Expeditions and Intrigues
Book I: Escape from Kayro
Expeditions and Intrigues: Part 1
An ancient man was sat on his throne, shadows and darkness whirling around him. Stretching out a hand, he whispered to something that was at once not there at all and also part of his very existance.
"Umbrasus..." He hissed, "Take prescence once again."
The aura of darkness and night coalesced into an oil-stain liquid which ran down his arm and onto the floor. Pooling in a glutinous mass, a bone-masked head and muscular black shoulders appeared, followed quickly by a still-forming bestial body, four wickedly clawed limbs and a split-length tail, whipping lazily above its sable rump. The beast bared it's gleaming white teeth, hatred filling its mind, before suddenly dropping to its belly in subservience.
"Always feisty..." Wheezed the man, his stature now much reduced, "It is good. I have a mission for you."
The beast's insubstantial ears perked up at the sound of this and the man waved in another figure, this one wearing intricate brass headgear and with several glass lenses over his eyes.
"Tk'az, my faithful Knowledge-Addict... I want you to travel to the dead lands of Babassyria, under guard from Umbrasus of course, and recover for me a certain... Item."
The man named Tk'az gave a sick little smile and fiddled with a small dial on his headgear, licking his cadaverous lips.
"The Quill?" He asked, fidgeting more animatedly now. "Has one of your lacklustre agents finally located it?"
Another wheezing laugh and the man stood from his seat of polished sandstone.
"Do you think I would send you and this halfwit shadow-thing if it was the Quill?" He paused, laying a hand burning with eldritch power on Tk'az's shoulder. "No, it is not the Quill... However, it might prove useful nonetheless. What I send you to seek is an object known as the Vivivacar Mortakh. However, there is another objective to this mission."
"What, my Lord?"
"There is a man, a Hunter called Almyri."
The Knowledge Priest hissed in anger at the name, violet sparks jumping from his conductive headgear as a sign of his anger and fear.
"I know of him... he has claimed no few of my brethren."
"Precisely. I want you to hire him for your expedition to Babassyria. Make sure he does not return."
Tk'az's eyes lit up behind his lenses and he rubbed his hands together gleefully. This would be fun...
Almyri sprang back, bringing up a blade to feint-block the scything swing for his head while simultaneously dropping down to deliver a sweeping kick to his opponent's shins. The foe was caught off guard and sent tumbling to the ground, where Almyri sprang onto him, landing with one knee on his chest and his machete resting against the man's throat. He kicked away the man's blade, a heavy iron slab of a weapon, and leaned down.
“Surrender?” He asked, his voice amicable.
“Never!” Spat his foe, and whipped his arm round in a blistering right hook that would have dislocated Almyri's jaw, had he not seen it coming. Instead, he jumped backwards, landing a solid kick to the underside of the man's face as he did so. His foe was once again dazed and Almyri drew a dagger from its sheath on his leg, squatting down and resting it carefully against the man's eyeball.
“Now,” He said mockingly, “I think we know who's the better fighter here.”
The man, a Vulgarian mercenary-swordsman by the name of Markus, grunted and clambered back to his feet once Almyri had removed the immediate danger of a dagger through the eye. Sighing, he shook Almyri's hand and turned back to the bar, scooping up his massive zweihander and affixing it to his back again.
“Landlord!” He cried in a thick, guttural accent, gesturing to the Hunter. “Serve this man whatever he wants, on me. He earned it after that fight.”
Almyri also sat down on one of the stools at the bar and shook his head at the barkeeper, who had been looking at him expectantly.
“Alcohol dulls your senses,” He said solemnly, “And poisons your ever-lasting soul.”
Markus, who had just ten minutes ago been threatening to rip Almyri's throat out, stared, disbelieving, at the Hunter.
“Seriously?” He asked, his voice deadpan.
Almyri threw back his head and laughed, his vast array of weapons jangling. “Of course not!” He cried, grinning. “What kind of sap would I be if I believed that?”
Markus's heavy-set face also cracked into a smile and he slapped Almyri on the back, like a life-long friend.
“I'll have a goblet of Lakhmian wine, then.”
Markus groaned at that, knowing his coin-purse would not recover for a while after this. His spirits lifted, though, when Almyri's smile broadened again and he shook his head.
“Joking, my friend. I'll just have a pint of ale. Or six.”
Markus laughed and tossed the bartender a few coins, scooping up his drink and downing it swiftly. Almyri, after some encouragement, began to recite a tale of how he had once slain a Soulless and its Lifeless masterpiece in the Aiarret's Spine mountains, much to the amusement of his audience. He ignored the occasional jeers that greeted his pronouncements, knowing that, one-on-one, he could kill each and every one of the men in this building. A man with a shiny head sat down next to Markus, but he paid him no mind, too enthralled by Almyri's tale, outlandish though it was. The shiny-head tapped Markus on the shoulder and he turned to him, irritated at the distraction. The man was pale, almost unnaturally so, with his eyes obscured by reflective glass, and had the look of someone who spent too much time in the dark or reading dusty old books. Or both.
“Excuse me, my man,” He said, his voice croaking and hoarse, as if from disuse, “Is this man called Almyri?”
“Yeah,” Markus said brusquely, slightly unnerved by the man's knowledge of his new comrade's identity, “He is. Who's askin'?”
“Oh, I am no one important,” The man said hurriedly, nervously adjusting a small dial on the side of what now appeared to be some sort of odd metal glove, “Just an interested scholar.”
“Oh?” Muttered Markus, wary even more so at the man's cageyness. “We'll see.”
Almyri had finished telling his tale, leaving many in the pub wondering if it just might be true, and returned from the position he had assumed on a table to Markus's side, waving over the barman and ordering another two drinks.
Noticing the man talking to Markus, he asked, “Who's your friend?”
“Apparently he's just a scholar, but by the looks of his gear, he's one of them Knowledge Priests you Empire people are so fond of.”
The mystery man twitched at the mention of the Priesthood and nodded slowly. In his mind, a plan formed. He would obviously have to be more forward...
“Yes,” He said, “Yes, I am. A High Priest in fact. And since you have so adequately seen through my feigned ignorance, I shall tell you why I am really here.”
Almyri leaned against the bar, sipping the ale, and nodded at him to continue, apparently not bothered by his mention of his power in the Priesthood.
“Well, I have a proposition. I would like to hire you two men for an expedition.”
“For how much?” Asked Markus, aware of how much these fool-scholars were willing to pay for a guard or two.
The Priest waved a copper-shod hand dismissively, as if the notion of money was below him. “Say about seven thousand Empire Crowns between you. Does that sound reasonable?”
Markus openly gaped. That amount of money was... Well, it was insane. He didn't even know if he could spend all of that. Almyri, however, narrowed his eyes.
“How do you have so much gold? And why pay so much to two guards?” He asked, suspicious of his would-be employer already.
“First question first,” Replied the man airily, “My Priesthood has riches beyond your dreams and I am welcome to whatever portion of it I need, as a High Priest.”
Almyri nodded, apparently satisfied.
“And for your second query, you should of course wonder where exactly would need such leverage for two men to be convinced to go there.” He gave a smug smile and cupped his chin. “Any guesses?”
There was only one name in both the minds of Markus and Almyri alike.
“Babassyria.” They said, in almost perfect unison.
The man clapped his copper-hands together, causing a rattling sound that put Markus' teeth on edge.
“Well done!” He exclaimed, the picture of condescension. “And not just any part of the ash-wastes either, we are traveling to the nexus of that dead realm. If you take my offer, we trek to Babash, the very capital! Isn't it exciting?”
Almyri placed his tankard on the bar and crossed his arms.
“I don't know about Markus here, but double the money and you've got a deal.”
Another dismissive hand wave from the Priest and a laugh of derision. “Of course! Money is no object!”
“Then,” Almyri reached over and shook his hand, “You have a deal. However, I have one more question.”
The man paused in his rise from the stool and sank back down, his eyes keen.
“What is your name, mystery man?”
“My name?” Replied the priest, “Is Tk'az.”