So it turns out we did a lot more during my first ever dungeons and dragons style roll playing session than I initially thought and so I’ve had to divide our adventures up into a number of posts. If you haven’t read the first part yet click here and do so before reading on or you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.
Ok, just to set the scene, two Fridays ago now me and a few friends sat down to play 13th Age, a high fantasy dice based roll playing game. I decided to play as a dwarf war cleric named Balgan Stormcleaver, while my friends took on the rolls of highly charismatic human bard Toka Fatwib, and the living knotwork-clockwork Asgardian construct Dagmar. When we left our heroes they had just agreed to take on a quest to investigate a mysterious floating island. Here’s what happened next.
The Crusader’s Army
Balgan shaded his vision against the bright morning light and squinted up at the ship before him. His eyes ached and it seemed as though an anvil was being hammered somewhere deep inside his head. Nothing reminded him that he was no longer a young dwarf more than a hard nights drinking. He could remember a time, back when he had been a mere one hundred and twenty years old, when he would drink heavily every night of the week and still be up at the crack of dawn to fight back orc incursions all day long. Even at two hundred and fifty a late night drinking session would leave him no worse for wear. But now, pushing three hundred and with a snow white beard that reached below his waist, drinking as he had last night left him feeling decidedly, what was the term the humans used, hungover.
Much of the previous day following the Bishop’s departure from The Supports tavern was a fragmented blur. He could recall engaging in a drinking competition with Dagmar and being impressed that the knotwork-clockwork construct had been able to keep up with him drink for drink. Even the human had kept pace for a while, but then he had become distracted by a group of ladies and had wandered off blowing that strange instrument of his. The last Balgan remembered seeing him he had been heading out into the night with a somewhat inebriated woman on each arm. After that he remembered more drinking, some singing, Dagmar curling up under a table to go to sleep, and then more drinking. And not much more after that.
He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see Dagmar weaving her way up the dock. She was still dressed in her hooded cloak but also now had a large leather bag slung across her shoulders and was carrying the sack containing Balgan’s armour in her right hand. She walked up without saying a word and came to an unsteady halt beside him.
“It appears that my internal gyroscope is not functioning correctly this morning, that or this entire realm has shifted several degrees to the left during the night.”
“Ay lass, I’m feeling like that myself.”
Dagmar looked at him inquisitively.
“You have an internal gyroscope?”
“Here, let me take my armour from you.”
Dagmar handed over the sack.
“I think you will find everything in order, I even took the liberty of making a few repairs.”
Balgan pulled open the ties at the top of the sack and glanced inside. His armour shone like new, reflecting the sunlight into his eyes and causing the blacksmith in his head to hammer the anvil all the harder. Balgan retied the sack and swung it over his shoulder.
“You did a grand job lass, I thank you.”
“Of course I did.” replied Dagmar.
“Greetings fellow adventurers,” came a voice that was far too loud and far too cheerful for Balgan’s liking, “and how are you all fairing this fine morning.”
Balgan glared at Toka in annoyance. The bard was dressed in a tight mustard coloured leather top, with gold trimmed cuffs and a black collar. He also wore tight black trousers, riding boots, had a bulging leather satchel resting against one hip and his thin bladed sword on the other. And of course he had his bronze musical instrument hanging down across his chest from a strap around his neck. Balgan snorted.
“How are you so cheerful this morning? Is your head not hammering like a dwarven mine?”
Toka smiled and reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver flask, twisted off the top with his thumb and took a long pull of its contents.
“Hair of the dog my bearded friend, hair of the dog.”
Toka returned the flask to his pocket and swung and arm around Dagmar’s shoulders.
“Right, what say you, me, and Cogs here get on board and out to sea? It seems that I may have accidentally seduced a couple of married women last night and I am keen to get under way before their husbands realise that I climbed out of the rear window of the boarding house they are currently camped out front of.”
With Dagmar glaring at him out the corner of her eye Toka ushered both her and Balgan up the boarding ramp and onto the small, single mast ship. No sooner had their feet touched the deck than the door leading to the ships cabins opened and a tiny figure emerged. He stood a good foot shorter than Balgan, and was dressed in a dark blue over coat with matching trousers, over which he wore an oil stained leather apron. A pair of ornate, multi lensed goggles sat on his forehead, the strap hooked behind his pointed ears, and he had a sharply pointed, jet black goatee beard.
The gnome came hurrying over, rubbing filthy looking hands down the front of his apron as he did so.
“Hello, greetings, good morning. Welcome aboard the Golden Dawn, I’m Captain Cael and you must be my passengers. Very pleased to meet you, yes very pleased indeed.”
Dagmar blinked rapidly several times. She then lent conspiratorially towards Toka.
“Did you understand a word he just said?” she whispered.
“Let me handle this one Cogs.”
Toka stepped forward and lent into an elaborate bow.
“Greetings Captain Cael, it is an honour to be aboard your wonderful ship. We are indeed your passengers and are very much looking forward to sailing with you. I am Toka Fatwib, currently serving as interim choirmaster at the College of Novices here in Santa Cora, but then I am sure you have heard of me. My stocky companion here is Balgan Stormcleaver, hero of the Battle of Anvil and Battlemaster at the Brightmantle Academy. And last, but by no means least, allow me to introduce my metallic compatriot, Lady Dagmar of Asgard, our very own knotwork-clockwork cleric.”
“Oh my.” said Captain Cael taking a step towards Dagmar.
He pulled his goggles down over his eyes, adjusted a few of the lenses, and starred at Dagmar with unabashed interest.
“Well strain my spanners, you madam are a thing of exceptional beauty. The combination of clockwork mechanisms and the binding of magical energies through the use of knotted cord is quite fascinating. I wonder, would you be willing to come back to my cabin so that I may examine your technology in further detail?”
Dagmar blinked again.
“I’m still not getting anything he is saying, it just seems to be noise and flapping lips. Is he speaking to me?” she whispered.
“It seems the Captain has taken rather shine to you.” Toka informed her helpfully. “He would very much like to take you to his cabin in order to investigate your mechanisms, the bounder.”
The Captain nodded enthusiastically.
“Yes, very much so, I…wait…no…that’s not…I think….not in the way he is implying.”
Dagmar glared at the Captain and he took a nervous step backwards.
“No,” said Dagmar, “I’m still not understanding a word.”
“Perhaps,” Balgan said stepping in, “the Captain could show us to our cabins. I for one could do with sleeping away as much of the day as possible.”
“Yes, yes, of course, this way, your cabins are waiting.” the Captain said as he rubbed the back of his hand across his now sweat soaked brow.
Dagmar and Balgan followed the Captain towards the door leading to the inside of the ship while Toka wandered over to the rail and looked out to sea.
“You two go on without me, I slept perfectly well last night between the bosoms of two lovely, if somewhat chubby, farmer’s wives and thus feel wonderfully refreshed.”
The Captain opened the door and ushered the two hungover members of the group inside.
“Oh Dagmar,” Toka yelled after them, “be sure to check for holes in your wall. I get the feeling our Captain may be something of a peeping tom.”
“I…well…I…no…I assure you madam…I…I am no such thing.” the Captain spluttered.
Dagmar looked down at him.
“I really don’t think he’s from around here.” she said.
The journey from Santa Cora to Proudfort passed uneventfully, and with fair winds behind them they made good speed. The three passengers were surprised to find that Captain Cael was the only member of the Golden Dawn’s crew, and that the entire vessel was automated, Cael pulling levers and turning dials to raise and lower the sails and set their course. Once at Proudfort they easily procured horses and supplies thanks to writs of authority provided by the Bishop and left for them with Captain Cael. Balgan attempted to convince the others that they would be better off walking, but he was overruled and so reluctantly and with much cursing mounted a sturdy looking bay pony. As such by the second hour after noon they were heading west out of Proudfort in the direction of the Sea Wall.
They rode west for almost an hour at which point the road turned south to run parallel with the thus far unseen Sea Wall. A few hours later they emerged from the edge of the Blood Wood and got their first view of their destination.
“Well,” exclaimed Toka, “there’s a sight if ever I saw one.”
Probably another hours ride away and stretching as far as they could see in either direction, the vast and ancient Sea Wall dominated the vista ahead. Constructed in a different age and by means long forgotten, the Sea Wall served as the Empire’s first line of defence against the colossal and monstrous creatures that on occasion emerged from the Iron Sea to wreak havoc on the cities and towns along the coast. The wall was around forty feet high and by all appearances, due to the lack of any visible seams, constructed from a single massive piece of white marble. And at this moment, right in the centre of their field of vision, there was a huge black rocked island embedded in the top of it.
The island was probably no bigger than a fair sized town, roughly a mile across by two miles long and standing a similar height to that of the Sea Wall itself. The upper parts of it appeared to be lost within a bank of clouds or a thick mist, as they seemed to fade from view the higher up you looked. In truth however, the upper portions of the island simply did not exist within this particular realm of reality, the lower parts only made manifest by their continued contact with the Sea Well. And yet despite their monumental nature it was not these structures that were the primary focus of the three travellers’ attention.
“That is a lot of soldiers.” said Dagmar.
“Ay, I’ve seen bigger armies, but not many, that’s the truth.” said Balgan letting out a low whistle.
Starting at a point probably half a miles distance from their current location and stretching all the way across the open plain to the Sea Wall were hundreds upon hundreds of neatly aligned blood red tents, and swarming around them, like ants when their nest is disturbed, were tens of thousands of soldiers. Above all this, held in place by thick iron chains, were dozens of vast airships, armoured transports that usually travelled the demon winds that flowed only between hell holes. Magics of great power would have been required to divert even one of these crafts from their normal routes, and at least forty such ships were visible from where they stood. The forces of the Crusader had indeed descended upon the area around the island, and had done so like a force of nature.
“How in the name of the high gods are we meant to get past all that to reach the island?” Toka said in hushed tones.
“I don’t know,” replied Dagmar, “but we have to.”
Toka turned to her.
“And why is that exactly? Why do we have to?”
Dagmar looked at the bard in confusion.
“Because we said we would.” she said simply.
Balgan chuckled as Toka stared at Dagmar in apparent shock.
“Look,” he said finally, “I know we all agreed to this, in fact if I remember rightly I was the first to volunteer for this mission, quest, thing. But this is ridiculous. There is literally an army between us and where we need to be, an army that, may I remind you, usually spends its time fighting the forces of hell itself. We should get out of here as soon as possible.”
Now it was Dagmar’s turn to look shocked.
“Are you suggesting we go back on our word?” she demanded. “Because I for one will not do that, regardless of who or what stands in our way.”
Toka held up his hands in a calming gesture.
“No, I’m not suggesting that at all. For a start I’ve already spent most of the advance the Bishop gave me and I am pretty sure last night’s bar tab would land us all in debtors prison for decades if we were asked to pay it. So no, I’m not suggesting we go back on our word, just that, maybe, we find a different way of completing our mission, quest, thing that doesn’t involve tangling with the most deadly army in the Empire.”
Balgan rolled his shoulders and hefted Doom Claw into a ready position.
“That’s a grand idea lad, I hope you can come up that plan sharpish, because I think we’ve been spotted.”
Toka and Dagmar turned in the direction Balgan indicated. Moving towards them at a rapid pace were a dozen heavily armed figures, all dressed in the blood red uniforms of the Crusader’s forces. As they grew closer they could make out the array of vicious and scarily effective looking weaponry they carried, as well as the black shields baring the blooded red fist that was the symbol of the Crusader, a symbol that caused demons to run in fear.
“Well,” said Toka, “we’re dead. Must say it was nice knowing you both, maybe we can meet up for drinks in the afterlife.”
A look of concern suddenly crossed his face.
“They do have taverns in the afterlife, right?” he asked.
Balgan smiled, his eyes never leaving the approaching troops.
“They do in the dwarven afterlife, I shall save you a seat lad.”
Toka opened his mouth to reply but all at once the Crusader’s troops were upon then, spreading out to surround them in a display of perfect military efficiency. Once the circle was complete and escape was impossible the leader of the patrol, a large battle scarred orc with a missing lower canine, stepped forward and waved a large axe in their direction.
“Who are you, and why are you trespassing in the Crusader’s camp?”
For once Toka was at a loss for words, and Dagmar wasn’t completely sure if the question had been addressed to her. As such it was Balgan, who seemed completely unconcerned by the arrival of the soldiers, who answered.
“We’ve come to get inside your rock lad, so if you and your toy soldiers would kindly move we’ll be on our way. Go on, shoo.”
The orc starred at Balgan for a moment, blinking slowly.
“What did you just say?” he said with growing anger. “You can’t talk to me like that, I’m gonna rip your fat head off you stinking runt. Men…”
“Wait!” yelled Toka. “Wait a moment, you are about to make a massive mistake. Believe me, if you kill us you will be in a far worse off condition that we will be.”
The orc, his teeth bared, turned and looked at the bard.
“What do you mean? Speak quickly, and know that if I don’t like what you have to say I will kill you all, starting with him.” The orc thrust his axe in Balgan’s direction.
“Completely acceptable.” nodded Toka. “But please ignore my bearded friend, he is old, and his mental faculties are failing him, and I believe he may have stuck his head on the ride here.”
Balgan shot Toka a withering look. The bard continued.
“We have indeed come to get inside the, um, aforementioned rock. But we have come to do so at the Crusader’s request.”
The orc studies Toka for a moment, then ran his gaze quickly over the other two.
“You have?” he asked slowly.
“Indeed we have. You see we are, ah, specialists. We are experts at gaining access to…rocks.”
Both Dagmar and Balgan exchanged a quick look.
“So if you would kindly escort us to the Crusader,” Toka continued, “then we can put all this confusion behind us and we won’t have to tell the Crusader that you almost killed his guests.”
The orc’s eyes closed slightly and grew suddenly suspicious.
“The Crusader isn’t here, he is still at the First Triumph. If he really invited you here then you should know that.”
“Well I can see why you’re in charge of this little group, you are most definitely the brains of the outfit. Of course the Crusader is not here, do you think we do not know that. When I asked you to take us to him I simply meant for you take us to whomever is in charge of his forces in this area. After all the discipline of the Crusader’s army is well known, legendary in fact, and as such to talk to one of his generals is to pretty much talk to the man himself, so diligently do they follow his commands.”
The orc seemed to mull this over for a moment and then, much to the surprise of the others, he seemed to accept Toka’s argument.
“Come, I will take you to Commander Dimitrovic, she is in charge here. But if you try to run know that I will cut you down and leave your bodies to the rats.”
“As is to be expected. Please, lead on, I am sure the Commander is anxious to see us.”
Then, without another word, Toka slipped down from the back of his horse and, with head held high and no outward signs of concern, started slowly walking towards the Crusader’s camp. The orc looked somewhat befuddled for a moment, and then simply fell in beside him. Dagmar and Balgan exchanged another look and Balgan shrugged.
“I think we should follow the lad.” He said, “He actually seems to know what he’s doing.”
They both dismounted and followed the bard and the orc, with the rest of the patrol forming up on either side of them, providing them both with a protective escort, and making sure there was no way they could make a run for it.
It took almost half an hour to reach the Commander’s tent, and Balgan spent most of it looking around him in wonder. The Crusader’s camp was unlike any military camp he had ever been in. The level of military efficiency on display was staggering. The tents were aligned so perfectly that it was possible to see from one end of the camp to the other simply by looking down the gaps between the rows. The camp was noisy, as all military camps are, but here all the sounds were those of soldiers going about their duty. There was no laughter, no idol chit chat. Soldiers who were not on duty sat in silence, polishing and maintaining their equipment or preparing meals. And most surprising of all, there were no camp followers. Every army Balgan had ever been a part of, be it dwarf, human or one of the many other races he had provided his services to over the centuries, had been trailed by a large group of civilians that often exceeded the soldiers themselves in number. These groups were mainly made up of the soldiers’ families, who often preferred to follow their men into war than stay at home, as well as merchants and craftsmen who sold their wares and services to the fighting men. There were also those who offered other entertainments, gambling dens, prostitutes, pedallers of illicit substances. Indeed, anyone who thought they could make money from the violence and blood of war would pack up their things and trail behind the army where ever it went. But there was none of that here. Of the many different races and nationalities present every last one was a soldier. The whole thing sent a shiver down Balgan’s spine. He hated to think of the kind of threats and punishments required to maintain this unnatural level of discipline.
Commander Dimitrovic’s tent was located at what none of them doubted was the exact centre of the camp. The tent was made of the same red material as all those that surrounded it and carried none of the adornments or embellishments usually associated with a commanding officers tent. The only difference was in size, with Commander Dimitrovic’s tent being five times the size of the six man tents used by the common soldiers.
“Wait here.” order the orc.
“Of course. Ah, I don’t suppose someone will be bringing us refreshments?”
The orc glared back at him, baring his teeth.
“Didn’t think so.” responded Toka with a nonchalant shrug, before reaching into his pocket, drawing out his flask and taking a quick drink.
The orc approached the large tent, saluted one of the guards and then quickly relayed his message. The guard nodded, there was more saluting, and then the guard disappeared inside the tent. Moments later a tall, striking human woman emerged from the tent and stalked, her movements were far too predatory for mere walking, towards them. She looked too young to be in charge of such a large force, probably no older than twenty-seven at the most, but the set of her jaw and the pure glacial coldness of her eyes immediately belayed any doubt they had in her authority. She was dressed in a red leather and mail vest and matching red leather trousers, over which she wore a long, high necked leather duster, also red, which she was in the process of buttoning up, shoulder to shoulder, as she left the tent. Above all this she had on a tall, wide peaked black hat that bore the symbol of the blooded fist in the centre. If all this was not intimidating enough, the vicious looking double handed warhammer/pick slung across her back more than completed the look.
She came to a halt a couple of feet in front of them, her body tense and solid, almost vibrating with violent potential. Toka swallowed a lump that had suddenly appeared in this throat. He was suddenly reminded of the time he had encountered an imprisoned raksasha, only this time there were no bars between him and the ferocious beast.
“I am Commander Katherina Dimitrovic,” she said, her common tongue carrying the heavy accent of someone born in the Frost Range, north of Moonwreck. “My men tell me that you say you are here at the behest of the Crusader himself. And yet I know nothing about it. I find this most confusing. It seems that either the Crusader forgot to inform me that you were coming, which I find highly unlikely, or you are lying, which I find incredibly foolish.”
She took another step forward and locked her eyes on Toka.
“So which is it? Is the Crusader forgetful, or are you fools?”
Toka swallowed again.
“It does appear that there may be some confusion here, though I assure you it is not on the part of either the Crusader or your good self.”
Dimitrovic’s eyes narrowed.
“Go on.” she said softly.
“We have been sent to render our assistance to the Crusader in his current endeavour. I apologise if anything I said led your man here to believe that the Crusader himself requested our presence, that is certainly not the case and not at all the message I meant to convey.”
“Interesting,” Dimitrovic said, her eyes now little more than slits, “so you are saying that this soldier,” she pointed a long finger at the orc, “failed in his duty to accurately relay information to his commanding officer?”
Toka glanced over at the orc who suddenly looked decidedly alarmed.
“Well I’m not sure I would put it quite like that.”
“I would.” Dimitrovic cut in.
“Well if you believe that to be the case then, yes, maybe he somewhat partially failed to accurately pass on what I said. But we are here now, and that is all that matters.”
Dimitrovic eyed him for a moment and then broke into a broad smile that displayed an alarming number of teeth. Toka had to stop himself from jumping back in alarm, the image of the raksasha once more flashing through his mind.
“You are right, you are here and that is all that matters. As such I shall only somewhat partially have him flogged for his failure.”
Before anyone could say another word two guards appeared as if from out of nowhere, seized hold of the orc, and dragged him away from the main tent. Though the orc looked terrified he did not so much as struggle, knowing all too well that doing so would only earn him further punishment.
“Now,” snapped Dimitrovic, her voice rising in volume and making all three of them jump, “tell me, why are you here?”
“To get inside your rock.” said Balgan.
“Because the oracles sent us.” said Dagmar.
“To help the Crusader.” said Toka.
Dimitrovic looked back and forth between them.
“So,” she said slowly, “you were sent here by the oracles to aid the Crusader in accessing the island?”
The three of them looked at one another.
“Yes.” they said in unison.
“I see.” she turned and walked back towards her tent, “come with me.”
The three of them followed Dimitrovic who stopped at a small wooden table on which sat several scattered papers and an ornate wood and bronze telescope. Dimitrovic picked up the telescope, extended it and looked through it. Once she had located what she was looking for her bared teeth smile reappeared. She lowered the telescope and handed it to Balgan.
“Over there,” she said indicating a point on the floating island close to the Sea Wall, “we are about to try and gain access to the door, I want you to watch.”
Balgan raised the scope to his eye, found the point Dimitrovic had indicated and relayed what he saw to the others. As the Bishop had stated there was indeed a door in the black rock surface of the floating island. It was difficult to ascertain its exact dimensions as there was nothing to act as a frame of reference, but Balgan estimated it to be of average size, certainly no bigger than the main door to The Supports. The door was located just above the top of a solid looking scaffold of wood and metal that had been constructed against the side of the Sea Wall, and probably twice that distance away from the wall itself. The door appeared to be mainly constructed of gold, and rimmed with glittering sections of green and blue that Balgan took to be emerald and topaz. In the centre there was an angry looking abstract face with a wide open mouth that did not resemble any species he had ever encountered. What there was not any sign of however was a door handle, or hinges, or a key hole. In fact the door, if that was indeed what it was for Balgan saw no obvious reason to jump to that conclusion, looked as solid and unmoving as the surrounding rock.
“Look there.” Dimitrovic said directing Balgan’s gaze to a point further along the Sea Wall.
Balgan adjusted the scope and a second scaffold came into focus. At the top of this stood a man with wild white hair and dressed in bright red robes. As Balgan watched a bright glowing orb of crackling, sparking green energy started to form between the man’s outstretched hands. The mage, for he was clearly that, moved his hands further apart and the orb of green energy expanded. Once his hands were as far apart as possible and orb was almost two meters across, the mage pushed his hands forward and dozens upon dozens of green arrows shot out of the orb and towards the door. The arrows struck the door with a clang and a hiss that was audible even from where they stood. More and more arrows launched from the orb, the glowing ball of energy contacting slightly with each one, and slammed into the door. The door was all but hidden behind a wall of thick green smoke that grew larger and larger as increasing numbers of what Balgan had surmised were acid arrows slammed into the door.
The rain of arrows went on for almost two minutes before the energy orb was finally depleted and the mage sagged down against the edge of the scaffold in exhaustion. Balgan turned the scope back to the door. It took a few moments for the smoke to clear, but when it did Balgan let out a gasp.
“It’s completely undamaged, not even a scratch as far as I can tell. How can that be?” he said lowering the scope and turning to Dimitrovic.
“Wait for it,” she replied gesturing back to the door, “it is not over yet.”
Balgan brought the scope back to his eye just in time to see the mouth in the centre of the door grow suddenly larger and spit forth a barrage of dagger like frost. As if somehow aware of the source of the attack the frost blizzard singled in on the mage still leaning against the edge of the second scaffold. The mage tried to bring up a defence, but it was too late. The frost tore into his, shredding his robes, flesh, and bone in and instant and reducing him and a large portion of the scaffold to red and brown mist. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the frost barrage ceased and the mouth returned to its normal size. Balgan lowered the scope slowly.
“We have been trying to gain access to the door for three days now.” Dimitrovic said dispassionately. “I have lost almost eighty men so far in the attempt, and we have yet to so much as chip the surface.”
“That’s not true.” said Dagmar. “Pastor Maldonado was able to get inside, Bishop Quorin told us.”
Dimitrovic turned her cold eyes on Dagmar with a look of disgust. Dagmar for her part just smiled back.
“That is true; the priest was able to get inside, though we know not how he managed it.”
“Maybe he tried knocking.” Dagmar offered.
Dimitrovic’s top lip curled.
“No, metal creature, he did not knock, he sang.”
“Sang,” Toka exclaimed, “the pastor sang to the door, and it opened?”
“Yes, that appears to be what happened.”
“So have you tried that?” asked Dagmar.
Dimitrovic bared her teeth in a way that was most definitely not a smile.
“I do not like the shiny metal one.” she said. “But to answer the question, yes we have tried singing to it. There are many competent singers amongst my forces.” She paused. “At least there were three days ago.”
“Well clearly they weren’t doing it right.” said Dagmar matter of factly. “You should let us have a go.”
“Oh should I now?” Dimitrovic said raising one thin eyebrow.
“Yes, I just said you should.” Dagmar responded. “Besides, the oracles said we are the only three who can open the door, so it is pointless you wasting any more of your men on trying, it just won’t work.”
Dimitrovic studied Dagmar for a moment.
“Let us, for a moment, assume you are right.”
“I am.” Dagmar cut in.
Dimitrovic made a noise that sounded vaguely like a growl.
“I said let us assume that. So you will open the door for me, and my men will go inside?”
Dagmar shot Dimitrovic a look that clearly indicated that she thought her to be some kind of fool.
“No, we will open the door and we will go inside. I don’t understand why you would think otherwise?”
“And why should I allow that?”
Dagmar closed her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh.
“Because the oracles said we are the only ones who can get inside. I’ve already been over this, it’s like you’re not even listening.”
Dimitrovic’s eyes narrowed and she flexed her long fingers.
“So you will not open the door for me and my men to enter?”
“No,” Dagmar said simply, “and again I’ve already said that.” She turned to Balgan. “Do you think she can’t understand me, I felt I was being quite clear.”
“Well,” Dimitrovic snapped, “if that is the case then you are of no use to me. But maybe some time with my torturers will convince you to change your mind.”
“Torture is wrong.” said Dagmar.
Dimitrovic snarled and reached for her hammer.
“Perhaps,” Toka said loudly, “we can come to some sort of arrangement that is beneficial to all of us?”
Dimitrovic’s eyes snapped to the bard for a moment, then back to Dagmar.
“Go on.” She said without taking her cold gaze from the Asgardian.
“Well, how about we open the door and go in and take a look around.” Toka suggested, stepping forward so that he stood between Dimitrovic and Dagmar. “If we find anything of interest we can come out and tell you all about it. I mean it’s not like we can stay in there forever.”
Dimitrovic looked the bard up and down, clearly not impressed.
“And what if you do not come back? The priest, he did not come back.”
“Well then, you will be no worse off than you are now. But if we do come back then you will have learnt the islands secrets and not risked any more of your men in the process.”
Dimitrovic fell silent and stared at the bard, apparently considering his proposition.
“My leg itches.” said Balgan suddenly, bending to rub the top of his false leg.
“That’s very interesting I’m sure,” hissed Toka, “but we are kind of at a critical point in our negotiations, so maybe keep it to yourself for the moment, hmm.”
Toka has barely finished speaking when Dimitrovic, in a move almost too quick to see, reached out and slapped a hand down on his shoulder causing the bard to jump.
“Your suggestion is agreeable to me, with one small amendment. One of my men will go with you, to make sure you do not try to double cross me or keep anything from me.”
“Absolutely not.” said Dagmar at once.
“It is not negotiable I am afraid,” Dimitrovic growled at the construct, “he either goes with you or you all got to see my torturers. Those are your only options.”
“Well in that case we are happy to have him as one of the team.” enthused Toka with a broad grin.
“Excellent.” Dimitrovic said showing her teeth while her eyes shot daggers at Dagmar. “Vashh, come here.”
A tall human warrior emerged from the command tent and strode over to stand beside Dimitrovic. He snapped off a perfect salute and then stood silently, still as a statue, his hands gripped behind his back, his legs slightly apart. He struck an impressive figure. Well over six feet tall with a warrior’s musculature, he had strong, angular features, a shaved head, and a neck almost as thick as Dagmar’s waist. He was dressed in blood red plate armour, had a bastard sword hanging from his left hip, and a double head axe from the right.
“Vashh here is my most trusted soldier.” Dimitrovic said. “He will go with you through the door and make sure that you keep your end of the bargain. And, as an incentive for you to do so, at the first sign that you plan on betraying me he will kill the metal one.”
Vashh smiled, his black eyes locking onto Dagmar.
“It will be my honour, Commander.” He said in a harsh, hissing voice.
Toka swallowed, that damned lump was back in his throat.
“That sounds like an agreeable arrangement, but I assure you we have no intention of betraying you.”
“Excellent,” Dimitrovic exclaimed again, “we will drink to our agreement”
She reached into the pocked of her leather coat and pulled out a drinking flask much like the one Toka carried. She spun off the top, took a long pull of the liquid inside, and then handed it to Toka. The bard held the flask up in salutation and then took a deep drink himself. The liquid inside burned going down, but Toka was a seasoned spirit drinker and managed to refrain from choking.
“Here’s to our joint endeavour,” he said lifting the flask high once more, “I am sure it will work out most profitable for…um…sorry…but…what?”
Toka trailed off, his attention drawn to Vashh’s face. There was something strange about it, something no quite right. Toka got the distinct impression the face he was looking at somehow did not belong to the man before him. The face seemed to almost shimmer in front of his eyes. It was like looking at the reflection of a face in a lake, and then suddenly realising that beyond the reflection there was a fish staring back at you. Only the thing behind the reflection that was Vashh’s face was not a fish.
“By the high gods, he’s a lizard.” Toka exclaimed.
“What?” said both Dimitrovic and Vashh at the same time.
All eyes turned to the tall warrior.
“I knew it.” shouted Balgan. “My old leg is never wrong, always itches when there are damned lizardmen around.”
Vashh looked shocked and somewhat alarmed.
“No, Commander, I assure you, I’m not a lizardman.”
“Yes he is.” said Dagmar, “I can see it now, he is clearly a lizardman, a blue one. He is using some sort of concealment spell, but now that I know it is there I can see through it with ease.”
“Vashh,” demanded Dimitrovic, “is this true, are you hiding your true identity from me?”
Vashh shook his head vehemently.
“No Commander, I do not know what trick these three are trying to play but I am not hiding anything from you. I suspect they wish to give you cause to mistrust me so that they can convince you not to send me with them.”
“Well,” Dimitrovic rounded on Toka, “are you trying to play some kind of trick on me?”
“Most definitely not Commander Dimitrovic, I had no reason to believe that you did not already know that Vashh here was a lizardman, I was simply taken aback by the realisation.”
Dimitrovic grew silent, her eyes darting back and forth between Toka and Vashh.
“Vashh,” she said finally, “give me your hand.”
The tall warrior swallowed.
“Why Commander?” he asked nervously.
“Because I asked you too.” screeched Dimitrovic. “Now give me your hand or I shall take your head instead.”
Vashh immediately stuck out his left hand, fingers spread wide, and Dimitrovic gripped it tightly around the wrist. Then, in a move almost too fast to see, she drew a hidden knife and drove it through the warrior’s open palm. Vashh didn’t so much as flinch as Dimitrovic ripped the blade from his flesh and raised the blood soaked blade to her lips. She ran her tongue up the flat of the blade and froze. A drop of crimson blood dripped onto her chin and an instant later she flung the knife to the ground where it embedded blade first in the dark earth.
“You are correct, he is a lizardman. Guards, seize this traitor at once.”
Four guards rushed forward but before they reached him the air rippled and shimmered around Vashh and all at once the human warrior was gone and in his place stood a six and a half foot tall, pale blue lizardman. He immediately dropped his head into a deep and elaborate bow.
“Command Dimitrovic, forgive me for my deception. I am an ambassador of my people, I was charged with getting close to you in order to forge an alliance between our forces. Knowing of your hatred for my kind I chose to impersonate one of your soldiers so that I might earn your trust, at which point I intended to reveal my true identity. These strangers simply hastened that event, and by mere days, I assure you.”
Dimitrovic’s face grew red.
“I shall have the skin from your bones for this. I will learn every secret you have to tell and in the end you will beg for your death. Take him to the camp torturer.”
“Torture is wrong.” said Dagmar, echoing her earlier statement on the matter. “It would be far better to simply kill him.”
“May I point out,” said Vashh, his hiss all the more pronounce now that the illusion was no longer in place, “that as an ambassador I have diplomatic immunity. Harm me and there will be war between our people.”
Dimitrovic let out a deep, cruel laugh.
“Do you think we fear a bunch of over grown lizards? We serve the Crusader. The very forces of hell fear us. We would slaughter your wretched people to the last should they raise arms against us.”
“That may be true,” Vashh conceded, “but we would delay you in your attempt to open the door, maybe long enough for the island to disappear from the realm. Then you will have failed the Crusader, and I do not imagine he would take kindly to that.”
Dimitrovic glared in fury at the lizardman, then all at one broke into one of the bare toothed smiles.
“Very well. We shall try something else.”
She turned and walked over to a large wooden trunk, opened in and drew our and iron collar attached to a long chain. She walked slowly back over to Vashh.
“Kneel.” she ordered.
Vashh dropped to his knees at once and Dimitrovic secured the iron collar around his neck, securing it tight in place. Then, holding tight to the chain, she wrenched the lizardman to his feet.
“Listen close, and do not doubt me for a moment. You will accompany these three in their attempt to access the island. Should they fail you will die by their side. If they succeed then you will carry out your original orders and accompany them inside and upon your return relay all information regarding what lays beyond the door to me. Understood?”
“Yes Commander.” Vashh hissed.
Dimitrovic yanked down on the chain and practically dragged Vashh over to where Toka stood, at which point she handed the chain to the bard.
“He is your responsibility now. If he attempts to escape you have my permission to kill him.”
“Yes Commander.” Toka said with a bow of his head.
“Right then.” said Balgan, swinging his sack from his shoulder, pulling it open and lifting out the first piece of his armour. “Now that we’ve finally got all that sorted out let’s get ready; we have a door to open.”
Right, that’s the second part done. Only one part left to go in act 1, and that one will be a lot shorter I assure you. Until next time.