Gorm watched the trio gathered around a table across the room. The whisperling stood with arms crossed and an impassive expression. He had just finished a lengthy explanation of why their associate dueled Ared.
The Ireha woman sat with her arms crossed and kept alternating between glaring at him with barely restrained fury and eyeing Gorm with open suspicion. The gnome, meanwhile, simply sat there staring at the assassin with a furrowed brow; a mixture of grief and confusion covering his wrinkled face, plain to see despite the hand cupping his chin.
Silence underscored the oppressive atmosphere of a coming storm.
Gorm snorted, trying to rid his nose of the pervasive stench of offal that seemed to permeate the commons of cities everywhere, and shifted in his seat. The rough texture of the cheap wooden chair did not agree with the comfort and class to which Gorm had become accustomed.
“How could you let him to do something so… so selfish?!” The woman stared hard at the whisperling. “His life thrown away. For what? Petty revenge?”
“No.” The denial fell on deaf ears.
“And we are supposed to do what now? Did he expect us to just guess his plan? Or did he think murdering the vizier would be the end of it?” She picked up steam as she went, gesturing with her hands and her Sollim accent thickening. “That somehow an ancient power would stop awakening in a far away forest from killing one man?”
“That is no-”
“If he’d just told me what you’ve told, I would’ve told him that’s not how it works. The focus is what you need to destroy. If your friend in the palace succeeds at that, then you’ve done all you can here. Killing one man does nothing.” She had stood up and stomped over to stare the shorter man in the eyes. “And you’ve still only added sands to the hourglass. You need a way to put the genie back in its ring. Not that he cared. He just threw his life away to do nothing and left us wanted.”
The assassin met her angry gaze with a cold expression and raised his hairless brow in silent warning to get out of his space.
The woman wisely stepped back.
“He has certainly created quite the mess for us,” the gnome observed before the Ireha could start another tirade. “From what you have told us, I have no doubt he thought he was doing the right thing. He was wrong, of course, but he tried. I would assume that he kept us out of it because he hoped that would keep us from being criminals in the aftermath. Yet with our help, he would most likely still be alive. It was wasteful and selfish.”
Gorm let out an amused grunt, drawing the attention of the entire trio.
“Amateurs.” He took a deep breath and rose to his feet, more to get away from his hard seat than anything else. “You have as an enemy a cult. The leader, high priest if you will, of this cult served as Royal Vizier of this nation. Your associate challenged the high priest, knowing full well that Ared would fight in his place and knowing also that he could not hope to win such a duel. He did this to allow someone else to kill the high priest.”
Gorm paused to give a respectful nod to the assassin.
“This entire scheme served a very different purpose, however. It made sure to occupy the Vizier and Ared-” Even mentioning the name brought a foul taste to Gorm’s mouth. “-getting them out of the palace so your ally had a chance to acquire this focus you wish to destroy. So what did this Ky achieve?”
“He shattered the enemy’s chain of command,” Gorm continued before any of the others could answer. “He facilitated the theft of their greatest treasure. And he bought you time with which to find the next move. Hardly a waste. Furthermore, Ared seeks to establish order, not acquire power. Therefore, he will seek to consolidate his position first and only later work on the cult’s agenda of releasing the Depthless Void. In particular with the loss of this focus and lacking access to the skills necessary to replace it.”
“What is that even doing here?” the Ireha waved at him, seemingly having paid no attention at all.
“That is a Hellbred. A monster created by Denesh warlocks through blood magic,” Gorm strode up to tower over her. “Tainting an unborn child with the blood of Iruqhal’s fiends. Bred to serve as loyal, disciplined, and incorruptible soldiers holding back the tides of darkness.”
He leaned in close to her face and bared his fangs in a sinister smile. Noticing the whisperling subtly shift his stance beside them and the steely gaze of the woman herself, Gorm backed down. Though he enjoyed a good brawl and knew himself the more skilled warrior, the assassin specialized in fighting unarmed and unarmored while alone. Gorm’s training focused on the opposite on all three counts.
“May I speak now?” The exasperated man finally uncrossed his arms. Finding everyone else silent, he continued. “We have no cage to put it back into. A trap built by the Naerele in what is now Wyrm’s Wood. There is a statue there, which once kept the Void sated but now serves as a… window. We break it, window closed. No window, Void cannot reach this world. Or so Kyrion gathered from the madness within Shylith’s mind.”
He looked at the Ireha, who shrugged noncommittally. “This is beyond my knowledge, but I see no reason it wouldn’t work.”
“He still wasted all this effort on rebuilding the guild, just to abandon it again,” the gnome observed. “Or are you planning to run it, Shadow?”
“Well, I have no desire to run it. There is far too much death and sorrow lingering in this place. I guess we will have to hand it over to Aziz when he returns.”
“He hates bureaucracy even more than I do.”
“Then I guess the guild will disappear once again…” The gnome sighed and shook his head.
“But Kyrion promised me the guild would help me!” the shrill voice of the Ireha cut in. “I’ve done everything he asked, and now he’s going to unwind when he doesn’t need me anymore?!”
“I will get you to the ruins. After the Keeper leaves,” the whisperling replied. “As for the guild, I do not know. For now, we are still here. Let us worry about that when we decide to leave.”
The old man nodded solemnly. “I still cannot believe you let him go through with such an irresponsible plan. I simply do not understand why he would willingly die just to avenge the fallen by stooping so low as… murder.” His voice hung heavy with distaste, and his face scrunched up in disgust.
“Shylith knew nothing of the fallen adventurers. Kyrion died for the living, not the dead. Lady Katrina warned him about madness being contagious, and he feared it would turn him into a slave of the Void.”
“I still say he was stupid to do it,” the Ireha muttered, shooting the assassin an angry glare. She clearly did not like the man, and not simply because she clearly blamed him for their associate’s demise.
Gorm decided to excuse himself, feeling he could learn nothing more of use and needing a change of scenery after his failure.
Striding over to examine the forge, Gorm wondered if the trio would end the night as bitter enemies or reluctant allies. The crisp night air felt cool against his hide, washing away the heat of his demonic heritage. From beyond the shoddy wall drifted the sounds of carousers, and with them the same stench as ever.
How he longed for the lavenders of the estate gardens back home. Assuming lord Sethian did not intend to return through the Abode, it could take them several months to get back. By then, the gardens would have finished their bloom and entered their winter sleep. So many tasks going unfinished and so many duties neglected, yet the master had made his wishes clear.
Turning his gaze to the shards above, he wondered what had become of Sethian and Ared. His master would not risk his life in battle against Ared, yet he also would not have had the time to prepare much of an ambush. Sethian also would not kill the man without making sure the kingdom would not turn against him for it.
The lack of information frustrated Gorm. More so now that the Court had put the inner city on lock-down following the murder of the vizier.
As always at times like this, rumours flourished… Some kind of dead king had seized the palace; Ared had ordered certain guild masters executed for the vizier’s murder; some of the Guilds had attempted a coup to take over the city; the prince regent had arrested Ared for ordering the unlawful execution of his opponent after the duel ended; the Vizier had risen as undead, hiding in the palace dungeons; the Thieves’ Guild had stolen the royal charter during the confusion after the duel…
A bounty of fanciful tales, each less likely than the one preceding it. Gorm growled, then took a deep steadying breath.
He would take a nice cold bath, groom, and then sleep. In the morning, he would start working on removing most of the spikes from his armor, perhaps use the scrap to forge some kind of weapon. Sethian would reach out at an opportune moment.
The master always did.