Thursday, October 4, 2012

13 Olarune, 992 YK

13 Olarune, 992 YK

        The fire of defiance still burned in his eyes. He sat quietly, slouched like a young man defeated, the rags of his clothes draped over his body like a burial shroud. Everything in his form suggests defeat, except for his eyes. He resembles a young human man, brown hair tinged with sun-highlighted blond streaks, strong chin and slightly pointed nose that gave him a sharp, intelligent look. The unshaved makings of a beard only enhance the rakish nature of his appearance, and his limbs are strong and corded with the lean muscle of a man who exercises regularly. But he could be so much more.
        Oargev watched him as the light shone in the youth’s face. The youth knew someone was there, but he knew not who it was. Oargev’s finger traced the magic rune on the object at the table before him, which glowed slightly and spidery whispers tingled the vestige of his consciousness as the spell became active.
        “Let us start with your name,” Oargev said, deepening his voice to a low rumble. The man hardly reacted save to slide his gaze toward the owner of the voice. Oargev could not be seen, not with the light shining in the young man’s eyes, but even still he felt he was being studied.
        “I say we start with yours,” he murmured. His tone was light, flippant even. “Don’t bother to disguise your voice. I can tell you are doing it.” He blinked as he said those words, as if surprised he uttered them. Then his head dropped in realization. “You’ve cast zone of truth on me,” he murmured. Oargev was surprised. What little he knew of the youth had indicated that he was raised on the streets. Your average street urchin knew little of magic beyond the day-to-day workings of Sharn, let alone the name of the spell that would cause him to utter only the truth.
        “You are in no position to ask questions.” Oargev replied, giving up the pretense of disguise.
        “Why not?” the man replied. “The worst thing you can do is have me tortured until I die.” His resignation to that fate made Oargev’s blood run cold.
        “Let us just start with answering some questions,” Oargev said, keeping his tone even. Good as the youth was, Oargev was a master at keeping his emotions in check, and the young man was not the wiser. “And save the torture for later.”
        The young man sighed. “I don’t have a name.” Oargev blinked.
        “Everyone has a name,” he said. “What did your parents call you?”
The young man snorted. “I didn’t have any parents.” He leaned forward. “You really want to know all this?”
        “Desperately,” Oargev said, somewhat ironically. The young man’s entire demeanor shifted. The defiance which had only been in his eyes enveloped his entire body, but he spoke anyway. Not because Oargev had asked him to, but because he had decided he wanted to.
        “You asked for it, Ambassador,” he said. Oargev was disturbed but not surprised that the young man knew who he was. “So you’re going to get it.”
        And he began to tell his story.

        “I was born underneath Sharn. And I mean UNDERNEATH Sharn. Not to the Cogs, I wasn’t that unlucky, but deep. Deep enough that I didn’t see the sun until I was eight years old. I remember there was a sizeable pipe that opened up close the hole where I sometimes slept that went deeper still. I would hear things from below, sometimes. Noises. Terrible sounds, mechanical and deep but somehow alive. I dream about them sometimes. Like Sharn is a massive ticking clock and I still stuck here when time runs out. Anyhow…
        “I have no idea who my parents were, or even if they are still alive. It doesn’t much matter. I am not sure how I survived my infancy: My memory doesn’t extend that far back. I have vague memories of an old beggar woman who took care of me and taught me how to survive, but I must have been three or four at that point. She had a whole brood of us. Orphans and refugees without parents, taught us how to pick pockets, how to forage, how to keep warm when nights got cold and how to keep cool when days got hot. How to live. Never learned what happened to her. One day she was just… gone. I must have been about five at the time. Not the oldest, not the youngest, but definitely the smartest.
        “I ran my first confidence job not long after she died. Without the old woman’s tutilege, some of the younger children were starving. Had to do something. It was a modified Antique Violin job with just a hint of Bagman’s Gambit. It did not go well.”
        Oargev had no notion what the Antique Violin or the Bagman’s Gambit were, but he made no sound. He just listened.
        “I didn’t give up though. Couldn’t, not really. Just revised and tried again. And again. And by the time I was seven, we were living like kings. Or at least, we thought we were. I know better now. But either way, we were living big enough that we caught the attention of one of the goblin gangs down below. We worked a job in their territory and they didn’t like it much, so they cried foul. We declared war. Can you imagine? A horde of kids under ten preparing for war… playing at war, more like. We didn’t know what war was. I experienced my first massacre before I even knew what that word was.
        “They slaughtered us wholesale. Every last one, even the youngest Milo, who was three and, if I recall, wielding a broken broom handle.
        “I only survived because I discovered something about myself that I never knew… and became like the thing that was killing us.”
Oargev shifted in his seat. “You changed your shape for the first time?”
The youth nodded. “And became a goblin. I know that was the only thing that saved me. I had picked up the language while living down there, even Milo could hurl a few goblin insults. It served me well. I just claimed to be Grobber’s cousin, every goblin has a cousin named Grobber, just so you know. They took me back to their camp, and I lived with them for the better part of a year.”
        “With the goblins?” Oargev was incredulous.
        “You would be surprised how easy it was. Their lives weren’t so different than ours, really. Those who fall behind get left.”
        “No honor amongst thieves?” Oargev prompted. The youth just gave him a look that could wither orchids.
        “Anyhow, I lived with them for about ten months, just waiting for my moment. I knew I would know it when it happened and I did. I was foraging for food closer to the surface when I heard a beggar tell a thief that the Sharn Watch were delving deeper than they ever had before because their superiors were offering a gold piece for every left goblin ear. So I stopped looking for food and started looking for a certain mushroom that grows beneath Sharn. It will make a human violently ill, but it will pretty much outright kill a goblin.”
        “I thought goblins could stomach anything,” Oargev mused. The youth smiled mirthlessly.
        “That is mostly true. The old woman who raised me knew some things about poisons, and what she knew she imparted to me. Mostly so I wouldn’t accidentally eat them. She called the fungus dreckmal. It probably has another name, but I don’t know it. I found a whole field of dreckmal before too long and picked enough to feed the whole clan. Every night they cooked a kind of stew filled with the various things the young goblins foraged during the course of the day, while the elder goblins did big important things. Nobody questioned it when I put the mushrooms. It was no big thing for me to pretend to eat while they all ate their fill. By morning, they were all dead. Well, almost.”
        Oargev was staring, horrified. “How old were you?”
        “About eight.”
        “And you just… poisoned an entire clan of goblins… who you had been living with for ten months.”
        “What did you expect? They had killed the closest thing to a family I ever had. I killed them right back. It is the law of Down Below, Ambassador.”
        “You said they were almost all dead?” Oargev prompted him to continue. The youth shrugged.
        “The chief of the clan proved either smarter or more resilient than his clan members. When he realized I was behind it, he was a bit annoyed. We fought. I won.”
        “You were eight,” Oargev said. “How did you win?”
        “I changed my shape to resemble his daughter who lay dead no more than a few yards away,” the young man said flatly. “He couldn’t bring himself to hurt me, and when he turned his back and slit his throat.”
Oargev bit his lip but said nothing. The youth continued.
        “I spent the next few hours cutting off all of their ears.”
        “Just the left one.” Oargev stated, but the youth shook his head.
        “Both. I took their right ears and put it in one bag, and put the left ears in another bag, keeping one in my pocket. I hid the bags in different spots and headed for the surface.
        “It was the first time in my life I had seen the sun. I had heard about it, of course, but I had never seen it. It was much brighter than I had anticipated, but I was still lower than most sun reaches, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I approached the first group of Sharn Watchmen I found, resembling a young human, styling my features to appear similar to their leader, but smaller. He treated me well, saying I reminded him of his daughter. I played my part and told them about the clan of dead goblins. I led them right to it, but when they discovered their ears were missing, they got mad. I produced the left ear and informed them I would tell them where the other ears were if they paid me half their worth in gold.”
        “I bet they didn’t like that,” Oargev mused softly.
        “They did not. They threatened, they cajoled, the leader even tried to spank me, but I stood firm. Before long, they were counting goblins and then gold. Forty-two goblins was twenty-one gold. I gave them the ear I had and told them where I hid the ears. Then, before they found the bag, I fled.”
        “Because you had told them where the right ears were, not the left ones,” Oargev guessed.
        “Exactly. I fled to where I had hidden the bag of left ears, minus one, and ran all the way back to where they would have brought the bag, had the found the correct one. I was awarded forty-one gold for my troubles and was gone long before they made it back to discover what I had done.”
        “Sixty-three gold in one job,” Oargev smiled in spite of the grotesqueness of the young man’s actions. “Not too shabby. What did you do with your spoils?”
        “Hoarded it,” he replied. “I still have most of it. I bought some new clothes, something that was less dungeon-y, and began working confidence jobs all the way up the political ladder.”
        “Yes, I have the list,” Oargev said, shuffling pieces of paper on the table in front of him. “It says here that you had more than a few run-ins with that particular Sharn Watch lieutenant in those intervening years…”
        “I didn’t like him,” the young man stated. “He tried to spank me.”
        “You managed to make a fool of him time and again, but somehow always letting him know that it was you. You eventually got him discharged from the Watch and publicly humiliated. But when I look through these files, I see a number of opportunities where you could have easily gotten him killed. And yet you refrained. Why?”
        “Because he didn’t try to kill me,” the youth said simply. “I just did what he did to me: Threatened, cajoled, and humiliated.”
        “I see,” Oargev murmured. “Let’s move on to how you came to be here today.”
        “You already know all that.”
        Oargev waved a hand. “Indulge me.” The youth shrugged.
        “We had heard about the war, even down below. Sometimes veterans would turn up down there. People who couldn’t or wouldn’t fit into ‘civilized’ society anymore, because they were scarred. Physically, mentally, both, neither… once, when I was still young, I met a man who had fled down below because the Brelish government thought he was a Cyran sympathizer. It seems his father’s father had been from Cyre and he still had living relatives there. He had brought his family down below to avoid arrest.”
        “What happened to him?” Oargev asked.
        “His wife and two daughters were eaten by ghouls while he was out searching for food. He came back and his mind snapped. I know he killed himself, but I didn’t see it. Some people say he hung himself, others say he cut out his own heart. My favorite version is that he tracked down the ghouls and died fighting for revenge.”
        “You like that one?”
        The youth grinned, showing teeth. “I love a good revenge story. So during one of my jobs, I learned that his family name had been cleared. Until that point, I had been playing the part of merchants and visiting dignitaries, never quite able to break into high society, so when I heard that his family name had been cleared, I saw my chance. I remembered what he looked like, so I became him. I emerged from the depths bittersweet and triumphant. I told the truth, most of it: That my wife and daughters had been eaten by ghouls and that I had avenged them. And I was in.”
        “The trouble was,” Oargev began, “that he really was a Cyran spy.”
        “That was an unforeseen circumstance, yes,” the young man said. “The King’s Citadel had only cleared his name to draw him out. As soon as I had established myself and proved that I was indeed him, the Dark Lanterns came and arrested me.”
        “And when Cyran nationalists staged a rescue, they found you instead of the man they hoped you were. Which is why you were brought here to me.” It was Oargev’s turn to smile.
        “They were not happy about that,” the young man said. His unflappability was disconcerting. “Though if one of them had not been a changeling himself, I might have convinced them as well.”
Oargev nodded. “Imi has proved invaluable over the years. He is actually the queen’s seneschal.”
        The young man shrugged again. “So he’d have you believe. My question is, now that you have me, what will you do with me?”
Oargev pondered this. “That is a good question. If I mistreat you and you escape, I can only have the same mistreatment visited upon me to look forward to. If I were to order you killed and you escaped, I could only see my own assassination in the future. This is how you operate, is it not?”
        The youth just stared at him.
        “How about if I offer you a job?” Oargev asked. The young man blinked, his stoic impacability cracking a fraction.
        “A job?”
        “You work for me, you do what I ask you to do, and I will pay you for doing what you do best. And handsomely.”
        The young man pondered this for a long time, his eyes on the table before Oargev. Then, he looked up, right into Oargev’s face even though Oargev was still reasonably certain that he could not be seen.
        “When do I start?”

19 Lharvion, 998 YK

        Abernathy stared hard at Oargev, his black eyes containing a mixture of amazement and revulsion. “No,” he said, shaking his head. As he did so, his shape subtly changed from that of Abernathy Govern, overweight, middle-aged advisor of Oargev ir’Wynarn, to a slender, gray-skinned, flat-featured, white haired changeling who had no name. “I cannot do that.”
        “You must,” Oargev said softly. “There is no other option.”
        “No,” the changeling shook his head more fiercely. Oargev marveled at him. He had not seen the changeling’s true form for several years. Gone was the arrogant young man he had questioned before wars end, here was a fully grown adult, with lines alongside his eyes and mouth. The last six years had taken their toll on his trusted confidante. The have taken their toll on us all, Oargev thought.
        “You know this is the only way. You said it yourself.”
        “Only because I did not think you fool enough to take me up on it!” the changeling growled. “You are the rightful heir, NOT that… woman.”
        “She is your queen,” Oargev said softly.
        “She is an imposter! A changeling! Queen Dannel ir'Wynarn died in the Mourningblast!”
        “I know this already, Abernathy,” Oargev’s tone was still even and calm. “But you lack sufficient proof to expose her to her followers… and in doing so, you would expose yourself for the imposter that you are.”
        “Which I would do a thousand times over if it would dissuade you from this course of action!”
        “You know better than that. If you reveal yourself like that, it would destroy any credibility the name Abernathy Govern might have had. How many bargains, deals, understandings and promises would fall apart as a direct result of that action?”
        The changeling was silent.
        “This is the only way. Our people are divided, perhaps fatally so. If we cannot unite them, the Cyran nation will cease to be. She is royal, I am not. The choice is clear, especially to you.”
        “But she is NOT royal,” the changeling protested in a whisper. “She was the queens seneschal…”
        “As you are mine. What would you do, if you were in her position?”
        The changeling was silent again, but his silence spoke volumes.
        “It is my belief after meeting her, that whoever she is, her intention is only the best for the people. And they need hope, Abernathy. Which is something I cannot give, no matter how hard I try. Your duty is to me, Abernathy, and I have given you your orders. Please carry them out.”
        “You understand what that will mean, correct?” the changeling asked. “It cannot just be you. It must be your wife as well. And your children. As long as your line continues, the loyal will cling to them. The only way to be sure is to cut the line.”
        Oargev swallowed. He had known what it meant, but hearing it spoken out loud was difficult. He tried to speak, but could not. Instead, he nodded.
        The changeling shifted his guise to appear as Abernathy Govern once again. And he left the room.

21 Lharvion, 998 YK
        The Korranburg Chronicle put out a special edition of their periodical. The headline was written in bold text and enchanted to be understood by elves, dwarves, humans, orcs, and halflings who could read, though it was written in the language of the gnomes in which the entire periodical was written.
        The related article goes on to explain that Oargev, his wife, and his family were discovered dead at their dinner table by the dignitary’s seneschal, a man named Abernathy Govern. Investigation reveals that the poison originated from the Mournland, and the assassination is believed to be a plot of the enigmatic and legendary Lord of Blades, in retaliation for Oargev’s many plans to repopulate the Mournland with the Cyran people.
        The recently returned Queen Dannel ir'Wynarn made a statement that though Oargev was her political rival, he was a dear friend of the family and he would be mourned by all the remaining peoples of Cyre. Oargev and his family were given a state funeral in Wroat, Breland and King Boranel, Oargev’s cousin, swore he would not rest until Oargev’s murderer were found and punished. Several Brelish military units have been moved to the border of Breland and the Mournland, but more of that will be reported in subsequent issues.
        As a footnote, really no more than an afterthought, it is noted that Queen Dannel offered Abernathy Govern a place in her court. An offer which Govern declined.

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