Valcarnum: Drums of War
The grey city slept. Tall dull stone parapets pierced the cold night sky like upended spears ominously looming over the citizens below. Adaline entered through the southern gate and briskly made her way to the cathedral of radiance. The large opulent structure stood in the northeastern part of the city, often called the holy district by residents, its white marble walls were adorned with beautiful tapestries depicting the Radiant father’s ancient victory over the Stygian lords and their undead army. The stained glass windows gave scintillating eyes to the monochrome building, their rainbow of colors poured out onto the cobblestone street conveying a welcoming feel to the otherwise foreboding. Adaline approached the large oak double doors, seeing they were open she slipped inside and shook off the cold. A grand room sprawled out before her, the pleasant smell of incense and scented candles permeated her nostrils, putting her strangely at ease. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she noticed a priest exiting a small confession booth, a look of utter disgust was tattooed on his face as he hastily walked away. Stepping out of the same booth just behind the abhorred holy man came a tall dark haired figure wearing a leather eye patch.
“But they were twins priest, how was I to say no?” The man smiled deviously and turned to face Adaline. “Ah, what is this?” he said slyly as he strode towards her. “A pity I have only one eye to perceive such a beauty, surely you are the most ravishing woman in the grey city.”
“Save your breath, I am on official business” Adaline said sharply. “And before you ask, no, I do not have a sister.”
The man chuckled and bowed gracefully, “No, your beauty could never be duplicated my sweet. But curiosity has intrigued me, what is a woman like yourself doing in a church at this hour?”
“I’m meeting someone here.” Adaline said. “A ranger named Sorn D’madrimay”
The man smiled wide, “Oh, you seek the Shadowdancer? I hear his skill with a bow is only surpassed by his devilish good looks and legendary bedroom prowess.”
This must be who I’m looking for. “Sorn I presume?” Adaline said with a slightly annoyed tone.
“Indeed I am, the pleasure is all mine.” Sorn said with confidence. “Surely I would have remembered if you and I had… been together, so I know there is no child you wish me to claim responsibility for. Do I owe you money? Or.. I know! You’ve come to collect one of my famous back rubs, quickly lets get this shirt off of you and get started.”
“My name is Adaline,” she said exasperatedly “I was sent by the Legion council to find you, I am your new partner.”
Sorn stepped back and rubbed his bristled chin studying her inquisitively. His eye resting on her womanly features for an uncomfortable amount of time.
Breaking the awkward silence Adaline continued, “I don’t take you for the religious type, why meet in a church?” Maybe there is more to him than I thought
Sorn walked towards the front of the room, “Well you know, its quiet here, it’s warm, and most of all…” he grabbed an ornate goblet from the altar and filled it with sacramental wine “the wine is free.”
Nevermind. “I see, perhaps we should speak about our endeavor somewhere less formal.”
“Agreed!” Sorn finished his wine. “To the lucky flask tavern, and listen, should the wine cause you to lose your inhibitions, I urge you to remember that we are now partners and we should not give in to our carnal instincts no matter how much they rage within us.”
“I will try to contain myself” Adaline sighed, “let’s go.”
The two left the warmth of the cathedral and made their way to the tavern, heavy white smoke streaking past their lips with every step. Adaline wrapped her fur cloak tightly around her athletic frame, trying to abate the frigid air.
“Is it always this cold here?” she asked through clenched teeth
Sorn, seemingly unaffected by the weather smiled and replied, “You can stand closer to me if you like. I don’t bite…much”
Ignoring the comment she pressed on, reaching the crowded Lucky Flask Tavern just as her fingertips began to go numb. The small drinkery was surprisingly clean and well maintained. I’ve met people in worst places, the taproom at Glasswater port comes to mind. Sorn brushed past her and found a semi private table, he pulled out a chair and waited for Adaline to sit in it.
“Thank you” she said. “Now can we please get down to the matters at hand?”
Sorn removed his cloak and sat across from her, observing him now in full view Adaline was surprised to see that he was quite handsome in a roguish kind of way. Long dark brown hair stylishly tied back to reveal his chiseled features, smooth skin free of blemishes, I’ll bet he primps like a noble lady. And a seductive green eye that almost made her blush when she met its gaze. The only flaw on his otherwise perfect face was the black leather patch he wore to cover what ever disfigurement that had befallen him. She felt herself staring and quickly looked away.
“So, are you aware of the artifact we seek?” She asked
Sorn paused briefly then replied in an arrogant tone “The six fingered hand of Nocrithar, said to bestow the powers of all craftborn disciplines to its bearer, and prophesied to bring the downfall of magic on Valcarnum? No, I am not familiar.”
“Ok, no need to be snarky, I was just…”
“Good word” Sorn interrupted playfully
“Thank you, as I was saying, I just wanted to know if we were on the same page, I have studied the hand for years, and have even had the opportunity to research it within the Infinite Archives. I have been waiting a long time to get the commission to go after it.”
Sorn motioned for the barmaid, “Two empty glasses please.”
The homely wench brought the empty goblets to the table and asked “No wine this evenin?”
Sorn smiled at her, “As much as I would love to see your gorgeous figure fetching me drinks all night, sadly I must decline.”
The blushing barmaid smiled wide revealing several missing teeth, then shuffled away. Adaline sighed and shook her head, “Why only glasses?” I almost don’t want to know.
Sorn casually removed the gilded bottle of sacramental wine from his rucksack, uncorked it, and poured both of them a drink.
“You stole wine from a church?” she asked angrily.
“I saw an opportunity for inebriation so I took it, you know, if we don’t allow ourselves the things that we want, we may as well be dead.” Sorn continued with a smirk, “I guess I’m not surprised you didn’t notice, I do tend to captivate the ladies.”
Now irritated at his pretentiousness, she japed, “You can’t just take things when you want them and yes, you truly are magnificent, in your own eyes of course, well in your case…eye. how did you come to lose that beady little thing? In a bar fight? Or perhaps some captivated trollop took it as payment for your incessant prattling about yourself.” I may have went too far, I hope he isn’t over sensitive about it.
Sorn smiled smugly and stood up, he raised his goblet high and addressed the room, “My fellow Grey City residents, I have an announcement to make.” The tavern goers all turned and and fell silent, Adaline felt their eyes upon her and instantly regretted her mockery.
“Sorn, I’m sorry” she whispered, but it was too late he had already begun his monologue.
“I have professed my undying love for this beautiful woman here and asked if she would do me the small honor of making me the happiest man in all of Valcarnum.” The crowd chattered with amusement. “I have asked for her hand in eternal marriage, but alas she has denied me. It seems that my beloved can not bare my hideously disfigured face any longer, and claims she cannot love a one eyed man.” The patrons gasped and began murmuring unpleasant things about Adaline under their breath. Sorn continued, “You see I lost this eye fighting in the battle of daggerspine ridge. I was protecting two peasant girls from a rampaging mountain clansman, when his spiked flail caught me on the left side of my head. Wounded and alone I repelled the massive barbarian and brought the two young ladies to safety.” Sorn paused and let the impassioned speech wash over the group. “I left my eye on the battlefield that day, and now it seems I leave my broken heart on the floor of this tavern.” Almost every female in the tavern pointed their shaming glare directly at Adaline, piercing her self esteem like a knife.
“Sorn please,” she said again mortified, “I said I was sorry.”
“What is that?” Sorn said elatedly. “My lady would like to say something!” He stepped towards her and helped her out of her seat.
Adaline rose slowly from her chair, dozens of cynical eyes fell upon her and waited with rigid anticipation. She gave an icy glance to Sorn and said, “I was wrong, I am sorry…”
Sorn urged her on smiling boyishly, “And…”
She cleared her throat and quietly said, “And…I will marry you.” The crowd burst into applause, cheers and congratulations were coming from everywhere, one old man shouted, “Do it lad, kiss her.”
Before she could react Sorn had pulled her in close and gently kissed her soft lips. He tasted sweat, the pilfered sacramental wine still on his breath. Had she not been completely enraged at his performance, she may have actually liked it. Adaline slowly pulled away and withdrew a small knife from her belt, she kept the blade concealed and jabbed it lightly into his Sorn’s stomach. The ovation was still at a fevered pitch and nearly deafening, she looked Sorn right in his charming green eye, smiled, and whispered softly, “The first one is free but I assure you the next time you will lose another spherical appendage.”
Sorn smirked and replied, “I believe you said, you can’t just take things when you want them, well, I feel like you need to adjust that line of thinking, especially as it pertains to me.”
Accepting defeat, Adaline sat back down and picked up the goblet Sorn had poured for her, she saluted him and drank down the stolen wine
Marius awoke from his tormented slumber. Cold sweat dripped down his brow as he sat up and fumbled for his quill and ink. Frantically he wrote down all the events and sensations he had just experienced, all the while repeating, “Only the dead may be unbound.” Marius dressed quickly and exited his inn room, the aging wood floor creaked loudly under his heavy boots as he descended the stairs.
“Good morning”, an elderly voice whispered from behind a small oak desk.
“Indeed it is old friend,” Marius replied warmly, “I am leaving for Port Haskett, I doubt I will ever return.”
“You have been saying that for years and you always return” the old man said with a smile, he stood slowly and began walking towards Marius
The man took small steps, shuffling across the empty great room. He reached out attempting to feel his way to his friend.
Marius grabbed his arm and steadied him, “careful Gos, where is your son?”
“He is gathering wood and running some errands for his feeble old father” Gos grinned, “besides, I may be blind but I can still see when you are troubled.”
Marius helped Gos to his chair and stepped back “You see much Gos, unfortunately this time I am certain I will not return. I am meeting my brother in Port Haskett, he and I have unfinished business.”
Gos looked up at Marius, his milky white eyes seemingly staring right into his “Men came here several days ago asking about you.”
Marius’ eyes narrowed, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
“What exactly did they ask Gos?” Marius said in a slightly alarmed tone
“The leader was asking some of the guests if they had seen you, no one admitted to it. He then approached me and handed me this..” Gos produced a small piece of parchment sealed with an ornate black wax seal, he handed the scroll to Marius and continued. “He sounded like he was sure you were here, and he instructed me to give you that message.”
Marius took the small scroll and examined it, focusing his gaze on the black wax seal. The design was hauntingly familiar, and one which he had not laid eyes on in over 150 years, the small scroll bore the seal of the Hollow guard. Marius opened the scroll and read:
You have eluded us for many years, you and your pathetic order. How is the brotherhood? Personally I have enjoyed dispatching so many of your friends and colleagues, sending their traitorous souls writhing in agony to the realm of shadow. You will meet me in 3 days time at Shadowmoore keep, there we will settle our long over due conflict and finally see who is the greatest swordsman to ever have walked Valcarnum. If you do not comply, this hovel which you call a home will be destroyed along with everyone in it. I will take extra time with the old blind man, as I know he is dear to you, perhaps he has some information about your great grand children which I could extract…
Shaking his head in disbelief Marius approached the old man. “You have been a good friend to me Gos, but I am afraid that I have placed you in grave danger.” Marius walked behind the aged man and placed his hand on his shoulder. “I would save you the pain of meeting these men again.”
Gos smiled and tilted his head slightly, “I do not understand”
Marius leaned over and hugged him, “and thankfully you never will, I am sorry”
Marius slipped his arm under Gos’ chin and pulled tight wrenching him out of his chair. The old man tried desperately to free himself from the suffocating grip but could not match the strength of his attacker. Marius then, in one fluid motion, broke the neck of his oldest and most dearest friend.
“I am truly sorry” Marius whispered as he laid him down gently. Wiping a tear from his eye he moved to the lamp which hung near the large front window. After dousing the curtains and rug with oil Marius exited the small inn. He paused, lamenting about what he had done but assured himself that it was the right decision, Gos would have suffered unimaginable torture at the hands of Tyranteus, regardless of whether he headed the notes warning. He took one last deep breath, breathing in the crisp mountain air and grassy aroma of his beloved home, he could even still detect the hint of cinnamon that Gos used to bake his famous blueberry pie. Marius lit the small oil lamp and tossed it into the building, he watched as the flames slowly engulfed everything that he found comfort in and everything that he had come to love over the last several decades. As he watched his sadness began to give way, slightly at first, but as the flames grew higher so to did the rage within him. Marius seethed as he withdrew the small scroll from his pocket, he looked upon the seal with disgust then crumpled it in his gloved fist. Throwing the letter into the fire he turned and began his long journey north to Shadowmoore Castle.
Marius examined the goblet of wine, its deep reddish purple color and silky texture clung slightly to the glass as he swirled it vigorously. He lifted the glass to his nose and breathed deeply, capturing the aromas of jammy black currants and licorice spice mixed with almost unnoticeable floral accents. Sipping the fine liquid his taste buds confirmed what his nose had told him, he nodded to the serving maid who brought him the wine and instructed her to leave the bottle. The road had been hard the last few days, torrential downpours, and steadily declining temperatures had made for less than comfortable traveling conditions. Marius closed his eyes and allowed his drink to take him away to a warmer, dryer place, a place where his mind was not troubled, a place like the Bard and Maiden. Only two weeks had past since he left the inn to burn, its memory slowly coalescing into the myriad of other long lost loves, leaving him with the ever present feelings of emptiness and isolation.
“If you were trying to sneak up on someone, you might want to try lighter boots, and the occasional bath.” Marius said, slowly opening his eyes to meet the tall dark skinned strangers surprised gaze.
“Your senses are sharp, and so is your tongue