Sunday, November 15, 2009

NANOWRIMO Day Compilation

Prepare for a long, at least three chapter's worth as I haven't updated in a bit.

Chapter 14 – Promises

They were glad that upon reaching the top of the cliff, the horses they had left hadn't wandered too far off. The horses were found to be grazing on a narrow band of grasses that had sprung up from the frosty soil to thrive on the sea breezes. Regardless of how badly they wanted to return to Caendor quickly, they had to stop to rest on the on the cold soil once again. Building up a nice sized fire, they sat around and warmed their chilled bones.

After an uneasy night of sleep with the wind and sea sprays constantly bombarding them, they gathered up the remaining supplies and packed them into the horses' saddlebags. Their goal was to ride hard and fast until well after sundown, hoping to reach the city shortly after daybreak on the second day. The journey went by quickly enough until the storm that had been threatening them overtook them.

Buffeted by blowing snows and high winds, the pace quickly slowed to as though they were walking through molasses. Visibility dropped to where it could be measured in feet and the temperature plummeted through the floor. Even wearing heavy woolen cloaks over the armor, each one of them was shivering uncontrollably in the matter of minutes. Drifts were gathering rapidly in front of them, forcing the horses to trudge through them. They would have stopped to wait it out but without a good place of shelter, freezing to death would be a serious concern. There was no way to even remotely keep a fire going in the conditions currently hampering the travel.

The dark gray clouds that closed in around took away sense of time. Minutes felt like hours and hours felt like days, yet they continued to trudge onwards. There was a brief let up in the ferocity of the storm, but it was only short lived and only succeeded in causing hope to plummet any further. There was no longer any clue as to whether they were even headed in the right direction anymore. Long ago they could have gotten turned around and were headed in the opposite direction of where they wanted.

After much time had passed, the winds finally began to die down and the clouds began breaking apart. They were able to watch as the morning sun rose into the sky, illuminating the path that they needed to take. Luckily, they hadn't gotten too far off track, at most few miles too far to the west. Quickly adjusting the course, they hoped that the slower travel was counteracted by them riding throughout the night.

With only a small delay to have a quick, cold meal, they continued pressing ever onward. It was with great joy that they finally saw the magnificent towers of the city sticking up from the horizon. It would be at most an hour before they could return to a nice hot meal and a warm bed. The gates to the city were opened before they even arrived, the guards generally happy to see them return with the mystical herb in hand.

The guards at the castle quickly ushered them up to the Earl's quarters. They had assembled the alchemists at the first sighting of them on the horizon. The Earl's condition hadn't changed in the nearly week that they had been away. It seemed as though he was almost frozen time, stubble was absent from his chin and he looked exactly the same as when they had left.

His wife couldn't have the same said about her. According the guards, she hardly left her husband's side since he had fallen ill. She didn't even leave to take meals, instead having the servants bring them up to the bed room. Her hair was unkempt and clothes horribly wrinkled from non-stop wear.

The alchemists took the Athaleas from them and began preparations according to the instructions found in ancient medicinal texts. According the texts, the potion that had to brewed with a number of rare plants would take a full day's worth of simmering before it they could even add the herb. Then it would take a few more days before it was ready to be given to the Earl.

With the blessings of the Countess, the three adventurers were given separate guest bedrooms with all the amenities of nobility. Each was assigned servants that did nothing but wait on them from dawn to dusk. They had water drawn for baths, armor cleaned and repaired by the master blacksmith, and full meals provided by the cooks. The food was utterly better than the hard bread they had been living off of for the past couple of weeks and an improvement over what the army served them. Roast ducks, full pigs, mountains of potatoes, fresh baked bread, and wine at a moment's notice.

While eager to move on to the other locations for gathering troops, they were starting to enjoy themselves, not wanting to leave when the potion was finished. The potion, according to conversations they held with the head alchemist, was proceeding just as the texts said it should. In a matter of days, they would know whether it was possible to save the Earl.

They were woken early in the morning by one of the guards, telling them that potion had been completed and that it would be tested within the hour. Quickly dressing, they made their way to the Earl's bedchambers, where they once again found the Countess sitting on the side of her husband's bed. The alchemists were doing some final preparations and ladling the concoction into a vial to pour down the Earl's throat.

The time had finally come to test the potion and everyone in the room waited with bated breath. As the countess held her husband's mouth open, the head alchemist poured the liquid down the throat. The seconds slowly ticked away slowly as nothing seemed to happen. Just as they were about to say it was a failure, the Earl began to show some signs of life. His eyelids fluttered open for a second, before he began coughing. As he opened his eyes, looking around in bewilderment, his wife broke into tears and buried her face in his chest, sobbing greatly in joy.

The questions rolled out his mouth almost immediately. What had happened, why was everyone in his room, why was his wife in such a mood, and where was his breakfast. Everyone broke into a raucous laughter at the last, much to the bewilderment of the Earl.

Shen, who knew the Earl quite well over his years of service, took up the task of trying to explain what happened with help from the captain of the guard as to what happened before the three of them had arrived. He was filled in on his poisoning and how they were unsure of who had done it and that no one was currently in custody for the crime. Shen recounted their arrival and the reasons behind it, much to the Earl's dismay of learning of the attack. He followed with a description of their journey through the Cave of the Winds and fighting the dragon and trials to get the herb.

“I guess I owe you much gratitude for all that you have done to save me and my throne from a dastardly attack,” Earl Eamon stated after having the full tale wash over him. “It is a shame about King Tiethal, while he was not the most popular, to be murdered along with your entire line is something so terrible that I can not even imagine. I have a question though, you only mentioned there being five corpses. What happened to the daughter?”

“The Grand Marshall was unsure of her whereabouts when we left. No one saw her during the attack or in the aftermath, so they were operating under the assumption that she was kidnapped in the assault,” Keladkha spoke up.

“I certainly hope nothing horrible has happened to her. I have known her since she was wee tot and it would kill me to know that she had been harmed in any way.”

“Sir, sorry to intrude, but there still is the matter of you and your army making way to Belnor to provide protection and set up the meeting of nobles to determine the proper heir to the throne.”

“Yes, yes. It will take a week to make proper preparations for while I am away, but you will certainly have my troops on hand.”

“Thank you kindly sir, we will have to make more stops to gather allies, but I believe royal decree makes you regent until a successor is chosen.”

With the assurances in place, the three of them left the Earl to have a chance to digest all the news that had been thrown in his direction at once. They each returned to their separate rooms to gather the belongings that had become strewn about in the days of rest here. It would take at least another day for the proper provisions to be prepared for the journey into the marshes, a dangerous place.

As a proper thanks for their work in saving him, the Earl decided to bestow certain gifts upon the party. To Shen, he bestowed a set of the Earl's own armor. It was of the top quality metal and was adorned with the seal of Caendor, a griffin taking flight. Upon Keladkha, he gave his own personal horse. It was of a long breed of horses that had served the kings and earls for centuries. It was arguably the fastest and most intelligent of the horses in all of Ortheon. Arynn was given a special quiver of arrows, with heads imbued with the elemental properties of fire, causing a burn on targets that it came in contact with.

The time finally came for them to say goodbye though, as there was still much work to be done in gathering the forces. It was with heavy hearts that they left the plush surroundings that they had grown accustomed to in the previous days. Shortly after daybreak though, they set out through the front gates, leaving the magnificent white towers and castle behind, shimmering in the early morning rays.

Chapter 15 – On the Road Again

The group made their way back onto the Great Road and headed southeast towards the marshes. They were thankful to finally be leaving the frozen wastes of the north for some of the warmer climates of the country. Some of the worries that had been following them since they left Belnor after the attack were beginning to recede knowing that the Earl of Caendor was headed to capital to help set events in motion. Their task lie before them, uniting the other members of the Empire to pledge support in this dire time.

Word must have spread from the capital in other means, as the road was the emptiest that they had ever seen it. Few were the days when you could travel for hours on the road and not run across another merchant or traveler. Those they did end up running across steered a wide swath around them, obviously worried about the sorts of folks they would meet on the road.

Their first campsite on the road was not far from where they had been attacked on the journey towards the capital. While there were bad memories in the air, the hard night of sleep was less a result of that and more of a readjustment from the plush beds they had grown used to. The one redeeming fact was that the kitchens at the castle had provided them with the best quality of provisions they had enjoyed at any part of their travels.

The weather turned favorable to their cause as they continued along the winding road to the southeast. The days were finally bearable and the nights didn't see them shivering constantly until morning. Bright blue skies and sunshine greeted them around every bend and lush green grass and trees stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions. The mountains surrounding Belnor loomed off to the right as they followed the road, providing a picturesque beauty to whole journey. The pleasant travel wouldn't last though, as the marshes were some of the most humid and unbearable portions of the continent.

As they road through small towns situated on the road, they were not welcomed, with the few people on the streets glaring at them and the militia following their every footstep. It seemed as though paranoia had gripped the citizens of the Empire and every stranger was to be mistrusted and treated badly. They even ran across some inns that refused to serve them because tales of mass betrayals in the King's Guard had been passed through, growing even worse with each retelling.

It was late on the third day before they started to enter the outskirts of the marshes. Even on the edges of the great marshes, the humidity was spiking and they could feel the sweat sitting on the skin, unable to evaporate into the already saturated air. Massive clouds of biting insects swarmed over the stagnant pools of water, flying in and attacking anyone that came too close.

Their camp that night had to be the worst they had endured at any point in the journey, worse than even the nights freezing on the northern coasts. The camp was constantly overrun with stinging insects that seemed able to get past any clothe they put up in futile hopes keeping them out. Even the fire seemed unable to keep the menaces away for too long. The marshes were filled with many strange and rarely seen varieties of animals that thrived in the stagnant waters. The watchman had to constantly investigate sounds of objects plopping into the water, to be sure that they wouldn't be overrun by any number of beasts that would kill them before having a chance to defend themselves.

Morning blissfully came, allowing them to saddle back up and hit the road in attempts of covering most of the distance to the city, allowing them to ride in on the following day. Trelnath was primarily a port city with a wide access to information being passed by the sailors putting into port there. They would be able to learn much about what had happened in Belnor since their departure.

They had been traveling for a good chunk of the day when they entered a portion of the road that was bordered by reeds that reached a good twenty feet into the air. It was near impossible to see past them and they managed to hem the road in a great deal, narrowing the range of movement the horses were allowed. The lack of any occurrences had caused the trio to lower their guard, as they just wanted the day to end.

They were caught by surprise when an arrow suddenly flew from the reeds and pierced the skull of Shen's horse. Taken by surprise, he didn't even have time to leap from the horse before it collapsed to the ground, throwing him violently onto the road. Spooked by the sudden flurry of activity, both Keladkha's and Arynn's horses threw them to the ground and took off down the road. The two watched in horror as two more arrows flew from the reeds and landed with a thud in the chest of Shen, who was just then trying to stand up to give chase to the attackers.

Spurred into the action of watching Shen fall to the ground again, Keladkha took hold of his sword and burst into the reeds, closely followed by Arynn holding her two daggers. It was a chaotic chase in the reeds, as they would occasionally get a glance of the attackers, but most of the time was spent blindly barreling through the green stalks. They finally burst through the other side of the plants, and got a view of three men climbing into a small boat to row away.

Before they even had a chance to pick up any speed, Keladkha was on top of them and flipped the boat, sending them sprawling into the water. As the first one stood up in shock and gasping for air, his neck quickly met with the business end of a blade swung by Keladkha. The fountain of blood quickly turned the surrounding water red and coated his armor.

The second member of the attacking group had a better reaction time out of the water, having the benefit of having watched them approach the boat. He burst from the water and before Arynn had a chance to respond, he had grabbed hold of her. He used his weight to tackle her onto the ground, the impact causing her to drop hold of the daggers. He pinned her to the ground and proceeded to continuously beat her head into the ground.

The pain coursing through her head was intense, but she took advantage of an opening while he was trying to catch his breath. She quickly rolled over, catching him off guard and throwing him to ground next to her. Reaching over, she grabbed one of the daggers that had flown off when he had tackled her. There was a look of pure terror in his eyes as he realized that it was his end as she plunged the dagger deep into the throat. Blood began pouring out of his mouth, gurgling his last words, making them unintelligible.

Meanwhile, Keladkha was giving chase to the third man, who had decided early on to not try and fight and instead took off through the waist deep water in a vain attempt to escape. The water slowed him down though and allowed Keladkha to use his strength advantage to powerhouse through the water, making up the distance rather rapidly. Once he had closed to within range, he lept from the water and landed on the man's back, taking them both under the disturbed water.

Keladkha was the first to recover and took hold of the back of the man's leather armor. He forcibly held the man under the water. While there was a lot of thrashing about in an attempt to break free from drowning, Keladkha never loosened his grip. The struggling grew to be less and less as time went, eventually having the last bubbles escape from the man's mouth, signaling that he was dead.

Keladkha let go of his grip, allowing the man to slowly float up to the surface. He turned around and began trudging back towards where Arynn had last been. He was relieved to find her alright, cleaning up her blades on the clothes of the man she had just killed. Now back together, they took off in a hurry through the reeds, hoping to reach Shen in time to administer aid and save him from dying.

Thankfully, their return path through the brush was straight enough, having been aided by the numerous broken reeds from the previous trek through. They emerged back onto the road, only a dozen feet or so from where Shen lie. There was a growing puddle of blood emanating from his body, as he lay there, gasping for air. The two of them sprinted to his side and knelt down beside him.

He looked up at them, an obvious pain in his eye, a look of a man resigned to his fate. “Did you... finish them... off?” he weakly muttered.

“Yes. Now stay with us, we are going to help you out.”

“No, my time has... come. I'm off... to a better place. Continue... the... journ...” he muttered, the light dimming in his eyes. He had passed on.

Keladkha looked on the body of his closest friend and mentor for the last decade he had spent in the Army. The tears came quickly, streaming down his face and wetting the dusty road beneath him. He didn't even attempt to stop them, as he stood up and slowly walked away from the body.

Arynn approached from behind him and put her arms around him. “He will be missed,” she whispered in his ear, trying to help him grieve.

He slowly freed himself from her grip and walked back over to Shen. Kneeling down, he picked up the body and began walking through the reeds. He carried him in the direction of where they had just fought and killed the three bandits. When he reached the battle site, he placed his friend's body into the boat. Walking away he gathered some dry kindling and stacked it next to the body. As a last measure, he lit a torch and dropped it into the boat. He stepped back and looked on in sadness as the boat quickly caught fire to the point where he could no longer see Shen's body lying in it.

Chapter 16 – Trelnoth

Not a word was spoken between the two as they started walking the rest of the distance to Trelnoth. Keladkha was definitely taking the loss of his friend hard, as he no longer was his joyous self and no longer paid any attention to the interesting sights on they came across. An hour or so after they had started walking, they came across their two horses, grazing on some reeds. Thankful to not have to walk the remainder of the distance to the city, they mounted up and got moving in a slow trot. They rode on through the night, as he made no attempts to slow the journey and ignored some feeble suggestions from Arynn to rest some.

Shortly after sunrise they came into view of Trelnoth. It was nowhere near as majestic as Caendor and Belnor, a result of being situated on the coast and in the marshes. The walls of the city, while once majestic, were now covered in green moss and splattered dirt. For all the traffic that poured through as the main port of the empire, it was not a particularly wealth fiefdom. Many of the citizens lived in small wooden shacks in the waterfront district, while the richer folk lived in masonry houses surrounding the main keep.

The merchant quarter was a particularly shady place, with shopfronts advertising everything from lost treasures to mystical cures for everything. Ladies of the night hawked their services on every street corner, attracting many sailors fresh in from months out at sea. Figures passed in the shadows, most likely thieves and pickpockets waiting for the correct moment to strike.

The docks district was just as scummy. Rats and filth filled the streets as rough, unshaven men went about their duties of unloading the shipments that the massive sailing ships brought in. Storefronts were for inns and thinly veiled whore houses. Crates of untold items were piled high on the docks, free for the taking as it appeared the town watch never even bothered to examine this area. As further examples of the crime, wanted posters filled the entire walls of some buildings, showing criminals ranging from rapists to murderers to thieves.

The noble quarters stood in stark contrast to the surrounding regions. The town watch was constantly seen patrolling the streets filled with massive masonry homes. Flower gardens stood well trimmed and watered on every corner. Nobles roamed the streets, greeting each other in their holier-than-thou ways. Their cares dealt nothing with the problems that troubled the rest of the town.

Keladkha and Arynn headed to the docks district to troll around the pubs to learn of any tales from the world around. Their first stop was called the Three-Legged Troll and was a particularly dingy atmosphere. Inside, many sailors lounged around telling whoppers of tales about their days at seas. Serving girls in the skimpiest clothing brought the drinks to the men who had probably had too much, even in the early hour of the day. The picked a table in the corner that allowed them the best chance of overhearing the conversations going on around them.

Most of the talk though, centered around topics other than the political situation of the empire. It could have been that most were of foreign origin, with many accents accentuating the talks. Whores in other lands, tales of fish that got away, and tales of pirates seemed to the most popular discussions among the men. They struck pay dirt though, with a pair of old salty sea dogs lounging in the corner of the tavern.

“I hear the Grand Marshall declared martial law in the city. People are terrified and he is only hurtin',” they overhead one of them say.

“Damn fear mongering,” the other one replied.

Having learned the only tidbit of information available, the decided to head back to the palace to seek an audience with Earl Howe. The palace walls gleamed in the sunlight, obviously better maintained then the remainder of the city. The giant oak doors were thrown open and they were allowed to walk into the great hall before being accosted by any guards.

“What are ye doing here? You shouldn't be here.”

“I am Keladkha Silverkin, a soldier in the King's army. I must speak with Earl Howe immediately, it is a matter of utmost importance.”

“From what I hear, the King is dead. He doesn't have an army anymore.”

“Regardless of what you think, I must speak with the Earl.”

“The Earl ain't here. Headed out to Starved Rock to deal with some pirates with the troops.”

Chapter 17 – In Search of Stupid

Annoyed by the this turn of events, yet another journey just to get an Earl, who by all means should be in the castle letting his generals take care of such a campaign, he stormed from the room leaving the guard wondering what that was about. Starved Rock was a location along the coast, about a day's ride from the city, that had been a haven for pirates and villainy for years. Numerous campaigns had been wrought to try and root them out, but every time they made any gains, they were quickly lost to the resilient pirates.

Without much of a delay, Keladkha and Arynn retrieved their horses and set out on the road leading to the southwest from the town. Being midday when they had left, they had traveled about half of the necessary distance before setting up camp. Keladkha was just as withdrawn and distant as he had been the night before. No matter how much Arynn tried to comfort him or get him to talk, he always just brushed her off and went back to brooding.

Their camp that night, while still in the marshes wasn't as bad as the ones they had endured during the journey to city. A stiff breeze off of the ocean managed to keep most of the annoying little insects at bay, allowing them a peaceful night's sleep at least. They had found a place that was well sheltered, so they could safely light a fire without having to worry about how could see it for miles around.

The morning rays peeking over the horizon signaled another day's journey to begin. They had had all of the materials packed into the saddlebags and had eaten prior to the first morning light even rising. They continued their ride in silence, each one to his own thoughts. While not as enjoyable this way, it avoided delays and allowed them the ability to make a good pace.

They finally reached a ridge overlooking the settlement of Starved Rock shortly before the sun had reached its apex. As they looked down upon it, the signs of an ongoing battle were clear. The Earl's army had set up its camp on the outskirts of the settlement and were also working to blockade it from the sea. Smoke rose from the shanties that littered the outskirts, the site of most of the battles. Even now, they could see soldiers and pirates fighting in hand-to-hand combat in the streets, fighting hard for every possible inch of soil.

The earl's banners flew in a cavalry regiment that was situated on one of the exit roads, ready to cut down anyone caught trying to flee. As they continued to watch, they heard the sound of a horn being blown, signaling the start of a charge. It appeared the Earl wasn't content with merely sitting on the fringes of battle, he wanted to get in and fight. They watched in horror as the horses moved into the streets and into a perfectly positioned ambush. The middle of the charge was wiped out by a sudden barrage of arrows as men rushed out with pikes to meet the front lines. In a matter of seconds, most of the regiment had been cut to shreds. Those that were able immediately began a retreat to the safety of camp. Neither of the two watching were able to tell if the Earl had survived to escape or been taken prisoner as a bargaining chip.

Over the remainder of the day, ground changed hands constantly, one second being held by the army and next by the pirates. The assault was finally called off shortly after the sun had fallen and the army tactically retreated to their camp. Now with the din of battle gone, Keladkha and Arynn decided it was time to make their entrance to the camp to find out what was going on.

They rode down the narrow, winding road to the camp. The wind was picking up around them and black clouds were rolling in off of the ocean. The area was occasionally illuminated by flashes of lightning darting through the sky, providing an awesome and terrifying display of power. They were stopped by soldiers before they entered the camp proper.

“We need to speak with Earl Howe or whoever is in charge immediately.”

“You'll need to speak with General Petraeus, his tent is the large circular one in the middle of the camp,” the guard responded, noticing that they bore the mark of the king and wisely didn't push them any further.

The two thanked him and began slowly riding in between the rows of tents. Screams of agony filled the camp as the doctors worked on attending to the wounded soldiers. The faces of the soldiers who hadn't been injured told a grim story, the battles were not going well and they merely hoped that they could give up and head back home to their families.

They finally rode up to the officer's section of the camp, where the tents were more spacious and had more spacing between them for privacy. They dismounted their horses next to a large bonfire outside of the largest tent, what was obviously the planning tent for the attacks. Angry voices emanated from inside, an argument was brewing between some of the commanders, one side obviously wanting to cut tail and run and the other wanted to stay in it for the long run.

Not wanting to greatly disturb the discussion, Keladkha slipped inside of the tent and stayed to one edge. Arynn waited outside with the horses, obviously not one of the army, she didn't want to draw any unneeded attention to herself. On the inside, Keladkha waited patiently for the argument to wind up so that he could introduce himself and get down to business. The two sides finally gave up the discussion, deciding to stick out the plan for a couple days at least.

As the last words were spoken, Keladkha stepped forward into the light and said, “I represent the King's army and I must speak with Earl Howe. It is a matter of the utmost urgency.”

“Good luck with that,” the General snorted, leering at him as he walked over. “He decided to play hero and got most his men killed and he was captured. We received a ransom note not that long ago.”

“So how long until you mount a rescue?”

“That will be damn near impossible. I can't risk my men on a suicide mission.”

Keladkha realized that there was going to be debating the issue with the general, so he made a suggestion, “I will go in there and try and get him out. Maybe I can reason with them and we can end this stupid feud.”

“It's your death wish. Don't blame us if anything happens.”

“Nothing will happen if I left it up to you. You are too busy trying to jockey for position to realize that you are so utterly incapable in running an assault. You have these pirates blockaded, which means they will eventually run out of food and have to accept your terms or be too weak to fight back. Yet you continue to push an attack on the place when it is built like a fortress, you send your men to an endless slaughter. If you were a part of the King's army, you would have been stripped of rank and executed for gross incompetence long ago.”

The room was left in a stunned silence after those remarks. The general was a well respected man who had served the Earl for decades. No one dared questioned the wisdom of his orders, no matter if the same thoughts had been running through their heads for the past couple of days. Before anyone even had a chance to respond, Keladkha strode angrily from the tent, meeting up with Arynn outside.

“Looks like we are on our own. We will have to infiltrate the town and get the Earl back ourselves.”

“Wait what?”

“The Earl was captured in the charge earlier today and is being held for ransom. No one here has the will to do anything about it and will just maintain the status quo. That is why I volunteered us to go in and get him back, hopefully ending this dispute.”

“Are you sure about this? That place is locked up ridiculously tight, there is no way that we will safely get in and out.”

“Going to have to, as long as the Earl is alive, he is the only one that order the troops to Belnor and help decide the new King. Without him, the legitimacy of the throne would be lost.”

“If you say so. I've got a bad feeling about his though.”

Chapter 18 – Deep Penetration

By this time, the entire camp had been shrouded in darkness, allowing the perfect cover for a covert entrance to the enemy encampment. Realizing that armor would only prove to be a hindrance, they stripped down to simple, black cloth garments. Preferring surprise to a full on battle, he opted to borrow some short blades rather than his usual two handed broadsword.

Properly attired, they began their exit from the Earl's camp. They had been given some rudimentary maps of the area, showing that Howe was most likely going to be held in the Pirate Lord's mansion at the center of town. None of the attacks had made it to this point yet, so the information on defenses in the area was rudimentary at best. They expected most of the pirates to housed in the houses in the main square in front of the mansion, with barricades and the occasional patrol to deal with.

The soon entered the very outskirts of Starved Rock, of which had mostly been turned to rumble. The shanties that had littered the area had been burned down to minimize the potential of ambushes. The bodies of soldiers and pirates littered the streets, attracting numerous rats, insects, and scavenging birds for a quick meal. Numerous times they had drop into the shadows and hold their breathes as they disturbed a bird and it flew into the air cawing madly.

When they were satisfied that no one was investigating, they would slowly inch forward through the city. Having left the city outskirts, the buildings were now more tightly packed in what appeared to have been the merchant district. While it provided amble opportunities to sneak in the shadows, they were never entirely sure if they were being watched. In any of the darkened windows, a pirate could have been sitting watching there movements, prepared to alert the main base of soldiers.

So far their movements had been unimpeded as they approached the wall surrounding the rear of the pirate lord's compound. The wall stood nearly ten feet high, and the only way they could see to get over it would be through the use of an old tree that sprouted straight from the base of the wall. Arynn nimbly darted into the tree and climbed up to a point where she would have a good view of the lawn. She signaled down to Keladkha that there were only two guards stationed on the far end of the compound. When he climbed up to join her, he noticed that they were locked deep in conversation with many empty bottles of rum around them.

With cat-like grace, they each leaped from the tree and softly landed in the tall overgrown grass on the interior of the compound. The guards either weren't paying enough attention or simply didn't hear the rustling as the two made their way hunched over through the grass. Thankfully, maintenance of the estate had taken a backseat during the siege as the unmown grass reached almost to where the guards were seated. Quickly they signed which guard, each was going to take out. Keladkha's target was the bigger, burlier one on the left who reeked of such a bad odor even this far away.

On a count, each of them burst from the grasses and stabbed the guards in the throats before they had a chance to yell out for reinforcements. Another quick jab to the heart made sure that the guards wouldn't survive to see the morning. Keladkha and Arynn propped the bodies up in the chairs, so that if any other guards walked by, they wouldn't see anything out of the ordinary.

With those guards dealt with, it was now time to search the interior for where the Earl was being held. With no idea as to the layout of the place, they decided to try and find a stairway to the basement, as that would be the most likely place for a dungeon to be held. Keladkha silently swung open the back doorway and popped his head in, quickly pulling back out as he saw a guard walking away from them. They quickly donned the armor from the two guards, hopping it would provide them with just enough of a disguise to hide from an inquisitive enemy.

With a quick motion to Arynn, they silently moved into the house and took the hallway in the opposite direction of where they had just seen the guard. As they darted through the hallways, they constantly kept their heads on a swivel in case any guard should pop out of any of the numerous rooms they had left behind. The rooms to the side were too risky of a proposition to search fully. If they happened to open a door leading the guard room, their cover would have been blown.

Luckily they found a stairwell that was headed into the basement portion of the mansion. There was a guard at the door at the bottom, but he allowed them entrance without question, as he obviously appeared to be bored out of his mind protecting whatever was down here. As they entered the room, they saw that one wall was lined with cages. Men of the Earl's army were being held here and it looked like they weren't given food or water and had not received any medical care. While they saddened by the prisoners' plight, there was no opportunity to help them at the moment, they had to find the Earl and escape without detection.

Their examination of the prisoners was not fruitful though, it didn't appear that the earl was being held down here, as all of the cages were full and none of them contained their query. With more of the compound still to be searched, they headed back out the door and past the inattentive guard. Once back on the main level, they continued the search for anymore staircases. Numerous times they were forced to duck into side passages as guards and servants seemed to endlessly travel through the halls.

Eventually, they stumbled across a stairway leading up to the second level of the mansion. Having no better leads, the decision was made to examine it for any further clues. Once on the second level, they were relieved to find that the guards traveled with much less frequency through these quarters. After briefly checking a few of the side rooms, it appeared this was where most of the servants made their homes. Small, dirty cots filled each room, with barely any personal space for each inhabitant.

The search of this floor provided no further clues as to the location of the Earl. They had found a second staircase down to the first floor and one leading up to the third and final level. It was going to have prove fruitful or the entire operation would be deemed a failure and they would have to return to the camp empty handed. With no other place to go, they slowly tiptoed their way up the stairs.

Once up there, they were able to tell that there was not much to this level. One narrow hallway with maybe a handful of rooms situated off of it. It appeared to be where the pirate lord lived and did his business. Surprising for being the main living quarters, there were no guards to be seen. Either the lord liked his privacy or something major was happening.

As they inched their way down to what appeared to be an office at the opposite end of the hall, they began hearing voices from behind a partly cracked door. One of them was definitely the frightened voice of Earl Howe and the other one they hadn't heard before.

“All I want is you to withdraw your forces and leave us pirates to be,” came the unknown voice, most likely the pirate lords.

“Never, I don't make deals with troublemakers like you. You deserve death for all you have done.”

“Why won't you just work with me? You are my prisoner and you have no power here.”

“Because I know my generals will come for me and you will pay for this.”

“I could just kill you before they ever got here, then more of your men will die for no reason other than your stupidity.”

Keladkha and Arynn inched towards the door and pushed it open a little wider so that they could get a good view of what was going on in the room. From what they could see, the pirate lord had his back to the them with the Earl kneeling before him in chains, obviously injured from the careless charge he had led earlier. From their vantage point, there was nothing to suggest that there was anybody else in the room.

They quickly decided on a plan of attack that saw Keladkha killing the lord while Arynn worked to free the Earl from his shackles. Finally, during a lull in their conversation, they burst from the door and Keladkha effortlessly slid his blade through the back of the Lord's neck, quickly dropping him to the ground. As Arynn hurriedly worked to free Howe's arms and legs, a bad sound came from behind them. In their charge into the room, they had run right past six guards that had been standing along the wall. The sound was them drawing their blades, preparing to fight.

At the sound, Arynn looked up from her work and dropped the lockpick she had been using with a gasp. Keladkha turned around and wordlessly stared at the six angry faces now looking straight at him. He clenched his hands tighter around the hilts of his sword and prepared for the inevitable fight before them. They would be heavily outnumbered by experienced fighters.


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