The Red Hand

Convalescences

- BAMBAMBAM -

The sudden loud noise startled the Kitsune.

- BAMBAMBAM -

The Samsaran reached across the table and touched the soft red fur of her hand reassuringly.

“It’s okay,” said Orphée. “I’ll go see what they want”.

- BAMBAMBAM -

The muffled clamor from outside intensified. Orphée zipped out of the study room to go answer her main door.

- BAMBAMBAM - crrriek-

The Kitsune couldn’t make out what they were saying. There were three of four voices intermingling, speaking one over an another in cacophony… and they were getting closer! Kitsune went fox, and joined the one red and one silver fox that had been sitting quietly at her feet. Hackles up, the three hid under a corner table in a pile of teeth and tails.

Orphée entered the room first, gesturing in direction of the sofa to those following her. Four unlikely guests entered: a large man with olive skin that was being held up by three other mages of smaller stature: a effeminate elf and a nobleman under his right arm, and a roguish man of dashing good looks under his left arm. The large man was in a bad way, He was foaming at the mouth and had difficulty breathing. He couldn’t support himself straight and the three other men buckled under his weight has they carried him forward. The noble didn’t seem very pleased at this physical exertion was visibly relieved when they laid the large man down on the sofa. While the others were shouting back and forth about what happened to the large man, the noble dusted himself and walked out.

Things eventually quieted down. The elf and the rogue eventually left. Orphée knelt quietly at the table and the three foxes skittered out. The Kitsune returned to herself and followed.

Orphée told the Kitsune that the large man’s name was Hasdrubal. He and the others that had brought him here were her friends. Hasdrubal had been poisoned and had nearly died. His life was no longer in danger but he would would be in their care during his convalescence.


Hasdrubal had not retrieved consciousness. He still had a fever and to keep his temperature down, Orphée maintained a damp washcloth on his brow. His condition necessitated that someone be in the room to monitor his vital signs, but otherwise they could go about their business. Orphée resumed her teachings. and while she focused on wizardly spellcasting, she also used the opportunity to talk about the life at the academy. What to do and not to do. She talked about her friends. Nasah Tora the elf who hoped to ‘fix’ death, Samir Goldentongue the resourceful prankster, Rhea Amelia Namtab the Oracle of Dreams and finally Hasdrubal.

“Hasdrubal was a gladiator before the Academy sought him.”

“What is a gladiator?” Kitsune asked.

“A slave that fights for the entertainment of others,” replied Orphée. “Different trades, but he was a slave like you. The Academy allowed him to flourish, and so you will.”

The warrior, still knocked-out cold, was slightly wincing. Maybe from pain, maybe from a nightmare. “That doesn’t look like he’s flourishing.” Kitsune’s head cocked sideways in earnest contemplation.

Orphée laughed. “But here at the Academy he made the friends that you saw, and they saved him from this predicament. And he and I became friends, and now we are nursing him back to health. Having friends, growing strong together, that is flourishing.”

“You are his pack. His skulk. When he goes to earth, he goes with you and to you,” said Kitsune with understanding. “Will we go to earth together, will we join your friends?” Kit looked at the large man and the kind blue lady.

“In time perhaps. I do believe serendipity has made all of our path cross.” said the Samsaran, smiling.

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The Blue Lady and the Fox
(who freaks out like a ferret on crack - or a pre-Popsicle racoon)

And there there was no more pain.

Kitsune woke. Her eyes fluttered, lashes in fur. She saw a blue lady.
And she realized she was not tied, chained, or bolted down in any way.

She tried to run.

Her legs betrayed her, after days of bedrest, and she flopped heavily onto her forearms, missing a bloodied nose thanks to her reflexes. She scrambled, all fours, looking for a spot, a hole, a way out. The Blue Lady was saying words. Words in common. She found a pair of table legs. She went fox, and skittered beneath, all claws and teeth and fur bristled high.

The Blue Lady reached out gently, calmly, and Kit flailed, snarled, snapped, and backed her tail into the corner.

The Blue lady sat, legs crossed. She smiled. She did not seem angry or … what… a little bit of… bacon? Kit blinked. The meaty, fatty, delicious aroma tantalized her foxy nose. She relaxed her snarl a little. Maybe not all of her teeth needed to show… The Blue Lady tossed the bacon under the side table. Kit leaned forward, keeping her ears forward, listening for movement. She licked out at the meat. It smelled good. It tasted safe. She checked it for poison quickly. It was fine. Okay. She ate it. Very fine.

The Blue lady placed a second piece of bacon about 4 inches from the edge of the end table.

It lay there. Tempting Kit.
She wiggled a little. Closer. It smelled good. She checked it for poison quickly.
She moved until her nose twitched out in the fresh air of the room. Her wide golden eyes looked at the Blue Lady, sitting, smiling.
There was something else.
But first, the bacon. Kit snarfed it down. Then retreated so just the edge of her nose was visible, her keen eyes watching the Blue Lady.
There was SOMEONE else.
Vixen!

Lying in the Blue Lady’s lap, Little Red Vixen was smiling at Kit. Kit bolted from under the end table and Vixen met her. The two of them rolled and licked and groomed each other, zipping back and forth, circling the Blue Lady.
… She’s safe … Vixen thought to Kit.
… I missed you! She’s safe? Is there more Bacon? … Kit thought back.

After several minutes of play, where the Blue Lady sat cross legged among the frolicking foxes saying nothing, Kit darted behind the bed and went Human.

She was still wearing the night dress, but she realised she had none of her other possessions.

“Vixen says you’re safe,” Kit spoke to the Blue Lady in common.

“I am safe. And so are you,” she held her perfect smile and got to her feet.

“Did Vixen find you?” Kit looked around the room, touching things, lifting things, sniffing them, opening drawers.

“No,” the Blue Lady’s perfectly calm face flinched. Kit saw it, sideways like, without looking, and pretended to not have seen.

“Did you fix me?” Kit touched the thick pile of the carpet beside the bed, the dark wood of the bed frame.

“Yes,” the Blue Lady replied cautiously. “You should be quite well now.”

Realising something, Kit stopped. Looked at the lady. Looked at the bed. “I have no money to pay you. Should I pay you with service?” She moved to remove her night dress and return to the bed.

The Blue Lady moved quickly for a Blue Human. What was she? Maybe a Blue Elf? Before Kit managed to unbutton anything, the Blue Lady said, “My sweet dear one, you do not need to do THAT ever again. You are free. You are at the Coldspire Academy and are going to be trained as a mage.”

Kit understood these words. She had even heard of the Coldspire in whispers before. She didn’t understand the why of these words, but the words and the what she understood. She looked into the woman’s face and replied,

“Blue Lady, I do not want a spell book. They are a lot of trouble.”

“My name is Orphée,” the Blue Lady, Orphée smiled as if Kit spoke a riddle that she had already solved. “And I think we can work with that.”

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Samir's adventure log : Damsel in distress (or was it the scribes?)

What. In. The. Nine. HELLS was that???
I mean, I’ve been known to act in weird ways after a night of drinking, but THAT one REALLY out there!
I spent a whole day getting into all sorts of trouble, thanks to that damned Theofyr… I have to admit though… nice one, my arrogant friend! Ha!
This nightmarish day wasn’t a complete failure on my part though, for while I was in the midst of an “episode” at the library, my groggy mind caught some information that could be VITAL to Hasdy’s limerence (ha!) towards his sister.
Yes, something about a passage in a ledger of some sort concerning dear ol’ daddy-o and a town called Bithia where, I assume, he has business dealings there. Time to round up the crew and get to save a presumably purrty damsel in distress!
Let’s start with Orfée.


Well, that was rude! Orfée won’t even come to this little adventure of ours! Said she’s “busy”… then closed her door in my face while I was trying to sneak a peek. Well, no matter! Samir is a resourceful chap and his curiosity shall be satiated henceforth!


Ok, all I saw was Orfée walking down her quarters out of sight and saying “Now, where were we…?”
THAT kind of activity and no invitation extended to Samir!?? How rude! I live for these kinds of hobbies!
…well, not anymore I guess, but it’s a technicality I will address later on. Rude, Orfée, RUDE! Phhha!


Next stop: Mavrikos!


Ok, apparently, our resident zealot was found hanged in his quarters with a hand down his pants and a slice of lemon in his hand. Always the “virtuous”…


While coming back from another disappointing refusal-for-help, this time from Rhea (stuck apprenticing to Baba Yaga the Hag), I was accosted by Vikkard’s lady, asking that I go meet the Conjuration Headmaster (the one whose quarters I made a mess in. Oh boy… here it comes…). This will not be pleasant!


Well, slap my ass and call me Althea! I survived! Walk through it like a breeze! The old funny-speaking scribe wasn’t even angry at me! Turns out that, when they were busy realigning some doodads I screwed around with, they found out they had miscalculated something or other and Rasputin got somehow involved in this story, but at that point I wasn’t really listening. HOWEVER, that sneaky little (powerful!) man got me in the end: he forced none other than my arch-nemesis, Theofyr! Now he’s to tag along our little group in order to “observe” our shenanigans. I’m in hell!


Hasdy is in his rooms (for a change! Ha!), but seems apprehensive of my presence at his door. A fear of last day’s “adventure”, perhaps? Surely not! I’m the one who will have to answer to very powerful scribes in the not-so-distant future. Regardless, I quickly bring him up to date about my find, but ask him and Nasah to go double-check, just to make sure there are no more details that could help us locate his old man. Me…? I’ll stay away from the head librarian for a few days/months/years/lifetimes…


After a little help from that arrogant fop, we are ready to go! And off to Bithia we go!
Well… near the city anyways. At least Orfée and the zealot aren’t there to lose a full day arguing about what is a delta and where is north, so there’s that.
We arrive a few leagues out of the city walls and set out towards it. After a while, we start hearing hideous laughter sounds coming from the high grass. Sure enough, we eventually see six giant hyenas that are stalking us, ready for a quick and easy meal. They are still far enough away that we can choose a defensible terrain and wait for them to attack. Me? Well, I assume my true form, getting rid of my puny shell to spread my gigantic, majestic wings. So the hyenas changed their minds and ran away in search of an easier prey. Ha! Illusions, is there anything you CAN’T do (shut up, Hasdy!)?
The higher powers must like me, that’s for sure!


So we arrive at an inn and we pass ourselves off as merchants, scouting for possible future deals. Due to my humble attire, Theofyr quickly sets my role as a servant, that bastard. No matter, I can play the part real well… all you have to do is to keep your pinky up all the time and shape your lips like a rooster’s asshole. Easy-peasy!


Ok, we investigated and came up with a plan of staying in character as much as possible and then we pull the Academy card, saying we are investigating a possible magic user within Hasdrubal’s father’s family and we would like details about the whereabouts of his daughter.


For some reason, the scribes seems to have forgotten about our plan, because we did not use it and we kept trying to stay in character and we ended up with failure. We ended up showing our hand, revealing Hasdrubal’s identity and finally, we invited the dad to a sit-down in a public place on the next day.


What? The scribes are actually planning on meeting the dad that, for all purposes, should be dead because of his son’s action, was an asshole to begin with AND from our information gathering, we came to know NOT to double-cross his house, or else? Surely they jest! Surely! ….surely…
Well, good ol’ Samir will take care of this! You just watch me!


Ok, so first, I buy a lamb and go kill it in a dark alley. THEN, I learn that killing a lamb make a LOT of noise. THEN? Well, I learn that the city guards can be bought off in order to erase this small mistake of mine.
Now the fun part starts! So first, I change the lamb into a perfect copy of Hasdrubal, THEN, I animate that bad boy, but with enhancements. THEN? Well, then I have a NAKED Hasdrubal in an alley, waiting on my command. A quick change and he now wears my pauper’s robes. Problem solved! Just gotta remember to change him before the meeting (hint: I will forget, damnit!).
We now have a great replica of Hasdrubal and are ready to meet his father. And should we fall into an ambush, the ambushers would soon become the ambushes! It’s FOOL PROOF!


Damned Galph and his spurious details-giving about spells! Surely that chap does not intend for me to do the research on things I purchase for my adventure!?? The gall, I say! The GALL!!!
So two problems occurred at this point with my plan. First, how was I supposed to know that I could ONLY make the puppet speak and not listen? When I saw 2 guards from Hamilcar’s house approaching the decoy and speak to it, I could not make out what they were saying, so I made the puppet tell them to wait and come over here (where I was within earshot, disguised as a beggar). The funny faces they made when the puppet spoke surprised me quite a bit. Did they see through the treachery that quick???


…well… turns out that I should have bribed a town official to have a cadaver instead of sculpt-sculpting a lamb. Do you know why? Well, Galph (again!) forgot to tell me that the sculpt corpse spell only plays with the appearance of the corpse but did not change its attributes, such as… its voice. Ever heard of a lamb that got its voice box modified to be able to speak the common tongue of Men, but that’ it? Well, now I know…


It wasn’t a complete disaster though, for when the decoy confirmed his “true” identity, the guards proceeded to kill him on the spot, under the very nose of the city guards, who did nothing!
Glad to not have started a fight that time, eh!??
Oh… it’s also when I saw the guards leave with my pauper’s robes that I remembered to remove them before this meeting. That one’s on me, Galph. I got you, brother.


Not much else to say other than when we went back to the inn, a messenger brought a summons from the old man himself and the scribes decided to enter the compound (you know, the place filled with guards under daddy’s employ? (sigh)). It quickly turned ugly between Daddy and Son, Daddy told Hasdy his sister was dead, Hasdy didn’t believe it, Daddy stabbed Hasdy with a poisoned dagger, Hasdy was about to die, Theofyr teleported us to the inn, then to the Academy, Hasdy was saved (barely! What’s with that guy’s streak of bad luck lately?), and we are now back to square one. We’ll need more scribes when we go back, that’s for sure!

To be continued…

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Making Amends
Some wrongs do make a right!

Samir was jotting down what he remembered of his little accident so that he could pro-actively fix some of it. Never a good idea to let someone else come up with your punishment.

Wolann Carrow and Therin Skarlag would be particularly difficult, but, for the moment, he was focusing on the librarian. Honestly, he didn’t even know what he was thinking when he went in there. Thankfully, the librarian knew him enough to keep watch on him. Some might even say that the mistrust he had instilled in the old wizard had prevented him from making more trouble. He wasn’t sure he could sell that, but he sure would try…

… Back to the matter at hand. He had been looking at some reports from Sekunta and thought he had found something. Something about some petty merchant… What was his name again? Hamilion, no, Hamilcar! Hamilcar Thesh! That was it! But why?

Ananrath’s panties! Of course!

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Fates
Meanwhile in Wolann Carrow laboratory…
Meanwhile in Wolann Carrow laboratory…

Hmmm, what a mess on my link analysis. My dots, my strings…. Samir will pay dearly to have disturbed the my Work. The counsil will be most

A few hours of work later…
It’s broken, what did that INCOMPETENT DO!!! SAMIR will rue the day he was born. His fate shall terrorize all for a 1000 years. His tongue will be cut out, he will be bound tight in wrappings, and placed inside a tomb that will keep him alive. Carnivorous beetles were poured onto his body, which will feed on his body and soul over many years. His tomb will be buried from that day forward, none will know his name…

Hmmm what is this…

Many hours later…
[sound of book closing] Well, well Pisces… in ascendance… the twinkling constellation may change is misfortune and bring about that which we seek. It’s an elegant adjustment and would bring all in in balance. He’ll certainly think it’s the torment of the ages….

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Foxy Lady
A New Player Has Joined the Party

Cursed Harkenon.

Lyrion had never loved the man. His predilections were even more repulsive than the mage himself, but, at least, he had, up to now, had the decency to keep it private.

The halfling still couldn’t figure out why Harkenon had chosen to share his little secret with him. It was well known that he had no objection to the pleasures of the flesh and an impressive breath of experience, but he drew the line mental slavery… Without free will, there was no chase, no thrill of negotiations and no person.

Regardless of the man’s motivation – and Lyrion was starting to think it was probably his very disgust that titillated the slug – now he, Lyrion, was also burdened with the knowledge.

Novices were Academy resources and if it was discovered that he had kept one to himself, leashed with an old Sinzhen collar no less, the whole school would be embarrassed.

Once, he had gotten this through Harkonen’s thick, meaty skull, the man at least had enough sense to agree to a plan of action. If they could civilize the girl and have her reach the second circle of magic without anyone figuring it out, they could have her accepted as a gifted student.

The soft sound of slippered feet broke his train of thought. He looked up and smiled.

“Ah, just the lovely azure princess I was looking for!”

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En Passant

-Now, we go over from start again, yes?
Master Broju was clearly unhappy with the young wizards’ debriefing.
-You get to Chino. You have many boats, yes? You follow tracks of robut to hill fort. Under hill iz complex, many fights, yes?
Every questionning “yes” was punctuated by a flash of his enchanted eye.
-In final room, you find king killer rabbit and Rasputin. Stasia’s Rasputin, yes? Earth Rasputin, yes?
He was now standing and obviously expecting an answer, looking at each of them in turn.
-Yes, sir, Hasdrubal answered before the pause became too long.
He glanced at Anastasia, sitting by a window embroidering, and sat down.
-Two Rasputins?
-Yes, sir.
-One flee and other kills hosts, yes?
-Yes.
-How does Rasputin find broken world? How at same time? This displeases me.
With an exasperated wave of his hands and a short arcane formula, the conjuror, returned the apprentices to the Academy’s Hall of Doors.

The tiefling spoke another incantation and the low marble table was replaced by a stand with multiple chess boards arranged on arms at different levels, each apparently midgame. Anastasia put down her embroidery and joined him. She moved pieces on some of the boards.
-That was rude, love.
-Hmph.
-You can’t expect novices, or even young masters, to handle a grandmaster on their own, especially when no one even knew he was playing.
-Ah, at least, now we know, yes?
-Yes.
With a click he toppled one of Anastasia’s kings.
-Oh, clever.
-Spaseeba. Now there is new game, yes?
He touched the board of the now-finished game and closed his eyes. The board stretched and reformed to accommodate three sides. One side had marble and gold pieces shaped like Academy wizards. Anastasia recognized Vikkard and herself as king and queen. The other pieces were members of the cabal and a few other friends. A pawn was missing.
She recognized the king on the second side, carved out of the darkest obsidian, a tall, caped, skeletal figure holding an hourglass in its hand: Death; the pieces surrounding him variations on the theme.
Rasputin stood as the third and final king. The figurine seemed oddly organic. She swore something was slowly writhing under its surface and she could occasionally see tentacle tips peeking out from the bottom of its robe. The pieces that formed his entourage were nothing more than shapeless greenish blobs with one exception. In lieu of one peon stood a young woman in the style of the first pieces, her marble slowly seeping ooze that disappeared as it reached the board.
-Who is this one?
-Old apprentice.
-I see.
-Hmph.
-This game will not be easy.
-Da.
-You wouldn’t want to lose more pieces.
-Oh, now you are clever. Fine… Fine… Please be bringing my apologies to our young friends. Oh, and also, be warning them that they seem to have brought back some of the broken world’s energy with them. I do not exactly know what it is, but I think it is harmless, yes? Now, please let me reflect. We must plan move.
Anastasia nodded and walked towards the nearest exit. She turned at the last minute and looked at the wizard.
-You know dear, I think I know a way to balance the board…
He looked up from the board and smiled at her.

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Gods don't settle for less

Some students never forgive the circumstance of their enrollment or the warped and brutal morality of the way the Coldspire Academy deliver its teaching. These individuals quickly learn to keeps any resentment or rebellious thoughts to themselves as those that don’t do not get to harbor these feelings or draw breath for very long.

This brutality, which may appear gratuitous and unwarranted, does serve a purpose. Students that survive first take pride in that they did. This pride grows over time, sometimes despite them, as the students continues to succeed where so many have failed. In time, this pride flourish into a sense of their own exceptionalism. They eventually see themselves as gods amongst men, above all considerations of faith, race or nationality.

As the Academy intended.

The Academy was more than about forming the next generation wizards. It was also, and perhaps foremost, a place of research. Wizards of the various arcane schools sought to further advance their respective fields. New spells deemed fit to stand the test of time are added to the Great Scroll, a magical artefact acting as the repository of all arcane magic spells known. Each new inscription brings renown to the author but also prestige to the associated arcane school. This created an highly competitive environment fraught with infighting and politicking, where the wizards constantly vie for power and influence. A select few, selected for their arcane potential and certain temperamental disposition, serve as vanguard to their arcane schools research thrust: the Sin Mages.

While the concept of wizard specializations along the classically recognized schools of magic dates back to the dim recesses of time, Sin Magic was a more recent development, dating back to the Academy’s founding. It is said that is was around that time that the discovery was made that each school of magic but divination was opposed by two specific ’’prime’’ opposition schools and that by excising “impurities” introduced by these particular schools, wizards could enhanced their mastery over their chosen arcane specialties.

Sin magic practice varies greatly, mirroring the particular inclinations of practitioners of the different school. Sin Mage Evokers gather in a private ‘fight club’ while Sin Mage abjurer convey in a secret society whose proceedings was more akin to a cult than a fraternal organisation. As for the debaucheries attributed to the Sin Magic enchanters… well the less said, the better… All Sin Mages chapters had one thing in common however, they kept a low profile therefore an aura of mystery surrounded their practices.

===

A sooty piece of blackish rock, a Philosopher’s Stone, adorned the podium. It was the only dull element in the otherwise bright and showy room. The auditorium was a mirror image of a archetypal Academy’s classroom but with each material altered to a precious material. Stone to gold, wool to silk, glass to crystal… Gold was the prevalent element, being the main component in the floors, walls and ceiling. It was laced in details, great and small from glass to give it a cherry tint to the fine gold thread woven into the fabric of tapestries. To the aesthetically minded, the over abundance of gold gave the site a gaudy appearance. To the Sin Mages here gathered however, its artistic merit was of no concerns. The venue was a statement.

Standing at the podium was Althea, wrapping up her speech to this year freshmen.

«There are two kinds of progress: the methodical experimentation and categorisation which gradually extend the boundaries of knowledge, and the revolutionary leap of genius which redefines and transcends those boundaries. Acknowledging our debt to the former, we yearn, nonetheless, for the latter.

I am very honoured to introduce this year’s elected speaker, which has persistently embodied this pursuit of excellence. A new adherent of the fourth circle of magic, he successfully defended two new spells proposal for addition to the Great Scroll. Ladies and gentlemen, Hasdrubal Thesh

The crowded applauded warmly as Hasdrubal made his way to the podium. On the way, the pupil briefly crossed path with his mentor. Hasdrubal secretly hoping to catch her give him a word of encouragement, but she walked pass him silent without giving him as much at a glance.

Hasdrubal took place at the podium, outwardly projecting confidence but still a bit feeling of apprehension at this first attempt at public speaking.

«Some vices miss what is right because they are deficient, others because they are excessive, in feelings or in actions.

While the slothful conjurer is at the mercy of whoever he conscript, the transmuters is the true master of his destiny for he wield the power to improve himself to meet the challenges of any obstacles.

What wrathful evoker sunders we can mend with a mere flick of the hand.

The gluttonous necromancer may hunger for the mysteries of life and death, but we transmuters do not limit ourselves to such a narrow purview. We seek to unlock the mystery of Creation itself.

The envious abjurer may yet try to stifle our efforts, they are impotent of greatness by their very nature. They are doomed to live in our shadows.

The love the lustful enchanter rouses is but a forgery. You may be still be neophyte in the field of alteration, but in time you will come to appreciate that with mastery of form comes mastery of desire.

What the prideful illusionist fakes, we can easily generate. Make the old, new and the new, old. Assume the form of the elf, the beast, the dragon. If these mountebank so desperately wish for disguises, they should abandon their teachers and take on the study of our ways!»

The crowd laughed in approval of the dig. Hasdrubal paused for the attendance to quiet down before continuing:

«The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarify, cuts through and captures the essence of evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge, has marked the upwards surge of civilization since the beginning of time.

And Greed, you mark my words, will prove Lyria’s salvation and usher a new age of enlightenment. Thank you.»

The crowd roared with applauses. Hasdrubal tilted his head slightly to catch his mentor’s reaction from the corner of his eye. She returned him a single nod of approval, a faint smile of satisfaction on her lips.

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Samir's first foray into forgiveness - Part 1

.
“I have to say, watching you struggling with that particular predicament of yours has been quite entertaining to me”, Hasdrubal said between grunts of exertion. Damn was that bag heavy.

“Tell me again what we are supposed to do with Vithnya’s corpse?” this should be good Hasdrubal thought, gleefully watching his friend perform gruesome mental gymnastics in order to “truthfully” supply information that amounted to nothing of value in the end.

“I told you already. I’m stuck with telling the truth as a consequence of something I believe am completely innocent of!” Samir replied in a bored tone, walking beside his puffing companion. Boy was he starting to get the hang of telling the “truth”!

“Of course you are… Now, that something includes carrying the corpse of an Academy official into Geb’s marketplace at sundown… Why am I nervous about this…?”

“Pah! Nothing to worry about, dear Chap. See?!! I can’t lie and I’m telling you this with confidence!”

“Somehow I’m more nervous now…” is it lying if a crazy person believed it? Hasdy pondered.

“Ok, Fine! I owe you that much from not pushing my point earlier when the scribes decided to go investigate the zealot’s not-great-but-wayyy-not-hellish childhood instead of rescuing your sibling, who’s well alive and suffering under the yoke of some high-ranking master somewhere. And you guys think that I’m the shady one of the bunch! Pah! Oh, by the way, my research is soon to be fortuitous concerning the whereabouts of your dear (and hopefully cute! wink wink) sister. A simple matter of confirming my findings and we’ll be good to go! Aaaanyway, for some reason I don’t think I can share with you, I’m stuck with a truth geas because of some things I miiight (Samir winces in pain at that)… that I proooobably (the painful expression gets worse)… that I most surely did. Hence, for my atonement towards our slave masters, I am to somehow fake dear Vithnya’s death and to assure her bald offspring’s future. Easy peasy!”

“I see… and how do you plan on achieving this, since you won’t be able to lie when you’ll report on her death?” Hasdrubal said, already anticipating having a window into Samir’s inner thought processes.

“Well, I’ll solve this like I solve all of life’s problems, my dear Hasdy: I’ll just wing it!”

Hasdrubal simply sighed. “Of course we’ll do this”.

“We’re close, Samir whispered conspiratorially. Now let’s drop this bag of corpse conservation so we could be more conspicuous”.

Hasdrubal dropped his heavy load to the ground with a sigh of relief. “Why did you make me drag this all the way to here if we’re just going to abandon the corpse for the wild dogs to eat? I know you are good at spewing verbiage like no other, but your ‘condition’ will surely prevent you from spinning a tale of her heroic death if we leave her that way…”

“Huh? Oh! We’re not leaving the corpse, silly! Samir said conversationally while fishing for something inside the bag. We’re just getting rid of some dead weight… now where is… Ah Ha! Found it!” he exclaimed triumphantly, holding a dead mouse in his fist, smiling.
“Hasdrubal, meet our dear hero, Vithnya. I’ve temporarily modified her appearance. Can’t risk witnesses seeing her dead before she’s to die in the most epic, hero-ist of ways, now do we? Now, come along; we need to set up the bait and sit back to wait for a fish worth playing the villain in this little tale of ours!” He winked, strolling along toward a tavern alley.

Hasdrubal blinked, looking at his friend, then at the bag. Curiosity was simply too much for him, so he took a peek inside: rocks… and lots of them.
“You son of a bitch!”

“Well, I told you I needed help moving a corpse, didn’t I? Human remains ARE heavy, yes? Now, be honest: would you have tagged along for an adventure with good ol’ Samir if I didn’t need help moving something heavy? Eh? EH?”

“Good point…”

..

“Now what are we doing here exactly, Samir? Hasdrubal asked. I fail to see how Vithnya’s death could be heroic if she were to meet her end from a lowly thug in a dark alley. This is too cliché, especially for you.”

Samir gasped theatrically. “I’m shocked. Shocked that you would believe that I have such a low level of imagination” Samir nonchalantly said while fiddling with a small metallic box. “There!” he exclaimed, once opened “And now for the bait”.

Samir dropped the dead mouse to the floor and took out one of his many wands hidden within his person. Pointing it toward the dead animal, he whispered a command word and transformed it into a fat house cat. Once the transformation was complete, Samir stared into the box and a small brooch started floating in the air and going towards the cat. “Hmmm, I thought that damned thing was supposed to be some type of necklace… Bah! Never mind, I’ll attach it with a piece of string instead…”

The Rascal Mage fished a small string from one of his many pockets, activated his famous ring and proceeded to tie the brooch around the cat’s neck. “There! Dear Hasdy, pray not touch this beautiful toy of mine, as it is quite deadly. All right! Now, if my contacts are accurate, they should pass by any minute now…
Aaany minute…”

..

“It’s been two hours, Samir. I’m starting to think your information isn’t as sound as you make it out to be”

“Nonsense! They’re just late is all. Evil minions aren’t the most trustworthy of individuals after all.”

“Ok, so what are we supposed to do exactly? And who are we supposed to helplessly throw into one of your webs of trouble?”

“Well, I spent quite a lot of time in Geb, especially in the many black markets of this fine city. I had to take care of these old bones of mine after the encounter with that damned dragon, remember? And a few minor adjustments, too” Samir said to himself, adjusting his hat.

“So, while asking around (and having a merry time at it might I add), I’ve made quite a few friends with loose tongues, you see? Turns out, nearly everyone in this damned world is trying to conquer the world in one form or another. It was simply a matter of picking which cult or secret society that could play a role in this little story we’re about to knit into a beautiful piece of clothing, if you don’t mind my analogy. So I’ve settled with this scary-looking cult of the Hanged-God. With them most likely residing in the same dark, ominous temple slash abandoned underground lair of some sort (the fools always do!), this would facilitate the second part of my plan, which is money for baldy. Still following me? No? Bah! No matter… So this cult, you see, are trying to open some kind of gate into some kind of weird world where their residents are somehow immortals. But some are not for some reason? And one of those groups don’t have magic or something to that effect. Reallyyyy convoluted details that I didn’t care (or was too drunk to understand at that time) to pay too much mind to is what I’m saying. Anywho, that group is always meeting at this tavern over there. And it happens that one of them has a shy bladder! Can’t stand pissing in the common latrines like us common folks. So he elects to empty his piss bag in this very alley! You see the genius of it? Eh? EH?!!”

Hasdrubal shook his head, more to clear his thoughts than in disbelief. “Okay, I see the plan is to ambush one of the cult members – “

“EVIL cult member” Samir quipped.

“Yeah… evil… So we grab him. Then what? Torture him? You know I’m no Orfée when it comes to the morally ambiguous endeavors, but you know that fanatics never break, right? This will not end well, Samir…”

“Torture? What are you talking… THERE! He’s coming he’s coming!” Samir cried in glee. “Vithnya, now’s your turn! You will single-handedly defeat this evil cultist in order to extract information related to the whereabouts of their most evil and foul lairs! Let us slink back into the shadows a little and watch the show.”

Hasdrubal, confused as to how a dead cat could defeat a capable-looking foe in combat, did not voice his objections for once and followed his weird friend into is domain.

**

It turned out that the “fight” was a short one. The animated dead cat, under the illusion of a live one, simply walked up to the cultist, while lazily displaying his valuable necklace and rubbing the victim’s leg. Upon seeing the jewelry, the poor sod simply ripped it from the cat and stared at it. A breath of two later, he was having spasms of pain, clutching his chest. Then he was dead.

Samir sauntered into the alley, dagger in hand. “And now to interrogate our newest informant”, he said, turning the corpse over on his belly and starting to carve out the skin of his back.

“How will skinning him help you get him to talk?” Hasdrubal asked, watching the tavern door across the way for signs of discovery.

“Who said anything about talking?” Samir replied, finishing up his work and rolling a big slice of skin into a roll, discreetly shoving it into his sleeve. Taking the same wand as before, Samir sculpted the corpse back to its original form, then proceeded to open its throat. “That one is very fond of the pork ribs this particular establishment serves, you see” Samir said, while taking a small piece of rib bone from his pocket and shoving it into the exposed throat. Using his wand again, he closed the throat and turned the corpse’s skin a bluish tone. “There! Poor sod choked on his meal. That should do it. Now come, Hasdrubal, we have a room waiting in this very tavern!”

Hasdrubal followed his friend inside, past the dead cultist’s friends, and up the stairs to a room.

..

“Now what?” Hasdrubal asked, afraid of the answer.

“Well, we discover where the evil lair is located, my dear man” Samir exclaimed, satisfied with himself. He laid the corpse’s skin on a small table, took out another one of his wands and whispered the command word. Sure enough, the skin was soon filled with all matters of lines and writings. “And now we have a map of where poor Vithnya will meet her heroic end AND where we’ll find the funds in which to give her poor (and bald! Ha!) daughter a generous stipend for the rest of her life. And, this other world with immortals and whatnot could be precious information I could share to our dear masters in exchange to a little more looking-the-other-way currency. And now to bring the rest of the gang into this little scheme of ours.”

“Of yours you mean”

“Let us not waste time on such trivial details, dear friend. Investigating this cult falls under our mandate, and we’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone so good ol’ Samir will be able to enjoy the freedom of his voice once again!”

“Oh, I can’t wait for that” Hasdrubal whispered sardonically.

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... Punishment (2 of 2)

Something woke Samir up. He couldn’t really tell what, however. There had been no noise and no one had touched him; his eyelids had simply opened of their own accord. Waking up in the middle of the night for no reason was unpleasant enough, but more concerning was the fact that he was paralyzed and that two people were sitting on his decoy bed looking directly at him through his illusory wall. How had they bypassed his traps and alarms, especially old Pithic?

The old man seemed more serene than Samir had ever seen . That might have had something to do with the support of old Draktooth sitting next to him.

-Please sit down young Goldentongue.
Samir would have said something pithy about the paralysis, but unfortunately said paralysis included his mouth. He was still considering his options when his limbs began to fulfill Pithic’s request. Huh! It felt like a second skin under his own was directing his body, like someone else was wearing his body as a gimp suit. Ah… Memories of Geb… No, he couldn’t get sidetracked!
-Thank you Master Draktooth. Now, young Goldentongue, I think you and I have spent enough time together and the time for conversation has passed. It is now the time for action…
Ah, the gimp was Draktooth. Probably something from that binding ceremony… Well, Samir had gotten out of worse jams before. It was just a question of finding the suit’s weak point.
-…that was unfortunate. Despite her many flaws [[Crime and… (1 of 2) | Vithnya was right about one thing]]. You did commit the greatest transgression possible; you were arrogant and careless. You are surrounded by the greatest minds of Lyria and beyond and you thought you could fool them all. If it wasn’t for the inventiveness of your chaos, I would have assumed you were brain-damaged and lobotomized you a long time ago…
Well, that didn’t sound like Pithic.
-I can’t even imagine how you got it into your head that we had to “prove” anything when we could have simply ripped the thoughts right out of your head, but it was entertaining enough to see you come up with your little stories…
Uh-oh, not good. Samir redoubled his efforts to find a way out of his binding.
-…but in the end, our mission is teaching. So a few beginner’s lessons for you. If you’re intent is mischief, and the school of illusion does not look down on mischief, do not target a known antagonist unless you have a patsy. Secondly, don’t use artifacts closely related to your person. More generally, always assume that your opponents are smarter than they are and, finally, remember that nothing is ever as it seems.
As he said these words, Pithic’s appearance smoothly cycled from his own to perfect recreations of other members of the Academy.
Cute, Samir thought, I have one of those hats too, although he had to give the old man credit for his attention to detail.
-Now, Draktooth and I have decided to maintain our investment in your potential to the detriment of Vithnya. This will obviously aggravate the evokers, so as part of your punishment, you will ensure that Vithnya dies an honourable or, at the very least, innocuous death, and that her daughter’s future is assured while ensuring that no one ever discovers our involvement. Only once this is accomplished will we lift your censure.
Censure?
Pithic took what looked like a metal wand with a very small stamp at the end out of his robe’s sleeve and Draktooth winced. As he did, Samir could feel his control slip.
-Anything to add in your defence?
-Hhurghl…
Pithic looked at Draktooth and smiled.
-You are right, he is resourceful. Now let’s see that tongue.
Samir’s mouth opened wide and his tongue stretched out as Pithic whispered sweet nothings to his odd wand, turning the stamp a deep warm red. He then took the tip of Samir’s tongue between his thumb and forefinger and pressed the hot brand on bottom of Samir’s tongue.
The next few minutes were a little fuzzy for Samir as the pain overtook him. Draktooth let out a small cry of pain and released his hold on him. Job done, Pithic shook out the brand and slipped it back in his sleeve, but, before he fainted, Samir was able to focus and surreptitiously move it from the sleeve to his pillow case.
I may not be the smarter than my opponent, but I wouldn’t bet against me.

The next day, Samir got a hold of Rhea for a private conversation. The little scribe was probably the most knowledgeable of his allies and if she didn’t know what this was, a diviner had the best chance to find out, although he wished he could have asked his old buddy Hasdy.
-So, like I said, you don’t want to use a standard magic detection spell unless you also want a nasty headache. Ugh…
-That makes sense if this is what I think it is. Let me look at the tip more closely.
Samir really had to bite his tongue at that one. She took out a small jewellers monocle and started examining the brand’s business end.
-So how did you say you got a hold of this?
-I didn’t and I think it would probably be best for both of us we kept it that way.
Rhea smirked.
-It’s good that you resisted the impulse to tell me a story because, unless I am mistaken, this is a replica of Tömir Faithbreakers’Brand.
-Should that mean anything to me?
-Probably not, Tömir was a do-gooder who started sort of cult some centuries ago. He used this thing to punish those who cheated his flock. Branded folks would apparently be unable to lie or, if they managed it, would be severely punished. With time, enough belief was poured into the brand that it took on artifact properties.
-Punished? Are we talking about peeing one’s self and fainting? Because, been there done that.
-Well, it’s hard to tell, but some of the stories talk about liars wasting away and dying.
-Damn. You said “replica”. Why is that?
-The Academy apparently destroyed the real thing some centuries ago when they put down Tömir’s Crusade.
-Hmmm. If it’s a replica, it must be weaker than the original.
-Maybe, but you’re headache isn’t promising.
-All right, let’s focus on the positive. How would one get out of this curse? Can one of you scribes analyse the enchantments and find a way out?
Rhea beamed at him and slowly morphed into Master Broju.
-Perhaps, you think back on our conversation from last night, yes?
The conjurer started laughing maniacally as he changed into a smirking Theofyr.
-Remember little Sammy, nothing is ever as it seems!
Theofyr gave way to Pithic.
-I’m done teaching young Goldentongue, now it is your turn to learn.
And he simply vanished with the brand.

Fuck

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