The Game of Shadows - Part Two

By Deuce Traveler


Chapter Four

Deuce Traveler and Azrail Cairnson walked off Riversy's ferry and onto the ferry berth. Azrail was struck by the lack of activity on the city streets. Many of its citizens simply looked ahead in a daze and some had rings around their eyes from lack of sleep. Azrail stopped a tall city guard he recognized, "Private Juri, what has happened here? The city seems uneasy."

The guard looked up at Azrail amazed, "Azrail, have you not heard? The Defenders of Amaranth were attacked in their own headquarters last night. They found several dead squires and some dead men dressed from head to toe in black. None of the knights' bodies were recovered, but we found Sir Eliot's armor on his bed and believe him to be dead. No one will go in there to clean the place, as it still reeks of death. I feel the worst for the people who live near the military grounds. They said they heard the most awful screams and many of them can't get to sleep without nightmares."

Azrail's jaw dropped and he looked up at Deuce. His mentor turned his eyes away from Azrail and clenched his fists. After an awkward silence, Deuce put a hand on the young mage's shoulder and looked him in the eye, "I'm sorry for snapping at you at the tower. Go to our estate and I'll meet you there. I wish to see if our sources were correct about Rune." He then left Azrail and walked towards Riversy Temple.

The Riversy Temple was home to the priest Saint, and his wife, the warrior priestess Angeli Halofax. Saint and Angeli taught students inside the temple, and raised their adopted daughter, AnnMarice, inside the home given to them by the clergy. Their home was a four room apartment next to the temple gardens. They were currently entertaining two guests, the warrioress Esk and the mage Cashel. The group was happy to see Deuce despite news of his behavior at the guild council and insisted he sit down and share a glass of wine. Saint told Deuce the exciting news about Rune's near death and appearance on top of the temple altar. Deuce looked back at him in astonishment, "Is he alright? Has he told you what happened?"

Saint smiled at his friend, "I'm glad you don't know about this. Its nice to know you at least have the class not to put one of your damn spies in my own temple. The good news is that he regained consciousness today. I thought questioning him could wait as he is still weak. We gave him some food and let him get back to sleep, but you are welcome to visit him tomorrow. I think he would be glad to see you."

Cashel was an elderly mage who took to wearing peasant clothes over the more common robes of his profession. His thin mustache and slightly balding hair were gray in color. Cashel spun in his hand a black sphere, staring into it in awe. "You say Rune had this in his hand when he appeared on the altar? This little ball is amazing. It looks like the outer glass is transparent, with some kind of black mist constantly swirling inside. Everytime I stare at the mist it makes me feel like I'm being sucked inside the sphere." Cashel began to tap on the outer glass shell and said cheerfully, "It's very disconcerting."

Esk sat across from Cashel with a full glass of wine. She stared in deep thought at the sphere in his hand. She was in her mid thirties, and dressed in loose black leather pants and vest. An engraved sword hung loosely from her slim waist, and a dark green cloak laid folded next to her. Her eyes were the color of the cloak, and her crimson hair hung past her shoulders, wrapped in dreadlocks. "I retrieved a book from Doom that speaks of such a sphere." She looked at Deuce and shared a memory. "Actually, there are supposed to be three spheres in existence."

Saint's eyes raised at that. He was a middle aged man of average height. Although he was known to spend much of his time in the Temple of Riversy teaching, he made it a point to stay in shape and still had strength in his arms. His wife, Angeli Halofax, sat next to him on their couch, her arm wrapped around his as she cuddled close to him. Her free hand held a nearly empty glass of wine. Angeli smiled at her friends as they examined the sphere. The thirty year old warrior priestess met her husband when she was just a teenager, and he her instructor. Although some frowned on their growing relationship then, everyone agreed that their union had grown into a special love. "What are they supposed to do," Angeli asked casually.

Esk frowned, almost hesitating to tell her friends, "They were supposed to be artifacts used by an Avatar of Brakkart's in some war between the gods. It was a long time ago, and I'm not too familiar with the history. Basically, the Avatar lost the spheres and the Church of Brakkart states that the man was tortured for infinity for being an idiot or screwing up or some such. Some say they simply grant certain powers. Others state that if you are able to bring the three together they are supposed to give you the power to grant your greatest dreams."

Angeli's eyes shone with mirth, "Oh, good. Maybe I can finally get that house near Laketown I've been pushing Saint about."

Saint sighed in mock frustration, "My love, if I got you everything you wanted you wouldn't have anything left to complain about. What would you do with your spare time then?" Angeli gasped, and with a giggle lunged at her husband, punching him in the arm and nearly spilling her wine.

"Oh no, you two aren't being disgusting again are you?" AnnMarice asked. "Uncle Deuce, tell them to stop." The fifteen year old adopted daughter was small for her age, a lovely blue dress hanging from her slender shoulders. The fragile brunette had a sweet voice, pale skin, and bright red lips. She was already hauntingly beautiful, her eyes happy. She loved teasing her parents in front of their friends and was being taught by the High Priest, Magnus Catacalcarius, his way of holy magic.

Angeli stopped mid tickle, "Oh, you're getting old before your time, daughter. Trust your wise mother. In dark times such as these you need to have a sense of humor."

AnnMarice had the power of prophecy. At times a voice not her own would speak through her. She would be aware during the prophecy, but would lose control of her body. She was enraged and scared as she felt her body give in to forces she could not fathom. She felt her mouth open and speak with an unworldly voice, "True, dark times will befall you. Blood shall spill in this house, and a husband will be forced to walk a path he was never meant to tread." Her body was her own again, and she began to topple forward, only to be caught by a quick thinking Esk. She looked around at the group who stared at her in shock. "I'm sorry," she whispered with a sob. "I can't control that."

Angeli untangled herself from Saint to comfort her daughter, "It's ok, Ann, come here." The warrior priestess held her daughter against her body in a warm embrace. "I'm going to take her to her bed to settle down and get her some water. Thanks, Esk."

Esk helped Angeli get AnnMarice walking a few steps and sat back down in her seat, "What was that about?"

Saint said softly, "She's been having them often of late. I think she may have foretold Rune's arrival. Her prophecies are always vague, but they always come true." Saint took the black sphere from Cashel, whose was still staring at its center, his eyes glazed over.

"And you are wondering if it has something to do with that sphere," Deuce stated. Saint looked up at him and nodded. Deuce looked away from the priest, smirked bitterly and asked into the air, "Why can't a prophecy ever be like "today will be sunny and you'll meet the love of your life?'"

Cashel grinned, "Those are fortune tellers, Deuce, not prophets. And they're always wrong." He rubbed his temples. "Poseidon knows, that sphere is easy to get lost in."

"Why don't you let me take it away from here, Saint?" Esk asked, a certain edge in her voice. She had been searching for the spheres and other artifacts from her book for a long time. Long enough that she was scared of what she might do if she laid her hand on it. Perhaps become a thief for a day.

"I can't, Esk. I'm sorry, but you'll have to ask Rune for it when he feels better. I feel bad enough for passing it around for everyone to see as it is, but I do admit it's an interesting object. The mist inside seems blacker than night."

"All of you see black swirling mist inside that sphere," Deuce asked, emptying his wine glass.

"Of course, why do you think we keep mentioning it," Cashel answered. He saw Deuce's knuckles go white as he grasped his empty wine glass. His eyes Cashel believed were filled with sadness from Sir Eliot's death now had a look of deep concern. "What is it, Deuce? What do you see, when you look into the sphere?"

Deuce aimed a weak smile towards Cashel. "Black swirling mist. Just like you." The man they knew for the rogue he was stood up. "I'm tired and have a lot of work to do on the estate. It was good seeing you all again." His friends protests were silenced by Angeli as she came from AnnMarice's room.

"Oh no you don't," Angeli said. "You do not leave this house without giving me a hug and saying goodnight to AnnMarice. She's upset right now and you always cheer her up."

"Well, duty calls then," Deuce smiled as he headed towards AnnMarice's room.

Angeli thought it was more like his lips smiled, but his eyes betrayed a great guilt. She knew he was upset over Sir Eliot's death, but he seemed not only to be grieving, but also haunted and distant. On an impulse she grabbed the large rogue by the arm as he walked passed, "You're family to us, Deuce Traveler. You will always be welcome in our home."

Deuce stopped as if struck. It took him a moment to regain his composure and he patted Angeli's hand with his own cold one. His violet, odd eyes met her as he said softly "Thank you. More than you know, thank you." He left his worried friends and entered the room.

AnnMarice immediately sat up from her bed and smiled at Deuce, "Oh good, you've come to tell me a story like you used to when I was a ten. Will this be about how you single handedly defeated the goblins of Arcnur?"

She watched as Deuce approached her with a wide grin, "No, lass. I figured I'd tell you the tale of how I once got caught stealing in a house in Henn. It was by a girl about your tiny size."

"Tiny size! Deuce Traveler, I could take you on with one hand and two legs tied behind my back."

"Now there's a thought. I bet your parents would let me gag you, too."

"That's it, you devil!" She roared and threw a pillow at his head. The man who was like a big brother to her had the gall to mock like it hurt and fall on her bed.

"Ow, you got me. Do your worst. I am not afraid of death! It could only improve my character!"

She felt a prophecy take a hold of her body. She wanted to cry in the injustice of her 'gift', but she could no longer control her body. "You may not be afraid to die, but are you afraid to learn the truth about yourself."

She watched as her Uncle Deuce's face dropped. AnnMarice thought it so unfair that when she finally got the rogue to look happy, this could happen now. He hardly ever gave a real smile anymore. She watched his face grow angry, "I don't know who in the Abyss you are, but give me AnnMarice back."

"I am the future, Deuce Traveler. I know you like no one else knows you. You suffer because you blame yourself for what is happening to your old comrades. Worry no longer then, Deuce. There are players the gods do not even know about yet. Your decisions will decide this round of the game. Many will die, many will suffer. But none of them will know suffering like you will. Prepare yourself, son of Gilden."

AnnMarice's body was her own again, and she collapsed in Deuce's arms. She began to shake uncontrollably, crying over and over again, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I don't want anything to happen to you, Deuce. I'm so sorry."

She felt him embrace her close, his skin was cold, but welcome. She needed him to hold her now. "Shhh," he whispered into her ear, "it's alright little one. You're still my little AnnMarice. Hush."

"Deuce, I'm scared."

"Aye, lass. So am I."


Chapter Five

Esk stayed with Saint, Angeli, and AnnMarice after Cashel and Deuce had left. She knew it was getting late into the night, but she also had no wish to let the sphere out of her sight. Ever since she had retrieved the Book of Lost Artifacts from the underground fortress of Doom she had become possessed with the Black Eyes of Brakkart Fellblade, as they were called in ancient lore. There were many myths to how they were lost, but almost all hinted at the same thing. Brakkart Fellblade wanted them lost to spread his influence through the world, and sent his champion who held them on a suicidal fools quest. Esk had word that the remnants of the Shadow Assassins had found one of the Eyes, and now Rune appears with another out of thin air. She had spent three years in search of the artifacts and to have them begin to appear from seemingly nowhere drove her to a rage she found hard to suppress.

Saint was toying with the sphere as he was telling her about Rune's recovery when a feeling of dread came over him. "Something is coming towards us," he told Esk, the color draining from his face. He moved by instinct, raising the black sphere in front of him.

The walls of his apartment and the nearby corridors became transparent to him, his eyes seeing four figures. Three men in hooded robes, but wearing black armor underneath followed a larger hooded man in the same armor. This larger man held a black sphere similar to Saint's in his hand, and stopped. Saint and the man's eyes met, and the priest shuddered involuntarily. He called to his wife as the walls became opaque again, "Angeli! We're about to have company! Watch AnnMarice!" He reached out and locked his front door, but left the windows alone, feeling he needed to spend his remaining time finding a weapon.

Saint grabbed his mace, given to him and blessed by the High Priest of Riversy for service to Amaranth. The weapon was made of high quality iron from the mines of Klima. The sides were engraved with grooves of gold and platinum for a better grip. The High Priest, Magnus, had named it the Mace of the Heavens, and Saint was sure never to be far apart from it.

Esk unsheathed her sword and stood next to her friend, watching the door. "What is it," she asked in a whisper.

The priest looked down at the sphere in wonder, "It was like the sphere sensed its sister. There's a man approaching and he holds a black sphere, too."

Esk's head began to swim. First, she finally hears about the location of one sphere a week ago, then a second sphere shows up only days ago in Riversy itself, and now the third. She began to feel like destiny favored her of late. She heard Angeli approach behind her.

"I locked our dear daughter in a closet and she's screaming bloody murder. This better be good, husband of mine, or else you get to settle her down." Angeli had grabbed her lucky quarterstaff from the main bedroom. It was made of thick oak, with a weighted ball on one end, and a curved claw on the other. Angeli had trained herself well with it.

Saint began to respond to his wife, when the door was kicked in by an armored foot. Three beings entered the room, black swords in hand. These black armored beings stunk of death that made the three adventurers sick. Saint's heart sunk as he recognized their darkened weapons and armor as belonging to fallen Defenders of Amaranth. Their heads were helmeted and hidden, while their arms and legs seemed to be made of a drifting mist that radiated the cold of the grave. These dreaded guards protected the fourth figure, wearing fine clothes around decayed flesh and holding out a sphere. Saint recognized a lich when he saw one, his prior adventures pitting him against another such being long ago. A lich used to be a powerful mage when mortal, and an undying creature of magic after death. Somehow Saint could hear his psychic commands to his undead servants, "Hurry damn it! Grab the sphere! The guards will either discover their dead or wake to this noise soon!"

The dreadguards were on them quickly, but Esk was able to handle two of the undead, her engraved sword moving faster than the eye could follow. One tumbled backwards from her attacks despite itself, and she was able to engage the second. Angeli took the third dreadguard. As it started to raise its sword, Angeli used her clawed staff end to slap its arm to the side, and came up with the same claw under the chin of its helmet. It wasn't mortal, and could not be dazed, but it could be thrown off balance. A strong swing from Angeli with the weighted end of her staff slammed against the back of what would be its knee, driving it down and denting its legplate. It stabbed at her, causing her to nimbly back up and prepare for her next attack.

Though Saint was glad at their initial success, he knew that they were in trouble. Their only hope was that the temple guards would arrive quickly, for the lich was the real danger. Saint charged the creature, his mace clanging loudly against an invisble shield. The lich laughed at the priest and pointed at the man's skull. Saint backed away from the undead mage, almost dropping his mace as his head felt as if it were going to explode. He raised his black sphere and began to deflect the spell, his head immediately recovering from the attack. The lich hissed and raised his own black sphere and approached Saint. The two magic wielders squared off, both using the power of their minds to attack and parry on a supernatural plain. The magic being used was incredible, and Saint began to feel giddy from its strength. For an instant he could no longer perceive the mortal world, tendrils of magic being visible as the lich lashed out at him. They were two beings of energy and light, the twin black spheres heightening the duo's already awesome powers to a level neither had experienced before.

It was too much for a mortal mind, even one like Saint's. He collapsed onto his back, the black sphere rolling underneath the couch in his home. The lich saw the sphere and ignored the priest's fallen body, eyes locked onto the prize. Esk had cleaved one dreadguard into half, causing it to disappear before her eyes and leave its armor clattering on the ground. The other dreadguard took advantage at her moment of shock and began to drive the red haired warrior into a corner. Angeli had smashed the helmet of her opponent, causing it to also dissolve into the air. She ran to her husband to help him up.

"No, I'm ok. Don't let it get the sphere," Saint begged her. His ears were bleeding and he had the shakes from the mental attack he had survived.

Angeli and Saint had known each other too long for her to question him. She stuck the claw end of her staff past the rushing lich, scooped up the sphere, and tossed it back into her waiting arms. The lich looked over his shoulder at her and hissed in rage. At the same time, Esk gave a wild yell and stabbed the last dreadguard. Although impaled, it didn't hesitate to grip her sword in its free hand and try to bring her close. Esk twisted wildly to the side and wrenched her sword free, falling against Saint's favorite chair. As the dreadguard came at her, she fell from the seat to her knees, causing the dreadguard's sword to cleave the top of the chair and not her head. She swung across at its misty legs, dismembering it from the kneecaps down. It fell next to her in a broken heap, and one last sword thrust into its helmet finished it.

A patrolling knight templar that heard the noise entered the apartment, and in seeing the lich, charged. The templar hacked his blade halfway through the shoulder of the lich. The undead mage simply looked annoyed and grabbed the knight templar by his face. "Die," it commanded in anger. The adventurers watched in horror as the knight templar began to scream, smoke billowing from where the lich's fingers touched his face. It was as if his soul was burned out of his body. One second there was a live man, the next moment, the empty husk of a corpse. Esk, Saint, and Angeli attacked the creature at once. Esk used the furniture to leap in the air at the lich, her sword pulled back for a wide arc. The lich simply looked at Esk and waved his hand at her. The warrior was thrown painfully against the ceiling and collapsed, stunned. Saint and Angeli both connected with their strikes, Angeli swinging her staff one handed and striking the lich in his ribs, and Saint connecting on the back of his head. The lich grunted and back handed Saint, causing the priest's head to snap backwards. Saint collapsed against a table and fell to the floor. The lich ripped the dead knight templar's sword out of its shoulder and began to back Angeli towards a window overlooking the garden. "Give me the Eye," he demanded.

Angeli knew she had to buy time. "Oh, you mean this sphere," she asked holding it up. She threw it towards the window with all her strength. "Go get it!"

The lich screamed in rage as the artifact broke through the window and fell into the garden. The undead mage tried to snare it with a telekinetic spell, but somehow the Eye resisted his magic. He could run after it, but he sensed life forms approaching the apartments in mass. The lich had exerted too much energy and the cloak hiding him from his many powerful enemies was beginning to fail. His survival instinct won over his great need for the second sphere. He looked at Angeli and realized he did have both a moment and need for revenge. Using the remnants of his telekentic spell he thrust the longsword through the air at such a velocity the warrior priestess had no chance to deflect or dodge the missile. It slammed into the middle of Angeli's chest, going to the hilt, and pinning her to the wall.

Saint turned into a beserker, charging the lich with his bare hands. The lich simply ignored the man, the priest's attacks meaningless to him, and fled the room. Saint scrambled up to his wife, trying desperately to remove the blade as she began to go into convulsions. "Esk," Saint screamed to the recovering warrioress, "get the sphere! It's in the garden! Esk, please!"

Esk looked up at Angeli and felt weak in the knees. She recovered quickly, wanting to find the black sphere before anyone else could lay hands on it. Esk slipped past priests and templars as they rushed to the disturbance at Saint's home. When she ran into the garden she began to swear loudly. The priests of the temple kept a lush garden, with tall grass and full of lively, healthy bushes. "I'll be lucky to find anything in..." her thoughts were interrupted when her foot struck something hard. Looking down, she saw the black sphere at her feet. "Must be my lucky day." She picked up the sphere and for a moment thought of immediately getting out of Riversy. She swore angrily at herself for such thoughts and ran back to Saint's apartment. When she got there, Angeli was laying on the floor unmoving. Her face was the pale white of the dead. AnnMarice was crying hysterically in a knight templar's arms, and the High Priest Magnus was standing over a kneeling Saint.

"I'm sorry, my son. Let her go, there is nothing we can do for her," Magnus' voice was full of sorrow. Angeli was like a daughter to him. All his priests were.

Saint ignored his teacher and looked up at Esk. "Esk, give me the sphere," he demanded. Esk almost hesitated, the sphere feeling comfortable in her hands. She forced herself to hand it to Saint, and he concentrated his healing magics through it. "I can sense it, she's still alive. I can feel a tiny spark of her fading fast." The priest concentrated on the spark, his senses drowning out everything physical around him. All that mattered to him was the last bit of energy that was his wife. All sense of time was lost as he worked, finally reaching her life force and pulling her back from the tide of death to the land of the living. Saint couldn't pull her any further than the border of death, he was too weak. He tried to stay with her, tried to keep holding her, but he slipped, and she was let go.

The first words he heard were from Magnus. "By Hauk, that's incredible. You did it, son. You were in a trance for hours, but you did it."

Saint looked down at his wife to see her wounds healed, and color back in her cheeks, but she was still deathly pale. "Will she live?" he asked. He was surprised how weak his voice sounded. His nose was running and when he wiped it with his hand, he saw his fingers were red with thick blood.

"I can't say. Her chances are slim, I will admit, but you succeeded in one miracle, why not two. Her body is healed, but her soul isn't. You were hemmoraging and started to bleed in the attempt," Magus said.

"I was too weak. The sphere helped, but it wasn't enough alone. I have to have another if she is to be saved," Saint said in determination.

Magus looked grave. "That artifact you toy with is not a thing of goodness. Saint, your wife would not approve of this."

Saint looked at the sphere with a bit of revulsion. He sensed a dark taint, and suddenly felt that it was trying to manipulate his mind. He began to wonder how much of his thoughts were his own. Saint suddenly had an epiphany. He loved his wife more than he loved any god. "I'm sorry, High Priest Magnus. I don't ask you to accept my decision, I just ask you have some sympathy. I must do what I can for my wife."

"Very well, Saint. But know you will not get help from the church."

"No, High Priest, I wouldn't ask this of the church. What I need is a man who knows what's going on in the shadows of this city. And when I get my hands on that devil, he will finally give me answers. And then he will help me save my wife."


Chapter Six

"What in the hell were you thinking?" To say Sarrel Cassius was angry at this late hour of night was an understatement. The twenty-seven year old was slim and of average height, with dark red hair and green eyes. He sat in a cushioned chair, flanked by two others in a large room at the top of a Riversy mansion. The room had a huge scarlet carpet spread on the floor, and cream-colored walls. Marble statues lined the edges, and two suits of empty armor stood next to large double doors. Sarrel was the head of the Brotherhood of the Blade, and his plans had been on course for two years. Two years of causing the guilds to war against one another, of spreading his influence throughout the continent with people loyal to him in important government positions, and of gathering the wealth needed to bribe people and pay for the equipment for his operations. And now this undead thing he had allied himself with goes on a killing spree in Riversy Temple. "We both agreed that the attack on the Defenders of Amaranth was necessary, yet risky. But this? I can’t believe you attack the Temple without even speaking with me."

Redin bristled as he looked at the three seated assassins. He was a stunningly handsome man, with dark skin and piercing eyes that reflected his great intelligence. He was also an undead lich, using magic from the black sphere to hide his location from his nemesis, the Archmage Chandler. Redin also used the sphere to satisfy his vanity by returning the flesh he had lost after his death. Both spells cost took a heavy toll on him and he found that he needed to sacrifice his physical appearance if he wished to cast other spells. This taxing of his energy did nothing to lighten the lich’s mood. "This is an alliance, Sarrel. You do not order me. If a man collects the Eyes of Brakkart Fellblade his greatest wish is realized, and I want to be flesh again."

"There are other ways, Redin. Subtle ways. If you had told us where this object was, we could have gotten it for you." Victor Heraldson spoke from a plush chair to the left of Sarrel. He was a small, mousy man with wrinkled and cheap clothes. His blonde hair was unkempt, giving him the appearance of laziness. His eyes spoke differently. There was a calculated coldness about the man, and he seemed to notice everything. Those who called him ‘the Herald’ argued that he was the deadliest assassin in all of Arainor. Others said if he was not the greatest, he was at least number two.

Redin smiled pleasantly at Victor and thought, "Aye, wouldn’t one of you like to get your hands on one of the Eyes." His own Eye was now hanging from a necklace he had made for it and rested against his chest. Redin reveled in its touch. As a mortal mage he enjoyed everything physical life had to offer, from the gentle buzz good ale could cause, to the touch of a young woman. Being dead in flesh, but alive in the mind was maddening to him. Centuries ago, Redin had planned to rejuvenate himself with his magic when age began to take its toll on him, but something had gone wrong. He was tired of living near the underground Ghost City, and wanted his old throne in Riversy back. Most of all he wanted to be a man again, and the Eyes of Brakkart Fellblade was the closest he had come to achieving his dream. "Remember, you would not be as far along as you are now if it wasn’t for the army I’ve been creating to assist you and keep the remnants of the guilds busy."

"And remember, the guilds wouldn’t be just remnants if we weren’t pulling their strings," Helena Sanchel said sweetly from the third chair. Helena was a black skinned woman of twenty-five, slim and five feet tall. She may have weighed only a hundred pounds, but she had a reputation for being strong for her size. Her black hair was braided and partially hid her brown eyes. Helena’s beautiful voice tugged at men’s hearts when she spoke. She appeared innocent and na´ve to her victims, subtly causing them to behave as she desired. Redin wanted her badly when he was able to create a body of flesh for himself. She was also a deadly killer, in the class of her two ‘brothers’. She had a reputation for using exotic poisons on her blades.

Sixteen years ago, these three heads of the Brotherhood of the Blade once were street urchins living in Hillby with a smuggler named Gilden. The elder master rogue took more than a dozen children off the streets and gave them a home. In exchange, they helped Gilden with his operations. Gilden had made enemies, however, and members of the Brotherhood of the Blade attacked him. The assassins set fire to the house, trapping the children and Gilden inside as they attacked. Gilden and most of the children were killed, but four children were taken by the Brotherhood to rise as future leaders. The children were Sarrel, Victor, Rashien, and Helena and in a grand ceremony went from being called the Children of Gilden to the Children of the Blade. Years later it was realized and reported by Rashien that one child somehow survived the attack. Deuce Traveler was the oldest of the children, and their ‘big brother’. This Child of Gilden had then killed Rashien as the Brotherhood was beginning to assert its influence into Riversy. The failed operation had ruined more than two years of work. During the investigation it was found that the current head of the Brotherhood was the one who struck down a twelve-year old Deuce. For his failure to kill the rogue who then plagued them he was executed and Sarrel had taken over the Brotherhood. The former guildmaster still swore under his last breath that he had killed the described child with a blade through his heart. Now Deuce Traveler was the second in command of the Evening Star Mercenaries and had made an agreement with the Brotherhood of the Blade that the two guilds would steer clear of one another.

Their discussion eventually led to the progress of their underground war. They had successfully fomented a rebellion in the midst of the Dark Army’s territory and had all but eliminated the Defenders of Amaranth. An assassination mission recently took out some couriers for the dispersed King’s Rangers, and Khan’s Troopers of the Night were still recovering from the crippling attack on Khan Glarin and his guards. It was rumored, though, that a young man named Epikur was beginning to rally the KTN, which caused only a slight concern for the foursome. Everything seemed to be going as planned.

Shouting was heard gradually approaching the double doors. The four looked up as the doors were flung open by Deuce Traveler. The man had murder in his eyes, and was followed by a protesting secretary and a guard holding a limp, broken arm. Deuce pulled a gauntlet off the nearest statue and walked unhesitatingly towards Sarrel, oblivious to everyone else.

Sarrel was shaken by the other rogues entry, but decided to try to calm him down. He thought that their attack on the Defenders of Amaranth would anger Deuce, but bitterly realized something must have happened at the attack on the temple to send him over the edge. "Hello, brother. It’s been some months since your last visit," he said trying to sound cheerful and sticking out his hand. Deuce pulled him close with his deathly cold left hand, as he slapped Sarrel's face with the gauntleted hand in his right. The guildmaster of the Brotherhood of the Blade looked stunned and collapsed back into his chair as Deuce flung the gauntlet into his midsection.

Victor began to stand and drew his sword halfway from its sheath. "You dare come into our house and lay hands on Sarrel? You ever touch me and I swear I’ll..." Victor has stopped halfway through his sentence as Deuce slammed the man’s sword back into his sheath with a chop to the wrist, and then punched the blond man in the nose, driving that rogue back into his chair, too. Without another word, Deuce turned his back to them, shouldering a guard on his way out.

The guard and Victor moved to stop him. "Let him go," Sarrel ordered them. "In fact," he added pointing to the guard, "run ahead of him and tell the rest of the guards to let him go." The guard nodded and began to jog.

The minutes of silence that followed was finally broken by a cackle from Helena, "I think we made big brother mad."

"You should have let me teach him a lesson," Victor said as he put a cloth to his nose.

"No, not yet. He followed guild etiquette more or less in his declaration. Let’s pretend he followed tradition, just with a little more flare and a bit less talk. I have to admit, I thought the gauntlet was a nice touch," Sarrel responded. "Oh, and remind me to inform the guards that he no longer has free access onto our grounds. That was obviously a mistake."

"Hmmm, it’s war then?" Helena began to look excited about the idea, her fingers playing with the ends of her hair. "I always wanted to see what big brother is made of."

Redin stepped in, "I do not have forces in place to attack the Evening Star Mercenaries. You said we wouldn’t start to engage them for a few weeks."

"You would be hard pressed to fight them anyway. They gained a lot of hidden contacts when Deuce and Raaf joined them, and so most of their members can disappear when they want to. You remember what a nightmare it was to go against the Shadow Assassins, and we still haven’t eliminated all of their members yet. The Evening Star Mercenaries as a whole aren’t the greatest of fighters, but they can make life painful for us," Sarrel said thoughtfully. "No, first we root them out of their known hangouts. I want the Evening Star Mercenaries wiped from Riversy by morning."

******************************************

"So you declared war?" asked Moloon the One Eyed through his scryer. He was enjoying his semi-retirement from the Evening Star Mercenaries in his home in Laketown. The old mage was their contact in that northeastern corner of the continent.

"Actually, I just wanted to send a message," came the stern reply from Deuce.

"Lad, you may have meant it a certain way, but they certainly have taken it another," Captain Yor of the SS Vesper was currently in Radaan, in the southeast corner of Arainor. He rubbed his chin in frustration. Deuce, Raaf, Moloon, Karoman, and Esmerelda were his contacts throughout the land and had gathered some bright children to restart the guild. That’s all they were, though, children. And now there was a war on their hands.

"In Deuce’s defense I believe that war would have been inevitable. The Brotherhood of the Blade wants to control Riversy, for whoever owns the city is the defacto ruler of Amaranth. Victory over the other guilds would have left us as the next in line. I think this is an opportune moment to strike," Raaf answered. The man calmly sipped his tea next to Deuce. Riversy was the center of Arainor, so two men were stationed in the city. Raaf wore a black shirt with dark purple waistcoat. A pair of glasses rested on his nose, making the gentleman look bookish. The man knew well how to fight the coming war in the shadows. Some said the unseemly older man was the deadliest assassin in all of Arainor. Others said he was second best to a man called ‘the Herald’. Raaf simply wanted a quieter life and decided to join up with Yor and Deuce. He reasoned to himself now that one couldn’t always get what one wants.

Karoman Buffolk, stationed in the northwest portion of the isle of Tiraca, laughed into his scryer, "They’ll have a hard time rooting us out in Seledorn. I got the sailors here thinking of my little group as local heroes. Of course it’s because of the free drinks we buy for the entire bar after a successful mission."

"Don’t get arrogant, matey," Captain Yor instructed. "Some of our boys are undoubtedly going to get hurt in this. I plan to get some supplies and our men and sail the SS Vesper into the bay to wait this out a while."

"Which brings up a good point," Esmerelda, their point of contact in Rockby responded. "Have we come up with a plan to fight this war?"

"Deuce and I have discussed it," Raaf answered. "We are going to get our pledges out of Riversy before they get hit in the crossfire. Esk, Saint, and others have promised assistance in exchange for locations of known Brotherhood hideouts. We’ll send messengers out to tell our members to lie low for a while since the Brotherhood of the Blade will begin to attack us everywhere. They use messenger birds, which are fast, but we can communicate with our scryers faster. Unlike our scryer-less members who will go into hiding, the six of us will use that to our advantage!"

**************************************

"Now isn’t this getting interesting?" Tigress asked nonchalantly. Despite the neutrality of her voice, her tail began to twitch excitedly. "All the chaos. All the possibilities."

Popple sipped her tea and looked at Tigress thoughtfully, "And what of Redin, the Dark Prince’s servant? Did you plan for him to find the black sphere?"

Brakkart recognized what a dangerous question that was and hesitated before answering, "No. I will admit that not all my plots go as planned. Redin is not known to leave his sealed lair near Ghost Town. I can only surmise that a higher power sensed the Eye and guided him to it." That could only mean that the masters of the Dark Prince, demons, were involved. The gods had a codex of rules that they followed, but the demons were mad gods whose loss of reason caused them to live among mortals, committing what men considered unspeakable horrors, and relishing in their powers over the lesser beings. To Brakkart they were disgusting aberrations. "Who would ever want to live amongst mortals for all eternity?" he thought with an invisible shudder. What’s worse, it was said that some of the Mad Ones were older than the Pantheon.

"Well, if the Mad Ones are involved, this becomes a different task, entirely," Popple reasoned. "It means we have to send aid to our champions."

"True, if we haven’t sent them aid yet," Tigress answered Popple. "And you and Brakkart have already influenced this game much more than Cade and I. Unlike the two of you, we believe in letting mortals show us their strengths. I declare a Circle of Yevaud."

Brakkart snarled, "The demons move in on artifacts of my power and you declare a Circle of Yevaud?" A Circle was rarely declared, as it was considered unbreakable and binding. Immortals in a Circle of Yevaud took turns influencing mortal events, and could not step out of turn. In effect, Tigress had just blocked Popple and Brakkart from influencing any other action in the world of Austin until she and Cade had a turn.

Popple put a steadying hand on Brakkart’s arm. "It has already been declared. Nothing you can do now, dearie, even if this is your own realm. Not unless you wish to be cast down with the demons, of course, but I don’t think it’s worth that. Now hush, and let Popple make you some tea."

"Very well, let’s get this over with," Brakkart said, ignoring Popple as she placed a cup of hot tea into his hand. "Take your turn, Tigress."

Tigress was enjoying Brakkart’s discomfort. By his reaction, it was obvious to her that he was beginning to use the Game to his further himself. With a swishing tail she said playfully, "Actually, I can see what trouble my mortal is heading into. I’ll save my turn for later when he really needs help."

Brakkart wished he knew what he had ever done to the Faceless Ones to deserve this. First an Eye is claimed by the servants of the Mad Ones, then Tigress blocks his attempt at fixing the problem, then she doesn’t even take her turn. Did she even care about the Dark Prince? "Very well," he said stiffly, sipping his tea. He had to admit, the tea did make him feel better. "Cade, it is your turn."

The fourth god had watched the exchange with amusement. He opened his hands to show a tiny dagger with a sapphire pommel in one and a tiny ruby gem tied to a rolled up letter in another. He tossed them into the air. They grew larger as they tumbled into the air, then vanished, sent to the mortal realm.

"Those items aren’t all that powerful, Cade," Tigress observed as she watched them fall onto the Crimson Empire’s mana stone. "What are those supposed to accomplish?"

Cade grinned happily and floated up into the air. The faerie spun flipped head over heels, and laughed, his ears wiggling, "Watch, my tiger, and you shall see."


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