“I challenge you to take up to Six of your characters (and no less then two,) send them on an adventure together and write their tale.
The only core rule for this challenge is that the characters are your own personal characters and that they exist in game. (Characters do not need to actually be RP characters. You just have to own them.)
Style of writing and genre is up to you.”
Here (finally!) is my story in response to Jaggie's 'Unlikely Adventure' challenge. I wanted to include characters that I don't RP often, if at all, and it was an interesting experience writing about them! Things developed in a way I hadn't expected, and the story has ended up being far more about the interrelationships between these characters than about the actual quest I sent them on. It's certainly left me with a lot of unanswered questions, and maybe I'll work on some more background for these characters at some point and see if I can answer those!
I had originally wanted to include Firiyen in this story, but he didn't want to play. I think he's still sulking because I TRed him... It was really hard to write any lines for him, and in the end I gave up the struggle and wrote in someone else instead - the story took off fairly well after Firi was let off the hook! But it did mean that poor Miacch ended up surrounded by women instead...
It also ended up being a bit of a 'Harry Potter' type story, in that it's kind of a slow build up and then all over in a rush... something I always disliked about those books, so I apologise for inflicting it on you here! I hope you like the story anyway.
[The NPCs at the end may be described incorrectly - I lost my more in-depth notes on the quest and quite honestly couldn't be bothered to go back and run it yet again just to check little details! ]
All right, enough excuses... on with the adventure!
Miacch glanced up as the tall woman entered the Phoenix Tavern and several pairs of eyes turned to follow her silent progress across the room. Many looked away just as quickly, for although the woman was striking there was an alien quality to her beauty that some found unnerving.
Miacch stood politely as she approached his table, nudging the girl beside him. She looked up from the rune arm she was tinkering with, and acknowledged the approaching woman with a quick nod before attending to her task again.
"Khesh," Miacch nodded, stepping around the table with a smile to pull out a chair for her.
Kheshvakri smiled and inclined her head to each in turn, but did not take the offered seat. "Master Miacch, Mistress Quionna. I offer greetings, and bring news of vexing circumstances."
"Oh?" Miacch's dark brows knitted together in a frown as he studied her in the vain hope of some clue. She looked right back at him and he tried not to flinch - they were of similar height, and her gaze met his easily. He always found it a little disconcerting to look into those piercing blue eyes, as though she could still see right through him and into his very soul, but he often hoped that perhaps one day he might catch a hint of what she was thinking in her expression.
Not today. She regarded him with her usual serene smile and nodded. "Orcs are kidnapping travellers in the hills. It behooves us to offer assistance."
"Kidnapping?" Quionna echoed, suddenly interested. "Do you have more details?"
"Indeed, Mistress Quionna. The victim is a wealthy noblewoman who was travelling with her escort toward Stormreach when her conveyance was assailed. A maidservant effected an escape and brought news of the attack to the docks, seeking aid for her mistress. It would appear that there are few would-be adventurers disembarking at the current time, as she has thus far been unsuccessful in garnering assistance."
Quionna blinked, apparently still unused to Khesh's manner of speech. Miacch merely nodded, his hand going to his sword hilt in subconscious habit before he sighed and reached for the staff leaning against the wall. "She thinks we should help. And I agree."
"Kidnapping should not be permitted to continue without intervention," Khesh agreed. "The orcs seek to assure their survival, as all living things must, but their prosperity should not be acquired at the expense of innocent travellers' lives."
"Well..." Quionna grinned girlishly. "Can't argue with that! Let's go." She closed up the device and reattached it to her forearm, strapped a sword that seemed far too large for her to her back, and moved to join the taller pair with a signal to the canine construct that lay under their table. Khesh led the way, gliding through the tavern like a ghost, and the quartet stepped out to make their way through the marketplace. 2. Harbour
Khesh led them to the anxious maidservant who still paced the dockside, pleading her case to any that glanced her way. She reached for the maid's arm as the woman hurried towards them, gently bringing her to a halt before she could once more launch into her tale of woe for the others' benefit.
"Pearl. It is all right, I have acquired assistance for your employer." Khesh's tone was full of warmth and reassurance, and Pearl visibly relaxed.
"You did, m'lady? Oh, that's wonderful that is! Right worried for her ladyship I am, what if those orcs decide to eat her or somethin' I wouldn't know what to do with meself and that's a fact m'lady I mean what's a girl to do when her employer gets et and--" She broke off as Khesh put both hands on her shoulders, holding the agitated woman gently but firmly and commanding her gaze.
"Pearl, calm yourself." Her tone did not change, but the maid could not seem to look away from her eyes. "All will be well. You have achieved what you came for, you may rest now and allow others to see this through. There is an adequate tavern nearby, await us there and we will come to you upon our return." As she spoke, Khesh reached out with one hand and snagged the sleeve of a female halfling passing by with a basket of clothing.
The protest died on the halfling's lips as Khesh transferred her intense gaze to the little blonde seamstress. "What can I do for you, milady?" she asked, sounding eager to please this tall woman who had unexpectedly grabbed her. Miacch and Quionna exchanged a look, and Miacch shrugged slightly and twitched his lips in a half-smile. The girl rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the halfling, who was by now accepting a small coinpurse from Khesh.
"Escort Pearl to the Wayward Lobster, see her settled in and buy her a hot meal. Remain with her until we return, if you please. She has suffered a traumatic experience this day, and would appreciate the company." Her tone was as warm as ever, but Miacch had the feeling that Khesh was not making a request. The tiny woman, however, bobbed a curtsey and shifted her basket of sewing to her other hip, reaching for Pearl's hand.
"Come on, m'dear, there's a quiet corner and a warm meal waiting up the street for you. We can chat a bit if you like, or I'll just sit with you so you don't feel lonely. No need to worry!" She tugged gently, and Pearl looked back at Khesh.
"Go with her, she will take care of you. All will be well," Khesh repeated, and Pearl seemed reassured enough to allow the halfling to lead her away.
Quionna made a disgruntled noise as soon as the women were out of earshot. "Maybe she should have come with us. Could have shown us where they were attacked, set us in the right direction at least."
Khesh shook her head. "She is too distraught to be of much assistance, and the likelihood is greater that she would merely be a distraction or a liability. I have already acquired as much information as possible, there should be no difficulty in locating the party's conveyance. I believe they were within a few minutes of sighting the city gates."
"The orcs are raiding that close?" Miacch's eyes narrowed as he considered the possibility of a large-scale assault on Stormreach.
"I do not believe it is a frequent occurrence at the present time, however there have been reports that their boldness is increasing."
"Then we should show them kidnapping won't be tolerated, should we not?" The tall man strode towards the gates, and the others followed. 3. Hills
The Cerulean Hills were bathed in soft evening light as the little group stepped out from the city, and Miacch gratefully filled his lungs with fresher air before looking over at Khesh.
"I believe we are to follow the road across the river for a time, whereupon we shall come to the remains of the noblewoman's conveyance. From there we may ascertain the direction that the assailants took and follow their trail to the place where they have incarcerated their victims."
Miacch nodded. "Over the river, find the caravan, follow the trail to their camp," he said, for Quionna's benefit more than anything. "Lead on, then."
Quionna shot the man a glare as they followed Khesh, who strode confidently ahead. "I'm not stupid, you know. I understood what she meant perfectly well... just be nice if she said it in fewer words sometimes."
"I know." Miacch stifled a smile. "You'll get used to it, in time." He cast a couple of protective spells over the group before Khesh got too far ahead, and kept a wary watch on the surrounding farmlands as they crossed the river and moved further into the countryside.
The road climbed uphill through huge white ruins, tumbledown remains of an ancient civilisation. At the brow of the hill Quionna pointed out a grove of plants and trellis up ahead.
"What's that, Miacch?"
"Looks like a vineyard. Haven't you ever seen one?"
"Don't think so. That's where they grow wine?"
"Where they grow the grapes for it," he corrected, smiling tolerantly. "You really don't know much about the world outdoors, do you?"
The girl shrugged, and grinned back. "Machines are much more fun." The construct at her heels barked in agreement, and she reached over to pat his head. "See, even Abaven thinks so!" Staring at the overgrown vines as she walked, Quionna almost ran into Khesh. The tall woman had stopped dead at a curve in the road, and raised her hand as the others caught up to her.
"Please be quiet, we do not know what lies ahead." She pointed at the gap between two ruined walls just ahead of them, and the damaged caravan that could be seen beyond it. "I believe we have found the location of the attack."
Miacch shifted his grip on his staff, his expression serious, and cast another spell over the group. "Stay together," he warned, readying yet another spell as he moved cautiously towards the gap ahead. The women followed closely, each of the three looking around warily as they moved past the gap and towards the caravan.
Quionna's curiosity outweighed her caution and she immediately hurried over to the wreck and began examining it, whilst Abaven kept watch behind her. The dog let out a warning bark at the same instant a streak of blinding light left Miacch's hand and slammed into the chest of a robed orc who had just stepped out of the nearby bushes. The orc mage staggered, his own spell fizzling into nothing as his concentration was ruined, and Abaven was upon him before he could recover his balance. Snapping and snarling, the construct kept the mage down until a blow from Miacch's staff crushed his skull.
Apparently pleased with himself, Abaven returned to his mistress's side and took up watch again. Quionna reached out absently to pat his head. "Good boy." She looked up as Miacch joined her. "I think I can get this working again in no time. Only take a few hours, then we can use it to go after the kidnappers."
"A few hours? Quin..." Miacch shook his head and looked over at Khesh, who mirrored the action.
"We do not require a conveyance, Mistress Quionna. Travel on foot will suffice, and will be more conducive to following a trail." She broke off and dove to her left in a graceful tumble that brought her up next to a second orc, who had been trying to sneak up on the group from the opposite side of the caravan. A swift blow from her right hand stunned him, and a punch from the left finished him. She dusted off her hands and rejoined the others, continuing as if nothing had interrupted her. "It will be far more difficult to note trail signs from atop such a contraption than if we are proceeding on foot and thus closer to the ground."
"Uh... yeah. Okay." Quionna blinked several times, and looked at Miacch again. He nodded, his brown eyes twinkling.
"I'd have to agree, Quin. We don't really need the caravan, but we should move on. It'll be dark soon." He bent to examine the road around the caravan, and Quionna joined him in studying the ground.
"How're we going to follow the trail when it gets dark?"
"I don't know." He shrugged. "Perhaps Khesh can see in the dark, along with her other... talents."
Quionna watched the other woman for a long moment, as Khesh also looked for trail signs a little further up the road, and leaned closer to Miacch.
Miacch straightened and looked down into the young woman's pale grey eyes. "Good," he said bluntly. "Whatever else she may be, she's a force for good in this world. Just as you will be one day, Quin." He touched the Dragonmark on her cheek gently, then smiled and playfully tugged at one of her silver braids. "Get your dog and let's get-- Wait." He pushed the girl behind him and stared hard into the bushes at the other side of the road, then snapped out a hand with a word of command. Blue rings glowed in the deepening dusk as they wrapped around a slight figure skulking in the shadow of a small rise. Miacch strode towards the captive, a study in determination with staff at the ready in one hand and the other glowing with divine light, and confronted an indignant-looking young woman.
"Well now, you're certainly not an orc," he mused as he looked her over. "And it doesn't look like you're-- OW!" He rocked back on his heels as a large striped cat launched itself out of the bushes towards his shoulder and landed a set of deep scratches across his neck.
"Miacch!" Quionna grabbed the sword from her back and ran towards him as he tried to fend off the enraged cat. Her startled cry alerted Khesh, who hurried back to take in the scene but did not intervene as Quionna stood with sword gripped in slightly trembling hands, unable to swing at the cat for fear of hitting Miacch. Abaven joined in, barking madly at the feline which hissed and jumped from Miacch's shoulder to stand at the feet of the trapped woman. The fur that was visible around the curious leather 'coat' the cat wore was bristling as it hissed again, and it gave every appearance of being ready to defend the woman.
Miacch placed a hand to his neck and murmured a word, the gashes healing instantly, and grumbled as he wiped the bloody hand on his trousers. "Fine, then." He bobbed his head to the cat and made a gesture, releasing the stranger from her magical bonds. She stumbled slightly as she was suddenly able to move again, and said something to the cat in a strange, almost musical language before turning a dark-eyed glare on Miacch.
"Why did you do that? I was doing no harm." The cat settled a little, sitting at her feet with its torn half-tail wrapped around its back paws, and its yellow eyes looked at Miacch expectantly as though it too awaited an explanation. Abaven growled at it, and it haughtily turned its head away from the construct.
Miacch ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Well now... it's getting dark. It's a little hard to tell whether people lurking in the bushes are friend or foe."
The woman glared at the construct before giving Miacch a suspicious look. "You were quick enough to kill the orcs. Both of you." She looked from Miacch to Khesh and back again. "I am surprised that you did not just kill me too, rather than holding me like that." Her soft voice seemed at odds with her words, carrying no hint of reproach, and Miacch was at a loss to know whether she was angry merely for the spell, for their dispatch of the orcs, or both. He shrugged.
"They'd have killed us given the chance, young lady. I apologise for the holding spell, but I would very much like to know what you were doing spying on us." He recognised the woman's accent as Brelish and wondered what she was doing in Xen'drik - although the same could be said for so many others. The continent drew people from around the world to explore its mysteries... and seek its treasures.
"Spying? I am not a spy. I was just keeping a watch on the area in case the serving woman returned while there were still orcs around."
"Pearl?" Khesh moved forward, holding out a placating hand towards the cat as she did so. "You bore witness to what occurred here?"
"Is that her name? She hid under the luggage when the ambush was sprung. The orcs took away everyone else, and then she crawled out and ran towards the city. I do not know where she went, or if she would come back."
"If you saw it, why didn't you help?" asked Quionna indignantly, the bastard sword still quivering in her hands. Miacch reached out and gently clasped his hand around hers, lowering the weapon.
"Put that away before you hurt someone with it, Quin." He turned back to the stranger, interested in her reply, but watched out of the corner of his eye to be sure Quionna sheathed her sword.
The dark-haired woman lifted a shoulder in a slight shrug. "I am one person, there were many orcs. And I do not believe they intended to kill the travellers; they used only enough force to subdue them. Some claim they eat people, but their usual method is to take prisoners for ransom."
"Did you see where they took them?" Quionna looked up the road as if trying to see the trail in the dark.
"I did not follow, but they will have been taken to the Grul fort to the east. Where they always take their prisoners."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Quionna looked at Miacch expectantly, and he shook his head.
"It's dark... I'm not sure this is the right time to launch a rescue. How certain are you that the orcs will keep their prisoners safe?" he asked the stranger.
"I am sure they will be kept alive for at least two days. They may not be comfortable or well-fed, but they will be alive. After that..." She shrugged. "It will depend on Captain Gravnok's mood, assuming he still leads the tribe." She hesitated for a moment, then indicated a circle of rocks up the hill. "There is a small camp up there, they cleared out recently and moved on to another spot. But there is a dry cave and a good fire pit. You may sleep there overnight if you wish, and continue at first light."
Miacch looked at Khesh, who had been studying the young woman with her intense blue gaze. She nodded. "I do not believe that it will cause us undue difficulties to rest for the night. Naturally I would prefer to effect a rescue with all haste, but as I unfortunately do not possess the ability to see in the dark," she twitched her lips in a smile as she inclined her head towards Miacch, and he realised she must have heard his earlier remark, "then we will no doubt be at a disadvantage should we choose to press an attack at night. It would be well to wait until we are rested and have good visibility, if the captives are in no immediate danger."
Miacch nodded. "I'll take that as a yes, then. Milady, we will gladly accept your offer of hospitality. Please, lead on." 4. Cave
The softly-spoken young woman identified herself as Mirae and her feline protector as Denni. Introductions were made all round whilst Mirae served a rabbit stew that had been simmering over the fire pit, and the little group sat in companionable silence while they ate.
After the meal, Quionna began dismantling and cleaning parts of her construct companion whilst Miacch removed his breastplate and stretched out as comfortably as he could near the fire, his head resting on his backpack. Khesh sat up straight with her back against the cave wall, in a state which Miacch had taken to thinking of as 'relaxed alertness'. He looked over at Mirae, who sat on the other side of the fire with her cat curled up at her feet, watching Quionna with what seemed to be a mixture of curiosity and distaste.
"Well now, what brings a young lady out camping in the hills, Mirae? Are you out here alone?"
She turned to watch him across the fire. "I am not alone," she replied, reaching out to scratch the cat's ears. "I have Denni."
"Fair enough." A smile lightened his face for a moment. "Then what are the two
of you doing out here?"
Her serious eyes regarded him steadily. "Living. The whispers brought me here, and here I stay until they tell me otherwise."
"Whispers?" He wondered if perhaps she was crazy, and began to reconsider the wisdom of spending the night in a cave with her.
She nodded. "The whispers of the wild. I would not expect you to understand."
"You are quick to kill," she shrugged. "You do not seem to have an appreciation for the nature around you. I do not think my kind of life is something you would understand."
"Try me," he suggested, "you might be surprised."
She shook her head. "Perhaps, sometime. But not now. Now, you should consider your plan for tomorrow."
"Ah, yes. Rescuing her ladyship." He glanced around at the other women. Khesh nodded in agreement, whilst Quionna continued to clean Abaven with an air of concentration that was so affected Miacch had no doubt she was listening closely. "Will you lead us to this fort?"
"Lead you?" Mirae seemed surprised. "Why should I do that?"
"Perhaps because we'll get there quicker with a guide, and maybe rescue the captives with less destruction of the nature around us? Do you think the orcs should be allowed to do as they wish with the people they ambush?"
She shrugged again. "They do not bother me, and I do not bother them. There are enough who come here to hunt them as it is. There is an elf who seems to have made it his mission in life to destroy them, for example - I do not know what they have done to earn his hatred, but he has been here for many decades waging a personal war against them, it would seem."
"Oh?" Miacch propped himself on an elbow, interested. "Do you know where he is? Would he help us?"
"I do not know. He seems to have taken to living in the city, for some reason... I think it probably has to do with the human girl who now hunts with him sometimes. I have seen him less over the past year or two, and she is often with him these days." Her nose wrinkled slightly, apparently in displeasure. "She does not seem to like the world outside the city gates, so I am not sure what he finds so interesting about her."
Miacch gave a low chuckle. "Jealous, milady?"
"Of course not." Her hand went to her throat, fingers absently stroking the wooden beads of a necklace she wore. "I have no interest in him, although I have no doubt he is aware of my presence. He is an elf, after all; they are known for their perception and I do not think he would miss the signs of another person living in his territory. I think he does not see me as a threat, and leaves me alone to do as I please. He cares for the land as I do, he is just more... violent about it."
"Huh." Miacch was silent for a moment. "You didn't really answer my question - will you lead us to the fort?"
Mirae seemed to consider the request, stroking Denni's fur as she gazed into the fire. Eventually she raised her eyes again to meet Miacch's. "Very well. I will show you the way, but I will not kill for you. I will try not to judge you if you do... that is your choice, and your peace to make with your gods."
Miacch burst into laughter so unexpected that it startled both Mirae and the cat, who leapt onto her shoulder and hissed at the man.
Quionna stared at him in surprise. "What's so funny?"
Miacch shook his head, still chuckling, and settled his head down on his backpack once more. "Oh Quin... you have no idea. No idea..."
"Not today, sweetheart. That's a story that'll have to wait for another time. Now put Abaven back together and get some sleep, why don't you? We'll set out at sunrise. Khesh, would you take first watch?" He did not need to tell the woman that he also wanted her to keep a wary eye on Mirae - she would know.
Khesh nodded at Miacch. "Of course." She returned the pleading look Quionna was giving her with a gentle smile. "Mistress Quionna, it would be well for you to forget about old stories for the time being and do as Master Miacch suggests, and reassemble your construct so that it may be of assistance in keeping watch."
Quionna huffed and stuck her tongue out at Khesh, who ignored the gesture. With a sigh and a glare in Miacch's direction, she returned to the task of attaching the last few plates to Abaven. Miacch gave Khesh a grateful look and settled down to sleep without another word.
Mirae sat a moment longer with a confused expression, then curled up with Denni by her side. Abaven sat close to Quionna and kept watch on the cave entrance, and soon Khesh was the only living thing awake. 5. Thoughts
Miacch's turn at watch was as uneventful as Khesh's, and he was glad of the reprieve from dreams filled with the smell of death and fire that Mirae's innocent remark had brought about. He awoke the rest of the little group as dawn began to lighten the world outside. Mirae shared some bread and cheese with them, and by the time they were ready to set out the sun had risen fully. Miacch gestured for Mirae to lead the way, and they set out along the road they had been following when they found the wrecked caravan.
The road forked not far ahead, and Mirae led them along the left branch and into the forest. Miacch was sure that Quionna would have had questions about the ruined temple they could glimpse off to the right, had the girl been more awake, but it was obvious that it was currently taking all her concentration to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Abaven walked beside her, gears whirring gently, and nudged her back onto the path every time her steps wobbled too far. Miacch shook his head with a smile, resisting the urge to comment, and followed the other women as Mirae confidently led the way with Denni on her shoulder. He glanced at the road occasionally, wondering at the fact that she seemed to leave no footprints. Host knew he was no tracker but even Khesh, light on her feet as she was, left traces of her passing.
He shrugged. It was just one more curious thing about her, and she was but one more curious person in a continent filled with them. How did I end up on a rescue mission with a bunch of women?
he pondered gloomily. He could wish for more martial backup, but the ladies would have to do. Well, Khesh and Quionna, at least, if Mirae refused to fight. All right, he conceded to himself with a mental sigh - Khesh. The kalashtar might prefer to negotiate, but he knew how swift and deadly she could be when needed. Quionna meant well, and was a fair shot with that thing she called a rune arm, but she was still a child and he fully expected her to break and run at the first real fight they encountered. Although she had
come running, sword drawn, when she thought he was in danger last night...
He considered this. Since he'd taken her under his wing she'd come to regard him as a father figure, he knew that. He still wasn't entirely sure how he'd ended up with a 'daughter', only that he couldn't have left her where he'd found her. She'd really been a little too old for the orphanage, and he'd tried to palm her off in any number of other places - the Cannith Enclave, the Temple of the Sovereign Host, various families in good standing that he knew of - but she'd stuck to him like a Flamer on a were-hunt and he eventually gave in, agreeing to be responsible for her well-being. Only once her Mark of Making had manifested had House Cannith fallen over themselves to find her a place as an apprentice, and she now spent most of her time happily surrounded by bits of machinery and things that were beyond his comprehension. He smiled at the memory of her with grease marks on her face almost every time he visited.
"What is it?" She had moved up beside him without his realising it, looking more awake and alert now. He looked down at her and grinned wider, reaching out to gently tug at one of her braids.
"Just thinking how much trouble you are, Quin."
She grinned back, pale eyes bright in a face the colour of milk chocolate. "I try!"
"You're very trying, yes." He patted her shoulder fondly and wondered, not for the first time since she came into his life almost two years ago, if there was a daughter in his past somewhere. He had a nagging feeling that there might be, but they had not left him any memories of family and friends... perhaps to keep him from going insane, he mused. It was hard enough being displaced in time, without the knowledge of who had been left behind. His attention wandered further as he found himself appreciating the sight of Khesh swaying gracefully ahead of him, and he was suddenly aware that he couldn't recall the last time he'd been with a woman. Not that she would have him, he knew, even though he was one of the very few she trusted. Even with him she never let her guard down completely, and it was a wonder to him that she trusted him enough to keep watch over her while she slept.
Perhaps, he pondered, it was time he looked for someone to act as a mother to Quionna. He did not think he was an appropriate role model for the girl, and did not really want her growing up to emulate his particular brand of divine retribution. He still found, despite his... 'mission', he supposed... that the urge to heal was weaker in him than the urge to dispense justice by whatever means worked quickest. Although he had grown into his unaccustomed powers, and slowly mastered them to the point where he could often kill with a mere word, he still took comfort in the presence of a sword at his hip. He missed his old strength, even as he despised the amount of death it had enabled, but they had gifted him instead with the strength and ability to protect. And protect he would, he swore silently as he glanced down at the girl by his side again.
She was looking up at him with an amused smile. "You're thinking about her again, aren't you?" she asked softly. He frowned, and she continued. "Why don't you just ask
her? I'm pretty sure she likes you."
He shook his head. "She wouldn't. And don't you have some new contraption you should be thinking about building, young lady?"
She chuckled and reached for his hand, and they followed the others in silence until Mirae halted them at the edge of a ravine, pointing at the stone bridge ahead of them.
"The first of their guards," she said. 6. River
The group huddled in the concealment offered by the trees and undergrowth that clung to the top of the ravine, and Miacch and Khesh studied the road ahead. At least one orc patrolled the bridge, and Miacch could not be sure if there was movement on the other side of it. It looked as though the road continued into the trees on the other side but he wasn't certain. He looked sideways at Khesh.
"Well now, how do you want to deal with this?"
The tall woman studied the orc for a moment longer, and turned to him. "It is very likely there will be several enemies defending the road ahead. We have the choice of disposing of them, or attempting to pass by them without attracting attention." She glanced down at Abaven, then at Mirae. "I am sure that Madame Mirae would prefer we choose the latter option, but I believe that Mistress Quionna's construct will present some difficulties with passing by undetected." She paused a moment as if in thought and continued. "I could attempt some form of distraction, but I do not have reason to believe that these orcs would willingly accept my presence in their minds and I dislike working with psionic abilities when the recipient is resistant to my attempts."
Mirae was staring at Khesh. "You mess with people's minds?"
Khesh inclined her head towards the young woman, her ever-present smile not changing. "Madame Mirae, I assure you that I do not invade people's thoughts or alter their habits as a matter of course. In the majority of cases I make use of my abilities only when requested or given permission."
"The majority?" Mirae looked suspicious. "What about the others?"
"I was merely attempting to be honest and thorough in my explanation, not to arouse suspicion. The other cases would be situations such as people who are extremely agitated, whereupon I apply my skills with emotions to assist them in calming themselves. I am not a 'mind reader', as people like to call it - I cannot hear individual thoughts, I am more attuned to emotions. It is rare that I use my abilities for harm, although the possibility exists." Khesh did not show any sign of discomfort at this admission; it appeared that she considered it just another skill, such as cooking or leatherwork. Mirae gaped at her.
"You can harm people... using your mind?"
"Madame Mirae, please. I assure you that I have not used such abilities on yourself or any of our companions here. However, if you are feeling unnecessarily agitated then I am able to restore your equilibrium if you wish and will allow. I shall not act upon your emotions without your permission unless you appear to pose a threat to the safety and well-being of this group as a whole."
"I... what? A threat? Me?
" Mirae looked incredulous. "I... have never heard anything so ridiculous. My oath is to protect, not to harm."
"Indeed. Nevertheless, your agitation and your discomfort in my presence may be detrimental to our chances of success in this mission. We are here to return the captives to their proper place, not to make you feel comfortable. It distresses me to feel that I am the cause of your distrust, but I will not allow you to prevent us from completing our task. If it is important to you, we will attempt to achieve this with the minimum of casualties but I cannot guarantee that there will be no death. Do you understand?" Khesh met Mirae's dark eyes steadily, and the other was the first to look away.
"I understand. I do not know what you are, but I will have to trust you for now. As I said earlier, if you want to kill that is up to you - I will not stop you, but I will not help and I would prefer that you not do it. I do have to share the Hills with this tribe, after all." Denni grumbled on her shoulder, and Mirae reached up to scratch his ears. "Denni will not get in your way either, and is quite capable of moving silently on his own if we are to try and sneak past the scouts." She nodded towards the other side of the bridge. "Unless they have changed things, the road ahead will be blocked with a wooden barricade so as to force travellers down the path towards the river. There will be more guards on the second bridge and near the river." She pointed over to her left, where the others could see down into the river valley. "There are many tiny islands down there, and the water is shallow. I have not explored thoroughly since the tribe moved in, they do not take kindly to visitors whether I intend them harm or not. But I think they will have more scouts on the islands. Their fort is somewhere downstream, I have not seen it myself."
Miacch remained silent throughout this exchange, whilst Quionna fidgeted uncomfortably. When it seemed as though the ladies had finished, he stepped forward. "Now that we've got that out of the way, can we move on? Mirae, what are our chances of getting past the scouts unnoticed?"
Mirae sniffed and nodded her head towards Khesh. "She was right, the mechanical dog will make it harder to sneak past. Is there any way to keep it quiet?" She looked at Quionna.
"Abaven's not an it, he's a he!" complained the girl. "And I don't think so... I've been trying to work on things to make him sneaky, but it's really hard to make the gears work silently. He can be pretty quiet but, y'know, not really silent
Khesh was looking down at the river again. "If only there were some method of situating a temporal displacement unit further downstream... we could deploy the resonator coupling here and easily continue our journey without attracting attention."
"A... temporary what?" Mirae asked faintly, whilst Quionna's face brightened.
"That sounds really exciting, Khesh! What is it?"
"Regrettably, we do not have access to one, Mistress Quionna, or it would certainly have the potential to ease our travels considerably."
Mirae frowned. "Why mention it if you do not have one, whatever it is? Is she always like this?" she asked Miacch. He grinned.
"Sometimes. Let's just say her mind doesn't work the same way as ours."
Mirae shook her head. "Talking about things we do not have is not helpful. If you are to rescue the captives we must get down there somehow. I will go first, and you may follow as quietly as you can. If you are spotted, you will just have to deal with it as you see fit."
"Very well. Wait," he added, as Mirae went to move away. "Let me give us all what protection I can, at least." Mirae nodded acceptance, and he cast several spells over the little group before motioning for her to continue.
Denni jumped down from Mirae's shoulder and strolled nonchalantly across the bridge whilst the others waited in the shadow of the trees. As soon as the orc sentry turned to watch the cat pass, Mirae camouflaged everyone with a spell and then stepped out and sprinted silently towards the orc. Miacch strained his ears but could not hear the slightest sound as she ran.
Quionna was obviously doing the same. "I gotta get some boots like that!" the girl announced as she watched Mirae halt just behind the orc in a tense posture. Denni wandered off the other end of the bridge and the orc turned back to face towards the group, Mirae carefully stepping in time with him so that she remained out of his sight behind him. Quionna stifled a giggle as Mirae ran for the end of the bridge to join her cat. "I can't believe he didn't see
her! How dumb can orcs get?"
"Mistress Quionna, he does not appear to have noticed or heard us in all the time we have been standing here in discussion. I am of the opinion that orcs may have quite limited sensory perception, however there is no doubt that Madame Mirae is also highly skilled at moving silently. I do not believe we will experience the same degree of success, although there is no reason not to attempt a similar strategy."
"Uh... yeah. Who's next? Shall I send Abaven over and try the same trick?"
"Quin..." Miacch sighed. Sometimes it seemed she really did think the thing was truly alive. "Denni doesn't stand out, he's a forest animal. Abaven... well, let's just say he doesn't look natural. I don't think even an orc is going to fall for that one."
"Let me try anyway..." Quionna halted her forward motion as Miacch's hand descended firmly on her shoulder.
"Not until I say so. Khesh will go next, that way you'll have one of us on each side when you try to cross."
"You don't think I can make it, do you?" she grumbled.
"Quite frankly, Mistress Quionna, I do not," Khesh put in. "But Master Miacch's plan is sound. We shall both be on our guard when you cross and you will be well protected from both sides. You shall not come to harm."
"Huh. Yeah, well, thanks I suppose. Off you go then, we've got people to rescue."
Khesh smiled and turned away, scooping up a small rock and stepping out of the trees. She tossed the rock in a high arc past the sentry, and waited until he turned towards the sound of it landing before she ran towards him in the same manner as Mirae. He began to turn back just as she reached him, and she swiftly delivered a precise blow to the back of his head that dropped him before he could raise the alarm. She motioned to the others to join her and hurried across the remainder of the span.
Miacch, Quionna and Abaven ran across as quietly as they could, Miacch raising an eyebrow at Khesh as he reached her.
"Change of plan," she murmured, and he smiled slightly.
"Did you kill him? I didn't stop to check."
"It should not have. My intent was merely to render him unconscious for a time. If we are not detained, we should be downriver and out of range of his eyesight before he wakes."
Miacch nodded and looked over her shoulder at Mirae, who was returning from scouting down the slope to their right.
"There are no sentries visible on the second bridge," she reported, "but I saw movement in the large bushes on the other side. I believe there are at least two orcs hiding in them."
Miacch looked at Quionna, pointing at the device attached to her arm. "Does that thing have a 'stun' setting?"
She giggled and shook her head. "Not really, but I can just not let a full charge build up so it won't do as much damage."
"Fair enough. Stay back at the start of the bridge, and use it only if you have to. Don't cross until it's safe."
The girl grumbled under her breath, but nodded. The small group made their way down the slope to the next bridge, and Miacch and Khesh stepped out confidently with Mirae a short distance behind. They had almost reached the other side when an orc stepped out to confront them, swinging his sword at them with a yell.
Miacch hastily cast a holding spell at him, which failed. He quickly cast a different spell, blinding light bursting around the orc and disorienting him. A second orc stumbled out from the foliage, blinking his eyes as though blinded, and Mirae stuck out her staff to trip him before he could injure anyone with the weapon he was waving about wildly. Khesh delivered another of her knockout blows to his head whilst Miacch stepped forward to deal with the first one. He was just reaching out to grab the orc for Khesh to disable, when the blinded creature staggered too close to the edge of the bridge. There was a startled cry and a wet-sounding thud, and Miacch turned to the ladies with a look of apology.
Mirae frowned. "If there are others nearby, they will have heard. Prepare yourselves for attack."
"Blade barrier?" Khesh asked. Miacch shook his head.
"They'll die for sure."
The sound of pounding feet reached their ears, and Mirae stepped forward. "I can slow them down." She pointed at a patch of ground halfway down the next slope, wincing as the oncoming orcs spotted her and howled angrily. A large patch of spiky plants appeared on the slope at her command, quickly followed by an emergence of tangling vines a little closer to her. She moved back swiftly and nodded to the others as cries of anger were replaced by those of pain.
"Thank you," Miacch said, and hurried forward with Khesh. A pair of orcs had managed to escape both of Mirae's traps, and rushed at the intruders. Miacch sidestepped an axe and tripped one orc, whilst Khesh swiftly dealt with the other. He looked at the kalashtar and smiled slightly. "If I
try to knock him out I'll probably hit him too hard..."
Khesh smiled back, and indicated a spot on the the prone orc's head. "Just here," she said, demonstrating, and looked down the slope to see how many more there were. Two others struggled to escape the vines that wrapped around their legs, and she started towards them. A flash of energy sizzled past her and struck one of the entangled orcs, sending him flying backwards. Unfazed, Khesh turned to look back up the slope.
"Mistress Quionna, I do not believe that was strictly necessary."
A light brown face tinged with pink appeared at the edge of the bridge. "Sorry... I was trying to help."
"Please desist. I would prefer to see more evidence of your marksmanship before you 'help' in such close proximity."
Quionna blushed brighter. "Y-yes ma'am... sorry... Um, he's free now..."
Khesh turned back to face the orc that was charging her, deftly sidestepping and chopping at the back of his neck as he stumbled past. She continued down the slope, pausing a moment until the druid's conjured plants vanished, and checked on the orc Quionna had hit. She looked up as the rest of the group joined her. "Mistress Quionna, if that is a reduced charge then I would suggest you do not employ it again in an attempt to disable or stun."
"He is quite dead."
"Oh. Um..." The girl turned to look at Mirae, shamefaced. "I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to."
Mirae looked upon the dead orc for a long moment, and shrugged slightly. "Your intentions make no difference to him now. Perhaps this is the peril of using such unnatural weapons... a skilled archer or swordsman could have disabled without killing."
Quionna bit her lip, choking back a response, and turned away to hide her face in Miacch's shoulder for a moment. He patted her back reassuringly.
"Let's not stand around all day. What's done is done, and we should move on." He stepped forward, pulling Quionna with him, and the others followed him down to the river.
The water was indeed as shallow as Mirae had indicated, and they spent several minutes wading between islands without incident. All of them kept a sharp watch on the many groups of huge plants they passed, but none seemed to be hiding another ambush.
Khesh was the first to spot the group of orcs on one of the islands ahead of them, gathered around one who looked stronger and better armed than the rest. She held up a hand to halt the party and pointed them out, looking at Mirae.
The druid squinted ahead, shading her eyes, and nodded. "One of their captains," she noted. "I cannot recognise him from here, but I do not believe it is their leader."
"How many?" Miacch asked.
"At least six," Mirae responded. "There may be more of them hiding or scouting, but it looks like these may be gathered around their spoils and sharing them out. They could be distracted enough for you to disable them easily." She did not sound confident, and Miacch looked at her sharply. She shrugged. "It is possible you may have to kill one or two."
He raised an eyebrow. "Well, I'll try not to..." He led the group to another island close to the riverbank and placed a firm hand on Quionna's shoulder. "Stay here." His tone did not allow for argument, and the girl did not even try. "Stay safe. We'll come back for you in a few minutes. Abaven, guard her." The construct wagged his tail and gave a soft bark, and Miacch patted his head before turning to Mirae. "Can you do that thing with the plants again? Get them tangled up?"
She nodded. "I will do that much for you, yes."
"Thank you." He nodded to Khesh, cast a handful of protective spells, and the three moved out towards the group of orcs. When they were close enough, Mirae cast her 'entangle' spells at the island and moved back out of arrow range just before all hell broke loose.
Chaos reigned for several moments, but when the last orc fell Miacch remained untouched. His eyes sought out Khesh, and he nodded in relief to see that she also appeared unharmed. He moved back to where they had left Quionna, and frowned. The girl was nowhere in sight.
"Quin! Abaven!" Wild barking began from a point west of where he had left her, and Miacch hurried towards the sound. The construct stood over what looked from a distance like the mangled body of an orc, wagging his tail as though extremely pleased with himself. Miacch looked around for Quionna as he closed the distance, and spotted Mirae's dark head bent over something on the ground. Dappled sunlight glinted off silver hair. "Oh no..." Miacch broke into a run. "QUIN!"
Mirae looked up as he reached her, her brown eyes sorrowful. "The construct defended her well," she began, something like respect in her tone as she nodded at the dead orc, "but I could not save her." She glanced down at the bloodied figure on the ground, and back at Miacch looming over her. "I am sorry... she is gone."
"No..." Miacch felt the tingle of divine power in response to his emotions, as he knelt beside Quionna's body and gathered her into his arms. "No."
Mirae reached out to touch his shoulder gently. "Death is a natural part of life, Miacch. All things end, in time."
"Not if I say they don't
," the man growled roughly, taking a pinch of something glittering from a pouch at his belt and sprinkling it over Quionna. He laid a hand on her forehead and drew power around them like a cloak, focusing on her face as he concentrated on calling out to her soul. Khesh quietly joined the little group and knelt close to Miacch, her presence a silent comfort to him even though he barely acknowledged her arrival. Abaven barked once more and sat down nearby, watching his mistress closely, and Denni climbed onto Mirae's lap to snuggle against her. The air was thick with anticipation as Miacch bent over the girl in his arms and whispered to her.
, Quin. Come back to me. Choose life..."
There was a long moment of breathless silence before Quionna stirred, taking a shuddering breath and turning to bury her face in Miacch's arm. The strain on his face turned to relief, and he closed his eyes to offer a silent prayer of gratitude as he held her tightly and let her cry. Abaven barked excitedly.
"So dark," Quionna gulped between sobs. "It was so dark, and cold, and I was so scared..."
"You're safe now." Miacch rocked her gently, comfortingly.
She nodded against his chest, swallowing more sobs. "I heard you in the dark, calling me."
He kissed her hair and smiled. "I'll always come for you, Quin. Always." She nodded again and reached up shakily to wrap her arms around his neck, wincing as her injuries made their presence known.
Mirae put Denni off her lap and reached out towards the girl to help mend her obvious wounds, but Khesh closed her hand over the druid's wrist and shook her head. "Let him
do it," she murmured, and Mirae nodded and sat back.
Miacch held Quionna for a moment longer, then spoke the words of another spell and let a wave of healing energy wash over her, mending the injuries and easing the resurrection sickness. He disengaged her from his neck and checked her over, ensuring he had missed nothing. "Well now. How do you feel?"
She nodded. "Better. I think I'm okay." She made no move to get up, however, so Miacch scooped her up and stood, setting her carefully on her feet and keeping an arm around her until she was steady enough to stand unsupported.
The other women rose as well, and Miacch met Khesh's eyes over Quionna's head as the girl knelt to hug her dog. He nodded a silent thank you for her mental support, having felt her bolstering his concentration as he called for Quionna. She nodded back. "It is the first time I have seen you call a spirit back from death," she commented, "although I was aware that it is possible."
He gave her a tight smile. "Haven't done it often. I prefer to try and keep people alive."
"Of course." She inclined her head in recognition of the dent his pride had taken, and smiled warmly at him. He felt his spirits lift in response, and stood a little straighter. "You could have chosen to stand with Mistress Quionna, rather than remain at my side," Khesh continued. He shook his head and stepped around the girl to stand beside the kalashtar.
"It was my assessment that she was safe back there with Abaven. Obviously I was wrong, but..." He sighed. "I want to protect you both. Sometimes that's hard."
Khesh placed a hand on his arm and favoured him with a stunning smile that risked turning his knees to water. "I do not require your protection, Miacch," she said, very gently. "I am quite capable of keeping myself safe. Although I do appreciate the sentiment. Very much."
"Yes, well, I-- You do? Oh. Um." He looked away from her, flustered by her use of his name without the customary title that she seemed to give everyone. "We, uh, we should probably get moving. You know. People to save and all that." He coughed and reached down to pick up his staff. He saw Quionna, arms still wrapped around Abaven, grinning up at him. She mouthed the words 'told you so'
, and he felt his cheeks burn.
"Let's go," he ordered abruptly, striding away before anyone else could see. 7. Fort
Miacch led his little band of would-be rescuers downstream without another word, marching ahead of everyone until he regained his composure. What was Khesh thinking, smiling at him like that? Didn't she realise the effect she had on him? She could sense emotions, surely she must
know. What did it mean - if anything? Perhaps it was just an automatic response on her part, he thought gloomily, a way to disarm him and take the sting out of her words. She didn't need him. His purpose was to protect, and she did not want protection.
He pursed his lips thoughtfully. He remembered seeing her injured more than once, and she had accepted his healing without protest then. Perhaps, then, it was a sense of independence beyond her control, a consequence of her nature, that she could not afford reliance on another person. He had no idea if kalashtar relied on one another - she was the only one he had ever met, as far as he knew, and he wasn't about to ask her a lot of questions. He did not even know if a person with twin souls could be called back from death, and that worried him. He shook his head and pushed the matter to the back of his mind. They had a job to do, and personal matters would simply have to wait.
There had been no other orcs to ambush them but now he clearly saw two making no attempt to hide, guarding a gate across the narrowest part of the stream up ahead. He raised a hand to halt the group.
"Well now, this must be the entrance to their fort. We don't know how many are in there, it could get nasty. Quin, I want you to stay a good distance behind us with Abaven. Mirae, stay with them."
"But Miacch..." Quionna began to protest, as he knew she would. In truth he would prefer to have her at his side within easy reach of his healing spells - or not there at all, but safe in her workshop. But to be with him could be more dangerous, and he would not risk her life again. Losing her once had cut him too deeply.
"Quin, it's a very important job to be the rear guard. I need someone as emergency backup, to keep an eye out behind us and make sure no one sneaks up on us. Do you think you can do that?"
"Oh! Well..." The girl drew herself up proudly, and he could tell her thoughts as though she spoke them aloud. Not hiding, but guarding. That was different, and important. "Of course! I won't let you down."
"I know you won't." He kissed her forehead fondly and tugged at one of her silver braids. "Stay close to Mirae, okay? And try to keep Abaven quiet."
"Okay." She saluted and grinned up at him, and he shook his head in amusement.
"Both of you stay safe. Don't be reckless... we need you alive. Mirae, that's your job."
"Sir." To his surprise, Mirae snapped to attention and saluted as smartly as he had ever seen in the army. He frowned. Why would a druid have military training? As quickly as the change in her attitude had appeared Mirae was back to her usual demeanour, and Miacch couldn't help but wonder if he'd imagined it. But Quionna was staring at the woman in surprise... He shook his head again. Perhaps Mirae had soldiers in her family and had learned from them. He had more important things to concern him, and he turned back to the river gate.
"It's too open - no way to sneak up and surprise them."
"I possess an item that may be of assistance," Khesh said, reaching into her backpack and drawing out a slender stick of wood. "This wand casts a Sleep spell that should be effective from some distance, although I am uncertain of the duration of this effect."
"Worth a try," Miacch mused, "but what if it doesn't work?"
Mirae pulled a bow from her back, quickly stringing it and tucking two flint-tipped arrows into her belt. "I am a good shot. I can disable them so they cannot run to raise the alarm, but it will not silence them."
"That will have to do... let's hope the wand is effective. Move out."
The group quickly crept as close as they dared to the gate, keeping to the more overgrown areas. When Miacch judged that they could not advance without being seen, Mirae camouflaged Khesh and the kalashtar moved ahead alone. When she was in position, Khesh raised the wand and nodded to Mirae. The druid loosened one of her arrows in her belt, nocking the other and sighting carefully at an orc. Miacch took a deep breath and nodded to Khesh, who released a charge from the wand as Mirae drew the bowstring taut against her cheek.
Both orcs crumpled to the ground and the group heaved a collective sigh of relief. They hurried to the gate and Khesh threw the curious lever made of a skull and bones, lowering the gate. Everyone stepped through, looking around for more sentries, and she closed the gate again.
"With luck, they will not have the wits to realise that anyone passed through."
"Let's hope," agreed Miacch, leading them on into the compound.
Not far ahead of them, around a bend in the stream, the group could see two small hilly islands that had been transformed into a fortress, connected by a bridge between them. Fences constructed of stone pillars and wooden poles surrounded the islands top and bottom, leaving no way through except for another gate below the bridge that was also guarded by sentries. More orcs could be seen moving around up on the hills, but none appeared to be watching the water.
Employing the same tactics as at the first gate, the two sentries were quickly put to sleep. Khesh bound and gagged this pair and the group passed through the gate unheard. Miacch halted them under the bridge and they conversed in whispers.
"It's hard to tell how many are up there, but we're not going to be able to hit them all at once with the wand." He looked at Mirae. "There may be killing, or at least wounding."
The druid stared into the water for a long moment. "Do what you must to rescue the captives, but I will remain here with Quin." As the girl opened her mouth to protest, Mirae continued. "We will be the rearguard, and if I see any following you I will delay them."
"Rearguard," murmured Quionna, nodding in agreement as she remembered her assigned task.
Miacch nodded back. "Good girl." He pulled her into a fierce hug, and she clung to him for a long moment.
"Be careful," she whispered, and he grinned down at her.
"Always. You too. No heroics," he added, letting her go and ruffling her hair.
Mirae refreshed the camouflage spell on Khesh and applied the same to Miacch, and the pair stepped out from under the bridge to search for the captives. 8. Rescue
Khesh pulled her head back from the rocky corner of the island and looked back at Miacch, holding up three fingers. She gestured to the wand at her belt, and he nodded. The kalashtar stepped around the corner silently, wand in hand, and there was a gentle splash as three bodies hit the shoreline. She stepped back quickly and pressed herself against the rock, both she and Miacch straining to hear any sound from the compound above. When the splash seemed to go unnoticed, Miacch nodded again and they moved forward.
Around the other side of the larger island was yet another gate, this one opening onto a slope up onto the top of the island - and unguarded at its base. Khesh pointed to two orcs near what looked like a rough cage at the top of the slope, and guttural voices drifted down to them. Khesh listened a moment and turned to Miacch. "They say they are giving the captives potions to ensure they remain asleep and do not cause trouble. We will need to wake them if we are to get them out with any speed."
Miacch frowned. "At least they're still alive. But the moment we open this gate, the orcs will hear us.'
Khesh glanced back at the sleeping figures behind them. "I do not think we have much choice. Since neither of us is capable of flight, I do not see any other method of effecting ingress." She readied the wand again, and nodded for Miacch to open the gate. It clattered out of sight into the ground, and a surprised shout came from above them as the orcs realised it had not been opened by one of their own. Khesh discharged her wand at the onrushing orcs, dropping one of them, and Miacch sidestepped the other and tripped him. The orc rolled down the hill to Khesh's feet and was swiftly rendered unconscious. The kalashtar looked up as more shouts sounded. "Behind you," she observed unnecessarily.
Miacch ran up the hill, casting a spell that exploded with light as he reached the top, hardly bothering to aim at the orcs rushing out of a large tent on the hilltop. It was an easy matter to trip one blinded orc with his staff, and to jam the end of it into another disoriented creature's belly. The orc sat down with a grunt of pain, and Khesh took care of both whilst Miacch struck a third across the back of the head. He looked across the bridge to the smaller island, and back at Khesh.
"The noise roused the rest of them. Find the captives and get them out, I'll keep the orcs busy." Without waiting for an answer, he strode towards the gate that separated the islands, flipping the lever on a nearby cell as he did so. Orcs ran towards the gate from the other side, and he readied his magic and waited.
Behind him, Khesh's voice urged people to wake up and move. He heard an outraged roar from beyond the gate, and watched as an orc larger and better armoured than the rest ran towards the bridge, pointing towards the escaping captives and shouting what sounded, from the tone of his voice, to be curses and threats. "Khesh, run! Take them and run!" Miacch yelled, releasing a burst of light at the orcs scrambling through the gate towards him. He was taken aback to see a woman in fine robes run across the bridge in front of him, casting spells of her own.
"You would dare
to hold me for ransom?!" she screamed at the commander, fury as evident in her tone as in the destructive spells she aimed at him and his cohorts. Before Miacch could stop her, three of the four lay dead or dying at her feet and she was trying to dodge blows from the orc Captain.
Miacch hesitated a brief moment, torn between his need to protect the woman and his promise to Mirae to try and avoid killing. The large orc swatted the woman aside contemptuously and strode towards him, and his decision was made. At least he could ensure death was quick and relatively painless. "Destruction,"
he murmured, pointing a finger at the orc, and a few particles of dust settled to the ground where he had stood. Miacch hurried over to the woman on the ground and cast a healing spell on her without delay, assisting her to sit up.
"Ma'am, we have to get out of here. There are other orcs, mostly asleep but I don't know long for..."
"Where are my companions?" the woman demanded, looking around her. "Termon, Milni... where are they?"
Miacch looked around but saw no one else. "Hopefully with my friends. Can you stand?" He helped the woman to her feet and hurried her as fast as he dared towards the ramp and the others. He saw the three formerly-sleeping orcs struggling in a mat of entangling vines and gave silent thanks for Mirae's presence of mind. Khesh rounded the corner and took the lady's arm to assist her, freeing Miacch's hands to wield his staff if needed.
"The other captives are safe. The orcs have awoken - the pair beyond this gate are still bound, but the others outside heard the commotion and entered the compound. It was necessary to render them unconscious again. It will be troublesome to effect an escape without pursuit, and my wand is spent." She looked behind Miacch to the entangled orcs, and met his eyes. "How do you propose we disable those?"
Miacch looked beyond the kalashtar towards the gate, and saw the anxious faces of Mirae and Quionna peeking around the corner. He sighed, turned towards the group of orcs and spoke a phrase that had them all lying flat in a second and struggling to get up. "It may not hold them for long. My lady," he looked at the woman Khesh held, questioningly. "You are obviously a mage of some power - do you have any spells to get us out of here quickly?"
The woman gave him an imperious look. "My good man, if I had been able to teleport do you think I and my companions would still be here? I did not have the spell prepared before my unseemly capture, and those creatures took my belongings so I have no scrolls."
Miacch glanced up the hill. "Wait here..."
A swift search of the tents and supplies on the two islands turned up a number of travel packs, and the former captives reclaimed their belongings. The haughty woman searched hastily through her bag and drew out a scroll, gathering everyone together. One of the commanded
orcs sat up just in time to receive a wink from Miacch as the little group vanished. 9. Tavern
Miacch watched Lady Azdel depart the Wayward Lobster with a very relieved and grateful Pearl in tow, and turned to raise a puzzled eyebrow at Khesh as they found a table in a secluded corner.
"I don't get it. If she could teleport directly to the Tower of The Twelve, why didn't she just do that from wherever she started her journey? Would've saved a whole lot of trouble."
The kalashtar smiled serenely and shrugged a shoulder. "Perhaps her ladyship thought it more seemly to arrive in style aboard a luxurious conveyance and attended by servants, rather than merely popping into existence in a room somewhere with no fanfare?"
He smiled back. "Perhaps." He paused a moment, then began uncertainly. "Um. Khesh--"
"Where are the others?" she asked, interrupting him almost as though she knew what he was going to say. He shook his head with a small sigh.
"Quin is sleeping in her room at the enclave. I don't think she even cleaned Abaven first, she was so tired. Mirae left the city as soon as she could politely get away, and I assume she's gone back to her cave in the Hills. It's just you and me now. Alone." He tilted his head at her, dark eyes serious, and wondered how she would respond.
"Indeed." She smiled softly and met his eyes, reaching out to place her hand over his in a gesture that made his heart flip over painfully. "Miacch, I believe that there are some matters that you and I should discuss."