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Gulmont's Character stories. Comments welcome.

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To Save The Conscripted:
Chapter Five

With the mist came the darkness, and with the darkness came Erabex. She was the very definition of the night, a being as mysterious as she was deadly, full of stars and wonders that one couldn’t even begin to grasp, but at the same time full of the horrible unknowns of an empty void that stretched on into infinity.
She appeared through the mist like a spectre, beautiful and forlorn, a siren that called out to those naive enough to step close, ready to pull them down into the depths of her inky blackness and drown them in her cold embrace.
Her naked feet touched down on mossy ground that cushioned her, and she began to stalk around the pile of rubble that had once been the Jade Construct, looking at it with gold eyes that sparkled with a malicious kind of glee.
She stretched out a toe to dip it in the dark red stain that had once been a man, but was now nothing more than a patch of crushed flesh and armour. She shuddered a little as she retracted the toe, but not in horror.
Instead a look of pure ecstasy was written all over her face, a sadistic lust for the death that had been dealt here. She bit her lip, letting out a little moan of pleasure as she ran her hands up and down the darkness that covered her like a dress of velvet.
“Stop that,” Gulmont growled from a nearby tree stump, running a sharpening stone up the length of his blade, the sound of stone slashing against steel echoing through the small camp that he, Marker and the remaining conscripts had made.
After the battle with the Jade Construct, and given the losses they’d suffered, they’d decided to set up camp for the night. With the mist they weren’t likely to make much more progress today anyway, and they would rather not run blindly into another Jade Construct like they had just done, so they hunkered down, Gulmont offering to take watch while the others slept.
“What’s wrong, Monty dearest,” Erabex crooned, “Am I frustrating you?” She asked, drifting towards him with a grace that no mortal could embody. She sunk down onto the tree stump beside him, curling up like a cat as she looked up at him from under hooded, come hither eyes.
“Yes, you are,” Gulmont grumbled as he took out his suppressed aggravation on his sword, running the sharpening stone down it and watching as sparks flew off it, only to flutter harmlessly to the ground at his feet.
Erabex reached out, her hand gently caressing the nape of his neck as she leaned in to whisper seductively in his ear. “Then why not relieve yourself of some of those frustrations?” She purred, tempting and teasing him. “You know I’m always here to help with that.”
Gulmont shrugged her off and turned away from her, ignoring her advances with a sigh of irritation. “No,” he said, rejecting her for what felt like the hundredth time, keeping his attention on his sword and sharpening stone.
Erabex’s face darkened. Gone was the tantalising seductress, instead replaced with a jilted and spiteful vixen that resented not getting her way. She let out a shrill shriek that sounded like a banshee and lashed out, slapping Gulmont across the face, her fingernails, clawed talons, digging into his flesh and leaving four scrapes along his skin.
Gulmont let out a hiss, dropping his sword and stone to lift a hand to cup his cheek, clenching his teeth in pain. “How exactly is that supposed to sway me towards you?” he asked as he rubbed his face.
“It wasn’t supposed to sway you,” Erabex spat back. “It was to punish you.” She began to pout, stalking towards the three graves that had been dug not far away, looking them over with a hint of morbid curiosity.
“You’re not brooding like you usually do when someone dies,” she pointed out, feigning nonchalance. “When this sort of thing happens you usually beat yourself up over how you didn’t save these miserable excuses for mortality.”
Gulmont waved a hand, using some of the life force in the air around him to heal his cheek before turning to Erabex, his flesh knitting itself together, leaving him unblemished, like he hadn’t just been slapped across the face.
He watched her examining the graves for a moment, his attention becoming lost in this rare moment of quiet when she was not trying to goad him into something more than he was willing to give and simply asking after him.
To the rest of the world he would deny he cared, but to himself he could be honest enough. He did care for her, in an odd, warped kind of way, but he’d never allow himself to show it. He’d remain loyal to the words he’d spoken so long ago, and bury whatever it was he felt for her.
But she was beautiful, strikingly so, her long raven locks fluttering slightly in a breeze that was not there, the darkness that encompassed her rolling around like water over rocks, or like the subtle smoke from a candle.
“We conscripts are not meant to survive,” Gulmont said after a while. “We’re expected to die, and often do, in one way or another. It’s not a surprise when we’re killed in battle, it’s almost expected. Being conscripted as they were is only a way to save coin on an execution by sending them to join the war effort. You give your life to the Seraph to pay for the crimes you committed, that’s all.”
Picking up his sword and sharpening stone once more, he went back to maintaining his blade. “I guess I’ve just accepted that those conscripted are going to die, if not now, some when later.”
Erabex turned to watch him as he spoke, her brow furrowing the more he explained. She looked down at the ground when he fell silent, trying to think of something to say, but finding nothing, the hole in her chest that she once called a heart crying out to the broken man in front of her that had been so beaten down by the world he didn’t even realise he had.
So instead of saying anything, she stepped up beside him once more, sliding down to sit next to him, and carefully leaned her head against his shoulder, saying nothing, just sitting with him in silence, listening to the sound of the sharpening stone against the blade.
They remained like that until the dawn came, taking comfort in one another’s company until the sun stole her away again, and Erabex took flight.

It was the song that brought Archibald back to consciousness, an old song that he thought he’d never hear again. It had been written in his youth by a woman he loved above all others, a gift for his twenty first birthday.
Maeva would have not been his first choice of wives, but the agreement had already been made long before his birth, and he was a Black, and those of House Black never went back on an agreement.
So he had gone through with the arraigned marriage, turning up at the temple of the six with the rest of his family at the age of sixteen, having never met the woman that he was about to pledge his life and love to, till death do they part.
It had to be said that Maeva was not the most attractive woman he had ever seen, even in the stunning white wedding gown she’d warn that day. That was not to say she was ugly, not by any means. In fact, Archibald could imagine that she would have had a throng of young men lining up to court her at any given moment, she was simply not the sort of woman he found himself attracted to.
She was blond, for a start, a trait that had never held much interest for him. He much preferred the raven hair that house Black was known for. Her skin was tan however, which spoke of the purity of her Krytan blood, so he supposed that was something he should focus on rather than the colour of her hair.
She had more curves than he would like as well, some might describe her a voluptuous, and he supposed that her large breasts and her full hips would make for good breeding so that he could carry on the family legacy if nothing else.
She was ten years older than him however, a fact that Archibald would have objected to if he had a say in the matter. But he didn’t, so once he was at the alter and the priest had said the words, he repeated them and Maeva became Maeva Black.
Their first few days as husband and Wife were rocky at best. Archibald mostly left Maeva alone, preferring to concentrate on his studies in law and the Krytan government, but soon his parents began to question his intentions to carry create an heir and he had to relinquish.
He begrudgingly started to spend time with Maeva, and to his surprise found her not only to be an intelligent woman, but funny as well. He started to enjoy their talks, and would often invite her to walk with him through the gardens of the estate.
He soon had decided that if nothing else, his wife would make for a good friend. It wasn’t until they began to actually try for an heir did Archibald become besotted.
Maeva had supposed to be a virgin when she and Archibald married, but on the day they first consummated their marriage it became clear that she was anything but. Archibald however couldn’t complain, the woman derived him wild, and his lust turned to adoration, and near complete loyalty.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Maeva continued to miscarry, Archibald might have stayed loyal to her.
He had loved her though, more than he had loved any of his other infidelities. And the song he heard now brought him back to the world of the living.
His eyelids fluttered open, and for a moment he thought he saw Maeva sitting at his bedside, her hand firmly in his own. She was so beautiful. He almost called her name, but caught himself as his eyes focused and he found that it was not Maeva, but Ida sitting beside him.
He cursed his own foolishness, ignoring the relief that flooded Ida’s face as she saw him awaken. “How long?” He asked as he tried to get into a sitting position.
Ida gently pushed him back onto the bed however, shaking her head. “You passed out yesterday afternoon, my Lord. It’s now morning. I’ll ask that you continue to rest, my Lord. You need time to recuperate.”
Archibald didn’t argue, even if he would like to. He hated to be so infirm, and being ordered around by the girl he had raised did little to improve his mood, he knew she spoke sense however, so he did as she said, lying his head back on the pillow.
“Where did you hear that song from?” He said after a while. Maeva had been quite the accomplished musician in life, and he didn’t know of anyone who could play it with as perfectly as she, but Ida had pulled it off nearly as well, even though he was quite certain Maeva had only ever played the song for him.
“Your good lady wife,” Ida explained. “She was trying to teach it to the Lady Agara when she fell ill, but Lady Agara never was drawn towards the finer arts. I picked it up while the lady was trying to teach her and grew a liking to it.”
“I see,” Archibald huffed, suppressing the flair of emotion that threatened to well up inside of him, instead burring it deep within him.
He was about to compliment Ida of her rendition of the song, but was interrupted as the door flew open and a White Mantle Cleric burst into the room. “My Lord Justiciar,” he announced, “I’m glad to see you’re looking well, but I have something troubling to report.”
Archibald let out a sigh, waving his hand for the man to continue.
“One of our Jade Constructs that was patrolling the area not for from here is not responding, we fear that it’s been destroyed, which means the heretics are not far from here.”
Archibald scowled beneath his mask, pushing himself to his feet and waving a hand to Ida before she could protest. “Get ready the defences and call that wretched pirate back in case I need a quick escape. We are to be put on high alert, is that understood? An attack may be imminent.”

Posted Mar 30, 17 · OP
x 1
x 1
To Save The Conscripted:
Chapter Six

"Going in through the front would be suicide," Marker concluded as he pointed at the crude map he'd made in the mud. "They've guards stationed everywhere, and I don't know about anyone else, but I'd rather not die without at least getting inside."
The conscripts nodded, looking between one another with a steely determination. Since the Jade Construct had fallen, the two of them had become even more determined to free their comrades, along with dealing some punishment to the White Mantle who had cost them do much.
"So we need a way to get you in without anyone knowing," Gulmont concluded, mostly talking to himself. He reached out, grabbing a nearby stick to scratch out the cliffs that surrounded the fort. "What if we can get someone up there?" He asked, rubbing his chin in thought. "Someone that could draw attention away from the entrance while everyone else got it."
"That person would have to make one hell of a racket to get the attention of so many," Marker grunted, scratching his cheek.
Gulmont pursed his lips, his tongue flicking out to lick his lips in thought. "I think I can make enough noise to draw a few people away, but it'll then be up to you to get the others out. How many men are you expecting?"
"If they're even there and none were lost during the initial capture?" Marker began, perking a brow. "Fifteen men."
Gulmont shook his head, "that's a lot of men to get to safety without being discovered. It's not just White Mantle in here, after all. They've got their Jade Constructs as well, and we saw what happened with just one of them."
"There were mesmers in the squad," Marker told him. "If we can get them up sharpish they should be able to portal us out of there."
"I can use shadow magic to cloak us as well," one of the conscripts added.
“It would have been useful if you’d mentioned that before,” Gulmont growled.
The Thief gave Gulmont a crude hand gesture, but Gulmont only glared back, holding his tongue. It was better not to provoke the man anymore than he already had done. He’d learned a while ago that those in the conscripted regiment were prone to fighting amongst themselves, and in fighting was the last thing they needed at the moment.
“Enough of that, you two,” Marker pitched in, successfully defusing the situation. “Now we still have the problem of finding our men. We’ve no idea where they could be.”
“Nothing exact,” Gulmont said with a shake of his head. “I saw that there are several larger buildings across the bridge when I was scouting the place out just after dawn though,” he pointed to the bridge on the crude map, “if they were going to be anywhere it would be there. I can’t see them holding a large force anywhere else.”
Marker grunted in agreement. “So we make our way to the back of the fort while you keep them distracted at the front?” He furrowed his brows. “You need one of my men to stay back with you? That’s a hell of a lot to put on one man.”
“I’ll be fine,” Gulmont assured him. “I’ll be picking them off from a distance, so they’ll have a harder time finding me than they will you. All you have to worry about is getting in and out with your men alive. I can take care of myself.”
“Is that all? Marker scoffed. “I suppose we didn’t call you Long range for nothing.”
Gulmont gave him a grunt. “If that’s everything I’m going to go get into position. We’ll strike at noon, when the sun is at its height. You best be ready by then, because once the first arrow lands, all hell is going to break loose and I’m going to have to move, or they’ll be on me in seconds.”
“We’ll be there, you can be certain of that.”
“Good,” is all Gulmont said as he got to his feet and made his way into the forest, heading in the direction of Fort Evennia. He wasn’t sure how they were going to pull this off, they were vastly outnumbered, but if anyone could it was Marker and his conscripted.
As Gulmont made his way out of the vegetation, Fort Evennia loomed over him, a sizable fortification that had been maned by Seraph before the siege, now in White Mantle control, bristling with their corrupting influence.
The whole area around the structure glowed with the unnatural energies of the bloodstones that had been gathered there, their maddening whispers calling out even now, promising power that would only drive the user to insanity.
Gulmont knew all too well the lure of bloodstones, and he knew it was better to keep away from them. He’d seen what it could do to people, and knew he was quite man enough as it is without adding bloodstone madness to the mix.
As he reached the cliff face, and prepared himself to scale it, a raven flew down from above, settling itself down on his shoulder. Gulmont give the raven a brief nod of his head before he craned his neck, looking up at the daunting climb.
“Well, kitten,” he mumbled to the bird. “Looks like I’d better get too it.”
The raven tilt its head to one side and let out a caw of agreement, fluttering its feathers before taking off once again, only to land on a rock just above his head.
Gulmont let out a sigh and stepped close, grabbing the craggy rock face and beginning to pull himself up. “Show off,” he grumbled to himself as he looked for hand holds in the rock, watching as the raven flew up a little higher so that it could look down at him mischievously, a glint of playfulness in its dark, beady eyes that spoke of an intelligence that most ravens couldn’t begin to grasp.
Gulmont scowled at the raven, then groaned. He was going to have a long climb ahead of him.

Archibald closed his eyes as the wind fluttered through his long grey hair. It felt good to be out of bed again, and the view from on top of Fort Evennia’s walls made him appreciate just how good it felt to be alive.
While admittedly the view would have been marginally more pleasant if it wasn’t a sprawling battle field, he could still appreciate the beauty of what it had previously been before the Confessor had launched the attack.
He took a deep breath, momentarily inhaling the fresh air, before he remembered the bloodstone energies swirling in the air around him and he began to cough, spluttering into a handkerchief he pulled out.
Ida stepped up beside him, patiently waiting until the coughing fit subsided, and trying to ignore the dark red stain that now covered the handkerchief. “Should you be up here, my Lord, when there is supposed to be an imminent attack?”
“I will be fine,” Archibald answered as he took a gasp. “There are plenty of people around who will protect me in such an eventuality, and I am not so feeble that I can’t protect myself.”
Ida felt as though she should protest, but thought better of it, instead folding her hands in front of her and looking down at the forest below, and the thatched rooves of Saidra's Haven far in the distance.
“The pirate has been recalled,” She informed him. “He’ll be here within the hour, should our bird reach him.”
“Very good,” Archibald nodded. Even though he loathed the thought of asking for Iorek’s help yet again, he was glad that a plan of escape had been made, even if it didn’t quite pan out at the time of the presumed attack. “What of the Seraph?”
“Returned to the basement, my lord. I take it that the need for them means the experiment was not a success?”
“You would be right in your assessment. I shall not give in however. The bloodstones ability to hold souls for a prolonged period of time is promising. It is bound to hold some use in extending one’s life span. Or at least I hope it does,” he added after a pause, whatever emotion he might have been feeling hidden under his mask.
Instinctively, Ida reached out, taking Archibald’s old, bony, liver spot covered hand and entwined it with her own, giving it a very soft, comforting squeeze. “We’ll find a way my lord,” she whispered softly. “This illness will not beat you yet.”
“I should hope not,” Archibald grumbled. “I have yet to secure myself an heir to my house’s legacy, and I should very much like to do so before the unseen come to carry me to the mists.” He returned the squeeze, keeping his gaze ahead.
“I shall make sure of it, my lord,” Ida assured him, the smallest hint of some hidden agenda and intent in her voice.
Archibald ignored it for now, taking back his hand to rest upon his cane, letting his mind wander back to his youth, when he might have had the vigour to make good on Ida’s unspoken invitation. But those days were long ago, and Archibald was not a well man any more.
He was almost ashamed of this old, ailing body of his. Crippled as he was now, he was hardly fit to do his duty for his house and family name. The mind was willing, but the body was another matter entirely.
This was not the first time Ida had offered herself to him. The first time had been some months after Maeva’s death. He had been sat alone in a dark room, a glass of brandy in his hand and the bottle on the table next to him, half empty. It had been full when he started.
After Agara’s death, Maeva had never been the same. She began to get weaker by the day, and soon left for the Mists to join her only child. Some say that Lady Black had died of a broken heart. She had known that Archibald had had Agara killed for her disobedience, and she couldn’t live with the heart ache.
So Archibald had lost the two people he cared about most in the world in a very short time, and had been left alone in the world. Alone apart from Ida that is, his adopted daughters, someone that he’d seen grow into the woman she was today, someone he would not have even considered until that day.
She had moved into the dark room without a sound, taking the glass from his hand and refilling it herself before taking a drink, her eyes falling upon the old man that had taken such good care of her for so long.
He had been like a father to her, but he was not her father. She remembered when he was young, strong and handsome, and that image had remained in her heart for a long time, since she herself was a youth.
Archibald Black had been the man she had always wanted but could never have, yet here he was, drunk and vulnerable, lonely and in need of any affection he could grasp. She watched him for a moment, the grief on his face clear, and it was almost enough to break her hardened heart.
So she leaned down to him, and gently pressed her lips against his, his stubble tickling her chin as she wrapped her arms around him, brushing his long hair out of his eyes as their lips moved together as one.
Archibald was brought out of his reminiscing by the sound of approaching feet. He turned to regard the White Mantle Knight with a glint of steel in his eyes that mad the man flinch and stop short of the Justiciar.
“My lord Justiciar, I have come to report…” only the man never got to finish. Instead he toppled over, an arrow protruding from the back of his throat.

Posted Mar 31, 17 · OP
x 1
x 1
To Save The Conscripted:
Chapter Seven

Gulmont looked over Fort Evennia with narrowed eyes. He had reached the top of the cliff a little before mid-day, and had found an outcropping of rock that he found suitable to hunker behind and wait.
At this vantage point he could see how White Mantle patrolled the walls at regular intervals, and how they wandered around the courtyard doing the basic tasks that helped to run such a fortification, like preparing meals for the troops, going through drills, and armour maintenance.
It all looked to be quite peaceful, if not for the crates of Bloodstones that littered the courtyard. They pulsated menacingly, the sheer power that emanated from them cloaking the whole area in an unmissable hue of red.
The White Mantle looked sane enough, none of them had glowing eyes or were mindlessly attacking anyone they could in a bid for power at least, so Gulmont assumed none of them had been inflicted with the madness that usually came from being around bloodstones. Still his was cautious.
He watched for a moment until he saw two figures standing on the wall, a male and female, both looking to command a presence that the other White Mantle didn’t seem to embody. They stood straight, their posture ridged and elegant.
Gulmont concluded that they must have had some sort of noble upbringing, and from the way the other White Mantle looked to them, held a position of power. Perhaps they were in command here, the older man certainly looked to be wearing robes that were a lot more decorated than the others.
So he took his bow, Savatry from his back, and whispered to it. “This is it, sister, what we’ve been waiting for. May our aim be true and our arrows sharp, ‘cause I doubt we’ll get another shot at this before all hell breaks loose.”
While the bow looked like it was no better than a stick with a carving of a Sylvari woman on it, it hummed with an odd presence that Gulmont had come to rely upon. He’d gotten so used to that presence in fact that it was almost as if it was one with him, a symbiotic relationship that neither one of them would give up, a bond that could not be broken by any means.
Gulmont notched an arrow, pulling back on the string and taking a breath, both eyes training on a figure approaching the two high ranking White Mantle. Perhaps this target would be better. While it wouldn’t send them into mass confusion, it would serve his purpose. The masked man and woman would send the troops to his position, and forget all about guarding the entrance. It seemed perfect to Gulmont.
So he waited, feeling the wind around him as it lightly brushed through his hair. A sense of calm came over him, an unmovable feeling of tranquillity that blocked out all but himself, his bow, and his target. Everything else faded into the background, becoming nothing more than inconsequential white noise.
He held the arrow for a second longer, then let it go free, watching as it sores into the sky, its feathers gracefully fluttering in the wind as it cut through the air around it, whistling a melody so sweet that it might have been a lullaby.
The arrow found its mark, and there was a plume of scarlet before the man fell to the ground, in a heap at the Justiciar’s feet, and Gulmont was quickly taking another arrow from his quiver, the motion fluid, almost as if he were preforming the steps in a dance.
He picked his next target swiftly and once more took a breath, as unnecessary as that might have been, and let the arrow fly, again watching as it sailed like a bird through the air, reaching its target with the same quick efficiency as the first had done.
This target, a woman, fund the arrow in her chest, planted like a rose, the scarlet petals overflowing from the wound and staining her white robes as she fell back, it seemed to Gulmont in slow motion, her eyes fluttering closed as her hair cascaded around her, before she hit the ground and dust floated into the air around her.
People were moving now, looking around frantically for the unseen attacker, drawing weapon and putting on helmets to protect their heads from a sudden hail of arrows that might befall them at any time.
Gulmont could see the woman standing beside the old Justiciar throwing up a shield of stone and covering him with her body. They began to quickly make their way to the steps that lead down into the courtyard, looking to get to safety.
A smile tugged at Gulmont’s lips, and he drew another arrow, aiming and firing at the White Mantle agent nearest the fleeing duo. He fell just as quickly as the two before him, right at the feet of the Justiciar.
One thing Gulmont had not been counting on however was the woman guarding the Justiciar. Quickly, given the arrow’s trajectory, she made a wild guess and summoned a fireball in the palm of her hand, lobbing it in the direction the arrow had come from.
Gulmont cursed and ducked down, just in time for the fireball to come crashing into the outcropping of rock he was hidden behind. The outcropping exploded into shards of stone that slammed into him, slashing what little skin was not covered in armour.
He was exposed now, and the rest of the White Mantle troops followed the woman’s lead, sending a barrage of magical energy towards Gulmont’s hiding spot. He was blasted back by the shockwave and was sent sprawling, his ears ringing with the sound of the magical bombardment.
He couldn’t stay down however, he knew that, so he pushed himself up, drew another arrow, and made a wild dash for the next large mound of rocks, picking a target and letting his arrow loose as he ran, watching as it embedded itself into the eye of one man before he ducked down behind his new hiding place.

As soon as the first man fell, Ida was there, throwing up a molten shield of stone around Archibald and herself. She wasted no time in dragging the elderly Justiciar towards the stairs, ignoring his stunted pace and the coughing fit he had erupted into for now. Her soul priority was to get Archibald to safety, any way she could.
She pushed her way past confused men and women dressed in white, who were drawing weapons and calling out to sound the alarm, the heat radiating from the elemental shield she’d thrown up doing most of the work for her.
She had to hold Archibald up as they scurried down the stairs to the courtyard, or he would have fallen over his own feet and gone tumbling down to the stone ground below. Thankfully, the old man hardly weighed anything and she found the task simple enough.
She was about to start dragging him across the courtyard to shelter when another man fell at their feet, an arrow embedded in his chest. Rage consumed her at the sudden realisation, a white hot fire that burned her to her very core.
The sniper, whoever he was, was playing with them.
With a feral cry she looked up, her eyes blazing with deadly intent as the fire of her fury bubbled over, encompassing her hands that dripped with molten flame. She tossed all that anger in the direction the arrow had come from, not stopping to see if it hit, instead concentrating on dragging Archibald on.
Archibald had no idea what was going on, too flustered to realise what was happening. He coughed and hacked, the sounds he was making sounding like a dying beast as he tried to catch his breath and swallow back the blood and phlegm he was bringing up.
“Converge on the target!” he managed to call out through strangled breath. “Don’t let it get away alive!” He wasn’t sure if anyone had heard him through all the other shouting, and he cursed himself even more for not being able to display the authority he held.
More bodies dropped around them, arrows protruding from various open wounds. Some were quite obviously dead, but other were merely wounded, writhing in agony as they grasped at the arrow shafts that stuck out of them.
Ida lugged Archibald into a storehouse just as the sound of the alarm bell rang out, the chimes booming through the fortress, heralding doom for the foolish sniper that had so stupidly attacked them.
She watched as two Jade Constructs began to glide up the street, coming from the bridge, their hulking stone forms towering above the White Mantle that gathered around them, their bodies pulsating with spectral agony.
“We need to get to the experiment,” Archibald panted, looking up at Ida from under his mask. “It may have been a failure, but I will not let that knowledge be lost to us.”
“My Lord,” Ida protested, “be reasonable, any knowledge that the experiment may yield is superfluous when compared to your life.”
“Do not question me, girl!” Archibald snapped back, breaking into another coughing fit. “You will do as I say and you will do it now, is that understood?”
Ida looked down at Archibald, her eyes clouded in conflict. She looked outside at the chaos, the bodies falling with expert marksmanship, back to Archibald, the ailing man that had raised her since childhood.
She then bolted, making her way towards the basement where the experiment was stored, ducking a few arrows that burned to cinders when they came into contact with the shield that surrounded her, the sheer heat it emanated melting them before they could even touch her.
She burst through the door to the building where the experiment was kept and rushed down into the basement, peering through the shadows at the mass of writhing flesh that Archibald had kept in its cage.
It screamed at her, the sound like something that had been pulled from the netherworld, or her darkest nightmares, sent to challenge all the natural laws of the world with its twisted, warped countenance.
She did her best to ignore the thing, covering it with a large sheet before hurriedly wheeling the cage out of the basement and into the air above. She found Archibald waiting for her at the door, the feeble man leaning heavily on his cane.
“To the docks,” he rasped as a bolt of lightning cracked in the distance, followed by the crunching of stone and the whoosh of another arrow that cut through the air and landed in its intended target with seemingly little effort. “We must leave this place before we are caught up in the conflict even more. I’m sure the Confessor will understand.” He sneered at the word Confessor, his lip curling into a grimace under his mask.
Ida simply nodded, ducking down behind the cage to use it as a shield as she wheeled it down to the docks beneath Fort Evennia, hoping their salvation would be there waiting for them, in all his grimy, drunken glory.
More than once they felt the whistle of an arrow passing over them, the marksman’s precision clearly suffering because of the continued assault upon him. They clattered against the ground, lying useless in the dirt.
That wasn’t to say he wasn’t hitting anything however, just that he was now missing occasionally. The air was still filled with the cries of the dying, or the gasps of those receiving mortal wounds that quickly end their life.
To Ida’s relief, The black Gul was already docked and ready to set sail when they reached it, having got here some moments after the alarm bells were sounded. While the gangplank and anchor were still down, ready to receive passengers, the galleon was obviously moments away from casting off.
“I didn’ t’ink yee were going te make it!” Called Iorek from the deck. “I be charging yee double fer t’is, yee be knowin’ tha’, don’ yee?”
“Yes, fine,” Archibald spat as he clambered up the gangplank, with Ida and the cage following quickly behind him. “You’ll get your coin as soon as you get us to our base in the Hinterlands.”

Posted Apr 1, 17 · OP
x 1
x 1
To Save The Conscripted:
Chapter Eight

Marker didn't have to wait long until he and his conscripts were on the move. They had snuck up close to the entrance to fort Evennia and ducked down behind a hill, waiting for a chance to get in.
That was when the alarm bells had started to ring in a clamour of brass hitting brass, the sound echoing out across the structure.
Then came the stomping of feet as White Mantle moved to the eastern side of the fort, where the cliffs rose up to over shadow it.
With the coast clear, Marker quietly signalled the Thief to shroud them on shadow. There was a quiet whooshing sound as the Thief waved his hand as the spell took effect, their bodies becoming transparent.
Marker blinked as he looking down at himself, or rather where he should have been, but even when he raised a hand in front of his face, he saw nothing."Let's get this over with," he muttered, shuddering. "The sooner I can see myself again the better."
The Thief chuckled a little as they moved ahead, their odd silhouette shimmering slightly in the midday sun. You'd not notice it if you looked at them straight on, but perhaps you'd see movement in the corner of your eye, only to turn your head and find nothing there.
The gate was easy enough to open, though Marker was cautious, only opening it part way and holding it ajar as he looked within.
The courtyard was in chaos. Two White Mantle members lied dead on the ground, their eyes glazed over, staring blankly up at the red sky above, their faces pale as the blood drained from their bodies and forming a puddle around them.
With the White Mantle sufficiently distracted, Marker made his move, leading his two men into the fortress, ducking down behind crates for cover and poking their heads over them to make sure the path they were taking was clear.
They hardly had be bother with their caution, the White Mantle had turned their attention to the cliff side, hurling magic at it with malicious intent, their arms raised in rage as elemental and chaotic energies danced at their fingertips.
Marker looked up at the cliff, seeing a glimmer of movement and a sparkle of sunlight on armour. It couldn't have been anyone other than Gulmont, the endless barrage of magic causing him to dodge and weave, notching arrows when he could and letting them loose, watching as they sailed high into the air and cutting into their targets with such speed and accuracy that Marker almost believed Gulmont could take on the whole fortress himself.
Suddenly an arrow came spiralling towards him, the air around it whistling as it cut through it, it's speed so fast that Marker could almost see the air rippling and parting to give weigh to it.
It shot past his nose, so close he could feel the wind battering his face. He blinked involuntarily, stifling a scream of shock at the close encounter, until he heard the strangled gurgling sound behind him.
Marker turned to find a White Mantle Engineer standing right behind him, an arrow sticking out of his throat, the blood bubbling over as he gasped for breath and clawed at his neck, a horrible realisation falling over his face as he paled, his eyes glazing over. He fell to his knees, toppling over to land in a slowly forming pool of his own blood.
Marker gaped as he looked down at the dead man, then swirled around to state at the cliff top.
Gulmont could see them, he wasn't sure how, but the keen eyed Ranger could see them, even cloaked in invisibility and a large distance away. Gulmont had always been able to see more than Marker could imagine, but this was almost eerie, unnatural, a sight that no simple Ranger could gain. The feeling sent a shiver down his spine, but he didn't linger on it, instead letting out a curse and moving on, firm in the knowledge that the three of them had a guardian watching over them.
They snuck forward, Marker now looking over his shoulder more than he did before, keeping a close eye on any White Mantle that might stumble into them simply because they couldn't see then.
This new found carefulness apparently didn't last long, as the next thing Marker knew he was being pulled back by the surviving Elementalist in his squad, letting out a strangled noise, just in time for two hulking Jade Constructs to glide past, heading in Gulmont's direction.
The mounds of stone hovered over the ground, casting their long shadows over the fortress, their twelve empty, lifeless eyes, six respectively, staring out and ahead, like the soulless machines they were, devoid of even the concept of mercy, tools for nothing but destruction.
Marker watched, the Elementalist's hand over his mouth, as the Constructs turned the corner and faded from sight, their bodies rippling with energy.
Once they were gone, Marker nodded to the Elementalist, who removed his hand, and they set off again, across the bridge to the other side of the fortress.
Marker couldn't help but look down as they crossed, seeing the vast precipice that lay below them. A small lake flowed out to a waterfall that plummeted over jagged rocks and would have eventually lead into the larger lake outside of Divinity 's Reach, that now lay barren and drained.
Marker caught sight of a large ship in the lake, it's most flying a Jolly Rodger, and it's figure head that of a large, cruel looking black seagull, with sharp teeth and a frown. A few White Mantle looked to be loading a cage on board, but that was all Marker could really see before his sense of vertigo got the better of him and he had to look away.
Clearing the bridge, Marker and the conscripts made it into the second courtyard. It was largely deserted, most of the White Mantle having converged on Gulmont's position.
They made a bee line for one of the larger buildings, searching it from top to bottom before concluding that their comrades were not in there.
In the next building they were luckier, finding ten of the missing conscripts, looking worse for wear, their armour and weapons taken away, and some of them with nasty burn marks on their skin.
Marker put his finger to his lips as the Thief dismissed the shadow magic that shrouded them, his expression remaining serious even at the look of joy and relief the conscripts gave him.
"Where are the others?" He asked in a hushed whisper, but all he got was shaking heads and dire looks. "So be it," he grunted, setting about freeing the men and women from their bonds and checking them over for wounds.
"Who here can Mesmer up a portal to get us out of here?" Marker asked, finding only one raised hand. "All right then, everyone gather around them, we're getting out of here." he suddenly paused however, furrowing his brow. "if you could portal yourselves out of here, why didn't you?"
As soon as he said that however, the door burst open, two White Mantle guards appearing in the door frame. They drew weapons and advanced, crying out, "no one move!"
"That’s why," the Mesmer smirked.
Everyone of course moved, the first two being the Thief and the Elementalist who engaged the two White Mantle guards, while the others gathered around the Mesmer, who began to construct the portal.
The Elementalist fell in an instant however, their stomach cleaved open by a well-placed sword stroke. They looked down at themselves as their innards started falling out, grabbing at them in confusion and disbelief as the colour drained from their face, along with the life they held dear.
The Thief however got in close just as the Elementalist fell, thrusting his blades forward to pierce the White Mantle's chest. His sword fell from his hand, clattering against the ground, his body soon following.
The second White Mantle bypassed the welcoming committee entirely however, charging in, his hammer raised over his head. He swung it down, connecting with a conscript prisoner's skull, crushing it in an explosion of blood and gore.
Marker was there as quickly as he could be, drawing his blade and thrusting it forward, the cold steel burying itself deep in the White Mantle throat.
With the guard dispatched, Marker looked over the dead, letting out a sigh. "Let's move," he said, just as the portal formed and everyone stepped through.

Stepping out of the portal, Marker looked around, finding himself in amongst the towering trees of the forest just outside of the fort. He let out a sigh of relief, leaning down on his knees. "We made it," he whispered in disbelief.
Suddenly there was a rustling in the vegetation close by and Marker jumped, drawing his blade instinctively and narrowing his eyes.
"Careful with that," Gulmont complained as he walked out into the clearing. "You might give me the impression that you're not happy to see me."
Marker chuckled, sheathing his blade. "I kind of thought you might be dead."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence; it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy."
"You're here, aren't you?" Marker pointed out.
"That I am," Gulmont agreed, looking over the conscripted, his brow furrowing as he saw how many were missing. He didn't mention it however, instead saying, "your not hurt?"
Marker shook his head, "not a scratch, just tired."
"Good, you should rest; you've got a long journey ahead of you."
"You're not coming?" Marker asked, perking a brow.
"No," Gulmont told him. "I saw something within the fort that has me concerned. Two people were taking a cage somewhere; I want to find out what was in that cage."
"It's a weapon," one of the conscripts called out, his voice trembling.
"What do you mean it's a weapon?" Gulmont asked, turning to the man, a slight growl in his voice.
The conscript flinched, backing away a little. "I mean, it must have been. What else would you use a monster like that for?"
Gulmont advanced on the man, his footsteps slow and calculated, the gaze he fixed upon him predatory, full of a cool, frightening authority, like a tiger looking down at a rabbit. "You saw it?"
The conscript nodded virtuously, his voice shaking, "yeah."
Gulmont looked as though he was about to pounce upon the man, but Marker grabbed his arm, pulling him away. "Easy Gulmont. The man's been through a lot, he doesn't need you interrogating him."
Gulmont snatched his arm back, stalking away from the group.
Marker followed, looking worried. "What is it?"
"That White Mantle Justiciar is up to something," Gulmont growled. "He's meddling in things he shouldn't be."
"And you're going to stop him?"
"If I can," Gulmont confirmed. "I just don't know where they went."
"I saw a ship under the bridge, on the river that leads into the Hinterlands," Marker told him. "A couple of pirates looked to be loading a cage on board, maybe that's the thing you're looking for?"
Gulmont did a double take. "What did the ship look like?"
Marker shrugged, "same as any other ship. It did have an ugly looking black seagull figure head though."
Gulmont's expression darkened. "Sharkbait," he snarled, lashing out to punch a nearby tree, the gauntlets he wore making a mark in the tree bark.
"Someone you're not a fan of I take it," Marker pointed out.
"An understatement," Gulmont rumbled, turning to walk away. He paused however, looking over his shoulder. "Thanks, Coen, this helps."
Coen Marker shrugged, "I should be the one thanking you. You got my regiment out of a nasty spot, I owe you for that."
Gulmont shook his head, "you don't owe me anything. You would have done the same for me."
Marker just smirked, watching as Gulmont walking away, into the forest. "I'm not so sure."

Posted Apr 3, 17 · OP
x 1
x 1
To Save The Conscripted:
Chapter Nine

The voyage into the Harathi Hinterlands had not been overly difficult. Iorek had sailed these waters many times, smuggling things out of Lion’s Arch and into Divinity’s Reach, he knew the currents and where ships ran the risk of running aground.
What worried him was his cargo. Archibald had been circling the cage since they set sail, coughing every now and again, while Ida watched like a hawk, looking as though she were about to pounce into action whenever Archibald’s coughing fits looked like they were going to get the better of him. They didn’t so far.
Iorek was glad to be rid of them. They’d docked in a secret cove where the hidden White Mantle tower resided, a little over five hours after they first left Fort Evennia, and now they were disembarking, dragging the covered cage down the gang plank, his crew grunting with the effort before they passed it off to the garrison of White Mantle already stationed here.
“I be wantin’ me pay now, Justiciar,” the pirate grinned, holding out his large, grubby hand to the older man.
Archibald curled his lip in disgust, something that couldn’t be seen from under his mask, and held out a hand to Ida.
The woman seemed to pout, but after a look from Archibald, reached into her cleavage, taking out a pouch of coins and placing them into Archibald’s palm.
“There,” Archibald spat, tossing Iorek the pouch. “Are you happy now? We’re done here?”
“Aye!” Iorek laughed, turning to face Ida as he gave the coin pouch a squeeze, his gaze wandering to where she had just produced the coin pouch from, smiling provocatively, “we be done ‘ere, unless yee be wantin’ te pay me fer getting’ yee out o’ any more trouble?”
“Is there any depths you won’t sink to for coin?” Archibald snapped, doing his best to ignore the way Ida leaned forward, fluttering her eyes as she teased Iorek, a mischievous grin tugging at her lips.
“I don’ rightly know,” Iorek admitted as he slipped the coin pouch into a pocket. “I’ve yet te be finding one.” He then grabbed his groin, gave Ida a vulgar smile, and turned on his heel, waving a hand to his crew. “A’ ‘ight yee mangy bilge rats! I wan’ te be in Bloodtide Coast on the morrow, two days hence, so you lo’ be’er be puttin’ yee backs inte it, or I be ‘angin’ yee by yee entrails!”
He began to make his way up the gang plank to the deck, shoving past his crew as they scurried to get on board and to work. It was then that something caught his attention, an unusual green hue on the horizon.
It seemed to shift and shimmer, like the kind of heat haze you get on a hot summers day, only this seemed to be growing in size and intensity, getting closer and closer by the minute. There were flickers of blackness in amongst the haze, like something was moving within it.
It took Iorek but a second before he realised what was going on and sprang into action. “Ge’ moving, you ugly sons o’ whores!” He bellowed, giving out orders. “Se’ the sail an’ pull up the anchor, we go’ te ge’ movin’, an’ I mean now!”
The men scattered, getting the Black Gul ready to sail in record time, and soon they had the wind behind them and were speeding away, as far from the ominous cloud of green as they could get, a mere dot on the horizon.
Archibald furrowed his brows at Iorek’s urgency, turning his head to where the Norn pirate had been looking. His eyes grew wide and his mouth opened in horror. He tried to say something, but instead broke into a coughing fit, spluttering and gagging as he brought up blood.
He waved a hand to the White Mantle around him, issuing orders without words, indicating the cage and directing people to get it into the tower while telling others to stay on the beach, ready for whatever was coming their way.
While some blinked in confusion, others jumped to attention, dragging the cage up to the tower as fast as they could.
Ida filled in the blanks for the rest of them, calling out to the White Mantle and placing them around the tower before running to Archibald’s side and offering herself out to lean against. “What is it?” She asked hesitantly as she began to lead Archibald into the tower.
“Trouble,” the old man replied, hacking and wheezing.

It had not taken long for Gulmont to hone in on the life force of the thing in the cage. It had been easy, the thing leaked unnatural energy, it was almost as if it had wanted to be found, like it was calling out to him in all its twisted abnormality.
So he had followed it, gathering the life force of those that had died at Fort Evennia, bringing it into himself so that it coursed through his veins, the sheer power of so much condensed death warping him into a mirror of the very thing he hunted.
He had burst apart then, his body not substantial enough to contain such raw power, fragmented into a storm of necrotic energy. The energy had buzzed, responding to his hate and fear, morphing itself into a cloud of undeath.
Like a plague it had shifted, growing legs, eyes and wings, a swarm of locusts that hurtled across the sky to their destination, the place where their quarry had come to rest, a place that would soon become its final resting place.
The White Mantle tower stood high and pristine against the muddy back drop of the swamps of the Hinterlands, a shining beacon that would have called out like a torch in the darkness, if it wasn’t for the fact it was hidden in a cove, where a rocky outcrop kept it from prying eyes.
The White Mantle gathered on the beach, weapons drawn as they looked out upon the oncoming storm, a hurricane of green glowing bugs and rending death that’s soul intention was to wipe them from existence.
They murmured prayers to their gods, the Unseen, the ones they fought for, confidant that they would emerge from the mists to deliver them from their untimely fate, certain that they would be saved from the maw of certain doom.
No such savours ever made themselves known.
The swarm descended like a tidal wave, crashing upon the sands and filling the air with a buzzing so loud that it drowned out every other sound in the area. It was a sound akin to a banshee’s wail, a high pitched shriek that felt like it had no end.
The White Mantle charged, screaming at the top of their lungs as they tried to hear themselves over the din. The plague of locusts surrounded them, ripping the flesh from their bones with so many tiny teeth.
The exploded in a cloud of red mist, leaving only a bleached white skeleton that grinned in the way that only a skull can, their robes and armour stained crimson with the last vestiges of what they had once been.
Those that had not fallen in the first wave looked on in morbid fascination, that seen turned into abject terror, as their friends and comrades disintegrated before their very eyes. They drew sword and axe, swinging at the air in front of them in a vain attempt to keep themselves from meeting the same fate.
Then, from the green mist of death they saw a figure, terrible and near beyond comprehension.
Gulmont stepped forth, like a spectre from the shadows. Gone was the guise of humanity that he had cloaked himself in, only his true self remained, a perverse abnormality that only served to further emphasise the hell that the White Mantle had fallen in.
His skeletal form was clad in Seraph armour, the flesh hanging off his body like drapes, great swaths of leathery skin that dangled from bone. He walked like the corpse he was, one stilled step after the other.
His eye sockets were empty, hollow of all that might have been there before death. In their place flickered twin burning pillars of white hot fire that rose high above his head, crackling like they were the fire within a hearth.
His lower face had lost most of its flesh, rotten away with the passage of time. His nose and lips were gone, only the few scraggly shreds of flesh that made up his cheeks keeping his jaw from falling off, yet his jaw lay open in a perpetual scream of unbridled rage.
His hair billowed around him, the life having faded from it, turning it the colour of bones. The silver white mane of hair battled against a ragged wind, unfettered in the plague storm. It spread out like a spider’s web, framing his grotesque visage hauntingly.
He fell upon the White Mantle guarding the beach and entrance to the tower, cutting them down as easily as you would blades of grass, watching as his axe lodged itself into their sides, the blood gushing over him in warm fountains of crimson.
As the bodies dropped to the sand he advanced, step by step, wailing like the wind.

Archibald looked down at the devastation from the top of the tower, the bodies of his men striped of flesh. His eyes widened and he hunched over, covering his mouth with a hand as he coughed, Phlegm and blood coating his hand.
“My Lord,” Ida said, walking up beside him to put a tentative hand on his shoulder. Try as she might, she was unable to keep the quiver of fear from her voice. “The dead have come back to haunt us, just as they did in Bloodstone Fen. That thing,” She looked over the battlements briefly, down to the destruction and death, “He’s in Seraph armour…What should we do?”
Archibald took a deep breath, steadying himself. He thought, his mind racing for a solution to their situation, some way to get them away safely. He drew only one conclusion.
“I need time, my dear,” he told her, his voice cold and hard, giving away nothing of his intentions. “Hold it off while I open the cage.”
Ida hesitated, looking into her dark green eyes. She’d seen that look before, knew what it meant when he gave it. She was to be his sacrificial pawn. Archibald never put himself in harm’s way, never got his hands dirty. She was the instrument of his desires, and his desire was the preservation of house Black.
She closed her eyes, thinking back to the that fateful day when he’d picker her up from the orphanage. Her life could have been so different if he had left her there. She owed him everything. She resigned herself to her task and opened her eyes, giving Archibald a nod before leaning down to place a gentle kiss upon his cheek, the bristles of his white beard tickling her lips.
“Thank you for all you’ve done for me,” she said, whispering her final goodbye. “I won’t disappoint you.” And then she turned, heading down the stairs, her heels clacking against the white brick, a single tear trickling down her face, smearing her mascara.
She wiped it away, replacing her grief with a sadistic smile. She was going to her death, but it would be a glorious death.
Archibald watched her go, cold and remorseless, as a member of house Black should be. He told himself he didn’t feel anything, that he didn’t care that he’d just sent his sole remaining daughter to her death, but he was lying to himself.
Without a backwards glance, he headed for the cage.

Posted Aug 28, 17 · OP
To Save The Conscripted:
Chapter Ten

Gulmont ascended the stairs of the tower, taking two steps at a time, the stone work rotting under his feet, becoming brittle and rocky, chips splintering away and crumbling to dust as the corrosive magic that surrounded him oozed from his being.
He came to a large open room where two stair cases were connected, the one he was making his way up now and one to the upper levels. The room was relatively uninteresting, looking to be a mess hall where the White Mantle would come to eat, with tables and chairs lined up in near rows.
Gulmont ignored the room, heading straight for the second flight of stairs, pushing the chairs and tables aside as he went, his body creaking and groaning, yet still moving fluidly somehow, like the death he had woven had given him a new found energy.
Ida descended the stair case Gulmont was heading towards, her hips swaying with every step she took, a flame on cracking the tip of each of her fingers, a come hither smile etched onto her rosy lips that were pulled into a smile that seemed masochistic to Gulmont.
She knows she’s coming to die, Gulmont realised with a note of satisfaction.
“You will go no further!” Ida called out, her eyes taking on a tinge of madness that Gulmont had grown accustomed to those who knew they couldn’t stand against him, yet did so anyway, out of a sheer fanatical need to face an insurmountable threat, simply because of a cause they believed in.
“Ignorant fool,” Gulmont hissed, his jaw not moving as he spoke, his voice echoing like there was two people talking at once, one human, the other something darker and more demonic. “Stand aside or fall like those that have fallen before you.” His voice was disembodied, sounding like it was coming from the creature that was Gulmont, and at the same time from somewhere altogether different.
“So be it,” Ida declared, throwing her hands forward. From her palms, a jet of orange flames burst forth, scorching the ground beneath her and burning the tables and chairs to cinders with such intensity that nothing in the flame’s path survived.
Gulmont dodged to the left, a stab of fear running through him as the fire ignited the plate armour he clad himself in, warming it up like an oven. He felt as if he was roasting, like his armour was serving as nothing but a cooker for his decaying flesh.
As the smell of burnt meat singed what would have been his nostrils, if his nose hadn’t rotted away, memories flashed before his eyes, ones that were old and half-forgotten in a haze of madness, yet still remained with him even now.
He was in a wardrobe, peeking out from the key hole, watching shadows of men shift in primal motion, as his mother’s screams filled his ears. Then there was the flames, scolding flames that clawed at the back of his neck and shoulders, searing his flesh and scaring it beyond belief. Then there was the laughter, the cold dark laughter that he knew so well.
The laughter brought him back to reality, and it became drastically different. No longer was it the laughter of an unspeakable entity of the mists, now it was the laughter of a woman, deranged and facing a creature from her nightmares.
Ida laughed as she threw fire at Gulmont, the jet stream continuous, like it was from a flamethrower, the heat it emanated causing sweat to prickle her brow. It was sweltering, and felt as though she was dehydrating herself as all the water of her being turned to steam in the heat.
Gulmont drew his bow from his back, notching and arrow and sending it flying towards Ida. He wasted no time in seeing it hit before he was drawing another and firing that at her as well, watching as both arrows sailed towards her.
The fletching’s of the arrows were set alight as the travelled towards the desperate Elementalist. Both arrows shafts burst into flames before the tip dug into Ida’s arms, one in the left and the other in the right. She let out an ear piercing scream as the arrows dug into her flesh, causing her to drip the flame spall, and the jet of fire petered out.
As soon as the spell died, Gulmont rushed forward, letting out a howl that sounded like all the souls of the dammed crying out to Ida for retribution. The twin pillars of fire that made up his eyes dug into her, making it feel as though Gulmont was looking into her very soul.
She pushed past the pain, letting out a shriek, lightning dancing at her fingertips now. Once again she thrust her hands forward, trying to ignore how the barbed arrows scraped against her bones, sending the bolts of lightning slamming against Gulmont’s chest.
Gulmont was thrown back from the force of the blow, hitting the far wall and crumpling to the floor. His body convulsed with each bolt of lightning that wracked his body. He twitched involuntarily, silently screaming in agony.
Ida advanced on the fallen corpse, keeping up the stream of electricity. She laughed hysterically as Gulmont’s body twisted and flailed, the sound high pitched and deranged. She didn’t stop for a second, revelling in the thrill of her last moments.
Gulmont writhed on the floor, his eyes opening and closing in rapid succession. He gritted his teeth together, gathering his strength, even as his body rebelled against him, the lightning sending conflicting electrical impulses to his nerves.
With a roar he pushed himself to his feet, gathering the necrotic energy around him into one ball of concentrated energy and flinging it towards Ida, melding it with the lightning to culminate in one almighty blast.
As it hit, Ida was sent sprawling. She slammed into the opposite wall, feeling the snap of her bones as several broke from the impact. She gaged on a wad of blood that threatened to choke her before coughing it up in a single painful hack.
Her vision swam, everything became blurry. She became very aware of the scent of burning hair and thought absently about how she’d have to get her hair done when all this was over. It must have been in a state.
Then she heard footsteps, jerking and unnatural, coming towards her. She blinked a few times, trying to clear her head, but everything was painted in an odd hue of crimson. Reaching up, she touched her head, feeling the blood that trickled down her head and into her eyes.
Then she felt another set of hands upon her, these thin and skeletal, taking her by the cheeks and raising her head a little. She blinked a few times to clear her vision, and found herself staring into the twin pillars of fire that were Gulmont’s eyes.
The skull let out a hiss, and she began to feel weak, like the little remaining strength that she hand was being drained from her. She stared into those flame eyes, and somehow saw her reflection mirrored back at her.
She was withering, her youth fading away, her skin wrinkling and losing its vitality and spring, her blond hair becoming as white as her adversary. Her lustrous curves sagged and her jowls became loose.
Gulmont on the other hand became illuminated in a green light. His skin started to knit itself together, the decayed flesh growing anew, his features growing back over the grinning skull, his lips and nose taking shape.
Ida reached out with a gnarled hand, cupping Gulmont’s cheek, caressing it with the pad of her thumb. The man before her now looked ethereal, almost angelic, if not for the burning flames of his eyes.
She managed one final smile before her eyes rolled back into her head, her hand going limp, and falling to the floor. Ida lay dead, the life force drained out of her, leeched from her by the creature that towered above her, his eyes as cold and remorseless as Archibald’s had been.
Gulmont looked at the old woman that lay before him for but a moment, before he turned on his heels, and headed for the stairs.

The lock of the cage was not an intricate one. It hardly needed the time that Ida had bought him. No, that was not what Archibald had needed her for. What he needed was the result of the experiment, no matter if it had been a failure or not.
Archibald took out a bloodstone shard from his robes, walking up to the cage and the thing that was within, shrouded in shadows. He pressed the shard up against the bars, into the cage, pressing it against the flesh of the creature.
He then muttered a spell, drawing the life force of the creature into the stone. It was a code, or more like a fragment of a code. It was the answer to a question that had plagued Archibald for a long time now, ever since his illness had first been diagnosed.
The secret of immortality was now within his grasp, or at least the first step on the long journey to discovering eternity. Archibald would not die this day, or any other day in the future, he would thrive. This illness would not be the end of him, the creature coming up the stairs would not be the end of him. House Black would survive.
As he drew the now glowing bloodstone shard back, putting it within his robes, Archibald noticed his breath clouding in front of him, a plume of unnatural cold. He closed his eyes in resignation, turning around to face the horror behind him.
Gulmont stepped out onto the landing, having reached the top of the tower, examining Archibald with all the scrutiny of a scientist examining a rat in a lab, like the Justiciar was but an insect in his presence, his twin pillars of flames flickering silently.
Archibald looked upon the face of death and he smiled, his mask concealing his identity. “The girl?” he asked, as if it was more of an afterthought than a real concern for him.
“Dead,” Gulmont replied, two voices speaking at once.
Archibald nodded solemnly, taking a key from his pocket and putting it in the lock of the cage, giving it a turn. The padlock clipped open and clattered to the floor, clanging as it hit the white stone. “You’ll forgive me then if I do not stay to entertain you as a host should,” he remarked. “But I’m afraid I’ve more pressing matters that require my attention. I’ll be leaving you in good company though.”
And with that Archibald stepped forward, walking towards and around Gulmont, to the stairs behind him.
Gulmont let him go, the unknown Justiciar wasn’t really his concern after all. He was here for whatever was in the cage, nothing more. As Archibald brushed his shoulder in passing however, Gulmont whispered to him, “I will find you, Justiciar. This is not over between us.”
“No,” Archibald mused offhandedly, “I suppose it isn’t.” and then he was gone.
Gulmont stepped forward, drawing his axe and sword from his sheaths, making his way across the tower roof to the cage that stood before him.
The shadow inside the cage rumbled, shifting in place, its bulbous form twitching. It turned, gradually making its way out of the cage, the light hitting it as it emerged in all its grotesque glory.
The sheer sight of it almost made Gulmont flinch in revulsion, not even the abominations of Orr could compare to this creature.
It had multiple limbs, hands and legs that poked out at unnatural angles, like it were some kind of spider of flesh. Bones breached the surface of its hide, bone that belonged elsewhere, and did not fully connect to anything or helped the structure to move. They were just there, an off cut of someone or something from a past life. It had facial features all over itself, eyes and noses, deformed and pressed into the flesh, teeth that stuck out from where a mouth might have been but was no longer. The thing was an amalgamation of multiple people, all crushed together into one indescribable monstrosity.
It seemed to sniff the air, several nostrils from all over its body twitching, and then multiple eyes of differing colours shifted to Gulmont, as if sensing his intention to wipe this creature from the face of Tyria.
It screamed in the voices of so many people Gulmont could not count, and charged at him, its limbs flailing around as it ran with uncoordinated, yet deadly precision.
Gulmont dodged to the side as the thing went careering into the battlements behind him, the stone work grumbling under the creature’s bulk.
Gulmont lashed out, his axe digging into the twisted flesh, carving a deep wound. A fresh fountain of black and red blood burst from the wound, proving that some of the blood in the creature had simply rotted and coagulated in its veins while yet more flowed as it should.
The monster let out a gurgling shriek of agony that shook the tower to its foundations before lashing out at Gulmont with a limb that spammed unnaturally.
Gulmont could not dodge this time, the blow hit him in the back and he was sent sprawling forwards, losing his balance. He rolled with the punch, springing to his feet just in time to see the bulbous form charging towards him again.
This time Gulmont did dodge, getting out of the way just in time for the thing to smash into the wall behind him. Again Gulmont turned, thrusting his blade forward. It carved itself into the creature’s flesh, into one of its many deformed faces.
The creature flailed, shaking Gulmont off it and sending him flying. He soared over the battlements, missing the structure completely. The ground hurtled towards him, a very solid reminder of a painful landing. Gulmont struck out against the brick however, grabbing hold of a stone that jetted out, halting his decent violently. It took Gulmont a tremendous strain just to keep himself holding on and not let the velocity of his sudden stop fling him from the wall.
He gritted his teeth as his arm snagged, dislocating with the force of the fall. Letting out a pain filled groan, he looked up, only to see the monstrosity plummeting towards him, single minded in its attack.
Gulmont gasped, hugging the wall to keep out of the creature’s reach as it shot past him. There was a thunderous crash as it slammed against the ground below, its sheer size creating a dent in the ground, a vast, deep crater.
Gulmont peeked down at the thing, seeing it writhe in anguish below, many of its limbs broken, and a strangled scream coming from all of its warped mouth, causing its whole form to shudder and quake.
Breathing heavily, Gulmont gripped his blade in his hand, then let go of the stone, plummeting to the ground. His lifted his sword high over his head as he fell, the cold steel glinting in the light, before he drove the blade into the creature, the force of the fall embedding it to its hilt.
The creature moaned and wailed for a moment, blood sprouting all over it, like it were a pin cushion that’s pins had all been pulled out, before it became very still, the life leaving every one of its eyes.
Gulmont slid off it, crumpling to the ground, all the strength leaving him. He looked up at the sky above, breathing heavily. It was over, finally over. He almost laughed. Now he could go and find somewhere to rest and hope that this nightmare would never repeat itself.
Now he could go to find Lyra and the other Arminio’s and weather this storm until the White Mantle were no more. He liked the sound of a much needed rest.

Ida’s eyes flickered open. She found herself in bed, back at the Black Estate, in her own room, her body aching and her memory hazy. She looked around in confusion, still groggy from her long slumber.
Her gaze found Archibald, sitting in a chair at her bedside. A warm, fuzzy feeling spread over her, one she could not fully explain upon seeing his face. She was so enraptured with the feeling she didn’t even pay attention to the bodies scattered around her bedside, drained out their life force, their faces withered and old.
She reached out to take the old man’s gnarled, liver spot covered hand, giving it a squeeze to rose him from his slumber. He muttered a little before opening his eyes, setting his gaze upon her, his expression momentarily softening before becoming hard and cold again.
“You’re awake I see,” he grumbled, shifting in his chair to get a little more comfortable.
“I am, my lord,” Ida replied, her voice hoarse.
“You shouldn’t be talking,” Archibald chided her. “You need your rest.”
Ida nodded, then hesitated, asking tentatively, “The experiment?”
Archibald was quiet for a second, his eyes flickering to the bloodstone that rested on the bedside table, now no longer glowing. “Don’t worry about that now,” he said gruffly. “Your recovery is all that’s important.
Ida had to stop herself from crying. He’d sacrificed everything they’d been working towards these past few months just to save her life, she realised. In that instant, her mind was made up. She reached forwards, taking Archibald’s hands in her own and pulling him forward.
Archibald’s brows furrowed, then his eyes widened as Ida lead his hands between her legs.
She gave him a reassuring smile. “Rest can wait,” she whispered. “House Black will live on.”
Archibald paused, then sank into the bed with her, listening to it creak beneath their weight.
House Black would live on.
To Save The Conscripted

Posted Aug 29, 17 · OP
Deals With Devils:
Chapter One

The office building was not a very large one, but was modest enough to house offices for nine separate companies, which all rented a single office room within the building to run their various businesses out of.
Machiavelli scanned down the plaque that was stuck up next to the door that listed of names of each company that was housed here and which floor they were on, finding that Baldus Cutlery was on the second floor.
Cluching at the briefcase he held in his hands and opening the door, Machiavelli made is way across to the stair case, not giving a glance to the other three offices that were on the ground floor, all of which were hidden behind glazed glass doors that made seeing within almost impossible.
Upon reaching the second floor, Machiavelli crossed the landing to another glazed glass door that held the name Baldus Cutlery in gold lettering. He reached out, knocking three times before folding his hands behind his back and waiting patiently.
There was noise from within, and eventually the door was opened, revealing an older man with ashy grey hair and a face that was lined with age. He wore a pair of small spectacles upon his beaklike nose, which he peered through with watery blue eyes.
“Ah, Lord Cavalli,” Mister Baldus said, giving Machiavelli a small, nervous smile. “So good of you to come. Would you like anything to drink, tea, coffee?” He asked, his eyes flickering to his shoes, not meeting Machiavelli’s gaze.
Machiavelli perked a brow. “No thank you, Mister Baldus. As much as I’d like to stay and talk, I’m afraid I’ve work I must attend to at the main office.” He chose to ignore Mister Baldus’s somewhat peculiar behaviour and instead get right to the point, “I’ve just come to get your signature on these contracts. Everything will be finalised then and we can go into production.”
He then took his hands from behind his back and held out the briefcase. The contracts that he and Mister Baldus had been negotiation over the last few weeks were held within, freshly printed on crisp paper, the binding words woven in bold black ink.
“Ah, well, yes,” Mister Baldus began, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot and wringing his hands. He took a deep breath, as if resigning himself to his fate, before looking Machiavelli in the eyes. “You see, Lord Cavalli, I’m afraid there’s been a change of plans.”
Machiavelli furrowed his brows,” what sort of change?”
With another little sigh, Mister Baldus opened the door a little wider and gestured for Machiavelli to step in.
The room seemed a lot smaller than it actually was, but only because there were several boxes piled up all around the sides of the room, pressing in on the space and making it feel more confined. Along with the boxes, the room held a single desk, with two chairs, one of which Mister Baldus sat down upon and waved a hand at the other, indicating Machiavelli should do the same.
“Earlier this week I was approached by a man,” Mister Baldus begins as Machiavelli sits down opposite him. “He offered to produce the cutlery for me, like you’re doing yourself, Lord Cavalli.”
Machiavelli folded his arms as he listened to Mister Baldus talk, his lips set in a thin line, his eyes hard and cold, his eyebrow twitching in irritation.
“Now normally I would have laughed in his face,” Mister Baldus continued, scratching his head nervously, squirming uncomfortably under Machiavelli’s penetrating gaze. “But I’m not a wealthy man, Lord Cavalli, and this gentleman has offered to produce my cutlery for half the price you’ve offered.”
“Half the price!?” Machiavelli cried out in astonishment, rising to his feet. “That’s ridiculous!” He leaned forward, splaying his hands on the desk in front of him. “I don’t know what this person’s game is, Mister Baldus, but there is no way it would be profitable for them to produce your product at that price. You’re being played. I’m offering to make you the finest cutlery you’ve ever seen with materials that are tried and true. I’m not sure what this person’s deal is, but they’re screwing you over.”
Mister Baldus flinched back, pursing his lips. “Lord Cavalli, please control yourself. I’m afraid the contracts have already been signed.”
“You signed them without consulting me!?” Machiavelli yelled, pointing an accusatory finger towards Mister Baldus.
“I did, yes,” Baldus says calmly, finding his composure in the storm of Machiavelli’s rage. “The offer was only open for a limited time and I had no time to contact you. I must offer you my deepest apologies for wasting your time, Lord Cavalli, but what’s done is done.”
His face red and his fists clenched, Machiavelli stared Mister Baldus down, trying to control himself in case he said something he’d regret. Taking a deep breath, he straightened himself up, swiftly heading for the door. “Then it seems our business here is concluded. Good day to you, Mister Baldus.”
He slammed the door behind him, not giving Mister Baldus a backwards glance as he headed down the stairs. He needed to blow off some steam, or his anger would overwhelm him, something he didn’t want.
Images flashed before his eyes, of ropes and chains, of a body, supple and lithe struggling against that which bound her. He imagined hearing the creak of leather, and his grip tightening on a whip in his hand, then the moans of ecstasy that rose up from the woman beneath him.
He shook his head, dismissing the thoughts. While he did need to let off steam, he had no one that he could do it with, no one he ever intended to get close enough to so as to enact his deepest desires.
So instead he put a hand in his pocket, his knuckles going white as he grasped the briefcase in the other, and walked towards the exit to the office building, quietly seething to himself, trying not to think about all the wasted hours he’d spent drawing up those contracts.
As he opened the door, he’s attention was caught by a voice beside him asking, “Lord Machiavelli Cavalli?”
Machiavelli turned his head, his gaze settling upon a younger man with dark brown, slicked back hair. He’d a strong jaw and a sharp nose, a charming smile and eyes that glimmered in the kind of way that would make woman’s hearts melt. He wore a grey suit and tie that was very well tailored, and looked Machiavelli up and down with a note of amusement.
“That’s me, yes,” Machiavelli answered, caught off guard by this stranger that apparently knew him, his anger momentarily forgotten.
“A bit of a mouth full isn’t it?” The man smiled. “Can I call you Mach?”
Machiavelli’s eye twitched. “I’d prefer you didn’t,” he answered, remembering some of the dark mood that had fell upon him. He hated the name Mach.
“Well, Mach,” the man continued, ignoring Machiavelli’s protest. “I thought I’d come here and introduce myself.” He held out a hand, a business card with bold lettering printed on it between his fingers.
Machiavelli took the card, looking it over as the man introduced himself. “The name’s Arthur Ryll, of Black Incorporated. I thought you’d like to put a face to the name of the man that will soon be putting you out of business.”
“Excuse me?” Machiavelli snapped, glancing up at Arthur.
Arthur gave Machiavelli a cocky grin. “Mister Baldus? The client you just lost? That was me. I gave him a better deal than you did and he just lapped it up.”
Machiavelli blinked in confusion as his mind struggled to put two and two together. “That was you?” He asked, dumbfounded. “Why on Tyria would you do that? There’s no way that such a deal is going to be profitable to you.”
Arthur gave Machiavelli a shrug. “It’s not about the money, really,” he admitted. “It’s about seeing the look on your face.”
Machiavelli’s jaw dropped, looking baffled.
“Yeah,” Arthur smirked. “That one.” He then turned on his heel and walked off, waving a hand behind his shoulder. “I’ll be seeing you around, Mach.”

The door to the reception area burst open as Machiavelli stormed in. He’d spent most of the trip back to his office silently seething, and now he was reaching the end of his tether. He wanted to lash out, shout and scream, but he was holding himself back. His father had always said it was unbecoming of a lord to show such emotions, so he couldn’t allow himself to indulge in them.
His receptionist, Emilia, had been sorting through some paperwork when Machiavelli had slammed the door open, causing her to let out a little yelp of surprise and drop all that she’d been holding, going red with embarrassment.
“Is everything all right, Lord Cavalli?” She asked as she hurried to pick the papers up off the ground, struggling to preserve her modesty while wearing the uncomfortable pencil skirt that it was recommended she wear.
“Yes, fine,” Machiavelli snapped irritably, immediately regretting his sharp tone when he saw how Emilia’s face fell, his eyes widening in astonishment. This might have been the first time she’d seen Machiavelli show any emotion other than stoic indifference.
“Sorry,” he said as the bent down to help her gather up the papers. “My last meeting took an unpleasant turn.”
“The deal with Baldus cutlery won’t be going through then?” Emilia broached hesitantly.
“No it will not,” Machiavelli muttered, handing the paperwork he’d collected together to Emilia and getting to his feet.
“Is there anything I could do to help, sir?” Emilia asked, standing up right as well, then reaching over to brush a lock of her blond hair behind her ear.
Machiavelli looked Emilia up and down, the smouldering rage still flickering behind his eyes. The images filled his mind once again, but this time with Emilia, bound and gagged, looking up at him with those big blue eyes, pleading wordlessly to him.
Emilia could feel her face growing hot under Machiavelli’s gaze. There was no denying that her boss was a very attractive man, and the look he gave her now was almost carnal, a look that stirred something with her that she’d rather not feel for her employer.
“Yes, there is something you can do for me,” Machiavelli breathed. But whatever he was about to say he seemed to think better of, and the atmosphere cooled. It had lasted only a second, but it was like it had never happened at all.
Machiavelli looked away, pinching the bridge of his nose. He took the business card Arthur Ryll out of his pocket and handed it over to Emilia. “I want you to find out everything you can about this man, I don’t care how trivial it is, I want it all.”
Emilia swallowed, nodding her head and going back to her desk. “I’ll get right on it, Lord Cavalli,” she assured him, brushing out the wrinkles in her skirt as she sat down. She was glad when Machiavelli had nodded and swept into his office. It gave her time to slow her racing heart before she got started on her investigation of Arthur Ryll.

Posted Sep 6, 17 · OP
x 1
x 1
Deals With Devils:
Chapter Two

Machiavelli closed the door to his office behind him, leaning back against it and putting a hand on his brow, letting out a long sigh of relief. What had he been thinking, looking at his secretary like that? He would be lucky if she didn’t file a sexual harassment claim with HR.
He hated this part of himself, hated the need to lash out and control those around him, all in some vein attempt to work out some built up aggression, to bind others to him so that they would do exactly as he commanded.
He needed to visit his forge. At least there he could work out his anger on something that wasn’t unspoilt flesh. Surrounded by flames and steel, the sound of a hammer hitting an anvil ringing in his ears, the suffocating heat and the smoke choking his senses, it all blurred reality for him and made him forget, and that was what he needed right now.
“T’in’s be getting’ a li’le ‘ot out t’ere,” said a voice, bringing Machiavelli back to the present. “I were goin’ te come back la’er, when yee an’ yer l’le bi’ o’ arse were done ‘avin’ fun wit’ one anot’er. I no’ be one te stand in te way o’ a man getting’ wha’ ‘e be needin’.”
Machiavelli looked up, his gaze flickering over to his desk where he found a large Norn sitting at his chair. The Norn was dressed in tattered, weathered leathers that had started to lose their colour from so much time spent in the sun.
His hair was platted into dreadlocks that looked as though they hadn’t been washed in gods know how long. A beard adorned his chin, the long hairs wiry and coarse, with bits of food that might have been weeks old tangled up in it.
His skin was weathered, looking like it had spent its days being battered by the elements. His teeth were yellow and rotting, with more than a few missing from his dark maw, that smelled of vomit and stale rum.
The Norn was the very picture of a drunk, with chunks of vomit staining his clothes and matted into his beard, but his eyes told a different story. The eyes were cunning and cruel, and said that they knew things no man would have ever wanted them to know.
“How did you get in here?” Machiavelli, asked, looking back at the door. “Emilia would have told me if she’d known.”
“I be ‘avin’ me ways,” the Norn replied. He was leaning back in the chair he was sat in, his mucky boots resting on the desk.
Machiavelli walked over to whack the Norn’s feet off his nice clean desk, but it had about as much effect as hitting a wall. “You’re a business associate of my father, aren’t you? Who are you, and what are you doing here?” Machiavelli asked, rubbing his sore hand.
“Aye,” the Norn agreed, nodding his shaggy head. “An associate, yee could be callin’ me tha’.” He swung his feet off the desk, getting to his feet to tower over Machiavelli. It was like looking up at a mountain.
“I be Iorek, Captain Iorek Sharkbait,” The Norn said by way of introduction, taking off the grubby tricorn that sat on his head and sweeping into a deep bow. “I be a gentleman, tha’ I be. An entrepreneur an’ a philanthropist, if yee be excusin’ me boastin’.”
“Oh yes?” Machiavelli said, raising a brow. “You might be all of those things and more, but I don’t know you from the next person, I only know you’ve done work for my father before, and I’d rather not know that much, so what’s to stop me from calling security and having you dragged out of here?”
Iorek chuckled, his large frame jiggling up and down. “Yee could be doin’ tha’, aye,” he agreed, nodding his head. “Bu’ t’en yee no’ be ‘earin’ wha’ I be ‘avin’ te say, an’ tha’ would be a very bad move on yer par’.”
Iorek took a step forward, invading Machiavelli’s personal space. Machiavelli suddenly became very aware of the immense size of the Norn before him. He was a wall of muscle and power, his hands big enough to wrap around his entire head and crush it no effort at all.
Machiavelli gulped, all the bravado draining out of him. He went pale and took a few steps back, the smell of the Norn, a mixture of horrible body odour and stale rum, almost overpowering him to the point of passing out.
“And what precisely is it you have to say to me?” Machiavelli asked, trying to keep his voice from shaking.
Iorek advanced on him, getting closer once again as he spoke casually, almost dismissively, like hat he was saying had no real bearing on anything at all, but his body language said otherwise. It was oppressive and threatening, his every footstep sounding like the boom of thunder to Machiavelli’s ears, his fear only serving to exaggerate it.
“See, I be knowin’ yee father fer quite a long time now, I be doin’ odd t’in’s fer ‘im ‘ear an’ t’ere. Jus’ a few odd jobs, yee be knowin’. So I be knowin’ quite a lo’ o’ wha’ ‘e be doin’. I be knowin’ tha’ if the details o’ some o’ ‘is operations be getting’ out, the general public migh’ no’ be lookin’ too favourably upon his son an’ the business ‘e be runnin’.”
The more Iorek spoke, the deeper the pit in Machiavelli’s stomach seemed to become. His father was not a good man, he knew that. He was by no means a bad father, but Leonardo Cavalli the first was not a good man.
He was the head of a criminal organisation, a murderer and a thief, exactly the type of man that would ruin Machiavelli, and the whole of house Cavalli’s, reputation if word of his dealings got out to the world.
“What do you want?” Machiavelli asked, defeated. He deflated, looking and feeling much older now than he had done in quite some time. He took another step back away from Iorek, and felt the wall behind him. He was cornered.
Iorek took another step forward, his shadow enveloping Machiavelli completely. “I be wantin’ wha’ any gentleman o’ the sea be wantin’,” He said, almost too pleasantly. “A decent bottle o’ rum, a buxom lass on me knee, an the coin te ge’ me an’ mine through the day.” Iorek then leaned in so his face was inches away from Machiavelli’s, his foul rum soaked breath tickling his nostrils. “Bu’ I be settlin’ fer jus’ the coin fer now.”
Machiavelli almost gagged at the stench, his eyes watering as he averted his eyes from Iorek, his eyes finding the cutlass and pistol that the Norn wrapped his big, meaty hands around. “How much do you want?” He whispered, his voice barely audible.
“I be t’inkin’ fer now,” Iorek said, sucking air through his yellow, rotting teeth, “I be ‘appy wit’ the coin yee be ‘avin in tha’ safe t’ere.” He then pointed his pistol to the painting hanging from the wall, where Machiavelli’s wall safe was hidden.
Nodding meekly, Machiavelli moved to the picture, sliding it back to reveal the safe behind it. He entered the combination, the tumblers turning in the mechanism with a click and a clunk until all the numbers were entered correctly, leaving the safe to swing open.
Reaching inside, Machiavelli pulled out a bag of coins, then turned to offer it out to Iorek, feeling like a defenceless child. It made his so sick he thought he could taste bile on his tongue.
Iorek snatched the coin pouch from Machiavelli’s grip, giving it a bounce to listen to the gold coins jingle within, before pocketing it. “Tha’ be very generous o’ yee, Lord Cavalli. Very generous indeed.” The Norn than turned on his heel, walked over to a window, and slid it open.
“I be seein’ yee agin very soon, Lord Cavalli,” he chuckled darkly. “Don’ yee be frettin’ abou’ tha’ T’is ain’t the last yee be seein’ o’ me.”
Then Machiavelli blinked and Iorek was gone.
The office seemed a lot bigger now that Iorek had left, and Machiavelli felt very alone. He walked over to his desk, slumping down in the chair and burying his head in his hands, the horrible sensation of vulnerability washing over him.
He needed a drink.

Jikk’s was probably the last bar that Machiavelli would have thought of going to, but it was one of the only bars where absolutely no one would know him, that meant he could sit and drown his sorrows in peace.
He’d made his way to the cave bar in silence, rubbing his arms subconsciously. He hated to feel so taken advanced of, hated being used. It reminded him of a time he’d rather not remember, when he’d been stupid and naïve.
The memory tugged at his thoughts, but he pushed it away, instead focusing on the present, which he wasn’t sure was any better. Iorek’s stench still lingered in his nostrils, and he wanted nothing more than to purge it from his scenes.
The cave bar was down by the harbour, which meant moving through the packed streets of Lion’s Arch, manoeuvring himself around the crowds, and being aware of any unwelcome hands that tried to sneak their way into his pockets.
He hadn’t brought much coin with him, Iorek had almost cleared him out only a few moments ago, but he’d brought enough to get himself a few drinks. He’d dressed in clothes that were unappealing, and made himself look unassuming, anything to avoid attention.
The sand crunched beneath his shoes as he made his way down the slope to the cave bar. There wasn’t many people around, much to Machiavelli’s relief, and he easily found a place at the bar to order his drink.
The barmaid didn’t seem to pay him much attention at first, but when she did he wished she hadn’t. She looked at him with such contempt that he felt like crawling up into a ball and hiding from the world forever.
“What can I get you?” She asked with a sneer, a strand of her reddish brown hair falling in front of her face for a second before she tucked it back into her bun. She wore very little, which made it hard for Machiavelli to know where to look, so he opted for looking her right in the eyes and ordering a bottle of rum.
The barmaid muttered something before pouring the drink and telling him, “sixteen copper.”
Machiavelli gave her a nod, fished out the coin, with a little extra for a tip, and slid it over to her.
The woman ignored the extra coin, taking only the sixteen and putting it in a lock box under the counter. “I’ve no use for tips,” she told him bitterly. “now drink your drink and leave me be.”
Machiavelli might have complained if he was feeling more like himself, but as it was he just shook his head, pushed himself off the bar top, and went to find a seat.
“Don’t mind Ripples,” said an old sailor in passing. “She’s like that with every man. If you’re a lovely lass she might give you a smile, but a man and you may as well be a spec of dirt.”
Machiavelli could only grunt as he found himself a quiet table and sat himself down. He looked down into his bottle, disgusted and ashamed of himself for letting himself be used. He sat there for a long time, staring at his bottle and nursing a headache he’d developed through stress, wondering what he was going to do with the Norn pirate problem.
“Careful there, Machiavelli,” said a familiar voice beside him. “With all that brooding you might do yourself an injury.”
Machiavelli looked to his left as a woman sat down beside him. She was around about his age, with her face showing signs of her age. Her hair was short other than the Mohawk she’d trimmed it into, and her face was long, her chin broad and strong.
“Constance,” Machiavelli said, managing a smile. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“Neither was I,” Constance smiled back. “This isn’t the kind of place you usually visit.”
“No, it isn’t,” Machiavelli agreed, looking around at the cave walls and the drunk looking patrons. “I felt like I needed to get away from things for a bit.”
Constance pursed her lips, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder. Her grip was strong, vice like, and Machiavelli had to hide a flinch. “What’s wrong?” She asked him, genuine concern entering her voice.
“Just a bad day,” Machiavelli said, shrugging her off. He’d known Constance for a long time, since they were children. They’d always been close, but it was perhaps because of that closeness that he didn’t want to burden her with his troubles.
“It must have been for you to come here,” Constance smirked. “You should have invited me out, I would have come to cheer you up.”
“I know, but I just wanted to be alone for a bit.” Constance would have done anything for Machiavelli, he knew that, and if there was anyone capable of cheering him up it was her, but at the minute he wasn’t sure he wanted to be cheered up.
“You want me to go?” Constance asked, trying to keep the hurt out of her voice.
“No,” Machiavelli said with a shake of his head. “You’re all right. It’s actually good to see you again, it feels like it’s been a long time.”
“Well it has been,” Constance chuckled. “We’ve not seen each other in maybe a year?”
“Has it really been that long?” Machiavelli gasped. “Sorry, I’ve had a lot on my plate lately.”
Constance shook her head, “it’s okay. I know you’ve been busy, what with you being a big shot company man now.”
Machiavelli smirked. “It’s not like that, but yes, I have had to deal with a lot more paperwork and annoying people than I’d like. But that’s not that interesting. I’m more curious as to what you’ve been doing with yourself.”
“Not much,” Constance shrugged. “The usual stuff. The Lionguard keeps me pretty busy. When I’m not cracking pirates heads or dealing with all these Elonian Refugees that have started coming around, I’m throwing drunks in the lock up or tracking down…” She then broke off, coughing and spluttering, heaving as if her lungs had just taken on a load of water.
Machiavelli cringed, reaching out to put a hand on her back, rubbing it for her, as if he was trying to sooth the cough from her.
“Blasted Scarlet,” Constance cursed once she was done, wiping her mouth on a silk handkerchief Machiavelli offered her.
Machiavelli was quiet for a while, trying to think of what to say before he blurted out, “I’m sorry. I should have been there for you, after the attack. I was too caught up in my own things, I should have paid you more attention.”
Constance punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Don’t be silly,” she murmured. “There wasn’t anything you could have done, and I’m fine now.”
Machiavelli rubbed his shoulder tentatively. “If you say so,” he nodded, taking a swig from his bottle before making a face of disgust. “Gods, what is this stuff? It’s horrible?”
Constance burst out laughing, slapping her thigh, “Don’t let any of the locals hear you say that, they swear by this stuff.”
Machiavelli shook his head, getting to his feel. “I should go, Constance, I’ve got to get up early tomorrow to get to work, but thank you. I feel much better after seeing you. We should do this again.”
Constance nodded, raises her own bottle to him. “We should, and don’t you be a stranger. I’ve missed your stupid face.”
Machiavelli smiled, patting her on the shoulder before he turned on his heel and headed home to bed. His meeting with Constance had already given him some ideas as to how to resolve some of his mounting problems, now all he had to do was think of a way to carry them out.
Constance watched Machiavelli leave, the smile falling from her face. Her chest hurt, and it had nothing to do with Scarlet’s Rattle. She always seemed to be watching Machiavelli’s back as he walked away from her, nd she was terrified that she always would be.

Posted Sep 7, 17 · OP
Deals With Devils:
Chapter Three

It had taken Machiavelli a few days and a little restructuring of the company before he was ready to put the first part of his plan in action. A few spaces had been opened up for jobs, apprentice blacksmiths had been promoted, and a few of the more elderly members of the company had been offered a generous retirement package, which a number had willingly taken.
Now Machiavelli was making his way down to Lion’s Arch’s Western Ward, a pile of contracts in his briefcase, and a subtle smile tugging at his lips. He felt good about this idea, and proud of himself for coming up with it.
Over the last few months Machiavelli had come to realise he had been put in a position where he could do some real good for the world, actually make a difference and perhaps balance out the scales from all the terrible things his family had done, and was still doing.
He had initially thought of starting up a charity organisation, but had decided in the end that it wasn’t for him. He wasn’t one for raising money with nothing but a smile. He wasn’t good enough with people.
He had then come up with the idea of putting money into fledgling companies that fit a certain ethical criteria, but that had proved to be more difficult than he had originally thought and would require more time before his vision could be put into fruition.
This idea however had promise, and it just so happened to coincide with some of the problems that had reared their ugly heads in recent days.
The first thing Machiavelli noticed when he reached the Western Ward was the colours, they were bright and vibrant, if a little weather worn, all scattered around in a mishmash of tarps and tents that the Elonian refugees had erected.
The Elonians themselves were a lot worse for wear. They had tired eyes, their faces lined in worry and hopelessness, their clothes tattered and stained, and their dark skin almost pale with sickness and frailty.
Many of them were injured, sporting grizzly gashes or gruesome burn marks that covered a lot of their bodies, boils on their skin bubbling and scabbing over in a bid to preserve their flesh, even as they became infected and swollen with puss.
Machiavelli suppressed a shudder as he looked the men, woman and children over, trying to ignore the gentle sobbing of mothers that had lost their children, husbands that had lost their wives, and a myriad of other such grief that touched the hearts of every single one of the refugees.
He looked around, finding a place that he deemed suitable for his speech and would put himself within people’s line of sight. Even if he could only get the attention of a few today, word would spread, or so he hopped, and soon the wheels of progress would be turning.
Clearing his throat, he called out, “You’re attention please!” Only to be met with silence. The Elonians averted their gazes, more concerned with their own grief than a man in a fancy suit asking for their time.
“Your attention please!” Machiavelli tried again, this time a little louder, which caught a few of the Elonian’s eyes. “Allow me to introduce myself! I am Lord Machiavelli Cavalli, of Cavalli Steel and Smithing, and I come before you today with an offer!”
He looked around, seeing that a few of the dark skinned people were gathering around now, drawn to the sound of his voice. “My company has recently opened up a number of job positions for those able bodied enough to take them!
I’m looking for men and women that can work hammer on anvil, or are willing to learn to do so! I’ve positions for Blacksmiths and apprentice Blacksmiths, or if you would prefer, positions in our mines and quarries to work the rock to produce ore!
The work is hard and labour intensive, I won’t lie to you about that, but it’s honest work for honest money! You’ll be given a weekly wedge, and I can promise accommodation to at least those that choose to work the mines and quarries!
I’ll be here for the next few hours, going over contracts and offering positions within the company for those that are willing to take them! Thank you very much!” Machiavelli then took a step back, taking a deep breath.
Immediately he was surrounded by several individuals that were all asking him questions, greeting him with open, all be it cautious faces. He smiled at each one, talking to them pleasantly and answering their questions, signing a few up for work and telling others where to go should they wish to mull his offer over and seek out employment later.
It occurred to him that he had perhaps been a little naïve to think he could spread the word on his own, but he’d taken the first step and he was sure that word would get around. In the meantime he would look into volunteer organisations that were helping out around the refugee camp and see if could get in contact with them about his employment initiative.

The pride that Machiavelli felt soon dried up by the time the crows had dissipated and he’d made his way across the Western Ward and to the harbour. With each step an increasing feeling of dread had begun to churn in his stomach.
It had reached its pinnacle when he found Iorek, leaning against a wall, singing a raunchy sea shanty to himself and grinning lewdly at the passing female Elonian refugees, giving them each a once over, looking them up and down with eyes full of lust, and watching as they shuddered and hastened their steps.
Machiavelli frowned as he approached, grumbling, “Must you do that? Haven’t those women been through enough?”
“Tha’ t’ey ‘ave,” Iorek agreed with a nod of his shaggy head. “Which be why I be intendin’ te give t’em the time o’ t’eir lives if t’ey be comin’ callin’.”He then grabbed hold of his crotch and thrust forward, laughing boisterously.
Machiavelli shook his head. “You disgust me.”
He immediately regretted his words. Iorek’s smile fades, his expression turning very dark, his yellow, rotting grin turning dangerous. “I be disgustin’ yee, do I be, Machiavelli?” he whispered, leaning closer. “Even when I be goin’ out o’ me way, t’rough the goodness o’ me ‘eart, te give yee the opportunity te keep yer father’s business under wrapps?”
“I…” Machiavelli stuttered, bringing a hand to his neck to run a finger under his collar, loosening his cravat a little. “I didn’t mean…”
Iorek cut him off by holding up a large hand, “I be knowin’ yee didn’t,” he smiled pleasantly, bursting out laughing again, the tension dissolving instantly. “Besides, I don’ wan’ te be drivin’ away me own business by makin’ an ugly scene, do I?”
Machiavelli let out a sigh of relief, suppressing the urge to laugh himself, all be it a little more hysterically. He’d just dodged a bullet and he knew it. “Business?” He asked instead, looking around the harbour.
“Aye,” Iorek nodded. “I be standin’ ‘ear, offerin’ me services fer any refugee lookin’ te ge’ te Divinity’s Reach, or anywhere in-between. Fer a modest fee, I be loading wha’ little possessions t’ey be ‘avin’ on me ship, an’ givin’ t’em a time te show up te set sail.” He puffed out his chest, looking pleased with himself.
Machiavelli paused for a moment before cautiously asking, “Does anyone show up to take them to their destination?”
Iorek burst out laughing again, slapping his thigh and wiping tears of mirth from his eyes as his booming voice echoed through the harbour, getting downed out in the sounds of the sailors and dock workers going about their days. “Someone migh’ do, bu’ it certainly no’ be aye!”
“So you cheat them out of the last bit of wealth they might have and leave them penniless without the only thing of sentimental value they might have been able to take with them from when they fled their homes getting destroyed?” Machiavelli asked, aghast, his mouth agape in disgust.
“I be givin’ t’em a true Lion’s Arch welcome,” the Norn pirate chortled, suddenly turning serious. “I ‘ope yee be ‘avin’ me coin wit’ yee?”
“Aren’t you getting enough by praying on the desperate?” Machiavelli hissed.
Iorek nodded,” I migh’ be, bu’ it never ‘urts te be getting’ a little extra. Besides, it be a terrible t’in’ if yee no’ be givin’ me me coin, an’ an accident should befall yer li’le Lionguard friend?”
“Constance?” Machiavelli breathed. He had no idea how the pirate had found out about her, but he could tell by the look in the Norn’s face that he wasn’t bluffing “You wouldn’t?”
“T’ere be many t’in’ I be doin’ te be getting’ wha’ be mine,” Iorek assured him. “Now, me coin?” He growled, holding out an open palm.
Machiavelli put a hand into his suit inner pocket and produced a pouch of coin which he placed into Iorek’s hand. “Take your damn money,” he spat, venom lacing his tone.
Iorek gave Machiavelli a dark laugh. “It be a pleasure doin’ business wit’ yee, Lord Machiavelli,” He said as Machiavelli furiously turned on his heel and stomped back to his office. “I be seein’ yee again soon.”

By the time Machiavelli had returned to his office it had begun to get dark, and he had gotten a handle on the rage and indignation he had feel bubbling up inside of him. He’d moulded his face into a calm and stoic façade that he felt was more fitting for a businessman.
Opening the door, he was greeted by Emilia, who fluttered her eyes at him and gave him a sweet smile. “Good evening, Lord Cavalli. How did it go down at the refugee camp?”
“Very well, thank you, Emilia,” Machiavelli nodded to her, his tone indifferent.
Emilia hesitated a moment, then shifted in her seat, as if awkward and a little disappointed. “A letter came for you while you were out, my Lord.” She rummaged around on her desk before holding up a crisp, clean envelope addressed to him in a scrawled hand, sealed with the seal of the Pact.
“Thank you, Emilia,” Machiavelli inclined his head, taking the letter from her and opening it, reading the contents.

Lord Machiavelli Cavalli.

We regret to inform you that we will be ceasing all production with you on the crafting of a new Pact airship. While you’ve been nothing but cordial and your workers have given us a satisfactory performance, we were recently approached by an Arthur Ryll of Black Incorporated, who has promised the same level of craftsmanship that your workers gave us, only they’ll speed up production so that the airship will be up and running by the end up the second quarter.
We thank you for all you have done until now, but your services will no longer be requited. We’ve dismissed your workers, who will return to you within the week.

With regrets.
Captain Grattus Steamcatcher.

Machiavelli breathed deeply through his nose as he read the letter, screwing it up in his fist when he was done and turning towards Emilia. “Tell me, Emilia,” he began in a level voice. “How far are you on getting that information on Arthur Ryll?”
“I’m almost done, Lord Cavalli,” Emilia assured him. “There are just a few documents I’m waiting to get clearance for. I expect I’ll be able to have it on your desk by the day after tomorrow.”
Machiavelli nodded,” Very good, Emilia. Keep me updated,” he said before disappearing into his office to seethe silently.

Posted Sep 8, 17 · OP
Deals With Devils:
Chapter Four

Machiavelli was called into the meeting room early the following morning. His first reaction was confusion. He hadn’t remembered calling a meeting of the board. His confusion only grew when Emilia informed him that it wasn’t him that had called the meeting, but the members of the board themselves.
The room was large, with a single long table in the middle of it, with a number of chairs on either side for the board members to sit on. They were already there when Machiavelli arrived, each elderly member stone faced as they regarded Machiavelli without a hint of emotion.
Machiavelli entered the room, his shoulders pulled back and his chest puffed out, brimming with the façade of confidence. “Never let them see you’re afraid,” his father had always told him. “Once they see that they’ll go in for the kill without mercy. A gentleman must always seem to be calm and in control.”
So calm and in control Machiavelli was as he strode across the room and took his place at the head of the table, straightening his lapels as he sat dawn and cast an eye over the impassive crowd, addressing them with an air of impatience.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, how good it is to see you all again, but you must forgive me, it seems I was not informed of the subject of today’s meeting. If you would be so kind as to elaborate we can all get back to business. I’m a busy man and I’d very much like to get back to work.”
The room shifted uncomfortably and a few of the men and women of the board cleared their throats awkwardly before one of them spoke up, a balding man with jowls that sagged around his mouth like a bulldog.
“Lord Cavalli, it has come to our attention that we recently lost two of our clients to other companies. Now while the first one, Baldus Cutlery, is of no real importance to us, the airship commission with the Pact is quite the important contract and the board would like an explanation.”
Machiavelli gave the members of the board a once over, his expression stoic and solemn, before he turned to address the balding man that looked like a bulldog. “Mister Farese, while I do understand your concerns, I can assure you that everything is under control. While the loss of the Pact airship contract is a blow to us I have already come up with a plan as to how to get them back under our care.”
“You must forgive me, Lord Cavalli,” Mister Farese replied, trying to be as polite as possible, “but I’m afraid that regaining our clients isn’t what has brought us here today. You see, there has been concern amongst the board o you performance in the last few weeks. The loss of two clients in such a short amount of time isn’t something that should be dismissed so easily.”
“Am I to understand, Mister Farese, that the reason this meeting was called today is to call my competency into question?” Machiavelli asked, raising a brow and maintaining his composure, despite the ager boiling beneath the surface.
“Well…Ah…” Mister Farese began, looking to his colleagues for help. “It’s just that with these recent losses and you’re hiring of all these Elonian refugees…” He trailed off.
The rest of the board all averted their eyes and suddenly developed a unique interest in the patterns on the walls, the enamel on the table top, or their shoes laces. They examined them with such intense scrutiny that Mister Farese almost believed he was being left to dig his own hole even deeper.
“Let me remind you, Mister Farese,” Machiavelli continued, emphasising each word as he said it, “that when this board had control of the company they would lie, cheat and do just about anything else for their own personal gain. I could bring each and every one of you up on criminal allegations that could land you all in white collar prison, so not a single one of you has any right to question me on the actions I make within this company. The only reason any of you are still here is because I have chosen not to drag my family name through the mud for the sake of a few greedy individuals.”
Machiavelli paused, letting his words sink in. The room had gone deathly silent, each and every member of the board bowing their heads in guilt, shame, and fear of Machiavelli’s reprisal. “Now,” he said, once he was satisfied that he’d made himself completely clear, “if we are quite done here, I’ve had enough of this farce. You’re all dismissed. Everyone back to work, and I will hear no more of this.”
Chairs scraped against the ground as they were pushed back, and the members of the board scurried out, leaving Machiavelli alone in the meeting room.
He sat there in silent, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. He would need to deal with the Arthur Ryll soon or it would get out of hand. He couldn’t afford to be tripped up like that again.
But first, he had to set his mind at ease and make sure Constance was all right. He doubted Iorek had the mean to get to her, but he couldn’t truly focus on the Arthur Ryll problem until he was sure.
After taking a few minutes to collect himself, Machiavelli got to his feet and headed out, making his way towards Lion’s Arch.

Fort Marriner was not as easy to navigate as Machiavelli had first thought it would be. He had taken several wrong turns and ended up completely lost before he gave in and asked a passing Lionguard for directions.
The Lionguard had taken him to an open plan office room with several desks within, all lined up neatly side by side, with a few partitions making them into separate cubicles. The desks themselves were anything but tidy, with papers and case files piled on top, with flasks of alcohol acting as paperweights, and coffee cups that left coffee rings on the papers, which Machiavelli also suspected might have a shot of alcohol within the brown liquid.
The Lionguard pointed to a couple of desks at the far end of the room, where Machiavelli could see an Asura, hunched over a pile of paperwork, his tongue stuck out in concentration. He gave the Lionguard a word of thanks and made his way over to the desks, clearing his throat.
“Excuse me,” he said, raising his voice just a little to get the Asura’s attention.
The Asura glanced up, curling his lip in annoyance. “I can hear you just fine, you know? These ears aren’t just for decoration.”
“Right, sorry,” Machiavelli said bashfully, giving the Asura an awkward cough. “I’m looking for a Constance Tyme.”
The Asura perked a brow. “Why?” He asked, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. “What do you want her for?”
“I’m just checking in on her,” Machiavelli explained, folding his hands behind his back and standing up straight, making himself look as though he was meant to be there. His father had always told him, “Act as if you’re supposed to be there and no one will question why you’re there in the first place.”
The Asura frowned a little, then leaned over in his chair to look behind Machiavelli, calling out, “Tyme! There’s someone here to see you! Looks like one of those fancy noble sorts! Should I kick him out?”
Constance walked around the corner, coming from what must have been a break room, a fresh cup of coffee in her hand. Her lips twitched into a smile when she saw Machiavelli, and she looked to the Asura, shaking her head. “It’s all right, Dill. He’s a friend.”
“I thought I was your only friend?” Dill smirked, his shark like teeth glinting mischievously.
“I do have a social life outside of work,” Constance replied with a roll of her eyes, walking over to Machiavelli and leaning an elbow on his shoulder.
“That’s new to me,” Dill grinned, looking very pleased with himself as Constance flipped him the bird and he went back to his work.
It was only now that they were standing side by side did Machiavelli remember how tall Constance was. In her golden Lionguard armour, she was a wall of toned muscle, almost as tall as a Norn, with budging biceps and washboard abs you could do your laundry on.
Machiavelli might have felt a little inadequate in comparison, with his skinny arms and his soft hands. He didn’t really look like a blacksmith at all, Constance would have fit the picture better, but Machiavelli didn’t need strength to practice his craft, he had magic.
“What’s all this?” He asked, waving a hand over the paperwork that had piled up on her and Dill’s desk.
“Just an old case we’ve been working on,” Constance told him, pointing a thumb over her shoulder at a grisly murder board that showed images of two dead men in a small tavern room. “It’s kind of reached a dead end, but we’ll keep working on it.”
Machiavelli flinched as his eyes went to rest on the pictures, feeling his stomach doing summersaults, making him turn a little green around the gills. He averted his eyes, looking to Constance instead. “How…Nice,” he said, not really sounding like he meant it.
Constance chuckled, smiling apologetically. “But why are you here, Machiavelli? It’s unusual that I see you at all, let alone only a few days since our last meeting. Something on your mind?”
“Not really,” Machiavelli shrugged. “I just felt like paying you a visit, and I had some spare time, so here I am.”
Constance blinked. “Oh,” she nodded, raising her brows a little. “Well it’s ah…Good to see you in any case.” She cleared her throat a little, trying to hide her embarrassment, and at the same time ignore Dill, who was waggling his eyebrows at her.
“Would you like to go for a drink or something?” Machiavelli asked, gesturing towards the door, “Tea, coffee?”
Constance bit her lip, looking over at the pile of paperwork on her desk. “I would love to, but I’m afraid I’m a little busy at the moment. I just got an important case landing on my desk the other day and it’s been keeping me a little occupied.”
“Anything I can help with?”
Constance shoot her head, “Unless you know anything about Iorek Sharkbait, one of the most feared buccaneer to ravage Kryta, I don’t really think you can.”
Machiavelli stopped short at the name, his breath catching in his throat. Constance was after Iorek. So that was why he had known her name and his relationship to her, it only made sense that the cunning Norn would get every bit of information he could about the Lionguard whose job it was to put him behind bars.
Wetting his lips, Machiavelli took a breath, saying hesitantly, “I might just be able to help there.”
Constance furrowed her brows doubtfully. “No offence Machiavelli, but I really don’t think you can. Unless you’ve got some insight into dangerous criminals, you’re not going to be much use to me.”
“I know more than you might think,” Machiavelli assured her, looking a little guilty. “I’ve not been entirely honest with you, Constance. You see, there’s a reason I came here to see how you are.”
Constance sagged a little, her shoulders drooping, but Machiavelli didn’t notice. “What’s wrong, Machiavelli?” She asked, her brows furrowed in concern.
“Iorek Sharkbait,” Machiavelli explained. “He’s been blackmailing me.”
“With what?” Constance gasped, his eyes widening.
“Several things, but one of them I’d rather not say, not it’s something that could ruin my family’s reputation.”
Constance paused for a moment, looking at Machiavelli earnestly. “Okay,” she said after a while. “Well we’re not the Seraph, you don’t need to tell us all the details. What about the other thing?”
“He threatened to hurt you if I didn’t comply.”
“Huh,” Constance muttered. “I guess I can add threatening an officer of the Lionguard to his list of charges. I assume you’ve been making payments to him?”
“Regular ones, yes,” Machiavelli nodded.
“And you’ve been meeting with him each time to deliver the coin?”
Machiavelli nodded again.
“Well, we can work with that,” Constance smiled.

Posted Sep 9, 17 · OP
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