Jacynth looked out over Murann grimly, her elven ears easily picking up the sounds of fighting in the far distance. Scowling, the elf leader looked over at Kyrian. “Well, I cannot say that I disapprove, but it does make our presence here somewhat superfluous. It is time we returned home and spoke to the Council. They need to know what is transpiring in human lands, now.”
Kyrian nodded. “Safe journey to you all.” Hadrilyn smiled and Turtori snorted, rolling his eyes. Odran hugged him tightly.
“Be safe,” Odran said. “You have a long way to go yet, I expect.”
Seeing that Kyrian was occupied, Jacynth handed a wrapped bundle to Sam. “You may have use for these. Come, let us be off before the fighting spreads any further.”
Kyrian smiled a bit tremulously. “I hope to see you again in peaceful times, my friend.”
“I’m certain you will. Good luck!” Odran said, and turned to follow after Jacynth.
Sam eyed the bundle he was holding. “Thanks. And good luck to you!” He waited until the elves were out of sight, then began tearing at the wrappings. Inside were four pairs of boots and four cloaks, all made out of a gray felt-like material that shifted color in the light. Kyrian whistled in appreciation. Sam, Kyrian, Elice, and La’ss’a donned cloaks and boots, admiring the way they seemed to vanish into the surroundings for a few moments.
“Come on, time to go get the giant troll and steal our ride outta here,” Sam said finally. He grinned at Elice as they started walking. “Remember when we used to dream about getting a set of these?”
“It’s like I always say, it does you good to get out and interact with foreign cultures,” she said.
Prak’Parit the Oddsmaker was standing in the street outside the Pit, directing his two bodyguards in arranging his belongings on a cart. Aichezin the Machine stood beside the entrance to the warehouse, watching inscrutably.
“Be careful with that!” Prak yelled as Hideere dropped a chest with a loud thud.
“Do you want to do this?” the half-orc demanded irritably. Sam eyed the pile of strongboxes longingly.
“Say, Elice, how tough are Prak’s guards?” he whispered.
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen them fight anyone.”
He sighed. “Best not to risk it, probably.”
La’ss’a walked up to the Machine. “Eztli should be expecting us.”
A series of flat clicking noises as Aichezin’s head swiveled to face the lizard. “Go inside, then, there is no one to stop you.”
La’ss’a pushed through the door and trotted down the stairs, her tail waving. The arena was completely cleaned out, even the furniture was gone. Eztli crouched on all fours in the pit, waiting patiently. He blinked his enormous yellow eyes at La’ss’a. “You come. It is good.”
“It’s time to part company with this place. Our ship awaits.”
“It is well,” the troll intoned. “Soon the dead ones will realize their masters have gone, and come forth.”
Kyrian’s hand went to his throat. “Dead ones?”
La’ss’a waved a claw dismissively. “Yes, there are shadows in the pit. If you die, they come for you.” Eztli nods at the shadowy corners of the arena. The darkness seemed to press in heavily on all sides, somehow deeper and more impenetrable than it should be.
“Please, then, let us make haste!” Kyrian announced, and nearly ran for the entrance. Eztli knuckled along casually and La’ss’a followed.
Sam looked up at the enormous troll as they walked. “What do they use for trade where you come from?” he asked idly.
“Not as . . . sophiscated? As here. Eztli learn about moo-ney in False World. In True World, mostly bar-ter.”
“Nuts,” Sam said. “Oh well, it’s probably too heavy, anyway.”
The dock where Sulveig’s ship stood at anchor was unchanged. The orc guards appeared completely disinterested with the obvious war now taking place in the rest of the city. A few more orcs were working the deck, doing mysterious ship-related things.
They stopped behind a hill of stacked boxes and observed the guards for a few moments. Kyrian grinned, “We’re certainly well-equipped to sneak up on them, now.”
“Why don’t you and Sam sneak around, I will approach with Eztli. You should be able to get the drop on them.”
“I will wait here,” the troll said. “This your fight.”
“I’ll come with you, La’ss’a,” Elice said. They waited for Sam and Kyrian to climb down under the dock before they came out of hiding and started walking towards the dock. As they walked, Elice nudged La’ss’a slightly. “There’s something odd about these orcs . . .”
“What’s so odd?”
“I don’t know, just something that doesn’t add up.” One of the orcs turned his head and hissed, like a snake.
“Whosssss there?!” La’ss’a cleared her throat noisily and both guards turned to look at her. They drew their weapons: slender, ornate scimitars that were incongruous next to their bulky, hairy forms.
“Whhat hyou whannt, ssssssnake-kinn?!”
“I was hoping to purchase passage out of the city on your ship. Recent events being what they are, I thought you might be on your way soon.”
“Nno passssage! Hjoy be offf!”
“Now, don’t be nasty,” Elice said.
“I thought you might be difficult to persuade,” La’ss’a said, and brandished the jaguar mask. “I thought Sulveig would be pleased to know that someone was looking out for his interests.”
The orc on the left snarled and tried to make a grab for the mask. Startled, La’ss’a stumbled backwards out of range. The sudden movement caught Sam and Kyrian off guard. Elice whipped her two-bladed sword through the air, hacking at La’ss’a’s assailant and cutting its arm. La’ss’a leaped forward, sinking her claws into the orc and tearing huge wounds. It hissed and spat a glob of spitting green acid at her, missing by inches. The acid splashed the deck, which began to smoke.
Sam flexed his hand and a jet of obsidian light hit the orc in the back, tearing a massive hole in its chest. It collapsed to the pier, it’s body shifting into a tall, slender humanoid with a snake head. “What is that?” Sam asked, but La’ss’a shook her head.
Kyrian struggled with the other ‘orc’, which kept dancing out of the way of his blades. It attacked with its scimitar while Elice tried to assist him.
A loud chorus of hisses resounded as the orcs on the ship charged down the gangplank towards the battle. Psionic power arced through the air and Sam blinked, dazed. The remaining guard gestured and the pier was enveloped in impenetrable blackness. La’ss’a clawed at it and managed to connect despite her blindness, there was a shriek of pain and a splash as it collapsed off the pier.
Swords swished in the darkness, connecting with Sam’s arm and back. La’ss’a fumbled her way along the pier until she reached the gangplank, then began climbing up the underside of the wooden plane. Sam stumbled away from his attackers in more or less the same direction, leaving Kyrian to battle three of the snake-creatures alone. Not knowing what else to do, Kyrian flew straight up and emerged from the sphere of darkness. He blinked, looking down at the strange black void below him. He could see Elice emerge on the shore, heading for where the troll stood, watching.
A door slammed aboard the ship. Sam worked his way onto the gangplank, only to bump into an armored figure, which promptly attacked him. The human felt a sword carve into his body again, while La’ss’a reached up and latched onto the first ankle she found, chomping hard. They struggled with the invisible creature for some time, taking several grievous wounds from the sword it flung around with great abandon. They could hear distant crunching noises as Eztli tore into their other attackers, apparently not as hindered by the darkness as they were.
Then, suddenly, it was light again, the sphere of darkness retreating slowly towards the shore. Sam looked up to see Kyrian hovering overhead.
Kyrian laughed. “Elice must have found the center of the spell and is carrying it away.”
Sam grinned at the snake-man standing over him. It was wielding an acid-green soul knife that crackled with power. “There you are,” the human said, and attacked. Another blow from the immense soul blade felled La’ss’a, and she dropped into the water. Kyrian squeaked and dove after her. Then Eztli appeared behind Sam. Flexing his massive legs, the troll jumped up onto the ship and attacked the snake-man from behind. In only a few moments, they’d dispatched him and dumped the corpse off the side.
Kyrian pulled La’ss’a up on shore and set about bandaging up her wounds as best he could. Sam walked down the dock in their direction and yelled, “ELICE! Quit dragging it and get on the boat!”
Distantly, Elice shouted back, “You’re not the boss of me!”
“Fine, suit yourself!” Sam yelled, grinning. He bent over La’ss’a and touched several tattoos, activating them. With a groan, the lizard rolled over and sat up.
“Whew, that was close,” Kyrian said. “I’ll go get Tom and have him gather up our crew.”
Sam searched the ship while La’ss’a lay on the deck, groaning and complaining. It was stocked for a long voyage, and in the captain’s quarters he found quite a stash of psionic equipment. It looked like Sulveig was prepared for almost anything. Except, maybe, what actually happened. It was their equipment now.
They caught the next tide and headed out to sea.
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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- In Color
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