ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » April 29th, 2014, 11:11 pm

[Sorry this got delayed again; the death in my wife's family has just been eating us alive. Finally getting out from under the pile, though, and this thing doesn't have too much longer to go. So a short one to get ready for the finale:]

Chapter 88: Skophis

“Malacia,” Lorrin repeated, the quiet satisfaction that had been in his voice moments earlier now replaced by something else.

“Malacia.” Sarine stretched lazily. “Another escort mission, from what I hear. All very low-key, no diplomatic bullshit, a real working trip this time. We’re supposed to take some elf named Skophis who has a theory about how Errants happen, and maybe even an idea on how to keep it from happening. Ever heard of him?”

Lorrin searched his memory. “I don’t think so.”

“Nor I. I think I’d recognize the name if he was a diplomat, at least one from one of the Great Houses. I don’t, so he isn’t. That’s good. He’s supposed to be some kind of expert with Transmutation magic, but that’s all I know about him. I don’t even know what race he comes from.”

“Just as long as he’s not CImmerii,” Lorrin answered, getting a nod and a rolling of eyes from his lover. “How long until we have to do this?”

“End of the week. He’s supposed to be coming to Altissimis first, gets here in three days.”

“Giving us time to prepare.”

“And time for other things. Now where were we?” The answer, of course, was “in bed,” and Sarine pulled Lorrin back down to herself to continue where they had left off when the subject of this escort mission had intruded upon them.

-------------

Three days later, however, they would be surprised, and more than a little chagrined, when their fellow traveler arrived.

“Damn,” Sarine muttered under her breath as she, Lorrin and Smidric watched the newcomer come through the gate. “I can’t believe they’re sending us with a Cimmerii.”

There was no doubt that the towering, gaunt, almost cadaverous-looking elf now being admitted by two of Lorrin’s comrades was a Cimmerii, however. Even by elven standards, he was tall, approaching seven feet, and there was only one race with his complexion. Lorrin had to admit one thing: the severe Cimmerii countenance was tinged with a most un-Cimmerii empathy and humility, judging from the way he was speaking to the two Ensigerum. “Maybe we misjudge him,” he ventured.

Smidric nodded. “Even in among the zombies, there’s s’posed to be a faction that thinks the rest of ‘em are being too hard on the half elves. This gent’s from that faction, if I have my facts right.” The other two knew that the old sergeant’s “facts” were often no more than rumors picked up in the halls of the master of House Salaeia. However, they also had a pronounced tendency to be correct.

Sarine didn’t look convinced, but she rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Well, let’s go meet his nibs.” The three stepped out of their concealed guardroom into the main hall.
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » May 4th, 2014, 2:06 pm

Chapter 89: Concussion’s Hammer

To Lorrin’s surprise, the Cimmerii elf Skophis proved to be exactly as he’d judged him to be from first appearances: approachable, thoughtful, reasonably empathetic, and devoid of the arrogance that most Cimmerii carried with them like a cloak. He was also clearly on the same side as Lorrin and Sarine and Smidric when it came to wanting to help the half elves. If that wasn’t clear from his behavior as the representatives of House Salaeia paid him their respects, it was plenty clear from the glower that Morchis, who definitely did not share Lorrin’s views on the matter, bestowed on Skophis when they shook hands before going into the briefing room.

<”Keep an eye on Morchis,”> Sarine spoke in Lorrin’s mind as she stopped at the door. <”Something doesn’t feel right here, and that asshole is going to do his damned best to make sure it isn’t right. Unfortunately, I can’t stay for this, there’s something that the big boss is insisting I do instead. Fill me in when we get back to our quarters.”> Someone unfamiliar with recent developments might have raised an eyebrow that “Lorrin’s” quarters had become “our” quarters, but that was just the way it was. He returned the thought automatically, adding a reference to “love” in a human language that didn’t exist in the Sanguen’s tongue. For just a moment Sarine smiled at that, then she was off.

“Needless to say, what I am about to say here is a matter of the highest state security,” Skophis announced as soon as the room was secured. “I know, you’re used to hearing that from the Keiren every time one of them scratches a flea, and my own people overuse the term almost as badly. However, when I explain what this little item is –“ he extracted a small parcel, its magical emissions so powerful as to be almost physical, from his pocket – “I think you’ll understand that complete secrecy is mandatory. Anilis alone knows what would happen if the existence of this thing in our physical universe became known – and yet it is the tool by which I believe we can heal the half elves who are Errants.” He unwrapped the parcel and laid its contents on the table.

Doesn’t look like much, Lorrin judged, even as several of the elves in the room emitted gasps.

The object on the table was small, no more than two inches long, although its magical aura made it seem larger. Its handle was made of a shiny metal, and its head, a darker, featureless material. Lorrin dimly recalled seeing something similar but larger once, when he’d gone in to get a knee checked by a lifemage after a sparring session did a little more damage than intended. (He’d got the better of the session, he reflected, but of course that didn’t matter now.) It would be a normal part of a healer’s kit if were four times its actual size. But what kind of healer could use a mallet this small?

“This was found in the excavation of a ruin in the coastal islands,” Skophis said, as if answering Lorrin’s mental question. “The primary goal of the excavation was to look for relics that might have something to do with our goddess Anilis, praise her name.” Several of the elves, as well as Smidric, lowered their eyes and bowed their heads momentarily at the mention of that name; Morchis, Lorrin happened to notice, did not. “The excavators,” the Cimmerii continued, “didn’t pay much attention to this thing. There is nothing in our records to connect anything like it to the goddess. I, however, had been making a study of the deeds and legends of the Paedagogusi –“ more reverence from some, but not all, of the elves – “and I believe I know what it is.”

Now Skophis put on the air of reserve – maybe stopping short of “pomposity,” maybe not – that Lorrin had come to associate with the Cimmerii, but before he could make his great revelation, whatever it was, a female Viradior whose name Lorrin couldn’t remember (after all, he’d pretty well lost interest in any female Viradior other than Sarine) raised a hand and cleared her throat. “I believe I know what this item is, too,” she murmured, “and if I’m right, it is extraordinarily sacred. I do not believe we should be showing it in the presence of –" she looked at Smidric and Lorrin, who felt distinctly like a bug under a microscope – “mere mortals.” (Lorrin could faintly hear Morchis’ sotto voce response to that: “Heh. At least they’re not Errants.”)

Skophis smiled tolerantly at the woman who’d interrupted him. “Perhaps, Luza,” he said, “but these would not be the first mortal eyes to fall on this artifact. Quite the contrary, the entire site was discovered first by human explorers. Your people –“ he turned his gaze to Lorrin and Smidric – “are better explorers and investigators than ours. In fact, it was a human who first brought this little hammer to my attention. And he was the first to guess what it might have been – because he said that when he picked it up, the arthritis in his hands, that troubles your kind as they grow –" he struggled for a word that didn’t exist in the Cimmerii language, found it in the Sanguen one – “as they grow old, vanished like the dew before the sun. He even regrew a finger on that hand that he had lost as a young man. He was healed of his infirmity simply by handling it.”

Beside him, Lorrin could hear Smidric draw in his breath sharply. “Senilis’ Antlers,” the old man whispered to himself, and Lorrin could see that he was gently rubbing his maimed arm just above the prosthesis with his surviving hand. “Could it – I dare not imagine – maybe, just maybe…”

Lorrin reached over and gently squeezed his friend’s good arm, and in his own turn, whispered, “Damn, I hope so, Sarge.” Thus preoccupied, he missed the beginning of the next thing Skophis was saying. But he didn’t miss the end of it.

“… I have reason to believe that this little hammer was once the property of the great healer and instructor to the elves at the beginning of time … the Blessed Paedagogusi Concussion.”
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » May 8th, 2014, 11:06 am

Chapter 90: Smidric’s hand

“’Concussion’?” Sarine interrupted Lorrin’s later retelling of what had happened with Skophis. “That seems like a rather odd name for one of the messengers of the gods.”

“I thought so too,” Lorrin agreed, “but they’re your demigods, not mine. I thought you’d know where that name came from, among other things.” Sarine made a face at that.

“Just remember, my oh-so-short-lived but incredibly handsome and alluringly sensual love, that at less than a thousand, I’m almost a child in the eyes of my people,” she said. “The gods and their servants went away millennia before I was born. Even my rel—“ She caught herself; discussing one’s parents was a social faux pas among the elves, but she wasn’t with an elf now. “Even my mother isn’t old enough to have been here when Anilis and Senilis walked the earth. There are only a few elves that are, and they don’t talk much about it. I don’t know why. It’s like our racial memory of that time is lost. Mother said she remembered, from when she was a girl of a hundred or so, that somebody talked about one of the Paedagogusi called Kawei or Kawai or something like that, but she didn’t even know the names of the others, nor does anybody else that I know of.”

“Can’t see how to get from Kawai to Concussion,” Lorrin observed.

“Nor I. One thing, though. She also said that one of the Paedagogusi was supposed to be pretty much crazy – not just eccentric or weird, but absolutely bat-shit insane. Wonder if that’s where this name ‘Concussion’ comes from?” Millennia later, Sarine would have occasion to revisit this thought, and if she had remembered what she had been thinking back in the days of her (relative) youth, she would have kicked herself for not seeing events at the hall of Senilis coming. However, even an elven memory misplaces things over thousands of years, and this particular thought did not tarry. Lorrin merely shrugged, so she continued, “So what happened then?”

“For a little while, I’m not totally sure,” Lorrin confessed. “I could tell that there was a lot of telepathy flying around, from the looks on the elves’ faces, but none of it was aimed at me, so I couldn’t hear it. The High Commander asked Skophis if he had any proof of this claim he was making, and then things got weird…”

The Cimmerii fixed the Sanguen with a long stare, and then he sighed. “Very well,” he said. “Perhaps we should test the Hammer before we take it to – the Errants of Malacia. I understand there is a significant Errant population here in Altissimis?”

“I do not think it would be wise to use any of them for the test,” the High Commander answered. “Either it will succeed, or it will not, and either way, there will be trouble. A successful test would draw more attention to this plan than we wish. An unsuccessful one would be – embarrassing.”

Morchis had an answer for that. “So we just pick one off the streets, bring him here, see whether the thing works, and get rid of him afterward. What’s the problem?”

The problem, you asshole, Lorrin thought but did not say, is that that’s a life you’re planning to throw away just to see if a magical gadget works. But you don’t care about half-elf lives, do you? He was about to say as much, but Skophis deflected the “proposal.” “A test under controlled conditions would be much preferable,” he said. “Is there anyone within the compound of House Salaeia who—“

Sergeant Smidric was on his feet in his instant, with an agility that surprised Lorrin even though he knew the man well. “Me! ME!” he shouted, waving his maimed arm in front of him. The prosthesis was already off.

Lorrin thought he saw a faint smile play on the High Commander’s features for a bare moment, but it passed as he nodded. “Very well,” he said. “Thank you for your willingness to serve, Sergeant. Please come forward.”

Smidric didn’t wait to be asked twice. He rushed forward and grabbed the tiny hammer with his good hand, and touched it to the stump. Sudden, magical light filled the room, and Lorrin and most of the others in the room were stunned by a clap of thunder …

… And when the thunderclap ended, Sergeant Sergey Smidric was standing, his jaw agape as he looked at the new hand that had formed on the end of his maimed arm. It was soft and pink and fragile-looking, and it didn’t match well with the leathery old body it had sprung from, but there was no denying that what had been maimed was now made whole.

“It’s true… by the gods, it’s true…” Smidric whispered into the silence, and as he touched his new hand to his brow, he began to weep like a baby.
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » May 17th, 2014, 6:32 pm

Chapter 91: Target practice

[Warning: Events of this “chapter” probably represent a pretty substantial departure from canon – although, reading some things between the lines of Chapter 10, they also might not. Anyway:]

“So that’s why Smidric was in such a – strange state when he came out of there,” Sarine observed. There was something in her face as she said that that Lorrin didn’t like. He wasn’t that wild about what she said next, either. “Well, we’d better go over to the armory and get tooled up for tomorrow. It’s going to be an early start.”

“That’s all?” Lorrin asked, puzzled, and even a little suspicious. As he was well aware, Sarine liked the old sergeant almost as much as his men did. Why had her face gone to a studied neutrality at this bit of good news?

“That’s all,” Sarine replied curtly. “Let’s go.” She opened the door to leave.

Lorrin wouldn’t be put off that easily. “But Sarine, shouldn’t we at least pass by and congratulate Sarge on getting his hand back? He was so happy about it, and all the other off-duty troops have been all over him with congratulations. It won’t take us long to pick up our swords and uniforms, and we’re not leaving that—“

“That’s all, Lorrin,” Sarine said, a pronounced edge on her voice.

Lorrin retreated, abashed. He’d learned by now that when an elf spoke to you in that particular tone of voice, you didn’t push it further, even if that elf happened to be the woman you loved and vice versa. One of his Ensigerum friends had described, in great detail, the raging headache he’d suddenly developed when he’d pushed either Morchis or Seppala just a little too far on something and ignored that voice. To be sure, Sarine wasn’t nearly as likely to use that kind of mind magic on a human as the two improbable brothers, and (or at least so he thought) particularly not on himself. But that tone of voice, and that expression… He didn’t say another word as they headed for the armory.

What he did do, however, was observe; he was quite good at that.

I’ve never seen her quite this way before, he thought. Or at least not since, well, since we happened. There’s something she knows that she’s not telling me. It’s something she doesn’t like, something about this mission I think, and it’s making her uncomfortable – but she’s not going to let me in on it. His puzzlement only deepened when they got to the armory, and Sarine bypassed the Durus Flamma swords (she didn’t need one, after all, which had been contributing to Lorrin’s puzzlement) and headed for the longbows, selecting one and motioning to him to find another for himself.

That was very odd. Conventional wisdom among elves and Ensigerum alike was that bow and arrow weren’t good for much in a modern fight, and certainly not for escort duty. About the only real use they had was in ranged battle between forces that didn’t have the magical firepower to cast Force Bolts and other forms of destruction at a distance. Besides, the longbow was the one elven weapon that Sarine was not very good at using, and he himself was utterly hopeless with it; being an above-average spellcaster, with the usual repertoire of offensive spells, he’d just never thought of longbow marksmanship as a skill worth mastering.

“Let’s go hit the practice field,” Sarine said. Lorrin gave her an incredulous look. “But why?” he asked. “Surely you don’t think we’re going to –“ This time he didn’t have to be on the receiving end of that edgy voice to sputter into silence; the look on Sarine’s face was more than enough.

The practice field was deserted when they arrived, Lorrin’s confusion – and concern – growing by the minute. A single forlorn spear was sticking out of one of the targets backed by a bale of hay. Sarine said nothing as she paced off a one-hundred-pace distance from the target, strung the bow, nocked an arrow. She’s still distracted, Lorrin guessed, as she sent an arrow winging well past the bullseye, not even close to scoring a hit. His own first attempt was a little better; he at least put the arrow into the bale of hay. In actual combat, that wouldn’t have been nearly good enough. Half a dozen arrows later, both were beginning to get the range, although neither had come close to a bullseye … and Sarine finally spoke as she motioned Lorrin to put down his weapon.

“Dammit, I’ve got to tell you,” she said abruptly. “If it all goes wrong, somebody needs to know. But I’ve got to swear you to secrecy on this one.”

Lorrin swallowed hard and nodded. Whatever it was, the thing that had been preying on his lover’s mind was about to come out … and so it did.

“What I’m about to say stays here, between us,” Sarine repeated, unnecessarily. Then: “While you were off watching Sergey Smidric get his new hand, I was getting orders from way up on high … orders that if things turn to shit after we get to Malacia, I am supposed to kill Kiyan Nizami.”
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » May 20th, 2014, 11:36 am

Chapter 92: Sarine’s mission

Lorrin wasn’t completely sure what he had been expecting when Sarine hauled him off to the target range, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t been expecting that.

“You’re supposed to kill –“ he started, but Sarine cut him off. “That’s what I said.” Then: <”Switch to mind-speech, we’ve got company.”> She was right; a pair of human soldiers were arriving at the field and setting up for their own target practice. Well, that would give him and Sarine a little incentive to improve their deplorable marksmanship, which in turn would give them cover for the telepathic conversation he wanted to have.

Thus focused, his next arrow was right in the center of the bullseye, something he’d rarely achieved in his exercises with a bow, and indeed, would never achieve again. “Not bad,” Sarine smiled, sending her own arrow wide once again; was she really not getting the knack of using this somewhat archaic weapon, or was it for effect? The curse she swore as the arrow missed the target completely did serve as cover for the next thing she said in Lorrin’s mind.

<”Yes, I’m supposed to kill Nizami if things turn to crap. He’s beginning to worry people, Lorrin. He took Josie’s death very hard. You probably know there was something between them.”> (He hadn’t “known,” but he’d suspected it, and for a moment he had uncharitable thoughts toward the Ramorciel clan; they weren’t above using their womenfolk as pawns, apparently, and that had to include the one he himself had slept with. Well, he’d moved on to present company, to put it mildly.) <”He’s moping around, only working on the project about a tenth as hard as he had been. He’s screwed up a few times, too, and there have even been some weird bursts of magic in his workshop when he thinks no one is looking, but they are. Excuse me a minute,”> She let fly her next arrow with a grunt, at least managing to get it into the target this time, although nowhere near the bullseye. She said something bilious and self-deprecating about her marksmanship, of course, but Lorrin was concentrating on her thoughts, not her spoken words.

<”Well, who’s to blame him?”> he thought back as his own arrow went low. <”Josie was a beautiful woman and a delight to be around. Hell, I was half way in love with her myself before –“>

<”Change the subject,”> Sarine ordered as she nocked another arrow. <”Or more accurately, get back to the subject at hand.”> She let the arrow fly; another miss. “<Problem is, Lorrin, when you get to a position as powerful as Nizami’s, every little screwup you make gets magnified in the eyes of your enemies and used against you. I think you have a pretty good idea of just who those enemies might be in Nizami’s case.”>

He did. <”Cimmerii. They control the council right now, despite the tame one they sent over with the Paedagogusi’s hammer.”> Another arrow low; was his arm getting fatigued? He grunted, set the bow down momentarily, and massaged his biceps as he continued. <”So why aren’t they sending their own hit man instead of you? Anilis knows, they’ve got one, and he has no scruples whatever. He was the one who poisoned the cat, wasn’t he?”>

Sarine’s next arrow went very wide as she listened to Lorrin’s voice in her mind, and she swore luridly, not just for cover either. <”Damn you, breaking up my attention like that,”> she mind-spoke. <”Oh, they’re going to be sending their own butcher, that bastard from House Noctuus, Gloric. All part of the added security for the Paedagogusi hammer, you see.”> Her bitter audible snort momentarily startled the humans firing at their own target, with rather greater success than Sarine and Lorrin had been having. <”Yeah, he’s probably the one who’s going to do the actual killing if any gets done. But I’ll tell you –“> she put a little extra oomph into the next arrow, and it not only hit the bullseye, it split the arrow Lorrin had lodged there – <”if that bastard makes one move toward Nizami before it is utterly clear that he’s gone Errant, it isn’t going to be a half elf that I kill, and to Exitialis with the Cimmerii and the consequences. I think we’re done here, let’s get packed up.”> She didn’t bother to go forward to retrieve the arrows; a wave of her hand, a flash of magic, and apart from the one arrow that was now in pieces, the projectiles marched right back into the quivers the two would-be archers had removed them from.

“I’m with you on this,” Lorrin offered as they unstrung their bows, but Sarine fixed him with a strange look that was half love, half loneliness, and half … something else, a look of existential sadness that Lorrin knew she wore far too much of the time for his liking.

“No, you won’t be,” she said softly. “I can’t let you be. You’re going to have to go do your job and try to fix it so the tame Cimmerii can use his toy on whatever’s wrong with – that man and make it all better. When the shit hits the fan, if it does, I’m going to have to be the fan, me solo, without you. So you can’t be ‘with me’ when that happens… but I love you for saying it.” They embraced and kissed before leaving the field; the humans at the next target watched with interest, as well as a few ribald comments, but Sarine and Lorrin didn’t care.
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » May 29th, 2014, 11:05 am

Chapter 93: Malacia, again

Not quite twenty-four hours later, Lorrin, Sarine, Skophis and a pair of Ensigerum retainers were arriving in Malacia.

It was a rare cloudy day in the floating city. Sea fog along the shoreline was common, but Malacia’s levitation devices usually kept it above the fog. Today, the murk extended far enough upward that the air was thick and humid, and visibility was badly impaired. The glittering elven architecture lost much of its luster under the circumstances, and the magical illumination felt subdued and inadequate.

Just the kind of day for a murder, thought Lorrin.

Some things were as they had been earlier. The party was staying at the same hotel, and the humans working outside it gave them the same resentful stares as when he’d seen them before. Another party was just finishing the check-in as they arrived; all elves, as far as Lorrin could see, a mix of Cimmerii (his skin crawled briefly and spontaneously at that) and Keiren, and paying no attention to the newcomers. He raised an eyebrow at Sarine – that would suffice – but she shook her head subtly and spoke in his mind. <”Don’t know any of them.”> The others in the party seemed indifferent to the other group’s presence. Well, thought Lorrin, Malacia is a busy place. They’re probably in town for something having nothing to do with why we’re here.

Right.


He and Sarine were still getting unpacked when there was a knock on the door. One of the other humans in the group, a newcomer to the Ensigerum whose name Lorrin did not know, had a message. “The archmage is unavailable this afternoon,” he told them. “Minister Skophis wishes to make a quick trip to the half-elf part of the city while we wait. He asks that you accompany him, and that you be ready in ten minutes.” That wasn’t altogether unwelcome news, Lorrin thought; maybe the oppressive fog would lift by the time they called on Kiyan Nizami. They hurried through the unpacking and joined the party.

The half-elf district of Malacia, Lorrin quickly noticed, bore no resemblance to the compound of Clan Ramorciel and the surrounding half-elf homes and businesses back in Altissimis. Part of that was simple geography. In Altissimis the half elves had been free to expand into the wide-open spaces of the high plains and low foothills above the mountains; there was plenty of room, and with a stable population (or “stagnant,” depending on one’s point of view), the elves didn’t need it for their own growth. The half-elven district of Altissimis was correspondingly open and spacious, in a way that reminded Lorrin of the village where he’d grown up – he’d long since outgrown homesickness for the place, but his attitudes and preferences for elbow room remained.

Here, the half elves were crowded together, in tall, narrow strip houses without lawns and limited outdoor space of any kind. Of course a growing population would build that way; the footprint of the sky city didn’t allow for expansion at ground level, so there was nowhere to go but up. Knowing there was a reason for it, however, didn’t make this setting any more palatable to Lorrin. I’m glad I don’t live here, he thought, almost automatically broadcasting this thought to Sarine. <”Me too,”> her mind-reply came back. <”Way too crowded, people tripping over each other, intrusions into personal space getting people’s hackles up. My own people can put up enough magical illusions to pretend they’re not overcrowded. The ones here can’t. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a time coming when the population density in this district gets high enough that the half elves start acting – freaky.”>

The shifting mists of the high clouds served to conceal it, but that time had already come … and without being detected, a band of tough-looking half elves had started to shadow the party, their presence and movements concealed by the murk.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » June 10th, 2014, 11:10 am

Chapter 94: Hammer blows

“What was that all about?” Lorrin asked as soon as the fight was over.

“Damned if I know,” Sarine growled, wiping blood off her sword (which had its ironies), “but I am most certainly going to find out.”

--

As street brawls go, it hadn’t been much of a fight, largely because it was so one-sided. It had been easy enough for the visitors to see that they were being surrounded and forced toward a dead-end street. They had already set up in defensive positions by the time the leader of the thugs, an unusually thickly-built half elf with a patch over one eye (Errant deformity? Lorrin would wonder later, but by then there wasn’t enough left of the man to be sure) spoke to Skophis. “Gimme the little bag and nobody gets hurt.” One of his minions immediately gave the lie to his words by taking a massive, and massively unbalanced, swing with a club at one of the human Ensigerum escorts, and the fight was on.

At first Lorrin was worried about the outcome, but that didn’t last long. He and the others were outnumbered about three to one. Of course, they had trained for such a situation and immediately formed into a perimeter around the elf they were escorting, weapons drawn and magical Barriers up. The frenzied blows of clubs and daggers against the Barriers accomplished nothing, other than showing that the attackers had neither combat skills nor magical capabilities, apart from one half elf with a withered arm who was rallying magic. A quick Force Bolt from Sarine dropped that one in his tracks … and then the real counterattack happened, and was over in an instant.

Lorrin wasn’t fully sure what had happened at first. There was a thunderous boom and a magical flash of light from somewhere behind him, enough to leave him both blind and deaf for a moment, and momentarily worried about what might happen to him while he was out of action. Sarine’s shouted “SHIT!” let him know that his hearing was coming back, and also that he wasn’t the only one so affected … to put it mildly. And then, apart from the sound of running feet, there was silence.

When his vision cleared, Lorrin surveyed a scene that had changed a great deal in the last two seconds or so. Not a half elf was standing. As best he could estimate, half of the attackers had fled. The other half … just say that it was difficult to be sure how many bodies were left at the site, because whatever had created the magical thunderbolt had literally torn them to pieces. Body parts, blood and gore were everywhere. He felt the contents of his stomach rising in his craw, and from the retching sounds coming from the other Ensigerum, he was containing the bile better than they were. Even Sarine was looking decidedly peaked as she cleaned her sword.

But then Lorrin looked at Skophis.

The tall Cimmerii was securing the small bag that held Concussion’s Hammer, and it didn’t take much deductive power to realize that the magical thunderbolt had come from the contents of the bag. And the elf’s face … Lorrin hadn’t seen that kind of bloodthirsty glee since that horrifying troll-hunting expedition in his earliest days in Altissimis.

--

Neither Sarine nor Lorrin said another word as the party returned to their inn. At first there was some quiet chatter between the two other Ensigerum, starting with Hygiene spells and turning into general swearing and sputtering. A glare from Sarine silenced the pair, and Lorrin guessed that she’d had direct mind-to-mind “conversations” with them as well. He didn’t dare risk saying anything out loud after that, but soon enough, his lover spoke in his mind.

<”Dammit, I was afraid of this.”>

<”Afraid of what?”> Lorrin ventured, half way certain he knew the answer already.

<”Bluntly, afraid of Skophis,”> Sarine replied. <”He knew damn well what was going to happen when we went into the half-elf part of the city. He almost encouraged it. You could see that from the look on his face.”>

<”I could indeed.”> He thought about that for a minute. <”So maybe he isn’t quite the friend of the half elves that he’s made out to be? And what of the power of the hammer?>”

<”Just remember: he’s going to ‘heal’ Mizami with that thing, if he’s still in a funk from Josie’s death. Now excuse me, I’m going to make a quiet call or two to some friends.”> Sarine neither said nor mind-spoke anything more … but she didn’t need to.
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » June 20th, 2014, 3:45 pm

Chapter 95: Alone

Lorrin would not see Sarine again for several hours.

One thing about the way the “fight” had gone, he mused as he reached their room, was that the sudden, drastic use of Concussion’s Hammer had meant that neither they nor the other escorts had had to do any actual fighting. That meant that he was fully amped up for battle, yet not the least bit tired, other than the inevitable sag after the first adrenaline rush. Restless, he found himself unable either to relax or to get into a meditative state. Well, maybe a walk will do me some good, he decided. He changed into working man’s clothes – this wouldn’t be the time or place to call attention to himself – and armed only with a concealed knife, he slipped out of the inn, checking first to see that the other rooms housing the visiting party were occupied. He headed for the small human part of the floating city, knowing that most of the menial workers he’d seen around the inn wouldn’t live there.

In fact, the human quarter was almost deserted. He walked the streets for a while, seeing only a few laborers going into nearly empty stores to make mundane purchases of meat, clothing, other daily essentials. None of the men made eye contact with him. A few women were puttering around in small gardens, several with small children in tow, but they too avoided eye contact. The district was almost eerily silent. Maybe it was the fog that still blanketed the city, or maybe most of the humans were out serving the elves, or maybe it was just the way humans’ life in Malacia was; there was no way to know for sure. Whatever the reason, it felt wrong. Cities should have a bustle of life to them, Lorrin thought, even though he preferred peace and quiet himself. That was lacking here. It never did occur to him that there was another possible reason for the silence: that someone among the elves desired that the streets be empty and silent, and had made it so.

Say, that’s interesting, he thought to himself as he passed by a warehouse and caught its distinctive odor through the fog.

Even in a magical culture, meat would spoil. There were magical wards that would keep scavengers away from beef or poultry as it lay in a butcher’s shop, or in a slaughterhouse, or in storage between the two. However, bacteria and fungi cared little about such wards. Economy of scale worked with magic as well as with manufacturing; it was easier to have one large facility for freezing meat than many small ones. Accordingly, one of the inevitable technological (well, thaumatological) features of even an elven city was a refrigerated meat-packing plant, where perishable provisions would be kept before going off to market. One of the (several) less glamorous duties he’d had in Altissimis was to escort an elven inspector when she made one of her periodic checks on the plant there. At first he hadn’t understood why such a person would need an escort, but then he saw the beggars in the street nearby, human and half-elven men and women who might not eat meat that day or that week unless they could beg, scrounge or steal something and it all made sense.

But here there were no beggars, and it wasn’t because the humans and half elves of Malacia were better off than in Altissimis; rather the contrary, in fact. That was odd, and it was odder still that the back door to the place was standing open, with no signs of activity around except for a faint magical glow that he recognized as a Warding spell. That didn’t make sense. The spell would keep out ravens and other scavengers, but it wouldn’t have much effect on a serious human attempt to pick through the contents of the warehouse. And yet, there were no would-be thieves.

He would never be able to explain why, but something about this layout prompted Lorrin to investigate. At the very least he could leave a more secure magical closure on the door. And what if there was malfeasance here? He did have a general charter to look to the safety and security of his people, after all, and that meant he wouldn’t come under suspicion for checking this place out himself. (Probably.) He took a deep breath and moved through the magical field around the doorway, not even noticing that it was exerting a subtle thaumatic pressure on him to turn back; he’d faced far worse in his training. Getting to the door, he started to secure it, but first, he chanced a glance through the doorway … and his blood suddenly ran cold, for reasons having nothing to do with ambient temperature.

Hanging from a meat hook inside the building, secured by powerful magic but still unmistakable, was the corpse of an elf. A very tall elf. He didn't need to look twice at it to know whose body it was, and what it implied.

He abandoned his attempt to secure the site, and headed back to the hotel at a dead run.
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » July 10th, 2014, 4:17 pm

Chapter 96: To the rescue

“You’re sure?” Sarine asked.

Lorrin nodded vigorously. “As sure as if I’d put the body there myself. That was Skophis on that meat hook. Not many elves are that tall, and even dead, he had that hairline, long skinny face, you know. I’d know him anywhere.”

“Damn, damn, damndamndamndamndamn,” Sarine swore even as she started to get into her Viradior armor. “Could you see how it happened?”

“Stabbed in the guts,” Lorrin answered, getting his own Ensigerum uniform – and weaponry – ready to go; he wasn’t exactly sure what Sarine was planning, but there wasn’t much doubt that it was going to involve the Ensigerum functions of fighting and “diplomacy” at the same time. “Wasn’t much blood, all things considered. Death must have been close to instantaneous.”

“Which means the bastard we got into that fight with was –“

“Gloric,” Lorrin finished the sentence.

Sarine swore luridly again. “That explains so many things – so damned many things. I did some poking around while you were gone, among my friends back in the capital. And they wouldn’t fucking talk to me. I didn’t know why. I do now. Half of ‘em were dodging the questions, half were out on some Senilis-damned errand, half were just plain scared, I could hear it in their voices.”

Lorrin didn’t wait to hear any more. He strapped on his sword. “Nizami’s office?” he asked.

Sarine shook her head. “If the action gets that close in, we’re screwed already. I’ve got an idea instead. I’ll show you the layout when we get there.” They set off.

--------------------

Later investigation would show that this conversation happened at almost the exact instant when Kiyan Nizami emitted his first scream that he was being attacked by unseen monsters.

--------------------

“Up there,” Sarine pointed to a balcony on a tower facing the great tower where Kiyan Nizami lived.

He’d learned something on the dash over to this point. “But why now?” he’d asked as the sprint began. Sarine had barely broken stride. “They think he’s crazy because of losing Josie Ramorciel,” she answered.

Lorrin hadn’t understood that. “But I thought she and the ambassador were lovers,” he’d puffed. “How would he have –“
Sarine interrupted. “Josie was a courtesan. She’d sleep with whoever she needed to for her people’s sake, sleep with them and more. That meant the two of them and many others.” In other circumstances Lorrin (with a hint of jealousy) would have checked Sarine’s body language for any indication that she’d been one of those “many others,” but sprinting through the streets of Malacia was neither the time nor the place for that.

“Is he crazy?” he’d asked. Again, Sarine barely broke stride. “I don’t know, but dammit, we’re going to save his life either way. Now shut up and run.” Run they had, until they’d reached this vantage point.

“You get up there,” Sarine ordered, “and put the place under surveillance. I’m going to enter the big tower at the ground level and try to stop Gloric and his goons. If you can see me, cover me. If you can’t, keep an eye open, and if you see them going up the tower, use a Fogbank spell.” They both knew that that bit of magical Obscuration would slow an attacker’s progress, and if all went well, allow Sarine to catch up to the attack. But –

“No, I’m going with you,” Lorrin protested. “You’re not facing those thugs alone. “I’m –“

“Just do it, dammit,” Sarine snarled, and she put on a burst of speed toward the high tower that even Lorrin’s long legs couldn’t match.

As he ascended the second tower to his vantage point, something dawned on Lorrin. She’s doing this to get me out of harm’s way. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that, but it didn’t matter any more. He arrived, puffing and blowing, at the balcony …

… Just in time to see the first great flare of magic from down at the base of Nizami’s tower … and to feel the first impossible lurch of the floating city as its levitation device came under siege.
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, Part 5

Postby Graybeard » July 23rd, 2014, 11:40 am

Chapter 97: Downfall

The floor beneath Lorrin lurched crazily as he fought to keep his balance, and from the sounds reaching him, his own situation was by no means the most precarious in the floating city.

He grabbed a railing for support, just as the building emitted a curiously human-like groan, as though the stresses it was under were causing it physical pain. There; for the moment, at least, he was in no danger of being thrown off as the tower quaked. Of course, being suspended two hundred feet above the ground, on a balcony that was supposed to be horizontal but was now canted at a distinct angle, wasn’t exactly a stable situation, but at least it let him take a look around to see what had just happened.

Elves, half elves and an occasional human were pouring out of the buildings of Malacia into the streets, but many remained in the towers, screaming in terror as the structures creaked and groaned around them. In the distance he could see that the ground itself had been thrown upward; what incredible force could have managed that? The buildings over there were in worse shape than his own, and he could see bricks and blocks starting to fall from them – at least he hoped they were parts of the structure, because if they weren’t, they would include living beings. Closer to him, the bottom of Nizami’s tower was enveloped in a strange, magical fog, and something beneath it had started to emit a high-pitched whine.

”PREPARE TO EVACUATE!” a powerful voice from within his own tower thundered, startling him, and moments later, he could hear the same words coming from the other buildings he could see, as magic flared; an emergency warning system, apparently. The screaming might have diminished slightly as more elves reached the street. That was good; whatever had just happened down in that fog, panic would only make it worse. Elves wearing Viradior armor were starting to herd the crowds in the street toward travel platforms. Should he himself join them?

Not while Sarine was still in Nizami’s tower, he wouldn’t.

There had been peculiarly few refugees emerging from that building, he thought. Had something blown up inside it, to cause this damage – and inflict Senilis alone know what harm on the occupants? He was about to climb down and investigate, when a man wearing the Ensigerum uniform (was it Luis from back at his training camp? he would never know for sure) emerged, covered in dirt and grime. Well, at least it wasn’t blood – but where was Sarine?

The Ensigerum man made his way toward where an elf wearing a commander’s armor had arrived. “What the hell is going on here?” Lorrin could hear the officer scream in a high-pitched voice, and he strained to hear the Ensigerum man’s response. “It’s Archmage Nizami, ma’am,” he shouted. “He’s gone crazy! He started yelling about monsters attacking him, and he made this big magic, and the levitation system started to break! He –“

The commander had heard enough, and so had Lorrin. I’ve got to get over there. As the officer spoke into a communication device, and armored elves started to arrive on the scene, Lorrin started to look for a way to down-climb back to street level. It wouldn’t be easy, because of the way the building was leaning, but it looked possible. Gingerly he eased himself out of the balcony and felt for handholds –

Just as another mighty pulse of magic erupted from the base of Nizami’s tower.

If the buildings of Malacia had been trembling before, now they were in full-blown convulsions. The whole city was rocking back and forth as though a giant hand was shaking it. Lorrin clung tight, all thoughts of down-climbing lost for the moment, and watched horrified as bodies came flying through windows, plummeting to the street below. Some few of them were able to cast Slow Fall spells to give themselves a chance of landing safely; too many were not. And then a rain of blocks started from his own tower. He pulled himself tight against the wall, grateful that the overhang that posed him the climbing problem at least protected him from the debris … protection that some of the people on the ground did not have. Screams coming from below told him that some of the missiles had found targets, and his stomach started to churn. He fought down the nausea … just as a third blast of magic shook the city.

And as Sarine emerged from Nizami’s tower, her armor covered with blood mixed with grime.

“LORRIN!” she bellowed up to the balcony. “Slow fall! NOW!”

A dim corner of Lorrin’s consciousness berated himself as he gathered energy for the spell. Why didn’t I think of that? Well, nothing to do now except get on with it, and get over to help his lover deal with whatever horror was breaking loose in Nizami’s tower, most likely Nizami himself. He took a deep breath, cast, and released his grip on the balcony … and was rewarded by the almost gentle sensation of the Slow Fall, bearing him down to Sarine and (relative) safety.

Or so he thought.

The spell would slow his own descent to the point that he would land safely … but it did nothing to slow the fall of the pieces coming off the tower.

Far up above, a huge chunk of masonry broke off the overstressed structure and started to plummet to earth on a trajectory matching Lorrin’s own.
----
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