Chapter 2, Frostbite >>
Thursday, September 1, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 1
The comfortable silence of Berit's drawing room was demolished by the slam of the door and two of her guards carrying in the struggling body of a man she recognized. A man she hadn't seen in almost five years.
"We caught him trying to break in through the side door," the half-ogre guard said. "He was using this," he added, tossing a thick wooden rod onto the table that crowded the center of the confined room. It had gems encrusted into its shaft, and silver handles at each end, clearly enchanted. "Some sort of lock-canceller."
The other guard, a burly dwarf, held a muddy hand firmly over their captive's mouth. The captive's face was mostly concealed by the hooded cloak he was wearing, but Berit still recognized him from his frame, even as it was hoisted by the two strongmen. She stood up, her decorative coattails lazily slipping from her chair to dangle behind her knees. She held a hand briefly to the brooch that hung around her neck, emblazoned with a blue rose. "Let him go," she said. "I doubt he wants to kill me. I know he couldn't if he tried. And if he does, you have my permission to swiftly and lethally intercept him."
The guards released their grip, but kept their weapons drawn, a sleek and sinister scimitar for the half-ogre and a loaded crossbow for the dwarf. The man made no sudden movements on the ground, only stood slowly up, brushed off his cloak, and chuckled. He looked up at her through wire-framed spectacles. "You wouldn't have your own brother killed in front of you, would you?"
Berit sneered, glaring straight ahead into her brother's blue eyes. "Is that what you think, Valdimer? That I still value our relationship?"
"You still wear our family's signet, so I thought it was only logical to assume," Valdimer said with a smirk.
Berit pointed at the brooch. "It is not 'ours,' only mine now. All in the city know that the sign of the blue rose signifies my handiwork."
"Yes, I've heard of them being left on the dead nobles you assassinate," Valdimer said. He lifted his hands, and felt the crossbow suddenly shoved into his back. "Relax," he said, "I'm only removing my hood." He pulled back the hood to reveal his tapered ears, the only other physical similarity he shared with his sister, other than their height.
"I don't want you casting any spells in here," the dwarf grumbled.
Valdimer's smile grew an inch. "So, you've talked about me before?"
"I may have mentioned my no-good, artificer of a brother," Berit said with a frown. "You're lucky I didn't tell them your description, otherwise they would have known to bleed you in the street instead of bringing you to me." She held up a hand as Valdimer opened his mouth. "Now before you continue trying to start a verbal sparring match with me, I demand to know why you sought me out after all this time. I would have thought your trinket shop were keeping you busy."
"I deal with exotic magical items, far more than trinkets," Valdimer said, "but I didn't come to brag. And I'm not here to ask for your help with anything either, so you can keep whatever scathing rebuttal I'm sure you've prepared to yourself. I'm only here with information."
"I never asked you for any information."
"No, but..." Valdimer twirled his fingers in awkward hesitation. "You don't keep an ear to the same channels of information I do, and if it were anything useful I wouldn't bother to relay it to you. But this is the one thing that you have to know. It's only right."
"Well, spit it out then."
"See for yourself." Valdimer made sure the guards saw he had no tricks in his pocket, then pulled out a small scroll. He placed it down on the table and rolled it out, so that Berit could read it. As she scanned it, Valdimer watched her face carefully. She reached the bottom, but continued staring at the parchment. "Do you realize what this means? She's back."
"It could be a coincidence," Berit said, but she could feel the hurricane in her stomach that told her that was a lie.
"There is no other explanation," Valdimer said. "So, there, I have told you because you ought to know, and now I must take my leave. I have preparations to make."
Berit stepped forward and grabbed Valdimer's arm before he could turn around. The guards swapped confused glances, as they had only seen their boss touch someone before if it was in order to get them into a position where her dagger could reach their neck. Now, however, Berit's green eyes were wide, searching Valdimer's face for answers. "You're going to try to find her?"
"Yes. Knowing what we know," he said, eying the guards, "I cannot in good conscience stay here where I am safe. This lead is small, but it has to be her. And that means I'm the only one who can stop her."
Berit scoffed. "What can you do alone? You're too weak."
"I don't need your advice, thanks. I will hire help."
"If you tell them to follow your orders, which I know you will, then you still won't succeed. You hesitate too much." Berit released Valdimer's arm and turned to a large, ornate chest on the floor. She moved aside the books and maps that were piled on top of it, and took a set of keys out of a pouch on her vest for the three locks that kept the chest closed. "I'm coming with you," she declared.
"No. You can go on your own, which would be futile, but you are not following me. You are far too impulsive to trust with this mission."
"Ha!" Berit laughed. "'Mission.' Like you're still pretending to be a royal agent like when we were kids." She popped the last lock and lifted the lid of the chest. She began to remove daggers, lockpicks, and small bottles of violet liquid and securing them to her clothes. "Your toys will get you nowhere once you actually get into a fight. I know how to handle her, remember? Besides, I could use a reason to get out of the city for a while."
"My answer is final. This visit is purely formal, I have no desire to renew contact with you, and you-" Valdimer stopped as Berit stood up, still seeming to be lightly encumbered while he knew she had all sorts of tools and tricks tucked into her pockets and pouches.
She looked at him with a frozen glare. "I don't like you either, Val," she said. "But this is something we have to do together, or not at all."
Valdimer clenched and unclenched his jaw. He took the rod from the table and put it back into the recesses of his robe. "I have one more stop to make in the marketplace before we leave. I will meet you at the north gate in the morning, at the edge of dawn."
Berit raised an eyebrow. "The marketplace is closed for the night. What could you possibly be doing there?"
Valdimer allowed himself a smirk. "You're not the only one with work to be done under the cover of darkness." He turned and the guards instinctively stepped aside to let him pass. "Remember, dawn at the north gate. You always forget these sorts of specifics."
"Don't worry, I'll be there," Berit said as Valdimer stalked away. She then looked up at the guards. "Follow me, you two. I will need your help with some preparations of my own tonight." She strode forward down the same hallway, with the mercenaries at her heels. The scroll still lay open on the table. It was a town crier's missive, from a distant town at the border of the kingdom. Most of the news was a recounting of those who had died, an unusually high number for a small town, but the first sentence explained why.
DEMONIC ASSAULT LEAVES DOZEN DEAD, MAD SUMMONER AT LARGE
Berit reached the street and looked down at her brother walking towards the town center. He glanced over his shoulder and caught her eye, then nodded and returned his gaze to his destination. She waved for the guards to follow and headed in the other direction, toward the seedier part of town. The half-elven siblings had a long road ahead of them.
And at the end of that road, they hoped to find and kill their mother.
Chapter 2, Frostbite >>
Chapter 2, Frostbite >>