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Jan 25

Dire Maul Chapter 8

“Where did that come from and why didn’t you do that earlier!” Denzel asked Nost, almost laughing with relief.

“What, you’re complaining?” Nost replied as he clutched his knees and breathed heavily. He felt as if he had run for miles. His head was still spinning and he fought to stay upright.

“No, I’m not complaining, just trying to understand it.”

“I’ll let you know when I figure it out.” He lied as he looked up at the warlock.

Balat couldn’t contain himself any longer. “Didn’t anyone notice I finally figured out how to close a portal?”

Joella looked at the half body laying in the water. “Um, I think that Satyr noticed.”

Balat giggled. “Yeah, I guess he did.”

Joella didn’t mention that it probably wasn’t him who closed it. Let him have his moment. He needed it. It was good to see the fear in him was gone now that they were safe. She turned back to the shore. “I hoped you could get us closer the second time. But this will do.”

Kyuni placed a hand on Nost’s shoulder and muttered the words of a spell that were starting to sound familiar. His breathing slowed over a couple of minutes

and stood up, letting out a final huff. “Whoa. I wasn’t sure I had that in me.” Denzel clapped him on the back, to show his satisfaction. Then, they started back toward Feathermoon.

They could see the light on the horizon promising sunrise. Had they only been in there a few hours? It seemed longer. “We didn’t kill Alazzin.” Joella said, thinking out loud as they reached the shore. It was still too dark to navigate through the forest. Joella didn’t want to risk any encounters with what may be lurking there. They would stay along the shoreline to get back to the stronghold. “That’s going to cost us.”

“Is it?” Denzel asked her. “We didn’t know he was part of the contract until we got here. I thought Cregs negotiated a reconnaissance mission?”

“He did. But still, we’re going to need to go back in there to finish the job. I want you and Nost to refine that invisibility potion as soon as we get back to Feathermoon. While we now have more information, and a better layout of the complex, Alazzin will be on alert and it’s going to be that much harder.” She looked at the team. Though Kyuni’s spells gave them the strength to keep going, the strain of the night showed in their eyes. Did she look the same? She wondered. She was pushing them harder than she wanted to but, that was the nature of their work.

“Well, at least we have the key and the ‘device.’” Denzel said.

“But how do we prove Lethtendris’ death?” Joella asked him. I didn’t get anything from her as we were running. Did you?”

Denzel stopped in his tracks.“Er…” He scrambled for a moment trying to think of something. He didn’t have anything except the orb. “Damn.”

Balat reached into his pack and pulled out a small wand. “I have this.” He said, holding it out for Joella to see.

Joella took it to look more closely. It was the wand Lethtendris had used during the fight. “When did you get this?”

“When you were talking to the gladiator.” He said.

“That might just work! Good thinking Balat.” She said happily and clapped him on the shoulder.

He giggled again. “Do you think I can keep it? It’s better than mine.”

“You might. It depends on what Moonspear wants.” She handed it back to him and started walking again. That door Balat had found earlier would be an easier entrance if the key worked for it. Now that they knew more about the layout, they could move faster and easier. “If Denzel and Nost could get that invisibility potion to work longer….” Joella thought as they talked out the nights events. Slowly, a plan began to take shape.

***

Balat stood watching the door as Denzel fussed with the lock. It took him a few tries and not a small amount of muscle to get the key to turn. The lock had not been used in a very long time. The stone of the door ground against it’s frame requiring all three of them to move it open enough for Kyuni and Denzel to squeeze through. It was slightly easier to get it closed again. Balat would remain outside waiting to port them back to Feathermoon as soon as they returned. The Ogre patrols were easy enough to avoid and he was good at hiding.

Joella had remained behind negotiating the details of payment while Kyuni, Denzel and Balat returned for Alazzin. She also remained to keep an eye on Nost, who had collapsed shortly after their return. Kyuni assured them that Nost was simply exhausted. The healers at Feathermoon confirmed her diagnosis. They said they detected traces of poisons in him. Kyuni was quick to explain that it was due to the encounters with the Satyrs and the plants. The healers bought her explanation. Denzel didn’t. He knew Nost too well.

Denzel and Kyuni were hidden under the cloaks coated with the invisibility potion that should last for hours. Though Kyuni could get by without it, it was easier to stay in her natural form than shifting from one to the other. It allowed them to move quickly so long as they were careful when they encountered someone.

Finding Alazzin proved to be easier than they thought. He was directing repairs in the room below where they killed Lethtendris when they found him. They followed as he moved from one area to the next. The Ogres may not care about the state of their living environment but the Satyrs apparently did. What Denzel didn’t expect was a seeming urgency with which they worked. Could it be the presence of the gladiators, or something else? He filed it in his head along with several other observations. It could prove useful later.

Alazzin had a constant retinue of people around him. They had expected this. Denzel placed curses on them that slowly and silently killed over the course of several hours. They wouldn’t know what was going on until it was too late. He hoped that when the time came to strike, those with Alazzin would be too weak to put up a fight. He didn’t dare cast a spell on the leader himself.

As they followed along, Kyuni whispered translations in Denzel’s ear of what they heard from the Satyrs and Sprites. Most of it was complaints about the Ogres and the necessity of having them there. The rest was about how they couldn’t watch the games. No word was said about why they were working to restore everything. To Denzel this meant that everyone was focused on the same task. If there were no words spoken then everyone knew exactly what their jobs were and why they were doing it. Either that, or Alazzin had such complete control over his people that they didn’t dare speak of it.

They heard another name, Zevrim, spoken of in connection with sacrifices. Could this be a second leader the Elves didn’t know about? He would bring it up with the Elves when they returned. Right now, He and Kyuni were there for Alazzin alone.

Denzel was surprised at what they found when they followed Alazzin into the garden. In the light they could see how much damage had been done. They moved through carefully, avoiding the poisonous plants that the Satyrs touched and manipulated without a thought. When they reached the area where Balat had created the portal Denzel was shocked at the damage. Everything had been flattened in a ten yard radius leaving a bare spot of dirt in the center. Nost did this? Denzel thought to himself. Maybe there was some merit to the “exhaustion” explanation.

Denzel still didn’t understand how the priest could call on that much power. Not without help. He tried to listen to the translations Kyuni whispered in his ear. His mind was spinning with the possibilities of what Nost did to cause this. He was sure Kyuni was part of it. When there was a lull, he asked her. “What did you and Nost do while you were away from us in the forum?”

Kyuni turned her head only slightly. All he could see was the slight ripple of the background that indicated where she was. He couldn’t see her face hidden under the cloak so couldn’t judge her expression. “What do you mean?” She asked. Her tone was confused.

“That bare section there. I have never seen that much destruction from a single person.”

“You will recall we did a fair amount of damage before Nost started casting.” Denzel knew the priest much better than she did. She wasn’t sure she could come up with an explanation that would satisfy him.

“That explains the bare spot. It doesn’t explain how he was able to lay flat the rest of it.” He accused.

Kyuni scrambled a bit. Did he know what druids could do? He had seen the fire she cast that splintered the tree. If he knew how their nature spells manifested, he wouldn’t buy it. It was worth a shot though. She kept her voice calm as she replied. “I helped him a little with my power. Perhaps the two combined have an additive effect?”

He asked her again, this time his tone was a bit angry. “What happened between you two when we were in the forum?”

Kyuni decided the truth was easier. She didn’t have to tell him all of it though. She sighed and offered a brief and straightforward explanaion. “He asked my opinion about an herb he had. It was one that he had not used before but we Elves use occasionally to focus the mind.” She used what little she knew about their relationship. “He did not want you to know about it because he was embarrassed enough already that he had lost control. He was afraid of losing it again.” She could feel that he wasn’t convinced. She was guessing, but more often than not her guesses about the nature of a person were correct. It got her out of trouble more often than not.

Denzel was silent for a long moment. He grunted and his head turned back to Alazzin. The direct question told him that either there was nothing there to hide, or she was very good at keeping secrets. By what he had observed from her so far, he suspected the latter. Either way, she wasn’t about to say anything more on the subject.

Their chance came when Alazzin entered a small room similar to the one they killed Lethtendris in. His guards scoured the room. Denzel and Kyuni followed close on their heels as they lit the braziers inside, eliminating the shadows. A single altar stood in the center. On it was a pile of the orbs Lethtendris had created. The guards ran their hands along the walls and edges of the altar checking for anything that may be hidden. They were never aware that what they were looking for stood inches behind them, following their steps. They left Alazzin alone and the door closed. Denzel smiled to himself. He couldn’t ask for a better setup.

They backed into a corner and watched as Alazzin looked around again then slowly lifted an orb. He looked at it closely for a moment, turning it over in his hands. He slid one of his claws into a space of the mesh that held the magic within. Slowly, he drained it and the orb collapsed flat into his hand. He placed it on the altar away from the others and picked up a second orb. Denzel moved.

Kyuni watched as a dagger suddenly appeared at Alazzin’s throat. That was her signal. Standing in front of them, she threw off her own cloak, surprising Alazzin with her sudden appearance. In the second he looked at Kyuni, Denzel seized him and pushed the dagger against his skin.

“Our lives may not be worth what is promised. But yours is.” He said, quickly and quietly, then slashed through the Satyr’s neck. Alazzin’s eyes went wide as his life spurted out onto the altar. He never had a chance. Denzel let the body fall to the floor. He was careful not to let any blood get on him. He cleaned the dagger on Alazzin’s clothing then it disappeared up his sleeve.

“What else do you have hidden up there?” Kyuni asked, amused.

Denzel eyed her and smiled seductively. “Maybe I’ll show you when we get back.”

Kyuni laughed him, shaking her head. She looked down at the corpse and changed the subject. “So what are we going to bring back as proof?”

Denzel started removing what trinkets he could find placing them in a small sack he had brought. “I hate carrying heads around. They’re heavy and messy. And with those horns….” he shook his head. “No, this should suffice.” He handed Kyuni the bag and retrieved another. A serrated dagger appeared and he sliced off Alazzin’s hands with it. Again he was careful not to touch any blood as he placed them in another bag that sealed more securely than the one he gave Kyuni.

She watched him clean the dagger again and noticed how methodical he had been through all of it. “You have done this before.”

He gave her another look. “What did you think we were? Soldiers for hire? Delivery boys? Merchant guards? Informants?” She simply stared at him curiously as he went through his list. “We are that. But the real money is in assassination. It’s an art we will teach you. If you have the skills for it.” She simply looked at him, as if waiting for him to go on. She didn’t seem all too interested in the idea. Though she was not put off by what she was watching. The fact that she simply stood there told Denzel she had seen similar before, and worse.

“Of course we need people in support roles as well.” He said conversationally as he finished cleaning up. “As you may have gathered, Balat’s main duty is transportation. Nost gets us herbal supplies, provides enchantment services, and is one of our healers. Though their roles will be changing.” He looked at her as if assessing what he saw and moved slowly toward her. Her reaction to the assassination, along with his suspicions that she and Nost were hiding something, told him that she had experience with much more than he first thought. “From what I’ve seen so far, you have more talents than just healing.”

He seemed to cross a line. She didn’t move but he suddenly felt a pin prick. He looked down at the dagger she held just close enough that he could feel it. “You will find I am full of surprises.” She said dangerously as a smile crept to her lips.

He backed away, hiding his retreat with a drop to the ground to pick up her cloak. It would leave a tiny hole in his shirt he would have to repair later. He swore silently to himself, more amused than anything. It wasn’t a refusal, but a challenge. She couldn’t be swayed by his charms so easily.

He handed the cloak to her. “I meant no offense. Please forgive me. I only meant that you have a potential to go far in this organization.”

She still looked at him suspiciously and deliberately replaced the dagger in her belt before pulling the cloak back over her shoulders, watching him the entire time. Her form vanished into the background as it closed around her. She nodded toward the door and changed the subject. “How long do we need to wait for your curses?”

Denzel hid his disappointment at watching her disappear. What she said told him that line of conversation was ended. “They should already be weakened enough to take out without causing a stir.” He went to the door ready to push it open. “You take two and I’ll take two. Then let’s get out of here.”

***

They returned to find Nost was awake and devouring a bowl of soup. Kyuni had cleansed the dreamfoil before she left him to the care of the healers. They would find traces, but wouldn’t know exactly what it was. While Denzel joined Joella in the payment negotiation, Kyuni and Balat talked with Nost and the healers over their own bowls of soup.

“Your energy points are strained. The maple seed we gave you earlier is growing and providing the energy required to help you recover. However, you need more than what food alone can provide.” Lorandar, the chief medical officer, explained.

“I’m not going to turn down a good meal.” Nost replied. “This is delicious.”

“I will be sure to pass your compliment to the chef.” Lorandar smiled at him as Nost took another bite.

Lorandar’s assistant, Calun took the opportunity “You have had some sort of mental trauma. There are pathways in your mind that are blocked.” Calun said.

“No kidding.” Nost said, a little annoyed.

Balat looked at his father, silently urging him to tell Calun what happened. He didn’t want to discuss it. He had tried so many different things that failed. He didn’t think talking to some field medics would do any good. After seeing the look his son gave him, he changed his mind. “I lost my memory. At the end of the war I was hurt and sent home. I spent several months in a coma and when I woke up, I couldn’t remember anything. I have spent much of my time since, trying to find a cure.”

“And you never consulted with the druids?” Calun asked him.

Nost shrugged. “I guess I never thought about it. Druids don’t deal with the mind.”

“I grew up learning the ways of the priests.” Calun said. “But I found that the druidic methods of healing suit me better. It has given me a unique perspective. The combination of the two powers has worked wonders on some of our soldiers who have experienced traumatic events.” He waited a moment and the priest looked up at him, interested though not quite convinced. “If I might suggest, you could speak with priestess Jandria in Darnassus. She was one of my teachers and is very good with diseases of the mind.”

“I know her. She works with the druids often.” Kyuni said.

Nost looked at Kyuni. What she had done before was more than he had been able to with his herbs. She didn’t get rid of it entirely, like the elixir did, but she had calmed it down. He had dismissed the druids so long ago. Maybe now, it would be worth looking into again. “I will consider it.” He smiled. Trusting her may turn out to be a better idea than he first thought. “I appreciate the suggestions.”

“It is our pleasure to be of service.” Lorandar returned. “Is there anything more you require?”

Nost looked at Balat and Kyuni. There was a lot more he needed. But not from the druids. He stood to address them. “I don’t want to keep you from your duties. Thank you both.” He bowed to them in the Elven form of leave taking.

They bowed back. “May the goddess watch over you.” Lorandar said. He and Calun left them to their soup.

Balat stared at his father as the priest returned to the bench they shared. “So do you think they can really help?” His expression hopeful.

Nost looked at Balat then back at his soup. “Maybe.” He shrugged and ate another spoonful. He saw that something was bothering Balat. With everything that had happened in Dire Maul, he knew he needed to have a long talk with his son. There were things he wanted to explain, now that he could remember a little more.

“We should at least go talk to the priestess in Darnassus.” Balat said, as if the decision was made.

Nost laughed. “Maybe.” he said again, lightheartedly. “I know how much you want to go back there.” Balat had only been there once when he learned how to create the portal to Darnassus. His teachers didn’t let him stay.

“Besides Jandria, what do you need to go to Darnassus for?” Kyuni had to ask Balat.

Balat shrugged as he stirred the contents of his soup. “Nothing. I just want to see it. He never lets me go.”

“We’ve had no reason to.” Nost replied patiently. The way he said it, Kyuni could tell this was a disagreement they had many times before. The exchange between parent and child interested her. “I’m sure you’ll spend plenty of time in Darnassus for better reasons.” He pointed to the bowl Balat had barely touched. “Finish your soup.” Balat took a bite and they finished their meal in silence.

Joella and Denzel returned a short while later. Joella looked a little annoyed and very tired as she set down a purse of coins on the table for them all to see. She sat herself down on the bench next to Kyuni. “Here’s what we get to take home. It’s only two thirds of what the contract stated. Moonspear won’t finish paying us until they do their own assessment of the orb and they get a full report on the plants.”

“Their own assessment could take weeks.” Nost said. “How soon do they want my report?”

“We were able to talk them into giving you a week.” Joella said. That bothered her more than the lack of payment. “They wanted it sooner. This is why I don’t usually do missions dealing with the Elves. They expect so much in return for so little and never tell you all of it until after the fact.”

Nost grunted. He wanted to get back to his own greenhouse to really look at the plants he had collected. He shared Joella’s frustration. He didn’t know what they expected to get in such a short time. “I can give them something by then. It won’t be much. I need to do some growth studies to figure out if the corruption is native to the plant or influenced by and outside source. Those Elves should know it takes longer than a week for things to grow. No offense, Kyuni.”

She didn’t seem bothered by the statement. “None taken. Perhaps I can help speed things along. Drun may be able to help as well.”

“Drun?” Nost asked.

“Drunelf. He’s my brother.” She could see Denzel’s expression as he stood beside Nost. Denzel kept a straight face but his weight shifted. Kyuni smiled ironically when she saw the shift. It told her that he had forgotten she mentioned her brother when they first met. She had dealt with his smooth talking kind before and enjoyed the games they tried to play. She would play right back. Drun would laugh when she told him about it. He would be eager to meet Denzel too.

Nost nodded. “I would appreciate the help.” He wanted to discuss the elixir with her alone anyway. Maybe even talk her into helping him modify it.

“So did you get the wand back?” Balat asked Joella, eagerly changing the subject.

“Actually, yes!” Joella said. Her mood lightened as she said it. “That was the one part of that whole meeting that went well.” She dug in her pack for a moment and retrieved it for him. “They had no problem accepting what we offered as proof of death.”

“Actually I expected they would accept it. Just as they accepted Alazzin’s belongings.” Denzel added. “The wand holds Lethtendris’ magical signature. Since they had her in custody, they know what that signature is.”

“I haven’t had a new wand in forever.” Balat said as Joella handed it to him. He took out his own and compared the two. His was made of a dark hardwood that held numerous nicks and scratches from spending time in his pockets along with various other things. Though Lethtendris’ wasn’t exactly new. It was a small rod of mithril covered in elaborate scrollwork that put Balat’s old one to shame. He was grinning from ear to ear as he stared at it, though he wouldn’t be able to use it until it was attuned to him.

“I’ll remove her signature and change it over to yours when we get home.” Nost told Balat. His list of things to do was growing. Fortunately changing an enchantment was relatively quick. Still, at this rate he’d never get back to that elixir.

“I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m exhausted.” Joella said, looking around the table. They all seemed eager to get home. It was getting late in the day here, which meant it was early morning in Elwynn. “If you’re finished here, maybe I can get a couple hours of sleep in before I need to meet with Cregs.”

“Don’t worry.” Denzel said, amused. “I’ll go with you to keep you awake.”

Joella smiled back at him. She assumed he would. He would want to give his own opinion of the mission and the team. With what they both had seen, there were going to be some changes.

 

 

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