Chapter 3 – Realizations (Deacon)
-Last Updated: 11-7-11
As he returned to the warehouse, Deacon Carlyle was in a quandary. Returning Lady Defloures had proven simple enough. She had tried to convince him to stay with her. Half of her persuasion he could tell was genuine concern for his personal safety. The other half, he realized, was something more. That had taken the corner of her bodice slipping down for him to recognize *that* half of the persuasion. Red-faced, he had withdrawn from the situation and returned to his waiting…companions.
Yes, he considered as he walked, companions was not the most precise word he could use, but it was the closest one that would suffice. There would need, he knew, to be something more there for him to change that particular category completely. To fill it, as it were, in his mind.
The city was in darkness now. There were, of course, lights spilling out from home windows and the taverns along the roadside, and the moon cast her pallor upon the ground. Darkness, however, crept at the edge of all of those places, reminding him of its presence and its secrets. Deacon kept his eyes roaming, scanning those shadows and the light for signs of a threat. Deacon Carlyle was many things, but a fool was not chief among them. His father had taught him to watch everything for, as he noted, small details could quickly amount to large profits.
“Small details…” he murmured to himself as he turned. Yes, his sense told him, those are what would make or break the group.
Some of those details, though, were bigger than others. The first which came to mind was Vicor of House Traven. The half-orc heir to the fortunes of war was not typically spotted outside of his family’s traditional home tactfully named “Travenhome.” The casualty of the name did not reflect the militant discipline and required severity that it took to produce some of the finest soldiers in the entire country. Travenhome was called the “City of Warriors” and all in the three kingdoms knew it.
It did not, in his opinion seem as though Vicor himself had not inherited his father’s legendary sense of adventure and genius for military matters. The half-orc had happily stayed behind to secure the perimeter and to look for ghouls. The bravery that Vicor had displayed was indicative of the caliber of men that Travenhome produced. The quality of their warriors was well known and, now, he had the opportunity to know the youth that would, one day, be in charge of selling their services.
To do that, however, would mean outmaneuvering his elven bodyguard. So far, the woman had been aloof and critical – not a promising beginning. He had heard rumors of the odd pairing, but had put little enough faith in the words of the court gossips. It appeared he had been wrong on that account.
If the elf was to be considered cold to him, then the Inquisitor was the Queen of Frost herself. The only smile he had seen on her face thus far had been the feral grin that he had given to when threatening DeFloures. He, and his father, had faced inquisitorial inquiries before, but this woman? She almost seemed to enjoy the fear that her grin and d noticed had caused the young noblewoman.
He turned the street corner and, thanks to the bright, full moon, the warehouse he had had left came in to sight. As he approached, the hired man, Greg, emerged from the darkness of a side street, “You keep interesting company,” he commented, “the elf, for instance. Despite her Calistrian leanings, she has a stick so far up her….”
“Greg!” he interrupted quickly.
“I was going to say hair!” the man protested, chuckling, “Personally, the only one I find interesting is the half-orc.”
“Marigold?” they reached the entrance to the warehouse. The man who had greeted them before was nowhere to be seen.
“The inquisitor? No! She can rot. The other one….”Greg thought for a long moment, “Choc. Now there is a sweet woman.”
Deacon nodded. The vagrant was certainly the most pleasant half-orc he had met in a very long time. Not that it really mattered. Once the nobles were found, and rescued, he had a few small investments that needed his attention. It was a given that the nobles would owe him a favor for his rescuing them. Gratitude was nice and all, but favors were better.
“Sweet,” he murmured, still considering the prospects, “yes, that is a good descriptor for her.”
“Someone you interested in, milord?” Greg hung on, grinning feraly, “she is, after all, a lot of woman.”
“That she is,” he nodded, “Did you find anything in my absence?”
The man’s grin grew wider, “A great blasted hole in the kitchens, milord,” he paused dramatically, “And the tracks of goblins. We think there might be a connection.”
“You are a truly infuriating little man,” Deacon laughed, “I am not surprised you’d have such trouble finding employment.”
“Honesty, Lord Carlyle,” replied the little man, “is something few can appreciate. An I deliver it with such a style that there are fewer still willing to listen,” he grinned, “The others are getting impatient. The elf was even willing enough to talk to me.”
“A sign of a desperate soul, no doubt,” Deacon pushed open the door and gestured for Greg to follow him. He did so, grinning sardonically.
Marigold and Choc were chatting quietly as they entered. Noticing their arrival, Deacon saw Choc’s face light up in a broad grin, “Hi Deacon!” she rushed over.
Deacon had just enough time to catch the mocking grin shared by Marigold and Greg before his breath was crushed from his lungs by a pair of fairly dirty half-orc arms, “I’m glad you are back!”
He coughed loudly, “Thanks, Choc,” stars began to dance before his eyes, “Can I breathe now?”
For a moment her eyes widened in confusion. A slow darkening crept in to her cheeks as she released him. Blessed air flowed in to his newly freed lungs, “Sorry,” she apologized, her voice sincere. In the background, Greg was doing everything in his power not to collapse in laughter.
Deacon schooled his face in to his house expression, “It is fine, friend Choc. Your exuberance, “he thought for a moment, “Is endearing.”
That widened the grin on Marigold’s face, though, Deacon noted, it was probably not a kind pleasure that she was grinning about. Terrific, he thought, she enjoys suffering.
He was given leave from the uncomfortable sequence by Greg, gesturing to the women, and himself, to enter the kitchen area. Beyond, both Alista and Vicor were peering in to the hole within the room’s confines. As the door squeaked open, they both looked over, “About time, Carlyle.” Vicor commented, hefting himself in to the hole.
Deacon approached the edge of the hole and peered down as Vicor, using a rope that was now secured into the floorboards, repelled down the opening, “You’re certain it is safe?” he said to Alista.
“Fairly,” the elven bodyguard replied, “If there were any goblins left, they probably would have attacked Vicor by now.”
Deacon shook his head, “I meant this rope situation. You’re certain that it will hold?” he peered at the pitons stuck in to the already broken floorboarding ot the ground. He could see them straining with Vicor’s weight.
Alista stared at him, “My lord has done this sort of thing many times, Master Carlyle. He is in no danger from the equipment.” To prove her point, she pointed. Vicor was already at the bottom of the deep hole.
“It’s dark down here! Someone throw me a glow rod!” he shouted up. Alista reached in to her pack and pulled out one of the small, alchemical sticks and smacked it against the floor, activating its components. The stick burst in to a soft, greenish light, which she tossed down to her waiting charge. That done, she re-secured her pack, adjusted her sword so that it hung behind her rather than to the side, and grabbed on to the rope to follow him.
Deacon watched the lithe elf almost glide down the rope, her graceful press almost the direct opposite of Vicor’s own strong bounces. When she reached the bottom, she called back up, “You coming, Carlyle?” her voice was almost mocking, though perhaps, he considered, it was just the echo of the below system.
“Indeed.” He returned, deciding to give the woman the benefit of the doubt. He took hold of the ropes and twisted himself as he lowered in to the tunnel. It was not often that he was given the opportunity to do such tasks, and he relished the physicality of the task. When he reached the bottom, he found he was breathing heavily with a combination of excitement and exertion, “That was…invigorating.”
“If you say so Carlyle,” Greg’s voice came in to his ear from next to him. Deacon gave a start. He had not seen the man descend in to the dark sewer. He turned his head to find a sly grin greeting his questioning stare. His mouth was open to question the man when Greg spoke, “You’d best move, Carlyle. Unless you want that sumptuous half-orc on top of you?” he grinned wickedly and stepped over in to the passage beyond and out of the way of the rope.
After a few moments, they were all crammed in to passage. What Deacon had originally thought was a tunnel beneath the building was, apparently, a part of the sewers of Torklad that the Goblins had managed to hack through.
“This is odd,” Greg commented, staring up and tracking the cut in to the ceiling above them and comparing it with the tunnel they now stood in, “Very odd.”
“How so?” Alista asked, “It’s a tunnel.”
Deacon shook his head, “That’s not quite right. I am a student of such things. Goblins, of any sort, would not normally be able to do something this sophisticated. Look here, “he indicated part of the tunnel above, “These tool marks? Very sophisticated for goblin work,” he paused, peering even more closely at the area around them, “In fact, this whole bit is more sophisticated than I have heard of Goblins being.”
Deacon continued on a short breath, “Goblins aren’t the most intelligent of species. They wouldn’t be able to calculate all of this properly and not cause the rest of these tunnels to collapse,” he gestured, “They are much more smash and bash than cut and care.”
Greg nodded, “This is not typical of their minds at all. I’ve never heard of them acting with this kind of planning. Something about this is…wrong.”
Deacon shared a glance with the assassin – it appeared that the other man knew as much about the habits of living creatures as he did about the homes and buildings they lived in. A talent for reading the habits of the living would be extremely valuable in his profession. The man continued to impress as he pointed out a trail of odd footmarks on the carved stone of the tunnels. Deacon could barely tell what he was pointing at, even with the glowing green of the glow rod. Greg strode forward purposefully, the rest of the group falling in behind him.
The followed the tunnels of the sewers for, in Deacon’s estimate, approximately twenty minutes when they came to a second cutting of stone. This one was much like the one in the ceiling they had descended through, though set in to the side of one of the sewer passages. Greg paused at the opening, “Do a lot of people come down here?” he asked, peering at the opening.
“Very few,” Deacon replied. This was true. The sewer tunnels were a place shrouded in the past. They had been crafted through the use of magic, something long forbidden in Torklaid, and few enough wanted to be in the dank, disgusting confines. He knew that, officially, there were occasionally crews of individuals sent down to maintain the tunnels and to check on their stability. Unofficially, there were rumours that thieves used the tunnels to move about Torklad with relative impunity. He pondered how much to say in front of the others. He decided on the latter train of thought, “At least officially. Unofficially, I have heard that stolen goods are often moved through here. And there have been sightings of strange creatures.”
Greg nodded, “Well, that’s odd. Someone’s been down here long enough to have made this wall here, that the Goblins tunneled through. See here?” he pointed to the channel through which the water flowed, “ The wall was built over top.”
“That would prevent it from flooding – still let the water through…unless something large got stuck in it.” Deacon commented, “But why would someone want a section of the sewer sealed off?” It made little sense. The wall had been constructed well enough, but in a place that, architecturally, had no cause. Other than to conceal the tunnel beyond, Deacon considered, “Why would someone want to hide a section of tunnels?”
“They are cowards,” Marigold answered as if that were obvious. She moved, stepping between both humans and in to the next area of tunnel. The crafted masonry of the sewer gave way to an odd mix of constructed architecture and the earth itself as it extended in to the darkness beyond the glow rod. Greg took the lead in to he shadows once more.
It did not take long to follow the trail along the strange tunnel. Have carved earth, half stonework and masonry it appeared to be joined with the network of sewers beneath the city. The entire way down, Deacon could hear the odd man Greg continued to comment under his breath. Most of it Deacon could not make out, but the most frequent word he heard was that something didn’t have any sense. The man’s tension set his own nerves on end. He could not decide if the tension he felt was a good thing or not.
The trail led the group to a chamber that, at one point, had served as some kind of collection room for the sewers beneath Torklad. These chambers, according to the Archduke and his men, had been the kind of places that the goblins had infested before the guards had gone through and swept the tunnels for the wretched creatures. As they entered, he could not see any sign of the odd monsters.
What he did see, however, was a group of the strangest insects he had ever been exposed to. They had a shining black shell and resembled nothing so much as a gigantic beetle. As the oddities turned to face the entering party, Deacon could tell there was something more to these things than the typical insect. A grouping of sparks was clustered between their mandibles and, even as he took in the odd sight, he saw one of them breathe a tiny burst of flame. It looked like some kind of signal.
“Better get ready, pretty!” Deacon heard Greg shout, even as he heard the rustling of the little man’s cloak. A dagger spun out from the crowd, bouncing harmlessly off of the carapace of one of the insectoid monstrosities, “Damn, I liked that knife.”
Deacon turned to sight the man but he was gone.
“All right, Vicor,” he heard the elf say and saw her draw the great curved elven blade from its sheath, “Tomerin defense. And no heroics.” there was a great deal of command in the bodyguard’s voice. She took an odd stance and saw his fellow noble take a similar lay to his feet. Deacon drew his own rapier and moved to block Choc, who appeared to have no weapon.
And then the oddities were upon them – their pincers clacking and legs grasping furiously at the group. Deacon’s attention was taken from his companions as one of the things managed to wrap his leg with its own. He stabbed with his rapier, but the blade, meant to pierce, was deflected by the hard shell. He drew the blade back for another strike, ducking as a small blast of flame shot from its mouth.
Suddenly a chunk of the collapsed tunnel smashed into the creatures head, causing it to release him as it chittered in pain, “Stupid thing!” he heard Choc declare, pulling back her chunk of stone for another strike, “Leave him alone!” she swung again, slamming the creature into the floor. A black ichor began to spread from the things carapice from cracks that the slamming had initiated. Those cracks gave Deacon a target for his rapier, and he took the opportunity to stab in to the cracked shell. He pulled the blade out; black running down the length of the blade as the creature shuddered, curling up in to its shell. The sparks between its mandibles failed as it seized up and died.
“You all right?” Choc questioned. Deacon could hear genuine concern in the half-orc’s voice.
He took a moment to survey his leg. There was a small slash through the leg of his trousers where the creature had grabbed him and he could see a light bit of the red of blood, “Mostly whole,” he replied, “thank you.” the half-orc beamed a quick smile at him and then turned to slam another creature that was reaching to wrap itself around her own leg.
“And now, shall you join Pharasma in the world beyond; the voices of the dead shall welcome you!” Deacon heard a horrific wailing and turned to see Marigold holding forth a holy symbol of Pharasma now shining with an ethereal green light. The wailing seemed to disturb the mentality of the pair of beetles closest to her. She saw the two of them turn from the half-orc and begin clawing and flaming on each other, ignoring the glowing Inquisitor as she continued to commit oaths to her god.
Convenient that… Deacon thought.
The group, for the moment at least, was holding their own. Vicor and Alista stood, back to back, moving in careful steps as they danced against a pair of the strange beetles. He could see Alista’s mouth moving, giving quick orders or adjustments verbally to her charge as they reacted to the biting and clawing of the creatures. Each time one of the insects lunged in to grab one of the pair, she gave a quick order and they, as one, dodged the claws, reacting with their blades to the gesture. A set of severed appendages were strewn among their feet and he could see the ichor of the beetle’s blood leaking on to the floor. Choc was slamming the creatures with her chunk of tunnel, ignoring the grasping claws to get close and smash the carapaces. The only person he could not find was the other human, Greg.
He moved to assist Choc, piercing through the cracks in the armored shell she brought about with each stroke of her stone against them. Between her stone and his rapier, they took down the pair of creatures that threatened the half-orc and then moved to assist Marigold who continued to chant furiously.
“This one’s mine, pretty!” he heard Greg’s voice behind him and in the direction of Vicor and Alista. He saw a blur of grey as the man, cloak and all, seemed to drop from the ceiling, a blade grasped in both hands. The force of his fall combined with the strength of the sinew in his arms drove the blade into the chink in the armor between the beetle’s head and its carapace. There was a sickening crunch as the steel slid into the crack and neatly separated the head from its body.
With the loss of its partner, the group made quick progress on the remaining two creatures. As the last one fell, Deacon took a moment to survey the group. He saw a few more torn clothes on Vicor and Alista – the elf was already mixing a thick paste from her waist pouch onto a strip of clean cloth to tend the wounding; Chock had a good gash on her leg that would need tending to by someone more trained in the healing arts than he was. Greg, surprisingly, seemed completely unharmed and was wiping his short sword clean on a piece of cloth. The man was grinning lightly, “good little fight.” he commented, catching Deacon’s roaming eye.
“You ever seen such a thing, Alista?” he heard Vicor ask. The half-orc winced as she rubbed the paste on a small gash in his leg.
The elf shook her head, “No,” she replied, tying off the cloth as she responded, poking gingerly at the knot to be sure it was tight, “They are not of my land, nor did I encounter them on the sea,” she paused, “Clean your sword, Vicor.” she commanded, putting her hand on her master’s wrist as he started to sheath the blade, “You don’t want to leave that on your blade.” she handed him what was left of the cloth she had used for the bandage. The half-orc grimaced, but began to wipe the blackness off of the blade.
“Some kind of insect,” Marigold commented, “Not a particularly pleasant one either.”
“They’re Fire Beetles,” Greg announced, kicking the corpse of the one he had beheaded, “You can tell because of the flames.”
“Are you making that up?” Choc asked, “Cause that’s a good name,”
The man shrugged, “That’s what I’ve always heard them called. Their mandibles are extremely useful,” he reached down and cracked one of them off, “They can make a powder that ignites with only a tiny spark. Excellent for starting campfires.” he thrust the mandible in to a belt pouch and moved to the next one.
“How exactly do you know so much about such things?” Alista queried. Deacon could hear a danger in the directness of her voice and the fact that her blade was not sheathed.
“Part of the business, Pretty,” he commented, cracking off another mandible and putting it with the prior, “You need to know how to make things burn if you’re going to be an assassin.”