A Familiar Fate 4

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A Familiar Fate 3

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The four hours Blacknail had given his scouts were almost up, and it was time for them to return from their hunt, so Blacknail decided to wait a few minutes before heading off to track down Avorlus. The scout that had found him needed a moment to catch his breath anyway, and some of the minions that had stayed at the mansion had wandered off and needed to be rounded up.

After stretching and yawning to shake off the effects of his nap, Blacknail sent out word for everyone to meet at the main foyer.  There, they began preparing to head out, while they waited for the laggards to arrive. Equipment needed to be sorted, disguises had to be fixed, and loot had to be stashed away.

It didn’t take long for the scouts that had been sent out to start coming back. The first hobgoblin that arrived walked through the front door and reported that he hadn’t found anything of interest. However, Blacknail couldn’t help but notice that his clothes were absolutely covered in blood that smelled suspiciously human.

“What happened to you?” Blacknail asked.

“I tripped,” the hobgoblin replied meekly as he turned to avoid meeting Blacknail’s eyes.

“Into a giant puddle of human blood?”

“Er… yes. That.”

Before Blacknail could question him more – like about how the puddle had gotten there in the first place – he was distracted by the arrival of another scout. This one had something sitting on its shoulders. It was a human, a very small one.

“Weeee,” the little brown haired child laughed as he threw his hand up into the air. He was dressed in fine looking clothes and didn’t seem put off by the presence of all the hobgoblins at all, least of all the one he was riding.

Blacknail stared. “What is that?”

“I found it behind a house. Can I keep it?”

“Green men!” the child giggled as it stuck its tongue out at Blacknail. 

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A Familiar Fate 2

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While he was waiting for his minions to return, Blacknail began laying the groundwork for his next move. The first thing he did was explore Avorlus’ mansion more thoroughly. The huge building was full of grandly decorated rooms and lavish furniture, but that didn’t interest the hobgoblins. However, they did make some interesting discoveries. The building had a kitchen of course, and so now that most of the others had left, Blacknail and the remaining hobgoblins raided it for snacks. Since it didn’t seem like anyone had been around for a few days, most of the food was a little stale, but that didn’t matter too much to the hobgoblins. A little age made most human foods taste better anyway. Mold added both color and flavor.

After eating their way through the cabinets, the searchers moved on to examine and loot the rest of the place. One of them stumbled upon a hidden doorway in a wall. It opened to reveal a stairway going down, so the searcher immediately ran to fetch Blacknail.

“Where do you think it goes?” he asked when everyone had gathered to study the stairway.

“To a place that the mage wanted hidden, a place where he keeps his most prized possessions,” Blacknail replied.

“A hidden food store?” the hobgoblin guessed as he leaned forward and peered eagerly down the passage.

Blacknail shook his head. “No, a mage values his magic more than anything else.”

After a brief search for a torch to light the way, Blacknail led the way down the stairs. There were light crystals on the walls but none of the hobgoblins could activate them, since they didn’t have mage blood. Scamp could have done it, so Blacknail sort of regretted sending him away. However, on the other hand, if there was any explosive magic down here then Blacknail didn’t want Scamp anywhere near it.

Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, the hobgoblins found themselves in a fair sized room with rough stone walls. Tables, shelves, and complex looking contraptions filled the space. Light from the torch Blacknail was holding shone out into the room but it wasn’t strong enough to dispel most of the shadows that filled the chamber’s corners. Most evidently of all though, everything reeked of human blood. The smell was practically suffocating.

“Ew, it smells like a pinky exploded down here,” a hobgoblin remarked as his lips curled up in disgust.

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A Familiar Fate 1

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Geralhd frowned with obvious trepidation as he studied Blacknail. The hobgoblin simply smiled back in a cheerful manner. That always disarmed humans, or maybe it stunned them, Blacknail wasn’t sure. It worked. That was what mattered.

It was mid day, and people were walking past them on the street as they both stood outside a rather fancy looking inn that was located on a busy city street. It had stained glass windows and its sign bore the image of a wine bottle and a silver fork. Blacknail had his hood up so that he didn’t draw attention, and the other former members of Herad’s band had already gone inside.

“Are you sure you don’t want to join us?” Geralhd asked. “We’re planning on holding a celebratory feast, and it won’t be the same without you. You were our guide here. Let us reward you! We can rent a private room to help keep you incognito.”

“I was the leader, not just the guide,” Blacknail pointed out.

“Ah, yes. That too.”

Blacknail fel the urge to roll his eyes, but he suppressed it. That would be rude. It was amazing that humans were stupid enough to believe that he was stupid enough not to catch the nuance of their words. Did they think he was as stupid as they were? Well, whatever. Their reluctance to admit he was the best leader they had ever had wasn’t an issue right now.

“No, I got things to do, very important things. I need to visit some people I met here before. They will be very excited to see me.”

“Huh, I keep forgetting that you came here with Herad last year. But all that can wait. Think of all the food and drink you will be missing, and Khita is expecting you to join us. She wouldn’t have gone in without us otherwise.”

“I’m fine, and Khita can bother someone else for a while. I’m busy.” The young redhead had mostly recovered from the injuries she had acquired during the battle at Shelter, but the journey here had taken a lot out of her so she had gone ahead to sit down.

“There will be more meat pies than you can eat.”

Blacknail wavered. That was a tempting offer. He could eat a lot of meat pies. Maybe his plans could wait… No, he had to prioritize and resist temptation. He would just have to rob a store later tonight, when he was done.

“Sounds tasty, but I can’t. I will see you soon,” Blacknail responded before turning to leave. He had to focus on the mission. Pies were secondary to vengeance, most of the time. 

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Interlude: The Hoarding of Power

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The scribbling sound of an ink-stained feather-pen sliding rapidly over paper filled the small room.  It was occasionally interrupted by a plop, as the writing instrument was quickly and methodically dunked in an ink vial. That swiftly moving pen was being gripped by the hand of a bald man with a long white beard. He was in turn seated at a grand wooden desk, which was covered in stacks of paper. The old man was wearing ornate red robes and there was a grim but dedicated look on his face as he worked.

It was getting late and very little light was coming in through the windows, so the small room was lit by two delicate looking lamps. One was hanging from a wall and the other was sitting on the desk. Both of them were made from delicate twisted metal and powered by a mana crystal. The pure white light that shone out of them revealed an impressive looking chamber. Red tapestries emblazoned with a stylistic eye hung on the walls.

The man continued his work for several minutes until he was interrupted by the sound of the room’s single door opening. He looked up and scowled as a pair of younger men stepped into the room. Both of them stood stiffly and were dressed in red militaristic uniforms, but one was taller and took the lead.

“You asked to see us, master,” he said as he and his companion gave the man behind the desk a quick bow.

The bearded man stared at them silently for several seconds. When he replied, he didn’t sound happy and he got right to the point. “Captain, we have recently received several concerning reports from various merchant houses we are in contact with. They all hint at the presence of a rogue mage in the North with access to far more thaumaturgical knowledge than he should have. This is unacceptable. You are to take a guild task force north and deal with the situation yourself.”

The mage guard captain nodded deferentially as he stood at attention. “How reliable is the information? The sources seems suspect to me. The merchant houses have never been our strongest supporters. They would sell anything given the chance.”

The man behind the desk huffed disdainfully, but he didn’t seem annoyed by the question. “True, the fact that several different sources have collaborated the information could be seen as verification of its authenticity, but it is also more than slightly suspicious. It seems likely that our ever-so-helpful informants are working together to feed this information to us. Regardless, investigating this situation is in our interest. The merchants are too powerful to ignore and catching rogues is our greatest priority. Something must be happening here and we need to know what.”

“Why would the merchants want to work together to feed us information? The coin grabbers all compete with each other,” the second mage guard asked in confusion.

This earned him a glare from the guild master. “Unnecessary information. Regardless, it wouldn’t be all of them. There is a certain group of merchants that work together to further their interests. The guild has been watching them, but that doesn’t concern you. Simply do as you have been instructed.”

“Yes, master!” the lead mage guard quickly responded. “Do you have recommendations or instructions that won’t be in the official briefing?”

“Why else would I have called you here?” the guild master said as he held out a handful of papers. The lead man took them and quickly looked them over.

“Daggerpoint? That’s way up in the lawless lands! Unless we bring a full war party or join a large caravan even getting there will be difficult.”

“Exactly, and we might not be the only guild that this information has reached. What we have heard suggests that this rogue may have stolen some rather advanced techniques. Our guild is very interested in knowing exactly how true this is.”

“Ah, and you want us to make sure that our guild… learns exactly what techniques this rogue has acquired.”

“Yes, and since the North is an uncivilized place with no current rulers and few witnesses, it is also your job to make sure that none of the other guilds prevent this from happening,” the guild master explained as he gave his subordinate a meaningful look.

The mage guard captain nodded again. “I understand. We will leave in the morning.”

“Good, it seems that you do understand. It goes without saying that you will be rewarded greatly if you return bearing useful knowledge.”

“Yes, master. We will not fail you or this guild. Magic is power and magic is truth!”

“See that you don’t. I am authorizing you to requisition whatever you think you need. Take as many soldiers, equipment, and battles mages as you think suitable. The North can be quite dangerous and this rogue may not go down without a fight. Plan for extended magical combat but don’t be too obvious about it. This is an operation that requires subtlety and perhaps some deniability as well.”

“As you wish. I will bring a full squad of guild wardens and my own pick of experienced battle mages. We will travel north incognito and find this rogue mage.”

“Good. Now, also missing from the official briefing are some of our local contacts,” the guild master replied as he held out another piece of paper. “Even in Daggerpoint we maintain some sources of information, unsavory as they may be. When you get to the city put pressure on them and they should be able to point you in the right direction.”

“Is that everything, master?” the mage guard captain asked as he took the paper.

“Yes, you are dismissed,” the guild master replied as he waved his subordinates away. He then looked down and pulled his pen out of the inkwell it had been resting in.

“For the glory of the Fiery Eye!” the two mage guards said as they saluted and turned to leave.

The guild master didn’t look up or reply as they exited the room. He scowled deeply as he began writing again. When the door had swung shut and he was alone, the magically lit room was once again filled with the sound of scribbling and rustling papers.