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…

Excerpt: A Good Deed – Conclusion

*** Author’s Note: This excerpt wraps up the ‘Good Deed’ portion of my little tale. The next trio will be posted soon, beginning this coming Sunday. I hope that you’re enjoying these little bits of my creative output!

😎

A small, tidy courtyard of neatly-laid cobblestones and flagstones can be seen from her vantage-point. The path angles sharply from where the gate-door is located, stopping at the wooden steps of a wide porch. Gently curving stones lead to a flat, bare area which invites crafting or training décor. Lush, local foliage of multiple types and species grow here and there along the wall: ferns, deciduous trees, and even an exotic plant with dark leaves glowing with a soft purplish light. The porch is roomy and sturdy, offering space for crates, barrels, and other storage items. The door of the house is sheltered by a high, peaked roof, and the structure looks as if it was carved out of the stone and boulders surrounding it. The thick roots of a tall tree add to the wild, rustic appearance. Thunder peals in the distance, announcing an approaching storm.

Sepultur’a bows her head in gratitude, leaning her forehead against the lattice-work and closing her eyes which are stinging with sudden, unexpected tears of joy. A place of her own, at last. A home to rest and recuperate in while reclaiming her good name and establishing herself in the world. Fumbling through her cloak for the key which surely opens the door, she moves back to it and inserts the key in the door’s keyhole. It fits snugly; when she turns it, she hears the tumblers disengage with a solid thunk. She pushes the door open and steps through, stopping only to close and lock the door behind her. She wants no interruptions or distractions as she takes in the magnitude of the gift.

The courtyard is more spacious than it had appeared from the outside, and she is overjoyed to see the covered structure of a well nestled next to the house. She goes to it and draws up a bucketful of cold, fresh water from the underground aquifer which feeds the outpost. The water smells pure and clean, and she takes out her hip-flask and fills it, drinks deeply and refills it again, then caps it and stows it away for the errands she will have to run later on. Her panther prowls about, sniffing here and there as he examines the corners, nooks and crannies of the courtyard before stretching out on the cobblestones and relaxing.

Sepultur’a mounts the steps and opens the door of the house. The interior is quite uniform on the inside, with a bit more room than the outside suggested. A nicely-sized hearth is centered on the left-side wall of the sole room, . Two cunningly-styled windows provide a bit of natural light during the day. She looks around the cozy quarters, beaming happily. It may not be the luxurious manor in which she grew up, but it is perfect. She walks around, taking notes in her journal, making of list of basic home items that she will need immediately. Other furnishings can be acquired later on. Privacy and security at last! She can rest easy for a good amount of time, now. She has a fair amount of letters home to catch up on…

Excerpt: A Good Deed (Pt. II)

*** Author’s Note: Part I of this excerpt can be found here, in case you missed it. I think I will do a ‘Top 5’ of my personal favourite excerpts or posts, soon!

“I’ll be brief, friend Grush. Do you know, or have you heard talk of, an Orc woman calling herself Baghzragh? The coin here will be yours either way, as you have been honest and true in the past.” Grushtakh’s shoulders slump as he bows his head and looks at the floor dejectedly. “Aye – that I do,” he says, a bit sadly. Sepultur’a cocks an eyebrow questioningly, nodding at him to continue. Grushtakh sighs. “She’s my blood-kin, so I know her all too well – and yet, not well enough – else, I wouldn’t be in this predicament! Being here in this…” he raises his head and looks wearily around, running a hand over his bald, horn-stubbled pate. “…in this den of iniquity was not in my plan.” He meets Sepultur’a’s gaze. “To use the vernacular of you humans, she is both my half-sister and my cousin. My mother is sister to her mother, and both of them are wives of the chieftain in the stronghold of Yol Karzhagum. My mother is the forge-wife; hers is the hearth-wife. I had no hopes of being a chieftain there, as the hunt-wife is mother to the first-born male.” He chuckles ruefully. “Truth be told, I admit that being chieftain wasn’t something that I desired. Part of the reason I ended up here, I’d wager.”

Sepultur’a listens intently, making the coin dance across the backs of her fingers. It’s a small trick she learned during her time with the caravan, which relaxes her. “It sounds as if she played a role in it, as well,” she states, which draws a mirthless chuckle from Grushtakh. “Aye…that she did. She always had a high opinion of herself, solely based on her mother’s place in the stronghold hierarchy, but never availed herself of the tutelage or apprenticeships provided by the others in the clan. You humans pay a fair price to learn valuable skills; we Orcs are born and taught them from the moment we can walk, talk, and pick up a hammer!” He chuckles again, this time with genuine good humour.

“One day, not long after her 19th birthday, she decided to hop aboard a Breton trading-vessel which had been in port for a week. Not a word to anyone! Father said that she’d best not return unless it was on the arm of a respected war-chief, as that would be the only one able to pay a worthy dowry!” He chuckles again, remembering the scene in the dining-hall when Baghzragh’s disappearance was discovered. “At any rate, I was surprised to get a letter from her a couple of months ago, as none of us had heard from her for three years, at least.” He rummages around in a battered satchel at his side, pulling out a folded parchment. Carefully unfolding it and smoothing it out, he hands it to Sepultur’a. She takes it, then presses the coin into his palm and folds his fingers around it. “Wait a moment,” she says and then quickly reads the letter. Once she’s digested the contents, she re-folds it and hands it back. “She promised you a lucrative business deal, using a lot of flowery language which gave no details,” Sepultur’a states, folding her arms and leaning back against the wall. Grushtakh hangs his head again. “Aye,” he sighs miserably. “I was a bit in my cups when I got the letter, and didn’t read it as carefully as I should have. I came here believing a lie, and feel quite the fool at being duped. Bad enough to be deceived at all; even worse to have it done by your own kin.” Sepultur’a nods in agreement. She knows all too well the pain caused by deception, especially when done by one who was trusted.

Grushtakh looks glumly at the coin given him by Sepultur’a, brightening a bit at the way it glints in the light of various candles and torches flickering here and there throughout the refuge. “This, at least, will get me a decent meal and a room at the inn! It will be nice to sleep in a cot, at the very least.” Sepultur’a smiles. “Indeed,” she says, glad to be able to offer payment of some sort. She knows that he is too proud to ask for help or take any charitable offer; it is almost an insult to his race to do so, and she doesn’t want to add to his wounded pride. “I think that you’ll find that coin worth quite a bit. Take it up to the banking-house and see what exchange you get, why don’t you?” She moves away from the wall and pulls her cowl over her face again. “Thanks again for your help, my friend. There might be another reward in this for you if all goes well. Even if it doesn’t, you will be able to return home with your head held high and reputation intact and unsullied. If you choose to return, that is!” She clasps his hand briefly and exits the refuge.

Grushtakh inspects the coin closely. On one side is the diamond-shaped emblem of the imperial army, while the other shows an image of the three alliance banners ablaze from the fires of war. He lets out a soft whistle of admiration. What she gave him was part of her earnings from the battlefield, and a generous one at that. He knows enough about currency to see that she gave him a war-chit worth 5,000 pieces of the universal gold coin exchangeable throughout the different lands and provinces. This would be more than enough to get a fresh start, right here in this city, if he so desired…

To Be Continued…

ESO Fan Fiction: Scenes From the Battle, Part III

The enemy forces are swarming like angry bees…chaos abounds. The battle is at a fevered pitch and the noise is deafening: the thunder of arcane explosions. The clash and crunch of blades and mauls on armour. Screams of pain; shouts of rage, battle-cries vocalized in many different tongues. The thunk of the catapults; the splattering sound of rotten bags of meat exploding on masonry, the shattering of pottery. One intrepid assistant to the quartermaster has assembled a oil-throwing catapult near the banner at the inner rear of the fortress. This, combined with the meatbag catapult, is holding the enemy forces at bay in the main courtyard. The majority of their cloaked assassins, though, and more than a few mages, have evaded detection and made their way deeper into the fortress. They will be able to wreak havoc on any unwary defenders, and Tur’a knows that the more patient ones can spend hours in hiding, biding their time to make an escape under cover of darkness.

Watch out! her mind screams. She rolls to her left, bringing her sword up to block a vicious overhand stroke from a burly Orc’s war-hammer. The scarred, tusked face looks surprised at the swift motion, pausing just long enough for Tur’a to sweep his legs out from under him. Lotharr’s own sword removes the Orc’s head with one strike, the body twitching as the head bounces down the stone steps and rolls into a corner. Baragon draws his bow-string back, loosing a hail of ice-tipped arrows. There – another mage revealed! Tur’a leaps at him, lashing out with a pyro-kinetic whip. The mage screams as he burns from within, consumed by flames…a pile of ashes is all that is left as Tur’a moves on.

The sounds of the battle seem to fade as she advances. Her mind is focused on one word: BURN. Everything is wreathed in flames…it’s beautiful. She smiles serenely and walks forward, sword held loosely. She looks down at it. It seems useless and unnecessary at the moment, so she sheathes it and keeps on walking. Everything seems slow…she drags her eyes to the right, seeing a cat-man exploding from the shadows as he unleashes a volley of knives in a spinning cyclone of death. She sees the trajectory of each blade and throws herself flat – they whiz harmlessly overhead as she extends a burning, psionic chain. Get over here, she idly thinks, and the cat-man is suddenly…right there, in front of her. She grasps his shoulders and inhales deeply – his life essence drains as she sucks it in. She releases him…he turns to run, staggering weakly. She focuses momentarily – GRRRAAAWWWWR!!!
Flames blast outward in a corona; the cat-man crumples in a blazing fetal position. Tur’a advances, oblivious to the destruction – she is in the eye of a firestorm of her own creation, and feels more alive than she can recall. She burns…

ESO Fan Fiction: Scenes From the Battle, Part II

*CRASH*

The battering ram smashes the inner gate – and two of its wheels fall off. The warriors using it move it aside and in a matter of moments, the machine is disassembled. The parts will be used to repair the two ballistae which are making quick, short work of the inner gate. Inside the assaulted fortress, the quartermaster bawls instructions to his assistants as they rush to outfit and defend the battlemages and sentries. The now-useless transit shrine has been abandoned as these stalwart few stand at the ready. Tur’a and Baragon remain crouched and ready at their positions, not bothering with the oil-pots any longer. Tur’a eyes the enemy troops swarming in and hopes that Lotharr and his small crew have managed to evade detection. They are quite skilled, but the sheer numbers they face are daunting…any stealth attack they may have planned would have to be swift and enormous in scale.

Tur’a glances over at Baragon, who gazes intently down at the enemy numbers. She has seen him on the battlefield more and more lately, and his fighting is impressive. Such skill! No wild flailing about with his broadsword, as she has seen many others do. No, he wields his blade similarly to the way she was taught; the art of sword-play that was nearly lost to her people when they were driven from their homeland, so long ago.

*CRASH*

She snaps back to attention, surprised at being distracted, and sees Baragon smirking at her as shouts and the clashing of steel resound from below. They turn their attention to the stone stairway, standing to join two archers and a mage. Lotharr and his team barrel back in the door they had crept out of moments before, tabards ablaze. They move to various positions around the stairway and hold fast while the quartermaster replaces the oil-pots near them. Working swiftly, his assistants have managed to erect a catapult near the empty scroll-bier. The stench of rotting meat mingles with the smell of smoke, hot oil, burning cloth and leather, and charred flesh. The real battle will soon begin. Tur’a welcomes it…her heart is racing. She feels the wrath of her fellow knights of the dragon, their combined quiet rage feeding hers. Blazing runes dance at the edge of her vision as she grasps her sword tightly and raises it high. Flames lick the edges of the brutal blade as it takes on the appearance of molten lava. Beside her, Baragon draws his bow. Elves and their bows, Tur’a chuckles to herself. They come in handy, there’s no denying it…

*WHUMP*

She’s hurled backwards by a massive explosion! Dazed, flat on her back, helpless…GET UP! her mind screams – she rolls to the side, narrowly evading the mighty swing of an enemy’s maul. Her vision clears in time to see a flash of blades as Ildris opens the throat of the warrior with brutal precision. She re-cloaks and vanishes, but not before wreathing her younger sister in some healing magicks to cleanse the effects of the concussion. Tur’a smiles in relief and turns her attention back to the stairwell. Her sister is here! Ildris always brings heavy reinforcements. The battle is far from over…it can now begin in earnest. Baragon moves back to her side, closer than before. His face is a mixture of anger and…is that concern that she sees? No, that’s not possible. Just a trick of the eyes, she figures, as he draws on his own inner fire. His face becomes a blank obsidian mask with one blazing eye – he reminds her of a statue she saw as a child.

Tur’a shakes her head again, slightly, thinking that she must still be feeling the effects of the spell. These distracting thoughts aren’t helping! She feels foolish and disconcerted as she returns her attention to the fight. It needs to end swiftly…time to get serious.

%d bloggers like this: