Strategic Meeting

Candles burn low on the aged oak table, casting alternating light and shadow on the faces gathered around it. A solid man with long, graying hair braided in a tight rope down to the small of his back leans over a frayed map spread open on the table. Piles of coins hold down ragged corners which curl tighter than a sea serpent preparing to strike.

The man looks up at the slender, cloaked figure standing across from him. “I take it that all has been set in motion?” he queries.
“Aye,” comes the husky reply. “The bait was set and they couldn’t resist it. Even now, they feed obsessively on the decoy. They were quick to reveal themselves, emboldened as they are.”

The man gives a harsh, humorless chuckle. “Good.” He glances about at the four others gathered here in the abandoned barn, his grim expression mirroring theirs. “We must move swiftly, then. Some must leave tonight, the moment this meeting is concluded.” No muttering complaints meet this announcement. They have all been expecting this over the course of the past few months and are prepared to act.

The man leans over the map again. “One is already established in the lands to the north, here.” A blunt finger indicates the port city near the smoldering volcano. “She will be joined by her scholar-in-training to ensure that her disguise and story are compatible and raise no suspicions.”

Next, he indicates a mountainous area in the northwestern part of the map. “Two others are making their way to the land of the Orcs as we speak. They have lodgings ready at one of the strongholds there and will present themselves as apprentices to the new king when he makes his request a fortnight hence.” He glances at the others again. “They will be our eyes and ears there, as we expect new movement from our foes.”

Looking down at the map again, he continues: “Another will set sail to the south from here.” His finger stabs at a port city on the northern tip of a long island. “We expect a great deal of activity there soon, so a coordinator in that strategic location is of utmost importance.”

He gathers up the coins, allowing the map to furl as he distributes the gold to the others in attendance. The amount is not insignificant, as this meeting had been called in haste. The urgency and seriousness of it had been established by the location and sealed with the amount of coin paid.

He puts the map in its special case and re-seals it, tucking it back in the enchanted coffer it normally resides in. Crossing his arms, he meets the gazes of the others again. “The rest of us will set sail from the port to the south and should arrive within a week. With the eyes of our enemies cast elsewhere, we have a short interval to establish our observation posts where we know they will gather next.” He grins, white teeth flashing in the candlelight.

“Staggering our respective arrivals should go unnoticed, but always remain alert. We cannot afford to be as sloppy, lazy, and careless as they.” His expression turns serious again. “Their numbers have rendered them so,” he says softly. “Still, one slip on our part will make this entire operation a worthless cause.”

He casts a meaningful gaze on each face present. “The spies which haunted our guilds were identified and scattered. That important step made this moment possible. Let’s make the most of it, shall we?”

The candles are extinguished as traveling clothes are donned. The guests depart at varying intervals and in different directions. The merging of the three guilds is complete.

The next leg of the journey begins…

Private Audience

Author’s Note: Now that I am free to post my excerpts again, here is the first of many. They will focus on some of the side-stories in my fan fiction.

😎

The inn is dark and sparsely populated on this wet evening. The lute-player has retired early, as the few patrons present are disinterested in music or entertainment. Dark dealings are rife across the land and many are determined to teach some harsh lessons to those engaging in them.

Such has been Liliorra’s fate. She has lost count of the days which have passed since her capture. Each day that has passed has caused what little hope for rescue existed to dwindle. I have failed you, Lord Draven, she thinks during one of the rare lucid moments when she can endure the never-ending pain.

So foolish. So stupid. Her thoughts move through a fog and her head lolls forward. Another wave of pain bears her backwards in time. She had been certain to follow his instructions in the private missive he’d sent.

Meet me at my private room at the Gnarled Oak in a fortnight, the letter had said. We will depart for the isles under cover of darkness. The ship and my skeleton crew will provide the shelter we need while we rebuild our numbers. I long to see your face again, lovely Lili. Soon. Your lord consort, Draven.

The Gnarled Oak had been bustling and crowded when she arrived, offering safety and potential thralls. Always was she on the lookout for strong, healthy flesh on which to feed. The tall, broad-shouldered man with a wild shock of white hair and an intense gaze drew her attention immediately. He stood silent in a corner, drinking deeply from a large tankard and surveying the room. His eyes fell on her and didn’t look away.

Liliorra had slowly made her way in his direction, confident in her abilities. “You’re quite the sturdy one, aren’t you?” she had inquired, glancing at him from under lowered lashes. He’d merely smirked as she eyed his physique. Draining his mug, he motions to one of the servant-girls. “Would the lass care to join me?” he inquires as his tankard is refilled.

Pretending to demur, she requests a deep red wine from the girl and sips it while moving closer to her target, watching his eyes drop as she leans near to offer a better view of her décolletage. “Are you here for the evening?” she asks in a low whisper and offering a sultry smile.

The big man grins and turns toward the stairs. “Join me on the upper level, if you will.” He stops and glances back. “Fewer eyes and ears there.” She watches his retreating back. Quite fine from the front and very appealing from the rear, she thinks. She follows, smoothing her bodice and skirt and taking her time. She doesn’t want to startle the prey and she doesn’t want to let the opportunity slip through her fingers. If she stays close she should be able to utilize the enchantments that Draven had graced her with…

Another wave of pain brings her back to the present. She screeches helplessly, unable to clamp her jaws shut. The heat of the midday sun bakes down on her patchy skull, wisps of what used to be long, lustrous hair whipping in the breeze off of the ocean. She slumps in the cage, unaware of the cries of the gulls.

A lone form watches impassively from the observation tower. The thing in the cage will try to escape at nightfall. It always does. Gloved hands curl into fists, knuckles cracking.

The entertainment provided by those attempts is quite enjoyable.

Excerpt: Metamorphosis (Re-blogged)

Here’s a re-blog of a bit of my fan fiction. New excerpts are imminent.

Eyrie Of An Aries

*** Author’s Note: Here is another excerpt of my fiction, edited to keep this post short and sweet. ***

The moons shine softly in the glade, casting their light on the statue of the Forest Lord. Behind her, the portal flares brightly, then fades and winks out. Barefoot, she walks towards the statue, which seems to gleam with an inner luminescence of its own. This statue is identical to the one that she saw in the grove before entering the portal, but looks to have been freshly-carved in comparison to its slightly weathered, moss-and-lichen-encrusted twin.

Of course, she thinks to herself. This is the realm of the Forest Lord, under his control and timeline. I am…between worlds.

She stands before the stag-headed stone effigy and gazes for a long moment, taking in the primal grandeur. The powerful build of the demigod as he brandishes his spear; his wolf…

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Excerpt: Welcome Respite (Re-blogged)

I had a lot of fun writing the TESO fan-fiction for the 2016 NaNoWriMo and posted some of the excerpts on the official gaming forums.

This is one of my personal favourites.

😎

Eyrie Of An Aries

*** Author’s Note: This is the first of some new excerpts of my fan-fiction, which was written during the NaNoWriMo challenge for 2016. I’m still debating on whether or not to participate in this year’s challenge, but I’ll be certain to let you know if I do!

© GDH 2016

Thunder rumbles overhead. This third storm in a fortnight heralds the changing of the seasons here in the tropical southwest of the continent. Steady rain falls and patters on the canvas tops of the merchant wagons at the trading post, the roofs of the various businesses and residences surrounding the merchant’s circle, and the carved stone top of the local transitus shrine.

Water runs down the curved stone pathway near the gated wall separating this province from the adjoining one; the extra security has been a necessity since the onset of the war. This pathway leads up the hill to…

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Excerpt: Seclusion (Re-blogged)

I’m putting the finishing touches on a few posts that will be published on a schedule over the weekend, since gaming will be of primary importance. Enjoy this re-blog of an excerpt from my 2016 NaNoWriMo fan fiction!

😎

Eyrie Of An Aries

She jolts awake. The nightmare, again. It haunts her, as it has every night for…how long has it been? Time has gotten away from her.

She rolls over on her back, staring at the root-canopy that forms this sizeable, yet well-concealed, den. It had been inhabited by a troll until recently; she had seen to its unceremonious eviction. Its pelt makes up the rough bed in which she was sleeping, while its decaying head rests on a boulder about five feet from the front entryway to the den. The presence and stench of it keeps away all intruders, including the nearby band of giants. They are only eight in number, so tending to their small herd of mammoths is of more importance than a dead troll. It is one less troll that will attempt to prey on the calves, and the smoke from their massive communal fire eliminates the stink…

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Excerpt: Welcome Respite

*** Author’s Note: This is the first of some new excerpts of my fan-fiction, which was written during the NaNoWriMo challenge for 2016. I’m still debating on whether or not to participate in this year’s challenge, but I’ll be certain to let you know if I do!

© GDH 2016

Thunder rumbles overhead. This third storm in a fortnight heralds the changing of the seasons here in the tropical southwest of the continent. Steady rain falls and patters on the canvas tops of the merchant wagons at the trading post, the roofs of the various businesses and residences surrounding the merchant’s circle, and the carved stone top of the local transitus shrine.

Water runs down the curved stone pathway near the gated wall separating this province from the adjoining one; the extra security has been a necessity since the onset of the war. This pathway leads up the hill to a cozy cottage, which is nestled behind a stout wall comprised of well-laid stone and intricate steel latticework. Inside this cottage, coals burn low in the fireplace. A crystal glows with a soft, blue light in the corner closest to the door. This light is muted for the person slumbering in the canopied bed in the far corner, as it has been placed just behind a grand vase bristling with a large, healthy aloe-type plant.

A black cat stirs itself from under the bed, yawning and stretching as he emerges from the shadows. He looks up at the sleeping figure, then prowls to the door and exits through an opening which has been fashioned solely for his entry and egress. The figure in the bed shifts slightly, turning from her side onto her back, left arm behind her head and right arm resting across her chest.

A louder peal of thunder sounds. Sepultur’a’s eyes open to mere slits; she blinks a couple of times, smacks her lips, and stretches. The fine-woven cotton sheets are smooth on her freshly-scrubbed skin, both a courtesy of the laundry and spa in the distant city of the Orcs, far to the north. Her hair is bound in a silken snood, a small luxury item she allowed herself after weeks of wearing roughly-sewn jute under her heavy helm.

She remains in bed for a few moments, listening to the sound of the thunder, enjoying the soft noise of rain tapping on the peaked roof. The privacy and quiet is welcomed, and she smiles as she thinks again at what a wonderful gift this house is. She has heard that Canthiorn’s business is booming and thinks that paying him a visit is in order, as a hall for her own growing guild will be needed soon.

She pulls back the covers and sits up, stretching again. Standing, she moves to the fireplace and squats to adjust the flue, adding fresh kindling to the smoldering coals. As the fire takes hold, she prepares a kettle for tea and then tends to the meats which have been hanging and slow-cooking overnight. She bastes the hunks with the drippings captured, then turns them in a clockwise direction so that they will spin gently and roast to juicy perfection. Slicing off a strip of flesh, she nibbles it as she kneels near the cedar trunk at the foot of the bed. The cat slinks back inside, shaking water from his paws in an almost prissy manner, then saunters over to his mistress with a purr and curls around her ankles, clutching them with soft paws. “Good morning to you,” Sepultur’a says, rubbing one of his ears and sharing some of the meat.

After wiping the grease from her fingers, she opens the trunk and pulls out a tunic and a pair of soft, loose-fitting trousers. Her underclothes are draped over the back of the chair at her desk; she pulls them on, dons her outer garments, and pours a cup of tea. She moves to the door, opens it, and steps out onto the covered front porch, leaving the door ajar so the fresh air can circulate throughout the cottage.

A bright flash of lightning lights up the courtyard, the reflection caught in the windows of the guard-towers above. Sepultur’a begins to count, barely getting to the number five before a deafening clap of thunder sounds. The storm is nearly overhead. She sits on the steps, just out of reach of the rain, holding her mug of tea in both hands. The mug is warm as she inhales the delicate scent of the tea. She blows over the top of it and sips at it lightly, enjoying the minty taste.

The courtyard has flourished with life since she took ownership of the house, with unique blooms cropping up in various corners. The dark plant with glowing fronds of deep purple still has its place just inside of the courtyard gate. The glow is now captured and refracted by bits of crystal which have mysteriously appeared, seemingly of their own accord. Another odd plant has begun to grow near the well. She has seen many like it in the lands of the Dark Elves; tentacle-frond plants which seem to possess a rudimentary sentience. This one waves its tentacles at Sepultur’a whenever she draws water from the well, as if saying “hello” to her. On one occasion she had extended a hand towards it to see if it would respond, and the tentacles had clasped her fingers with a gentle caress.

A winged toad creeps out from a crevice in the wall of the cliff, regards Sepultur’a for a moment and then hops to the well. With a clumsy flapping of its stubby wings, it perches on the edge and sits, blinking in a slow, sleepy manner. It puffs out a bit of flame to toast a large dragonfly which buzzed within its range, then flicks out its tongue to catch the smoldering husk as it falls.

Sepultur’a leans her head back against the wooden railing of the porch, holding her mug of tea and closing her eyes, listening to the thunder and the soft sound of the falling rain. It is good to be home.

Protected: Excerpt: Emergence – Part II

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Excerpt: A Good Deed (Pt. III)

*** Author’s Note: Part I of this excerpt can be found here; Part II can be found here.

Sepultur’a stands in the darkness, letting her eyes adjust to the dimly-lit tomb. She had made it to the ziggurat as the sun was setting and had to fight her way through a small patrol of lamia. The snake-women were thick in this little-traveled area of the lizard-folk swamps, as were all other forms of reptile and amphibian life. From tiny, brilliantly-hued and highly-toxic frogs, to the massive lightning-spewers, to the snakes of all sizes resting in trees or slithering through the muck.

Water trickles down the walls as she descends the mossy stone steps. Vines hang from the ceiling and trail along the walls, and luminescent fungi glow softly in the darkest corners of the tunnel. She sniffs the air with her highly sensitive nose. The dank, damp air is slightly musty, but there is enough of a draw of air from some unseen, long-unused ventilation system to keep it from being completely toxic. Down below, a flickering light indicates a fire of some sort. The scent of smoke is strong, but not chokingly so. Sepultur’a descends the steps and follows the tunnel until she comes to a bend. Using her sword would be difficult in these close quarters and drawing it would cause unnecessary noise, so she readies her staff before peeking around the bend.

The tunnel appears to widen about twenty feet ahead. Off to the right side of this area a small fire is burning in a sloppily-made pit, and a lone form is sprawled on a pile of furs and straw nearby. Sepultur’a crouches low and moves forward slowly, eyes on the still form. She sees that it is an Orc female: most likely Baghzragh, the one who had stolen from Canthiorn and betrayed Grushtakh. As she gets closer to the area, she hears a soft murmur of voices coming from the left and she stops to listen. Her hearing is now as keen as her nose and she gleans an important, and unexpected, bit of information. A smile crosses her lips and she stands, glad to have worn the subtle badge which fastens her cloak. She has taken to following her instincts more than she used to, after her experience with the Withered Hand and her subsequent rescue and healing. She had put the badge on after leaving Grushtakh and felt far enough away from the city to bear the particular mark safely; wearing it, now, she knew there would be no need for subterfuge or bloodshed.

“Yuh t’ink the wench’ll wake soon? If she be wantin’ more o’ the sweet, she’ll be havin’ to pay up, first!” Coarse, loud laughter follows this statement. The speaker, a tall man with a scarred face and bald head who currently goes by the name of Rokkagan, stands from where he and two others have been drinking and playing cards. He walks over to the unconscious figure on the fur-and-straw bedding, nudging her with the toe of his boot, then folds his arms and shakes his head in mock disappointment. “She’s a mite surly, but sure knows how to cut loose and have a bit o’ fun when…persuaded!” He laughs again, turning back to his mates, and stops short when he sees an unknown figure standing in the entryway to the space. His drinking-companions, a lizard-man named Gore-Scales and a Breton named William Sterone, are kneeling in submission with the fists of their right hands firmly pressed on their chests in a salute, while their left hands are raised with palms out. Their heads are bowed as low as possible in deference to the one who outranks them all; her silent appearance, combined with the badge and sign she flashed at them, had kept them from warning their erstwhile employer.

“Well, well, well…fancy meeting you here,” the unknown person says in a sultry and undeniably feminine voice. She walks over to where Gore-Scales and William still kneel, lightly touching the fingertips on their raised hands with hers and bidding them to their feet. They both stand and then flank her, facing their Rokkagan with crossed arms. He stands stock-still, frozen with an apprehension that he hasn’t felt since leaving his burning home in the dead of night many moons ago. The woman walks towards him, then past him, kneeling near Baghzragh’s lightly snoring form. “I have no dealings with you at the moment, Rokkagan,” the woman says as she rummages through a backpack that has been tossed into the corner and forgotten about by the spelunkers during their drug-fueled debauchery. “This one has some items which don’t belong to her, and I’m returning those items to their proper owners.” She locates a secreted sheaf of papers in a cleverly-sewn pocket of the backpack, skims them quickly and then tucks them into a secure pouch in the folds of her cloak. Standing, she turns to face Rokkagan. Gore-Scale and William are right behind him, waiting for any type of signal from her. “You have nothing to fear from me, unless you don’t pay these fine folk their due,” she continues, staring intently into Rokkagan’s eyes. “Times are hard, indeed, if my good acquaintances need to sell their talents to the likes of you!” she exclaims, looking him up and down, disgust evident in her voice. Rokkagan merely nods stupidly, not daring to say or do anything that might provoke the woman.

She steps closer, hands laced casually behind her back, raising her still-concealed face to his. Her voice drops to a near-whisper. “If I hear that you have shortened them even one penny of coin, I will hunt you down and take the remainder out on your worthless hide.” She smirks with satisfaction at the acrid smell of his bladder letting go. Stepping back, she signals to Gore-Scale and William that they can stand at ease. She shoulders past Rokkagan, exiting with a parting shot: “Oh…you might want to change your breeches before re-entering civilized society. Even the worst ogre-dens I’ve had to crawl through smelled better than your arse does now!” Her derisive laughter echoes down the tunnel. Rokkagan squeezes his eyes shut, trying not to let the humiliation of soiling himself overcome him. William goes to tend the fire while Gore-Scale eyes Rokkagan, appraising him anew. He thinks that a re-negotiation of their contract might be in order, and a small memory-gem secreted on one of his horn-rings would assist with that.

Grushtakh is being violently shaken awake from a sound sleep. “Hey…hey, wake up! Damn your drunken hide…wake up, I say!” Canthiorn’s beaming face comes into view as Grushtak’s vision clears. “Uh…wha’?” he grunts, his head swimming as he tries to sit up, weaving slightly as he props himself up on one elbow. “Wash goin’ on?” he mumbles, wiping bleary eyes and smacking his lips. His mouth tastes as if he’d fallen asleep with it open behind a mammoth with a serious bowel problem. What the hell sort of drink had that Wood-elf conned him into swallowing? Canthiorn shoves some papers in Grushtakh’s face, cackling gleefully. “We’re in business! Gods and goddesses above and below, she did it…we’re in business!” he exclaims, doing the stomp-and-clap dance steps native to his people, waving the papers about. Grushtakh rubs his head and blinks stupidly. “Huh?” he asks again, sitting up in the bed a bit more. The last thing he remembers involved a drinking game between himself, Canthiorn, and a cat-man with pale, striped fur. He grunts softly as his head throbs. “Talk slower…what’re you going on about?” Canthiorn capers around the room, still waving the papers. “Your friend, you thick fool! The one you told me about, remember?” Canthiorn rolls his eyes. “Never mind that, for now…all I can say is, things are turning around for the better – we’re back in business!”

A week later, late in the afternoon, a falcon drops out of the sky over Sepultur’a as she stands on the upper balcony of a lone tavern on the edge of the battle-torn central province. It lands on a rail and settles itself with a fluffing of feathers, panting with exertion. It has flown fast and far with its precious cargo. She feeds it some meat that she had been snacking on and carefully removes the tubular parchment-case from its back. Opening it, she finds a rolled piece of paper and a large key. She unrolls the parchment and reads:

Greetings – I hope this note finds you well and in good health. I don’t know if there is any way to fully and adequately compensate you for the work that you did. You gave me back my livelihood and my reputation, and that is no small feat. Please accept this as a token of my thanks, and know that if there is ever any service that I can provide, you have only to name it. Enclosed are a map and a key. The key will unlock the treasure which this map leads to. It is the least that I can do for your kind gesture. May the gods and goddesses ever watch over your steps, milady.

Cordially and Respectfully,
Canthiorn

Sepultur’a looks at the map on the reverse side of the letter. She is somewhat familiar with the area indicated on it, and sees that the ‘X’ marking the spot isn’t far from a trading outpost deep in the territory of the cat-folk. She notes that one of the crudely-sketched landmarks on the map, as she peers a bit closer with the help of a magnifying crystal, indicates a shrine of transit. Very convenient! She tucks the key and the letter / map in the folds of her cloak to keep them safe for this quick jaunt.

The falcon looks at her expectantly, letting out a high-pitched scree. She chuckles and tosses it the last scrap of meat, re-attaches the scroll-case, then stretches and jumps lightly down from the balcony. The bird takes to the air and settles in a tall tree near the outpost’s main gate. She puts her fingers in her mouth and whistles sharply. Her newest mount, a sleek black panther, stretches languorously from his nap in the shade of the stilted building and pads over to his mistress, emitting a purring, grumbling growl. “I know, pet, I know…I promised that you would get a good, long rest, but we need to head out one more time.” She scratches him lightly under his chin, adjusts the riding-straps and thin, flexible saddle and then climbs on his back. He launches into a loping run with Sepultur’a guiding him with even more subtle body movements than needed on a horse. Within an hour they have reached an out-of-the-way transit shrine and use it to travel to the one she is certain is marked on the map.

She looks around as her vision clears from the magically-assisted teleportation. She only uses these “way-shrines” when time is of the essence, but doesn’t feel the disorienting effects as strongly as she used to. The shrine is right in the center of the trading outpost, circled by the merchant-wagons and stalls. A tavern and inn are located in one building while the guild-hall of mages shares space with the guild-hall of warriors. It has been just over a year since she had last travelled through this area; she had been with the caravan of entertainers and traders, then.

Dismounting, she leads the panther past some of the stalls, exchanging greetings, hugs, and mild pleasantries with some of the merchants whom she recognizes. As she wanders about, she notices a neatly-paved side-road which seems to have been freshly laid. She pulls out the letter and skims the map again, noting that this side-road appears to lead directly to the ‘X’ marking the mysterious treasure. Odd to bury a treasure at the end of a road, she thinks, but shrugs and follows it. She is formidable enough on her own; her mount ensures that only the incredibly foolish would dare to attack.

The road winds gently upward through some trees and ends at a locked door which is set into a stout, stone wall. The wall has an open space guarded with sturdy metal lattice-work, so Sepultur’a moves to this space and peers through, gasping softly at the sight on the other side…

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