Argrave returned with Brium to Cyprus alongside his escort of Vessels. Once they were inside the first room, with its decrepit tapestry winding about the walls, the Lord of Copper spoke with a natural authority.
“The hunt is on. All know what to do,” he said, and these words alone were enough to send the Vessels beneath him scattering despite the vagary of the command.
Argrave stood with his companions, waiting as the other Vessels left the room. Brium walked to the couch they’d been received on and sat, lounging. Argrave stalked up to him cautiously, waiting until there were none around to speak.
“Do you have something planned for me?” Argrave questioned.
Brium did not turn his head back to look at the three of them, and responded, “Let me hear about these things that you have in mind.” He set his feet on a stool. “If all you offer is your status as a C-rank mage, and the prowess of your companions…”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Argrave stepped around the couch, coming to stand before the Lord of Copper. “I have deeper ties to this place than I let on,” Argrave began.
“I had surmised as much,” Brium nodded.
“Against Aurum and Argent both… even if the southern tribals do indeed come… it’s a pitched battle, to put it lightly.”
Brium ran his hand across his knee. “How would you know this?”
“You’re saying I’m wrong?” Argrave asked bluntly.
Brium stared up at Argrave, then fixed a piece of his wrinkled clothing. “Let us continue as though you’re correct,” he conceded, refusing to admit his disadvantage.
“There are other regional powers,” Argrave pointed to himself. “I can make sure they support the right side.”
My side, naturally, Argrave thought.
Brium furrowed his brows. “What are you referring to?”
“Well, barring the simple fact that the southern tribals are not as near unified as they let on… there are more than simply tribals in those mountains.” He looked in the direction of the mountains, though nothing could be seen beyond the walls of Cyprus.
“Elaborate,” the Lord of Copper demanded.
“The southron elves, for one,” Argrave raised a finger. “The dwellers of the caves,” he raised another finger. “And… certain others. Foreigners, like me, with whom I have a connection.”
“You have ties with all of these?” Brium questioned. “I question if everyone in Sethia would be ignorant of you as they are, were that the case.”
“If one has rope, they can tie a knot,” Argrave waxed poetic.
Brium smiled. “You mean you can make these ties. And you would expect only the rope from me, I presume?”
Argrave shook his head. “I have my own rope.”
Brium looked taken aback by this. “I will warn you—I reward only results,” he cautioned. “Overpromising earns you naught but severed trust.”
“If you reward results… I’ll be one rich man, I think,” Argrave smirked.
Brium took a deep breath, obviously affected by Argrave’s claims. He placed his hands on the couch and rose to his feet. “My careless action at the Stone has caused you some trouble—your companion is perceived to be an insult to Argent. I may have put her in danger…”
Careless my ass, Argrave thought. He knew exactly what he was doing.
“Anneliese is safe now, and that’s what’s important,” Argrave dismissed. The woman in question crossed her arms and nodded, agreeing.
“And she should stay safe,” Brium looked at her. “To that end, you will henceforth be accompanied by one of my own—a Vessel by the name of Yarra. You have met her. She retrieved you at your inn,” Brium explained. “She is extremely loyal to me, and her Vessel is one of the larger in Cyprus—indeed, in all of Sethia. She has absorbed the lifeblood of many transgressors. Most threats… she can handle.”
Argrave pushed his tongue against his cheek, trying his best to hold back a frown. He said, ‘you will.’ Not an offer, but a mandate. I suppose I should have expected something to link us to him yet further—he divulged a lot to us. Between Garm, threat of retaliation from Argent, and now this Yarra… he won’t trust us easily.
“That’s fine by me,” Argrave nodded, realizing displaying his reluctance earned him no favors. “But some of these peoples I’ll be contacting—they won’t look at the presence of a Vessel kindly. Getting them to agree to attack Sethia alongside southern tribals is a far cry from getting them to cooperate with followers of Fellhorn.”
Brium walked to the tapestry on the walls, hands on his hips as he lost himself in thought. He turned his head back to them once he’d formed his answer. “She will give you space at her discretion. If you are as valuable as you claim to be, though, it is paramount that she protects you at all times. We Vessels need not sleep, eat, drink, and are unfatiguing… in summary, able protectors. Argent may strike at any time.”
Already got a sleepless protector, thanks, Argrave wished to say.
“Then we welcome the extra hand,” Argrave instead said jovially, spreading his arms wide. “I hope she is amenable to working with us, instead of merely protecting us.”
Brium huffed out a laugh. “You must’ve gained an impression of her. She is quite brusque to all but me.” He nodded, then walked back up to them. “Yes, I’ll tell her to be cooperative. I’ll tell her of your pet project, too, so worry not about exposing your head to her. She’s away, doing some things for me. I will have her come to your inn. Expect her shortly.”
Argrave felt bitter with that reminder thrown into his face, but he suppressed those thoughts and nodded. “Then I’ll… what was it you said? Start the hunt,” Argrave concluded.
Argrave looked back at the patina covered tower of Cyprus.
“Before we make it back to the inn and meet with Yarra, we should talk. Thoroughly,” Argrave said, turning around on the road and speaking to his companions.
“What is there to speak of? Despite unexpected occurrences, things have gone mostly as we predicted,” Anneliese pointed out.
“I’m unsure how the two of you perceive this whole plan of mine,” Argrave admitted. “You two… value honor, loyalty, contracts…” he sighed. “And here I am, entering into employment under someone with the intent to betray.”
“I am contracted only to you,” Galamon said at once. “Any stain is on your soul, not mine. I believe Veid granted you this purpose you have. She would not choose one such as you in ignorance. Your personality is part of her expectations. As such… I have no qualms. She has ordained this to happen.”
Argrave nodded gratefully, never disappointed by Galamon’s steadfastness.
“I am of a similar mind,” Anneliese confirmed in turn. “Besides, there is no true agreement towards either of you, and I would not expect that man to be honorable in any dealings,” she looked back towards Cyprus. “Speaking personally… I trust you,” she nodded with a smile.
Feeling affirmed and bolstered now that one of his doubts was squashed, he took a deep breath and exhaled.
“This faith you’re showing… enough to make a man weep,” he said, only half-joking. “I’m glad we’re all in agreement to ride down this river to the end. But now we have the biggest hindrance to any creative pursuit.” Argrave looked between the two, but neither provided an answer. He spoke the next words grimly, saying, “A supervisor.”
“…yet with the concession of freedom in our negotiations with regional powers,” Galamon pointed out. “She is ineffectual. The Lord of Copper mostly assigned her to prevent our escape, I presume.”
“And to spy,” Argrave noted. “That much should be obvious. But I’ve got a hunch about something.” Argrave put his hands to his lips, thinking. “I don’t think Brium knows fully what Garm is… only that he exists. We should try and find out what, exactly, they know.”
“The woman seemed tight-lipped,” Anneliese pointed out. “It will be difficult to get information from her naturally.”
“Maybe so,” Argrave conceded. “Putting all that talk aside, I’m going to be streamlining some of our plans. Brium might have ulterior motives behind Yarra’s ‘protection,’ but… We’ve got free labor. Galamon should know best. Anyone working for me… I work them to the bone. And since Yarra’s got no bones… I’ll work her ‘til she drops,” Argrave looked towards Sethia, a grin on his face.
Argrave was fitting some of his spell books back into his backpack when a sharp knock echoed out into the room. It inspired déjà vu, being near the same pitch and volume as the last time Yarra had come to their room. As ever, Galamon readied his axe and opened the door cautiously.
The sharp-eyed and thin Vessel stood waiting there. Galamon did not need a prompt from Argrave to open the door wider this time, allowing Yarra to walk in as she pleased.
“Perfect timing!” Argrave said enthusiastically. He put the last three books inside of his backpack and cinched it shut. He lifted it up. “Here. Wear this,” he directed.
Her gaze jumped between Argrave and the backpack he held. She made no move to take it from his hand.
“It’s a backpack. You wear it on your back,” he explained sarcastically. When she gave no response, he continued exasperatedly, “Come now. Brium said you are unfatiguing—certainly better than bone-shouldered me at carrying a pack on your back. I’m a mage, not a warrior.”
“…I cannot promise it will be undamaged should we fight anyone,” she said, voice dead. Argrave suspected making her laugh would the hardest mortal feat.
“I am rather adept at avoiding fights. The ones I find myself in… end quickly, I find. Soon, I’m sure Brium and the rest of Cyprus will agree with this assessment. But for now, here,” he dangled the backpack, arms growing tired.
“He is Lord Brium,” she corrected, then took the backpack from Argrave’s hands, throwing it over her shoulder. It had been made to accommodate Argrave, and so the straps were quite loose—she tightened them quietly.
“Excellent. I’m very proud of you,” he nodded. “Now, are those shoes made for walking?” he looked down at her shoes. They were no more than red silken slippers. “It seems not.”
“I will manage,” she disagreed.
“Right.” Argrave looked around. Anneliese and Galamon had already readied everything. Garm was disguised as he usually was—the stake hidden by Galamon’s pack, and his head concealed by the elven vampire’s giant helmet. “Well, let’s be off,” he made for the door.
“Wait,” she interrupted, and Argrave paused mid step.
“What?” he asked patiently.
She stepped closer. “I need to know where you intend to go.”
“An underground graveyard,” Argrave said plainly. “For the southron elves, in their glory days. I make a habit of exploring elven tombs, it would seem. Though… Galamon did the last one, actually…”
“So you are a necromancer,” she half-noted, half-questioned.
“On the contrary,” Argrave shook his head. “I am a druid. Among other things,” he conceded.
Her gaze wandered to the helm on Galamon’s back, and then she looked back to Argrave. “Why do you head to this graveyard?”
“Druid things,” Argrave shook his head. “It’s a pretty dangerous place. Haunted, ostensibly, but in actuality, it has an animal infestation.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine, I’m sure. Brium—er, Lord Brium talked about his confidence in you. I’m sure you’ll be able to handle them fine,” Argrave repeated with a smile.
“Please don’t avoid answering,” she demanded, a fire of irritation finally bubbling in that dead voice of hers.
“We’ll talk on the way,” Argrave said, undaunted, and stepped out of their room, his gait light and unburdened.
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Bio: Author of the #1 'Heroes of Berendar' fan-fiction. Vicar of Crust. President of the Richie Aprile fan-club.