17 Calistril, 44 NC
The party is traveling through the dark for about two hours when they hear a thunderous sound echoing across the valley. Kagdir identifies it as two shots from a large Dwarven mortar, likely fired at short range somewhere in the vicinity of Giles’ estate.
About an hour later, Nimue notices that Snot has rejoined the party, and he relays the tale…somewhat…of how he rescued Giles and the company of Westergarde soldiers has been reduced and scattered.
The team continues on for several more hours and are ambushed by Sir Gregory, Billy Bones, and their team. With them are Gregory’s squire, a Dwarf who is obviously a shamed troll-slayer, and Syl also notices an archer hiding in the woods.
Billy asks the party, “What happened to Anastasia Altair?”
The party dissembles for a few moments. Billy promises they will leave in peace if the party will only answer with what they know. A Halfling grabs Sanorin and holds a knife to his throat, noting that the party seems to go to great lengths to protect him. Another halfling, the identical twin of the first, arrives with an unconscious Snot who had been a forward scout. Several more moments of awkward negotiations and dissembling continue, until finally Billy waves his hand and Syl, enchanted, replies.
“Anastasia Altair escaped the South under the care of Sebastien Bineau, Captain of the Knights Leopold and lived in the North under the name Anabelle Cirrus. She married Kironius Mengst and bore a child a year before her death during a raid on Hillcrest orchestrated by Ari Stonehand and Gareth Bryne.”
Billy and Sir Gregory both are quite stunned at this information. Syl follows up by saying that they have no idea where the son is, to which Billy says, “I know exactly where he is.” With another wave of his hand, the party vanishes. After they’re gone, Sanorin finds a hastily-scrawled note in his pocket, it says “Very sorry. You saved our mum at The Downs, I wouldn’t have hurt you. Sorry.”
After everyone recovers, they continue to the watchtower, which is a four-story stone structure of ancient Imperial origin, likely constructed by the Dwarves and designed to provide clear sight lines to detect barbarian invaders from the far North. The tower appears to be held by no fewer than nine to ten Westergarde soldiers under the command of an NCO. They have set up a latrine pit in the tower’s kill zone, and occasionally leave to gather firewood, but otherwise remain in the tower.
While Syl is scouting the area around the party’s camp, she encounters one of the halfling twins, who states she’s just keeping an eye on where the party is and what they’re doing, but her team is trying to figure out what to do with the information they have. Kagdir comes out and questions the girl, who has very little information about the tower except that they haven’t been warned of any danger.
The party relocates to the nearest point to the tower and begins to concoct a plan.
A friend told her once, “You know what’s the worst thing mercs like us can do? Form attachments. People, places, things. As soon as you start getting tied to stuff, you get slow. You hesitate. Do stupid things. Get dead quicker. Don’t let stuff in life get too close – you’ll only regret it.”
The day, or more accurately, the night – started innocuously enough. Or enough for the strange little band Syl and Sanorin had found themselves mixed with. Much to Syl’s disgruntlement, they were stumbling blind through the dark forest yet again. But as frustrated as she was that she couldn’t see a damn thing, she was grateful that they’d escaped the notice of the force besieging Giles’ estate. Even with a wizard along, she knew that their odds of breaking through the encamped soldiers weren’t good. She had no doubt she’d do some damage with the ninety-eight shots left for her sleek new rifle, but ninety-eight dead wouldn’t be enough to cut through that horde.
So Syl kept her mouth shut and just tried to keep up with the least amount of swearing she could manage.
When the lady soldier Nimue finally lit a torch, Syl sighed in relief. Stealth was fine and all, but she swore she felt a thousand unseen eyes prickling along the back of her neck in the dark. With the light, she could at least shoot or stab something if needed, and as a bonus, they made much better progress.
Then they ran into the Billy Bones’ party, and the night took a turn for the worse. Their opponents were mounted, but the forest was thick enough to mitigate that advantage. At first, they seemed to be locked in a stalemate.
And all Billy asked was, “What happened to Anastasia Altair?”
The dwarf and lady soldier hedged their responses, giving the rest of them time to prepare for the coming skirmish. Syl noted approvingly that Matten shifted toward a tree, and she was on the verge of doing the same when she spotted a glint of light from the trees. She hissed a warning, but it was too late.
A halfling girl dropped behind Sanorin and put a knife to his throat. Syl spun toward them but knew in a heartbeat that there wasn’t a damn thing she could do. If she tried to shoot, the other halfling would slit his throat. If Syl tried to charge, she’d slit his throat. Syl kept her eyes locked on the two halflings, rooted by fear even while she vibrated with anger. Part of her watched for the slightest opening – and she wouldn’t have hesitated in the slightest if that opening appeared – but the rest of her despaired that she’d have to watch Sanorin die.
Through her inner struggle, she heard the dwarf and the woman try to bring Billy to their side. They kept dancing around his questions, and then Sanorin tried to convince his captor to release him. But each attempt failed, and tensions rose. Syl’s dread and rage ratcheted higher.
Why don’t they just tell him? Syl thought viciously, anxiously.
She was on the verge of spilling the news about the heir herself when a strange sensation overtook her. The sickly churn of temper and horror vanished. In a daze, all she wanted was to do what Billy asked of her, so like lamb, she relayed everything she knew. Anything he wanted to know, she told him.
Then the befuddlement vanished, and Syl blinked slowly, her brain blank.
Sanorin’s snarled, “You keep your spells away from her!” brought reality crashing back. The wizard had bespelled her, using his will to compel her to answer. Black rage howled. Terror surged. And now mortification joined the mix. How easily she’d been overtaken!
“You got your answer,” she spat at the wizard, livid and shaken. “Take the fucking knife off his throat.”
The knight alongside Billy nodded, and the halfling took her blade away. Syl moved toward Sanorin the same instant he rushed to her. Gripping her gun tightly, she looked down at him and felt his hand at her back. She almost felt better.
“Are you alright?” he asked softly.
His immediate concern made her throat close up. At a time like that, how could we worry over her?
“I’m sorry,” was all she could whisper back.
Nerves ragged over how hideously close she’d come to failing him, Syl barely noticed the rest of the exchange between their group and the wizard’s. The mounted party withdrew, and Sanorin trotted away to check on the battered goblin their foes had returned to them. Sick and appalled, Syl stalked to the nearest tree to try and find her composure.
I was caught off guard. I was manhandled by something I don’t understand. Nothing’s changed about my mission. Repeating those thoughts, Syl desperately tried to get a grip. Sanorin couldn’t be exposed like that again.
Lost in her thoughts, it took her a minute to realize that Sanorin was trying to hand her something. Syl blinked back to the present and took the damp paper from him. The message probably should’ve been reassuring – the halfling assailant basically was telling Sanorin that she hadn’t intended to hurt him – but Syl knew that the knight or Billy could’ve just as easily ordered his death anyway.
Her anger latched onto a new thought – and during it all, while Sanorin’s life hung in the balance, their supposed companions had been willing to gamble that life without qualm. They’d fenced words with a fucking wizard who could’ve snuffed them all just to protect their little secret.
Vibrating with newly focused rage, Syl went stiff when Nimue came to her and quietly said, “We need to go.”
Knowing how black her temper could be, despite wanting to vent it on the soldier very, very badly, Syl just turned away and started down the trail. When Nimue caught up to her, she ground her teeth. The other woman looked at her with something that looked an awful lot like pity, and that only infuriated Syl more.
“Three things, Syl,” Nimue said. “One: No one else blames you. Two: You saying what you did broke the standoff, and possibly kept us from killing each other. Three: I need you focused when we reach the tower.”
Under other circumstances, Syl could’ve let those statements roll off. These weren’t those circumstances.
Syl stopped sharply and pivoted toward the soldier, jabbing a finger with a hairsbreadth of the other woman’s face. “Don’t. Just don’t,” she warned. She turned to walk away, but Nimue grabbed her arm.
“Enough!” Anger flashed in the soldier’s eyes. “That halfing spied on us for hours without us noticing anything. Probably with the help of illusions…”
The second Nimue touched her, Syl’s control snapped. She shook the hand off and let venom flow. “And yet you just stood there and … argued! … while she held a knife to Sanorin’s throat!”
“Of course I did,” Nimue fired back. “Had I tried anything aggressive, she might have cut his throat. They had the upper hand.”
Reason was long gone. Syl fumed, “If he hadn’t…” She fumbled the words, humiliate again by how easily Billy had controlled her. Embarrassed, she snarled the rest, “I would’ve told him myself. Damn you! If it’d been me, fine. But not him!”
Nimue kept trying. “We didn’t notice her spying on us for hours. We didn’t notice her sneaking up on us. So next time, we have to do better.”
“There better not be a next time,” Syl growled. She’d make sure of that! “Now leave me the hell alone.”
“If you let this affect you now, and something happens to him, or someone else, because you are unhappy about what happened back there, it’ll be on you.” Frustrated, Nimue sighed. “Syl, look at me. Look at this group. What do you see?”
Sanorin slipped up to Syl’s side and laid a hand on her arm. She recognized the reassurance and the empathy in his eyes. He was the only one who could understand; who knew her well enough to understand. Syl gently covered his hand with hers, but when she looked back at Nimue, her gaze stayed dark.
“I need you to be at your best,” the soldier continued, “to keep this rather odd group alive.”
Wounded pride – the wounds entirely of her own doing – brought Syl’s chin up. “I -am- the best, and I’ll keep Sanorin alive. With or without your help.”
“Then keep in mind that my job is to keep all of this group alive. Not just Sanorin.”
At that point, Syl no longer cared. Her last words were bitten off. “Then go worry about them. And. Leave. Me. Alone.”
To her relief, Nimue shook her head and finally went away.
So, we continued towards the tower, without Starry Night, who stayed behind, in an attempt to get a message to the baron. And left us to make our stumbling way through the forest, in the middle of the night. I am starting to suspect our first casualty will be someone tripping over a root and breaking his or her neck.
We had been walking for a couple of hours, I think, when we heard something that sounded like thunder. It wasn’t, though. It was the sound of artillery fire, and it came from the direction of the keep. The soldiers we’d seen camped outside the keep had not had any visible artillery with them, and I think we would have noticed had any headed in that direction.
Though curious, we ended up continuing on our way towards the tower. And at some point, I found that Starry Night was walking next to me. He’s quiet and sneaky. I’m glad he is on our side. Though getting information out of him is sometimes difficult; he seems to think in a very different way from me. But from what I could piece together, he had seen Billy and a couple of others, among them someone named Gregory, headed towards the tower. So most likely, they would be aware of our approach before we got there.
Also, it seems Starry Night somehow managed to free the baron, and it was the baron himself who fired the artillery shells on the surrounding soldiers. So, thanks to a goblin, we managed to report in to the baron after all. Ah, who am I kidding; the goblin did that. So far, he has probably been the most useful of this group.
We continued towards the tower; this time, we sent Starry Night ahead, to scout, and warn us if anyone was close. With him ahead of us, we risked a torch.
It didn’t work so well. We were getting close to the tower, when we walked straight into Billy and a group of other people; Sir Gregory, what was probably his page, and a dwarf troll slayer who seemed to be spoiling for a fight, though I suppose him being a troll slayer, the spoiling for a fight part is redundant.
What we had said earlier must really have gotten to Billy, because pretty much the first thing he said was: “What happened to Anastasia Altair?” We were stalling, trying to avoid answering. And then, of course, things got worse.
One of the halflings we knew were a part of this group had snuck up on us, and grabbed our own halfling, Sanorin, as a hostage. Billy and his companion kept demanding an answer, but I, at least, was worried that when they got their answer, they would kill us and take the knowledge back to our enemies. Had it been Billy alone, I might have given him what he wanted, but the other man seemed less likely to actually let it sway him to our side.
And then Syl started telling them what they wanted. Not that I blame her; she was clearly under the influence of magic. But in a way, it was a relief. The stale mate was broken. They released Sanorin and went on their way, leaving an unconscious, or perhaps sleeping, Starry Night behind.
Syl went off on her own, a little bit away from the rest of us. I was pretty certain she blamed herself for not being able to prevent what happened to Sanorin; the halfling seemed to be her sole focus. Her being angry with herself would not help. Worse, she might also blame the rest of us, maybe Starry Night for not warning us, maybe me for carrying the torch making it easier to spot us, maybe Kagdir for not being able to avoid the ambush. It might not always be logical, but logic doesn’t usually apply when emotions are involved.
Part of is, I assume, was the rage of the helpless. The fury that follows a situation you cannot control, where someone else might suffer the consequences of a perceived mistake you’ve made, real or not, and you cannot do anything to prevent it.
Some of it was probably also the ease with which they had gotten their information from her. Another kind of helplessness, where others control what you do.
And she was, and this I know, for she said as much, furious because we had just stood there and argued. She probably thought we should have given up the information instantly. The problem with that was that had we done so, there would be no reason for them to let us live. They said they would, but we had no idea if we could trust their word.
They did leave after they had gotten their information, without harming any of us, which means that we just might have some, if not allies, then perhaps less than enemies on the other side.
As for Syl, while she is a valuable asset in a fight, that also makes her a dangerous one; she will choose her actions based on the halfling’s safety, if necessary at the cost of the rest of the group. A pity; I had hoped she could be a great asset to us, but if I cannot trust her, well…