Campaign of the Month: November 2018

The Red Hand

The King's Missive

-“Why do you need me to write the letter?” asked Samir, a puzzled expression on his face

-“You hail from Whadi for one. I don’t want anything lost in translation or send the wrong diplomatic cues. Plus your calligraphy is impeccable, suitable for an official communication.”

Hasdrubal raised his hands open palm, then turn them toward him as if to let his friend inspect both sides. Large tanned mitts scarred by countless combat.

-“These weren’t built for finesse.”

-“Fair” nodded the rogue and he sat down at Hasdrubal desk, picked the quill dipped it in the ink vial ready waiting for his friend to start.

“I, Hasdrubal Thesh, Ever-victorious Scourge of the Undead, Shining Star of Sekunta, …

Samir jotted the grandiloquent dictation absent mindedly, while Hasdrubal paced back and forth continuing his narration.

Officially, the letter’s aim was to inform the great priestess that the group agreed to come to the city’s aid, announce the date and time of their arrival but in reality the true intent of the letter was to try to rectify something that had been bothering Hasdrubal for a good while now. In the Ruby Kingdom of Nefehri their group was known as the “Mewling Quims”, a group name he much reviled as not befitting a hero of their stature… Hasdrubal hoped that by subtly hinting that the group name was the similar-ish sounding ‘Howling Kings’ all along this would help dispel the old one once and for all.

The irony of the situation was not lost on Samir. He had helped popularized the name and now he was enlisted to undo one of his favorite prank.

«Silly Hasdy… Mewling Quims… It could have been Scabby Maggots or Dancing Dandelions, who really gives a rat’s ass about what crappy name we’re known under? We’ve been kicking ass and taking name! Who cares? If the “Mewling Quims” can clean the clock of the “Great Knights of Magnus” or any other pompous fools, who is really worthy of ridicule?» reflected Samir to himself.

-"And sign: “Hasdrubal Thesh, Protector of Wadhi, Leader of the Howling Kings…”"

-“Leader, huh? You’re lucky my curse don’t apply to writing.”

-“Hum… They think I am, I am just rolling with it.” responded Hasdrubal slightly annoyed.

-“Uh huh.” replied Samir half-smiling.

Samir dip the quill in the ink one last time to pen the last two words but as the tip of the quill touched the paper a powerful compulsion stopped him to move his hand further.

“What is this?? the curse shouldn’t affect my writing!”

Samir tried again more forcefully to no avail, then again this time using his left hand trying to make the right one comply.

“That doesn’t even make sense! It’s not even a lie, Hasdy can call himself whatever the fuck he wants! What’s going on??”

The desk noisily shaking from Samir struggle against himself finally attracted Hasdrubal attention.

-“… everything’s alright?”

Samir froze and with a forced smile gritted through his teeth “just putting the final touch”.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to collect himself. His right hand steadied and he resumed writing.

“ok nice and easy H-O-W-L-I-N-G-K-I-N-G-S”

Samir opened his eyes and looked down.

“Hasdrubal Thesh, Protector of Whadi, Leader of the Mewling Quims”

Even stronger than his curse was his own compulsion: No vanity shall go unpunished.

Hasdrubal visibly suspicious started approaching him “Can I have a look?” his hand gesturing to hand over the parchment

With only a second to react, Samir instinctively ‘accidentally’ tipped the vial of ink on the letter.

“Ah what a klutz! Never fear, my friend, I’ll write another one again… Your ol’ buddy has all the text engraved right here.” said Samir pointing at his temple “I’ll just go and do that now.”

Samir grabbed the soiled missive and started walking towards the door at a rushed pace, which turn into a full sprint out of the room when Hasdrubal picked up the pace towards him on an interception course.

SAMIR! @%#$?$&#%*! COME BACK HERE!”

All work and no play makes Samir....

…a dull boy

Quantum Grim - Epilogue


A day after their debriefing, Master Broju called them back to his apartments.

He sat in his usual salon with Anastasia and a middle-aged man none of them had ever seen before. The stranger was wearing clothing similar to what Hasdrubal had seen on one of his earlier trips to earth.

“My name is Angleton. Your master, Mr. Broju, contacted me for my particular expertise with infovores or what you people might refer to as creatures from beyond.”

The man spoke in the manner of one accustomed to explaining complex ideas to simple minds and his piercing blue eyes seemed to stare right-through the young wizards.

“We had an inkling Rasputin hadn’t simply succumbed to his assailants. We had even watching him for some time and hosts that far gone, don’t die from a simple poisoning, shooting, hanging, drowning and dismembering.

After reviewing Princess Romanov’s notes and discussing with mister Broju. I believe I’m beginning to understand what Rasputin is planning.

The creatures Rasputin believes he is bargaining with are creatures of pure entropy and they feed on order, leaving behind nothing. Magic is a formalized system to impose the user’s will on the universe. The minds of practitioners are particularly filling to the entities.

Rasputin had pretty much reached the peak of potential in our world, but when Ms. Maudril offered him a way here, he offered her the keys to an all you can eat buffet.

Thankfully, the amount of energy required to let even a small thought eater physically into the physical world is significant and Rasputin’s patron is not a simple rank and file entity.

However, he can reduce the energy cost by increasing the pressure on your reality’s bubble and this is what he’s been doing by targeting the weakest neighbouring (in a mulltispacial non-euclidian sense of the word) realities and raising their entropy to contagious levels.

Based on your expeditions he’s clearly targeting very fragile worlds.

It’s difficult to know exactly how far along the process is. That would be more young Mister Howard’s cup of tea. But in my estimation, you have less than one year, er, 365 days, before he summons his master to your world, at which point you might want to consider simply leaving it yourselves. If it comes to that, please consider us; the Laundry could always use people with your talents.

Now, mister Broju, I believe I’ve satisfied your conditions, I would kindly ask that you release me from this circle…”

Only at this moment did they notice the silver summoning circle woven in the carpet under the man’s chair and Master Broju’s look of intense concentration.

She screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and...

It was different returning to Lyria the second time.

The first time, when she, well not she but Liebschten, had died holding the cock of chaos, something had gone wrong. It was just screams. There were all her memories and those were fading. But the soul and Kit’s soul, their souls were wrong, and they needed to go back. It was maybe not her still. It maybe was? But she needed to go back. Right away. The screaming – something in her – it would not stop. Broju would send her back. Maybe she was screaming? She didn’t really know. The screaming didn’t stop or die away and she needed beyond any reason to return.

Back in the grim grey world of the place she didn’t actually care about, the screaming stopped. Things righted themselves. And she inhabited a strange, eager young dwarf. Such a strange concept.

And then the cold of the glacier lake came after the thump of the comet… ouch…

And a quiet death, back in the room with Broju.

“Thank you,” she muttered, “that was much better,” she blinked and saw Orphée again and, instinctively, she became fox and jumped up onto her lap. Her two fox companions, rubbing their soft bodies about her ankles.

Not alone

There had been a lot of noise. She padded down the hallway with her pack, her skulk, and avoided Orphée. She was supposed to meet someone. It was a surprise. Someone who had returned a while ago whom Orphée thought she should get to know. They were to meet soon. Maybe already. Maybe in a few hours. But the noise had distracted the Kitsune. And she was nothing if not nervous and curious. The constant, forever fight in her mind. Curiosity had won this round, and she sniffed at the crack below Hasdrubal’s door.

She lay against the corner of the floor and the wall, tiny and quiet listening until the loud noise stopped.

Then there had been soft noises of sorrow, and that was worse. She couldn’t help him. She had known men like him in the dozens and the help they needed then was privacy. He had a storm in him and it had to blow itself out… from the thunder and the lightning, to the soft lingering rain until the calm. She could smell the hard liquor, the bottle of something old and pungent, that had been consumed and slashed as he raged.

And then she heard the calm.
And she stood as Kitsune and tried the door. Locked.

She shaped her hands into nails she had seen on a patron the Harkenon, long, strong and deadly. She had used them before to escape a lock. Hopefully Hasdrubal had not magically locked his door as well. She was working on learning to avoid that, but had not yet. She needed to never be trapped anywhere again – and yet she was having her eyes opened to how the school for wizards was just another type of cage. At least it had more leg room, and when she was finished with her business, she could run further than she had run before. She would be more powerful.

The lock clicked and she pushed the door open gently. No magic boomed in her face. No singed whiskers.

She became her human, and walked in.

Hasdrubal was unconscious from drink slumped in a central chair, his sword at his feet.
She closed the door and relocked it.

She placed her hand on his shoulder and he didn’t move. He groaned a little bit.
She touched his face and felt the damp from his grieving.

Why did he cry? He had saved his kits and returned them to the pack. Perhaps he mourned that he could not keep them. That he had to hide them somewhere. Somewhere she had to discover. (Wouldn’t she just love to tell the fat man that the kids were up his long and well frequented ass hole. But that would not work for Master Lyrion, who would tell her her role and the words to use.)

Had there been something beyond the children? He wanted to kill someone, right? And he had not? She had someone he could kill. Maybe that would help. She would have to ask when he woke.

The room was trashed. He reeked of liquor. She laid her hand on his cheek (he didn’t react beyond drooling slightly), and she cast Lessor Restoration. As he slept this off, he would feel less exhaustion in the morning.

She walked around his room, trying to not disturb his mess but to find some small things she could help fix so his regret would not overwhelm him as he woke. She found his mask from the gladiatorial arena, destroyed. She spent all her mending for the day and was able to fix all the damage, but it was better – a half mask, but better.

She sought Hasdrubal’s bedroom, sighing in relieve, as she noted that this room had not been as badly tossed. She prepared his bed.

Then went back to the blacked-out Hasdrubal. She could not lift him. But, she could and did summon a tortoise who could move him. She and her mage hand gently dumped his drooling self onto the back of the large amphibian and she spoke to it asking it to move slowly to the bedroom. While it moved, slowly carrying its load, she removed debris. It had a back not high enough for her to manoeuver him into his bed, but she moved pillows and blankets to the floor. And then rolled him into it.

She fetched him water.
Dispelled the creature.
And then set to cleaning what she could.

She wasn’t helping Hasdrubal because of any great reason. She had been trained to care for wounded souls, and her typical healing would not help him while unconscious. She knew other ways. Not all men wanted to make love. Some wanted to weep and not be judged. Some wanted to beat someone. Some wanted her to wear little outfits and clean things while they leered. She was very good at making love, not judging, being beaten and cleaning now.

She did what she could. She had four uses of prestidigitation, and she knew where they kept the cleaning supplies in the hallway. For hours, she worked, singing lightly for her own enjoyment. At several points, she checked him for wounds that needed healing. He had been healed but there were minor cuts and bruises on his hands from his rage. She washed his face and tried to remove as much of the pain he would feel from hangover as she could with her healing. She smoothed his hair.

They were her pack now too. She remembered very little from before the cages and the training from Harkenon. She knew he had taught her song and how to heal through physical intimacy. But she knew other things. Things that she learned from what must have been her pack before then. She remembered hands, tracing symbols in the soil and leaf litter. And the hands were like hers. They were also Kitsunes. They taught her how to control the vines and fight inspired by the natural world. And there had been a name, but that was gone now. That pack was gone now. And now these wizards were hers, or she was theirs, and maybe that didn’t matter which way that went.

The room was not clean, but it was orderly as much as rubble could be. And he had very little left to do, beyond fix or remove the damage. The room no longer stunk of debauchery and anger. And the chair was nicely polished. There really was little left. The rubble was lined up for inspection like she had seen the gladiators line up… maybe he’d like that.

She went back to his room and sat cross-legged beside him looking at his face. This was the second time she was able to observe him while unconscious. And he was not sleeping lightly. He was still drunk. There would be hours more of him sleeping off this drunk. So she stroked his cheek and sang to him. She had no real spells left that could do him any good. His weaponry and magical, undamaged things she had arranged on his bed. Things were cleanish. She smoothed his hair.

And eventually, she became fox and curled up for a quick nap, where the blankets made a basin at the crook of his arm against his chest. He had hours to sleep. She would take several dozen minutes and then find Orphée. She was pretty sure she was late for something. But Little Grey Fox promised to wake her if her blue companion came looking for her. In the mean time, she would be up and out before Hasdrubal woke. And she being close to another was not a torture in and of itself. Sometimes she missed it. The foxes were fine, but she always woke Kitsune, and they were small. She would wake Kitsune by Hasdrubal, feel his warmth, capture it so she could remember it, and then leave.

He would never know. But at least he would not be alone.
A Hag's Meal

He had dreamt countless time of the sands of the Colosseum. Now he stood tall while Nazzu’s champion slain at his feet. The crowd roared, chanting for The «Howling King». He would be the talk of the Capital for a long time.

Years of training had led to this moment…

Yet he couldn’t bring himself to savour it.

Anya was dead.

-«She yet lives.» The witch had said.

Hasdrubal knew the old hag was too clever to merely lie. She’d twist her words, stretch the metaphor beyond recognition but would never outright lie. Did Baba Gava meant her sister had reborn as a Samsaran or “lived” through her children? Did she wait the last possible second to announce him she lived as she drew her final breath?

Unlike the “truth” she had revealed, her intention only seemed too clear now. She had informed him that she fed of emotions. She had nurtured his hopes only to feed on his anguish to see them dashed.

He tried the regain control, maintain his composure and deprive the witch of her feast. But the pain was overwhelming. Alchool did not dull it. Trashing his quarters did not sooth it. Nazzu’s blood may have cleansed it but Nazzu yet lived.

It all been but a hollow victory.

He had made a truce with his father but doubted his heart would be able to ever forgive him.

Anya’s children had been taken out of harm’s way but he was still a stranger to them. With Harkenon looking for them, they would have to live on the run, without never being truly safe.

He had fulfilled his vow to his lanista and made him a frighteningly rich man, but he had to sacrifice what might have been the only opportunity he would ever get to avenge his sister.

He failed her. He failed her again.

Hasdrubal’s living room laid devastated, furniture sliced cleaned from Gwalhir’s adamantine blade, glassware and vases broken, their contents spilled, priceless works of art smashed and shattered.

A lone chair still standing in the middle of the room, lit by the skylight above.

The throne of a mad king towering his war-torn land.

Hasdrubal approached, with an half-empty bottle of spirits in one hand and dragging his Falchion with the other.

He couldn’t fight it any longer.

Hasdrubal dropped the bottle on floor and let himself collapse on the chair. He leaned over to rest his brow on the hilt of his sword.

He closed his eyes… Tears rained at his feet.

The best-laid plans of mice and Samir often go awry

One day my thoughts will unscramble long enough to keep me out of trouble. One day…

It started well, too. A little trip to the surrounding watering holes quickly gave me the in to the ceremony. Turns out it was Hasdy’s brother-in-law that was getting married and not his hated father. Oh, and his sister died. Oh, and his niece and nephew were scheduled to be sacrificed the next morning… By the gods! How long was I away from my scribes?!
Bah! No matter. I had juuuust the right trinkets in my bag-o-tricks to pull off a heist that would prevent the sacrifice of two innocent creatures sharing ol’ Grouchy’s blood.
Planning always required a lot of effort, or so my teachers always told me. Maybe it is in my contrarian nature, or maybe I simply lack the patience to account for contingencies and predict possible outcomes. Regardless, planning was never my forte. Or my anything, really. No. I understand the chaotic ebb and flow of the civilized races’ nature. No amount of planning was perfect when a Sentient was in the equation, so why plan at all, I say. You see a light far on your right? Well, you kick your feet in the general direction, with quick changes of trajectory when you’re a little off the mark. Simple as that, really!
My plan? Simple, really! Pass myself off as a Whadian envoy (as I heard Nazzu, Hasdy’s brother-in-law, had dealings with them) and get to the reception. Why do this when you could simply be a Plus One to our mighty hero’s banquet? Well, where’s the fun in that?
Ok, then what, you ask? Well, I’d use one (or both!) of my love potions, make them invisible, and use my Arcane Trickster… trick to make it float over Nazzu or his wife-to-be’s wine glass, wait ‘till they are not around each other and pour those babies down their goblets. Now, with a little chance, I’d be the first one they see (and get introduced to their treasure rooms!), but even if not, the newfound love they would experience towards a guard or a rival noble would make the whole wedding ceremony collapse. You see, when chaos is unleashed, nothing can be predicted aside from any previously established wedding plans going out the window.
Easy peasy!

I’m at the banquet, intermingling with the snobs as I get a feel of the place and its revelers. Oh, And walking the grounds I spot a small building being guarded with more guards than the other ones. Bingo. There they are!

As I social-butterfly throughout the early hours of the banquet, I can spot my friends.
The hero of the banquet, Hasdrubal, is seething in rage in a corner (as usual! And it’s not my fault this time, ha!) barely being restrained and coddled by Mommy Orfée, the little Fox lass nervously watching the exchange nearby, waiting for the calm to approach her friend for something, methinks.
Oh, and there’s Nasah, clearly alive (thank the gods!), yet more withdrawn and traumatized then usual.
Time to make my entrance!

The damned scribes figured me out before I could even open my mouth! Damned smirk will be the death of me… Now let’s hear about their plans.

sigh, no plans it seems. Hasdy’s of the “kill em’ all” mood, Nasah stares at the floor in awed confusion, Kitsune’s wary of my presence and Orfée is adamant no one is to die. Oh, someone approaches.

Well, that fat bastard sure ruined my plan, what with his spell of continuous detection he has on him at all time and figuring out our identities like it was nothing (damned reputation!). This sure throws a wrench in my Samir chariot, that’s for sure! sigh Plan B it is, then.

Orfée keeps objecting to all of our my plans! Sure, half of them are great points that would unmask us easily, but the other half?
(in a whiny scolding mommy voice) “No death of guards! No switching the blame on guards! No death, period!” Damn that goodie two-shoes who-saved-my-life-more-times-than-I-can-remember!

Ok, Now that Orphée is gone and Nasah went to bed, time to enact Plan W! Hasdy agrees to trust my judgement (!!) and will wait for the kids to arrive at the Academy via my portal key while Kit will try a diversion with one of the guards she encountered previously.
My time to shine!
First, a little change of appearance to look like the asshole kids’ father. Then a Vanish spell on me. After that? Dimming into the dark building where the kids sleep.
What else… Oh yeah, an illusion of very dark and opaque smoke around the room. I bring out 2 dead “cats” previously sculpted from fresh corpses I acquired prior to my trip here. Sculpt them back into exact replicas of the snoozing children (by the gods I love that spell! So simple and yet so many possibilities with it!). Put the “kids” at the foot of each beds. Wake up the real ones, convince them to shut up and follow me, shove then through the portal door, spill lantern oil in an “accident pattern”, light the fire, wait a few breaths ‘till I’m sure the corpses are barely recognizable, make an illusion of the little girl’s voice crying in shock with the sound of a broken lantern, kill my illusion and dim the hell out of Dodge back into the surrounding forest to join the festivities and act as shocked as all of them at the “tragedy” unfolding under our very shocked eyes. And Kitsune performed marvellously, keeping the guard’s eyes away from my shenanigans, too! Good on the little lass!

See?!! Easy peasy!

Well, Orphée spilled the beans on us to the Fat wizard. Another enemy for good ol’ Samir. Oh, and the fact witnesses saw the kids at the Hall of Doors didn’t help either… never thought that far, damnit!
That is Samir’s lot in life you see: Clever enough to win the game of cards easily, yet not enough to let spare cards fall down from his sleeves right on the table for all to see while celebrating… sigh
The fat wizard has no more use for me and I an teleported back into the Hall of Doors, soon joined in by Orphée and, later on, Kitsune who’s more skittish than usual. Poor little thing.

We’re back into Master Lyrion Tannister’s private quarters now. Poor innocent Kit is not equipped to deceive, bless her soul, and she spills the beans. She is tasked with finding out what is our master’s secret plans and report to the fat bastard.
I can’t tell you anymore after this because I tried to reassure Kit that our plan was safe by telling her about it… and passing out from the Geas imposed on us by the One of Knows and Drink Things, among others.

A cage is a cage is a cage

He had believed that she wouldn’t harm the children, but now there were the corpses of a young boy and young girl that he had to guard. Badly burned. Unsavable. Recognizable… enough. They had been wasted. They could have been sacrificed.

He had heard the young mistress call out to her brother when he spilled the oil lamp. And everyone accepted the explanation.

But both children had been found in their beds, and they had been drenched in lamp oil. And after the little girl had called out… there had been no screams.

And then there had been the woman’s eyes. He had caught her hand as she went to slap him – as if she needed to convince him that she was angry at him, but, instead, she was… working him. She was distracting him. And she had promised not to harm the children. And she must have heard them call out too, and yet… she gave him a smile that suggested she had been caught with her hand in a cookie jar. Not the smile of guilt but of success.

She was either without conscience or the children had not been harmed at all. And his instinct s were usually good. She had wanted the children alive.

But, he mused as he waited in vigil with the corpses until the arrangements had been made for internment, there they were. And they were most certainly dead.

He felt disgusted that he could be so wrong about someone. Damn her and damn her yellow eyes.

Kitsune had curled up under the bed. It had felt better there than everywhere else. Everywhere else was a lie. And if she was in a cage, a bigger cage yes, but still a cage – still bound to the fat man…. the fat man who would die by her hands… still bound by pain to his mind… – then it was still a cage. And she now served him and the new Master Lyrion. She had escaped once before..

Orphée was kind. She didn’t try to coax or force Kitsune from her hiding. The sweep of her robes was soothing and soft, and it rustled as the beautiful blue woman walked quietly around her chambers.

Orphée was enchanting, beautiful and graceful. There was no falsehood there. Should could not fake it. It was her. Grace cascaded from her every movement.

Hasdrubal was strong and a champion and full of passion. He was magnificent and imposing.

Samir was kinda fun. He had save the children all by himself. She had not helped at all. Sure she had liked dancing with the elf, but it had not helped. And maybe he had been the one to tell Harkenon that she was involved. So Samir was witty and a hero.

Nasah was earnest and wise. He had not been involved and, in consequence, not punished.

They were so powerful. And she had been so pleased to be able to work with these more advanced wizards. But she was no wizard. She was still a toy. A pet.

She had meant it when she had asked the elf guard to protect her. She hadn’t meant to mean it. But she had. And she hadn’t meant to ask him to come with them, but then she had. But none of it mattered. He had informed to Harkenon, most likely. He had found her to be another pretty toy. There was no reason for her to be thinking of him at all. And she should stop. She would stop. Any time now.

She sighed heavily and curled more tightly into a ball under the heavy, ornate wizard bed. Damn her utter uselessness, and damn his deep brown eyes.

The Stolen Child
Come away, oh human child, for the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

There was a family of native foxes in the wooded park on the rich man’s land. Maybe the rich man was on the foxes’ land. Sometimes she believed both. At once.

They played. It had been some time snooping about. Sniffing about. Slinking about. She knew where Hasdrubal’s kits were located now. Guarded. By 4 guards. But there were two baby foxes whose eyes had just opened. She befriended the vixen and her mate. Little Red Vixen and Little Grey Fox played and kept a watch. And when they had played for a while, Kitsune touched noses with my new friends and remembered the human kits.

She trotted to the edge of the parkland and breathed the crisp night air, listening to the party, and hearing the movements of the guards. 3 humans. 2 female one male. 1 male elf. Eyes on the cabin structure… a large single room, brightly lit, its light spilling beneath the curtains in its windows.

Only 2 needed to be distracted to gain access to the children, as long as she didn’t raise an alarm. But all 4 to be safe. She sat in her shift on the grass, now Kitsune, hidden by shadow. She needed to concentrate.
She put on her most beautiful face, a face from the crowd who had smiled at the fat evil man. Humans were stupid. So very stupid.
As confident as ever she pretended, she moved up to the far guards. She charmed them and smiled and they agreed to rescue her silken wrap from the stream. They would help her and smile and love her for asking.
The third human left too, thanking her, smiling at her. Happy to serve. Looking forward to the implied reward.
Then the elf. He smiled too, and left but didn’t leave. She could smell him stay.

Her heart thumped. She was her own face now. But she smelled him, so she took her human face. It was the elf. The elf was watching her. She walked defiantly to the doorway. He took a step into the light.

“You are not allowed in there, young woman.”

“These kits are of my pack.”

He had a very placid face, but she read the surprise.

“You are not of this family.”

She laughed a yip of a laugh.

“I did not say family. I said pack. The kits of the pack belong to the pack. I will die for them. I will live for them. "

“Let us hope it will not come to that.” He smiled down at her. Not to disarm her. Not patronizingly. She knew patronizing. He was amused. Not uninterested. He did not find her a threat. More a curiosity.

“I will take these kits and protect them from the fire.” Kit could feel the hair on her neck rise..

He raised a single eyebrow.

“From the fire?”

“Yes,” and the light was in her eyes in her naivety and passion. “They will sacrifice my kits to sanctify that wedding. And probably because the ugly horrible stupid fat man told them to. He is poison.”

“The visier? Ma’am, it is an honour to be sacrificed.”

“Tell him to burn himslef. I am not from here and the kits are mine now. I have claimed them. I will take them to the forest. And we will go to where the rocky highland is full of berries and to the waters and the wild and the furthest roses to foot it all the night and weave our olden dances. I will teach them to chase the frothy bubbles on the stream.”

He made a slight motion. It was as if he intended to go to his weapon but then decided she was not speaking literally (she was unsure what she was speaking, if she were to be honest). She did mean to take the children. She did think of them as hers.

His hand relaxed.
She saw the opportunity.
“It is my duty to protect their lives with mine. I only want to see them. To have them know my face…” Then with all her earnest kindness, not a lie, not a bluff, full eye contact and maybe he could actually help her….

“It is my duty to guard them,” he replied flatly but not unkindly.

“Then do.” She took a step closer to the door. He took a strp with her. She took a step. He followed. She loved to dance. “Do you believe in child sacrifice?”

“It is within the law here. And it is not my place to tell the family I serve what to do.”

“Why have you not stopped me?”

He smiled differently. Not serenely but pleasantly surprised. “You will defend your kits with your life. I don’t think you plan on hurting them.”

They were on the doorstep now.
“But I will take them.”

“Perhaps. But not today.”

She smiled. And became a fox.
She rubbed herself like a cat on the soldier’s feet then pushed open the door to the children’s home. Squeels of glee. Laughter. They played.

Little Red Vixen and Little Grey Fox padded up to the door and sat, waiting. The Soldier spoke to them, “You would be the pack, then?”
The yellow eyes of the animals did not blink and they did not reply.

The other guards returned, disappointed but not alarmed. They had not found the wrap and were not wanting to deliver the news. They settled into their posts, unaware of the gross negligence of stepping from the post. The Elf Guard no longer heard the giggles of the children and there were no animals waiting at the door step.

Looking inside, the children were whispering and smiling, full of secrets and personal joy.

They looked at him, smiled, and said that nothing was going on in the tone of the child hiding the cookie. He smiled. So they were going to sacrifice the children? That was not common knowledge but it fit. It would not surprise him. It was not his custom. But it was accepted here. Within the law. He scowled imperceptibly, trying to suppress any judgement.

Kit and her companions padded back on fox feet to the party.

Nasah's walk

Nasah’s walking…

“What this place again, why are there so many people, aren’t we trying to be discrete? Here’s Hasdrubal wearing his fancy armor and mask, I bet he’s going to spin his swords to impress the crowd again. Orfée, yes, I know blue. Who’s this guy talking? Why is he giving rags to Hasdrubal? Oh, look over there, Harkenon. Important and powerful man, not trustworthy, just avoid him. Potion Master, nope, not what I’m looking for. Where’s Samir? Yeah probably filling the lord’s shoes with goat dung or something. What am I looking for? Where’s Rhea the diviner when we need her…”

Movement catches Nasah’s attention in the corner of his left eye.

“Oh, Kitsu-lady. She has foxes. I like little furry animals… I better follow her…” crunch, crunch, crunch “I missed the sound of footsteps on gravel…. I’m losing her, need to walk faster.”

Nasah turns the corner of a small isolated building just in time to see the tip of a fox’s tail disappear around the next corner and Kitsune is already far from here. It suddenly comes back to him. He’s looking for children, Hasdurbal’s niece and nephew. Other images also flashes in his mind. Images of combat, a large black dragon with it’s gaping maw, next he sees half of his torso being ripped away by the dragon. Then nothing… absolutely nothing.

When he comes back to himself, Nasah is laying on the ground between the building and a shrub and surprises himslef saying out loud: “Well that was pretty dumb, shooting a dragon point blank with arrows.”

Lowering his voice to a whisper: “It’s decided, I need to devote myself to magic. So much to do, I’ve been close before, almost drowning two days ago. And back then, in the temple with all those undeads. That was close but this morning, I did it, I actually died… And came back, that was my rite of passage. It is feasible, definitely, curing death…”

Nasah passes the next hour laying in the dirt crushing beetles between his fingers, studying, no OBSESSING over the moment they pass from life to death. He stands-up, dusts his brand new robes and walks back decisively to re-join the others.