ES: Lorrin's Story, part 2 (was Origins)

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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 2 (was Origins)

Postby Graybeard » September 28th, 2010, 10:37 pm

Chapter 27:Entertainment

“It’s too early to turn in,” Pontus said as he and Lorrin were settling into their room. “Let’s go see what’s playing at the stadium.”

They’d paired off naturally, leaving Vlado to a room of his own. (That was fine with Lorrin; for one night – his “services” to Varani didn’t normally involve spending the entire night in her bed – it would be nice to be spared his tentmate’s habitual, almost unchanging sneer and snark.) The elves each had their own room as well, except for the ambassador … who, it had been made quite clear, would be sharing his room, and presumably his bed, with Jozefina Ramorciel. Vlado had been equally clear on what he thought about that, but Lorrin tried not to think about it.

The stadium was as big as it looked – Lorrin guessed that it might hold ten thousand people – and there was indeed something “playing,” as Pontus put it. The two humans attracted some puzzled looks as they made their way to their seats. Most of the other spectators were elves (Lorrin thought he might recognize one or two of the instructors from the training camp, although it was hard to be sure at a distance), and there appeared to be a considerable number of half elves, but few humans were in sight.

In the stands, anyway. On the field, the situation was quite different.

“Are those humans down there fighting?” Lorrin asked Pontus, pointing to the pair who were circling each other in the center of the arena, each carrying the same kind of pole-arm-cum-sword that the loser of the first duel had used. Somehow, it seemed improbable – and wrong. And there was something else that didn’t look right …

“Of course,” the nearest spectator (a half elf, by the luck of the draw) said before Pontus could reply. “That’s what they’re for. Look over there.” He gestured toward a pair of roped-off areas at ground level. Each held an elf decked out in finery, surrounded by Viradior in their own “formal,” ornamental armor. The elaborately-dressed elves carried themselves with that kind of arrogance that Lorrin had come to view as something that nobles from the Great Houses wore like cologne.

“Gladiators,” the half elf continued after a brief pause for oohs and aahs from the crowd; one of the fighters had narrowly dodged an eviscerating sword thrust by way of a spectacular jump. “The elves have some matter of honor to settle, Senilis knows what, it really doesn’t matter. Of course they don’t want to put their own immortal asses on the line over it, so they hired the humans.” Another brief pause for a thrust and parry, no blood drawn. “One of them will get quite rich for this little engagement. The other, of course, will get quite dead, unless he’s lucky, but that’s just the way these things work out.” He squinted at Pontus and Lorrin. “You people new here?”

Lorrin blushed, stammered thanks, sat back to watch the action. Truthfully, these two looked to be much more skillful with their weaponry than the pair of dueling elves he’d seen earlier. At least they understood basic tactics – look for an opening, but above all, don’t give the opponent one; one-on-one battles weren’t decided by feats of arms as much as by someone fatally screwing up. And they knew how to handle the swords. Neither was making any mistake as drastic as the one that had cost the male duelist his life six months earlier.

However, the skill of the combatants wasn’t the thing that had captured Lorrin’s attention; rather, it was the way they were dressed.

Both wore exactly the same kind of outfit that he had back in his room, to be worn tomorrow for the meeting with Kiyan Nizami.

A very disturbing suspicion began to build in Lorrin Elle’s mind as the duel continued.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 2 (was Origins)

Postby Graybeard » October 1st, 2010, 9:11 am

Chapter 28: Realizations

“Pontus, I’m not sure I like what I saw there,” Lorrin said as the two humans walked back to their rooms.

Unusually for a duel, as the muttering of other spectators as they filed out made clear, this contest hadn’t ended in a fatality. One of the combatants slowly gained the upper hand, and it looked as if a fatal sword thrust couldn’t be too far in the future. However, the inferior fighter took a desperate chance that succeeded beyond any reasonable expectations. He dropped his guard, inviting the thrust … but then he tucked and rolled as the other man lunged forward. A booted heel struck the lunging man’s jaw with a crack that Lorrin could hear all the way up where he and Pontus sat. A gasp rose from the crowd, and the man dropped like a stone, out cold. The victor had become the vanquished, and his opponent was ready to slit his throat when a ”HOLD!” rang out from one of the noble elves – and the duel was over.

“You mean you wanted that to go to a real conclusion?” Pontus said. “I kind of know what you mean, it’s poor form to just leave the thing hanging. But if the elves want –“

“No, no, that’s not what I mean, not at all,” Lorrin said. “It’s that – well, I’m not sure how to say this. It – was the uniform those two were wearing.”

“What about it? It’s just like ours, really.”

This conversation wasn’t going the way Lorrin expected it to.

“So those two were – from the same unit as ours?” Lorrin said; he’d been cautioned not to use the term “Ensigerum” in public.

Pontus thought about it for a minute as the pair entered the hotel. “I’m not sure what you mean. Broadly, yes, of course they are. That’s what the uniform is all about.” Something in his voice or expression seemed to Lorrin to be adding the phrase you dumb shit at the end of the sentence, although it wasn’t verbalized. “I think they’re full-fledged members, though, not trainees the way we are. They’ve been assigned to their regular duties, obviously; that’s why they were down there. So yes, they’re from the same outfit, but not from our unit – I guess.”

Lorrin was thunderstruck. “You’re trying to tell me that a ‘regular duty’ for graduates from our training center is to become a gladiator? I’d thought that –“

“Well, sure it is,” Pontus interrupted. He chuckled. “Honor guard, hired muscle, gladiator, simple stud, it’s all the same to the elves. And we do work for the elves, in case you didn’t know. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to bed.” He opened the door of their room and went inside.

Lorrin, however, was too stunned to sleep, at least not immediately. The growing realization that his new life wasn’t going to be just about “protecting” the elves, but also entertaining them – possibly at the expense of his own life – was like a physical blow. Did I really sign up for this? And did I know about it when I did? He paced the hall of the hotel as he tried to sort out his feelings.

The ambassador’s room (a lavish suite, Lorrin was pretty sure) lay at the far end of the hall. As Lorrin walked by its door, the sounds coming from within made one thing clear: Ambassador Salray and Jozefina Ramorciel were indeed sharing not merely the suite, but a bed. Furthermore, that bed was being put to – energetic use. A lewd smile passed momentarily across Lorrin’s face, to be replaced by more complex emotions, and eventually, by neutrality accompanied by a shrug. Well, under the circumstances, could he really be surprised if Vlado’s assessment was right? The half elf was billed as the ambassador’s “personal assistant,” after all. Besides, given the expectations Varani has of me, who am I to throw stones?

His observations when he passed by Vlado’s room, however, were similar in some regards – but very different in others.

He’d been expecting snoring; he knew from months of experience that his tentmate did snore. Instead, there were two people awake in the room, not the expected one, and the non-Vlado voice was clearly female … but it was what she was saying that was shocking.

”NOOOO! You’re hurting me! PLEASE don’t! I’ll do whatever you want me to! Don’t hurt me…

As bad as that was, what followed in Vlado’s voice was worse.

“Shut up and put out, bitch!” A slap, a whimper in the female voice … and Lorrin couldn’t listen any more.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 2 (was Origins)

Postby Graybeard » October 7th, 2010, 11:39 pm

Once again, a little short, but to keep things moving ...



Chapter 29:Kiyan Nizami

Lorrin Elle did not sleep well that night, and it wasn’t because his roommate snored.

At breakfast, it was noted, Vlado appeared with a nasty cut on his face – “from shaving,” he tried to pass it off. If anyone but Lorrin suspected otherwise, they kept their suspicions to themselves. One of the elves clucked over the facial injury – it wouldn’t do to present a damaged human to a V.I.P., after all – and erased the cut with a quick healing spell.

Lorrin’s – damaged opinion of his tentmate wasn’t going to be so easy to repair, however, and something to that effect must have shown in his face, because the other man moved to intercept him as the group got up from the table. “Not a word,” Vlado snarled quietly, “or I won’t wait for a duel to kill you.”

Abashed, Lorrin averted his gaze and wordlessly went to join the group, worrying about the way this dynamic was going to work when he and Vlado got back to their tent at the compound. For now, however, there were other things to think about. He groggily got ready for the visit to the illustrious Kiyan Nizami, venturing to try a very minimal version of a Hygiene spell that he’d been learning before the mission. It seemed to work just fine on his body … although he wished it could wash out the memory of the previous night along with the sweat of the day.

Some minutes later, the party was standing in the foyer of the tallest building Lorrin had ever seen, squarely in the middle of the city, adjacent to the stadium. Jozefina Ramorciel positively glowed on the ambassador’s arm, resplendent in a gown that looked as though it were made of living flame. Ambassador Salray himself was bedecked in finery to match, but to Lorrin’s eyes, it all looked overdone and garish, not dignified at all. (It never occurred to him, of course, that the ambassador’s outfit actually matched his assistant’s quite tastefully and well; but such things were in the eye of the beholder, and Lorrin’s eye was definitely on Jozefina, rather than Salray.) The remainder of the party, scrubbed and uniformed, had been carefully arranged behind the ambassador, with strict instructions to be seen and not heard.

Without further ceremony, a door at the back of the foyer opened, and in strode the great man.

Kiyan Nizami appeared to be perhaps in his fifties. After Pontus’ little lesson in half-elf biology, Lorrin knew that appearances were deceiving; the mage would likely be over a hundred years old. Whatever his age, he wore it well. He was tall for a human (or, as Lorrin would eventually discover, of about average height for a half elf), and of average build. Silvery hair rose above a high forehead and gray eyes. His robes were ornate, yet not as exaggeratedly so as those of an elven noble; just the kind of thing, Lorrin thought, that a highly respected arch-mage should be wearing. His countenance was serious without being severe, distinguished without being remote.

I’m impressed by this man already, Lorrin thought, as the ambassador bowed and started a prepared speech … and as Nizami’s eyes fell on Jozefina Ramorciel, and started to emit a little glow.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 2 (was Origins)

Postby Graybeard » October 11th, 2010, 11:20 pm

[Much-delayed retcon here, to fix something that became incorrect as we learned more about the history of the Errant World. It doesn't really change anything.]

Chapter 30: New Malacia

The glow passed quickly. Nizami’s face settled into the gravitas befitting a powerful, distinguished mage. He made cordial, approving (if vague and noncommittal) noises as Ambassador Salray pledged the cooperation of his people. When the prepared speech was done, the mage smiled. “Would you like to see a model of the project?” he asked. The diplomatic party followed him through the door into a large chamber that, as far as Lorrin could tell, was completely empty – but not for long. Nizami muttered something under his breath and gestured with one hand … and suddenly the chamber was full of light.

Lorrin gasped as New Malacia took shape around him.

The “model of the project” was some kind of magical projection that left him, and the others, with the feeling of being inside the great city. He felt as if he was walking down a wide boulevard, with real buildings rising on all sides. Here, there was another great stadium like the one where he’d seen the duel; there, what looked like the largest library or center of learning that he’d ever seen. Tall buildings (it would be inaccurate to call them “skyscrapers,” since after all, they were already in the sky) soared above his head, their pinnacles seemingly made of pure gold. It was all impossibly grand … and it had all flowed from Kiyan Nizami’s imagination.

He’s a very great mage indeed, Lorrin thought.

He was still gaping at the spectacle when the illusion winked out of existence. His gaze shifted to Ambassador Salray and Jozefina, who, he noticed, were standing hand in hand. Even the elf was wide-eyed at what he’d seen. The awe on his half-elf companion’s (consort’s? concubine’s?) face seemed to match Lorrin’s own.

Predictably, only Vlado Ordiel was unimpressed, or at least tried to act as though he was. Lorrin caught a glimpse of the young human rolling his eyes, and moments later, Vlado was at his side … well armed with snark.

“So this is what half-elf freaks have instead of wet dreams,” he whispered to Lorrin as the group returned to the main hall.

[Note: A very delayed retcon has been made to this page, because of things we've learned about the time line of the Poe-verse.]
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 2 (was Origins)

Postby Graybeard » October 15th, 2010, 12:22 pm

Chapter 31: Eavesdropping

Lorrin’s head was still spinning from its immersion in the illusory city when the party got back to the travel platform.

To his surprise, the party returning to Sylvanicus Minor wasn’t the same as those who had traveled outbound. Vlado Ordiel was missing, and there was another elf with them, a man dressed in the extravagant garb of a noble from a Great House. Lorrin thought he recognized him as one of the “patrons” (what else to call them?) of the duel the previous night. Presumably he was traveling back home after the festivities; at least he looked like a Keiren. That was sensible enough. The absence of Vlado was harder to explain, and he wasn’t the only member of the expedition to be puzzled by it. Viradior Vilina was looking alternately annoyed, uncertain and worried. The humans were nominally in her charge, and if something had happened to Vlado, she’d probably catch hell for it. Well, not my problem, Lorrin thought; truthfully, he’d had about his fill of the man by now.

He didn’t really mean to eavesdrop on what the new elf and Ambassador Salray were saying, but there was no other traffic, and nobody was saying much, so he listened surreptitiously to what sounded like a discussion of the duel. They were using the Sanguen language, which most humans (and indeed, many half elves) didn’t know – but Lorrin had done his homework before appearing at the camp, and he had no trouble following what was going on.

“Congratulations, Barnus,” the ambassador was saying. “I thought your man was going to die there for a minute. He was wearing down rather badly, and he didn’t look like he had much left when he pulled that stunt with the kick.”

The other elf – Barnus, was it? – smiled wryly, an unusual expression on an elven face, and in Lorrin’s experience, used only when they didn’t think humans were watching. “Yes, I was afraid I was going to lose that one. Wouldn’t be the first time. Just twenty years ago some damn Cimmerii whose name I forget thought I’d insulted his house.” The wry smile now was accompanied by the rolling of eyes. “The human gladiator I used that time didn’t even last ten minutes. It was terribly embarrassing.”

It was the ambassador’s turn for a wry smile. “I can just imagine. This one at least put on a good show, even when it looked like he was going to die.”

Barnus nodded. “I’d agree with that. I’m glad I had Viradior Sarine working with him. She may be odd and anti-social, but she’s damn good at combat.”

The conversation now had Lorrin’s full attention, and he hoped his face wasn’t making it too obvious. Sarine. The small (relatively speaking) elf with the very un-elven attitude toward life and death (and, he remembered, a similarly un-elven figure). He found himself hoping that Vlado wouldn’t show for a while yet, so that he could hear more of this discussion … and for once, his tentmate obliged him.

“She is?” the ambassador said. “All I’ve ever heard about her is that she’s also, one might say, good with humans.”

A guffaw from Barnus. “So they say. I think it’s more that she’s not so good with elves. Part of it is her unfortunate physique, of course; she could pass for human in the dark, where you can’t see the stunted human ears. But yeah, she’s got an … attitude.”

“So I’ve heard,” Salray said. “I don’t know her at all, it’s all second hand, but it explains some things – like the fact that that duel didn’t go to the end. I assume that was Sarine’s idea?”

“It was,” Barnus nodded. “I know, poor form and all, but I let her talk me into keeping the other human alive this time. I think that one’s trainer is a friend of Sarine’s, Viradior Sarna if I remember correctly. There seemed to be some mind-speech going back and forth between them during the thing. Sarine wasn’t looking too happy, and the other one was just smug as hell … So why Sarine would want to let the man live, I have no idea. I was going to ask her about it, but she left right after the end, didn't want to stay around for the congratulations and party. Course, Sarine’s odd as tits on a boar shoat, so you expect that kind of thing.”

Lorrin was about to start laughing at this curiously low-brow expression from the mouth of an upper-class elf, never mind that it was raising his opinion of the mysterious Sarine (and, to be sure, making her the more fascinating in his eyes as well). That really wouldn’t do; a human eavesdropping on an elven conversation would be committing a distinct breach of decorum. Fortunately, a distraction appeared, in the form of an elf in low-level military garb who was heading for the platform … at high speed, and looking concerned.

“My lady, I have news,” she panted to Vilina, who’d moved to intercept the newcomer. “Your human warrior-in-training, Vlado –“

“Yes?”

“He won’t be traveling back to Sylvanicus with you.”

The elven commander rolled her eyes. “So what is it this time?”

The courier paused to make sure the words came out right; she had no intention of being on the wrong end of a shoot-the-messenger situation …

“He’s being held for questioning in connection with a murder.”
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 2 (was Origins)

Postby Graybeard » October 22nd, 2010, 8:56 am

Chapter 32: Going home

That news certainly brought Vilina up short.

“That is … unfortunate,” she said after a while. “Please pass the word that the Viradior will cooperate in any required investigation, of course.” Her body language suggested that that “cooperation” might not be quite as voluntary and complete as one might have expected from her words. “Yes, my lady,” said the courier, and she left.

It was only much later that Lorrin learned what had happened to his tentmate – former tentmate, by that point. The broken body of a human woman, believed to have been a whore, had been discovered on the ground outside the great hotel where the diplomatic party had been staying – directly beneath Vlado Ordiel’s open window. She was dead when found, and no elven magic could speak to a dead woman. However, magical forensics left very little doubt that she had fallen from that window – fallen, or been pushed. It didn’t require elven intelligence to draw the obvious conclusion.

Murder by a human was nothing new to the elves. The humans had been killing each other since long before the immortals discovered them. Under normal circumstances, the elves would have delivered Vlado over to human justice, which would have been swift, if not necessarily merciful; in Lorrin’s home land, for example, the relatives of a murder victim would be offered the opportunity to flay the convicted murderer alive. However, circumstances weren’t entirely normal here. The fact that the suspected murderer was part of a diplomatic delegation created – complications that human courts certainly wouldn’t want to deal with. And as for the elves themselves … Well, it looked more convenient simply to confine a “suspected” malefactor so that “questioning” could be conducted, “questioning” that might take the remainder of the subject’s life; humans were ephemeral by elven standards, after all.

Simply put, Vlado, and the human woman he may or may not have killed, were being swept under the rug.

None of this was known to the diplomatic party as they prepared to travel back to Sylvanicus Minor. Lorrin wondered silently whether he should mention to someone the noises he’d heard coming from Vlado’s room the previous night, but decided against it. For one thing, the elves seemed content to conduct their own investigation, and the Mother Spirit knew, they certainly had the magical resources to do it. For another, he’d heard something about “diplomatic immunity” during the briefings before the trip. He wasn’t quite sure what it meant – he hadn’t been paying much attention to the speaker, when he could pay attention to Jozefina instead – but somehow it seemed applicable here.

It didn’t dawn on him until years later that he might have been engaging in just the tiniest bit of rationalization.

He tried to put it all out of his mind as the preparations were completed and the travel platform functioned. When the magical haze cleared, the party was back in Sylvanicus Minor. Lorrin gave a questioning look at Pontus; why not simply gate all the way back to the training camp? It would save time and effort. However, he had the answer to his own question before he asked it. The elves just didn’t care about time under most circumstances. Time-saving measures, accordingly, didn’t occur to them except under conditions of combat or something similar. The fact that humans and half elves were not so immune to the passage of time … well, it wouldn’t matter to an elf.

Ambassador Salray made a formal thank-you speech to his escort – a critical observer would have realized that certain catch phrases like “trouble-free” and “highest standards of conduct” were missing from it compared to the standard speech, but Lorrin and Pontus didn’t notice. After the exchange of niceties, the ambassador retired to his tree-fortress, Jozefina on his arm. Only a short time later, the second gate also functioned, and Lorrin, Pontus and Vilina were back at the camp … and life started to return to normal for the trainees.

Sort of.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 2 (was Origins)

Postby Graybeard » October 28th, 2010, 3:01 pm

Chapter 33: Empty beds

Lorrin felt surprisingly tired as he sank into his bed that night. (In the years to come, he would learn some tricks to prepare his body for the magical stresses of warp travel, but that was all far away now.) However, sleep wouldn’t come. He found himself looking over at the other bed in the tent, the one that should have been occupied by Vlado Ordiel, but wasn’t. What were the elves doing to him? he wondered. Would he be exonerated and come back? If not, what was the fate in store for someone who’d learned the secrets of the Ensigerum – at least the more, well, basic secrets? It was still well before curfew, so he decided to go see whether Pontus was having the same difficulties, and the same unsettling thoughts.

The older trainee, Lorrin knew, had a tent to himself, unusually for the humans at the camp. There was another bed in the tent, but it was unoccupied. Lorrin had never asked him about it, figuring that if there was a story to tell, Pontus would tell it in due time – and now was the time. He too was still awake, pondering Vlado Ordiel’s fate – but from a very different perspective than Lorrin’s.

“You know, what happened to Vlado reminds me of Borki,” Pontus said, indicating the other bed. “He was from the same village as Vlado. They looked alike, even.” He chuckled, but there wasn’t much humor in it. “And very definitely the same attitude. I wonder if there’s something in the water at that place that makes the people so sour and negative. Anyway, he was my tentmate for a long time. Then one day, he just disappeared, and we didn’t find out what happened to him until much later.”

“What did happen to him?” Lorrin asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.

“Oh, an elf killed him,” Pontus replied, matter-of-factly.

“What??”

“An elf killed him,” Pontus repeated. “They do that, you know.”

Lorrin couldn’t believe the way this conversation was going. “But – what did he do that would make an elf do something like that? He didn’t – murder anybody, did he?”

This time the chuckle held more than a hint of irony. “Quite the contrary. He didn’t take a life, he created one – such as it was. See, Borki was the camp stud before Luca got here. Evidently, one night he screwed some elf that didn’t know how to cast a contraceptive spell, and she got pregnant. When the kid was born, it was an Errant – f*cked up in some way that we never did hear about, but so bad the elves couldn’t fix him.” The irony was getting more pronounced now, to the point that Pontus’ tone of voice was taking on a timbre disturbingly reminiscent of Vlado’s. “Of course, there was no way it could have been the mother’s fault; elves are perfect, you know. So it had to be his. When mama elf lost the kid, she took it out on him.”

Lorrin felt sick to his stomach. “That’s horrible, Pontus!”

The other man shrugged. “What’s to say? There’s a faction among the elves that take Errants very, very seriously, some religious thing. It was his bad luck that the mom was from a house that was controlled by that faction. They put the kid to death, then turned on his mother. She just about had to kill Borki, or she’d have been killed herself, probably.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “The humans in the camp didn’t even hold it against her.”

Afterward, Lorrin couldn’t remember how the rest of the conversation had gone from there. The whole thing just seemed so wrong – and yet Pontus just accepted it. One thing sure, though, Lorrin thought to himself as he stumbled back to his tent for another night of bad sleep: The next time Varani wants a roll in the hay, I am damn well going to make sure she casts one of those things first … And I’m never going to risk making a half elf kid, never in my life.

He was wrong, of course, but that was far in a future that he could never begin to imagine …

End of Part 2
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 2 (was Origins)

Postby Jack Rothwell » December 15th, 2010, 7:06 am

Took the time to start catching up on your story now mine is finally done, Grey. I'll also get round to the third part when I get the chance.

The story is great, I like the way you convey the differences between the three species from Lorrin's view, I really get a sense for how society works and how many conflicting opinions and tensions there are running beneath of the surface of their beautiful surroundings. I like the foreshadowing of things to come, and I think the characters are grounded in reality which makes them believable. Good work mate, looking forward to the finished story.
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