Ghets Chapter 7

Ghets Chapter 7

Hi everyone! Thanks for following the preview of Ghets. This is the last chapter I’m going to post for at least a little while. If you want to get caught up on the story you can check out my Ghets Preview


Chapter:

With the Fellowship gone Reez ordered some cheesy, fried, bat wings. Despite being on the Aphetrrain side of town and run by a former Aphetrrian monk, the ‘Holy, Holy’ had a Dairkkul chef and she made the greasiest, most horrible for you food, you could get on either side of the Divide. Reez loved it. Nothing tasted better after a night of drinking and haggling than something deep fried and covered in stinky green cheese.

Odvid loosened his hood. He had kept it tight to make sure his red eye wasn’t visible to their guests, though Reez doubt it worked. Problem with groups like Markus’s was that you had to ease them into the differences between the two lands, force too much on them early and they’d freak out. Odvid’s red eye might have been enough weirdness for them for one night.

“That was…informative” Odvid said of the negotiations. “What did you think of the ‘Fellowship’?”

“I think they’re greener than me.” Reez said flashing Odd one of her infamous grins.

Odvid smirked. “Their requests… I don’t know where to begin. They don’t want to take the Gates? Or eat any food from Neradoom? They can’t travel over large bodies of water because they’re afraid Nord the dwarf will sink and the priestess wants to know if there’s any temples to Dhiamitrst they can stop at on the way?”

“They’re gucking insane.” Reez said inspecting her glass. Buzzed or not she decided it would be a waste if she didn’t finish her wine. “Don’t these fellowships usually come with a Ranger or something? You’d think with all the fuss the Aphetrrians are putting up about this group, they’d at least include some veteran who’s been to Neradoom.”

Odvid scratched his chin, he had been growing a bit of stubble there, most of it was black, but Reez spotted a white hair or two. “Given the timing of the decree the Fellowship should have made it here before now, even if they weren’t using the Gates.”

Reez shrugged, “Thinking the same, figure they might have taken a detour. Wasn’t there supposed to be seven of them? They only talked about sneaking five across the border.”

Odvid shifted forward, his chin resting on his massive hands. Even though he was just shy of twenty-five he looked like an old man then. The hunchback he was always trying to hide in the folds of his coat was sticking up like a mountain.

“They could have had some trouble on the road. But even so, Sphetrra to Ghetshaven is an easy enough journey through allied territory.”

Reez shot up when the barmaid brought out her plate. She stared down at the mess of wings and chunky cheese.

“Yeah strange,” Reez said pawing at her bat wings, they were still too hot to eat, so she had to make do with licking the grease off her fingers.

“Lot of questions about this group, like did you know Arilune was a princess? Or that she’s supposed to be an Avatar to some Elven Goddess? How that even work? She’s human, Markus too. Speaking of Gods, why are they avoiding the gates? We can sneak anything shy of a god through them. They’re being silly gunkers.”

Odvid didn’t say anything for a moment. He was staring out at nothing, getting all deep like he did. Reez focused on her bat wings. She bit in, snapping one with a satisfying crunch.

“I noticed you haven’t been taking on as much work since the kidnapping.” Odvid looked at Reez like he was talking to a patient, all concern in his eyes. “There was no way for us to have known what Crow was after Reez. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of being a Ghets.”

Reez dropped her batwing. “What are you getting at Odd?” She asked suspicious.

Odvid kept his eyes on her. “You feel guilty. I know you waited for the Fellowship, you want to save Arilune.”

Reez laughed, “Odd it’s a fat purse nothing more. Orcs don’t care about the wise of the fighting, we jus—“

Odvid rolled his mismatched eyes. “Reez, it’s me.”

Reez frowned and squirmed a bit. Guck Odd for ruining her bat wings. “Okay, maybe I feel bad about the princess. But this is a win-win Odd, we get to make a lot of money, and the girl gets to go home. I don’t seem a problem.”

Odvid lent back with a sigh, him and Elise always sighing. Reez crossed her arms pouting.

“I don’t want another burning gatehouse Reez.” Odvid said, “They’re quest isn’t ours. You didn’t kidnap Arilune and it won’t be you who saves her.”

“I know Odd.” Reez said annoyed. “Plausible deniability, we only lead them some place and then lead them back home when they’re done. I’m the gucking captain, I know how a gig works.”

Odvid nodded, but neither spoke for a while. Reez started down at the congealing cheese on her wings. She wasn’t hungry any more, Odvid had lectured it out of her. She glared at him and asked the question.

“You coming this time? Or ‘am I too close to this job’?”

Odvid frowned. “I get it. I sound like the old Sergeant in one of those hardboiled guard plays you love.”

That a got a grin out of Reez. “You are totally ‘the too old for this gunk’ type.”

“And you’re a loose catapult Kaikor Reez,” Odvid said with a smirk. He shook his head. “Of course, I’m coming. Who else is going to shame you for going off contract again?”

Reez laughed and tore into her still warm wings. She might have been the captain of her crew, but they were Ghets not the Okkore, everyone got a vote.

“I’ll talk to Elise tomorrow see if she’s in.” Reez sucked up the cheese off a wing, still talking as she chewed. “Given how Aphetrrain pretty that elven mage was, I don’t think Elise ’ll be a problem.” Reez also had questions about what business a human princess had being the avatar of Anudica.

“I’ll handle Jaques.” Odvid said, “He’ll complain about the distance, but he was down at the races last night, I’m sure he’s in need of coin.”

The races again? The dumb weasel was going to get his legs broken for a third time. Reez shook her head and focused on finishing off her batwings. The Fellowship wanted to leave as soon as possible, which meant she wasn’t going to get to enjoy a meal this greasy for months.

Ghets Chapter 6

Ghets Chapter 6

It’s Fiction Friday! This week it’s Ghets Chapter 6. Markus considers the mysterious Ghets he encountered last chapter. We’re getting close to the end of our Ghets preview just another chapter to go! (Well, for now)

If you’d like to get caught up on Ghets you can do so here: Ghets Preview


Chapter

After the arrangements were agreed upon, the Fellowship retreated to their stuffy Inn on the Aphetrrian side of the Divide. They had left the orc and her companion with an informal agreement, one that they would make official at ‘Oath Hall’ tomorrow.

Yin felt they were making a mistake, she was even less trusting of the Ghets than Markus. She said she had been around enough of them in Ruinsway to know they were all cheats and con men. At the very least Yin pushed for them to get a second opinion. But Meiral and Roland had been satisfied with the orc and too exhausted to look elsewhere.

Markus shared Yin’s concerns, but despite her bravado the orc seemed credible and her companion was rational. Both promised a list of references at Oath Hall to back their claims. Markus intended to thoroughly vet those.

He didn’t like the orc, though he didn’t understand why. She was both what he expected and nothing at all what he expected. Markus had met few orcs in his life, but he was under the impression that they were a brutish, violent people that held allegiance to no side but war. They relished and worshiped combat, known to enter a berserker like state of ecstasy they referred to as ‘bloodlust’. Even their biology was built for war, they were big, on average, taller and bulkier than humans with tusks or fangs drooping out of their mouths.

This Reez had green skin and yellow inhuman eyes. But she was shorter than Markus and only a little taller than Meiral. She had muscles, but they were the lean muscles of a swordswoman, not the hulking muscles of the barbarian like orcs Markus had fought. Her hair was a wild mess of red dreadlocks and she had a sinister smile, it was too long, and her teeth all looked like sharp canines. But there was a playfulness to her grin, and to her presence. Markus could even see how one might find her attractive despite her orcish qualities (not having tusks went a long way with that).

Her armor should have been a clear sign that she was a Ghets. It was an advertisement of her adventures, stitched together from different styles and cultures. Mostly brown and red leather bindings, with ‘plate’ in places. She had a shell of some creature worked into a kneepad, similar to the people of the western Aphetrrian tribes. Along her sword arm there was lacquered armor that looked vaguely Dairkkul. Their leather was grown from pits of flesh, blood and magics. Under her belt was a crimson sash styled in the manner of the horse archers of the Aphetrrain frontier. There were other pieces and trinkets on her that Markus could not identify.

She was infuriating and seemed to enjoy Markus’s discomfort. It was hard to believe she took anything too seriously and yet, she seemed to have pride in the work she had done. Reez was confusing. Her companion on the other hand was not.

This ‘Odvid’ explained everything in detail and walked the Fellowship through all the challenges geographically, politically, culturally and logistically they would face on their journey. Just as Markus wished to dislike Reez, and yet couldn’t completely. Markus wanted to trust this ‘Odvid’ but found that he could not.

Odvid was of a people that Markus couldn’t place and the Ghets seemed to want to keep it that way. He wore a large overcoat with many pockets and a hood that he kept pulled over his head the entire night. His form was…strange.

He was about the size of a human, only a little shorter than the orc. He had a large hunched back and his hands and arms were massive, even larger than Nord’s stocky frame. And yet Odvid’s legs and feet were stumpy and weak. He walked with a hobble, it didn’t seem to impact him much, but it was evident in his gait.

His skin was stone gray and revealed nothing. His eyes though created more mystery. His left eye was gorgeous. It was pure blue, the richest color of the sky. No whites at all, just the iris and pupil like a glass bead. It radiated something, a power? a lineage? It suggested a pure Aphetrrian, an elven demi-god maybe. But Odvid’s right eye suggested something else entirely.

Ovid tried to keep his right side hidden in his hood away from Markus and the Fellowship. But Markus had gotten a decent look. Odvi’s right eye too lacked whites, it was a rich red with dark veins like cracks running through it. Its pupil was odd, shaped like a black star. Its edges shifted, moving slightly, growing and shrinking so it was never the same shape. It was hard to look at. It felt wrong, made of chaos and Neradoom.

Odvid did not seem Dairkkul. He didn’t have any horns and his proportions were very different from the demons. But Markus knew the Dairkkul could modify their bodies to a certain degree. Markus doubted any creature would want to shift itself into Odvid’s bizzare, almost crippled form, but maybe he was a Dairkklu that tried to appear as an elf and thus experienced a horrible accident? Maybe he was from another Neradoomin people that Markus didn’t know of? There were many. There were even humans in Neradoom, maybe they looked like Odvid?

And yet Odvid’s left eye felt so pure, so true to Aphetrria that Markus doubted it could be copied. Odvid could have been born at the border in Ghetshaven and maybe that affected him and gave him his strange eyes? Markus didn’t know, but whatever Odvid was it made Markus suspicious.

Ghets Chapter 5

Ghets Chapter 5

This week on Fiction Friday it’s Ghets Chapter 5! The fellowship makes it to Ghetshaven where they meet Reez and Odvid, and the true journey begins. For more of Ghets check out my Ghets Preview


Reez couldn’t believe her luck.

Since the official decree arrived weeks ago every Ghets in town had been chatting about the Aphetrrian Fellowship. The Aphetrrians weren’t playing around this time. The decree was endorsed by everyone from the Golden King, to the High Priest of Dhiamitrst. There was going to be seven warriors to represent the seven Elven Goddesses and they each came from a different kingdom. Though most of them looked like Easterners with some support from their mountain allies. The Easterners were using the Fellowship as a power play since the Eternal Empire were hurting.

Politics aside, or maybe because of the politics, there was a lot of money and power behind this Fellowship, which meant it was going to be a fat purse for whatever Ghets landed a contract with them. Every Ghetter captain worth their gunk had been practicing their Lori’ve and spending time in the ‘Holy, Holy’ tavern wanting for the Fellowship to land on the Aphetrrain side of town.

Reez and Odvid had been at the tavern every night since the decree, but the Fellowship never showed. It had been well over a month and most of the other Captains had given up hope, taking work with cravens and heading out of town. Only Reez kept to taking day jobs and spending her nights in the ‘Holy, Holy’ waiting for a tired pack of Aphettrians to wander in for a drink.

Her perseverance had finally paid off. A strange looking group of Aphetrrains had come in and Reez was the only Ghets Captain in the tavern. She rushed them, dragging Odvid with her and offering to buy her new friends a round of drinks. The potential Fellowship had been guarded at first, but eventually Reez’s smile and charms won them over, that or she was too gucking stubborn to take a hint, (and why should she be anything else? They made her wait weeks!)

“So, you all work for the same guild or something?” Reez said to the Aphetrrians with a knowing smirk.

“No, why do you say that?” Roland asked. The old human seemed alright, bit Eastern Aphetrrian stiff, but friendly.

“’Cause you all got on the same cloaks,” Reez said leaning in, “Nice ones too, Winterash and a Silver silk blend? Fancy, hear that stuff changes to different shades of grey to help you blend in, a lot of rangers carry them.”

“Oh yes, right” Roland corrected feeling his cloak, “I suppose you could say we’re work colleagues, of a manner.”

“Roland” Markus said with force.

Markus was bitter, clenching his stein and looking all mean. If he wasn’t so ridiculously pretty or maybe had a pair of tusks, the human would have stirred something in Reez. Markus had nice muscles, rich brown skin, a strong jaw, and lush black hair. He had to be the leader. Aphetrria liked to make plays and songs about their ‘heroes’, they cultivated a certain type.

“So, you guys merchants?” Reez asked.

“Reez” Odvid said, exasperated, he just wanted to get this over with.

“Yes?” Roland offered not sure what to say.

These gucks weren’t good at the game. The innuendo, the raised eye brows, the little hints and suggestions. Everything done with just the right emphasis to explain what you were really looking for. Crow already had these guys beat, she was a master of the game.

“Burnished gold plate armor,” Reez said peaking at what was under Markus’s cloak before he wrapped it around himself, indignant.

“And you, Orecast chain mail?” Reez said turning to look at the dwarf. “And that’s an impressive war mallet too!” Reez said inspecting the weapon. “That thing double headed? One side an axe the other a hammer?”

The dwarf crossed his arms and nodded with pride. Markus shot him a look and the dwarf coughed sheepishly.

“Well, we heard it was dangerous on the road, highwaymen and what not” Roland said trying to play.

Reez gave him a point for that. None of the other Aphetrrians were engaging. Markus spent most of the night glaring at her. The pretty elf blushed and looked away, the part elf with an eye patch squirmed, and the dwarf drank. They were all uncomfortable, clearly out of their gucking depth. It was a good thing Hawke or Sahar hadn’t gotten to them or these poor gunkers would have been swindled out of their coin before they even started their quest.

“Oh, it’s real dangerous out there.” Reez said leaning back, “That is if you don’t got a guide.” She gave them another of her award-winning smiles and then a big dramatic wink to sell it, cause this Fellowship needed all the help they could get.

“A guide, oh, like a Ghets?” Roland said, seeming legitimately confused. This was slowly unraveling from fun to painful.

“Yup, that’s what the G stands for. Ghets: Guides. Hunters. Explores. Treasure Seekers.” Reez said.

The part elf girl shot up. “What? Their dumb name really means something? I always thought they were trying to be stupid or cute.”

Reez deflated, “Nope, it stands for exactly what I said.”

“Oh marvelous,” Roland said, “Do you know any Ghets? We may be in the market, if you know what I mean.” He leaned in close, “We’re not actually merchants.”

Reez didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, “You don’t say.”

“Roland don’t,” Markus interjected.

“But Markus, I thought we agreed–” Roland said,

“She doesn’t need to know. We can find Ghets on our own. They must have a guild.”

Reez grabbed her wine and drank deep, “Course they do, got a certification board, reviews too, all the Fellowships they smuggle across the border on clandestine missions leave letters of recommendation. Don’t trust anyone who’s under three starts, fivers are overrated. If you’re a five, you usually haven’t done enough work that’s why their scores are so high, go for a solid four, they have the experience and the right price.”

Roland brightened at that. “Thank you, let me write that down.” He started searching his bag for a stencil until Odvid spoke up.

“Don’t, she’s teasing you. We’re Ghets.” Odvid said.

“Oh—I see, if you don’t mind me asking what are your stars?” Roland asked innocently.

Reez laughed, Odvid made a face, trying to ignore her.

“There’s no rating, there’s no guild or certification board. We do our deals in crowded taverns like this and then sign contracts written up in Oath Hall. Don’t worry, the language is made purposely vague for your benefit and ours.” Odvid explained.

“Why?” Roland asked confused.

Reez was having enough of this. If these gunkers needed it spelled out for them, she’d spell it out. “Because leading Fellowships like you across the border is breaking a ton of gucking treaties and we don’t like pissing off Neradoom, Aphetrria or the Okkore.” Reez said swirling her glass.

Markus shot up, his hand on his hilt, eyes locked on Reez. The entire tavern went silent watching them. Reez just kept on sipping her wine.

“How do you know about us and our quest?” Markus asked in a harsh whisper. “You’re an orc, are you a spy for the Okkore?”

“For the love of Kor and his gucking ways.” Reez said sharing a knowing look with Odvid. “Not every orc is a member of the Okkore, learn that quick or you’re going to tick somebody off. Now sit down and stop acting like a butt-spider. Half of Aphetrria knows about your gucking quest. Your kingdom has been bragging about it for months! I even took a job last week taking one of your Heralds to the Shattered Coast so she could give public reading.”

Markus glared at Reez but did as he was told. He looked to the other members of the Fellowship, all of them seemed aghast that their ‘secret’ mission was common gucking knowledge. They lent in whispering.

“There was the parade through both Valenbrook and Sphettra.” Roland said

“And the feasts in Eldorita and Grunnhorn” The pretty elf added.

“Oh yes, and in Nord’s homeland too! That was quite a bit of mead,” Roland said smiling before, looking down at his stein embarrassed. “Now that I think about it, one doesn’t usually get that drunk to announce a clandestine enterprise. Actually, rarely does one ‘announce’ anything clandestine at all do they?”

Markus’s scowled, “I can’t believe this. Why would Sphetrra jeopardize us before we even left? I knew of the announcements, but to be spotted like this” Markus sighed, “If the Ghets know we’re here than surely Maelator knows as well.”

There was a bit more chatter, not all of it Reez caught and then the Fellowship broke up their huddle. Markus the hero sat up straight and looked at Reez with frighteningly serious eyes.

“We need guides and body guards to take us into Neradoom.” He said

“Course you do. Now where do you need to go and how much are you going to pay me to get you there?” Reez asked smiling.

Ghets Chapter 4

Ghets Chapter 4

This week on Fiction Friday, it’s Ghets Chapter 4! We meet Markus and his Fellowship as they quest to save the Princess Reez just helped kidnap.

You can find the first three chapters of Ghets here


Chapter

It was night as Markus and his Fellowship approached Ghetshaven. To the East over the banks of the Divide a Black Sun hung in the air. Markus had never seen something so wrong. It was the blackest of black, darker than the very night and yet it’s edges radiated a pale light. It was a twisted mockery of the moon. The product of a dark and foul place, one where the moon and sun dare not tread. Neradoom, the land of demons.

Markus was close now, closer than he had been in months. Soon he would see her again, his love, Princess Arilune.

Markus winced at the thought of the Princess. He remembered lying next to her on nights like this. Her deep green eyes, the bright freckles that dotted her face like a mask, her wild red hair. He remembered the feeling of Arilune’s slender shoulders against his chest. He would stare at her in shock that this dainty girl, the girl he loved, was the avatar of Victorious Anudica, Goddess of War.

Arilune could be fierce in her way, but she was no warrior. She was a princess, regal, capable at diplomacy and the intrigues of court life. But for combat, she relayed on Markus to be her knight and champion. He had defended Arilune ever since they first met, having sworn that he would always be there for her.

He wasn’t.

Markus was at Lunderbik when the demons attacked. Smoke choked the air. Alarm bells and shouts rang out. Bucket brigades collided with guards as chaos engulfed the manor. Lost and searching for Arilune, Markus had stumbled upon the fleeing demons.

They had the princess. She was bound and rolled up in a rug, being carted off like livestock. Markus charged the Dairkkul intent on freeing his Princess, but was stopped by a fiend, one of the demon’s slaves and monstrosities.

The creature had claws like daggers and raked Markus’s chest. The pain was immense, but rage carried Markus through and he fought the creature to standstill eventually taking its head. Bleeding and panting Markus ran in the direction the dairkkul had fled, but they were already gone.

Weeks later when the elves of Sphetrra, Anudica’s holy city, called for a Fellowship to save the avatar, Markus was the first to volunteer. The elves were rightfully suspicious of him. How could they trust the so called ‘knight’ who allowed Arilune to be kidnapped in the first place? But Markus’s persistence slowly won them over. They included Markus and his mentor, the grand sir Roland, in the Fellowship. The pair were joined by five other elite warriors picked from all over Aphetrria.

But the journey had proven difficult, even for a company of heroes’ such as Markus’s Fellowship. Before reaching Neradoom they had already suffered death and betrayal. Three warriors had fallen, including Aawut the Fellowship’s ranger and guide. Now Markus was left with only three official members and one apprentice and they hadn’t even made it halfway.

Markus touched Impaladius the sword that was lost and now found.

“Was it worth it?” He asked his companions as they neared Ghetshaven.

“It was.” Meiral said. Meiral was an elven mage and Priestess to Dhiamitrst the fertility goddess. She was gentle, and Markus often found her words to be of great comfort, a comfort he needed now more than ever.

“We’ve lost so much” Markus said. “Meraldo first, now Aawut and Aeikhu…” Markus twisted his grip around Impaladius’s hilt. “I still can’t believe Aeiku was a traitor!”

Meiral came closer, her voice soothing. “Aeikhu was Unclaimed, they have been fighting this war longer than anyone, Markus. There was no way for you to know.” Meiral’s Lori’ve accent made her words fluffy turning ‘they’ to ‘zey’. Markus let out a calm breath. It was hard to be anything but hopeful in Meral’s presence.

“It’ll be alright.” Roland said coming up to meet his former squire. “We’re nearly there.”

Markus stared at the round, soft face of his mentor. Roland had been one of the greatest tourney knights Markus had known. But Roland had seen less war than even Markus and he was old and growing frail. Markus couldn’t help but feel protective of him, of all the Fellowship. He glanced back at Yin and Nord staggering behind them.

Nord the dwarf was limping, still recovering from Aiekhu’s attack. Yin was helping him walk. Yin was taking Aawut’s death the hardest. She wouldn’t even look at Markus, instead hiding her good eye under her straight black hair.

At first Markus had found it difficult to believe that Yin was a ranger in training. She was only part elf and had already lost an eye despite being younger than Markus himself. She seemed undisciplined and bragged of once being a pickpocket. But she had proven her worth as guide in the tombs of Ruinsway. And she seemed determined, shadowing Aawut, trying to copy his every move.

Markus looked at Roland and wondered how he would have taken his mentor’s death, if the knight had fallen while Markus was still a squire. He shook his head, he would be half the warrior he was today.

Sadness and frustration gripped Markus. His Fellowship was wounded, lost and nearly beaten. He hated to admit it, but they needed help. A guide to replace Aawut, a mage to help Meiral, warriors to keep the Fellowship safe. He had been debating it with Roland for weeks now, but after Aeikhu’s betrayal there was no choice. They needed Ghets.

Ghets Chapter 3

Ghets Chapter 3

This week on ‘Fiction Fridays’ it’s chapter 3 of Ghets. We visit Ghetshaven and Reez learns of the consequence of her last job. Hope you enjoy!

You can find Chapters 1 and 2 here


Chapter

Reez stared at the wilting leaves of her Mawba plant. Odvid had gotten the plant for her because it was notoriously hard to kill. You could feed it water or booze, plant it in soil or in a bowl of steam and it would still prosper. If the Mawba’s leaves weren’t a pretty red-brown with maroon flowers, and if it didn’t take forever to grow and spread, it might have been considered a weed. It even grew in the Under-Kingdoms way beneath the earth, that was how little care it needed. And yet, Reez was still managing to kill hers.

As an orc that should have been a point of pride, she could kill anything. But Reez just huffed and fed the plant some more wine, hoping that would perk it up. Wine usually had that effect on Reez…usually. She had been in a funk the last couple of weeks and even going out for drinks with her team wasn’t doing it for her.

Reez was sure it was her little apartment in Ghetshaven. She was getting bored and claustrophobic. It had absolutely nothing to do with lingering guilt about stealing some redheaded human girl in the middle of the night. No, what Reez needed was to get out of town on some job. After guiding caravans through The Bitter Pass or hunting for treasure in Ruinsway she’d be back to her old self. Satisfied with the plan, Reez split the remainder of her wine with her plant and headed out for Oath Hall.

It was raining out on the Neradoomin side of town, so Reez kept to the streets on the Aphetrrian side where it was nice and sunny. Reez was fortunate enough to grab an apartment on Godless Isle. Godless was the old part of Ghetshaven and sat right in the middle of The River of the Great Divide (or just the Divide, as the locals called it.). Godless Isle was one of the few borders between Aphetrria and Neradoom where you could simply walk across from one land to the other.

Godless also had easy access to Gate Square and Oath Hall, as well as any guild or merchant offices Reez might need to visit. But it wasn’t cheap. Reez’s team went in for bigger places on either side of the Divide, placing them in Aphetrria or Neradoom proper.

Reez scoured the pre-written contracts and job posting at Oath Hall. There was a survey team looking to build a temple in the Ourobori jungle and needed a guide. Perfect. The Okkore was opening a Gate to Morjara today, and according to the schedule there’d be a Gate open in Ghoneshi on the other side of the jungle on the fifteenth. It would be a quick four-day job, three nights in the jungle, and then to Ghoneshi, to take the Gate home. Reez grabbed it.

Reez stopped by the post to send a quick a note to Odvid letting him know she’d be out of town and see if he could work some magic to fix her plant. He was a mage as well as a healer after all. And then Reez headed to Gate Square. She’d pick up some supplies in the bazaar that was held between the gates before heading to Morjara.

The Orc Fortress of Korragorra loomed before Reez. The Orcs had their own sprawling city on Godless Ilse. Ghetshaven lived in the shadow of it, leeching off the trade and travelers that used the Gates. The Gates technically belonged to the Okkore, the closest thing the orcs had to a kingdom. Only Orc shamans could operate and maintain Kor’s Thirteen Gates and each Gate was a portal to an Orc barracks in either Aphetrria or Neradoom.

There was a time when the Okkore didn’t like sharing the gates. They understood the gates’ full military potential and used them to send armies all over the world. Armies they kept resupplied and reinforced thanks to the gates all leading back to their chief fortress of Korragorra. The thirteen gates helped the orcs conquer both Aphetrria and Neradoom and for a hundred years the Okkore had ruled the world putting an end to the Deinomachy and enforcing Kor’s peace.

But the Orc Empire didn’t last, the gods wanted the Deinomachy too bad and the orcs were almost wiped out. The Okkore that now ruled Korragorra was a very different beast than the one that had conquered the world. It was leaner, more cautious and more cunning.

The new Okkore opened Gate square to the merchants of Ghetshaven. It employed Ghets, sending them on trading missions to guilds, kings, pit lords and chieftains. It re-ranged the arch totems, the gate exits, building barracks with totems near major ports and crossroads. It paid to lease arch totems in the capital cities of every kingdom on either side of the Divide.

The new Okkore did everything it could to promote travel and trade between Aphetrria and Neradoom. If Kor’s peace couldn’t be won through the sword, the orcs were going to see if they could buy it. So far it had been working. There hadn’t been a major war between Aphetrria and Neradoom since the Elven retaliation thirty years ago.

Reez passed the Okkore’s contraband checkpoints and entered Gate Square. Gate Square was a giant courtyard that held the Gates and a daily bazaar. Merchants set up stalls along the lanes leading to and from the thirteen gates, trying to pick up trade from the thousands of travelers that passed through the gates each day. The square was unlike anywhere else in the world and always made Reez get philosophical, reminding her of ‘the churn of creation’. The early days of existence when there was only Apherria and Neradogtha. In the churn chaos chased order, order chased chaos, the forces came together, and broke apart again. It was balanced, yet volatile, Apherria and Neradogatha expressed as a single primal force, that was the churn, and that was Gate Square.

Lanes of merchant caravans streamed from one gate, narrowly avoiding getting tangled with the reins and wagons of caravans coming from the opposite direction. A mass of messy pilgrims bumbled through the bazaar like gawking tourists. The pilgrims’ Ghets did everything they could to shepherd them along, while merchants shoved trinkets, charms and idols in their faces and shouted of deals and wonders.

The smoky scent of barbeque blended with the spices of curry, the honey of glazed nuts and the steaming stench of dung produced by a thousand different types of draft animals. Barkers shouted in Xunese, Loir’ve, and Kul, before repeating everything in Common, trying to entice travelers to the inns and gambling dens in Ghetshaven proper. Agents of various guilds and merchant companies ran across the bazaar directing their caravans to the correct Gate or warehouse. Most caravans would have to spend a couple of nights in Ghetshaven while they waited for their destination to come up. Kor only had thirteen gates and they needed to be changed to a new location every morning.

The Okkore was a heavy presence in the square. Okkore sergeants prowled the Gate lanes, pushing aggressive vendors to the side to make room and halting traffic to let orc warriors march between gates. The orc sergeants cleared up messes and directed complaining merchants to Oath Hall in Ghetshaven where their dispute would be overseen by Aphetrrian law masters and Neradoomin judges.

Confusion erupted everywhere in the square, there was a mess of different peoples, each speaking different languages, with different biology and wildly different customs. And yet that confusion was quickly sorted and shifted, if not completely dispelled thanks to the tight routines and layout of the square and the discipline of experienced guards and guides. This wonderful, beautiful place of managed chaos was all thanks to the symbiotic relationship between the Ghets and the Okkore.

Reez felt some pride in that, since she was both an orc and a Ghets. She bought some dry goods from a salt merchant representing the Roohr League and a new water sack from a Dairkkul Skin-Smith, before chatting with her friend Monoko who dealt in mounts and then heading over to an apothecary stall to haggle over bug ointment. Finally, fully stocked for the excursion, Reez bought a roasted frog on a stick for a quick lunch and headed to Gate Four to start her job.

Reez, and everyone in her lane, was stopped by an Orc sergeant to let an Okkore unit of pikemen march out of the gate. It was always strange to watch people exiting the gates. They looked like they were just walking into the bazaar from another entrance rather than traveling leagues in an instance.

Each gate was a portal that sat in a giant doorway carved into the walls of Gate Square The substance that made up the portals were hard to describe. It was a spiral. The ether of Neradoom and Aphetrria coming together in one swirling blend, the churn again, light chasing darkness, darkness chasing light. You didn’t really feel anything when you touched the portals. You just stepped through them like a regular door and were transported to whatever spot had the active arch totem.

Most of the gate exits weren’t as big as the gate entrances in Korragorra. There were a lot of rules to the gates, the orcs had a whole class of shamans dedicated to them, and Reez didn’t know all the particulars, but she did know that each gate exit had to be an archway, at least a mini version of the doorway in Korragorra. The gates were fascinating and a gucking miracle, but like any miracle people got used to them and started to take them for granted, like the indignant merchant that pushed himself ahead of everyone in Reez’s lane.

“You’re doing this again?” The merchant shouted at the orc sergeant, “I’ve been halted five times today already, once for two hours to let your people through. You own these gates! Get organized! Do your nonsense in the morning before you open the square! It’s not hard.”

The orc sergeant reminded silent and kept her face cool. Unlike the civilized orc, most peoples found it rude to be punched in the face when they said something stupid.

Luckily, Reez was there.

“Hey friend,” She said tapping the merchant on the shoulder.

“What is it?” He said spinning around. “Oh for the love of Apherria another one,” He said looking Reez up and down. “Are you this one’s superior? Because—”

“Because what?” Reez said leaning in. “Just because it’s the middle of the day in Ghetshaven doesn’t mean it’s noon in Morjara. What? Every orc should abandon their post in the middle of the night just because it impedes you by a couple of hours? The gates are a literal gift from the gods! Stop whining and get back in the gucking line.”

The merchant looked like he was going to say more, but Reez smiled at him, big and hungry like and that was enough for him to scurry back to his waiting pack animals.

Reez winked at the orc sergeant after the merchant retreated. She was young, probably only about sixteen. “Had to do gate duty during my training too, don’t let these gunkers get you down.”

The sergeant didn’t reply. Reez stood there in awkward silence while the last Orc pike man passed. Before letting everyone go the orc sergeant spat at Reez’s feet and muttered “Traitor”.

Reez immediately felt an emotion too hot to be called shame and too heartbreaking to be called rage. Her smile deflated, and she sunk into the crowd of merchants and travelers that flooded into Gate Four. Sometimes Reez let herself forget everything that had happened between her and the Okkore. It was generous of her, the Okkore had taken more from her than it had given. But just because Reez was willing to be generous didn’t mean the Okkore reciprocated. At best they tolerated her, seeking to forget that she was ever a part of them at all. To the Okkore Reez was no different than the pushy merchant, just another traveler using the gates.

But that was okay, Reez liked being a ghets more than she ever liked being Okkore warrior. She stepped through the gate and got to work.

Reez’s job in the jungle was mostly okay, but Reez only got into one measly fight and the gig was over way too quick. Reez found herself in Ghoneshi with a whole day to spare. Usually, under those circumstances she’d do some sightseeing, but Ghoneshi was a Darikkul city and it was all a buzz over the latest news. And what news it was, Reez stayed in her inn soaking it all in, growing increasingly pale.

According to the local gossip, Lord Maelator had pulled ahead from his rivals and was on the verge of taking the Black Spire. Maelator had always been a contender, but his sudden success had come when he converted his staunchest enemies into allies. He accomplished this by doing something that no Dairkkul outside of a Dark Lord had achieved before. He kidnapped the avatar of an elven god. The girl was proof that Maelator wasn’t just seeking the Black Spire for himself, but for mother Neradogtha. For surely, he would use the power of the Dark Lord to marshal all the fiends to him and restart the Deinomachy.

Reez almost fainted when she heard about the avatar. She ordered ‘literally all the wine they gucking had’ and asked her Dairkkul drinking companions to go over the news again.

“Maelator stole an elven avatar?” Reez said, “But I, um, heard the girl was a human.”

“She is! She is!” The Dairkkul said excitedly, sloshing his drinking dish “An Aphetrrian human with red hair and green eyes, just like the god.

“But how can a human be—”

“I don’t know” The Dairkkul said slurping up his liquor “It’s Aphetrria they have so many constricting rules. I don’t know how people survive under that tyranny. But apparently, they have humans there too, and this one is the avatar of a god, the elves have said so themselves! They’re calling for their heroes to form a fellowship to win her back. Maybe we’ll get a proper war again!”

Reez snatched the wine jug out of the innkeeper’s hands and immediately started guzzling. There was no way this was happening. Crow had signed contracts, made promises! Reez felt her forehead. The orcs were going to call her a lot worse than ‘traitor’ if they found out she was the Ghets that orchestrated this.

“Do you know which god this avatar is supposed to be? Reez asked.”

The Dairkkul smiled. “The bad one. The worst one. Wicked Anudica, the Goddess of war.”

………..

Ghets Chapter 2

Ghets Chapter 2

I’m trying something new. Every Friday I’m going to post some of my fiction work. I’m calling it ‘Fiction Fridays’ cause I’m creative like that. For my first Fiction Friday here is ‘Chapter 2 of Ghets’.

If you want to read Chapter 1 please check out my Ghets Preview page where I’ll be storing all the chapters I post.

Thanks!


Chapter

In the beginning, there was no Dienomachy. There were no gods. There was only the Ether.

From the Ether two gods emerged. Apherria, goddess of order and Neradogtha, goddess of chaos. They were each other’s opposite and should have hated one another other, but they did not. They felt a deep need for the other. They embraced and blended and all of existence was them, a swirl. The light chasing the dark, the dark chasing the light. The churn of creation.

In the churn the goddess came to understand themselves and each other, and love emerged. The first emotion, the most vital. Apherria and Neradogtha loved one another. They were still opposites, they would bicker and argue and fight, but they didn’t war. Instead their conflict helped them to grow and create. Apherria created the sun, but Neradogtha grew bored with it and kicked it across the sky creating night. Neradogtha made fire, but it was too hungry and wouldn’t stop eating so Apherria created water to douse it.

The sisters, the lovers, the first gods, worked like this. Creation was a game they played together, a language which expressed their love. They created the old gods, their first children, gods of stone and mountains, gods of wind, gods of moon, and many more. They raised their children together and taught them the language of creation

But unbeknownst to Neradogtha or Apherria, a third god had emerged from the ether. This third god lived alone, lost, unaware that there was anything like him in the universe. This god, Kor, the wandering god, traveled the vast nothingness and the lonely ether, searching for a home. He eventually found the world. And found the goddesses.

No one knows who Kor met first, Apherria or Neradogtha. But he met them separately, Apherria during the day and Neradogtha during the night. And for reasons only the gods know, both fell in love with Kor. The goddesses didn’t tell each other about this new god either. It was their first betrayal. Kor was different, something neither had created and that intrigued them and made them covet him. It is said the goddesses felt ashamed about their secret, and knew it was wrong, but they kept seeing Kor. Apherria during the day and Neradogtha at night. And Kor never revealed that he met another god either, for he was a foolish god who wanted only to be loved and feared returning to the lonely ether.

The old gods, Apherria and Neradogtha’s first children, grew alarmed at these rendezvous and conspired to reveal the truth to their mothers. Moon and Sun entered the same sky, creating the first eclipse. Apherria and Neradogtha both came out to meet Kor. And he revealed himself to both, not sure if it was night or day. The sisters were confused to see each other, but then realized what had happened. The love that they coveted was not theirs alone, their sister had stolen it.

Apherria and Neradogtha were angry and aghast at each other and themselves and most of all at Kor. They banished the wandering god to the sky and they both retreated to opposite corners of the world. If it all ended there then maybe they could have reconciled, as they had done in times past. Maybe they could have even forgiven Kor and all three gods could have lived in peace and love. But it did not end there.

For Neradogtha and Apherria were both pregnant with Kor’s children. And the birth of those children would lead to the first atrocity and from that would bloom a hundred upon hundred more. The world would be rent in two, with each god taking half, turning it into their own lands.

Apherria founded Aphetrria and gave birth to seven daughters, the Elfraye, goddess of civilization, whose descendants would become the Elves. Neradogatha founded Neradoom and gave birth to Zaevas, a son who would live nine lives. In his first life Zaevas molded the Dairkkul out of living Doomcotta. And ever since their births the elves, children of Apherria, and the Dairkkul, children of Neradogtha, have been at war.

Ghets Chapter 1

Ghets Chapter 1

A wall.

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.

………..