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Chapter 5: Legacies

The fort crouched atop a low hill overlooking the Cyran border, a low wall of light-brown stone surrounding a circle of barracks and support buildings, at the center of which rose a tall tower that overlooked the surrounding landscape. From its peak waved a Brelish flag, leaving no doubt to whom the fort belonged; the uniforms of the soldiers stationed within confirmed that association. Breland’s army wasn’t as disciplined as Karrnath’s or as fanatically dedicated as Thrane’s, but their country was an economic and intelligence powerhouse, and they took pride in being the best supplied and best informed force in Khorvaire.

Not that the soldiers here were a particularly outstanding example of that military, a young woman thought as she struggled to force her way through the crowd in the fort’s courtyard. She was of decent height but spare of frame, athletic but not overly endowed with muscles
or curves; her hair was black and pulled back in a braid and her face was marginally attractive but not strikingly so. Her appearance would go unremarked in any city in Breland; that, in fact, was what she’d designed it for. Unfortunately now, in strange territory and separated from her cadre of new recruits, was not a good time to go unnoticed.

Suddenly, she slammed into something solid and stumbled back to find herself face to face with a big, rough-looking human who looked down at her with cruel amusement in his eyes; a smaller man and a hard-looking woman hovered behind him like guards or enforcers. “You lost, newbie?” the big man asked, pausing a moment to spit. The young woman regarded him with distaste, but tried to keep it out of her voice when she replied; now was not a good time to be starting a fight.

“I’m with the recruits from Wroat,” she said. “But I got separated from them in the crowd. I’m just trying to find my barracks and I don’t want to cause you any trouble.”

The big man grinned, and his two minions laughed. “Well, if that’s the case,” he said, “then here’s what I’ll do. I’ll help you find your barracks, and you’ll give me whatever money’s on you and do whatever I say for the next three months. How’s that sound?”

“Not acceptable,” the girl said, a note of anger creeping into her voice. A part of her seethed inside, wanting nothing more than to bury a blade in his throat and be done with it, but she fought it down; she wasn’t - couldn’t be – that person anymore. And besides, a crowded courtyard in the middle of the day was no place for a killing.

“Too bad,” the big man said. “Sounds like you need a lesson in manners around here, newbie. And don’t think you can go run to the commander and get things fixed; newbies get roughed up all the time, and no one gives a damn.”

“Try me,” the girl hissed; scuffing the ground with one boot, she kicked up a cloud of dust and sent it flying at the big man’s eyes. He stumbled back, cursing and trying to clear them while his two minions charged forward. The girl sidestepped the hard-looking woman and struck her clean in the face with her fist, but as she stumbled back the other man caught her arm. He pulled her close and grinned nastily.

“You just made a big mistake, girlie,” he hissed, but before he could demonstrate what, exactly, that mistake might entail, a large, orange hand descended onto his shoulder.

“Good day!” the owner of that hand called merrily, and then he casually yanked the man off his feet; the girl pulled free in time to see her assailant go flying into his compatriot, sending both of them sprawling. The ringleader paused, regarding his intended victim and her new ally for a long moment, then turned and left, cursing under his breath.

The girl turned to her new friend and found herself staring up at a towering figure whose fangs, wolf-like tufted ears, and yellow eyes, together with his burnt-orange skin, meant that he could only be a hobgoblin. Unlike their cousins, hobgoblins were always big, but this one seemed big even by hobgoblin standards – he had to be at least a head taller than the human who’d been threatening her. But his expression seemed almost jolly.

“Thank you,” the girl said. “I could have handled it, but I appreciate the help.”

“Don’t worry about it,” the hobgoblin replied. “Those idiots seem to forget we’re on the Keeper-damned border and think harassing everyone else is a good use of their time. Commander won’t stop it, of course, but someone has to. Might as well be me – apparently, people think I’m intimidating or something.” He laughed and showed his fangs, and the girl found herself smiling as well.

“Well, it’s good to know not everyone around here is like that,” she said. “And here I was about to have all my illusions about the brave and noble soldiers of Breland crushed. Speaking of that, do you suppose you could help me find my barracks? This whole mess started because I got lost.”

“Not a problem,” the hobgoblin said. He held out his hand. “I’m Ghazaan, by the way.”

The girl took it, and shook. “I’m Len.”

///

Rinnean stood at the railing of Stormchaser, staring down at the churning waves below, and prayed for death.

The voyage had started out well enough; true, the ship had been rocking somewhat but the waves on the Dagger River were small, intermittent things that didn’t cause much disturbance. It had taken a bit more than a day for the ship to pass out of the river’s mouth and into the open ocean and then… then the real trouble had started. He’d woken up that morning to find his insides churning with an agony beyond anything he’d previously imagined; after he’d vacated what seemed to be the entire contents of his stomach into a pail, both Harsk and Ghazaan, who shared his cabin, had deserted him, the hobgoblin even having the nerve to wave his hand in front of his nose at the smell. Of course, as luck would have it, none of their other companions were affected, leaving Rinnean to suffer alone. The next morning, noticing no distinct improvement, he had forcibly dragged himself to the deck, determined to confront his enemy – the sea – in person. He’d hoped it would help.

As it turned out, he was wrong.

And so he stood, resting most of his weight on the rail and silently wishing that the Devourer himself would appear and drag Stormchaser whole down to the depths, because at least there would be some dignity in dying by a god’s hand. So tantalizing was that thought that for a moment he failed to notice the white-clad figure who had come to stand beside him.

“I might be able to help with that, you know,” Yhani said; if she was at all amused by his situation, she managed admirably not to show it. “I do not believe I have ever tried to cure seasickness, but I believe the magical principal is the same.”

“Spare me your gloating, Yhani,” Rinnean muttered, now wishing the railing would oblige him by breaking and dumping him into the water directly, sparing him from this conversation. “Can’t a man suffer in peace?”

“I am not here to mock you,” Yhani said. “I was attempting to be friendly and offer you help; if you are too proud to accept it, perhaps I should seek elsewhere.”

“Pride,” Rinnean said with a short laugh. “That’s rich, coming from an Aereni. You people sit there on your island, looking down your noses at the rest of us who actually live in the world. Nobody does pride better than you, ‘cept maybe the dragons, and when was the last time you saw one of them around?”

“Your characterization of Aerenal is unfair,” Yhani said. “Though as you are obviously in distress, I will not press the matter except to say that while there are some of us who think as you describe, many others do not. Whatever you may think, we are part of this world, and my family has always taken an active interest in events on Khorvaire.”

“Family,” Rinnean said. “That’s what it always comes down to with you, isn’t it? You think it’s the most important thing in the world. I get where you’re coming from, but my family? They’re not exactly a bunch I’m proud to belong to. So if I seem like I don’t take proper interest in my elven heritage or whatever you’re thinking, that’s why – my heritage isn’t something I think very well of. Keep that in mind.”

Yhani actually looked compassionate at that; somehow, that irritated Rinnean even more. “I will not pretend to imagine what that is like,” she said sadly. “But do remember that you are not the only one among us who would rather escape their past. If you ever wish to talk about it, I might not be the right audience, but perhaps someone else would be.” She held out her hand. “Now, would you like me to at try to heal your… condition?”

“No,” Rinnean said. “I’ll manage.”

Yhani shrugged. “As you wish. But if you change your mind, I will be there.” She turned and glided away, damnably graceful even on the rocking deck of the ship.

Rinnean turned his gaze back to the sea and sighed. What he’d told Yhani was true, for the most part – aside from Vaelynn, he had little love for anyone in House Thuranni. But there was a part of him that missed the excitement and glamor of life in the dragonmarked house, even if he’d promised himself he’d never go back. That part scared him more than anything else.

But maybe Yhani was right about talking with someone helping; as Rinnean stood at the rail, he found to his surprise that he was feeling better, just a little.

But he still hated the six-damned sea.

///

Irinali lay on her back in the hammock in her cabin aboard Karrn’s Glory, gaze scanning the spellbook that she held open before her, when a loud knock sounded on the door. “Whoever is there,” she said without looking up, “had better have a damned good reason for disturbing me or I promise you the consequences will be as awful as are in my power to make them.”

The door opened and the artificer, Arlan, stepped inside; Irinali sat up and regarded him suspiciously, while he did the same for her. She didn’t much care for the fact that the Queen – or at least, her lapdog – had seen fit to impose a pair of “helpers” who were almost certainly spies on her and Kharvin, and more than that, she’d always had a particular distaste for artificers. Though their creations were ubiquitous, she had always seen them as something more like smiths or carpenters than true wizards – useful to have around, to be sure, but to act as if their imbuing of wood or metal with a mockery of life was an art equal to shaping life and death themselves to do one’s bidding was absurd. And yet they acted as if they were equal – or superior – to any wizard. Arlan, who was now leaning against the wall with his arms crossed as he regarded her, looked to be a particularly obnoxious example of the breed.

“Well?” Irinali demanded. “I would like to get back to my reading, and if you have anything better to do here than stand and stare, get to it, or else I will evict you – forcibly.” She flexed the fingers of her right hand and smiled as necromantic energies played along it.

If Arlan was impressed, he didn’t show it. “Listen,” he said. “I can tell you don’t like me, and I’m not terribly fond of your kind either, necromancer, but we’re the only two wielders of the arcane arts on this ship who have any power – Saeria’s a dabbler at best. I’d like to talk with you a bit about this thing we’re after, and I’d rather do it away from interruptions – professional to professional.”

Irinali quirked an eyebrow at him. Maybe this could prove interesting after all. “There’s not much to tell, unfortunately,” she said. “I didn’t get a good look at the object in question before the damned rakshasa showed up and everything went to Khyber. It was a sword, though; set with dragonshards. As best I could make out the inscription it’s called the Key and is supposed to have the power to bind things, though I don’t know how.”

“Hmm,” Arlan said, stroking his chin. “Khyber dragonshards are useful for making bindings, whether for creatures or energies. Channeled through the sword, maybe? Stab something with it, and that something gets caught in the shards? Damn, I wish I could see it.”

“Well, it’s probably in a vault in Flamekeep by now, where it’ll be no good to anyone,” Irinali muttered. “Damn Flameites never know when to leave well enough alone, and last I saw that inquisitor and her friends had the rakshasa outnumbered. If the Church doesn’t have it, he does. What a waste.”

“Indeed,” Arlan agreed. “And so you think that another one of these things is buried in Sarlona?”

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Irinali said. “I didn’t get a very long look at the inscription, and the dialect was so old I could barely read it. But I think either another artifact of the same type, or something that is somehow linked to the sword’s purpose, at least. I’m not even entirely sure if just the sword itself is the Key, or if the whole set is. But we won’t know until we find it.”

“Was there anything else worth noticing in that vault?” Arlan asked. “Speaking from professional curiosity, of course.”

“There were these constructs,” Irinali said, shuddering at the memory. “Big iron monsters that spewed steam, shaped like dragons. Nearly wiped out the lot of us.”

That got Arlan’s attention. “Constructs?” he asked. “Like warforged?”

“More like golems,” Irinali said. “Warforged are supposed to be smart, right? These things seemed to be following set orders; I don’t think they had minds of their own.”

Arlan looked disappointed. “House Cannith based the warforged on ancient magic even they barely understand,” he said. “When you mentioned constructs, I’d hoped it might be something that could give a clue into the origins of that power. Still fascinating, in any case. You’ve given me a lot to think about.” He paused for a moment. “I’m sorry if this is rude, Mistress Irinali, but you’re not much like the other Aereni elves I’ve met.”

Irinali grinned. “That, Master Arlan,” she said, “is because if my people go one way, I try my hardest to go the opposite. Getting off that island was the best thing that ever happened to me. My path lies forward; I have no intention of looking back.”

“Then I think we’re more alike than you think,” Arlan said. “Maybe you don’t approve of my discipline, and I don’t approve of yours, but I hope we’ll be able to work together to figure out the secrets of the Key and the other relics – and cut down anyone who gets in our way.”

Irinali stood and shook his hand. “In that, at least,” she said, “we can consider ourselves agreed.”

///

This is a chapter that heavily focuses on the past, isn’t it? Len’s backstory is something I hinted at in the previous fic, and we’ll be exploring it in bits and pieces across the next few. This fic will have flashbacks to her time in the army and her meetings with Ghazaan Harsk, and, of course, Yhani. Next fic will deal more with her life before that, for reasons that will become obvious when (or if) we get there.

Rinnean and Yhani, despite being the only two elves in Len’s team, didn’t really interact that much last time; I wanted to change that here. They are radically different people in a lot of ways, not the least of which is what being elves means to them – to Yhani, that heritage is of incredible importance, while Rinnean might as well consider himself a pointy-eared human who’ll live a long time (Irinali reflects a third perspective on Aereni culture – Yhani is Aereni to the bone, Rinnean was never part of that culture to begin with, and Irinali was but actively chose to reject it). As a result, it’s not all that surprising that she’d try to reach out, and he’d have no interest in it at all. As for making one of the team severely seasick – well, I know it’s cliché, but I couldn’t resist, and since poor Rinnean was a character I wanted to develop more, he got stuck with the short straw.

Most of the information Irinali relates to Arlan in their section of the chapter is stuff the audience knows last time, but its primary purpose here is the beginning of an alliance between the necromancer and the artificer. The tension between their disparate magical disciplines isn’t going anywhere, but their shared desire for knowledge – and a certain amorality when it comes to getting it – helped bring them together for this purpose. And of course, there’s more to Arlan’s past than he’s let on, and he hasn’t always worked for the Order…

-MasterGhandalf


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