Medievia Mudslinger

March 30th, 2003

Brothers - By Excrucior

Always the same, Diolen mused, as he gazed over the docks of Gdangus. The sun was halfway to the horizon but the boats would not return for some hours yet. When they did, they would bring more fish. Every coastal place he had visited stank of fish. It was an inevitable result of people living so close to a food supply, but he was more than happy that they wouldn’t be staying for more than a night. If they stayed at all, for that matter.

Tanvisport was the same, the docks of Trellor and of the City of Medievia as well – they all had that distinct aroma of deceased seafood. The gulls didn’t seem to mind, but who could know the mind of a stupid bird? There was plenty for them to eat, though it never made them good eating for some reason. One of the meals of last resort in any situation, Diolen knew, though he’d had to do it a time or two.

"The merchants are finished."

Diolen blinked and turned to see Krasen standing a yard or two away.

"Contemplating dinner again?" Krasen asked.

Diolen snorted. "Hardly," he replied, though the verbal barb had struck home. Krasen knew him too well and had a mischievous sense of humor when it suited him. That was a mystery - their father had never shown any such tendencies to levity and nor had the priests who had trained him in holy orders. Could humor be self-taught? "What say the others?" Diolen asked.

"They’ll follow you, as always," Krasen replied with a smile. "To the ends of Medievia if need be," he added with a carefully blank face.

"That won’t be necessary," Diolen told him. "I don’t have a map for that yet."

Krasen laughed loudly at this and Diolen frowned - he hadn’t meant it to be a joke. Grunting, Diolen shifted his scabbard around and started to walk back to the trading post outside the village. The sea breeze had chilled his joints even through the armor and he worked at his limbs until they moved easily again. As a true warrior, never knew when he would be required to fight.

He hardly expected a fight within Gdangus, though. Those inhabitants who dared to meet his gaze hardly had any real size and they all had that hint of fear to their eyes. Diolen knew that he caused people fear. He always tried to ensure that he did. People respected strength.

Krasen didn’t fear him. Scars on their faces and bodies traced the fights they’d shared since childhood. Together, they’d learned mutual respect, but all too often the priest went out of his way to irritate Diolen. Krasen still walked a step behind, though, more out of respect for leadership than anything else. Diolen made sure that everyone walked behind him - that was the mark of a true warrior. First to battle and last to retreat.

"You’re brooding again," Krasen muttered.

Diolen looked around, slightly startled. He’d passed through the gates without seeing them - he had to be more alert than that to maintain leadership. The others were there - had they seen?

"We can take a cargo back to Riverton," Diolen announced, covering for his distraction. "Beans, tobacco and rice. There are a few hours of daylight left so we can make a start and get there all the sooner." He looked around for any sign of dissent but there were only gazes of acceptance. Apart from Aspodel, of course. The mage had fixed him with a calculating gaze.

"I’ll be resting," Aspodel said quietly. "The porters will take a while to fill my wagon anyway."

Diolen nodded curtly but growled quietly. The mage hadn’t asked permission to do so and never did, seeing it as some sort of right. Aspodel would ask about other things, but when it came to recharging his magic he would just do it when he wanted. Usually it was convenient, but one day soon Diolen was going to leave him on the floor, muttering to himself.

The porters set about loading up the wagons and Diolen watched them carefully. He didn’t know them and therefore he couldn’t trust them. He didn’t watch those he traveled with but they had earned that trust. He caught himself and walked over to another armor clad figure.

"Keep an eye on that girl," Diolen hissed to Hiolla.

The woman glanced over to where the young lass stood, the girl’s eyes constantly wandering and her fingers flexing. With a sigh, Hiolla picked up her shield and walked over to keep Fambella from getting bored enough to cause mischief. Diolen watched as they began to talk - if the woman wanted to take the girl under her wing then that was her choice. No warrior should be a parent in his opinion, not even a surrogate one.

Diolen watched them closely. The girl was good at what she did, able to sneak up on enemies. Since Hiolla had taken her in, though, there had been a number of incidents that defied normal explanations. Aspodel kept an exacting watch when ordered to do so, yet he had seen nothing during the night when Diolen had woken to find his armor’s straps tied together. Since then, he’d found it wise to keep the girl busy to avoid running from town guards. Diolen valued a decent bed from time to time.

They set out in the light from the descending sun., Diolen taking the lead as was his place and Hiolla flanking him. Fambella and Krasen rode behind - for some reason the girl respected his brother. Diolen didn’t want to know why. As for Aspodel, he stayed at the rear in his favored position. Diolen had no argument with that - the mage fought like he was slapping a damp piece of string anyway, and from that position he could wreak havoc with his spells.

The routine was well established - Aspodel cloaked them all in a shield of invisibility and Diolen led them along at the fastest pace he could. It felt good to be back on the road, riding at a canter with the wind in his hair - that was where he belonged. Leading in a physical sense and not just ordering people along. Now they would follow him in the way he liked.

The trail was marked by deep ruts but the wilderness kept trying to encroach on the ancient trading routes. Over the years, the routes had become more meandering as the wilderness competed with the constant stream of traders in a gradual battle for dominance. Well, that was how Aspodel had described it one night when he’d been fairly drunk. Mages knew things and had their uses, but Diolen sometimes wondered if they thought and knew too much.

Keeping the sea just in sight to the north they headed west, rushing past such creatures of the wilderness that they found. A cloud formed from a multitude of insects nearly caught them as it floated onto the road but they scraped past it at their best speed. Aspodel’s invisibility spell served them well and only one ogre was observant enough to detect the slight trace of their passing.

Diolen charged into it as soon as it raised its snout to sniff the air. Hiolla’s sword joined his as they swung and parried, gouging large pieces of fur from its hide. Aspodel sent a series of beams to burn the beast, contacting its eyes enough to render it blind while Krasen stayed back, chanting his prayers and healing bruises as the ogre’s flailing limbs struck home. If you could ignore the pain then having a priest around made victory certain, Diolen had often thought.

His fist crashed into the creature’s snout for a last time as a knife flashed past him to sink into its neck. Fambella had done her work, if a little belatedly, and she darted forward to retrieve her knife as the ogre sank to the ground in spreading pool of blood. Diolen noted that she searched for any valuables but with her quick hands he couldn’t see if she pocketed any gold for herself. She probably had, though he’d let it pass this time. This far from anywhere to spend it, the ogre would not have had much.

"A couple of leagues and we camp for the night," Diolen ordered and they set off, Aspodel hastily raising his invisibility spell once more. Their routines were well-established - if they had to fight then they killed, raised the spell and moved on again. Invisibility was very useful, Diolen knew, but it was far too fragile. The mage had once commented as to how things would be if everyone ended up permanently invisible no matter what they did, especially someone like Fambella. Until he had an answer to that Diolen would not question it again.

A roaring fire allowed them to cook their rations and Diolen rested back with a full stomach, digesting his meal before sleep. The moon was clearly visible, hanging close to the horizon against the darkening sky and he watched it slowly rise.

"You don’t have to be so hard on her," Hiolla told him. Diolen raised an eyebrow and looked over in the darkening light. "She’s had a hard life and you could be more patient."

"We’ve all had hard lives," he snorted. "That ogre had a hard life as well - what’s your point?"

"That ogre wasn’t a person and she is," Hiolla replied, moving a little closer to sit by his side. "She’s not old enough to be treated like the rest of us. I was once her age and I know what it’s like. She’s not even reached a score of years."

"Really? I’d have placed her as younger," Diolen said, barely able to admit to feeling some surprise.

"She never used to eat much and is a bit scrawny," Hiolla admitted. "The thing to remember is that she’s not that young and not that old either. It’s a funny age and most of her pranks are to attract attention."

"She can shape up or she risks everyone," Diolen grunted. He had responsibilities and wouldn’t allow a frisky girl to get everyone killed. "If you wanted to be a mother then you should have stayed safe in one of the cities." He faced her cold glare for a full minute before feeling uncomfortable. "I don’t tell you how to fight so don’t tell me how to lead."

"You tell me if you think I’m making a mistake that could harm everyone," Hiolla reminded him. Diolen grunted indistinctly and rested his head on his hands. If he was going to stand his watch then he needed some sleep soon. "We all know what you want but not everyone has just one ambition."

"So, what was it like for you at that age?" he asked, trying to change the subject.

Hiolla pondered this for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to reply. Eventually she shrugged and said, "There was a lad I wanted. Oh, he was tall and strong and everything a girl could want. Just enough scars to make him look handsome and not too many so as to make him ugly. I was just one of a group of adoring girls."

"And?"

"He went out adventuring and the first troll he met had him for supper," Hiolla told him sadly. "There were a lot of broken hearts, I can tell you. She’s at that sort of age, though. Look at her." Diolen raised himself onto his elbows and glowered across the fire to where Fambella sat with Krasen. The girl was playing with a small coin, rolling it around her knuckles while chatting animatedly with the priest.

"Doing those tricks again," Diolen muttered.

"Don’t tell me you don’t try to impress girls in taverns with your prowess," Hiolla challenged. "I’ve seen you."

"That’s different. I know what I want there.. you don’t mean.." Realization struck him like a dose of water. "He’s sworn holy oaths, though, and she’s too young for him."

"He knows that," Hiolla said with a smile. "She doesn’t know or doesn’t care. He can always marry and stay within his oaths, though. Safe sleep, Diolen," she added before seeking her own blankets.

Diolen had not managed a wink of sleep by the time Krasen roused him for his stint at watch duty. Krasen and the girl - the image span in his head for hours on end. His brother sought his bedroll but Diolen just grabbed his helmet and went to sit by the remnants of the fire. He stirred it up and added a few fresh twigs before standing for his watch. It was a good chance to look around and think.

There as no chance that those two would.. they just wouldn’t, that was all. Diolen worked at the chin strap to his helmet and blinked in surprise as something wriggled on the top of his head. Cursing loudly he wrenched the helmet off and something dropped to the ground. The frog croaked and began to hop off. His boot caught it in mid-jump and sent it off into the darkness.

Had that frog gone there of its own accord or been placed there deliberately? Was that a night bird or a girl’s giggle? He could have sworn that she had come nowhere near him on her watch and she’d not moved from her blankets since her shift, the first, had ended.

Diolen’s two hours were lonely with just the moon and his thoughts for company. Even the silver disc began to leave him as the sky lightened with the false dawn that presaged the new day, and his thoughts were muddled beyond anything he could recall. Animals began to wake amongst the undergrowth as the light grew, causing him to grab the hilt of his sword often. There wasn’t enough to make him rouse anyone else though, but he always remained alert.

Aspodel had avoided watch that night, claiming a predictable need to renew his mana, his fancy name for his magical energy. Diolen had no qualms about rousing the mage first and ordering him to tend to the fire and breakfast. As everyone else woke and stretched, Diolen headed for the nearest stream - he needed to wash as much of his weariness away in cold water as he could.

The night chill on the water sufficed to take some of the sandiness out of his eyes, but it could do nothing for the fog in his mind. Diolen could manage without sleep for a night or two but his reactions would be slowed if it came to a fight. That had nearly cost him his life a few months back and it had taken Krasen a while to patch him back up afterwards. There was a scar on his thigh that still ached from time to time. That girl had cost him a night of sleep and if she cost him more then he would..

"How clean can you get?" Diolen glared around at Fambella who was standing a few yards behind him. Her face was set in a pout but her eyes twinkled with merriment. "Leave some stream for everyone else, will you?"

Diolen grunted sourly and stalked back to the camp, toweling his face roughly and ignoring the squeals of delight as the girl started to splash around in the cold water. If he’d stayed then she would have started to splash him - he knew what she was like all too well. "Keep me awake today," he growled to Krasen as he passed.

His brother nodded. The years of shared experiences had made them both aware of each other’s moods - the cleric would have known that an answer would not have helped.

"You look tired," Hiolla said as he led the wagons onto the road again.

"I am. I had to do a lot of thinking about that girl last night," he replied gruffly. The woman frowned at him and seemed to be considering something. "Just keep her away from me, that’s all I need for a day or two. Keep her away from Krasen as well."

"That will make her worse," Hiolla protested but Diolen ignored this and rode out as fast as the wagons would allow.

A poorly concealed ambush gave him a chance to work out a few kinks in his muscles and he welcomed it. The group of ragged humans who barred the road challenged him to stop on pain of death. With a smile he drew out his sword, the blade shining wetly in the sun, and examined its icy length.

"This was a present from a friend of mine," Diolen said from his place in front of the bandits. "He’s been in a lot of places but this was perhaps his greatest gift - the blade is made of pure ice and as sharp as a razor. It’s not melted a single drop in the year since I received it. Magic, you see. Do you really want to get in my way?" His eyes never left the blade but through the ice he could see that some of the brigands had started to mutter amongst themselves.

"Have it your own way, then," he said, smiling broadly. He and his friends were outnumbered but that had never stopped him. With Hiolla at his right he charged forward and started to swing his sword savagely. His first blow crashed through a sword raised in a desperate attempt to defend - the man fell away with a scream as the icy blade sheared through his arm. Another took the chance to try and strike from the left but Diolen shifted his shield enough to send the weapon skittering away harmlessly. A blast from Aspodel sent the man back into the undergrowth.

"Swarm them!" the bandit leader screamed as Hiolla skewered one of his henchmen easily. Three came at Diolen at once and he began to parry and riposte as quickly as he could. One fell away, unable to scream, and the others failed to break through his defenses. A second bolt from Aspodel sent one reeling with a useless arm and the last one fell to Diolen’s vicious blow.

One remained, defiant on the road - the leader. "You’ll pay for that," he shouted, ignoring the scattered corpses of his men. Diolen watched him curiously, interested by the undeserved boldness. The man hadn’t seen Fambella stalking him from behind - Diolen carefully kept his eyes away from her so as to not alert the man.. "I’ll get more men and track you down.."

The girl’s hand slipped around from behind the bandit to slit his throat with one deft movement. The bandit turned around in shock, his hands clasping for his neck, but it was too late. With a sigh he collapsed to the road. Fambella glanced around quickly but there were no others living in sight. She bent down and began to ransack the man’s pouches, holding up a few small vials with interest.

"Put them with the others," Diolen commanded and the girl stuck her tongue out at him. His fist clenched around his sword hilt but she did it anyway, slipping them into the packs on his saddle. He’d seen the glint of the gold she’d sneaked into her own pouch but let her get away with that - those potions would be far more valuable at some point. Time had proven that point again and again.

"She’s contributing, at least," Hiolla ventured as Diolen guided his horse around a growing pool of blood. "That hard life of hers has taught her to be ruthless - you saw that she didn’t flinch from killing that man."

Diolen glanced around to see that Fambella was staring deeply into his brother’s eyes as he talked. "She goes out of her way to annoy me," he said eventually.

"You can’t just say that," Hiolla protested but Diolen just leant over slightly and opened his saddle pack. It took him a few seconds of rummaging but he brought out a frog which he held firmly.

"I don’t have to," he replied before hurling the unfortunate creature deep into the gorse that formed the plains to either side of the track. Hiolla glared at him but remained mercifully silent. If she had continued the argument then she would have ruined the good mood he had gained from the fight.

Two more nights in the wilds produced two more frogs to dispose of and even Hiolla was becoming exasperated. Krasen didn’t seem to notice, spending most of his time with the girl. His comments had become less barbed of late and his attention had seemed to wander on occasion. Even Aspodel watched the two with a quirkily amused expression, something that annoyed Diolen just as much as the apparent relationship.

The town of Riverton slowly came into sight and in such areas nearer civilization they found no more serious trouble. They swapped information with merchants passing the other way on two occasions, but for the most part the journey was uneventful.

"I need to get to the bank," Hiolla muttered as she hefted the heavy pouch the merchant had given her. Diolen knew that she was right - carrying too much money was far too great a temptation for any passing opportunist. He led them into the town through the western gate, dismounting to lead his horse past the dwarven sentries.

"We’ll drop off the cash and then find rooms at the Blazing Sun," he said. He’d used their services often and the facilities were good. Hiolla’s face brightened at the thought and he knew why - the woman loved the baths in there. She’d probably insist on visiting the theater one night as well.

Although the streets were crowded, most of the inhabitants were dwarves and the difference in size made it easy to pass through the throngs. One dwarven noble lady shrieked at him indignantly as his horse knocked her off her feet but he just shrugged and ignored her. He was probably carrying more money than she was and her protestations to a local militiaman went unheeded.

That money went into his account at the bank and he verified the new balance with the dwarven teller before nodding in acknowledgment. A few more weeks of hauling freight and he would be able to afford his dream - a clan of his own. Then he could get others to do this for him while he went off into the wilds to find adventures fit for a warrior. Krasen would probably want a temple to pray in but he’d come, maybe bringing that wench with him, but perhaps he could be persuaded to see sense by then. Hiolla? Diolen had suspicions that she’d want to stay in the town they would build, training people and nurturing the burgeoning clan. Aspodel had the soul of a scientist and would come along on Diolen’s travels if only to see new places.

There would be others, Diolen knew, others who shared his desire to see the rest of the world. Perhaps he could attract some of those elusive heroes to join him and show him the way. He didn’t dare hope for an avatar.

It wasn’t until they came out from the bank that he noticed something was amiss. "Where is she?" he demanded in exasperation.

"Fambella?" asked Krasen. "She wanted to look at something so she asked me to put her money in for her."

Diolen stared at him. "Wanted to look at something? That’s when she’s at her most dangerous!" he told his brother.

"She’s not like that at all," he protested but Diolen barely refrained from groaning. If Krasen wasn’t smitten then Diolen was a troll.

"Give her a chance," Hiolla added.

Diolen snorted and looked around before fixing his gaze on a commotion on the street to the west. "A chance like that?" he asked.

Towering above her captor, Fambella struggled against the militiaman’s iron grip, squealing protests as he dragged her along.

"I only wanted to look at it!" she wailed but it was no use.

"What’s she done?" one of the militiamen guarding the bank called out with a grin. His beard distorted oddly with the expression as he attracted his colleague’s attention.

"Bah - just tried to steal a greycap’s sword, that’s all," Fambella’s captor replied over the noise of the crowd. The girl doubled her efforts to escape but found herself being dragged along step by step to the amusement of the crowd. "He was still wearing it as well."

Diolen grabbed his brother’s arm. "Hold still," he hissed. "It was her doing so she has to pay." This was all too sweet - with luck he’d be rid of the girl without having to do anything himself.

"But.."

"Don’t but me now, Krasen," Diolen interrupted quickly. "She did it - she pays the price." He released his grip but kept his hand ready to grab again - if his brother was about to implicate them as being the girl’s accomplices then he would have to stop it.

"You’re going to let her rot in jail?" Hiolla demanded, pushing Krasen out of the way to stare Diolen in the face.

"Yes," he retorted. "She wanted to steal so she took the risk. Her decision, her penalty, and we’re not paying it for her."

"What you say makes sense," Aspodel added from the side quietly and Diolen nodded.

"See? Even he agrees with me," he said triumphantly.

"That’s not what I said," the mage countered. "You make sense but she’s one of us." Diolen stared at him incredulously.

"All of you? You want to risk yourselves for that girl?" he demanded.

Hiolla nodded firmly and gave him a cool, unblinking stare. As for Krasen, the lost puppy expression he currently wore was more than Diolen could stand.

"I see. Right - Aspodel, make us all invisible and then follow me."

Krasen smiled broadly. "What are we going to do then?" he asked.

"Damned if I know - we’ll just come up with something," Diolen muttered as the magic removed them from normal sight. Something that wouldn’t end up with them all killed, if he were lucky.

Gaps in the crowd moved between the dwarves and several citizens found themselves pushed to the side and blamed anyone but the real culprits. "Gaol’s this way," Diolen muttered quickly, trying to remember the way. He liked to consider himself honest, and thus had little interest in such places unless collecting a bounty. However, his memory served him well and they saw the still-protesting Fambella being dragged through the front doors to the building.

"Try to knock them out and don’t kill anyone," he growled. "Aspodel - use that sleeping spell if it will work and remember that this was not my decision." With that he went in through the front door and stared around. A pair of off-duty greycap guards lounged in one corner and several militia were spread around the area, engaged in various tasks. Few of them came to more than waist height which would make this easier.

A corridor led off into the rear of the gaol and the gaoler could be seen working a cell door with an ivory key. Diolen rushed over as the door swung open.

"You’ll spend a night with Anel before the Mayor can decide what to do with you both," the gaoler announced grandly, motioning for the militia to throw her into the cell.

They never got that far. Diolen’s fist collided with the side of one of their heads and he collapsed quickly. Aspodel’s chanting sent another falling, though his journey was somewhat more comfortable. Hiolla began to grapple with the gaoler, lifting him off his feet and slamming him into the wall. As for Krasen, Diolen looked over to see him cradling the girl protectively as she clung to his neck.

"Out!" shouted Diolen, and he began to match the order with movement, barging through the surprised militia near the entrance. One greycap, the elite of the dwarven fighting forces, barred his way, but Diolen pounded a fist into the dwarf’s gut by bending low.

They burst onto the street, pursued closely by a small woman who dashed past before becoming lost in the crowd. "Aspodel, do your stuff," Diolen added but the mage was already chanting. "Move," Diolen spat. Those militia didn’t appear to be alert enough to see the passage of invisible people, but that gaoler seemed to be clever enough.

They headed south along Crystal Road and turned right onto the next street to head west. Their horses were still at the trading post and they could possibly hope to bluff their way through another gate, claiming to have only just arrived after the excitement. Surely, nobody could have got a good enough look at them.

The crowds forced them into a crawl to avoid attracting notice and Diolen chafed at the delay. He wanted nothing to do with this business and the sooner he could get away to let the furor die down the better. The girl may have been more mentally inclined to deal with this sort of thing but it wasn’t in his nature.

The gates stood wide open on the western side of Riverton and Diolen breathed a sigh of relief. He could just make out everyone behind him, though Krasen was slightly lagging behind, encumbered by the girl. He could see the trading post as well and there he would find their horses and… The gaoler stood just outside it, talking to several militia. He’d recovered quickly and his colleagues were looking around intently. This was bad.

"What now?" Hiolla whispered from close by.

"Could always give the girl up and hope they let us leave," Diolen mused, thinking quickly. Even without being able to see her properly he knew that Hiolla was glaring at him. "Damn - he’s seen us." The gaoler had started to peer suspiciously in their direction and Diolen knew what he was seeing - things that shouldn’t be there, places where people didn’t walk and shadows nearly fell.

He looked around wildly and saw a way out. "Follow me," he ordered and ran after a party of dwarves who were just entering the source of Riverton’s wealth - their fabled mines. Panting heavily, he charged through the dwarves, sending them and their pickaxes and lanterns flying. One young dwarf fell back heavily and the sack across his back burst to send water gushing out over the floor.

Diolen grabbed a lantern from a recovering dwarf in passing and charged on into the gloom of the tunnels. He could hear footsteps close behind - they sounded like his people but he didn’t dare spend the time to check. This was a fool’s errand, he thought grimly as he ducked a particularly low section of roof. They should have left that girl and as for heading into here - was there another way out? He only knew of one entrance but surely the dwarves had built another way out? Cave-ins were always a threat, after all - surely they would have an escape route planned? Krasen’s prayers could get them out but that was too predictable and the militia would be waiting for that.

Diolen charged through a number of miners who were looking around suspiciously. "Keep going!" he yelled, hearing the echoes reverberate throughout the tunnels. Behind him the noises of confusion sprang up and he had to hope that nobody got delayed or split from his leading light. Nobody that mattered, anyway. If Krasen dropped that scheming wench then he’d be able to make a better escape.

A yawning hole came into view of the light from his lantern and Diolen skidded to a halt. "Down," he ordered and began to make his way down the ladder that led into the inky blackness below. His lungs working hard, he paused at the bottom and looked around carefully. The rocky walls of the new tunnel were just visible in his lantern’s light but there was no sign of life. He needed a rest and, by the sounds of it, so did everyone else. Armor was more than handy in a fight but for running and escaping he would have chosen something lighter had he the chance to change.

Hiolla joined him within a few seconds, closely followed by the girl who peered around in fright. Krasen came next, panting heavily - he’d spent too much energy carrying the wench. Aspodel came last of all and took a moment to compose himself before recasting his invisibility spell. Diolen frowned at this until he realized that the previous enchantment had shattered as they had barged through the dwarves. At least the mage was thinking right, he mused, glaring at his brother.

As if realizing that he had to make up for his folly, Krasen began to chant his prayers and Diolen felt the weariness steadily lift from his shoulders. At least his brother was doing something useful.

Sounds of pursuit came from above. "This way," Diolen barked, starting to run along the only exit out of the tunnel. For a moment he considered tying the girl up and leaving her behind to appease the dwarves, but Krasen would probably never forgive him. For that matter, the girl would be able to slip any knot easily and be right back with them in minutes.

More miners stood to the side as they ran along the tunnels, crouching to make their way through the lower areas of rocky roof. Diolen muttered under his breath, trying to remember the number of twists and turns he had taken. It would be bad enough to have half the dwarves in Riverton on his trail without getting lost in the process of escape.

Odd creatures lived down here, crystal snakes and six-legged things that roamed the area. They were familiar enough with the miners so as not to be scared of their passage. Diolen kicked one or two out of their way, forcing Aspodel to recast his concealing spell.

"I need to rest," the mage panted. "I cannot hear any more chasing so we should be safe for a moment."

Diolen looked around at the tunnel - there were no signs of any workers or abandoned tools here. It seemed to be an unused tunnel and he nodded assent. "Take a minute but keep your ears open." Without recharging his energies, the mage would be useless though Diolen suspected that Aspodel was exaggerating his claims.

The respite gave Diolen the chance to attend to something important. "As for you, you’re going to have to do some explaining," he growled at the girl.

Fambella looked up at him with fear in her eyes. Krasen put an arm protectively around her shoulders and faced him defiantly. "She’s only young," he began but Diolen was having none of it.

"She’s old enough to know better," he retorted, glaring at him for a moment. His eyes snapped back to the girl who recoiled. "You saw the emeralds on the guard’s sword, didn’t you? You thought, ‘They have so many jewels they won’t miss some,’ didn’t you? Because of your greed you’ve endangered the lives and sense of everyone here, including me, and I am not happy. Well?"

Fambella shrank back into Krasen’s arms and peered out in fright.

"Pah! The next orphanage we pass I’m throwing you in, understand?" Diolen stormed off to fume by himself. They’d been stupid to stand up for the girl and he’d been stupid enough to be persuaded. A hand touched his arm.

"She nearly soiled herself, do you realize that?" Hiolla asked quietly from the side.

"Good. I’m not her mother and neither are you," Diolen replied, noting the odd expression creeping across Hiolla’s face. Warriors do not make good parents, he reminded himself.

"Someone has to be. Can’t you try and be patient with her?"

"You really want to wear an apron instead of chainmail, eh?" Diolen asked scornfully.

Hiolla appeared outraged and stalked off with an angry expression.

Diolen watched after her. Had he gone too far there? Someone had to, to use her words, to make them understand. He stared off down the tunnel, attempting to calm his fury. Anger in a warrior was good but too much put you off-balance. Be balanced or die, that was the way of it. They were talking behind him but he ignored it. Let them talk - he would not be swayed like that ever again. He was a leader, not A politician who held a vote on every problem.

Something caught his eye - a light further down the tunnel. It was headed their way. "Douse the lantern," he hissed and they scurried to obey, turning the shutters down and trimming the wick. Darkness fell - had the approaching party of dwarves seen them? They had keen eyes in the night but maybe the invisibility would cloak them and allow escape.

Short forms, silhouetted against their lantern, shuffled along the tunnel and dwarvish voices muttered softly in the gloom.

"No sign of her," one of them said from close by. Diolen crouched down - invisibility was useful but not impervious to the observant. His breath sounded loud in his nose as the iron-clad feet stamped by.

"There’ll be nobody that way," another said in an odd tone of voice. Half a dozen dwarves passed by, their lantern swinging on a pole. They appeared alert but not in the way that a hunter is alert - more in the way of prey. Diolen waited for them to turn a distant corner before he allowed himself to breathe again.

"Right - we go on. They’ve searched down there for us so we’ll be safer there," he said. Nobody argued and he led on into the depths.

The air began to smell odd after a short time. Diolen noted the change from the dry and dusty air of the upper levels to an odd smell that he couldn’t quite place. Those dwarves had seemed worried which suggested that there was something dangerous down here, but right now there was nothing more dangerous than him, he would wager. After the events of the day he needed something to kill.

The smell grew stronger and Hiolla pulled at his sleeve, pointedly sniffing the air.

Diolen shrugged and continued onwards. They passed by two side tunnels before the odor became too much to ignore. "Girl - go ahead and find out what’s down there," he ordered.

"You cannot be serious," Krasen demanded and Diolen stared at him impassively.

"I am - she got us into this so she can get us out. Go, girl," he said firmly. If anyone wanted to try and make this into a vote then he was going to lash out.

"Go on," Hiolla told Fambella gently. "You’re the best at not being seen, after all."

The girl looked up at her and nodded in a quick, jerking movement. With that, and a fearful look at Diolen, she scampered off down the tunnel, her shape becoming lost in the darkness within seconds.

"What are you doing?" Krasen demanded hotly. "You’re risking the life of a young girl.."

"Who risked ours without a thought," Diolen finished for him. "I know you let the gods do most of your thinking, but try using your head for once instead of anything else. If anyone can sneak through pitch darkness without being seen then it’s her. She’s the best scout as Hiolla said."

Krasen sank back with an angry glower.

Diolen ignored him. Fambella may have made the best bait as well, which would be useful. Bait was expendable.

Time seemed to crawl and occasional echoes of noise reached them - the sound of pickaxes working in the unseen distance and the drip, drip, drip of falling water much closer. Everyone seemed to be worried about the girl, Diolen noted with disgust. Krasen was beside himself with worry, as was Hiolla. Aspodel had put a brave face on it but he occasionally sent a scrying spell down the corridor.

"She’s coming back," Aspodel hissed after one such casting.

Diolen rolled his eyes to the heavens - fate was not with him this time.

"She’s running," the mage added.

Running, in this darkness? Diolen’s hand went for the hilt of his sword but before he could draw it the girl dashed past him and fell into Krasen’s arms, sobbing wildly.

"What the.." Diolen began to demand but a large, furry shape loped past him. In the light from the lantern he saw it as a shape he knew - a wolf, but a huge one by his experiences.

It leapt straight at Krasen and he fell back, pushing the girl to one side. He began to grapple with the beast, trying to hold it away from his face. Another wolf flashed into the area and found itself up against Hiolla and her sword.

Diolen ran forward and went for the wolf on his brother. Its vicious teeth snapped scant inches from Krasen’s face as the priest strove to keep it from him. Diolen grabbed the wolf’s jaws in his mail clad hands and began to pull as hard as he could. His fingers found their way over razor-sharp teeth and the wolf began to whine as he pried the jaws apart slowly. No longer a hunter, it was the prey, and Diolen ignored the scrabbling claws as they tried to break through the armor over his stomach.

With a final shout, Diolen felt the jaws crack too wide and the wolf went limp in his hands. He dropped it to the floor and stared at his gauntlets. Blood welled up from underneath the links of chainmail and he could feel the fang marks in his skin. "Heal this," he ordered and Krasen rushed to obey, his glowing hands traveling over the wounds to close and knit the flesh. Magic crackled through the air behind and the smell of burnt fur came to Diolen’s nose.

He turned to see if there was anything left for him but it was too late - the other wolf was neatly spitted on Hiolla’s sword and a savage scorch mark had been burnt into its flank.

"Thank you, brother," said Krasen from behind but Diolen waved his gratitude away.

"Right girl - what happened?" he demanded and Fambella shrank back away from his words. Hiolla glared at him and walked over to embrace the girl, muttering soft nothings into her ear as Diolen watched impassively.

It took some time before the terrified girl was able to speak, and even when she could it was disjointed. Diolen had to make her go back over some of her tale to make it sound almost coherent.

Fambella had found herself in a red-glowing tunnel which allowed her to see the remains of dwarves on the floor. Most were just skeletons but some were fresher than that. Several of the wolf creatures prowled the area but she slipped past them easily enough - with the stench of corpses in the air they couldn’t scent her easily.

She had come across a tunnel entrance where someone was stood in the red-glowing area and someone else in the offshoot. She knew the figure outside - it was the woman from the gaol who had escaped at the same time that she had. The figure inside, though, was nobody that she knew. Tall, dark and brooding, dressed in ancient robes - and very observant. He had been talking quickly with that prisoner and had said something about a visiting mage and release, but he had spotted Fambella within seconds. He had held out two fingers in her direction and two of the wolves had given chase. The rest they knew.

"Malevich," Aspodel gasped. "I’ve heard the legend - he was imprisoned down here many years ago but should have died a long time ago. It can only be him."

"I see," Diolen said slowly, cracking his knuckles. "In that case we’ll go and have a word with this ancient mage and make sure that he’s dead. It can’t be the real Malevich anyway - he would have died centuries ago. If there’s a way out without using magic then it’s past him. Unless anyone wants to vote on it?" He glared around and smiled as he saw nobody willing to object. It was an insane plan but everything else that day had been just as bad.

He led the way down the tunnel until the girl told him that they were close. The red glow emanating from the walls allowed him to extinguish the lantern. "Get ready, Krasen," he ordered and his brother began to swathe them all in shimmering white auras. "We grab that woman and find out what’s going on," he said. "Apart from that, kill them all." With that he ran forward into the main cavern.

Furry bodies came at him but his sword accounted for the first to come close. Savage teeth scraped over his armor, sliding off the metal and the white aura. He was in his element and his sword thrust and wounded, slashed and killed. Hiolla flanked him, doing her work, and the mage sent bolts of lightning and ice into the pack. Yelps of pain made him smile and the few bites they managed to score into his exposed face barely registered.

Blood dripped from his sword as he looked around at the battle scene. Dead and dying wolves lay in heaps, adding their own stench to the fetid air. Hiolla was crouching to one side and Krasen was tending to her wounds. Aspodel leant against a wall, feigning exhaustion or meaning it - Diolen couldn’t tell and cared less.

Someone small started to dash away in the darkness beyond, barely seen in the dim, red light. Diolen began to give chase but his armor told against his speed and he couldn’t keep up.

A small figure dashed by him - the girl. She raced ahead and managed to tangle her legs in the woman’s, bringing them both to the floor.

Diolen ran on but the girl had managed to gain the upper hand in the fight. He skidded to a halt where the two wrestled and grabbed hard on one exposed limb. He barely registered the white, protective aura fading from his limbs as he pulled hard to drag a wriggling female dwarf from the melee. With a curt nod at Fambella, he hauled the woman to eye level, ignoring her protests. She may be a female dwarf, but no other dwarven women he had seen wore a malicious expression like the one he now stared at. She shrieked and squirmed in his grasp but he backhanded her across her face to shut her up. At least Fambella had done something right, Diolen mused. He might be able to get some answers or maybe even a route out of here now.

An actinic bolt of lightning flashed from a side tunnel and impacted on his breastplate. Blinded for a moment, Diolen staggered and fell back against a rocky wall, gritting his teeth against the pain.

"He’s too powerful!" - that was Aspodel’s voice. Someone was praying even as footsteps ran closer. Another bolt of lightning took him, this time in the side. Breathing was impossible and the world began to spin violently.

There was green, Diolen knew - he could see green. There was no green in that tunnel but he could see it. Breathing was an effort but getting easier but seeing was too much trouble if couldn’t see what should be there. He concentrated on seeing. Grass, he decided. Someone was saying something - it sounded like a prayer. Was he in the afterlife as the priests had claimed?

"Will he be all right?" asked a girl. He knew that voice - had she died as well? She’d been close to that blast. Fambella sounded genuinely concerned. Someone rolled him over and he saw clear, blue sky. The priests had promised an idyll after life and this was pleasant enough, though he could do without the noise of ducks in the background. Ducks should not be in paradise. Hands touched him, glowing hands that made him feel good. This afterlife was good but he needed to cough. He did and could taste blood.

"He’s coming around," another voice said. That was Krasen - his brother wasn’t dead, was he? Was he dead? Diolen’s mind started to clear and he blinked as faces came into focus.

"Nearly lost you that time," Krasen said. Diolen started to mumble something but Krasen waved it away. "We have other things to deal with," he said, looking around glumly.

"I know how you priests work - this is your favored spot for quick escapes," the gaoler said smugly.

Diolen managed to rise onto his elbows, ignoring the pain, and blinked at the dwarf. Behind him were several other militia and greycaps, all ready for action while his friends were disarmed. Krasen’s escape prayer, he realized - he never liked having to rely on it for just this reason. Too predictable. Beyond the gaoler a statue of a dwarf towered over everyone.

"You got the woman?" he asked but his voice croaked as he spoke.

"She’s safely in custody and will be under lock and key very shortly," the gaoler replied. "You’ll be joining her soon enough." His eyes flicked over to where a pair of militia held a struggling female dwarf.

"She was talking to Malevich," Diolen managed to say.

Anel glared at him. There was murder in that gaze.

"Oh, just Malevich, eh? Next you’ll be saying that you breakfasted with the gods, hmm?" The gaoler gave him an unpleasant smile.

"No, no," Diolen protested. "She was talking to him and talking about magic and a visitor and something else."

"Release," offered Fambella. "They said something about a visiting mage at the inn…"

The gaoler cut her off as Anel started to scream abuse at them.

"There is one such recently arrived at the inn but we know not what her intent is," he said quickly. "You say now that your word is true?"

Fambella nodded and gulped.

"You four - go have a word with this visitor - I want her in our cells before the hour is up. I want some answers and we have some questions for Anel as well. If your story checks out then we may look at you in a different light. If not, then we’ll be less than happy."

Diolen blinked at this - they hardly appeared to be pleased now. He stretched his muscles beneath his chainmail and glanced around at the guards in case they had to try and fight their way out again. Poor odds, but he had never been a quitter, however wounded he’d been.

Four greycaps moved off with purposeful expressions and the remainder surrounded Diolen and his people with watchful gazes.



Diolen rested back in the seat as best he could. Even the seats the dwarves had set aside for human visitors to the theater were too small for him and he still had bruises.

"Stop fidgeting," Hiolla told him from the next seat.

Diolen grunted but refused to admit that he was trying to find a good position to sleep in. Acting bored him, especially the fight scenes, and he had thought it to be a good chance to get some extra rest in the warmth. He didn’t feel up to drinking just now and they were leaving at dawn.

Krasen had missed a few wounds when Fambella had asked him to go to the park with her. The girl may have proved herself somewhat in the mines, he mused, though he still had reservations. Still, if she didn’t distract Krasen too much then he could tolerate her for now. Just detaining Anel hadn’t been enough, but without that then they would have had more than enough trouble with the greycaps when they had got out. Keeping Krasen happy wasn’t the entire reason Diolen would let her stay with them, but it was the only one he’d admit to.

Aspodel was happily investigating the library of the Temple of the Sun - the mage had odd tastes but if it kept him happy then Diolen wasn’t going to complain. Some climactic music made Diolen look to the stage where the curtains were closing. "Is that it?" he asked hopefully. A warm bed in the inn would be most welcome and more comfortable right now.

"Just the interval," Hiolla told him and he sighed. Why the woman liked the stage was beyond him. It was an expensive rest but maybe if he wiggled a little to the left.. that was just perfect.

"At least they stopped that dignitary from releasing Malevich, if that was him," Diolen muttered. "That stood us in good stead and stopped him from getting out."

"True," Hiolla agreed. "We’re only fined and banished for two years as from dawn tomorrow," she reminded him and he grunted.

"Better than ten years in Thunderhoume or whatever sentence she would have passed," Diolen told her.

"Rather nice of her, I’ll agree. It’s also nice of you to let Fambella come along with us after all." Hiolla watched him expectantly.

Diolen didn’t answer. A leader didn’t have to explain all of his reasons. Some bait could be used time and again but they didn’t need to know that part of the plan.

The curtains twitched and began to rise once more. He settled back and attempted to look interested, knowing that his every move was being watched by a militia in civilian clothing - they were all followed and watched for now but he could easily ignore that.. Within minutes he felt the drowsiness of the early stages of sleep take hold of him. He may have had a glimpse of the idyllic scene of the heavens but this was perfect contentment in the real world.

Or at least it was until the frantic quacking of a duck came from under his seat.



Author’s Notes

I started this piece with the intention of showing people how you can make a narrative set in Medievia in conjunction with the ongoing series of articles about how to write fiction. If you’ve got this far then I assume you liked it. All comments - good or bad - should be sent to me at excrucior@medievia.com and I can cheerfully answer any questions or criticism.

Eight and a half thousand words or so make up this tale. To my knowledge it’s the longest fictional piece we’ve had on the pages. Not bad for four days of working between customers for the first draft, even if I do say so myself. It has taken a little revision since then but not much.

For those who are seeking to improve their writing skills then you can see many features that I have in the writer’s guide in here. A few pieces of comedy break up the heavy flow of some areas, characters are consistent and develop gradually, and plot elements are all from the game (and from part two of the writer’s guide). I write about people, not just about cardboard cutouts. Every player is different, as you will be aware, but every mob you see should be treated as a player and therefore has their own personality and needs.

How important is this? That depends - does this tale live for you or is it a simple narration? Do you want to be able to produce something like this? Read this and published authors and practice a lot.

I want feedback from players about this - did you like it, did you hate it etc. Feedback is a good thing and may inspire a second part.

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