Journal Entry 4
No pressure. You just have to lead some troops in direct battle, that’s all. Should be easy. No pressure. None, nada, zilch.
I really hope the Shirrans don’t send a lot of people to the territory border. The few people that I spoke to that came back from the last rift opening said they had played more of a defensive game, just guarding their foothold in the caverns.
I wonder if anyone has ever actually managed to slip through to Shirrah before. I know all the Ursei city lords allocate men to guard the rift opening on our side. I’d imagine they did the same. But could it be possible…
Day 220, 3223 AFR
The manor they were led to was, in a word, massive. With the soft-handed guidance of the four guards, they made good time on the journey. Thanks to the several hours the party had spent at the inn, the night was well underway by the time they approached. Garn worried that they may not be somewhere to rest in time to be ready for the next day, but was resigned to the adventure Andras‘ past had brought them along for. The few attempts at wresting information from Andras or the four guards were met with remarkable indifference. Andras, for what it was worth, maintained a steady dialogue with the men, clearly having a history with them from before his transition into House Dinsala. A past, Garn reflected, that Andras was always reluctant to divulge.
Turning the corner behind the first two guards, Garn found himself faced with a large gate. Another two guards flanked each side of the gate, swords on their hips and spears held at rest. Given the casual confidence the men exuded, Garn held no illusion regarding their level of competence that these men presented. With an internal smirk, Garn couldn’t help but think that should things go poorly, these two would probably not be exceptionally difficult to subdue.
The manor itself was impressive. Deep-set behind a large lawn adorned with gardens and the occasional tree, the estate rose at least three stories high. Large windows covered most of the side facing them, and lights could be seen through several of them, though not brightly enough to allow discernment of details inside. As the group made their way through the gate, neither guard flanking it made any eye contact or acknowledgement of their passing, instead maintaining their gazes out among the streets surrounding the estate.
Making their way along the cobbled path to the house, Garn could make out a quiet conversation being had between Andras and the two guards. The tone was familiar, painting context to the history that the three must have shared. Andras was never very open about his past in the years Garn had known him while serving House Dinsala. He knew the man had made many questionable life decisions, but as far as Garn was concerned, he was never the type to betray those he was aligned with, so he wasn’t excessively worried about this little side-venture. If anything, it served as a nice distraction from what was shaping up to be a long night of drinking. The recovery tomorrow was likely going to be an annoyance, so this seemed just as valid a choice to pass the last few hours of the night before the group opted to find beds.
Making their way through the front door, held open by a servant dressed in a finely maintained suit, the group entered a large chamber. Ahead of them stood a large staircase with marble steps, glistening under the light raining down from a crystal chandelier overhead. Two large wooden rails ran along the sides, ending in large curved sculptures at the base of the steps, where they spiraled down and split into a latticework reminiscent of vines or roots, faring out slightly at the floor, also made of finely polished marble. At the top of the stairs were two intersecting hallways, one going back further into the manor, and one running along left to right. To either side of the staircase, on the ground floor, were hallways running to both the side and deeper into the manor as well.
Continuing their reminiscing and leading the way again, the guards and Andras forged ahead without stopping at all to absorb the magnificent visage that the interior presented. The other three all slowed for a few steps, taking in the sight, before continuing onward after them. They took them down one of the hallways to the left of the staircase, remaining on the ground floor through several more turns, then made their way up a different set of stairs. At the top of these, they were met with another hallway, leading only to another set of double doors at the end.
“I’ll bet any amount of money you want to put on it that our slippery rogue friend has been here once or twice before,” Zaak whispered to Garn, leaning over so as to not make his voice heard by anyone else.
Agreeing with the sentiment, Garn only gave a grunt of approval and a few small nods of his head before quickening his pace slightly to remain in step with the leading three.
“What do you think this is all about?” asked Maia, still swiveling her head around to look at each new statue, suit of armor, and painting as they walked. “Even coming here is a bit odd? Don’t you think this is a bit of a risk, considering what we have to do tomorrow?”
“I doubt we’re in any serious danger,” responded Garn. “Andras knows better than to lead us into anything we wouldn’t be able to handle. Besides, it clearly looks like he knows the place, and whoever ‘Mrs. The Lady’ is. I’m sure this will all be fine. Just an unconventional way to spend the night, a little unanticipated entertainment, before we retire.” He put on a forced grin to emphasize his point. The unconvinced look that Zaak and Maia gave him in response showed how much they believed his response to the situation.
Finally coming to the large wooden doors at the end of the hallway, the two guards, Nico and Vidd, each took a place to either side of the doors, neither knocking on the door nor saying anything to the group after taking their posts. The only farewell the group received was a gentle squeeze from Nico to Andras’s shoulder, and a slight sigh in solidarity about the ordeal they were about to undergo. Well that’s not foreboding at all, thought Garn.
Raising his knuckle in the air, Andras waited a moment before knocking to address the group. “Do not volunteer extra information. Do not speak unless addressed. Choose your words carefully. Do not agree to anything without thoroughly thinking out the consequences.”
His warning was met with alarmed confusion from the others. Zaak double-checked the release of his sword quickly, then gave a nod of readiness. Without waiting for further reply, Andras pushed the doors open, revealing the area beyond.
The group found themselves on a balcony overlooking a wide yard below, encircling the yard entirely. No one else could be seen on the balcony besides them. There were staircases snaking their way down to allow access to the yard from above, but other doors could be seen granting access to the yard from the first floor as well. The balcony was covered overhead by a ceiling, but the yard itself was open to the elements, an island of sorts in the interior of the manor. Looking up, a few stars could be made out, twinkling away as the night progressed. The moon was not full, but was large tonight. Hiding behind the few clouds littering the night sky, it did little to help illuminate the yard, though. What did do so were the torches bracketed to each of the pillars holding the balcony they now stood upon up.
As the four approached the railing, they saw that the floor was covered in sand, packed from use and rain. At a glance, Garn thought that despite the obvious hardness of the ground, it would likely still allow for at least a minor cushion, should one be thrown down upon it.
The ground was not the most notable thing to be beheld, however. Standing across from each other in the yard thirty feet below stood two men, both appearing in their late twenties or early thirties, facing each other. They both wore dark blue pants and no shirts, the former appearing tight, but not constricting to movement. Dark boots covered their feet, simple but sturdy.
“You’re in for a treat,” came a sultry, deep female voice from behind them. Whirling around, the four found themselves being eyed up by a woman, leaning into the wall from behind where the door stood. As they had entered, the door being open had hid her from their notice until now. She wore a dark crimson dress, hugging her voluptuous curves until flowing down to the floor, but not quite brushing against it. The neckline left little to the imagination, accenting her large chest, and showcasing a fine gold necklace ending in a small gemmed amulet. Dark hair swirled around her shoulders and upper back, framing her face. A slight smile found itself perched upon her full, crimson-colored lips. Above that, her eyes danced with amusement at startling the group, as well as showing a cold calculation to their gaze. Garn estimated her to be in her late thirties, but with her appearance she could have just as well have been in her fifties. She had a mature air of utter confidence that uneased Garn, but he didn’t let his unsettling show on his face.
“Uh... excuse me?” asked Maia, the first to recover from the unexpected comment and presence.
“I’d had a show arranged for my entertainment tonight. But that was before the boys gave me such wonderful news,” she said, finally glancing at Andras as she did so. The joy that her voice exuded at the end seemed forced, or possibly sarcastic, but no one made a comment on it. Andras, for his part, kept his face relaxed, unconcerned by the turn of events or conversational focus upon him. “Please join me.” It was not an offer, and brooked no question or dissent. It was a command. Leading her way along the balcony a slight ways, the group came upon five chairs, all sturdily built and cushioned well, and positioned close enough to the balcony’s edge to allow for an unobstructed view of the two below. Taking the seat furthest to one side, she sat, and gestured to the others to do likewise. After a brief hesitance, they did so, Andras sitting closest to the woman.
With a small hand gesture, a servant came from the door located behind their seats and handed each of them a glass filled with dark liquid from a tray. The woman took a sip of her own glass immediately, but the others hesitated. The exception was Andras, who also immediately raised his own glass to his lips and took a sip. With Andras seeming to not die immediately after the ingestion, the others did likewise after a brief pause.
The two men below were both looking towards the lady, awaiting a signal of some kind. But before one was given, she addressed the group again. “I enjoy the little pleasures of life. A bit of show, a bit of dance. This and that. Things to occupy my time and keep me entertained. But of all the things I find fascinating, I love magic!”
“To that end, I put on shows from time to time. When there’s nothing else to do, why not? So these two boys here,” she said, gesturing below with a vague wave of her hand down towards them, “are going to fight a bit. And the winner will be rewarded handsomely.” She ended with a smile on her face.
Garn could tell that the small explanation unnerved Maia, the group’s only spellcaster. Maia wasn’t very advanced in offensive manifestations or disciplines, but she had always had a solid foundation in life and healing magics, as well as a few other minor evocations. Most powerful magic-users found themselves nice, lofty, well-compensated positions under some house-head. They were used more as threats than for their actual prowess, keeping a rough truce between the ruling houses in each of the eight major cities. Maia, for her part, was only treated as a more common grunt due to her magic being very selective in strength, and that strength not being one able to intimidate others into submission. For this woman to have two mages, even if weak or untrained, and just pit them against each other for sport, with them going along with it willingly, spoke volumes either to her overwhelming reach and power, or to her overwhelming blatant disregard for common sense. Neither option left any of the group any more at ease in her presence.
Something in what the woman had said needed response, though. After a brief pause to ensure the woman wasn’t going to continue, Zaak chimed in. “And the loser?”
Andras’s eyes shot towards Zaak’s at the large man’s unbidden response, a severe look upon Andras’s face. He did so without moving his head, having already been looking in a direction to allow him to do so, so as not to announce his unsaid warning towards Zaak to the woman.
The woman smiled, this time a hint of sinister glee in her gaze as she turned to look at Zaak as well.
“The loser,” she said, “will be dead.”
Everyone stiffened at her words. No one dared to challenge her claim, neither to the contestants’ willingness, nor to the terms of the match to be had. Turning her attention back to the men below, she sat back in her seat, rested her glass of wine on top of the upper of her crossed legs, and in a loud command, called out.
At once the man to the left stepped back with his right foot, turning his body to brace his next move, and began a quick incantation. Sigils and seals flashed before his hands, a vibrant deep blue in color. After a moment, he ended his chant, and a flash erupted from between his outstretched hands. Next, a myriad of ice shards, jagged and varying in size, began hurtling towards his foe. Before reaching their destination, however, his opponent had already gone through a series of his own incantations, deep green in his left hand and red in his right, until a wall of stone shot up from within the sandy floor to block the shards. As they collided, the ice shards shattered in a violent cacophony, fragmenting in all directions and covering the ground in fragments of ice all over.
From behind the wall, he let loose his red spell as well, lobbing a continuous, channeled wave of red liquid over the top of the wall to attempt to rain down upon the other man. As the amorphous liquid, more of a sludge than anything, raised into the air closer to Garn and the others, Garn could feel the heat radiating off of it. Small splashes were sent towards the spectators as well, but before reaching them, they collided with a before-unseen barrier, flashing and stopping the stray globs in place before they fell to the ground below.
The air crackled from the next cast from the ice-user. Another near-blinding flash was immediately accompanied by a loud crack. Another moment, and all was quiet. The wave of molten earth slashed down and sizzled as it melted frozen shards still littered about the yard, a steam mist quickly rising to cloud the arena. The ice user had teleported behind the fire-user, without him being any the wiser. Summoning a large frost sword with another quick incantation, he took a visibly sluggish step and thrust, ending the battle.
The woman let out a sigh, disappointment clearly showing in her tone and on her face. “Damn. I was hoping to at least get a few minutes out of this match. Oh well.”
Standing to her feet again, the woman held her hand out to the side, and another servant quickly placed upon her outstretched palm a small pouch. Feeling its heft for a moment, she nodded, then tossed it down over the balcony, where the victor was looking up and waiting. Catching it deftly, he smiled, nodded, then walked out of the arena through one of the doors down below.
“Usually the matches are a bit better than that. Not as fast. Please forgive my poor entertainment.”
All of the party were in shock over the wanton murder they just witnessed. The needless death of who was clearly a skilled mage, if not the more skilled of the two, jarred them. How much would he have been worth in the other Houses, in the other cities? All of them except for Andras. He seemed callously used to the show of violence and death. Reflecting on it, Garn realized that both he and the woman both were rather cavalier through the whole thing, while Garn, Zaak, and Maia were on edge the whole time.
“Come. Let’s find somewhere a bit more comfortable to chat. There are matters I wish to discuss with you all. Are any of you hungry?” she asked. After the display they had just witnessed, none of the party were.