Four Minutes Ago
There’s a whooshing sound that some wizard-type somewhere told me was the sound of air being displaced – first by your absence, and then by your arrival. Magic has its own sounds and that particular one is something I’ve gotten a little too used to in the past few weeks. The smooth stone walls of Tuskendale Palace give way to a blur of colors, mostly blue for some reason, and then a set of double doors. Doors one and two of the hundred this palace is nicknamed for are wide open, with a pair of armored trolls looming like an archway of scaly meat on either side.
I am the Silver Beast, and today my job is to kill a lot of people for money.
Ten Days Ago
“I believe that if there is killing and dying to be done, let it be done in Pitax, not here. But, like I said, my soldiers and I will fight where we are told to fight.”
I sit down and Ulgar picks up the thread. This has been, as per usual, my least favorite part of being a mercenary captain – the endless bickering about the hows, whys, and wherefores of the fighting. Say what you will about my father’s people (and I have), but orcs are not inclined to spend a lot of time worrying about how other people might think of them in the aftermath of a fight that everyone agrees needs to happen. For the life of me, I can’t get a sense of what the flag is on about, but maybe he’s just taking his new morals out to see how they gambol in the hills of hard power politics.
I can see how Ursundova’s narrative is shaping up: Oh, all the people who’ve joined with our glorious nation have done so in this magical wave of self-determination and realization of the power of our ideals and laws. If each of those decisions have come after the gory death of this or that former ruler or bandit lord, well, that’s all surely the luck of timing, right? Even the eastern half of the country didn’t become the eastern half of the country until the agitator they’d put in as Viceroy met with an unfortunate accident in the caves of Armag the Twice-Born. I’m not as “let him take who can take” as my father’s people, I hope, but the stories told of the Stag Lord, Hargulka, Vordakai, Baron Drelev, and Armag make it sound to me like among their many sins was being in the way of an expansionist nation.
And you know what, so what? All the good intentions in the world mean fuck all if you can’t successfully resist those with worse intentions. Beliefs need strength to back them up, and part of that is the strength to make hard decisions. I think Jacek’s got that strength. I’m not so sure about Lem. I am sure most of the rest of them don’t give a shit, so whether they have the strength or not doesn’t really matter.
One Day Ago
We’re making halfway decent time down this road, though I can no longer see the Royal Cavalry behind us – the damn barding is slowing down the horses too much, there’s nowhere to put 100 horses worth of barding that could keep up, and we can’t wait for them. Logistics (and its subcategory, food) win more wars than the sharpest swords. Now it might lose us this one.
Ursundova’s pet three-eyed wizard manifests in front of our column and I get this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“His Majesty would speak with you and your Lieutenant, Captain.” I like to look people in the eye when we talk, but that’s just weird to do with someone with a third eye. I hear tell it used to be a real eye that stayed closed, not some weird crystal that just looks kind of like an eye. I don’t know which would be worse.
I give command over to Galiana and Finnegal and I dismount. A whooshing sound and some blue light later and we’re back in Tuskendale.
Finnegal can’t help but roll his eyes, “Didn’t we just leave this party?”
A thousand scenarios go through my head as we saunter our way back to the meeting chambers. Maybe we all get to go home and call it a day…
…or maybe His Majesty has decided that Irovetti needs to go. Turns out King Irovetti is keeping that nereid’s shawl and Briar holed up in his box puzzle of a castle. If it is a trap, he baited it well. Then we learn about the town King Irovetti gave over to a pack of wyverns as feeding grounds. Now I know it’s time to get to killing.
Lem, as expected, is aghast and sure we’re playing into the wily bandit king’s hands. In fairness, he may be right – this might be a trap – but he keeps seeming to think that everyone around us is going to look at this with same set of moral blinders that he’s strapped on his own head.
Jacek’s having none of it today, though, and Lem doesn’t have an alternate proposal. All that remains for us to do is prepare for a fight…and have one last conversation.
Some people never get around to asking about getting paid. We’re all supposed to do it because it’s the right thing, or the just thing, or the thing the King has ordered us to do. Me? I see right things go flying by every day and the right and noble don’t do shit. Justice is of no comfort to the dead. I do what I do because I am paid to do it, and I get paid a lot because I’m good at it. Luckily, I work for a King who is also a priest of the god of wealth, so it doesn’t take much convincing to add a pillage proviso to our agreement.
One Minute Ago
The first group of them are dead. Leilania turned into a pillar of flame and is now merrily dancing on troll corpses. Almost half a dozen guards lay dead around us, their blood spreading fast on the fancy marble floors. We’re inside, mostly unharmed, and have several dozen guards, more than a few trolls, and Irovetti’s hand-picked troublemakers to go. Ray has found a secret door, behind which I can hear the growling voice of an cranky Velimar Koth.
We used to have this fellow from Tian Xia with us for about a year after we left Daggermark. He had this quote tattooed down his back that stuck with me. “The only reason a warrior is alive is to fight, and the only reason a warrior fights is to win. Otherwise, why be a warrior? It is easier to count beads.”
I lift my sword and put my shield into position. To the hells with beads.
I will fight.