yourself and James removed the one surviving prisoner to the care of Auger.
I remained behind because of my suspicions looking for clues of their master. Though I found no master, a Pixie introduced herself to me as I searched. Her name is Neon and she viewed their Master who was watching from his hiding place. She took me to where he had been hidden but I found no clues, and Neon could provided no description, other than his outer garb was a dark green holocaust cloak."
"I know Neon... one of the bravest Pixies I've ever met. Usually they do not reveal themselves to strangers, they wait to be properly introduced. You have acquired a very valuable ally, one that will be of utmost aid as long as you remain true."
Cicero's appearance as Petros was so extremely different than that with which he took as himself that night in the Southern Elm forest. He replied, "Then she and I should have a very long alliance indeed."
He stumbled somewhat, so convincingly that I reacted by reaching out so as to steady him. This was so departed from the catlike, ambidextrous killer I remember from our first meeting. He reached out too and caught my arm while saying loud enough for Brachus who was looking on, to hear, "I hope I am not this clumsy if I ask Lily's Father for permission to court her." Once this ploy was complete he stated, "I have heard of another piece for our game, a mercenary... his name is Sikh..."
"I've heard of him..."
"I have seen him work, and he is terribly efficient with what seems to be little or no weaknesses in battle. The battle I had viewed from my place of hiding showed him to be frightful in working from his horse until it fell, then when he did not fall with it... but hit the ground running, weapons bloodied but even more dangerous when he wielded them afoot... I tell you this to take to James, I do not know if this Sikh has selected a side, but if we can gain him we have gained a better hope."
Over the next two seasons, cultivations of crops were being handled by the matriarchs of each farmers household who managed their children's efforts as well as directing their field hands which of course also, were those persons not given to warfare, for warfare was in the minds of all those that may be given to battle. On some occasions the patriarch farmer would be furloughed from their training to take the management again to rest and comfort the family and themselves, and then return to their regiments to continue their preparations. The feminine warriors, or activants were not typically farmers in addition to their warring duties, and I meant them no slight here, their value, I am sure will be as immense as their reputations.
There was no longer need for Taylor to have any pretense about being the enemy of James, and they had many discourses through the summer and a few more during the harvests, and before the first snow fell all has become as ready as ready can be.
Montgomery was able to persuade Sikh to join the forces of Taylor as they were old allies from other conflicts. The Elf told of dread armies of the Dark Realm thad been viewed and he reported to Sikh and then to James, Taylor and myself their formidable size and armaments. Montgomery also conveyed that the dark castle appeared complete and a that a cavern had opened in the large knoll hard by, stating that the cave was indeed now occupied by GraveWyrm the once living Dragon, but now wholly animated and controlled by evil majics. Auger has sworn himself to deal with GraveWyrm and to either release her from this living dead condition, or die himself in the effort. If successful this posture of Auger's would nullify any advantage Stratos would have hoped to gain by the enslavement of poor GraveWyrm.
Cicero maintains his anonymity and before he obscured his whereabouts after his last appearance as Petros he stated that he would only surface when there is news, and usually news will either be delivered by pigeon, or on rare occasion by Neon. Cicero, with the assistance of myself, has sworn the acquisition as a trusted ally... or the death of, the nameless Assasin. Not expecting to acquire his services Cicero emphasized the word "death".
These Chapters have been a synopsis that, as I mentioned, that was mandated by my Order to chronicle events to the current.
This having been accomplished I will now hand over to duties to The Quill, who is an all knowing entity which will record everything from "the now" of today.
Please do not suppose that I know what the thoughts or perceptions of others are, or to be able to relay them if I did know them... objectively. This ability is precisely what will occur with, and by The Quill. That personage whom has no preferences nor bias, but merely records events from everyones view. You will, because of this, know the perspectives of key figures as they are in the scene, though the thoughts of "all" may not be pertinent, and those personal thoughts that are not pertinent to the event, that will remain unconveyed.
All events that are recorded by The Quill are written as they occur, but are not available for a year after they unfold. The intentions for these ordinances are so access to what it is Quill sets down will not alter current events as they transpire. As you may imagine, to know the present plans of your enemies would be a strategic boon, a windfall that would promise your endeavor victory.
All that follows are the scriptings of The Quill.
by The Quill
They that aspire to lofty goals are apprenticed early on, by the Masters of those aspirations.
They that have aspirations, but are then disappointed by that to which they have aspired, may repent and recant their vows... but at their own peril. Their former Masters would denounce them. And if their Masters, the Rune Writers and Directors of their former avocations are evil... then the rebel novice will likely perish. If on the other hand their Masters are righteous... they may leave with their only loss being that of reputation.
The leadership of chivalrous concerns therefore, take students with great caution, because everyone's time is precious, and it must not be wasted on an unresolved student. The leadership of evil concerns simply destroy their errant, uncommited pupils, thereby assuring that no student will give up lightly, and so they are willing to accept anyone who wishes to apply.
The evil Masters are willing to recruit by evil means. Subterfuge, lies... promises of rewards that fill their senses and generate within them avarice and great longings, but the realization of which never satisfies. And many times they are recruited by force, coersions, threats against their loved ones, or simply torture and death unless they concede.
Aaronel Stratos sat upon his throne muttering, his right hand the Red Knight heard, instead of mutterings the beginnings of an interview. He heard his Master say... "What are your thoughts Knight? Was my plan with Kane and Daedra effective?"
"You, my Lord would be the final word about the efficacy of your designs. I certainly am not practiced as you in the intricacies of plans within plans, but from my vantage I would have to see the results, prior to forming an opinion. Such, is the disadvantages of not knowing fully your intentions." The Knight awaited his expected rebuke for he never knew when his Master's ire would be kindled against him, he also knew better than to provide a less than honest reply.
Stratos muttered and the Knight heard, "Well said, you will lay your own plans once I have established my Kingdom in this region. Your regency in my stead will allow for your vengence and make you rich in goods and power and if I allow James to live, he will serve you, just as you now serve me. Together you two will crush the remaining realms and consilidate my rule here. Bring me Gadness I would have his report about Sikh and that Assassin with no name."
"By your leave Lord, would you require my attendance here? For I am due to present my daily challenge on the ridge that overlooks the Inn."
"Deliver my message and get on with you to that task, I would not have you dispense with my intimidations."
"My Lord." The Knight bowed before leaving, and after mounting his steed, gave word to the gate keeper to inform Gadness, and he was off. He thought as he rode, As soon as I gain all my advantages I will find a way to destroy Stratos, he will not pass easily, he must suffer.
"Pixies are adolescent Faeries..." Jester tried to explain. Brachus, a little inebriated, did not appear to understand so Jester went into greater detail, "Neon will be around from time to time, and I want all to know to watch their step. She is about the heighth of a hand, green, and though she is very quick and nimble I want everyone to be aware that until she is an adult she is not a Faery, is not as brightly lit, and has no wings to keep her off the ground and from under foot."
Brachus glanced at Jester and held out his hand with a shrug stating, "I will spread the word..." Jester gave him a half crown.
James asked Jester as they left Brachus, "This Pixie... you say she is working with my Spy?"
Jester replied, "It appears so your Majesty, they met the night we dealt with the Assassins. She informed me, was secretly following the three and their Master that night. And after you and I left to take the wounded one to Auger, she informed Cicero of their Master and showed him where he had been in hiding. I actually spoke with Cicero three days ago while he was in disguise as Petros here at the Inn, and then just yesterday with Neon. She can go where no one else may, she will be very helpful indeed."
James looked up and across the fields filled with his guard, to the distant, desolate ridge, and there was silhouette of the Red Knight, his charger stamping its hooves. James said almost under his breath, "Not today... but soon, very soon."
Sir Leon and Brachus joined us as we observed, Leon said, "This is the first you've seen him since his banishment... is it not?"
Taylor continued his interview of Sikh, "You mean you intend only to balance the battles if hired?"
Sikh smiled and stated, "I have made myself clear Wizard. I will not allow myself to be an unfair advantage for anyone... Wizard or King."
"As noble as that may sound Warrior... who will determine how the battle goes? I mean, who will you rely upon to give you notice on how goes the ebb and flow of war? The whys and the wherefores of how we may depend upon your services, are determined by whom?"
"I will be the lone arbitor of what I must, and mustn't do. I have seen enough in the midst of blood lust to know where and how I am to be used and effective. I need not explain myself to you. My methods of discerning my own use are my own. You need not pay me until the end of the war. That is the way I have always meted my measure, that is how it will be meted now. I have provided you with my references which you have read... and, I have never had pay withheld. I have always and in everyway, been commended for my service."
Taylor did not reply, but his Counselor, the Griffyn Jeffrey asked, "And... if you are felled in battle?"
"Then, if you are satisfied with my duties performed prior to my death in service to you, you have notice of where to send my pay."
The piercing gaze of the Wizard Jeffrey may have disturbed a less seasoned Warrior but this was not Sikh's first exchange with a Griffyn, he added, "You have no risks with me and any risk being made is mine. I give no orders and I take none. You risk no silver or gold before my services are rendered and if I do provide what I've promised but fall in battle you need only worry about your own honesty... for I have family that will take up my cause if you are not honest."
Taylor asked, "You threaten me with reprisals mercenary?"
"It is not a threat... it is a promise."
Auger asked of Jester, "What is the measure of Isis this day? What may be made from her meter?"
Jester, sat upon his usual rock in the cavern within Auger's Mountain and replied, "Her voice has been unheard for more than a fortnight... what say you Auger?"
"The rhythm and tenor of her prophecies infused much needed clarity. Clarity that our enemy wishes our Realms to be void of... she has been silenced but she remains within James' Kingdom until the Nameless Assassin may spirit her away and present her as a toy to GraveWyrm. There is a hero that may retrieve her before it is too late... it is Sikh. Petition Taylor for the loan of his mercenary and Sikh for his aid."
Jester's descent from Auger's dwelling was troubled, he wondered at his own failure and ignorance of Isis. He knew that the protection he channeled to the Inn and its surroundings drained his strength, but was surprised at the obvious preoccupation of mind it demanded. He resolved that while he visited Taylor he would request his assistance in the crafts, as well as the loan of Sikh.
It was easily a days journey to the impromptu village established on the border of the two realms at the river Moates at the only available crossing for leagues and because of this, it is famous for game. It was then decided that the twin village encampments would be named Elkford. To make certain of the attendance of Taylor and Sikh, Jester knew he should first inform James of his conversation with Auger, and then to have Taylor's pigeon keeper send a pigeon to his Lord to inform him of the visit.
The three pigeons carried the same message, it read, "Lord Taylor, Auger has advised me of our need to request your aid in a very immediate matter. May we meet at Elkford on the morrow to discuss the loan of your Mercenary Sikh for a rescue? Auger is certain he is peculiarly talented to accomplish this task, and I would personally like to request your support, for my craft suffers from being extended too far."
Jester's preparations for the journey was light, the previous day he had explained to James the nature of Auger's counsel and set out for Elkford in the early morning that the pigeons were sent. His road took him East and then South-East, through the darkest parts of that forests populated by the great oaks. The trees attempted to give him warning, but his pre-occupation was too involved.
As the road turned to the South-East he came upon the mile marker and Well that indicated the midpoint of the forest, and provided a place of rest and refreshment for the weary. Jester stopped to take drink from the Well and upon raising the bucket from the rim of the Well and noticed the stone, a Red Yawler aglow with manipulation. It spoke immediately and entrapped his gaze and his ability to move.
"So Wizard... you go to Elkford to enlist assistance to stop my agent. No need, no need, for he stands but thirteen paces behind you and the point of his arrow is aimed at your heart, but you find yourself powerless, do you not?"
Jester struggled inwardly to find release from the spell but he was bound, Stratos continued, "My assassin hesitates ever so briefly, for me to present you with options. The first, most obvious option is your death."
"The second less obvious option is for you to agree to join me. Your resistance... anchored in protection of the Inn is little more than a minor set-back and irritation to me. Your death would leave me with that obstacle as a constant issue that I would never be able to overwhelm. But, I would have the advantage of not ever having to deal with your interference again in other matters. Ultimately, I would be forced to leave the Inn's properties as an island in the midst of my Kingdom, a blemish that I would forced to endure for quite sometime."
"Of course my second option is better for all concerned..." Jester could hear the Assassin draw his bow, the voice of Stratos continued from the Yawler Stone, "Your allegiance to me could save everyone a lot of pain."
Jester stood motionless and silent for too long, he heard the arrow's release, felt the small twinge of pain, and saw the bloodied blur cleave out from the center of his chest as the Assassin's arrow shot through. He felt a wave of dizziness and he passed.
A roar echoed from Auger's Cavern. He knew that Jester was gone, and lamented in the way of the Dragon. Most Dragons can not weep, but they do lament... with roars and blusterings, with explosive shafts of fire, in what appears to the uninitiated, as eruptive anger. But lo, it is merely the expressions of the heart sore serpent.
Auger sprung from his abode and launch himself aloft. He followed the only path that leads to Elkford, and as he flew, he approached the break between the Great Oaks he became more pained, more certain of the impressions he received in his cave. He circled above once then descended and landed as close to the Well as the clearing allowed.
Neon was there... her outer garment rent from her anguish, Auger asked, "So... the Villain took the body?"
"Yes... he placed Jester on a mule. He flung him over the back of it as though he were venison. And then he simply vanished."
"Vanished?" Auger asked obviously looking for tracks and at the blood that covered the outside of the Well.
"Do not look for sign... they vanished where they stood!" Again the Pixie tore at her outer garb in grief.
"What have we done with the Wizard?"
The Assassin bowed and replied, "He rests as you ordered, wrapped in linen and iced in your Dungeon my Lord."
"Did my Knight present you with your next task?" Stratos shifted in his place upon his throne, removed his black helmet and waited for the Assassin to respond.
Briefly the Assassin saw the face of Lord Stratos and immediately sent his own gaze to the dark flagstone he stood upon and answered with an audible tremble in his voice, "He has not yet seen me my Lord."
"You will await him in my courtyard... he will inform you of what needs to be done in exact detail. You must not allow any variance in your conduct, I always reward with impeccable measures for either service or lack of it. Yeoman... escort this bug to the gate and make sure he has what he needs."
It was windless around the area of the Studhorse Inn. A cool haze covered the region, but the border valley that separated the Inn's knoll and the ridge from where the Sir Brutus the Red Knight presented his daily challenge had a thick fog blanketing it for nearly a year. The valley cloak could easily cover an enemy's forces of up to two regiments if they were to mobilize and complete their movements before sunrise, and it had been for this reason Sir Leon and Sir Lucio place some men under them as sentries within hearing of one another for advanced warning of enemy deployment.
Now with the death of Jester everyone's perspective had been hardened, their resolve now tempered with the need for victory and justice, but it was the Wizard Taylor that was the voice of hope against the darkness that threatened to consume them. He informed James that at the point of a Wizard passing, especially for the Order Inspiritus... any protective incantation is insurmountable within the span of 14 generations and may last perhaps as long as 21.
James passed this message of hope to his Knights and Captains and soon stores and populace were en-route to Jester's last effort at the area in and around the Inn. Castles may be rebuilt, crops re-sown, but the care of his subjects would not be neglected.
Cicero and Neon worked closely to gain information needed if any potential for victory can be had. James and Taylor had joined forces in a more cohesive treaty, through the understanding that their foe targets both realms.
Sir Brutus has taken to arriving at his station on the ridge with a new taunt, that, of arriving with a wagon driven by a troll with a caged Aello in the cargo area. All one could tell at that distance was, there was a cage with a person contained therein, but everyone knew it was Aello.
Sir Lucio had taken to positioning his self opposite the Red Knight, directly across the foggy valley that stretched between them. He would take his position even before Sir Brutus was known to show himself, and would not leave his place until after his departure. So each day directly after mid day Sir Lucio took his station, an hour or less would pass and the silhouette of Sir Brutus would arrive, then shortly the wagon confining Aello showed. Then an hour before sunset the wagon would leave, Sir Brutus would tilt his lance and depart, then at sundown Lucio would return to his comrades at the Inn.
The regiments were encouraged by Lucio's efforts, he became an emblem for their common defiance of the Dark Lord and his Knight.
Time passed and silos were built for the stores that were harvested from the Realm and crops for the winter wheat were planted, though the tillers of the soil were not certain what would be the fate of their efforts. Each day, they had to commute from the safety of Jester's incantation, back to the fields where the crops were sown, and back again to the protection found near the Inn at sunset. This continued until the work was completed, then the natures of the season took over, and all the Realm hoped they could harvest again before spring.
The area surrounding the Inn housed nearly all the subjects of King James with few exceptions and surprisingly enough there was room for all. There was plenty of space too, for the final preparations for the battles that everyone knew was inevitable within the next few months.
All the while intelligence about the dark forces were being compiled by those running the greatest risks. Taylors realm did not have the benefit of Jester's last bequest, and so there were the occasional raids by unknown assailants, here a little, there a little with only the loss of goods until all the leaves had turned and fallen.
The Assassin received his directives from the Sir Brutus, and launched himself into his deadly mission of five targets, and his instructions were specific, sequential and detailed. The intricacies of these details will reveal themselves as the chronicles unfold, but let it be known for the time being, that his first target must either be Neon or the Wizard Taylor, quickly followed by whichever of the two was left.
The Assassin decided to utilize a Centaur whose presence in the forests that surround the perimeters of Jester's protection. She was known as Alicia before the Assassin poisoned her well driving her conscious back to a corner of her mind. She has been attended to by two wicked Purple Faeries in the service of Lord Stratos, who the Assassin has employed to keep her cared for and drugged.
This he felt would do well for the Pixie Neon for faeries and pixies typically have a close affinity for centaurs, satyrs, and minotaurs. The corrupted spirit of Alicia would go unnoticed by Neon until it was too late and she would be crushed under Alicia's forehoove. The Assassin would rely on the faeries to guide the demented Alicia to her former friend Neon and allow the incantations of Stratos perform the intended designs.
The Assassin would design his murder of Taylor, to coincide with the deployment of the faeries and centaur. He suspected that the killing of his five targets would be the mark of the launch of the lightening offensives of Lord Stratos that would conquer all but the area of protection around the Studhorse Inn.
Isis was released, having performed her function as bait. But, she was not given her freedom with her faculties intact, she seemed disoriented and at times entirely immobile. Cicero found her very near the border with Taylor's Realm, somewhat north of Elkford, and immediately escorted her to that village. He in disguise as Petros, left her in the care of one of Taylor's captains, explaining that she is the missing Prophetess that Jester lost his life trying to retrieve. The Captain, of course stated that he would message Taylor immediately.
Montgomery, months ago set himself about the task of a roving sentry and one not inside the boundaries of James' Kingdom, but rather just inside the influence of Stratos. He travelled those dangerous paths that can be found in that foggy recesses that separate, what has now become known as the Knolls of Defiance. The one, occupied by every afternoon by the Red Knight. The other occupied by the Inn, with its furthest promontory into and above the fog, having the proud presence of Sir Lucio. But, day to night, night to day, a troll Officer's head could be found half way up the incline of the Knoll of the Red Knight.
This was done by the Gold Elf as a private insult to trouble the securities of the Dark Realm and nothing more, as it could never serve as an encouragement to those at the Inn, for it could not be seen or known by them. No it was simply meant to be a daily wound to the confidences of Lord Stratos, and his Knight.
As it happened, it was this immediate trouble that created the distractions and misdirection of the minions of Stratos, that allowed Neon access into the deepest parts of the Dark Castle and her communications with Aello.
"But, what is it that prevents us from attacking the Dark Realm if Aello is rescued?"
Neon's question hung upon James' mind, Cicero started to answer but then James interrupted him with his own reply, "The only prevention then is strategic wisdom." James looked from Neon, to Cicero, then back to Neon. In the pre-dawn darkness next to the marsh she glowed more brightly. James continued with a rhetorical question, "What benefit would there be in freeing my Daughter, only to loose her again at the loss of the Realm? No... it must be done at the most opportune moment, or else all may be lost. Do not tell Aello of our plans of resue, indeed if you convey anything of our plans her renewed hope may tip our hand to the scrutiny of Stratos."
James, turned to Cicero you have your methods that I may only guess at, spread the rumor that things are not as hopeful as we initially thought and that a cut in our rations may be imposed in order to bring us through the foreseeable future with the least harm to our subjects children and that we are concerned about starvation."
"If these pretended postures are convincing enough, we may see our avenues of attack more clearly. I will discuss my options with my Knights and signal you when my decisions are reached... look for blue smoke in the early afternoons."
The two Purple Faeries attending the Centaur Alicia, were notified that the final dose of her poison should be laced with the additional potion left with them, by the Assassin. Upon administering this dose they would not be allowed much time before their charge would no longer be docile, she would begin to rage until her own agonized death and destroy whatever she could, while she could. What the Faeries were not informed of is that the added potion works immediately upon contact with saliva or blood, and in this case would activate as soon as Alicia's mouth takes it in. They had already mixed the contents and were leading Alicia to last known proximity of Neon.
They would convince Neon that they had found her longtime friend wandering, and as Green Pixies and Faeries are more proficient at healing than Purple Pixies or Faeries, they thought it wise to deliver Alicia to her. They were simply awaiting their signal for deployment.
The Assassin's second target of course was Taylor, and his planning for the third, fourth and fifth were now complete. Synchronizing the events to be within moments of one another required being spirited from one venue to the next, for each of these except the Centaur and Pixie must all be done by his hand.
He carried a dual quiver that contained two sets of shafts, and wore them diagonally accross his back, drawing the arrows from it with his right hand. The lower more abundant reserve of arrows were on the bottom in case he needed them for escape. The higher group of missiles were treated with the same maddening potion that would be ingested by the Centaur, before they died each of his primary targets would attack and rend anyone close by. This would also provide the needed distraction to allow Stratos to send him to his next target.
In each case a Black Yawler Stone had been placed in the proximity of its intended targets seemed to habit the same place each day around mid day meal, the Black Yawlers would act as beacons to send the Assassin to Taylor, then Jeffrey the Wizard Griffyn, then Auger, and finally to Sir Brutus, for Stratos was very aware of the Red Knight's plans to betray him.
Through the Red Yawler Stones, Stratos sent his signals to the Assassin, and of course the Purple Faeries who had just informed him that they were in place. The Assassin drew back the poisoned arrow with his bow, he was transported, and the end... began.
Taylor had set himself once again at table for his mid-day meal, it was outside in the shade of great elm at Elkford. He had been encamped there for nearly all the time since the passing of Jester. He took his meal everyday at the same time in the same spot, and this day something very odd transpired. Perhaps thirteen paces directly before him, a change in the very atmosphere occurred. A blurring very much like the visual waves that may be seen close to the ground on a hot day, then all at once that space was occupied by a man with a bow. And just behind him stood the Troll Absentio, body guard of King James.
The Assassin broke into the space just above the Black Yawler Stone facing the Wizard, his bow drawn, but nearly as soon as he appeared he felt immense pressure. An overwhelming pain and weakness overtook him, could not release the shaft, nor could he move at all. His hands could no longer manage control of his weapon. The poisoned shaft struck the ground perhaps two paces before him and the last sight he partook as he was raised in the air above where he stood was four Black Yawler Stones.
Absentio had grabbed the Assassin's head, neck and shoulder with his left hand, with his right hand, he stripped the quiver from his back and the action crushed his left shoulder and neck. Raising him off the ground, Absentio then crushed his skull. He cast the carcass to ground and stomped viciously upon its ribcage, roaring with satisfaction. There would be no more from the Assassin.
Taylor spoke to his Gray Yawler Stone but one word... "Now..!"
Neon had waited for most of the morning, she knew that her wait was nearly over. Coming through the surrounding fern branches and leaves her eyes caught the first hughes of purple glow, and she greeted the traitors, "Sisters what news?"
They rounded the stump that prevented the unobstructed view then stood there for an instant to return the greeting, "We do have news, for we..."
Immediately Neon was upon them both with her twin short swords flashing as each hand worked its deadly dance. It was over before they could react, Neon dropped her weapons and ran to where it was suspected they would have Alicia tethered. Montgomery was safely setting to one side the connoction that was to doom Neon and Alicia, I have prepared her for the healing she will be safe.
The Gray Yawler could be heard clearly from Montgomery's pouch, "Now..!" Neon vanished. Two Green Faeries approached from where they were concealed in the limbs of the cedar above stating, "We will tend to Alicia Montgomery, and free your attentions to war." Montgomery nodded, and was off at a run.