21 Barrakas, 998 YK
Sar, 11:26 AM
“Go through them!” Failin cried, juking a thumb over his shoulder at the party. Well played, Bex thought with a crooked smirk. That’ll help us draw their attention away from you. The first bugbear to advance snarled as it brought its greataxe around the corner of the building and down on the older man’s shoulder, critically injuring Failin with a single swing.
“No one cheats the Marguul, Orien scum!” it declared with a vicious grin.
Rocky advanced past Failin and the changeling, engaging a second bugbear. He extended his sword arm in a hooking motion intended to pull the brute closer. The goblinoid avoided the maneuver, but was game to advance on the warforged anyway. It eschewed the greataxe slung across its back for a length of sharpened wire attached to two wooden handles, looping one edge around Rocky’s thick neck and squeezing tight. Though he had no airflow to cut off, the wire began to dig into the wood and metal connecting his head to his torso, and the bugbear yanked the warforged in front of him to serve as a body shield.
More concerned about their ride than the doughty warden, Bex shouted, “Failin, get back!” She stepped up to the zealous bugbear and gave him a glimpse of her true face, a trick that often gave enemies pause. This opponent was no exception and she brought her carver’s claw in from the side, plunging deep and certain that she’d at least nicked a lung. With a grin, she activated the blade’s killing enchantment, and magical darkness began to devour the bugbear from the inside. It coughed once in pain, and blood flecked its thick yellow lips. Tough son of a bitch, Bex thought, but he’s going to fall all the same.
Relic cast a spell that freed Rocky from the strangler, then another that sent the bugbear wandering back down the alley from which it had come. A second axe-wielder charged in to flank the warden and cut him deep. “Kill them all!” it cried, and the final zealot approached. Rocky had apparently had enough, for the bugbear’s axe crashed down on his upraised shield.
“Blast it all,” Arturo grumbled as he shoved his way forward and tossed a curative admixture at Failin. The older man nodded his gratitude as the medicinal chemicals began to knit his wound. The tiefling then launched a firemetal shot from his crossbow at Bex’s victim. The bolt struck true and fire flared from the hole it tore in his flesh. Then Rickard cursed the beast and lashed out with his own magic, and Failin took the opportunity presented by the bugbear’s distraction to call upon his own magic to teleport away from the fray and on top of a nearby roof. That came as a bit of a surprise to the changeling.
The heavily injured bugbear burned from the inside, but fought on, gritting its teeth as it turned its hate-filled gaze upon Rocky and sliced him on the move – away from Bex. The warforged took the hit in stride, and reached out to retaliate. The other two bugbears hacked at him with their axes even as he dropped their compatriot. Though heavily damaged, he relied upon his warforged resolve to stay on his feet a moment longer and did his all to keep the goblinoids focused on him.
Shaking off Relic’s enchantment, the strangler charged back into combat, unlimbering its greataxe as it rushed at Bex and slashed down and across the changeling. That hurt! She circled around the bugbear and stuck her knife in its back. It spun around and spoiled her second stab, catching her thrust on the haft of its weapon, snarling at the rogue.
“Your turn, Jester!” she heard Relic cry as the dragonling materialized and soared above everyone in the alley to breathe burning death down upon the bugbears engaged with his fellow warforged. They recoiled from the flames, pain and anger warring on their features. Thinking to get away from further magical strikes, they slipped into a flank on Rocky and brought him down in a hail of axe-work. Rather than howl their victory, they turned cold gazes upon the rest of the party.
Arturo pronounced a healing word on the fallen warden, then sang a discordant note at the strangler powered by a bardic curse. Rickard snarled his own curse at the same target, blinding the bugbear. It cast about unseeing and seeming to reconsider the fight. After a moment, it shook its head stubbornly and shouted, “Kill the wizards!”
Rocky was powering up behind the changeling, and his primal magic freed him from the pincer of the bugbears. Bex had little attention to spare for that as the blind bugbear tried to orient on her and crush her beneath its greataxe. She easily evaded the powerful but clumsy slash, then made a swift end of him by laying open the strangler’s throat. Even before its body hit the dirt of the alley, she sprang past Rocky and beside one of the remaining bugbears. The pair seemed to have different attitudes about how the fight was going: one looked angry and ready to continue, but the rogue saw doubt in its partner’s face.
“You really are alone now,” Relic said to the angry one. “You know that, right?” Then the nervous bugbear turned on its companion, as Bex had seen so many enemies do when Relic worked his mind-magic. The blade cut deep and the changeling saw the panic in the attacker’s face as it attacked against its will.
The angry bugbear shoved its addled partner, then took a step toward Rocky, hammering the warden with its axe again. The other goblinoid threw down its axe and shifted away from the combat, hands up in surrender. “It wasn’t my money. It was hers!” it said, gesturing at the fallen strangler. It ignored its companion’s curses and eyed Bex nervously. He has no fight left in him, she thought, but what will my companions choose to do about it?
“How ye holdin’ up, Rocky?” Arturo called.
“Bit above the board,” came the answer. The tiefling nodded and raised his crossbow, just missing the warden’s opponent. With a shrug, he reloaded and trilled a majestic word upon the warforged.
“Hey, I’m hurt too!” Bex complained. Mostly it was an excuse to tease Arturo, as Rocky was still the one standing in harm’s way. Rickard cursed the aggro mob and the magic struck hard, then bounced to the bugbear that had surrendered. “Hey! I gave up!” it cried. Its eyes grew larger as Rocky took a step nearer to it, pulling it back into melee with a thorn strike. That answers that question. It isn’t like Rocky to attack an unarmed opponent who’s already surrendered… “Guards! Help!” the bugbear shouted as the attacks continued.
The changeling made an end of its partner, then pointed her bloody knife at the survivor. “Run,” she said, hoping she sounded fierce. “Tell the Marguul to leave Failin alone.”
Bex crouched down to rifle through the pockets of the nearest bugbear. She found little enough coin there – disappointing, if not surprising. Traveler’s tears, no wonder they were shaking Failin down. Failin approached and said, “Don’t see guards. Yet. People stirring in the market. We should go.” He continued down the alley to the west, looking back to see if the Cyrans were following.
“I agree. Just need a second here,” she said.
“Hm. May not have it. But as you wish.”
She and Rocky searched the three bodies efficiently. The warden looked up and said, “Should we report this incident to the local authorities? These men did attack us, but it seems unjust to simply leave their corpses in the street.”
“S’what they woulda done to us,” Bex said indifferently.
“A fair and sad point that should not speak to our character,” said Rocky.
“Still, mebbe we better t’ just make ourselves scarce,” Arturo opined.
“I see the wisdom of that choice, sickening though it feels,” said the warforged grudgingly. Bex respected the lofty values of her companions, though she didn’t share them. The warforged’s rhetoric made little sense to her, especially given how the fight ended, but this wasn’t the time to ask him about it.
Failin led them along a winding way through Rhukaan Draal’s streets in some haste. They came to a large stone outcropping in a secluded area not far from the Bloody Market. He rolled up his right sleeve to expose a dragonmark, touched the birthmark to the stone, and muttered a word in Draconic. Then he stepped back as the stone rumbled, and a strange covered wagon emerged from the rock wall. The four-wheeled vehicle had a canvas cover that enclosed a large rear compartment, while an open bay at the front featured a bench and foot well. The wagon appeared to be made of wood, but an undulating pattern of constantly shifting rock, gem, and crystalline structures seemed to overlay the wagon’s wooden frame.
“My land cart,” Failin said simply. “Earth elemental powered. Get in. Time’s short. Long road ahead.”
Bex tried to whistle appreciatively, but she could never make the sound, no matter what face she wore. “Very nice.”
“I’ve not seen one of these in some time,” Rocky said.
Relic climbed in with Jester still hovering. “Oh,” said the wizard, “and Failin… You’re welcome.”
The older man grunted and said. “That reminds me. Cash up front.” He turned to Arturo and said, “For the healing, you ride free.”
“Much obliged,” Art said with a grin, reaching into the magic sack provided by their patron and retrieving the owed amount.
Failin fitted the land cart with various banners of safe passage, explaining that the trip would take about three and a half days. Rose Quarry was once a Cyran frontier town, but now it lay within Darguun, north of the ruins of Lyrenton, off the Orien trade road and within sight of the wall of dead-gray mist that separated the goblin nation from the Mournland. Once they’d all loaded into the cart, the trip to Rose Quarry began. The elemental bound to the land cart rumbled with a sound like Eberron itself stirring from an ancient sleep. The wheels slid partially into the earth, and then the land cart slid along without regard to broken ground or other natural obstacles.
“Interesting magic, this cart,” Relic observed. “Seems Cannith isn’t the only House that has a knack for artificing.”
“So, yer not just Orien,” Art tells Failin, “But yer marked Orien.”
The older man snorted. “Marked, anyway.”
“Not part of the House, as it were?” Bex asked.
Failin didn’t look back, but from the side, the changeling could see his expression was wry. “We had a disagreement. They went a different direction. Gave me my walking papers.” He paused a moment before continuing. “Lucky, really. Old days, they would have…cut the Mark out.”
“You should have seen what they did to their Warforged creations that fell out of favor with them,” Relic observed.
“It is better not to think of such things, as one thinks not of the carnage of war during times of peace,” Rocky said.
Failin nodded at the sentiment. “Agreed. Elaydrin is kind. Still talks to me. Sends me business. Shouldn’t. But does.”
“She’s been good to us, too,” Bex said, hoping once again that Elaydren had safely made it out of Sharn .
“Rose Quarry,” he muttered as the cart picked up speed. “What do you know about it?”
“Not enough,” Arturo said. “Can’t be enough.”
The excoriate grunted again. “Little enough. Yes. Rose Quarry is – was – a village. Belonged to Cyre pre-war. Now within Darguul territory. Established by House Cannith prospectors. They found red marble. A massive vein. Cannith architecture is everywhere – Sharn, Flamekeep, Korth, Rhukaan Draal even. Some structures might contain the Rose marble. Half the red stone in Khorvaire is from the quarry.”
“Not sure what we’re supposed to find there, exactly,” Bex admitted. “But once we find it, we’re supposed to go into Cyre-That-Was. That’s the part that’s…worrisome.”
Failin went very still. “I see. Rose Quarry first. See what we see. Then decide. Yes.”
“It’s all we’ve had time to figure out,” she sighed. “We left Sharn in a bit of a hurry.” Making things up as she went along was Bex’s way – always had been – but she had so little to go on, here…
“We are going home, Bex,” said Relic. “Don’t you still wish to be there again? I know it’s…different now. But I still want to go.”
The changeling’s eyebrows knitted up. I know you mean well, Rel, but it’s not our home. We don’t have a home anymore. Rather than say so, she said, “It’s the danger that scares me, Relic. Ghosts, and…whatever else is there. So many different things we’ve heard about Cyre-That-Was…and no way to know what’s true and what’s not.” The words sounded strange to her own ears, coming from a woman whose life made so little distinction between truths and falsehoods, but they sounded strange all the same.
“I don’t know,” said the wizard. “It doesn’t bother me. I guess it feels like if we go there then we can fight for Cyre once again. Also, I would like to learn if any of my brothers survived.”
He’s like a child, really. Would you tell a child that the Lady of Mirrors isn’t real? And these warforged are built to last; maybe some of his brothers DID survive. Bex nodded, then winked at Relic. “I know, I know. I’ll just have to put on a braver face when the time comes.”
The warforged smiled. “A braver face… I wonder who that will be.”
She cast a nervous glance at Failin, but the man wasn’t paying any attention. Revealing herself to Elaydren had been risky enough; Failin didn’t need to know Bex’s true nature. But she’d been Rebexa for days, and it was time for a change. “We’ll see what the wind brings,” the changeling assured him.
I only hope that any of Relic’s surviving brothers haven’t fallen in with the Lord of Blades.
. . .
24 Barrakas, 998 YK
Zol, 8:14 PM
Twilight descended on Darguun as the land cart closed on Rose Quarry. The wall of dead-gray mist that formed the border of the Mournland could be seen in the distance. The sight seemed to make Failin nervous and sad at the same time. As the land cart crested a small rise in the land, he doused his light and asked, “Were you expecting company?”
A vast plateau bounded to the west by a narrow canyon stretched before them. The quarry extended for at least a mile, and the nearby village spread across the plateau – at least, what was left of it. Anything made of wood had burned to cinders, leaving a handful of stone facades, rock foundations, and chimneys behind. Though warm weather surrounded them, the ruined village appeared to be covered in a layer of ice that glittered in the light of the rising moons.
Another source of light glowed in the southern part of the village, a fire glowing in a large pit surrounded by four large tents. Figures moved around the makeshift campsite. In the stillness, Bex heard a periodic ringing sound, like that of a pick striking stone or ice. The sound seemed to come from the north end of the village, but she couldn’t see any apparent cause.
Focusing on the camp, the changeling saw almost twenty horses, two covered wagons, and seven human-sized figures. The shapes appeared to be wearing helmets with a distinctive half-faceplate design and chainmail armor, judging by how the firelight reflected off their gear. None of the figures appeared to be maintaining a watch. Almost hidden by the gloom of oncoming night, she spotted a pair of skeletons standing near one of the tents, silent sentries for the camp.
“That can’t be good,” she muttered.
“Must be organized. Not mercenaries, I’d wager,” Rocky suggested.
“Anyone recognize those helmets?” Bex wanted to know.
“I do,” Arturo grumbled. “They’re Order of th’ Emerald Claw.”