Ch 11: Stillettos
A quick kick to the ribs woke Rhavin up from his slumber. He opened his eyes to see Samira standing at the side of his bed. She was wearing some of the new linens they bought previously. She was wrapped up in a complimentary shawl and robe that alternated green and orange stripes.
“Get up,” she said, now moving to leave the room. “Mykul found out where our friend has been hiding.” Mykul found her? Rhavin stood from the tiny bed and collected his clothes that were arranged on the small table at the far wall of the room.
Fully dressed he worked his way down the stairs, rubbing his eyes and yawning. Sleeping on that tiny bed wasn’t lucrative for a good night's sleep. He would need to find better lodging soon if they were going to have any energy in the future.
Everyone was already sitting in the common room of the inn. Mykul, Sam, Haldon, and Golun sat at a booth next to the window. The first rays of morning shone through the window, illuminating their place in the room. On the table sat a small assortment of fruit and bread. In response to the sight, Rhavin’s stomach growled and he eagerly moved to the table to fill his belly.
Mykul was shirtless and Sam was cleaning blood off his face and neck with a wet rag. She gingerly rubbed the red marks with the rag, and occasionally her finger. After wiping blood away with her finger she popped it into her mouth, emitting a sound of glee that almost resembled a moan.
“What happened Myk?” Rhavin asked. Mykul shook his head and frowned.
“I had a run in with the Sun’s Guard last night. Some leader, or commander, or whatever. They called him Sir Malice. Killed someone right in front of me.” Sam shook Mykul’s shoulder.
“That’s not the important part Mykul! Tell him what the foreigner said,” Sam urged him. Mykul nodded his head and sighed.
“The man Malice killed— Before the Sun’s Guard came, he told me where to find our friend.” Rhavin was glad Mykul hadn’t told the dwarves who they were looking for. He still wasn’t sure what side of the fence they stood on, and he didn’t want to end up in another tavern scuffle.
“Where is she?” Rhavin asked impatiently.
“A big house on the coast, but that’s not all. There’s a mage rebellion outside the city as well. Apparently they’re working to overthrow Farryion.” Haldon and Golun nodded.
“Aye, those mages have been attacking the city every few days trying to lure some of the garrison into the woods,” Golun said.
“They’ve been quiet as of late,” Haldon said. “No doubt they’re planning something big. If Farryion doesn’t do something soon, I have no doubt they’ll burn this city to the ground to kill him.” Rhavin stuffed his face with fruit and bread, nodding eagerly. He didn’t care about some mage rebellion right now— He knew where to find Madira. With a little bit of diplomacy he would learn how to control his powers, and nothing would be able to stop him from finding the truth of his family.
“Then we better get started, there’s lots to do,” Rhavin said. Mykul responded with a nod, and Sam gave a sharp toothed smile. The Dwarves excused themselves and went to attend to some matter in their cellar and left the party at the table. Rhavin felt an eagerness take him over and he was ready to spring into action. He had waited far too long to sit around now. “Well, are you all ready to go meet Madira? I don’t see a point in waiting.”
“Yeah,” Mykul said. “I think it’s time for some good news.” Mykul and Sam slid out from the booth. Mykul didn’t stumble at all, standing on two legs like it wasn’t a problem.
“Your leg doesn’t hurt anymore?” Rhavin asked. Mykul looked down at his leg and danced a small jig.
“I found… a friend last night. Healed me up. I’ll tell you more about it later. Still working through it myself.” Rhavin accepted that answer at the moment, but knew he would need a more detailed answer later. He needed to know if there were things he should be worrying about.
“Alright, Well let us take a walk down the coast.” The party gathered their things and set out. Rhavin noticed Mykul had acquired a fancy looking staff but figured it had something to do with his leg and let it lie.
The morning Tivan air was brisk and refreshing. There was a cool breeze that blew through the stone streets. Rhavin led his friends down the street towards the city center. He knew there was probably a faster route through the smaller streets, but didn’t want to get lost. He knew that he could see the coastline from the city center. Tiva’s main roads were laid in a grid-like pattern that allowed for easy navigation.
Nearing the city center, Rhavin was surprised to see a large crowd had gathered. Hundreds of citizens stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the way forward. The people cheered and pumped their arms in the air at whatever was going on.
“What’s happening up there?” Mykul asked, squinting his eyes.
“I hope it’s a public execution, those are always so exciting!” Sam said. Rhavin raised an eyebrow at Samira before responding.
“I can’t see, let’s move up further.” The friends got close up to the crowd and could see men on horses striding down one of the main roads into the city center. Most were in full regalia: plate mail and helms, swords on hips. Several men on the horses were holding flags bearing a black sun on a red background.
“Who are they?” Rhavin said aloud to nobody in particular. A man in front of him turned around grinning wildly.
“It’s the Spears of Kontov, it’s lord Gaevan! He’s here to save us from the mages!” The man returned his gaze to the riders and began to hop with glee. Sam put a hand on Rhavin’s shoulder.
“I know the name Gaevan. He’s an elf, a powerful mage.” Mykul laughed.
“A powerful sorcerer leads a band of mage hunters, is there a greater irony?” Sam nodded and sported a large frown.
“He’s an exile, or was an exile. My mother told me about him when I was young. Something to do with cruelty and unforgivable actions. Can’t remember what they were, but they must have been severe to cause exile.” The band from Kontov continued down the road towards the palace, the large crowd following and cheering incessantly.
“More and more for the ballads, eh Mykul?” Rhavin said with a smile.
“It seems there’s more layers to it every day,” he replied. Rhavin got the feeling events had gotten to Mykul and were turning him cynical. By the end of this adventure he might end up performing dirges rather than a troubadour’s ballads.
Following the main West road, the party eventually made it to Tiva’s coast. White foaming waves crashed against the rocky shoreline, spitting water onto the stone walkways. Piers peppered the city’s coast, some with large ships docked, others looked empty aside from rope and seagulls. Barefoot men walked up and down the coast paying the party no mind. Most had tattoos on their arms and legs, with the older men sporting much more than the younger ones. Anchors and swallows looked to be the most common and were found on majority of the men.
“Which way now, Mykul?” Rhavin asked. Mykul pointed northward with staff.
“It’ll be the largest building on the coastline here.” The wind picked up, and with it brought a moist chill. Rhavin and Mykul both crossed their arms in response while Sam embraced it, spreading her arms wide and breathing deeply.
“Feel that wind, boys. That wind is what freedom feels like.” With Sam in good spirits, they walked on. It didn’t take long for their destination to appear before them. The largest building on the coastline was right, Rhavin thought. It looked like a palace itself. Smooth marble walls, traditional to Tiva, encased the building. The walls came together at a large brushed steel gate that barred any entry. The steel bars were thicker than any Rhavin had seen in his life, they must have been the size of his forearm and spanned three times his height in length.
Main entryway opened into a beautiful garden of hedges, flowers, and statues. At the end was the manor. It was far enough away that Rhavin couldn’t get a good look, but it was large. The entrance was prefaced by a large veranda supported by massive columns.
The three stood at the steel gates and looked inward. Rhavin put his hands on the gate and shook it— locked.
“What do we do now?” Mykul asked, leaning against one of the steel beams.
“We find a ladder?” Sam said quizzically. Rhavin looked up at the top of the walls. He didn’t think there was a ladder large enough in Tiva to scale these walls. And even if they did the fall could break their legs.
“We’d need a siege ladder,” Rhavin said. He slumped against the steel beams and put his head in his hands. “Not one damn thing is easy, is it?”
“Rarely in life, sir,” a mysterious voice from across the gate said. The party turned in unison to look at their eavesdropper. A well groomed man in neat black trousers and a jerkin stood on the other side of the gate looking at them. He had no hair, he was even lacking in eyebrows, and he held his hands behind his back.
“Who are you?” Rhavin asked.
“My name is William. Do you have your invitations?” He said. The friends all looked at each other confused.
“Invitations for what?” Mykul asked.
“Why for entrance, of course.” William responded as if the question itself was completely unfounded.
“No, we don’t. How do we get an invitation?” Rhavin asked. William shook his head at Rhavin, obviously disappointed.
“You get delivered one of course. My mistress does not just allow any stray quarter,” William replied. Sam, getting impatient stepped forward.
“Tell Mistress Madira that her old friend Linwara sent us.” Rhavin hoped that would help, he didn’t think they would be getting into the grounds without that invitation.
“I understand Ma’am. I will relay your request. If you are summoned one of our messengers will find you.”
“The Chipped Tankard is the inn we are staying in currently,” Sam said. William gave his head a slight turn.
“It makes no difference, we will find you regardless. If the mistress chooses to invite you, you will be notified within the next few days.” William gave the party a bow, and vanished into thin air with a poof.
Sam crossed her arms and tapped her foot, “well I guess we are on her time then.”
Mykul shrugged, “what can we do but accept it. We’ve waited this long. Might as well get drunk with the dwarves.” Rhavin and Sam agreed with Mykul and they set back to the Chipped Tankard. The walk to the inn felt faster than the walk to Madira’s manor. The city felt empty, he imagined it was due to the procession of murderers being welcomed.
At the inn, Haldon and Golun had already beat them to day drinking. They were sitting at a table playing cards, with a barrel of ale sitting at the adjacent table, already tapped. The friends asked if they could join and the dwarves told them to grab some mugs from behind the counter and pull up a chair.
Rhavin brought up finances to Haldon, asking him to explain the worth of an Olm relative to his gold pieces. Inspecting the gold Haldon gave Rhavin a raised eyebrow.
“This gold is from before the Tivan Revolution, thirty years ago. These gold pieces were supposed to have been gathered up and resmelted. Where did you get this?” Rhavin had his own questions now. Why did Eila have so much Tivan gold?
“A family friend was kind enough to fund our adventure.” Haldon gave a grunt of acceptance and began to explain that an Olm was just a minted copper piece, and an Olma was minted silver. Gold wasn’t minted in Tiva anymore, trade deals involving it involved scales to weigh the gold rather than counting pieces directly. He explained that it took twenty Olm to each Olma, and a rough estimate for Olma to his antiquated gold was fifty to one.
Rhavin thanked Haldon for the information and gave him one of the gold pieces for their room and food, in response the dwarf said he would let him know if, or when, he outstayed the buying power of the gold.
With finances covered the five played cards for several hours, drinking the day away. When the sun started to set Golun put a pork butt on the spit and the party filled their bellies and began to tell stories from the past, reminiscing about home, past romances, and escapades.
Haldon boasted about taming a wild boar that he used as a steed for several years, while Golun focused upon his romantic endeavors and how he spent a year creating a secret tunnel into his lovers room in Volumun. Sam spoke of the Silver forest, while Rhavin and Mykul laughed about their pranks within Cavros.
By the time the stories were exhausted, everyone around the table was as well. They said their goodnights and headed to their respective rooms for another night in a dwarven bed.
Shattering glass and a wave of heat woke Rhavin from his light sleep. Flames ignited the furniture, casting wide flickering shadows across the small, white walled room. Rhavin jumped from the bed, and looked towards his belongings. His clothes had already ignited, but his satchel was still untouched. Grabbing the satchel, he ran to Mykul’s room.
“Move your ass!” Haldon’s voice echoed from Mykul’s room. Sam, Mykul, and Haldon all emerged from the room and Haldon shuffled them all down the stairs. The furniture of the common room was all ablaze and a heavy film of smoke clouded their vision. Golun was patting the flames off ale barrels, and rolling them into the street and out of the burning room talking aloud about “keeping too many barrels upstairs.”
“How many mirrors did you break, Rhavin!” Mykul asked, dashing through the common room. “Did you piss in the gods’ tea? This is not a normal amount of bad luck!”
“This is not Rhavin’s work, Mykul,” Sam said, offering her hand as guidance. “But I find this rather exciting. How often does fire rain from the sky?” Exciting? Rhavin couldn’t tell what part of being lit ablaze by mysterious fire was exciting. He wondered what kind of a life she lived where she would find this kind of impending doom exciting.
“It’s the rebellion. King Farryion’s welcoming of Kontov wasn’t well received it seems,” Haldon said.
“Damn mages won’t take my drink!” Golun said, carrying a barrel twice his size with him out the door. Haldon joined him in grabbing a barrel as his guests headed for the door.
Rhavin made it out of the tavern only to find flames erupting from almost every window in sight. Fireballs rained from above the clouds; where they originated Rhavin couldn’t tell. The night sky held an orange glow, penetrated only by the more intense balls of fire that struck the city. If not for the almost ubiquitous stone construction of the city, Rhavin imagined the flames would be higher. If it wasn’t dangerous, Rhavin would consider the glow of the light reflecting off the marble a beautiful sight.
Men and women clamored, and ran from their buildings, fire chasing them. The whole city was chaos. Screams echoed through the streets and the flickering shadows of scared townsfolk danced upon the marble walls of Tiva. Men and women carried children and were running, none in the same direction. Some tried to leave the city through the gates, others ran further in.
One man fell out a window further up the street, engulfed in flames. His body twitched and writhed on the floor for several moments until his screams began to die with the flames on him.
A heart wrenching scream caught Rhavin’s attention. A woman ran out from a doorway in front of them, her hair ablaze. Her screams tore at Rhavin’s sanity with its shrill, agonizing pitch. She ran to the group, only breaking her scream for a desperate cry for help.
Haldon took a meaty fist and caved in the top of the ale barrel. Without hesitating he pulled the woman to the barrel and dunked her head in. Her screams died with the flames upon her head.
“Move! It’s coming right for you!” Sam screamed. Rhavin looked up to see one of the balls of flame falling directly onto Haldon and the woman. He moved to pull Haldon out of the way but Mykul had already beaten him to it. The bard grabbed hold of Haldon, and jumped clear of the magic inferno. The woman, only just pulling her head from the ale, looked up in time to give a final blood curdling scream before being engulfed in fire.
“Damnit boy! Why did you grab me and not her? Magic can’t kill dwarves!” Mykul rolled over and looked at Haldon, mouth open, at a loss for words. Magic can’t kill dwarves? “Some of my best ale, wasted! Now there’s nothing of either.” Rhavin couldn’t understand how Haldon was upset about the ale when a woman was burnt to a crisp in front of him.
“The smell really is intoxicating, isn’t it?” Sam said with a serene smile on her face, sharp teeth glistening in the fire-light. The more Sam spoke, the more wary Rhavin became of her. Was she representative of elves, or was enjoying the smell of burnt flesh an individual “quirk”?
“I doubt she even realized what you used to save her life, only for her to have the gall to up and die anyway,” Golun said. Haldon shook his head and looked out upon the burning city.
“That barrel was worth more than many here. When will Farryion act? How many times must we endure these attacks before getting to act? Volumun is bleeding Tiva’s coffers dry, while we bleed of boredom and lost-” Haldon was cut short, the onslaught of fire had immediately ceased, and in its place, leaflets of paper fell. The arcane fire extinguished itself the moment the paper appeared. If not for the char where they had been burning, it would be hard to say they existed at all. The slow descent of the paper quelled the screaming of the city.
Townsfolk who were previously running for their lives stared at the sky, watching the paper fall. Several grabbed them as they fell, and Rhavin heard the city buzz with murmurs about its contents. Rhavin snatched one off the ground in front of him and began to read aloud.
To the disenfranchised. To those whose lives have been ruined by Vymar Farryian. To the fearful. To the brave.
Stand with Mathanus, and the tyranny and fear mongering will end. For over thirty years the despot has fought to rid the world of the arcanically gifted. He has pulled children from mothers, fathers from family. Not only do those with the gift suffer, for Farryian has little regard for finding the truth. Even you— those with no gifts, the humble majority, are executed on rumor.
Tivos stands no chance against united mages. You have just witnessed a glimpse of our power in these short moments. We take no joy in setting your city ablaze and call on you to take matters into your own hands. Cast down your masters and be reborn with us, or burn with your illegitimate ruler. You have three days to comply. On the third night, fire will rain from the sky and will not cease.
Mathanus. The name felt too familiar for Rhavin but he couldn’t quite place it. He needed his memory, just reading the name aloud turned his gut into a knot. Whoever this was, Rhavin didn’t think he was good news.
“What a well worded letter,” Haldon said. “It just might convince the peasants to revolt… if they could read.”
Sam’s eyebrows twisted. “Humans aren’t taught how to read even their own language? How do they do business?” Haldon and Golun laughed.
“The only humans who can read are those with gold, and more here have copper than silver, and those with silver outnumber those with gold. I would wager less than one-hundred humans in this entire city can read, and those who can have more to lose than gain by betraying their liege.”
Mykul gave Sam an awkward smile. “Yeah… the best most of us can read is the amount of dots on a die.” Mykul’s attention returned to the burnt woman and he walked over to her burnt corpse placing a hand on her charred arm. The spot he touched turned to ash and Mykul recoiled, hastily swiping his fingers on his trousers. “We should probably do something with her,” he said somberly.
Haldon gave Mykul a shake of his head. “We should get back inside, the wind will take care of her.” Haldon started rolling one of the barrels of alcohol back into the tavern. A child watching the party from a scorched doorway caught Rhavin’s eye. The child looked to only be around ten years of age, and he held onto the blackened door frame in fear. His clothes were blackened and in tatters as if the child had been set ablaze, but his skin looked untouched, albeit somewhat dirty. A familiar feeling wafted over Rhavin as he looked at the child; his stomach began to churn and skin began to twitch.
Rhavin couldn’t tell if it was the child that was magic, or something else was lurking nearby. Rhavin glanced at his party. Most were shuffling back into the inn, and only Golun wasn’t making his way inside. The dwarf stood with a hand inside his leather jerkin, holding something Rhavin couldn’t see. The dwarf’s arms were visibly tense, and his gaze was fixated on the child. Rhavin wondered if Golun could sense magic as well. He walked over to the dwarf and crouched beside him.
“You can feel it too, can’t you?” Golun looked away from the child and fixated his eyes upon Rhavin. His hand moved out of his Jerkin and he placed it on Rhavin’s shoulder.
“Go inside and don’t look at that child again.” Golun’s voice twisted referring to the child, almost implying that he wasn’t one. Considering all that had gone on in the last few moments, Rhavin felt it best not to argue, but assured himself he would get answers soon. Golun gave Rhavin a sturdy pat on the back. “We’ll talk in a moment.”
Rhavin moved inside to find Sam and Haldon lighting candles in the common room. Mykul sat at a table holding with his palms on his eyes, holding his head. His hair covered his head and he was lightly muttering to himself. Rhavin moved to him and put a hand on his shoulder and gave a light squeeze.
“I could have saved her Rhav.” Mykul whispered. “She could have been holding her child or husband. Instead she’s ash, blowing away in the wind. Now I only bring death.” Mykul brought his head up to look at Rhavin. His eyes were red and bloodshot, with helplessness covering his face.
“That wasn’t your fault Mykul. You didn’t create that fireball.” Rhavin gave Mykul’s neck a squeeze. “We aren’t the problem, but we can be part of the solution.” Mykul recoiled from Rhavin’s touch.
“You don’t know what I’ve done,” with that Mykul walked away towards Sam. Rhavin clenched his fist, this journey was causing him to lose his friend. Who was Mykul becoming? What happened to him last night? Who really is Sam? Rhavin felt like he barely understood what he was even searching for anymore. He cursed Madira under his breath and leaned against a table waiting for Golun.
When Golun entered the room, rolling two of the ale barrels back in, Rhavin was immediately upon him.
“Tell me who, or what, that child was,” Rhavin demanded. Golun gave a snarl of contempt in return.
“Tell me, Rhavin, how does a clueless wanderer with gold beyond his station even begin to question the presentation of that child.” Rhavin didn’t know how to answer without revealing his abilities. Golun advanced slowly upon the speechless Rhavin, hand in jerkin. “Because you’re a mageling, here to spy on Ordin’s agents.”
Mykul and Sam, taking notice of the aggression, stood at attention. Haldon stopped his fiddling with alcohol and called out, “Golun, what are you talking about?” Golun continued to press on, pushing Rhavin towards a wall.
“He saw through the plague’s illusion. There’s only two things in this world that can sense magic: Ordinators, and mages. And he doesn’t look like a dwarf to me.” Rhavin didn’t see a way out, it was time to come clean and hope Golun would back off.
“I’m a mage, but I’m no spy. I’m just here to find my family!” Golun’s snarl became a sneer and the hand within his jerkin revealed itself to be brandishing a steel stiletto.
“And you were in my lap this whole time.”
“Damn,” said Haldon. The cat was out of the bag and Rhavin felt the need to fight his way out of the corner he was in. He reached for the power he had hidden away. He searched for the light beyond the horizon to fill him. Finding the power he searched for, his scars lit up blue and he pulled at a table to knock Golun away, but nothing happened. The power he held began to ebb away, just out of reach. It felt like trying to catch a frog in the rain. The power was right in front of him, but with every attempt to squeeze and utilize it, it slipped away.
“Never met an Ordinator have you? You won’t be able to use those fancy tricks with me mageling. You’re cut off.” Without the ability to fight Rhavin dashed for the door, but Golun was faster. He was tackled to the ground, and Golun sliced at him with the stiletto. Rhavin managed to block it with his forearm, but the blade cut deep painting his face sanguine.
Golun was quick and had his hand poised for another strike by the time Rhavin recovered from the first, but Mykul’s staff was faster. The patterned wood struck Golun on the side of the head, searing his ear black and curling the hair of his beard. Golun rolled backward off Rhavin, and snarled at Mykul.
“What is this? How are you doing that?” Mykul’s eyes were glowing white, and he held the stance of a warrior experienced with the quarterstaff. Rhavin didn’t know Mykul to have ever used a staff in his life. What happened that night? Rhavin hobbled over to Sam, holding his still leaking arm. Haldon still stood at the table, watching the fight unfold, shaking his head.
Mykul spared no time for talk and pressed Golun forward, staff whirling around him. Golun attempted to use the furniture to his advantage, he threw several chairs at Mykul to no effect. Each chair thrown at Mykul was met with a swipe of the staff that split them into two pieces. Mykul’s advances became too much for Golun and he was pressed into a corner of the common room. He decided it was time to play the aggressor and dashed upon Mykul, pulling another dagger from his boot.
Golun swiped and stabbed at Mykul with the daggers, each was met with a retaliatory thwack of Mykul’s staff. Each spot on Golun the staff touched, sizzled and crisped as if touched by an open flame. Even through the pain of burnt flesh Golun was nothing if not persistent. He continued to push Mykul, forcing him to backpedal. The dwarf managed to dodge one of Mykul’s flourishes and caught his thigh with a quick slash.
Mykul was unphased by the cut in his leg and used the Golun’s glee to catch him off guard. Mykul spun and landed a heavy blow to Goluns temple, knocking him to the ground. The dazed dwarf dropped his knives and looked blinked trying to regain his composure. Mykul was already over him, pressing the end of the staff into Golun’s chest. The enchanted staff began to burn a hole in the dwarf’s chest.
“I surrender, please!” The dwarf cried out. Mykul’s illuminated eyes and face held no expression, but his hands pressed upon the staff forcing it into the Golun’s chest. Golun screamed for Ordin as the staff burned through skin and bone. The smell of boiling blood filled the room and Rhavin began to gag as Sam bandaged his arm with a piece of her newly acquired clothing.
Mykul’s eyes returned to normal as Golun’s body went limp. He pulled the staff from the body and took a deep breath. Haldon stood looking at his friend's corpse mouth agape.
“He had surrendered. Why did you have to kill him?” The dwarf asked. “What possessed you? What even are you?” Mykul, ignoring Haldon, turned to Sam and Rhavin. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked sick.
“I think it’s time to go,” he said. “We need to find a healer.” In agreement, Rhavin and Sam pushed their way into the night as Haldon moved to Golun’s body. The last sounds of the Chipped Tankard were the prayers of a grieving dwarf.