A month-long job, involving a journey of close to eight hundred miles, (most of which they had to walk, the closest gate was gucking Valenbrook), bribes, forged documents, trips through secret passages, a fight with bandits in the Raskul woods, raiders when they tried to cross the Moutcur river, numerous close calls, and one of the most twisted supply networks Reez ever had to fashion and it was all going to end up a big fat failure because of a wall.
Reez the Orc, Ghets captain, and sore loser, was standing on a hill next to the get-a-way wagons. She was staring at a ridiculously long wall that encircled a manor house and its accompanying farm and pasture lands. The manor house, by the way, had a far more appropriate sized gate around it too.
Elise the elf, one of Reez’s Ghets, and a friend, was leaning on her spear sighing. “See the wall? Guess, we’re like not getting that return bonus, or whatever.”
“How can anyone not see that gucking wall?” Reez grumbled, “Who puts a wall like that all around their place? It must of cost more than their gucking house! Those gatehouses are huge!”
Elise shrug, “Yeah, sucks”
Reez tapped her foot. She felt her sword, Kiki, warm on her back. Reez was getting anxious and thinking about doing gunk she knew she shouldn’t. Reez was a Ghets, her job was to guide Fellowships from either side of the border where they wanted to go. But what they did once they got there was supposed to be their own business. It was important that Ghets remained neutral, that’s what allowed them to function and prevented Reez’s home, Ghetshaven, from being obliterated by some angry Dairkkul Pit Lord or Elven Emperor or bring the Okkore down on them.
There was no doubt that the Dairkkul which Reez had guided on this journey were up to some shady doings. The Dairkkul came with three big pit fiends, each close to seven feet tall with all black skin, padded feet and big sharp claws. The fiends were designed with piercing yellow eyes that granted them excellent night vision, but no mouths. It was a look that screamed assassin.
Their Dairkkul handlers had been modified too, they’re legs bent back and twisted to give them more power to leap and scale walls. Their leader was old with white hair twirling around her long antelope like horns. She went by ‘Crow’ an obvious code name, but it suited her. She had a crow’s cackle and sense of humor. When Reez pointed out that Crow was a funny name for Dairkkul since there weren’t any crows in the Dairkkul’s home of Neradoom, the old woman laughed and said that’s why they had chartered Reez and her Ghets to lead them into Aphetrria, to go bird spotting.
Crow’s two other Dairkkul companions were a lot younger. Apprentices, if Reez had to guess, based on the way they shadowed Crow and followed her orders. One was named ‘Nightingale’ and the other ‘Hummingbird’. ‘Hummingbird’ was kinda a guck up, (not that it was any of Reez’s business, but the orc was a horrible gossip). Hummingbird got spooked easy, and let information slip, like how they were working for a big time Pit Lord named Maelator. Crow had a fit when she heard him say that.
Whatever this group of spies and assassins were up to it was bad, but not too bad. The Ghets had strict codes and contracts which had to be signed before any job could start. Crow had personally assured Reez that they weren’t going to kill anyone…well, unless they had to, which was only fair.
The shadowy bunch where probably going to steal something. Both sides made a big deal out of these Fellowships: fancy quests, dire language about the fate of the world, all that gunk. But Reez knew it was just a big game. Stuff like this had been happening forever.
Some Aphetrrian Fellowship might be sent across the border to destroy a Dairkkul magic ring, to boost morale back home. The Pit Lords would then retaliate by sending their own sacred fellowship across and steal a magic sword some gunk pulled from a stone. This gave the Aphetrrians an excuse to send another Fellowship over to get the sword back. And on and on it would go until the stupid war between both lands was over. And that was never going to happen ‘cause the whole mess was started by the Goddess in the first place.
As long as neither Neradoom or Aphetrria sent an army over the border and restarted the Deinomachy or ‘Gods’ War’ everyone was happy with the game. Powers in Aphetrria and Neradoom got to do symbolic quests to distract the masses and appease their respective churches and the Ghets got to make some decent coin. Fellowships paid more than your standard merchants or pilgrims. It was good work, when there weren’t gucking walls ruining everything.
Reez left Elise to watch the wagons and headed down from the hill. Reez’s second in command, Odvid, was sitting by the road reading. Odvid had hung a lantern by a signpost as a signal to the Dairkkul when, or if, they made it back from the manor house. Odvid’s cover was supposed to be that of a beggar, the type you didn’t want anything to do with. His gray skin, hunched back and odd proportions, made it easy to believe he had some sort of incurable disease, like super leprosy or inverted gigantism. He closed his book when he heard Reez.
“I take it this is about the wall?” He asked.
“Yes! Did you see that gucking wall?!” Reez said.
“I did. It’s hard to miss. I read that it was installed by the third Earl, Gregory of Lunderbik. He raced horses and wanted the wall to incorporate his training track.”
“So, he could train horses while under siege!?” Reez said crossing her arms.
“It’s good to have hobbies.” Odvid offered.
Reez rolled her eyes. “Where’s Jaques? I want to talk to him.”
Odvid motioned towards the woods. “Up a tree keeping an eye on their progress.” Odvid said, before turning all serious “But Reez don’t do anything. We’re already more involved than we should be. The contract was just to lead them to Paluentok and meet them back there once the ‘quest’ was complete. Now we’re their get- away?”
“I know Odd, I know.” Reez said,
“Plausible deniability.” Odvid lectured.
‘Plausible Deniability’ was the creed every Ghets swore by. Ghetshaven was neutral in the Deinomachy, siding with neither the Dairkkul of Neradoom or the Elves of Aphetrria. It was the only place in the whole world were peoples of all species and lands where welcomed. Anyone could come to trade or hire Ghets for guides, extra muscle, or to lead your Fellowship to go pester the ancient enemy like Crow did.
Reez frowned. She knew she was making trouble again, going above and beyond for some fellowship. The Ghets would be paid if the fellowship’s quest succeeded or failed. It wasn’t supposed to matter to her.
“But they’re helpless Odd!” Reez pleaded, “Did you see Hummingbird this morning? He almost left his pack behind! And their original plan was to have a fiend watch the horses? Do fiends even know what horses are?” Reez said
“Not these ones, probably,” Odvid said thinking about it. “But—“
“But what? You know what’s going to happen if they get caught? Torture and execution. Odd you’re a healer, you wouldn’t leave them behind if they got sick, torture’s no different,” Reez said.
Odvid looked down. “I understand Reez. I don’t always like these jobs, but there is danger in helping them too much.”
Reez punched Odvid in the arm. “Promise I won’t go off and burn down the gatehouse or nothing.”
“Please don’t” Odvid pleaded.
Reez gave him her big orc grin, the one that showed off her neat rows of sharp teeth. And went to find Jaques.
Jaques was Reez’s scout and what she liked to call a ‘Fur’. A ‘Fur’ wasn’t any one type of thing, but rather a mixture of furry peoples all blended together. Jaques looked most like a weasel. He had a long neck, and slender body. But he also had pointed ears on the top of his head like a cat and a more pronounced snout than a weasel. Being a mixed blood mutt from a bunch of different fur covered people gave Jaques some keen senses. His hearing was sharper than any creature Reez had ever stumbled upon. And his eyesight and smell weren’t so bad neither.
“Why are you creating a racket in the woods mad orc? You’re supposed to be by the wagons.” Jaques hissed. Jaques had a bit of accent, a smooth growl that gave his voice a dark edge and made his ‘R’s rumble. It might have been attractive, if he wasn’t such a butt-spider. He had a stupid gucking nickname for everyone on the team. Reez’s was ‘mad orc’.
Reez squinted in the dark. Jaques had jet black fur which made him hard to spot at night. He rattled the tree he was sitting in and Reez came to its trunk.
“You see them? Did they make it in yet? Any alarms? Did you see that crazy gucking wall they got?”
“I don’t know why I agree to these gigs; you micromanage.” Jaques grumbled.
“Just tell me already you gunker” Reez said
“They’ve begun their robbery.” Jaques said, “Hummingbird slipped on the wall, but one of the fiends caught him. They made it to the gate of the manor. I didn’t see them go in yet. I think they are looking for an entrance. Doesn’t matter.” Jaquesed growled. “They won’t be coming out.”
“What do you mean?” Reez said hitting the tree.
“Hmph” Jaques snorted. “They picked a bad night. There’s some party going on; carriages, guests and more guards at the manor. Guards everywhere and if an alarm goes up they’ll be trapped by that wall.” Jaques gave a low groan. “We should leave soon. Once they catch the Dairkkul they’ll sweep the woods.”
“They’re not catching anyone, quit being a cynic.” Reez said, getting more anxious. Why did she bother talking to Jaques or Elise or Odvid for that matter, they were all a bunch of moody grumps. Reez was in dire need of an optimist on her team.
Jaques gave a growly laugh, “You don’t know anything orc. There’s guards out now with lanterns. They’re searching for something. No alarm yet, but their movements are too random for patrols.”
Reez didn’t like that. She could see Hummingbird messing up, maybe dropping something that aroused suspicion. “Can you see the gatehouses? The farthest one from us? They got horses there?”
Jaques paused for a moment. “Yes. Inside the wall close to the gate, there’s a small stable.”
“Good” Reez said leaving.
Jaques shouted after her. “Mad Orc what are you doing?”
“You’ll see!” Reez shouted back. “Stay up there and get ready to move when you see my signal. You won’t miss it.” Reez grinned. She knew Jaques couldn’t see it in the night and that Odvid would murder her afterwards, but at least this would be fun.
Reez could hear bells ringing and shouts of alarm in both Loir’ve and Common by the time she made it to the gatehouse. She had to work fast. She wrapped her scarf around her mouth and forced her red dreadlocks into her hood. She couldn’t risk letting the guards see her face.
She checked to make sure she had enough ‘green stuff’ for a truly fantastic fire and then unsheathed Kiki. Reez could feel the sword’s excitement, little glowing embers spotted her blade.
“No killing tonight” She whispered to Kiki as she secured the sword to her back and started to climb. Reez felt Kiki sizzle in response. Reez shook her head; that was the problem with magic swords, so demanding. “Don’t worry girl we’re still getting into trouble. Gotta take some blood to get a nice fire going.”
Reez found her trouble quick. The gatehouse was packed with rushing and confused guards. Reez bumped into a squad the second she pulled herself onto the wall. There was some fighting, some cutting, mean words were exchanged. Reez’s bloodlust started to pump through her veins and threatened to turn her into a crazed orc, burning and slashing until the guards overwhelmed her. Luckily, she got it under control and escaped the squad with only scrapes and bruises.
She kicked open the door to the gatehouse’s second floor and dumped the green stuff. She then whispered to Kiki and a small fire ignited along the sword’s blade. Reez thrusted Kiki through the wooden floorboards making sure her fire caught before getting the guck out of there. Reez and Kiki rushed the stables stealing a horse and riding as hard as they could into the night. Reez didn’t want to be anywhere near the gatehouse when the fire reached the ‘green stuff.’
There was an explosion. Even on horseback thundering away from the wall Reez could feel the heat of it. Embers and smoke chased after Reez into the night. She looked back to see the south gatehouse blazing like a bonfire. Reez hoped it created enough of a distraction to keep Crow and her people from getting caught. At the very least Reez had ruined Earl Gregory’s stupid gucking wall, so that was something to smile about.
Odvid was not smiling when Reez road back up to the wagons on the hill.
“So not burning down the gatehouse?” Odvid said as he took the reins of Reez’s stolen horse.
“Did they make it back?” Reez said ignoring him. They were going to have plenty of time to fight about this on the journey home.
“They’re in the wagons. Jaques’s pulling the covers over them now. You’ll need to drive the big one.” Odvid said reverting to business, but not losing any ‘huff’ in his voice.
“I thought you were driving?”
“I was, but then you burned down the gatehouse you specifically told me you weren’t going to.” Odvid said heading to the lead wagon with Elise.
“Now you’re just being petty!” Reez shouted after him. She hated driving wagons. She wasn’t any good at steering animals and she didn’t like looking at horse butt all day. Plus, she was sorta hoping to take a nap in the back, starting fires took a lot out of her.
Crow was waiting for Reez. She was sitting on the driver’s bench and covered in a mess of rags. Reez frowned, if they got stopped and someone noticed Crow’s horns or purple skin then Reez was going to be in a mess of trouble.
“Get in the back” Reez said as she pulled herself onto the bench. “Whole point of this was to hide you in the wagons.”
“Not enough room.” Crow said.
Reez peeked back there. Nightingale was crammed in the wagon next to one of the fiends. The fiend was bent over with its knees pulled to its mouthless face. By the fiend’s feet was a large bundled rug. It was new, must have been what Crow was after. Reez was disappointed. The rug looked fancy, but hardly seemed like it was worth all the trouble of coming to Aphetrria for. But what did Reez know? Rugs could be magic, she’d heard of flying ones.
The rug moved.
Reez squinted and saw a mess of red hair wiggling at the end of the bundled rug. A head slowly emerged its mouth bound and eyes terrified. The wagon was moving. Crow had taken the reins. Reez shot around ready to act.
“Don’t” The old Dairkkul said, her eyes fixed on the road ahead. “Nightingale will puncture your lungs before you can reach your sword.” Reez felt something sharp poke her side. It was probably Nightingale’s knife. Reez didn’t bother to look.
“Kidnaping wasn’t part of the deal.” Reez said.
“No. It was. You just didn’t know about it.” Crow said, “Helping us with that fire, that wasn’t part of the deal and for that we’ll double the return bonus.”
“Who said we were bringing you back?” Reez asked. Kiki flashed hot ready for a fight. Reez could be quick, maybe quicker than some Dairkkul assassin.
Crow laughed, that cackle of hers was sharper than the knife pressed to Reez’s side. “Stop acting like you have principles. You knew we were going to steal something.”
“Something not some—“
“Don’t say it.” Crow smirked more vicious than amused. “Plausible deniability.”
“I’m not so great at that part, did you see the gatehouse?” Reez asked.
Another cackle, “Fine.” Crow said, “If it’ll help, know that ‘whatever’ we took, it will be well taken care of. It will be treated like a royal guest and it will be returned unharmed.”
Reez hated this. But fighting now was just going to create more trouble, maybe get her and the girl in back killed. Besides hadn’t she broken the contract enough? As Odvid said some parts of the job she didn’t have to like.
“Tell your girl to take her blade out of my ribs.” Reez said
Crow didn’t say anything but, the knife disappeared. Reez crossed her arms. “You really returning her?”
“It” Crow said less amused, “And yes, in a year or two after the Black Spire has a new owner.”
So, the girl was just another token for internal politics. “Why’d you go take ‘it’, if all you were going to do is return it?”
“Haven’t done much work for Pit Lords have you?” Crow said
“Done enough.” Reez said still annoyed.
“Then you know that they take political hostages all the time. There’s nothing better as a bargaining chip.” Crow said. “Besides ‘it’ might be royal and might be ‘holy’ too.”
Reez didn’t like how Crow said ‘holy’. She couldn’t see the Dairkkul treating someone sacred to the elves with much respect.
“In Aphetrria they usually exchange hostages or there’s a war and one’s taken, guck like that.” Reez said, “Stealing them out of their beds at night—“
“Isn’t any worse.” Crow said, “Now quiet. I lost good fiends and a decent man tonight. You want your coin you’ll stop with the moralizing.”
Reez frowned, she thought maybe Hummingbird and the other fiends had taken the second wagon, not died in the attack.
“Sorry,” Reez offered.
Crow’s face was hard to read. Old lines, skin like ripe grapes, yellow eyes the color of lantern oil. “It happens. We’re at war with the other pit lords, they died saving lives and bringing peace.”
Reez lent back and didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what Crow was talking about. It probably had to do with the Dairkkul succession cycle. Neradoom was going through a whole host of civil wars. Reez just hoped the old spy was right and that stealing the girl stopped a war, ‘cause to Reez it looked like they had just started a whole new one instead.