The Isle of Deroge-The Grand Wager...

Week 12: A New Chosen

And a new Fanatic

After a few days recouping from their travels, the trio returned to the Basilica to receive supplies for their next journey, including their newest ally.

They were directed to a small garden. There they found Channing Kearnan feeding birds crusts of bread. He looked like any old man, whiling away his time, if not for the double ring of armored guards. Lucinde had told them about the Holy Alerons, a sect of sacred knights entrusted to protect the Channing. A few steps away from the Church’s leader, an unassuming man had joined Kearnan in feeding the birds that had flocked to their feet. As the three approached, the Channing quickly tore the remaining bread and brushed his hands clean. He greeted them warmly, but sensing the group’s impatience, quickly moved onto their next mission.

" Here are your letters of passage into Har’Thelen." An aid quickly rushed to hand them envelopes. " When you reach Hamilton, seek out Garrn Ironfoot. He will be able to guide you on the harsher passes in the Spine." He paused, as if searching through a vast index in his mind, " if you have any spare time, his wife, Deidre, makes lovely plum pies." He waved over the unassuming man, “And this will be the help I offered at our last meeting.”

“Gaspar Le Tresor,” he introduced himself with an outstretched hand. The man wore simple, but sturdy, traveling clothes. Underneath his brown cloak, he wore a chainmail shirt and bore a longsword and a dagger. Val was a little crestfallen. The man had looked so plain, that he would make the perfect cutpurse or lookout for a street gang. With his brown hair, brown eyes and average build, he would blend into most surroundings. Unfortunately, Val could tell by the man’s gait and his equipment, that he was much more in Lucinde’s camp than his own.

Val warmly shook his hand, wondering if that was the man’s given name. They had returned from Bergamoth with a shield bearing the inscription, ‘Good will fail and Evil will reign if the Treasure is lost.’ Now they met a man whose name could be translated to ‘Guardian of the Treasure.’ He smiled, noticing that he did not have a ring similar to theirs, “How apropos for our mission.”

Unsure if the rogue was mocking him, Gaspar responded, “Well, that’s what they say.” Introduction to Iezecele and Lucinde. Val was reminded of the time when he first arrived at the Rose Castle. His father had introduced him to the other noble boys who had already bonded from their time at the castle, and told him to ‘go play’ with them. Now, he was on the other side of that awkwardness.

Channing Kearnan, perhaps sensing his charge’s state, directed the group to the stables to see to the saddling of their supplies for the journey. He raised his hands and gave them a benediction. They all noticed that Gaspar bowed his head low as the Channing gave them his blessing.
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On the road to Orville, the closest city to the Har’Thelen border, they rode two by two. Lucinde and Gaspar in the lead, Val and Iezecele following behind. Lucinde heard Val’s thoughts buzzing through the power of the ring. He had pressed her to find out what she could about their new companion. She asked about his background.

" I was born in Kantora, in the capital, Senna, I barely remember it though. I was about 4 or five when my family moved to Beaufort." Lucinde nodded, thinking that there was hope for Kantoran men, only if one happened to expatriate them at an early age.

“I lost my parents shortly after.” Gaspar briefly paused, " I was taken to the Basilica, like so many who are orphaned in Beaufort. The priests there took me in, educated me and trained me to be an upstanding citizen of Cosette." And to be fully indoctrinated Iezecele projected to Lucinde.

Ask him about beasts of unusual size, oh, and horrible nightmares , Val interjected. Lucinde was equally curious and asked Gaspar about what he had seen on his travels. “I’ve been on some missions for Channing Kearnan, similar to what you’ve done.” He spoke the Channing’s name with reverence. " I have to admit, I’m not as well traveled as all of you, but I’ve never seen anything like what’s mentioned in your reports."

Lucinde chuckled, “Well, that will change if you stay with us.” She hoped that Gaspar knew how to use the weapons he was wearing. It was the reason she didn’t want to unnecessarily involve anyone else.

Val spoke to her again, Well done. Now we know that he knows all about us. He’s been privy to all those jottings the acolytes have been making.

As they made camp, Gaspar spoke aloud what he had been thinking since he met them, " Was it truly a skeleton that attacked you in the warrens outside of Trillian?"

The three paused. The thought of that day still stung. “The Baron Malachi,” Lucinde confirmed. “He rose from his chair and attacked us.”

“I don’t know what dark Will caused that skeleton to move and speak, but it is the truth.” Iezecele added.

Val raised his mug, “To Bob.” Lucinde and Iezecele raised their own and all three repeated, “To Bob.”

Gaspar let them finish their memorial to their fallen ally before speaking again. He had wanted to ask these three ever since he had read the report. “And did he truly say that you would never realize your destiny?” When Lucinde nodded, Gaspar quietly noted, " That sounds like something Mesonge would say."

To break up the solemn mood, Val began to play on his fiddle while the others set up camp. As he finished the Tune, Gaspar clapped. “Good song, Val. I didn’t know that you played the fiddle. I wish I had that talent.”

Val was a bit dismayed. The fact that he told stories and entertained must not have been of much import in the Church’s reports. “It’s more than something I can do. It’s who I am.” Perhaps to the Church, they were just the Chosen. “And if you like, I can teach you to play. It’s really not all that hard.”

Gaspar looked into his cup and quietly spoke a verse from the Prophecy, “From all walks of life they shall be.”

Lucinde started a fire. “So, Gaspar, you mentioned that you went on some missions like the ones the Church has us on? Prophecy expeditions. Are there a lot of other groups doing this kind of work?” She was wondering how many other of those the Church considered Chosen were out there.

“There are a lot of people dedicated to researching the Prophecy, especially now that finding artifacts have happening more frequently.” Gaspar worried what that might mean for Channing Kearnan, “But I know of only one other group like you.” The other three paused in their chores, “I’m sorry, like us.”

Should I ask him about being a Chosen? Lucinde sent to Val and Iezecele. The rogue nodded, while the Willworker only shrugged his shoulders. “So are you a Chosen?” The best plan was always the most forward one.

“Yes, I am.” He said with conviction. “Let me show you.” He opened his shirt and pulled it to the side, revealing a circular birthmark over his heart. In response, Lucinde pulled her sleeve up, showing her own mark on her left arm. Iezecele removed his glove and held out his hand, showing his own birthmark. “And you,” Gaspar asked when Val wasn’t forthcoming.

The rogue smiled. “You have to buy me a drink first,” Val wasn’t in the mood to remove his boot. He also knew that Gaspar just wanted to see them for himself, surely he had read about them in one of the Church’s many reports. “Trust me, I have one.”

“I was also born on the first on November, like my father before me and his father before him.” Gaspar added, knowing, course, that Iezecele had been born on the first of January, Lucinde, on the first of October, and Val on the first of April.

Iezecele smirked, “So it is written, so shall it be.” Clearly Gaspar was ignoring the fact that that part of the so-called prophecy missed the fact that Lucinde was a woman.

Gaspar nodded emphatically, “Exactly,” clearly missing out on the Willworker’s sarcasm.

Lucinde was harboring an idea in her head about the Chosen, perhaps they were the only ones facing the monstrous creatures because these things were somehow attracted to them, and the more of them together meant it was easier for the creatures to find them. Like over baiting a trap. “This other group you mentioned, the one you said was like us, have they run into creatures of dire size?”

Before Gaspar could respond, Iezecele interjected, “Dire creatures have long existed on the Isle. Don’t go reading into things, Lucinde.”

“In fables,” Gaspar retorted, “stories mothers tell their children. But there are no confirmed records until you three began your path.” Gaspar believed that the dark god, Mesonge, would do all that he could to thwart the Chosen of the Prophecy. “Tell me, have you ever met anyone that encountered a dire beast before you three joined together?”

Val was watching Gaspar and Iezecele, the believer and the skeptic, and decided to add some fuel. "On our way to Trillian from Celedine, we encountered some rats of unusual size and a giant spider. Then there was that killer plant on the way to Dalis, that corpse we found proved that thing had been there awhile" Gaspar would use it to point out they were two Chosen and Iezecele would say these threats existed before they were on the missions for the Prophecy. He smiled waiting to see who would jump first.

Gaspar spoke first, “See, the two of you brought Mesonge’s attention.”

“Not only the assassin vine, but I, myself encountered a monstrous creature in my youth.” Iezecele’s eye twitched, pulling his scar tissue taut.

“Tell me what happened.” Once the Church had discovered these three, they had engaged in a considerable amount of research on them. Lucinde Solide was the easiest to discover. The Solide family was well known. Once Channing Odo was able to identify Val D’Coeur as Valerian Stratos, it was equally easy to fill in the Kantoran noble’s backstory. Iezecele Grimm was still much of an enigma to them. He was found to be a Willworker in Cosette, but was clearly from Cendrillion stock. Yet the Willworkers had little beyond that about Iezecele’s youth. Any insights to his character would be valuable to Channing Kearnan.

Val knew how tight lipped Iezecele was on his past. He knew that Iezecele hailed from Cendrillion and was exiled for being a Willworker. Val wasn’t sure, but he felt that Iezecele had it pretty rough when he was younger. “Gaspar, let it go.”

Gaspar pressed, “Val, I think we’re going to be together for awhile. I just want to learn more about each of you.” He looked back towards Iezecele, “Is that how you got that scar of yours? Facing a dire beast?”

Val glanced over to Iezecele, remembering their meeting in Celendine. The Willworker had been evasive when it came to his scar. Val had picked up on the vibe from Iezecele’s fellow Willworkers that it was not a subject Iezecele broached. He could see the Willworker’s ire rise. “Gaspar, there are things people just don’t want to talk about, especially with people they just met.” His gentle smile left Val’s face, “You’re being rude. Drop the subject.”

Gaspar looked from Val to Iezecele. He realized that in his desire to help the Channing Kearnan, he had overstepped. This wasn’t the way he wanted it, “I’m so sorry, Master Willworker, I apologize, truly. Is there anything you wish to know about me. Just ask, I’ll tell you anything you’d like to know.”

Iezecele threw the rest of his drink into the campfire and stood up, “Yeah, there is one thing.”

Gaspar looked hopeful, “Yes?”

“What watch are you taking?”

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Gaspar was on watch a few days out from Orville. He looked at his companions tents. Lucinde was clearly a believer in the Prophecy. He could never quite tell where Val stood. With Iezecele, it had taken much of the journey to the foothills of the Spine of Har’Thelen for things to warm between him and the Willworker. While not friendly, the two often had what Val referred to as ‘spirited discussions’ about the nature of the Prophecy. A crunch of twigs brought Gaspar’s focus. He alerted Lucinde to the danger.

Gaspar was met by Iezecele exiting his tent. “I was just going to wake you.” He noticed Val grabbing his spear as he exited his own tent. “You both must be light sleepers.” There was no way he could tell that Lucinde had sent an alarm through their mental connection. The power of the rings they bore was still a mystery to him.

Izecele charged a stone with arcane light and threw it in the direction Gaspar had heard the sound. It revealed a large grizzly bear, eyes matted and mouth foamy with blackness. Gaspar was shocked by the blackness. He had read the reports, but seeing it was much worse. He felt that it was evil. He took a step forward, but caught Lucinde’s eye. He stepped back remembering their nightly discussions of tactics. The fighters were only to attack after Iezecele had used his magic. He looked to see if Val was following suit, but the rogue had already drifted into the shadows.

Iezecele summoned the heat of the earth and sent a scorching ray , burning at the bear’s thick hide.

Lucinde made a shot with the new bow she had purchased in Beaufort, missing the beast. She had not practiced enough with it. She dropped the bow and moved forward, drawing her more reliable flail.

Gaspar followed Lucinde’s lead and drew both of his blades.

Unnervingly, the grizzly bear attacked in silence. It’s massive paws swiped first at Gaspar, then at Lucinde, failing to land a blow.

Iezecele focused his Will on his hand, as he stepped back, a ghostly hand remained where his hand used to be. It took time, but he knew he could utilize this spectral version of his hand to deliver his Will shapes.

Val stepped out of the shadows behind the bear and thrust his spear into the creature’s leg. Like the other blackened beasts before it, the bear made no roar of pain, yet it’s blood wetted the ground.

Lucinde swung her flail, catching one of the bear’s paws in a heavy blow.

Wary of the creature’s wide swing, Gaspar stabbed at the beast, catching its side with his longsword, but failed to get close enough to connect with the follow up stab with his dagger.

Gaspar’s tentative strike left him open. The bear’s wide reach caught him in his side. Gaspar felt claws dig into his flesh. Worse, the bear curled his massive arms, drawing him into a grapple. The bear’s second arm was wounded, allowing Lucinde to block it’s attack easily.

Val targeted the bear’s other leg, stabbing through its thick hide. As the blood came pouring out, he knew there wasn’t much left to this fight.

Iezecele summoned the strength of the earth, power akin to the strength the bear wielded. He gave the power to Lucinde though the connection he shared with his spectral hand.

Lucinde felt the power surge through her muscles and roared as she swung her flail with more might than she had ever felt in her life. The metal head of her flail connected with the side of the bear’s face. A sound crunch turned the beast’s head into pulpy meat. It’s eye popped right out of its skull.

As it fell to the ground, Val clapped Lucinde’s hand. “Double win! We took out the beast and we killed it away from camp!” Iezecele and Lucinde smiled, remembering breaking down camp in the middle of the night to avoid sleeping near some hulking, diseased carcass.

Iezecele looked at Gaspar’s wound, casting his healing Will shape to close the injury. Gaspar looked over to Val. “You didn’t get hit did you?” The rogue had shared numerous accounts of claws and bites and stabs finding their way to his flesh.

Val spun to show Gaspar that he had escaped this latest battle unscathed. “Nope, that’s because you’re my meat shield.”

“Meat shield?”

“Lucinde’s mine,” Iezecele said after checking her for any infection from the blackness. The creature’s frothy mouth had come close to her unprotected face during the battle. He wanted to be sure no bits lingered on her. “Val needs one too.”

Gaspar looked puzzled as they laughed.
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“I’m just saying I don’t understand why we stayed so long in Orville,” Gaspar asked as they ate around the campfire. They were camped close to the border between Cosette and Har’Thelen. He was eager to come to the aid of the missing Church acolytes, yet his three new companions had spent almost two days in the city.

“I told you when we were drinking at the Gold Mine Inn. City rules.” Val had explained the need to rest from their time on the road.

The rogue had insisted on some protocol that he had coerced Lucinde and Iezecele into. His ‘city rules’ included staying at the most expensive room in an inn, staying up all night carousing, and sleeping late the following day. He all but said that the morning sun was a tool of the dark god. When Gaspar urged Lucinde and Iezecele to press on, they merely shrugged her shoulders and followed Val’s lead.

“Look, Gaspar, I know you’re eager to get to those priests.” Val reasoned with his new companion. “But they’ve been on their mission for months. A day or two isn’t going to matter and we won’t be much help if we’re not rested if we find them in some sort of trouble.”

The rogue could see that Gaspar was dwelling on the missing priests. His mind conjuring the worst of scenarios. Truthfully, Val thought that the priests were most likely dead. The Devonans were notoriously organized. He had never known a Devonan to be late for or with anything, and that included their correspondence. Val remembered in his youth that the couriers from Har’Thelen had never failed to arrive at the Rose Castle. Irregardless of the weather, even if the letter was of little import, they had always arrived precisely on time. In fact, he remembered the servants adjusting the waterclock according to the courier’s arrival. For the Church not hearing from the priests, something dire must have happened. The only hope was that isolationist Devonans of Karg were different from the rest of their brethren.

Val distracted Gaspar with some conversation. “Say, did you ever encounter any ravens on your missions?”

“Ravens?” Gaspar paused, thinking, “I couldn’t say that I noticed any, but they’re all over Cosette.”

Lucinde remembered the pair of ravens that had seemed to follow them, not to mention the sea of ravens they encountered after killing a pair of them. “Maybe a pair of ravens that seemed to watch you?”

When Gaspar shook his head, Val thought that their new companion’s education might shed some insight. “What about the Church, they say anything about ravens?”

“Just the usual,” Gaspar responded plainly.

“Which are?” Iezecele prompted. They hadn’t benefited from Gaspar’s life-long ‘education.’

“I thought you would know.” Gaspar wondered at the ignorance of these three. They were on the most important mission of the Church, yet knew so little of the struggle in which they were enmeshed.

Val smiled. He could identify with Gaspar. Val had been educated with the double talk and slyness of the Kantoran streets. It was difficult to imagine that there were people who didn’t know how things worked in that world. Gaspar was much the same, spending so long with the Church, he couldn’t imagine anyone not knowing what he took for granted. “Assume that we’re idiots.”

Iezecele knew he was never an idiot. “Assume that we don’t believe in your doctrines.”

Gaspar remembered something that Channing Kearnan had mentioned to him as they were feeding the birds on the day he met his new companions. ‘Always keep in mind the verses of the Prophecy,’ the Channing shared. ‘It tells us about the Chosen. It says, ’From all walks of life they shall be.’ That’s not merely just guard, prince, or Willworker. It also can refer to their mindset. Some, like you, will be the faithful. Others may be skeptical of the mission. Still others might openly refuse to believe. Remember that as you travel.’ Gaspar explained, “The creatures that closely aligned with darkness, serpents, rats, ravens, have often been referred to as the Eyes of Mesonge. It is said that anything they see is instantly known by the dark god.”

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Later, Lucinde thought about what Gaspar had said about ravens being spies for Mesonge. She thought it might be a reason for the way these monsters seemed to find them. Suddenly an arrow struck her shoulder. It didn’t pierce her armor, but she knew she’d be nursing a bruise if Iezecele didn’t heal her first. “Alarm!” she called out to her allies, both through the ring and her voice, remembering that Gaspar couldn’t receive her thoughts.

Two bandits rushed Lucinde from the darkness. She was glad these villains attacked during her watch. Their attacks slid off of her armor. She hit one of the attackers with the haft of her fail. He fell back with a hand to his chest, trying to regain his breath.

Gaspar quickly joined Lucinde, but rushed headlong into the fray and left his defense down in his hurry. One of the attackers took the opportunity and cut into Gaspar. The acolyte retaliated, catching the man’s brow with a sword slice, but failing to find purchase with his dagger.

Val thrust with his spear, but failed to land a good strike. The spear point glanced off the attacker’s armor.

Iezecele stepped from his tent and noticed three more attackers entering their campsite. There were now outnumbered. He used his Will to shape the light around him. Unlike how he pressed the light into a stone, he now weaved it around himself, effectively making himself invisible to the attackers. He moved closer to the new attackers.

Lucinde pressed her attack on her attacker. The man was still gasping for air, throwing off his stance. She swung her flail and caught his neck. His head quickly twitched to the side as his neck was broken. As the man fell, an arrow sped through the opening, barely missing Lucinde.

Iezecele surprised the new attackers as he suddenly appeared spewing jets of flame from his hands. Two of them were engulfed in the burning flames. He was now visible, the light Willshape was too difficult to maintain.

A glance allowed Val to see that Iezecele was now facing three men on his own. His worry for his ally threw off his attack. His opponent took advantage of Val’s distraction and swung a heavy greatsword. It was all Val could do to twist his way out of receiving the worst of the connecting blow.

Gaspar worried about Val. Often on their journey, the rogue had expounded on how often he was gravely injured in combat. He knew that the drawback of the greatsword was its weight. Its blow could do significant damage, but it could also unbalance the attacker. He stepped opposite Val and sliced at the attacker. His blade catching the man’s shoulder.

Lucinde stepped back, surveying the scene. Gaspar and Val had boxed in the last of the initial attackers, but the three new attackers had advanced on Iezecele. She had laughed when the Willworker had called her his ‘meat shield,’ but it was true in a certain sense. Left undefended, the Willworker could be more vulnerable than Val. She could see that one of the attackers must have scored a hit. Blood was staining Iezecele’s sleeve. She leapt over the low campfire, fully extending her swing as she landed. Still holding onto the edge of her flail’s haft, Lucinde forcefully caught the attention of Iezecele’s attackers.

As the three turned to face Lucinde’s threat, Iezecele took a step back and unleashed another jet of flames from his hands. One of the three attackers screamed as the flames consumed him. The other man caught in the quickly discarded his burning cloak.

Now flanked, the attacker with the greatsword swung in wide arcs to try to catch both Val and Gaspar. Both men easily sidestepped the clumsy attack. Gaspar ducked under the heavy metal blade and slashed at the attacker with his sword and dagger, double-slicing the man’s belly.

As the attacker tensed with the blow, Val saw his opportunity. He let go of his spear and entered the wide spine of the attacker. Standing back to back with him, Val moved like a dancer in a twirl. Spinning as his attacker spun, Val drew his short swords and drove them deep into the man’s back, slaying him.

The archer dropped his bow and joined his only remaining companion. Lucinde quickly reacted to his presence, shouldering him away from Iezecele with her shield arm. She looked into his eyes and saw the anger there. She knew that this was another group like the one they faced in the caves of Kermis. A smart man would see three of his felled allies and recognize a battle lost. This man charged in when he should have called for a retreat. She waited for the opening from a clumsy, emotional attack and struck at the man’s ear. It would further unbalance his attacks.

Iezecele smirked as the burned attacker let down his guard slightly. He must have noticed his ally step up and draw Lucinde’s attention. He thought he was safer with the warrior otherwise occupied. His miscalculation cost him his life. Instead of dropping back, Iezecele surged forward, summoning the lighting storm in his hand and slapping the man’s sword. The electricity traveled down the blade and channeled into the man, killing him.

Val watched as Gaspar joined Iezecele and Lucinde’s attack, trading blows with the last attacker. It was clear that this battle was ending. Iezecele was already dropping back and casting his stone shards at the man. Val knew he could just allow them to finish the battle, but a thought struck him. These men had attacked them out of nowhere. Why were they attacking? Were they just bandits, or something else? If they were sent, how had they find Val and his allies. He wanted to know their story.

Val rushed behind the last attacker, spinning his blade at the last moment to catch him with its flat side. His short sword caught the man on the side of the head. Lucinde’s blow and the hard slap from Val’s short sword proved to be too much for the attacker. His eyes rolled back and fell to the ground unconscious.

Val searched the man. Lucinde went back to the camp to get some rope to tie up their prisoner. “Look what we have here.” Val unrolled a piece of parchment he had found on the man. It contained accurate descriptions of all of them. Even Gaspar’s description was there, though it seemed to be added on. Where Lucinde’s, Iezecele’s and his own description seemed writ in an even, practiced hand, Gaspar’s description seemed hastily scrawled. Val imagined that their attackers already had the three of their descriptions. Gaspar’s must have been relayed to these men and they wrote it in their own hand.

“I’m going make a zone where this man will speak the truth, if he speaks at all.” Iezecele remembered an obscure Willshaping.

Val shivered, “You can make a person tell the truth?” What a nightmarish thought.

“Of a sort,” Iezecele started forming the shape in his mind. His teacher had told him to think of it much like a magnet, pulling solid metal of truth outwards from the mind. “He will know of its power and may not choose to speak.” He forced the Willshape into being and felt its power brush against both the attacker and his allies. He quickly followed the spell with a burst of healing energy, healing both his allies and bringing their enemy to wakefulness.

Val knelt down next to the restrained man. He knew he would need to get the man speaking. “Hi friend,” he put on his easy smile, “why did you and your buddies attack us?”

The man tested his bonds and found he was helpless. “To kill you,” he spat. He knew the Willworker had done something to make him speak truth. He didn’t mind. He knew he had lost, but it was only a battle in a war they were assured victory.

Val put on a saddened expression, “Why would you want to kill us? We’ve just met.”

The attacker gazed directly into Val’s eyes, “You deserve it. You all deserve it.” He had met men like Val before, liars, false words were their bread and butter. Soon they would be choking on their honeyed words.

Iezecele folded his arms, “Why would we deserve death?”

“That is the punishment you have earned for being oathbreakers,” The righteous conviction in his tone could not be overlooked.

Val saw Lucinde and Gaspar stiffen at the accusation, offended that they were looked upon in such a way. Iezecele seemed poised, as if he were waiting for elaboration. For his part, Val knew he was a liar and a cheat. Not for nefarious reasons, but some people needed to be deceived and others wanted to be deceived. “Now I can’t speak for our other friends here, but I’m not sure which oath you’re talking about.”

The attacker wished he was free. Val not only admitted to being an oathbreaker, but reveled in it. “The Peace Line! Your ancestors oathed to uphold the truce and blatantly shattered it! For that great sin, you, their children shall pay the price! As it is written, the sins of the father shall be visited sevenfold upon his children!”

With that statement, Val confirmed that these were not just bandits, looking to make quick coin. Nor were they hired assassins, hired to kill him and his allies. They were the same kind of fanatics they had met in the caves at Kermis. Val knew, assuming that the legends of his country’s namesake were true, that his ancestor was there when that particular oath was broken. His lineage twisting and turning to lead back to Arnaud’s shieldmaiden, Kantora. He briefly wondered if there was a way to see if the others’ heritage took them back to that moment.

Val knew there was no winning over this man. No amount of pleasant motivation would sway fanaticism. “I’ve got to tell you, idiot, I can’t really see that happening. Just look at yourself.” He derisively laughed at him, hoping to raise his ire for them to a feverish pitch.

“We will scour you and all the rest of the oathbreakers from this Isle.” The attacker was practically foaming at the mouth. “You are all doomed! Any resistance you may muster will be defeated! You are all corpses strutting around, not knowing that they’re already dead!”

He’s just about at his boiling point, Val noted. If he turned up the temperature just a bit more, this man might spill something of value. “Defeated? Really?” Val mocked the man, “I hate to tell you, I’m not all that strong. Still, we managed to defeat you fairly easily.” He continued to taunt their attacker, “And you’re not even the first. There was this other lunatic, What was that fool’s name?” He glanced at Iezecele while searching his memory. “Pellon,” Val snapped his fingers. “You know him?” Val smiled a satisfied grin, “We gutted that fool too. He was spouting the same bullshit that you are. We defeated him, just as we will defeat your evil, flaccid god.”

Gaspar stood shocked that Val would insult Mesonge. Didn’t he know that the god knew when he was invoked, even if not by name. The dark god kept a book where all the sins of the living were recorded. To speak ill of Mesonge was to invite his attention. Gaspar leaned in to speak softly to Val, “I know you don’t believe, but don’t tempt the dark god. You’ve gone to far.”

A madness boiled into their attacker’s eyes. “I am but a drop of rain in the storm that will consume the Isle! You will see our strength soon enough! Karg will be the first to feel our might!”

Val looked into the eyes of the attacker, “Karg, hmm? Thank you.” In retrospect, he thought he had overstepped with the ‘flaccid god’ bit. He had never been terribly religious, but things you were taught to believe in one’s youth had a tendency of sticking. Insulting Mesonge itched uncomfortably at those teachings. His mother would have washed his mouth with soap if she had chance.

As Val stood calmly, the attacker knew he had been worked into speaking about Karg. He bottled his rage, knowing he couldn’t share more. “You act so tough, four of you standing against me. So brave when you have that kind of advantage. Give me my weapon. I’ll still fight you.” He knew he would lose, but at least he wouldn’t say more.

Val chortled, “You’re one to talk. Five of you attacked us without any warning. And you talk about honor. I’m tempted to grant your request for a honorable fight for your freedom.”

The attacker tightened his grip, he knew Val would never let him go. “Give me my blade then.” The best he could hope for was to die while killing the rogue.

Val feigned surprise, “Me?” He bowed respectfully to Lucinde, “No, no, no. You would be facing her.”

The attacker laughed wryly, “Now who’s weak? You need your woman to fight for you.”

Lucinde had been willing to stay out of Val’s interrogation. Unsure of what she should be doing, she had decided to play the silent muscle in the background. She couldn’t stay silent after the attacker’s double insult. First insulting her prowess as a warrior because of her sex. Then, by suggesting that she was Val’s woman. He had gone too far.

She lifted their attacker by his collar and pressed the haft of her flail into the man’s throat. "She let the go of the flail’s chain. The flail head swung down, menacingly tapping against the man’s chest. She looked down at him, “And what’s wrong with being a woman?”

Val could see the attacker’s eyes shift, looking for an escape. He sent to Lucinde. Good work. I think he’s ready spill his guts. Val paused, considering his choice of words, I mean talk to us, not literally spill his guts. He began feeding Lucinde questions.

Lucinde tightened her grip, shaking the man a bit, “How did you know about us?”

The attacker could barely look her in the eyes, “All of us know about you.”

“Who told you about us? Who’s pulling your strings?”

“I don’t know his name. They are called the Watchers. I was told what you look like and to eliminate you.”

“Where is this Watcher? How can I find him?”

Nervous sweat began to roll down the man’s face, “The Watcher comes to me. I last met him on the border between Cosette and Har’Thelen, along the coastline. I’m supposed to go back there again after I completed my task.”

Lucinde spoke through gritted teeth, “Your task of killing us.”

He nodded, “But I can’t go back until I’ve completed the task. He’ll know I’ve failed.” The attacker knew how the Watchers dealt with failure.

“You mentioned Karg, what’s happening there?”

“They said that it would be the first city to fall. I don’t know anything more, I swear.” He looked from Lucinde, to Val, and to Iezecele and Gaspar. “I won’t say anything to the Watchers. You don’t know what they’ll do to me if I return. We can just go our separate ways. I swear.” He knew he would be running for the rest of his life. The Watchers’ punishment for failure was kind next to the punishment for deserters.

Hold his nose for me, Val sent to Lucinde. The warrior dropped the man to the ground and gripped his nose.

Val gagged the man as he opened his mouth to breathe. "We won’t be releasing you today. I’m sure the Devonans will have plenty to ask you about your pal’s plans for a Har’Thelen city.

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