View Full Version : Novel: Trollbane

Renegade Paladin
2006-11-03, 02:52 PM
Okay, just to note, my character in the Town is the main character of this story, just much later in life. The name's not a coincidence. The story is set in the Forgotten Realms setting, starting out in Westgate. So without further ado, Trollbane.


The Tale of Lord Gaheris Trollbane of the Church of Tyr

Despite what some may think, justice is in a way universal. It chooses its agents; they very rarely choose it. Oh, in the end they make the choice to allow themselves to be vessels of justice, its bringers and executors. But before they ever get to make that choice, justice makes the way, finds the path, and fates them to be where it can make use of them. One can strive for a lifetime to bring justice to a particular villain and simply never receive the chance, while another might bring about a just end completely by accident. And it isn’t particular about whom it chooses, either. Justice might be brought by sorcerer’s spell or rogue’s dagger as easily as by the righteous blow of the mightiest of warrior-paladins. And many of those paladins are from the most unlikely backgrounds. They, or we as I should say, are called. No one chooses to be a paladin; we are one and all chosen by the Triad, or the Morninglord, or even Sune on occasion. I myself was a foundling; were it not for the Tyrrans in Selgaunt, I know not what I would have become, and even they did not make me a paladin. The souls of all who take up that calling are forged pure, with an inborn desire and hunger to serve and bring justice. Even while lost, or even while denying their calling, they are notably different in deed from others.

This is the tale of one such unlikely champion of justice, Gaheris of Westgate, called Trollbane, my sometime ward. May this account ever serve as an inspiration to all those who would bring justice to the face of Toril.

Randal Whytstone, Captain of the Chapel of Resounding Justice

Chapter One
The Night of Knives

Myrkeer’s Dry Goods, Westgate, 9th of Ches, 1362 DR

The latch on the delivery hatch finally clicked as Gaheris’ pick found the last pin and turned. The young street urchin allowed himself a brief smile before slowly pushing the heavy wooden doorway inward. The top-mounted hinges groaned just a little bit, causing him to freeze. Propping a dagger into the hatch to keep it from slamming back down, he pulled a small bottle of grease from his belt, which he quickly applied to the hinges, snaking his arm through the propped up hatch to reach them. The hinges silenced, he slid through the hatch, elevated three feet above the alley level, consciously keeping his breathing shallow as he slid into the dark storeroom.

He landed lightly on a crate below the hatch and quickly swung his feet around to the left, lowering the door slowly as he descended into a crouch in the shadow of that day’s deliveries. He scanned the back room. No one around, just boxed foodstuffs, clothing, tools, and the like. Shalush Myrkeer was known to sell anything and everything legal, and some things that weren’t, after all. Gaheris wasn’t interested in the trade goods, though; they were too easily traced, and now that the Night Masks had won out in the decade-long shadow war to dominate Westgate’s underworld, they were squeezing the fences to only work for them.

Accordingly, Gaheris stole into the front of the store and made for the lockbox built into the wall behind the counter. Crouching down before the safe, he withdrew his picks from his belt pouch once again and examined the steel door’s workings.

An extra catch at the bottom caught his eye. It wasn’t part of the lock, and indeed seemed designed to simply move outward when the door opened. Trap trigger, then. Probably an alarm to the owner, sleeping in his room above the shop.

‘Can’t have that,’ thought Gaheris to himself as he set down his picks and removed a fine-toothed saw from his case of tools. The safe opened outward, so placing pressure on the trigger inward shouldn’t…

He froze at the sound of the lock on the front door clicking open. The young rogue slid his hand down toward the long dagger at his belt as the shop’s front door slowly swung open. Muffled footsteps entered the shop. Two men, it sounded like, doing their best to remain unheard.

Gaheris slid the short sword out of its well-oiled sheath and turned to face the entrance, still crouched behind the counter. They didn’t seen to see or hear him, and oddly enough weren’t even making for the safe.

Instead, they padded past the counter towards the stairs leading to the upstairs apartment. Then one spoke in a low voice.

“So how are we going to do this, then?”

“How do you think,” whispered his comrade with a slight chuckle. “We have our orders from the Faceless. Just follow my lead.”

A feeling of dread rising in his chest, Gaheris began to move out behind the two. “Wait,” the second man said. The street urchin froze. “Trap on the stairs. Don’t take another step,” he continued.

Gaheris relaxed a little as the man knelt and gingerly tugged upward on the second stair, which oddly enough came upwards a few inches. Reaching in, the Night Mask (for that is what he was, if he was taking orders from the Faceless) reached in and fiddled with the workings of the pressure plate. After a moment, he lowered the stair back into place. “Safe.”

The two men continued upward. After a moment’s hesitation, Gaheris followed, despite his every instinct screaming at him to turn around and get back out the delivery hatch before anyone ever knew he was there.

They didn’t pause at the top of the stairs. The Night Masks proceeded directly to the second door on the left as Gaheris watched, down on all fours peeking over the last stair.

They weren’t concerned about stealth anymore. After rapidly checking the door the second man motioned, and the first one simply kicked it in with a loud bang and they rushed in, drawing weapons as they went.

A scream issued from inside. “Oh, so do you wish you’d made your protection payments now,” came the mocking voice of the second Night Mask, accompanied by a menacing chuckle from the first.

Myrkeer seemed to recover a bit after the initial shock, or so it sounded like. “And what right have you to demand them, thief,” he spat at the intruders. Gaheris heard a rush of feet followed by a great clatter of steel as a short sword came flying out the door.

“Now now Myrkeer, we’ll be having none of that,” chuckled the second man. “Lashan here is well versed in parting blades from their owners, so I wouldn’t try that again.”

Gaheris could wait no longer. He got to his feet and padded forward, pausing to pick up the discarded short sword in his left hand, which had clattered down the hallway after being thrown out the door, and slid a dagger out of his wrist sheath into his right.

Surprise would be essential. Stepping around the doorframe, he cocked back his right arm and hurled the dagger, planting it into Lashan’s back as he stood over the shopkeeper’s cowering form. As the Night Mask fell, Gaheris tossed the sword from his left hand to his right and lunged at the second man as he turned in surprise.

Gaheris didn’t hesitate. Hesitation was a sucker’s game; fighting fair an invitation to death. Unfortunately, the Night Mask knew that too. He leapt and rolled to the right as Gaheris brought the sword up in a low sweeping motion, grazing the Night Mask’s armor but failing to bite.

The other man swept out his rapier, but from the clumsy and panicked swipe he made, the man was clearly not accustomed to fighting hand to hand. He had planted the dagger in the right back, then. Good.

Their blades crossed as Gaheris took a low swing at his opponent, going for the knees. Foiled, Gaheris slid his blade up the Night Mask’s rapier, catching at the hilt and forcing him into a high guard. Unused to crossing blades or not, the man was older and larger than he was, with a reach advantage with his weapon to boot. This had to end quickly, or it would end badly. While their blades were still locked high, Gaheris went to one knee and rolled toward the Night Mask, pulling a dagger out of his boot as he moved. As his sword released the rapier, the guild thief smirked in triumph and moved the point of his weapon to bring it down... and then screamed as a foot of cold steel slid into his right kidney.

Gaheris stood as the other man went down. The gambit had worked. Now to shut him up before the noise attracted neighbors, or worse the Watch. Myrkeer’s short sword went into the back of the whimpering man’s neck, emerging through his trachea. He issued a short, gurgling gasp and then fell silent.

Gaheris turned to the terrified Shalush Myrkeer, who was cowering on his bed, hands over his mouth at the spectacle. “You’ll want to call the Watch, sir,” he said in as kind a tone as he could muster. “I’m afraid I can’t stay. Farewell.” With that, he bolted out of the room and down the stairs, making for the delivery hatch.

Renegade Paladin
2006-11-04, 02:51 AM
Chapter Two
Into the Night

Gaheris wrenched the delivery hatch open, panic mounting as he tumbled through and rolled to his feet, looking around the alley. Night Mask enforcers operated in teams of at least three. He could only hope that the lookouts didn’t already know what happened to the toughs inside. If they did, he thought as he began jogging toward the end of the alley, he probably wouldn’t get to the next street alive. The thought sent him into a full run.

* * *

Marcus Ravenlock sat atop the rowhouse behind Myrkeer’s shop, twirling a dirk in his hand as Jankin boredly fiddled with his impressive array of crossbow bolts. ‘Why’s it always my turn to babysit the lookouts on the easy ones,’ he thought to himself as he cast his eyes down to the alley.

His gaze lit on the fast-moving form of a boy diving out of the shop’s delivery hatch. “Oi, Jankin,” he said softly, poking his companion.

The sniper took one look and jacked a wickedly barbed bolt into his crossbow. “Should I take him,” he asked as he sighted down the bolt’s shaft to his potential mark.

Marcus considered for a moment before the boy looked back behind him, affording a view of his face. “No,” he replied. “It’s just some street rat from the Shore. Garis or something like that. Must’ve taken one look at Lashan ‘afore ****tin’ hisself,” chuckled the thug. “Anyways, goin’ to th’ Watch is the last thing he’d do.”

“Leftover from the Shore Patrol?”

“Nah, just some kid. Must be gettin’ a little big for his britches if’n he’s lifting stuff from uptown shops, though. Somebody might have to have a talk with him ‘bout joinin’ up now.” Both men chuckled as Gaheris tore out of the alley into the street.

* * *

Two Watchmen gave Gaheris a surprised glance as he bolted across Westgate Market Street, but he didn’t slow even a hair. He was slightly amazed that he didn’t find arrows protruding from his back yet.

He skidded into another alley across the market square and ducked behind a midden heap. He had to evaluate his options. The Night Masks would discover what had happened to their toughs, sooner rather than later. In the short term, he had to seek shelter, but he had little doubt that in the (not too) long term, he would have to flee the city or die. But in the immediate term, he had to clear the area. Not only would there be other Night Masks, but the Tower was just up the street from Myrkeer’s shop, and if the merchant heeded his advice, the guards would be running. As he thought it, he heard the merchant himself yelling behind him. That would alert the Masks for sure, he thought as he moved out. He would have to take a circuitous route to Westlight Walk and the Water Gate to return to the Shore. But he’d have to stop by Castle Thalavar on the way. Kaele just might be able to help him…

Renegade Paladin
2006-11-06, 03:15 AM
I welcome comments and criticism, by the way. :smalltongue:

Chapter Three
Whether High or Low in Station

It was nearing morning by the time Gaheris crept across Sword Lane and up to the postern of Castle Thalavar.

At least one cell of the Night Masks was already looking for him. He’d had two narrow escapes in the city since fleeing Myrkeer’s Dry Goods, and had spent hours carefully working around the alleyways. Now, in the grey light of the predawn hour, he waited for the kitchen servants to toss out the waste from the previous day in preparation for breakfast.

He hoped Kaele was here. The wastrel cousin to the Thalavars liked to disappear into the seedier portions of the city, sometimes for three or four days at a time, which was how Gaheris had met him, but it would be inconvenient now for him to be gone or hung over. The boy nervously fingered the hilt of his dagger as he tried to keep an eye out for approaching Masks while simultaneously watching for movement in the castle-turned-manor estate.

He didn’t have to wait for long. The postern leading from the kitchen opened and a servant started to throw out scraps.

“Sylvie,” he whispered. The young woman jumped before seeing him.

“Oh. Good mornin’ to ye, Gar, didn’t see ye there,” she said, hurriedly regaining her composure.

Gaheris couldn’t help but chuckle. “That’s the idea. No, I’m not here to beg food this time,” he said, waving off her move to reach for the leftovers she was about to throw away. “Is Master Kaele here?” She nodded. “If he’s awake yet, could you have someone tell him that the boy who, um… ‘pulled his fat out of the fire’ at the Black Eye awhile back needs him to return the favor.” He crossed his fingers behind his back as she raised an eyebrow at him. “I’ll see if he’s about,” she said. “But no promises.” She gave him a last questioning look before tossing the scraps on the midden heap in the alley and turning to go back inside.

Gaheris didn’t have to wait very long. The young cousin of the Thalavar noble family appeared, rather obviously freshly woken, and probably with a hangover from the way he shielded his eyes from the rising sun.

“Yes, and what’s this about,” he said crossly, peering at the boy. “Do I know you?”

“The name’s Gaheris, sir,” he said with a slightly mocking bow. “I got you out of a spot of trouble with Reskal’s toughs at the Black Eye three or four tendays ago, and you said you owed me one. I need a favor.”

“Ah, I remember you. Yes, what do you need,” he asked, taking a swig out of a flask he was carrying. Gaheris didn’t ask what it was.

“I’ll make this short. I killed two Night Masks last night.” Kaele spit out whatever he was drinking. “They forced it. Anyway, I need to get out of the city, and I know your family has shipping interests.”

“Whoa, slow down,” interrupted Thalavar, pale as a ghost. “Night Masks?”

“Why do you think I want out of here,” answered Gaheris testily.

“Listen, you did help me, but something like this…”

“You know, I could just make sure Lady Thistle finds out that you’ve been spending your stipend at the Black Eye and Purple Lady,” Gaheris said impatiently. “I’d love to know what she thinks of that. If I didn’t think you could help me and owed me the help, I wouldn’t be here. Just keep it quiet, put me on as a cabin hand, or better yet arrange for the crew to not notice a stowaway. No one need know I was helped.”

“All right, all right,” he said nervously, obviously put out by the threat of his noble cousin finding out the specifics of his habits. “There’s a Thalavar ship leaving for Saerloon this afternoon. If you can get to the docks, I’ll tell the captain to overlook you.”

2006-11-06, 04:27 AM
It's quite good. Better than mine, I think.

Renegade Paladin
2007-07-19, 11:02 PM
Chapter Four
Of Street Urchins and Sea Rats

Gaheris was at the docks early in the afternoon, wearing sailor’s garb “borrowed” from the bag of a hung-over seaman he’d encountered that morning on the way back to one of his holes in the Shore. He quickly identified the Thalavar ensign flying off of one of the ships at the north end of the harbor, right where Kaele had said it would be.

He walked onto the pier, doing his level best to look like he knew what he was doing. Hoisting the near-empty rucksack containing all his worldly possessions over his shoulder, he took in and released a deep breath before moving up the gangplank.

“Oi, and ‘oo are you, then?” The question originated from a brawny sailor with a whistle hanging around his neck.

“New cabin boy. Name’s Stedd,” he answered tersely.

The sailor spat over the gunwale into Westgate’s already polluted harbor. “Th’ cap’n’s expectin’ ye,” the sailor told him. “I be Ander, the bo’sun. Get yer ass movin’ aft; the cap’n don’t like t’ wait.”

Gaheris nodded, pulled the sack a bit higher on his shoulder, and started weaving his way between bustling cargo handlers, cursing sailors, and the moving cargo and rigging that they were tending to.

* * *

In the back corner of a dockside warehouse, the leader of the enforcer cell that Gaheris had run afoul of last night nearly smashed his fist through the card table he stood behind. “WHAT AM I PAYING YOU FOR, YA MORONS? You let some street rat take out Lashan an’ Travers and then waltz right on out of th’ alley RIGHT UNDER YER NOSES! Th’ Faceless’ll have yer…”

“Oh, come on, Tyrrell,” Marcus said, hastening to cut off his boss before he managed to work himself into a truly towering rage. “You know wha’ we said; ‘ow was we s’posed t’ know? It looked like ‘e was jus’ robbin’ the joint an’ got spooked.”

“Looked like he was robbin’ the joint? An’ just what are we supposed t’ do t’ freelancers? You lost yer head, Ravenlock?”

“We’re supposed to make freelancers join the Masks,” Jankin pointed out in his quiet yet intense voice. “Not just shoot them on sight; you know that.”

Tyrrell calmed down a bit and lowered himself into his chair. “Well you’ll damned well shoot th’ brat on sight now,” he growled. “I want ‘im found an’ killed. I’ll spread the word; you two jus’ get out o’ my sight and make it happen.” The two thugs nodded and left the room hurriedly.

* * *

“Cap’n?” Gaheris approached the man in the uniform greatcoat on the wheelhouse where he stood surveying the deck, presuming that he had to be the one in charge.

“Yes?” He looked back and his eyes swiftly focused on the boy. “What is it, sailor?” His eyes narrowed a bit as he focused. “Don’t think I’ve seen you on board before,” he added.

“The name’s Stedd,” Gaheris responded. “I’m the new cabin boy the company sent up.”

A knowing smile entered the captain’s eyes. “Ah yes, the new cabin boy. Master Thalavar said to expect you.”

Gaheris wasn’t entirely comfortable with the captain’s expression. It was one that usually announced that its wearer had divined some secret or another and was amused by it… or the attempt to hide it. “Y… Yes, sir,” he stammered out.

“Oh, don’t worry. I know why you’re here, or at least some of it. We’ll see you safely to Saerloon,” he reassured the boy with a smile. “Go help move those crates into the hold,” he continued, pointing at a stack of boxes that a crew of sailors was just starting to shift. “You can leave your things in the cabin for now. Once we’re underway I’ll see to your accommodations. We shouldn’t be more than two days at sea.”

Gaheris nodded and scampered off, first to leave his meager belongings inside the cabin door that the captain had indicated, and then to move cargo. He mainly did his best to not get in the way for the next hour while the ship made ready to sail.

* * *

“Whaddya mean, ya don’t know where ‘e went,” Marcus snarled at the street urchin as he dealt him a backhand slap across the face. “I know ‘e ‘oles up ‘round here somewhere, now where is ‘e?”

“I dunno! Last I saw Gar, he was takin’ off towards the docks, carryin’ all his stuff in a bundle,” the kid said in a panicked voice, attempting to back further into the alleyway. There was no hope of the Watch coming along, he knew that. Not this deep into the Shore slums.

“Th’ docks, eh?” Marcus chuckled. “’E knows we’re onto him. Must plan on tryin’ to stow away somewheres.” He nodded to Jankin, who relaxed on his crossbow. “Ya done good, kid,” he said to the young beggar. “Jus’ talk faster next time an’ I won’t hafta convince ya t’ spit it out.” The two thugs turned and left, laughing to each other as the transient rubbed the side of his dirt-smudged and stinging face and glowered at their departing backs. If only…

* * *

Gaheris, of course, didn’t know that the Masks were mobilizing enforcer teams to the docks at that very moment, with the ship ten minutes from sailing, but he had a sinking feeling in his gut. This was too easy.

The feeling of impending doom continued to follow him as he went about the unskilled labor that Ander the bosun kept giving to him.

It was several minutes later when the resulting distraction caused him to trip over a rope, thereby saving his life. A jagged crossbow bolt whizzed through where his head had been a moment before and lodged in the mast.

“Wha’ in th’ name o’ the Bitch Queen!” Ander spat out the exclamation as he caught sight of the bolt still quivering, buried an inch into the mast. “BATTLE STATIONS,” the bosun yelled as Gaheris sprung and rolled away halfway through rising to his feet, having only just realized what had happened.

* * *

“Beshaba’s brats,” Jankin spat as he took his eye away from the crossbow sight and started loading a new bolt into the weapon.

Marcus snarled as his own shot missed as well, though more from his own mistakes than a lucky fall. The ship had already started to cast off before he’d recognized Gaheris’ face. They’d never stop it now. The gangplank was already up, and the final two lines were cast back to the pier as sailors grabbed for their own crossbows and wheel-lock smokepowder pistols.

Jankin snapped his reloaded crossbow back to his shoulder, only to catch sight of Gaheris diving down an open hatch past a surprised-looking sailor rushing up from the armory. “He’s below. Can’t get him now.”

“Let’s scoot, then,” Marcus answered. “Find out where that ship’s off to, an’ see if someone can beat it there.” The two men seized their weapons and faded back into a nearby alley as Watchmen started running towards the pier.

2007-07-22, 11:02 AM
I like what you have so far, keep it coming! :smallsmile:

Renegade Paladin
2007-12-03, 09:01 PM
Chapter Five
Two Days Before the Mast

Merchant ship Thalavar Trader, 11th of Ches, 1362 DR

Vomit flew over the gunwale as Gaheris’ seasickness finally got the better of him the next morning. He spat miserably over the side, and only avoided bringing up more because he’d eaten so little to begin with. He resisted the urge to dry heave, and sank down to sit on the deck, holding his stomach.

“’Ere,” he hears from somewhere above him. He looked up to see a rough-looking sailor standing over him, wearing a vaguely pitying expression. The man was holding what looked like some sort of crackers and a canteen. “Ye’ll get yer sea legs soon enough, but this’ll ‘elp a bit.”

“The last thing I wanna see now is food,” Gaheris moaned in response.

“Arr, jus’ trust ol’ Reeves. I know me business, lad, an’ that business is the sea. This’ll set ye straight, fer a little while anyways.”

Gaheris nodded weakly, and reached up to take the brown wafers. Expecting some form of bitter medicine, he was surprised to taste ginger when he bit into one.

“Ginger ‘elps, it does,” Reeves said, handing him the canteen next. It contained plain water, Gaheris found to his relief as he took a swallow to accompany a second ginger snap. He was surprised to find that he did feel slightly better, though not by much.

“Give it time,” Reeves told him, as though he knew his thoughts. “Th’ cap’n wants ye in ‘is cabin; s’why I came lookin’ for ye.”

Gaheris nodded weakly and stood shakily before making his way aft, not quite compensating for the pitch and roll of the ship as he went. His steps weaved a bit as he ducked a rope and walked up to the cabin door.

“Enter,” Gaheris heard from the other side of the door when he knocked. He opened it and stepped in, slightly stumbling in the doorway as the ship rolled in the surf.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes… Stedd, wasn’t it?” The captain wore an amused expression as he motioned Gaheris to sit down.

“Aye, cap’n,” he said nervously, sloppily standing at attention.

“You catch on quick,” said the captain with a chuckle, “but not that quick. Stedd – if that’s really your name, which I doubt – if you’d ever set foot before the mast in your life, you did a splendid job of hiding it yesterday.”

“Captain,” Gaheris started to respond before the man cut him off with an upraised hand.

“Now, the orders to take you on came from House Thalavar, so don’t worry about getting a stowaway’s treatment,” he said with a spark of amusement in his eye. “In fact, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion except for one thing.”

He put a hand behind the rolled chart on his desk and withdrew it holding a barbed crossbow bolt. Gaheris involuntarily took in a sharp breath.

The amusement was gone from the captain’s face. “Yes, this,” he continued. “I don’t like it when my ship’s shot at, and this was shot at you. There are only a few people in Westgate who have the balls to pull something like that in broad daylight but not the authority to simply march aboard and arrest you, and they’re all bad news.” He placed the bolt on his desk, steepled his fingers, and fixed Gaheris with a penetrating stare. “What’s gotten the Night Masks so riled up?” Gaheris opened his mouth only to be interrupted one more time. “And don’t bother lying. I’ll find out one way or the other.”

The street urchin was visibly deflated by now. “I killed two of them,” he said simply. Saying it brought the realization home; he had been too busy fleeing for his life to sit down and think about what had actually happened. He suddenly wanted to retch again; he had carried weapons for a long time (only a fool didn’t on the streets of Westgate), but had never killed before.

The captain’s stare had turned into a look of mild shock; whatever he’d been expecting, that clearly wasn’t it.

“Well… That’d do it,” he said slowly. “Now I think this story had best come out of you quickly,” he said with an edge in his voice.

The captain’s meaning was clear: He’d have no dangerous killers aboard his ship, and Gaheris had best convince him that he wasn’t one, and fast.

So the whole story of two nights past came out. Gaheris was visibly perturbed as he recounted the events. As he finished, the captain stood.

“Sounds like you did what you had to do, son,” he said, and clapped Gaheris on the shoulder as he came around the desk. “We’ll get you to Saerloon and set you on your way. I don’t know that the Masks will bother to chase you across the Dragon Reach, but they know which ship you were on. Won’t take ‘em long to find out where we’re going, so I wouldn’t stay there if I were you.”

Gaheris nodded, a strange sense of relief coming over him. He’d never been so open with anyone in his entire life, yet here he’d spilled one of the most earthshattering events ever to happen to him to a man whose name, he now realized, he didn’t even yet know.

“Cap’n…” The captain paused on his way to the cabin’s hatch. “I just realized I never even caught your name. Everyone’s just called you Cap’n.”

The captain smiled. “I’m tempted to say, ‘You first,’” he said with a wry grin. “But you could easily find out anyway. Rowan Tallstag, though it’s still Captain to you.”

Gaheris nodded. “Gaheris, as long as I’ve told you everything else,” he answered. “Though I’d like to keep being Stedd for awhile; wouldn’t want the whole port knowing who I am an hour after we land, and the crew’d talk if I suddenly changed names halfway there.”

Captain Tallstag nodded as he opened the door out onto the deck. “Well, I’m going to go take the helm,” he said. “And as long as you’re cabin boy, get to work. I want that cabin cleaned and tidy by the time I’m back, but don’t touch the charts,” he growled back inside as sailors passed by on their way to their duties.

Gaheris nodded as the captain closed the door and set about doing as he’d said.

Renegade Paladin
2007-12-07, 06:54 PM
Chapter Six
Dark Plots…

Westgate, 10th of Ches, 1362 DR, after nightfall

“The Thalavar Trader’s bound for Saerloon,” Tyrrell said with satisfaction. “And you two jokers are gonna be there before it.”

Marcus looked surprised. “How, boss? She left hours ago. ‘Less you got a wizard up yer sleeve, there ain’t no way we kin get there first.”

“Shows what you know, rothé-for-brains,” answered the enforcer cell’s leader. “She’s a big ol’ merchant ship, and accordin’ to this,” he said, holding up a copy of the ship’s manifest, “she’s loaded down with so much cargo that her hold’s fit to burst. Meantime, the captain of the Blackheart’s Fury owes ol’ Happy a favor.”

Tyrrell chuckled as Jankin flinched. If Happy Gorender was taking a personal interest, then it would be bad news if they failed. “Yeah, that’s right. The Fury has some issues with entering the port, so there’s a boat waiting for you where the Shore meets the harbor wall. And you won’t be going alone,” he added menacingly. As if on cue, a dark figure stepped out of the back room and approached the enforcers.

* * *

Merchant ship Thalavar Trader, 11th of Ches, 1362 DR; late afternoon

“Sail ho! Three-master off the port bow!”

The lookout’s cry prompted the captain to hand over the wheel to Ander. “Hold her steady,” he instructed the bosun.

“Aye, sir,” Ander answered as Captain Tallstag produced a spyglass from his coat and raised it to his right eye.

He studied the distant ship for a moment before speaking. “She’s a Blue Dragon frigate, the Indomitable,” he said. “They’re signaling pirates sighted in the area.” He snapped the spyglass shut and put it back in his coat. “We’ll be safe in port in a few hours.” He raised his voice. “Unmask and string the ballistae, and get some bolts on deck,” he ordered.

Gaheris had been swabbing the quarterdeck all this time, and nearly dropped the mop in surprise when Ander started executing the captain’s command. “STEDD! Stow that an’ get to the magazine!” He cast an eye about the deck, seeing whose duties weren’t critically important. “KERRECK! REEVES! JORDAN! You too! Tarsk, man the deck crane!”

A chorus of ayes rang out as the indicated sailors dropped what they were doing and ran for the main hatch. Tarsk, an amazingly burly man who may well have been a half-orc, wrestled the cargo crane into position while the other four scrambled down the ladder into the hold and started making their way forward between the piles of lashed down crates.

“Feelin’ better, lad?” Reeves smiled as he asked the question.

“Aye,” the boy answered as they reached the forward armory.

“Good,” Reeves said as he took an end of one of the bundles of ballista bolts stacked against the port bulkhead. “Get th’ other end o’ this, would ye?”

Gaheris nodded and bent to grab the bundle. He grunted and nearly dropped it when he lifted.

Reeves chuckled. “An’ I even let ye have th’ light end,” he remarked, and sure enough, he was holding the end with the large iron heads of the bolts. “Back up out th’ door, there’s a good lad. Th’ sooner we get to th’ hatch, th’ sooner ye can put that down.”

Gaheris heartily agreed, and backed down the narrow corridor between the stacks of cargo. “So, what brings ye t’ seafarin’?” Reeves spoke with ease even as Gaheris continued to strain. “Unless I miss me guess, ye’re no sailor.”

“Needed to get out of Westgate,” Gaheris grunted out before all but dropping his end of the bundle underneath the hatch. There was no point lying now. “I’m just on for this voyage. The captain already knows,” he assured the sailor.

Reeves’ voice dropped to a near-whisper as a look of concern crossed his face. “The Masks?”

Gaheris nodded slowly.

“Don’t stay in Saerloon,” he advised in a low, intense voice as he began securing the bundle of bolts to the crane’s rope. “Westgate’s harbormaster is in th’ guild’s pocket; if they’re serious about getting’ ye, they already have th’ manifest an’ our charted course.”

Gaheris nodded as he looped the rope back around for Reeves to tie into a knot. He hadn’t planned on staying anyway, but this leant extra urgency to his flight.

“Heave!” Reeves’ cry prompted Tarsk to start working the crane’s pulley mechanism. The ballista bolts rose rapidly to the deck as Kerreck and Jordan approached with their own load.

* * *

Saerloon Harbor, 11th of Ches, 1362 DR; sunset

The gangplank fell to the pier with a thud.

“Now hear this,” Ander called out over the assembled crew. “Offloading the cargo will commence at daylight. Crew is granted shore leave for the night. Return to the ship at daybreak tomorrow. That is all.”

The news instantly put the crew into high spirits, and they started moving towards the gangplank and the city beyond.

The captain had ordered shore leave for the night to give Gaheris cover to “desert,” and the street urchin was taking full advantage of it. He dodged down the first alley he came to and started zigzagging through the byways randomly.

It wasn’t enough. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye as he passed a dark alley entrance and went for his dagger, but too late. A fast-moving short blade batted his own aside, and the boy dropped it in panic as a second one slashed across his field of vision, leaving a shallow cut leading up the left side of his face. A second later, he found himself against the wall, a pair of crossed dirks over his throat.

“Garis, isn’t it?” Marcus Ravenlock had a steely glint in his eye as he looked at the urchin over his crossed blades. “The Faceless sends his regards.”

Renegade Paladin
2007-12-18, 01:12 PM
Chapter Seven
…and Dark Deeds

Gaheris’ mind raced. Try as he might, he couldn’t figure a way out of this. Fortunately, the Night Masks (he now saw another behind the one that had him pinned to the wall, this one holding a loaded crossbow) didn’t seem to be in any hurry to dispatch him.

“Now lessee. What’d you do to Lashan an’ Travers? Dagger all the way inta the back for Lashan, I knows that. Now what else? Left kidney for Travers?” He kept the dirk in his left hand over Gaheris’ throat while shifting his right hand. He reversed his grip and jammed the pommel of the weapon into Gaheris’ left kidney. The boy grunted in pain. “An’ then ‘is neck. Nasty way t’ go, don’t ya think? Sittin’ there on the ground, pinned to th’ floor with a bit o’ cold steel, can’t talk nor scream ‘cause that steel’s through yer windpipe… Yeah. Nasty.”

Gaheris squirmed, having more room to do so now that there wasn’t a blade on one side of his neck. Marcus noticed and the other dirk was back crossing the other over the boy’s throat at once. “Oh, don’t think you’re gonna get away. Nobody but nobody does that to th’ Masks an’ lives. But it won’t be quick. Oh no, you’re gonna be an example. So, Jankin, where do ya think I should start?” He chuckled menacingly.

Jankin cracked a smile and was just about to answer when a dark shape rose up behind him. A belaying pin came down on the back of the crossbow sniper’s head and he went down.

Marcus turned to face the new threat, one of his dirks drawing a shallow cut across the bottom of Gaheris’ chin as he turned. He twirled his weapons in his fingers as Reeves stepped over Jankin’s slumped form.

“This ain’t no business o’ yours, sailor,” Marcus said. “Turn around an’ get out now an’ I may let ya walk away.”

Reeves dropped the belaying pin…

“That’s better,” Marcus said. “Now…”

…and uttered an incantation in Celestial.

A glowing cutlass appeared in midair next to Marcus and immediately took a swing at him.

“Wha’ in the Hells?”

Reeves’ own cutlass came out as he advanced. “The Cap’n o’ the Waves don’t take kindly t’ yer kind roughin’ up his crews,” Reeves coldly informed the enforcer. The magical weapon did not stop attacking as he spoke, leaving Marcus trying to defend himself from it and pay attention to Reeves at the same time.

“Crew?” Marcus laughed as he asked the question, ducking under a swipe of the spectral cutlass. “He ain’t nobody’s crew. This kid’s nothin’ but a… AUGH!”

The spell-crafted blade had finally found its mark, gouging an ugly but shallow slash across the enforcer’s left side.

Reeves lunged at the same moment. Marcus barely turned aside the blow with his left-hand blade and stabbed out with his right.

Gaheris, meanwhile, took full advantage of his attacker’s distraction, edging towards his own weapon, lying forgotten on the ground.

He reached the long knife and seized it, whirling to face Marcus and Reeves just as the enforcer ducked the wrong way while trying to avoid the spiritual weapon and wound up under the sailor’s physical cutlass. Marcus howled in agony as the weapon bit solidly into his left shoulder, striking nearly to the bone.

Gaheris’ eyes caught sight of three new sources of movement in that moment. First, Marcus dropped the weapon in his left hand, sending it clattering to the ground. Then Gaheris noticed Jankin starting to stir on the ground, and took a step toward the other Night Mask.

Before he took a second stride, he saw it: A shadow rising up out of the dark behind Reeves as the sailor menaced Marcus. “BEHIND YOU!”

Reeves spun, swinging his cutlass ahead of his turn, but too late. The shape’s dagger stabbed into his left shoulder. The sudden movement had thrown off the new assailant’s aim by just enough; the weapon struck shallow over the shoulder blade instead of lancing into the chest cavity. Reeves’ cutlass slashed straight across the newcomer’s belly as he realized the danger too slowly to leap back. A solid crunch and scrape made clear that the stranger was wearing armor; sure enough, the blow cut a hole in his tunic, revealing the glint of chain mesh in the sparse light coming from the alley mouth.

The third Night Mask leapt back and then literally ran halfway up the wall of the warehouse on one side of the alley before pulling a small crossbow from his cloak and firing at Gaheris.

The shot missed as the boy ducked. Reeves muttered some words that Gaheris couldn’t make out and touched the wound on his shoulder; the flesh started to knit together.

The assassin raised his crossbow again, but as he did so, Reeves picked up the dropped belaying pin and threw it, striking the crossbow and triggering it wildly. The bolt buried itself in the ground twenty feet from Gaheris as the newcomer snarled and then abruptly vanished from sight, still clinging to the wall.

“’E’s not gone. Move,” Reeves instructed. Gaheris didn’t need to be told; he was already running full tilt toward the end of the alleyway. Reeves followed right behind.

* * *

The figure reappeared and dropped lightly to the ground. He tossed a small bottle to Marcus, forcing him to let go of his slashed left arm to catch it. The assassin laughed softly at the enforcer’s hiss of pain.

“Drink up,” he told Marcus as he moved over to Jankin, who was by now propped up on his elbows and holding his head.

Marcus did as he was told, downing the potion in one gulp. His wounds began to bind together, a faint blue light shining from the gash in his shoulder for a moment before fading, leaving the wound partly healed and scabbed over.

“As for you,” their companion continued, yanking Jankin to his feet, “what in all the Hells made you think you needed to cover the kid when he was already against the wall with two blades at his throat? He wasn’t going anywhere. You let that sailor march right up behind you and hit you in the head; he wasn’t even that quiet.”

Jankin grunted something about wishing someone else would be quieter. Marcus cut in. “Yeah, that’s nice ‘n’ all, but shouldn’t we get after ‘em?”

The assassin chuckled. “Oh, I don’t think they’ll get very far.”

* * *

Gaheris and Reeves had only been running for a block or so when the sailor started to slow down. A block after that, he could only manage a rapid limp and was clutching his sides.

“What’s wrong?” The urgency was evident in Gaheris’ voice.

“Not sure,” Reeves gasped. “Think ‘e paisoned ‘is knife…”

“Come on,” urged Gaheris as he grasped the sailor’s arm. They were near one of the dockside taverns, and he hoped to find some of Reeves’ shipmates there.

“Go on. If’n ye stay with me, they’ll kill ye…”

“And you’ll just die out here if we don’t find help. It isn’t far.” He started to pull Reeves along.

Then, without warning, a crossbow bolt flew down the street and lodged in Reeves’ back on the right side, where his body had come between Gaheris and the shot when the boy had draped the sailor’s right arm over his shoulder to better help him along.

Gaheris let go of Reeves as the sailor went limp, realizing to his horror what had just happened. “Go,” Reeves gasped out hoarsely. The corners of his mouth were starting to froth pink.

He went. Gaheris looked back behind him as he ran around a corner, to see Reeves ripping the jagged bolt out of his back as the Night Masks advanced on him. He heard the clang of steel as he ran on into the night, tears mixing with the blood from the cut on his face.

Renegade Paladin
2008-06-15, 11:40 AM
Chapter Eight

The footsteps were close behind him, and he didn’t know these streets. He hoped the Night Masks didn’t either, but there were no guarantees.

He dodged down another side street, making for the tavern he’d tried to drag Reeves to. Reaching it, he barged in the front door, nearly bowling over a drunken gnome that was starting to stagger out as he came in.

He’d been right; some of his erstwhile shipmates were still here. He was relieved that he’d seen them making for the sign of this building before splitting off to try and escape.

“Ho, and there’s our cabin boy!” Kerreck motioned him over to the table he was sharing with several other sailors with a wide grin. “Where ye been, Stedd? And wha’ happened to yer face?” His eyes narrowed as he took notice of the pair of cuts.

“No time,” he gasped out. “Street thugs… They’ve killed Reeves!”

“WHAT?” Tarsk nearly upended the table shooting to his feet, cursing. “Where?” The rest of the crew members in the tavern reached for their weapons as they also stood.

“No weapons!” The barkeep’s indignant shout was quickly stifled by a look from Tarsk.

“A couple blocks from here,” Gaheris answered. “They were chasing me.”

“Come on,” Anders growled from his place standing at the next table over. The bo’sun marched towards the door, the rest of the sailors behind him. Gaheris quickly darted ahead and out the door. As he’d suspected, Marcus and Jankin were coming down the street.

“There ya are,” Marcus growled as he advanced down the street. “Thought you could run, did…”

The sailors barreled out behind Gaheris before the enforcer could finish his sentence.

“There they are!” The street urchin pointed at the two thugs, wondering all the while where the third one was.

“Get ‘em!” Anders’ growled command set his men charging towards the two thugs.

“Beshaba’s brats,” Marcus growled as he started backpedaling, dirks in his hands. Jankin was in no hurry to stick around either, and was ahead of Marcus, fairly running down the street.

Gaheris wasn’t any more eager to stay and watch than they. He took off the other way down the street, trying to put some distance between himself and the fray before the Night Masks managed to extricate themselves (if they could, he thought, but best not to take chances) and come after him again.

He looked back as he rounded the next corner. The sailors had caught up with his pursuers. As he glanced back, the third assassin jumped down off of a warehouse roof. Two of the sailors screamed and dropped their weapons, and then the black-clad figure was upon them. Gaheris didn’t stay to discover the outcome.

* * *

It was past midnight before he managed to find what he needed in the caravan yards: An encamped wagon train, looking like it was fully loaded and prepared to leave at dawn. The pair of guards were almost comically inattentive, and it was with ease that Gaheris stole his way into the small caravan’s ranks and found a place to bed down between some bales of cloth.

2008-07-05, 06:52 PM
So far, I love it! The feel is great, and the writing is almost novel-esque.

Keep up the awesome work!:smallcool:

Renegade Paladin
2008-11-15, 12:42 PM
Hey, check it out. NaNoWriMo again.

Chapter Nine

Saerloon caravan yards, 12th of Ches, 1362 DR, sunrise

Gaheris awoke before first light, startled awake by a nearby ox shifting on his heavy hooves. He looked around groggily before remembering where he was. Shaking himself awake, the boy noted the lightening sky in the east and rose to a crouch, taking stock of the situation. There was a guard near the pile of goods he’d hidden himself in, but her back was turned. He slowly stole out of his place between the large bundles of linen and ducked out of the caravan’s place in the yard before the guard decided to turn around.

If he was going to join the caravan, he’d need to pay his way. With that in mind, he trotted off towards the city’s open air bazaar, knowing just how to get what he needed.

* * *

Gaheris casually leaned against the wall of the last house on a street called Coinpurse Cut before it emptied into the bazaar, watching the people going to the open-air market with a practiced eye.

After a few minutes, he caught sight of a likely prospect, an extravagantly dressed man wearing colors no doubt belonging to one of the Sembian merchant houses, bearing a fat coin-purse strapped to his belt. It was so fat, in fact, that he would likely miss the weight immediately, mused the young cutpurse. Fortunately, he had a cure for that.

Hefting the leather pouch of rocks he had gathered for this purpose, the red-haired youth moved out into the crowd. Weaving his way through the crowded pedestrians heading for an early start to their shopping, he got in front of his target and walked towards him. When they were just a few feet apart, he turned his head to look off to his right, the illusion of not paying attention to where he was going. He then walked headlong into the merchant.

“Here now, lad, watch where you’re going,” exclaimed the man as Gaheris steadied himself by grabbing his target’s arm, apparently dropping his own purse as he did so.

“S-sorry, sir,” he responded, hurriedly bending over to retrieve the dropped money bag. The merchant hurriedly checked his own belt, and, finding his own heavy purse there, relaxed noticeably.

“Now don’t you go just running into people like that,” he admonished the street urchin. “It’s no wonder you’re stuck out ‘ere in the street if that’s all the attention you pay to your doings,” he continued, eyeing Gaheris’ ragged clothes with distaste. “Now run along and get out of my sight!”

Gaheris bowed slightly and hurried away, quickly losing himself in the morning crowds, still clutching the purse he had gathered from the ground.

He would be long gone before his mark noticed that the purse at his belt was, in fact, simply hooked over the sliced remains of his own purse-straps, thought the pickpocket in satisfaction, slipping his dagger back up his sleeve.

* * *

He hurried back to the caravan yard as the sun climbed higher in the sky, having used some of the money to buy himself some better clothes and a bath. This still left him enough to buy or bribe his way into the caravan, while making him look at least remotely civilized, enough so that they’d probably let him in, at any rate. Spotting the caravan he’d surreptitiously bedded down in starting to form up at the gates, he hurried forward, approaching the man he took to be the caravan master. At least, he was the one shouting orders.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said politely as he approached the taller man.

“Yes, what do you want?” The caravan master’s voice was irritable, clearly annoyed at having been interrupted from ordering his wagons.

“Sorry to bother you sir, but I’m leaving town for the north, and I’m looking for a group to travel with, at least for a while. Can I join your caravan?”

The man looked down. “We’re headed for Archenbridge. That about the right direction for you?”

“Yes, that’ll do fine,” he said.

“Well, the guards don’t come cheap, y’know,” the man told him. “Cost’ll run to five silver ravens for the trip, if it’s just you on foot.”

“Done,” Gaheris said, not wanting to bother haggling. He dug into the “borrowed” pouch and counted out five silver coins, handing them over to the caravan master.

“Good,” he said, somewhat taken aback by the failure to try and bargain him down, but not about to argue. “We go out the gate at highsun. Either you’re with us or not; I’ve not the time to run about gatherin’ folk that can’t be bothered to show up on time.”

“I understand. I’ll just wait around here, then.”

The caravan master nodded. “Here then, sign the register.” He grabbed a roughly bound book from the wagon seat he was standing next to, opened it to about the middle, and held it forth along with a quill.

Gaheris hesitated for a moment before signing “Stedd Cormwyn” on the sheet of paper. He almost immediately kicked himself for using the same alias as he had on the ship, but there was no taking it back now.

“All right then, Master Cormwyn,” the caravan master said to him. “Just fall in wherever you want. If you’re lucky, one of the merchants might let you ride in his wagon. On mine, it’ll cost extra.”

Gaheris nodded and hurried back into the main body of the caravan, not wanting to stay in sight any longer than necessary.

* * *

It wasn’t long before the caravan rolled out of the gates wagon by wagon and started on the road north towards the Dalelands. Gaheris walked along next to one of the carts in the middle of the wagon train, slowly relaxing as Saerloon faded behind them with no sign of pursuit.

The day wore on quickly as the caravan continued on the road northwest, making for Saerb, where they would overnight before crossing the River Arkhen to Archenbridge. They would reach the city an hour after nightfall.

The crossroads town of Mulhessen provided a stopover point for a short while before continuing on the Belduuk Road, but the crossing with the Way of the Manticore, upon which the town stood, was well behind the caravan by the time the sun began to set.

Selûne rose in the east as the sun set in the west, accompanied by her Tears. Toril’s moon was nearly full that night, but storm clouds were starting to blow up from the south off of the Sea of Fallen Stars. The wagon masters quickened the caravan’s pace, eager to reach Saerb before the night wore on too long.

But it had worn on long enough. A bullseye lantern suddenly shone down on the lead wagon from a small hillock overlooking the road. “Belay there! Stand and deliver, your money or your lives!” The figure holding the lantern shouted out his demand in a booming voice, startling the members of the caravan even as the mercenary guards coolly drew steel and readied lances.

Gaheris pulled out his own long dagger as he slipped behind the nearest wagon, mind racing. “We’ll deliver naught to you but steel and spell,” answered the leader of the caravan’s guards, a wizard judging from the arcane light already dancing at his fingertips. “Get back over that hill, or you won’t live long to regret it.”

The bandit simply laughed. “Hear that, boys? They want some fun!” He then switched to a guttural tongue that Gaheris didn’t recognize, but made one or two of the guards go pale at the sound of, unless the torchlight deceived him. More bandits crested the hill, and came up out of the grass on the other side of the road as well. Shots flew from crossbows as targets presented themselves, but soon the defenders’ attention was taken by another sight.

A great green shape, hunched over with its arms hanging nearly to the ground, lumbered over the hill behind the bandits. Its long nose stood out prominently in the features of its warty face, starkly lit by the moon’s light and the guttering torches. Its claws flexed as it regarded the wagons with an expression somehow displaying both stupidity and contempt simultaneously.

The troll roared out a challenge in the giants’ tongue and charged the caravan.

Renegade Paladin
2014-11-04, 07:54 PM
It's been a long time, but I've come back to this. Hope my readers haven't all given up. :smallsmile:

Chapter Ten
Things That Go Bump in the Night

“Form a line! Brace to receive the charge!” Merchants were panicking and trying to rush their wagons out of the trap as the guards responded to their leader’s shouted command. Arrows flew out at the bandits as several of the mercenaries braced their spears and leveled them at the oncoming giant. The mercenary commander confirmed Gaheris’ suspicions by thrusting out his hands towards the oncoming bandits. A great gout of lightning shot forward, leaving two of the highwaymen writhing on the ground before striking the troll. It grunted in pain, but kept coming, fairly throwing itself on the mercenaries’ spears.

Two penetrated its tough hide, but the monster didn’t seem to care. It simply kept coming up the spear shafts, swinging its clawed hands forward.

It grabbed one of the armored men in both hands and tore him in half.

That was enough for Gaheris. The wagon he was next to jolted forward as the driver finally managed to get his horse moving towards an opening, and the young street urchin grabbed on and started to clamber aboard. The man in the cart’s driver’s seat looked back in alarm.

“Oh, it’s you! Well, hold on kid, we’re getti…”

He never finished the sentence. He’d been trying to stay down, but a crossbow bolt flew out of the darkness and struck him through the neck. The jagged head shone dark with the merchant’s blood as it protruded out the other side of his throat in the light of the cart’s lanterns.

Swallowing a lump in his throat, Gaheris jumped forward on the wagon, making for the front as the horse ran wild off the road.

* * *

Jankin grinned evilly as he jerked back on the loading lever of his crossbow. “Got him. Now for the brat,” he said as an explosion down below on the road heralded the wizard’s latest attempt to blast the troll.

“Make it count,” Marcus told the sniper, gripping his dirks. “I don’t wanna think what the big guy’ll do if we screw this up again.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got him,” Jankin said coldly as he put a bolt in the firing groove. “Where is Mr. Tall, Dark, and Creepy, anyway?”

* * *

Gaheris reached the driver’s bench of the wagon, but didn’t sit down. Instead, he leaped over the front of the wagon and landed roughly on the horse. Jankin hadn’t been expecting this, and the bolt he’d loaded buried itself in the back of the bench where Gaheris’ chest would have been if he’d taken the driver’s position. Not wasting any time, Gaheris pulled out his long dagger and slashed at the harness holding the horse to the cart.

Hewing through the heavy leather horse collar would have taken too long, but the traces were a different matter. He quickly severed the ropes holding the terrified horse to the wagon and held on for dear life as the animal dashed off into the night, rapidly leaving behind the light of the lanterns attached to the cart.

* * *

“Damn but he has Tymora’s own luck,” Jankin snarled as he jerked back on the loading lever and placed another broad-headed bolt in the firing groove. He shouldered the weapon and aimed it at the dark outline of the fleeing horse, not trusting himself to pick the smaller target in the dark, and fired.

The bolt struck true, burying itself in the horse’s rump.

* * *

Gaheris didn't know much about riding, so when the horse screamed and bucked under him, it was all he could do to hang on for dear life. But it kept running without his direction, mixing in with the fleeing merchants as the mercenaries began to get the upper hand on the bandits behind them. The roaring of the troll began to fall behind.

But the horse was shot in the hindquarters, and couldn't keep going long. Gaheris got less than a mile away from the attack when his steed began to falter.

In the light of the moon he could see the crossbow bolt protruding from the animal's rear leg as he gently brought it to a halt. The horse shuddered as he jumped down from it's back; it clearly wasn't going to run much of anywhere. He patted the horse's neck before bolting off into the night, running over the plains away from the road. It wouldn't do to be caught now, and he intended to put as much distance between himself and the bandits as he could.

* * *

“Too many of 'em got away,” the leader of the bandits growled at the Night Masks. “You're too worried about th' kid; if ya want our help any further, we're gonna need more gold.”

“We have a deal already,” the dark assassin said, while Marcus and Jankin stayed silent in the background. “We give you the caravan, you help us catch the boy. That your men couldn't keep the merchants from escaping is not our problem.”

“If we're trackin' anythin', it's the wagons,” the bandit snarled violently, causing the troll, sitting on the hill while his wounds healed – freakishly fast, Marcus noted nervously – to look over at them and slightly flex his claws. “I'm not wastin' time after some kid when there's loot t' be had. Even if I wanted to, th' men wouldn't stand fer it.”

“You're sadly mistaken if that's what you think,” the Night Mask said indifferently as he casually produced a cloth and began wiping the blood from the dagger he'd put through the mercenary wizard's throat. “You took our payment, and until you've done what we paid you for, you'll do what I tell you,” he continued in the same almost bored tone as he slid the blade back into its sheath.

“I don't take no orders from you,” the bandit snarled, and yanked a short sword clear of his belt – more likely to emphasize his point than to actually attack, judging by the way he held it, Marcus noted. The troll stood menacingly, its deep spear wounds and scorch marks nearly healed already, but the assassin didn't reach for any weapons. Instead, he simply looked directly at the bandit's face for the first time.

It was as though the man had hit a brick wall. His jaw dropped open and his sword fell from his hand and thudded on the grass as he stood immobile. He shook it off after a few seconds, but he was visibly shaken as he knelt to retrieve his weapon and return it to his belt. Jankin looked at him quizzically; he looked like he'd seen a ghost.

“Are you still going to argue?” The assassin's tone was calm, almost polite, but the threat was obvious.

“N... No,” the bandit answered. “We'll find him.”

“Good,” the leader of the Masks said as he turned away. “Get to it.”

The bandit gave him a look of pure venom as his back turned, but still barked instructions to the troll in the guttural giants' tongue. The massive creature looked at him in puzzlement, but still did as he said, lumbering off to try to find the scent of a boy amid the fleeing men and horses. The other bandits fell in line, grumbles about a dearth of spoils quickly silenced by their chief.

* * *

Gaheris' endurance was starting to wear down. His left hand clutched at a stitch in his side as he slowed to a weary trot. He didn't know if they were tracking him, and even with his exertion slowing him down, he didn't intend to wait around to find out. Gritting his teeth, he kept on, glad that at least the direction he was moving seemed to be slightly downhill.

* * *

“And there they are,” Shandri said in a low voice from her perch on a small rise overlooking the bandits. “About time we caught this lot.”

“Looks like their troll's tracking something,” Aeron observed from where he crouched next to her. “Think they're after the runner that came through here?”

“Seems a lot of effort for the whole lot of 'em to chase down one guy. Still, I can't see what else they could be doin'.”

“Yeah. Nice bonus, helping out the poor guy.”

Aeron's companion snorted in derision. “As long as the Council pays the bounty, I don't care either way, and the sum's been gettin' higher with every caravan they've hit.. Miklos'll be pissed he missed out on 'em,” she said with a sideways grin all but invisible in the darkness.

“Yeah, well the kid can't be everywhere. Probably better he's not anyway; he'd wade in there and get ripped in half by that thing, and then his daddy's friends might not be so happy to pay up. Anyway, let's get to work.”

Shandri nodded and, placing two fingers to her mouth, let out a trilling call that wasn't quite that of any particular bird.

* * *

The sound barely registered to the small group of bandits before the arrows began to rain down. Marcus cursed in surprise as the bandit leader fell with an iron-headed shaft through his neck. The troll roared in pain as most of the arrows found their way to its leathery hide.

“Seems we've outstayed our welcome,” the Faceless' assassin observed coolly to the two enforcers as they all dove to the grass to avoid being shot. “Drink up and let's go.”

Jankin nodded while Marcus bothered with no acknowledgment save pulling out the ready potion they all had and tossing it down. The other two followed suit, and they disappeared from all mortal sight. The only sign of their passage was a rustling of grass and faint footprints, both easily missed in the dark and confusion as the ambushers found themselves the ambushed.

The three whispered to each other to keep together as they left the ambush behind and kept moving in the direction the troll had led them, neither knowing nor caring how their erstwhile companions fared with the bounty hunters.

Renegade Paladin
2019-06-08, 02:28 PM
Chapter Eleven
Over the River and Through the Woods

Gaheris crested a low hillock, panting heavily, to see the stars and moon glinting off of water below him. He'd come to the River Arkhen, though he did not know its name. He passed into a farmstead adjoining the river, the flickering light of a dying fire visible through the shutters of the house but no sign of movement. Best avoided, he thought. Rousing the farmers to ask for help would only attract attention.

The river at this point was not so large as it was further downstream, after joining its tributaries from the Glaun Bog, but it was still a formidable flow. Gaheris paused at the bank for a moment, catching his breath. The far bank was wooded, but the problem was getting there.

Undecided, Gaheris started walking slowly upstream, trying to catch his breath, listening all the while for signs of pursuit through the tall grass lining the river. The sound of crickets filled his ears as he grappled with how or whether to cross.

A rustling sound in the wheat stalks startled him into alertness. His knife came out as he spun to see a deer take fright and bound off through the field. He started to breathe a sigh of relief when he saw something else.

The light of Selûne illuminated the dim outline of three men moving down the road, obviously trying to remain quiet. They didn’t seem to have seen him yet, so he dropped low in the stalks. He couldn’t identify them from this distance in the moonlight, but he had little doubt who they might be.

He waited for what seemed like an eternity before looking back up again, seeing no sign of his pursuers. But if they had chased him this far, they weren’t about to stop looking. If they were on this side of the river, he wanted to be on the other. The question was how to cross. He was a poor swimmer.

He began creeping towards the river bank, staying low. Slipping through the reeds, he barely suppressed a shout of alarm when he went into mud and water up to his calf where the water unexpectedly cut out from the river‘s flow, concealed by the vegetation. Disgust at his error quickly faded as he realized what he’d found. The pool was artificial, clear from the partial dam on the far side, and in it was a pair of boats, a canoe pulled up on shore and a larger rowboat tied to a waterside tree, oars and a paddle sitting inside. Grinning at his luck, he started to push the canoe into the water.

He was interrupted by furious barking coming from the direction of the farmhouse. “Beshaba’s brats,” he cursed under his breath. Lights flared in the farmhouse as he jumped into the canoe, barely managing to avoid tipping it. Wouldn’t do to be followed, he thought, taking the time to cut the line securing the rowboat before seizing the paddle and awkwardly making for the main channel.

* * *

“Nicos, what is it?”

“I don’t know, Jhess, but I aim to find out,” responded the farmer as he rolled out of their bed to reach for the spear on the wall. “Get your crossbow. THIMOTHY, get out of bed, something’s riling the dogs,” he hollered up at his son as he pulled the leather sheath off of the spearhead. The dogs kept carrying on, pawing at the door. He strode over to it, as his wife put her foot in the stirrup of her weapon to draw it back, and threw it open. “King, Frantz, get ‘em!” The dogs tore out of the doorway, barking like mad as they made for the river.

“Strange,” Nicos thought as he followed, clutching the spear in both hands. It didn’t take him long to find out what the problem was, though, as he saw his boat drifting away downstream and his son’s canoe being paddled across the river by someone he couldn’t make out in the moonlight. “Stop, thief! Jhess, get out here with that peashooter!”

* * *

“Typical,” Gaheris grumbled as he leaned harder into the paddle. Just then the dogs’ barking changed timbre and he heard a bloodcurdling shriek from the shore he’d just left.

* * *

Jhessail placed a crossbow bolt in the weapon’s groove and rushed out the door, her nightgown flowing in the breeze as her son Thimothy followed hot on her heels with a heavy cudgel and a torch. “I’m coming, husband!” Just then, King jerked his head around and started barking more frantically as he ran back towards the barn and road, Frantz following quick behind. All three turned to see what had gotten the animals’ attention when King let out a loud yelp and fell mid-stride, tumbling into the grass with a bolt jutting from his throat. Frantz surged forward before skidding to a stop and retreating, whining with his tail between his legs as the silhouettes of three men emerged from the shadow of the barn.

“Evenin’, folks,” drawled Marcus Ravenlock as he swaggered forward, Jankin re-cocking his crossbow behind him as their companion stopped and stood motionless, regarding the farmers. “We’re lookin’ for a kid who might have come through here and heard you yellin’ about thieves. Seen a redhead?”

“You shot my DOG,” screamed Thim in response, rushing forward furiously raising his club. Marcus shrugged, almost casually parried the blow with one hand, and rammed his other dirk into the young man’s side. His mother let out a wordless shriek and went pale, but still took her shot.

Marcus grunted as she struck true in his right arm, the haft of the bolt piercing all the way through his bicep. “You’ll pay for that, bitch,” he snarled as he stalked forward, Happy Gorender’s agent moving laterally to deal with Nicos as he rushed toward them, spear lowered. Jankin coolly loaded his weapon and leveled it at the farmers’ son as he tried to rise from the ground, clutching his side.

* * *

Gaheris had seen enough in the guttering torchlight. Every instinct screamed at him to try to slip away unnoticed, but he knew with certainty he had to do something. “HEY, MASKS! LEAVE ‘EM ALONE, IT’S ME YOU WANT!” He regretted it almost instantly as his shout echoed across the water, but it had the desired effect: All three looked up.

* * *

Nicos didn’t care about the boat thief anymore, not with his son bleeding on the ground. He charged down the closest of them, a hooded figure who was advancing toward him at a leisurely pace. He heard the shout echoing across the water, but didn’t care. It seemed that his attackers did, though, so much the better.

He was almost on his target, spear aimed center mass, when the hooded figure looked back at the danger bearing down and swept off his hood in response.

Nicos wasn’t sure what he was looking at, but the glance terrified him to his core, so much so that he halted and dropped his spear as the figure picked up his pace, not even breaking stride as he walked past and ignored the stunned peasant. Jankin changed his target too, moving to get a better angle and taking a shot. This time he didn’t miss.

* * *

Gaheris almost made the far shore. The current had taken him some distance downstream as he’d crossed, but not far enough to save him from the barbed bolt that pinned his left arm just outside the shoulder joint. He cried out, as paddling suddenly became extremely painful, but managed one last heave to ram the canoe into the reeds of the far bank. He stumbled forward to try and seek shelter, gritting his teeth as tears streamed down his face.

* * *

“Got him,” said Jankin in satisfaction as he pulled back on the cocking lever again. He looked over at his partner as he severed the woman’s crossbow string and slammed her in the jaw with his dagger’s hilt. “Marcus, leave her. We don’t have time.”

“He’s right, Ravenlock,” said the assassin as he turned back to Nicos. “Where’s the nearest crossing?”

“I’m not giving you nothing, murderer,” the farmer snarled back as Marcus gave his wife a backhanded slap that sent her sprawling in the dirt before turning back towards his colleagues.

“Well, you’re certainly right about that. You will not give us nothing,” said the Masks agent, in the first sign of humor since the two enforcers had met him, before seizing the farmer by his night shirt. “Where is the crossing?”

Nicos was about to spit on him in reply when his wife interrupted from where she lay on the ground. “Please! I’ll tell you, just don’t hurt him and let me tend my son,” she begged.

“Jhessail, don’t give them what they want,” Nicos began before she cut him off.

“We don’t owe whoever they’re after a damn thing, Nicos. He stole our boats and brought these monsters to us. Please let me save our son!”

“Agreed,” said the leader of the Masks, releasing the man and turning to her. “Tell us where we can cross the river and you get to live.”

Nicos glowered as she answered. “There’s a ford about half a mile upstream. We use it for the cattle, but it’s the fastest way across from here without boats.

“Well, thank ya kindly, ma’am,” said Ravenlock, a sarcastic tone in his voice as he tore out her crossbow bolt and threw it in her direction as he reached for another potion. “We’ll get a move on, then.” He started moving upstream, taking a moment to kick Thimothy as he passed.

The assassin rushed him as the boy groaned and his parents cried out in alarm, Jhessail rushing forward heedless of the danger. Marcus felt a powerful grip at the back of his neck slam him into the barn wall just as he reached it.

“A deal’s a deal, Ravenlock. Never do that again. It’s bad for business,” hissed the agent in his ear.

“All right, all right,” Marcus said in a panic as he felt the iron grip start to tighten.

“Apologize to the lady.”

The enforcer turned as the grip released. “What for? She shot me.”

“And then we made a deal. Do it.”

“Fine. Sorry about the kid,” he called back.

“It’ll do,” said the assassin as the parents ignored him and started trying to stanch the flow of blood. “But we’ll make it meaningful.”

“Hey,” cried Marcus as the agent seized one of his last potion bottles from his belt and threw it at the farmers.

“That’s what breaking a deal costs you. Be glad it doesn’t cost more. Move,” he ordered. “Give that to him. It’ll cure what ails,” he called back at their victims, chuckling slightly to himself.

Marcus glowered as he and Jankin followed him off into the night, seeking the ford.

* * *

Gaheris finished binding the wound with a strip of cloth he’d cut from his shirt. He didn’t dare try to rip out the bolt, so it still jutted through his arm with the bandages wrapped around it has he willed himself to move through the woods. He knew he didn’t have much time; if the Masks didn’t find a way to cross and finish the job, the wound might.

It seemed to him that he spent hours trying to cut a straight path away from the river in those woods, but he had no real way of tracking time except to see predawn light in the east when he finally found the edge of the woodlands. Lightheaded from blood loss, he began moving towards a building he could see in the distance across the Sembian plain.

* * *

The ford was easy enough to find, and the three enforcers waded across the Arkhen in water up to their calves. A cattle path cut through the woods on the far side for only a short distance before emerging onto the plain.

“Bad for business,” Marcus grumbled under his breath to Jankin as their leader pushed forward. “We ain’t gonna have no business with them, what’s the difference?”

“He was right, Marcus,” replied his partner in his usual quiet tone. “That was unprofessional. It isn’t about them; it’s about us. What happens to our protection deals if everybody in Westgate thinks we’ll back out if we feel like it?”

That wasn’t what Marcus had been expecting, and he made no reply as they followed the treeline west, moving back downstream. His thoughts were interrupted as the eastern horizon began to lighten behind them by Gorender’s agent. “There he is,” the creature – for that was what Ravenlock began to think of him as, with his mannerisms – hissed, pointing at a distant shape moving across the grassland toward a fortified building of some sort in the middle distance, illuminated by the setting moon and predawn light. “Don’t screw it up this time.”

“Well, what are we waitin’ for, then,” retorted Marcus as he broke into a run. “He ain’t gettin’ far very fast with that wound, let’s go.” The others agreed and broke out into a run as the sun began to rise.

Renegade Paladin
2019-06-09, 08:41 PM
Chapter Twelve
Salvation and Justice

Gaheris had feared pursuit ever since breaking cover, and it didn’t take him long to notice the Night Masks. He broke into a jagged run himself, clutching at his wounded shoulder as the sun rose over the plain.

They were faster, but he had a head start. He had no idea what that building was, but it looked fortified, and it was his only chance. “Help! Help me! Bandits! Please,” he called out with all the power his voice could muster between the blood loss and the returning stitch in his side from running as he approached.

A head appeared over the parapet in response, but the Night Masks were closing in.

* * *

“If he makes it in there,” huffed Marcus as they closed the distance, “we’ll never hear the end of it.”

“You would, but you won’t,” snarled the assassin, increasing his pace. “Gorender doesn’t forgive failure, and I don’t plan to fail.” He didn’t seem to tire, though they had all been moving all night.

They closed on Gaheris, Marcus and Jankin fanning out to the left and the assassin straight at their target. The gate of the building began to swing open as they were almost upon it, and out strode four men and a woman, all in chain harness. Jankin jerked back on the lever of his crossbow and leveled it.

“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!?” The man in the lead had a clarion voice, but the Masks ignored it. Jankin sighted down his crossbow and fired.

The bolt struck true. Gaheris screamed and sprawled in the dirt in the middle of the gate, the shaft of the bolt barely protruding from between his shoulderblades.

“No business of yers,” Marcus called back. “Now if you’ll ‘scuse us, we’ll be goin’, and if you know what’s good for ya, you’ll trot right back in there.”

The assassin stopped and regarded these interlopers as the sun rose behind him. He squinted in the light as they advanced.

“That, we’ll not do,” replied the leader of the building’s defenders. He leveled his sword at the Masks, and his men charged as the woman next to him chanted a spell.

Marcus raised his daggers and interposed himself as Jankin reloaded his crossbow. The soldiers came for them, while their leader advanced toward the assassin.

Gorender’s agent swiftly drew his hand crossbow and shot at the caster before going for his own sword. The bolt struck true and she cried out as the deathblade poison began to do its fatal work. Then he closed on the armored man.

A few feet away, Marcus Ravenlock was having a devil of a time. He quickly realized he could easily take any one of these clowns, but all together was a bit of work. Jankin fired his crossbow at one, deftly timing his release as the man’s shield came out to sweep away a blow from Marcus. He fell screaming, sword falling from his hand as he grabbed at the bolt in his chest.

The assassin slashed at his attacker as he gave ground, looking for an opening. The armored man wasn’t giving him breathing room, though, pressing forward and probing with his sword. He feinted for the face. As he thought, the shield came up and he disengaged around to stab low while the man was blinded, only to crunch against a breastplate. He quickly realized his mistake.

“TYR!” The man’s sword glowed white in the rising sun as he brought it down, biting into the assassin’s shoulder. The mail slowed it, but not enough.

The assassin snarled and vanished from sight. Only a moment later, he reappeared on his opponent’s sword side, jamming his weapon into the armpit joint, prompting a pained cry. Grinning, he started to twist the weapon when a hammer blow hit him from behind.

The damned cleric had come up with her master, gritting her teeth as she clutched at her side. She had healed herself of the arrow wound, that much was obvious, but the poison was still working. He stepped and turned, yanking his blade from his opponent. Blood gushed from the wound. He began to advance on the woman, beating her back as she tried to defend herself. The initiators for a spell began to leave her lips, but he bulled into her, interrupting the incantation.

He almost didn’t hear the footsteps behind him, but the clank of armor gave it away. He turned just in time to see the glowing sword come down again. He tried to parry, but the man powered right through, forcing his weapon out of the way and bringing his own down. He attempted a counterstroke, only to be answered with a shield bash and the sword rotating back around and into his guts. He had just awareness enough to see that the wound he’d inflicted wasn’t bleeding anymore before the warhammer came down on his skull.

“Jankin!” Marcus called out in alarm as he gave another step.

“I see it,” replied the sniper as he took another shot. His crossbow bolt buried in his target’s shield, but it bought them a moment. “We got the kid, let’s go!” Without waiting for Marcus’ reply, he drank his last potion and disappeared.

Marcus took the sword that the guard in front of him swung between his daggers and ripped it from the poor man’s hand with a twist before stepping back, deftly passing his daggers to one hand, pulling out his own invisibility draught, and drinking it down. The rustle of grass showed their passage, but only just, and not for long.

* * *

Gaheris came to with the sound of strange voices in his ears.

“He’s lucky. That should have been fatal. If he hadn’t fallen in Resounding Justice’s aura, it would have been.”

“Tymora’s own luck, yes. I’m interested to know what had him hunted to our door, though. That he’s a victim doesn’t make him innocent.”
His eyes fluttered open to see two faces looking down on him. “Wh… Where am I?”

“Oh good, he’s awake,” said the woman with a wan smile. She was pale, but she seemed genuinely happy to see him recovering.

“You’re in the Chapel of Resounding Justice,” said the man sternly. Gaheris noticed just then that his eyes were silver, and the blonde of his hair almost too metallic. “I am Captain Whytstone, and I’d like to know who you are and what brought you and your pursuers to our door.”

“Stedd Cormwyn, sir,” he answered. “That lot was part of a group of bandits that attacked the caravan I was traveling with last night. I got separated and…”

“If you think for a second I’m going to believe that,” he cut the boy off with a scowl, “you need to think again. Bandits don’t chase runners unless they’ve got valuables, and you didn’t. They particularly don’t chase runners all night and across the Ashaba, which they had to because that’s the direction you came from. They especially don’t chase runners straight to the doors of a Tyrran temple, and all the bandits in Sembia and the Dales know we’re here. Care to try again?”

A chapel of Tyr. Gaheris knew what that meant. He swallowed. “I killed two of them in the attack. Maybe they…”

“I’ll take that as a no. Keep an eye on him, Chaplain. I’m going to go and see to the walls, and get a message to the temple in Selgaunt. They’ll send someone out to get him in short order, I’m sure.”

“Yes, Captain,” she replied. Gaheris sat up and looked around, seeing that he was indeed in a small chapel room. He’d been laid out on the dais, and the altar was right above him, the image of a pair of scales balanced on a warhammer on the wall above. The chaplain took a seat on the pew. “Those were some nasty wounds he put in you. How are you feeling?”

“Surprisingly good,” replied Gaheris, swinging his feet around off the edge of the dais to sit. “Thank you.”

“I did all I could, but you should thank Resounding Justice,” she replied modestly.


“The angel for whom this chapel is named. Come on, I’ll show you,” she replied, standing as she did. Gaheris stood also, to notice instantly that he was missing his knives. A faint smile escaped her lips as she noticed him feeling himself around. “You understand why, of course,” she said as she opened the door. “Can’t be too careful.” They stepped out into the courtyard. Gaheris noted the angle of the sun. He’d been out for several hours.

He stopped thinking about that as soon as he went through the chapel door, though. He found himself inside a walled courtyard, battlements all around with towers at the corners, but what caught his eye was the life sized statue of a planetar in the center of the yard, sword held to the sky and hand pointing downward as if in judgment. It was almost too perfectly sculpted, of white marble shot through with gold.

“Breathtaking, isn’t she?” The chaplain looked up at the statue. “She isn’t really a statue, you know. Resounding Justice sacrificed herself on this spot to destroy a great evil, and the power she channeled took her very soul and turned her into this. I think she’s still alive in there, though. Her power still permeates the place.” She smiled. “That’s why you’re still alive. One does not bleed in her presence. You fell just outside the gate, inside of her aura.”

“If she is still in there, it seems an awful fate,” observed Gaheris.

“Maybe so, but she willingly made the sacrifice knowing what would happen. She had to believe it was the only way to stop the fiends.” She grimaced. “Some of the church’s scholars think that restoring her, if it could even be done, would reverse the magic she sacrificed herself to use and bring Tenflames back to life. I don’t know what to believe, but it’s beyond my skill to try anyway.”

“Well, I’m glad I wasn’t beyond your skill. Thank you… I just realized you never introduced yourself,” he said with a disarming smile.

“I’m not sure you really did either,” she said with a smirk of her own. “Miri Buckman. I’m sorry, I’m not feeling the best right now after whatever your friend back there had on his bolts, lost my manners.”

“What happened, anyway? I don’t remember anything after being shot, until I woke up in your chapel,” he answered, changing the subject.

“We got one, but two got away. You’re very lucky, they left no time for us to tend you until it was over, and it looked like they planned to knife you to be sure before we intervened.” She paused. “That’s why the captain’s so suspicious. They weren’t looking to rob you. They wanted you dead, and either didn’t know the risks or were willing to run them. That’s not a random bandit attack.” Gaheris said nothing. “It’ll go easier on you if you tell him why. You’re not in trouble now, but if you make a Justiciar ferret out what’s really going on, you will be.”

Gaheris shrugged, wincing as he did. “I’ve told you already.”

“Hmmm. Did I miss a spot? Let me see that shoulder,” she said, changing the subject herself as she reached over and searched the hole the first bolt had made in his tunic. “Yeah, that’s going to leave a nasty scar, but Tyr can take away the hurt.” She softly chanted the initiators to a spell, and Gaheris felt the pain ease as his torn muscles knitted back together.

“Again, thank you,” he said to her.

“You’re welcome. Don’t think I’ve forgotten our conversation, though. You have some time to think about it, but Captain Whytstone was serious.” She looked up. “Speaking of which…”

The commander of the chapel’s garrison strode back in through the gate, his hair glinting metallic gold in the afternoon sun. “I’ve sent a message to Selgaunt with a passing wagon,” he said unsmiling. “Thought about telling us the truth yet?”

“We’ve been talking, Captain. Give him some space to think about it.”

“Very well, Chaplain. But he won’t have long to think. I expect the temple to send for him tomorrow.”

Renegade Paladin
2019-06-12, 08:50 PM
Chapter Thirteen
Judgment and Mercy

The Tyrrans compelled Gaheris to sit through their evening service, which they all attended in full harness to make oaths of justice to the god of the same. He expected to be bored out of his mind at the start, but after oaths at the altar, the service moved out to the courtyard, under the statue-body of Resounding Justice. Miri gave a sermon about the purpose of justice, to help and protect the weak and maintain civilization in the face of disorder. He wasn’t so sure about the civilization thing – he’d seen the “civilization” of Westgate – but found the underlying principle strangely moving.

After the sermon, Captain Whytstone approached him. “You’ll sleep in the chapel. We don’t have spare bunks, but we’ll get you a floor mat. If you decide you want to come clean, you know where to find me. Either way, you’ll be on your way by tomorrow afternoon.”

Gaheris nodded. “I should thank you, Captain, for saving my life. I only wish you weren’t so intent on distrusting me.”

The captain sighed. “I wish I didn’t have to, but your story has holes in it I could drive a wagon through, and you brought trouble to my gates. Even if you hadn’t, we can’t really offer hospitality for more than a night.” Gaheris affected a pained look. “We’ll talk after morning services. Good night.” At that, one of the guards walked over from the tower to the right of the gate carrying a rolled up straw mat and tossed it to Gaheris.

“Good night, Captain.” Gaheris went into the chapel and rolled out the mat in front of the pew. He couldn’t help but notice the click as the chapel door closed, and he didn’t hear the guard move away.

* * *

Gaheris slept fitfully. He dreamed of an old, blind man missing his right hand. The man led him down a path in a forest, stopping at a large, columned marble building. Atop it sat an enormous set of scales.

“What is this place?”

“The Court,” answered the old man. “These scales weigh the deeds of a life. Look and see.”

Bewildered, Gaheris looked. On one side of the scales, he saw himself, earlier in life. On the other sat a feather. The balance of the scales shifted as the vision of himself replayed the things he had done. It skipped the mundane; meals, sleep, work. Rather, it went from one scene to the next of turning points in his life. Here, it showed him burgling a merchant’s stand while his old friend Lask distracted the man by pawing over the goods and asking a lot of questions. The scale dipped at that. There, it showed his standing up for a smaller orphan threatened by an older boy in the back alleys of the Shore. The scale came closer to balance. Back and forth and to and fro the scale went as it weighed his deeds. As it got towards the end of the sequence, showing the last several days, it went up more than down.

“Your ledger still has red in it, young Gaheris,” said the old man, “but there is hope for you yet. The question is, will you reach out and seize it?”

Gaheris turned to him. “What do you mean?”

The blind man began tapping his way up the steps of the building, motioning for Gaheris to follow. “The path of your life is your own to choose. Justice will be served in the end. You have served it yourself, more and more of late.”

“I haven’t served justice. I only did what I had to do.”

“Is that so?” The old man smiled as they entered the hall, and, crooking his cane in his maimed right arm, reached unerringly forth and put his hand on a massive warhammer that leaned against the wall. “I should think I would know better what you have done for justice, of all things.”

Gaheris paused. “Who are you?”

“You mean you sleep at the foot of my altar and haven’t guessed? I have shown you what you need to see. Return to sleep. You will need it,” the old man said, not unkindly. With that, the vision faded. The last thing that remained was the warhammer, outlined in a nimbus of light, before Gaheris fell into a deep sleep.

Renegade Paladin
2019-06-13, 08:10 PM
Chapter Fourteen
Bane of Trolls

He didn’t awake again until hearing the scrape of the key in the chapel door again and sat up to all the inhabitants of the shrine filing in for morning service. The dream already half forgotten, he quickly rolled up his mat to one side of the room and took a seat, to the nodded approval of the chaplain.

This service was more involved than the evening one, for both the chaplain and captain were supplicating Tyr for their daily blessings and spells. As in the evening service, the garrison attended to their oaths and sermon in harness. That explained how they’d all been prepared so quickly the morning before, Gaheris mused. He’d noticed that at other times, only two were on duty at a time and the others out of armor. He also couldn’t help but notice that Miri Buckman’s prayers centered a lot around revealing the truth. He shifted uncomfortably in the pew, and thought to mutter a short prayer to Tyr for forgiveness. It seemed the right thing to do where he was – and considering whose clutches he was in.

At the end of the prayers, Captain Whytstone stood and faced Gaheris as the soldiers began to file out of the chapel, the chaplain behind him. “Well, Stedd, I said we’d talk. We’re happy to have rescued you, but I don’t like secrets in my chapel. What really brought you running to our door with Night Masks on your heels?”

Gaheris quickly affected a look of confusion. “Night Masks? What do you mean?”

The captain dropped a tool pouch and a coinpurse on the pew. The first he recognized as his own lockpicks – he might have known, he thought glumly – and out of the second spilled the same kinds of silver and copper coins Gaheris had seen all his life. “An educated guess, but you had those, and your pursuer carried Westgate-minted coinage and was obviously a skilled assassin,” he said, absentmindedly feeling under his right armpit. “I’m no expert, but I’d think it would take quite a bit to get the thieves of Westgate to pursue you on this side of the Dragon Reach, either an assassination contract or some direct affront to the guild. Am I right?” Gaheris said nothing. “I think there might have been truth in what you said yesterday. No one hires assassins or sends their own to chase down someone your age and apparent degree without a very good reason. I think you did kill some of them. If you did, I’ll shed no tears, but I want to know about it.”

“I don’t know anything about the Night Masks apart from they’re bad news. I came from Saerloon and was going to Archendale.”

Whytstone sighed. “Chaplain Buckman, if you please?”

Miri Buckman began the initiators of a spell when shouts of alarm came from outside, followed by an uncomfortably familiar roar.

Captain and chaplain both looked at the door in alarm. “We’ll finish this later,” said Whytstone as he strode to the door, drawing his sword as he went. Chaplain Buckman followed close behind, hefting her warhammer. After a moment’s hesitation, Gaheris followed.

The sight that greeted them was an enormous troll pushing in the unbarred gate, the guards fanning out between it and the statue. Gaheris backed up to the left, staying back against the rear wall in terror as he thought he recognized the beast from the bandit attack. Had it somehow followed him?

The troll swiped at the guards as it sniffed the air, before its beady eyes fixed on Gaheris. Shouting something unintelligible to him, it tried to bull through the guards in his direction. The two on his side of the statue raised their shields and stepped in swinging, one’s sword biting deep into the creature’s thigh. It grunted, seized the poor man in both hands, lifted him off the ground, and bit him in the face. His scream was cut short as it proceeded to bodily rip him open.

“IVOR!” Miri’s shout of alarm was followed immediately by the initiators of a spell. A glowing sword appeared out of thin air next to the troll and took a swing, biting into its shoulder. Captain Whytstone charged, his sword glowing with power as he hewed at the giant with all his strength.

That got the beast’s attention. It stopped coming for Gaheris and turned to face the paladin, its wounds already sealing shut. Whytstone voided one claw, but the other caught at his shield, ripping it from his arm. Taking his sword in both hands, he answered with a mighty swing, but the troll batted it aside.

The chaplain had come over towards Gaheris when the troll had started towards him, but now hefted her hammer to go aid her captain. “Miri, where are my weapons?” She paused. “You’re going to need me, where are they,” he asked again.

“Armory. The tower on the southeast corner. Go!” She charged even as her spiritual weapon took another swing, bashing the troll in the back of the knee. It barely seemed to notice.

Gaheris took advantage of the distraction and ran towards the tower she’d indicated, circling the melee. To his mild surprise he found the door unlocked. The room was full of weapons and armor, but his daggers and long knife stood out, sitting against the end of an armor rack. Seizing them and taking a moment to strap his wrist sheathe back on, he ran back outside.

He could probably make the gate, he thought. The troll had moved into the chapel’s courtyard, and might not notice him as he made a break for it. He hesitated for a moment, but then saw it hit both Captain Whytstone and Chaplain Buckman. It swatted the paladin aside and bodily seized the cleric, her swing with the hammer skipping off its warty arm as it lifted her toward its mouth. Her spiritual weapon hit it across the face, causing it to scream, but it maintained its hold.

‘That tears it,’ thought Gaheris. Taking stock, he ran up the stairs to his right onto the top of the ramparts. The guards moved in to try to rescue their chaplain as Whytstone regained his feet, but they would be too late. Gaheris took two steps along the parapet wall and leaped, knife held high.

He wasn’t sure what happened next. He was aiming for the troll’s neck, hoping to sever something vital. This he did, but he felt a strange power flow through his arm, as his weapon began to glow white. The blow felt more sure than any he’d thrown in his life, and his knife slipped into the troll’s flesh, straight through the neck. He ripped sideways, tearing the blade out of the side of the neck. Black blood fountained from the jagged wound.

The troll dropped Miri and began to thrash with its long arms, trying to reach Gaheris to pluck him from its back. The knife came up and went down again, still with the strange glow. As one of the long arms levered back and almost reached him, he let go and slid down the creature’s back, dropping his dagger into his left hand and stabbing with both as he passed the creature’s kidneys, twisting the blades as his slide dragged them back out. As he landed, Captain Whytstone stepped in and took a mighty two handed swing into the creature’s guts. It shuddered and fell, but the wounds, grievous as they were, had already started to close.

“A torch! Quick!” The captain swung his sword down again as one of the surviving guards rushed to obey, running to the storage room in the opposite tower. A few moments and a lot of heavy blows to the troll later as it rapidly healed, he emerged with a bundle of firewood, lamp oil, and several torches. “Hurry!”

The man emptied the jar of oil onto the troll’s face and started applying a flint and steel to the torch. After a few moments, it caught. He promptly lit the oil.

The troll shrieked as it died, the fire overcoming its healing factor and sending it to oblivion. The smell was atrocious.

Miri Buckman rose to her feet while the fire was lit, clutching her side, but rather that tend her own wounds, she rushed over, stumbling a bit, to the fallen guard and knelt, feeling for a pulse. She tried a spell to no effect. After a few moments, she shook her head as the captain walked up behind her.

“He’s gone,” she said sadly.

“Ivor died doing his duty. The Triad will welcome him with open arms. Tend to the living, Miri. There will be time for his rites when you’re no longer bleeding.” He reached out and touched her side where the troll’s claws had dug in, his hand bathed in a watery blue glow. The light flowed into the wound and started to bind it up.

“Thank you, Randal,” she answered, nearly whispering. “You’re right, of course.” She stood, and turned to face the others. Gaheris was standing awkwardly behind the half-aflame corpse of the troll looking in their direction, the three surviving guards watching the beast intently, only just starting to relax as it became clear the flames had put the regenerating horror down. “This debris befouls the chapel of Tyr,” she pronounced in a clear voice. “Remove it from this place.” The guards jumped to obey, Gaheris and their officers with them, seizing the giant by the legs and with effort dragging its flaming upper torso out of the gate.

The work finished, the six filed back into the courtyard. “Bar the gate,” ordered Captain Whytstone. “I want no more surprises today. We need to see to Ivar.”

The heavy bar in place, the inhabitants of the chapel gathered Ivar’s body and laid him in state as best they could with the condition he was in at the feet of Resounding Justice. That done and prayers said over his corpse, Captain Whytstone turned to Gaheris.

“Well, Stedd, it seems I should be thanking you. Perhaps we should name you Trollbane. Why didn’t you tell us?”

Gaheris looked in honest confusion, having been lost in thought. “Tell you what?”

“I saw what you did to the troll. You have the blessings of one of Tyr’s paladins, yet you said nothing.”

“I don’t know what you mean. I don’t know what happened, it just sort of… did. My knife has never done that before.”

“You mean you don’t know?” The captain’s silver eyes went wide in recognition.

Miri broke in. “Captain… I think we may have just witnessed his Calling.”

“Calling? What do you mean?”

“She means, paladins are called to service by the gods. Tyr decided to bless you when you risked yourself to protect this holy place; that much is clear by his guiding of your hand.” Captain Whytstone reached across to place a hand on Gaheris’ shoulder. “Whether or not you keep that blessing is in your hands. Tell me, what really brought you here?”

Gaheris’ resistance broke. He knew that to continue the charade would be wrong, and suddenly desperately wanted to prove worthy of what the captain was saying of him.

“My name is Gaheris. I don’t know my parents and have no last name. You were right, I am from Westgate.” With that, the story of the past several days came out.

The captain and chaplain sat and listened until he was finished, by which point the boy was nearly in tears. They both looked at him for a few moments before Miri broke the silence.

“My parents fled the civil war in Tethyr with me when I was a girl,” she said to him. “I know what it is to be forced from your home. It seems to me, from what you say, that Tyr has been calling you for some time and you simply couldn’t answer.”

“What do you mean?”

Whytstone broke in. “You didn’t have to do any of this. You could have chosen to escape the shop without ever encountering the brutes. You could have left Reeves. You could have let your pursuers kill the Amblecrags and escaped cleanly, and you didn’t say it but I know you could have run from here during the attack. You’ve been doing the right thing, and I daresay serving justice, at risk and cost to yourself the whole time.” He smiled thinly. “Of course, there’s the matter of thievery.” Gaheris went pale. “Your deeds buy you some leniency, though make no mistake, you will do penance. But that penance is not mine to assign.”

“So what happens now?”

“I sent to the temple in Selgaunt for a justiciar to come and collect you. That’s in motion. We see what he says.”

Renegade Paladin
2023-05-27, 08:54 PM
Chapter Fifteen
The Will of the Triad

Chapel of Resounding Justice, 15th of Ches, 1362 DR, highsun

The captain busied Gaheris with chores around the walled chapel all morning. After clearing the dishes from breakfast (simple wooden trenchers to hold a simple meal of oats and sausage, which he had wolfed down with gusto) he was set to cleaning around the building. He was just finishing sweeping out the sanctuary and considering when the garrison might take luncheon when the sound of horses outside the gate made him look up.

Several men in armor prominently bearing the warhammer and scales of Tyr rode up to the chapel’s open gate, their leader, a tall man in plate, dismounting as Captain Whytstone strode forth to meet them. “Hail, Justiciar Valerius,” the captain said by way of greeting. “Welcome to the Chapel of Resounding Justice, in the name of Tyr.”

“Hail, Captain Whytstone,” responded the man as he strode into the courtyard, the captain falling into step with him. “Justice and mercy be upon you and your command. I see you have had troll trouble, judging by the carrion in the field outside. I trust all is well. Is this the boy?” He changed the subject, nodding toward where Gaheris stood, broom in hand in the doorway to the chapel sanctuary.

“He is, Justiciar, but circumstances have changed since I sent the dispatch.”

“He has told you the truth of his story, then?”

“That and more. Should we speak in private,” he asked, looking meaningfully at the boy observing from across the courtyard.

“Of course, Captain,” answered the senior knight, and followed him to his quarters while his retinue led their horses into the courtyard, Chaplain Buckman hurrying behind.

* * *

The two officers did not emerge until lunch was served. Knowing the chapel’s limitations, the visiting delegation had brought a spread with them. Presented with a plate, Gaheris again devoured his meal - even though he had been at the chapel for over a full day and had been regularly fed, habits die hard and one used to hunger doesn’t linger over food.

The Justiciar wiped the corners of his stern mouth as the rest of the group finished and turned to regard the boy. “You are Gaheris, sometime known as Stedd Cormwyn. Captain Whytstone has relayed to me the story you told him. Have you anything to add?”

He hesitated. “No, my lord, I…”

“You needn’t address me that way, I am no noble.”

Gaheris nodded uncertainly. “As you say. No, I gave Captain Whytstone and Chaplain Buckman the complete truth.”

Valerius fixed him in his piercing gaze. “I see you believe that is so. This is good, but it presents me with a problem: How to deal with you, an admitted thief and yet favored of Tyr. You know that is what the vision of the warhammer means, not to mention the obvious blessings you displayed fighting the troll.”

He in fact had not known that was what the vision of Tyr’s warhammer meant, but thought it best to remain silent.

The justiciar continued. “There will be no corporal punishment. You received enough of that already at the hands of the Night Masks. You have committed no crimes against Sembia bar pickpocketing in Saerloon, and we clearly cannot send you back across the Dragon Reach.” Gaheris shuddered, knowing full well what would happen if he were returned to Westgate in chains. “Therefore, as Tyr has seen fit to call you, you will serve your penance to his church itself. Until your age of majority and three years thereafter, you will serve as assigned by your superiors, without the opportunity for honors or ranks. You will make restitution to those you have harmed, delivered anonymously by other Tyrrans in cases where this would put your life at risk. At the end of this time you will be free to choose your own path, but know that returning to crime will assuredly cost you Tyr’s blessings. Do you understand and accept this judgment, knowing your alternative is the Sembian authorities?”

Gaheris didn’t need to think on it for long. If he were turned over to Saerloon or to Westgate’s watch, the Night Masks would quickly learn he lived. “Yes, Justiciar. What must I do?”

Valerian smiled. “Good. The captain, chaplain, and I have discussed it, and at least for now believe that you can best be put to use here. With the passing of Ivor Moondragon, there is an opening for a guard, and Captain Whytstone can instruct you in the path of your new role.”

“If you’ll have me as a teacher,” the aasimar added quickly. The justiciar shot him a look.

“If that’s your judgment, I thank you,” Gaheris said uncertainly. “It beats some of the alternatives.” He thought back on the vision he had in the sanctuary.

“It is. While you must serve penance, I am also aware that you are in danger and your best defense is for your enemies to continue thinking you dead. I think at some future time you may be instrumental in bringing them to justice, but that time is not today.

“Now,” the justiciar continued, standing, “while we are here, we shall take service at the feet of Resounding Justice this evening and in the morning before setting out, but for now I would pay respects at the grave of Ivor Moondragon, who gave his life in the service of justice. Come, let us go outside.”

The chapel’s garrison and visiting clergy and soldiers filed out of the gate toward the simple headstone marking the resting place of the fallen guard, dug the day before. Gaheris brought up the rear as Miri Buckman fell back to speak to him.

“I’m glad that was the result, young Trollbane,” she said with a thin smile. “We’ll make a good Tyrran out of you yet.”

“I hope so,” drawled Samson, one of the other chapel guards walking just ahead of them. “Getting someone else crazy enough to live out here usually takes longer.”

The chaplain cuffed him on the back of the head.

* * *

With the chapel full to overflowing, tents in the courtyard and field outside were the order of the evening. Captain Whytstone moved into the now-empty bunk in the barracks while Justiciar Valerius took over his quarters. The chaplain did not move, and everyone else camped.

Resounding Justice’s statue-body glowed a soft blue light that filled the courtyard - beautiful in its way, but also difficult to sleep under. With a cloak pulled over his head, Gaheris eventually managed it.

Gaheris’ vision of Tyr and the Court returned again. This time, the Maimed God stood before the Court already holding his hammer.

“Did you know?” Gaheris’ question was half-curious, half-accusatory.

“That the troll would come? I had strong reason to believe so, but not even we can see the future with certainty. Or perhaps you mean what the Justiciar’s judgment would be. That, for certain, for do you think you are the only one to whom I send visions?”

“Those, and what I would do.”

“You had given strong indication,” Tyr responded with a smile. “I do not bestow power lightly, and am rarely wrong.”

“So was this all just to save the chapel?”

“Oh, by the Heavens, no,” laughed the Maimed God, leaning on the hammer’s haft with his good hand. “I have reason to believe you will be of unique future use. If this was all, I could have counted on you to stab the troll in the back, empowered or not.”

“Future use? What do you mean?”

“You haven’t guessed? Learn what the good captain and chaplain have to teach you. You will know when it comes.”

Realization dawned. “Do you mean me to go back?”

“The future is in motion. You may someday; Westgate could certainly use a dose of justice. But even if not, the skills you will develop and those you have will be a rare and potent combination. Return to sleep. The burden of your penance will not be easy.”

Again, the vision faded, the nimbus-limned warhammer the last image to vanish.

Renegade Paladin
2023-05-30, 02:17 PM
Hope and Future Threats

Chapel of Resounding Justice, 16th of Ches, 1362 DR, sunrise

Prayers finished and camp packed, the Justiciar’s party mounted their horses. “Justice and fortune be with you, defenders of Resounding Justice,” Valerian said by way of departing as he spurred his horse toward the road.

The garrison stood at attention until they had ridden around the wall and out of sight. “Well. Back to it,” said Chaplain Buckman. “Duty calls, and the chapel won’t maintain itself.”

“Come, Gaheris Trollbane,” added Captain Whytstone. “Time’s wasting, and you have combat drills to attend to. I think we’re going to have to get you used to wearing armor.”

Gaheris smiled sheepishly as the aasimar clapped him on the back. They turned and entered the courtyard, the gate closing behind them as though on the last chapter of his life, and the start of the new.

* * *

Dockside Warehouse, Westgate. 16th of Ches, 1362 DR, nightfall

“You’re sure you got ‘im?”

“Certain, boss,” Jankin answered. “Bolt buried center back, right between the shoulders. No one lives through that without magic, and none of them stopped for him.”

“Well, it’s something. Ol’ Happy isn’t very happy that his man didn’t make it back.”

Marcus shrugged. “He ran the wrong side of a couple of heavies. Not much we coulda done ‘bout it, with their goons all over us.”

“Yeah, that’s a him problem. Ya done good. Both of ya are going places after this. The Faceless always needs reli’ble men.”

Marcus Ravenlock grinned ear to ear. Jankin was more reserved, but moving up the guild was always lucrative and he knew it. “Thanks, boss,” was all the sniper offered. This might mean going further still, and if they kept performing, maybe even becoming made men, and both knew it.

“We won’t let him down.” Ravenlock twirled the dagger he’d been toying with and rammed it home in its sheath.