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   Chapter 7 The Northern Wastelands

Maldene II: Mysteries Of Olde By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 79554

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:03

Filmar sat on an oak chair at a small table in a tavern, a drink at his side though he had touched it not. Across from him sat the one with whom he was conversing. Of medium build, his straight reddish-brown hair going down to his ears, unshaven stubble growing on his chin, and dark blue eyes that shone forth with a constrained meanness of spirit. The rolled sleeves of his old shirt revealed a light dirty tan, while his long dingy cloak, with its decorative clasp, spilling out behind him hid whatever may have lain hidden within the confines of his ragged appearance. About his neck hung perhaps half a dozen home-made amulets, each engraved with some stylized horned face carved about its surface, each hung by a lead chain. A pair of dirty leather boots rising halfway up to his knees completed the picture of the disreputable figure with which Filmar talked, the patrons of the crowded tavern around them not noticing or caring of what they discussed.

"So, " the mean-eyed one said, "you wish to hire the Black Dagger. Who is it that you want assassinated?"

Filmar squirmed a little in his seat. He did not like having to deal with the likes of the one in front of him, and the word assassin rankled upon his morale judgment, but there was no choice. Those priests had to be dealt with before more harm was done.

"I do not hire him as an assassin but as a commando, " Filmar corrected.

"However you wish to call it, the name does not matter."

"There are some targets, " Filmar continued, "that need to be eliminated and they aren't anything that an army can get to, at least not without creating a holy war or making a martyr out of them."

"A delicate situation, then. Delicate situations cost more, you know."

"The Black Dagger will be paid for each designated target eliminated, " Filmar brought out a small pouch of gold from within his armor.

"It sounds like there's going to be a lot of them, " the dirty-one smiled. "Well, I imagine your father can afford it. Oh, yes, I know who you are. That just makes it all the more pleasing to see how such a moral pillar of society has need of the Black Dagger's services."

"Look, Bedor, " Filmar's expression turned sour. "There's a war on the horizon, one that I'm sure you can't conceive the magnitude of. We need to lessen the coming cost of lives by as much as we can, prevent the innocent of both sides from unnecessary death and suffering. At times that may mean the use of a few distasteful methods."

"Aw, now you're calling me distasteful, " Bedor smiled.

A passing serving maid put down a mug of some dark red liquid on the table in front of Bedor. He shot the wench a leering smile as she left and then picked up his mug for a brief sip before continuing; the drink in it was the color and consistency of blood.

"But, " he continued, "business is business. My employer cares not for your reasons, just for your gold. I am also required to say the following: Once the contract is agreed to, it will be fulfilled no matter what. Nothing will change that, and no one else can buy out the contract no matter how much more money is offered; a practice I guarantee will probably land the Black Dagger in the poor house, but that is not mine to judge. The Black Dagger wishes me to assure any clients that the Black Dagger's word is the one dependable thing in this world."

"That is the only reason why I come here to deal, " Filmar pointed out. "Unlike his apparent representative here, the Black Dagger has a certain code of honor that he rigidly maintains."

"Insults won't help our negotiations any, " Bedor took another sip from his drink. "What's the target?"

Here Filmar lowered his voice, though he tried to not look conspicuous doing so. Bedor leaned in a bit closer, nursing his drink as he listened.

"The priests of Vold are all over My-Thov, " Filmar explained, "fomenting hatred towards all that is good and using their magic to sway innocent people into hatred of not only my father's own realm, but of any that would seek to control evil and injustice in the world. They would make of these unknowing people an army of Sentinels!"

"Priests, eh? Hmm, this definitely sounds expensive."


"Your concern here should be beyond any price, " Filmar exclaimed quietly. "They would make a force that would trample all of My-Thov."


"Well then, I guess it's good that we're here on Cenivar."

"Surely you must realize that these plans would not stop at just a single continent?!"


"What I realize is not important, " Bedor sipped at his drink once again. "Only what is relevant to the mission and the price, is what concerns me. The price is five hundred gold a head, money to be delivered to this location at the end of each motab. I bring the heads, you bring the money. We only expect to be paid for jobs completed, but we do expect to be paid."

Filmar took out a second pouch to land on the table beside the first. He then tipped each pouch slightly open, spilling out a small stream of tiny gems onto the table in front of Bedor.

"That, " Filmar said, getting up, "is for the first ten heads, and I expect results. I will meet you here at the end of this motab."

Filmar then turned swiftly around and left, his bright red cloak falling around his armor as he walked away. Bedor watched him leave, seeing an imperial dignity about the young man that could not help but be noticed.

Bedor gagged.

"Fauwnima; he's so pompous and righteous it's sickening, " Bedor spat out when Filmar was finally out of the tavern, "almost makes me want to cough up my blood wine and get it over with right now."

"Just remember, " a sweet female voice came out suddenly from across the table, "it's clients like that who pay for your wine."

Bedor glanced up with a start. Across from him sat the olive-skinned form of Kilinir, Kor-Lebear sitting down next to her in another chair that Bedor hadn't heard being dragged up. They were both cloaked in face-covering robes, the bright shine of their green and blue acrobatics outfits showing ever so slightly beneath.

"How do you two do that?" Bedor asked. "And without even any magic."

"I wouldn't call what you have to be much in the way of magic, " Kor-Lebear observed quietly, "unless you count the changing of money into drink a spell."

"Hey, " Bedor hissed quietly, "my magic is quite good; good enough that you two need it."

"There's at least a dozen street wizards that could replace you, and you know it, " Kor-Lebear stated.

"Well, " Bedor finished his drink, anger seething about his face, "I won't be just a street wizard for long. This whole Black Dagger stuff has gotten me enough coin to start a project or two of my own. Soon we'll see who's just a street magician."

"We both know your true potential, " Kilinir soothed, placing a soft hand upon Bedor's own. "That's why we went in with you. But you've got to learn a bit more diplomacy."

"I don't see why I should, " Bedor said, then softened his expression as he caught Kilinir's pleasantly warm smile. "Well, maybe I'll try just a little."

"That's good, " Kilinir said, as she caught Kor-Lebear's eye out of the corner of her own. "Now, what did Filmar have to say; I see he hasn't changed much- just as stiff as ever."

"Yeah, well the job's for bumping off priests of Vold in My-Thov, " he explained.

"I hear they have been making quite a ruckus in central My-Thov, " Kor-Lebear noted, "although priests can be a bit difficult."

"Well, for five hundred a head, it's worth it, " Bedor smiled, "he even gave this in advance for the first ten."

Bedor pushed the two sacks in their direction, discreetly nudging the gems around on the table so no passersby might see.

"I guess that'll do for a start at that, " Kor-Lebear replied. "We'll have to start making arrangements right away."

Kor-Lebear began to put the small gems back into their pouches, dividing two-thirds of them into one pouch and the rest into the other. The smaller one he then tossed to Bedor.

"That's your cut, " he said.

"We'll have to arrange for a teleport spell or two, " Kilinir said as she dissected the practicalities of the coming mission in her mind, "and stuff for new identities, ..."

"What's wrong with the traveling entertainers bit?" Bedor asked. "It's worked so far."

"Because, " Kor-Lebear pointed out, "if someone sees us perform on My-Thov that also happened to see our act on Cenivar, at the same time as some old priests start dying, then they might begin to wonder about a connection."

"It's on an entirely different dalnmar, " Bedor objected. "Who's going to be traveling that much to happen upon us there?"

"Well, Filmar for one, " Kilinir answered, "it's obvious that he uses magic to quickly travel from one dalnmar to another, and he's just conscientious enough to go back there to make sure that some priests start dying off."

"We'll also, " Kor-Lebear continued, Kilinir's answer leaving Bedor in silence for a little while, "have to make sure that the deaths look accidental to the general public; we don't want them turning into martyrs."

"Except for the cult of Vold itself, " Kilinir smiled. "They've just got to know that it was us. Putting the fear of the Black Dagger in them will help our mission a lot- what evil cult worth anything is going to admit that some assassin got past the protection of their mighty god and started killing off priests? It'll frustrate them to no end."

"It sounds like it couldn't hurt our reputations any, either, " Bedor spoke up again.

"Now, your getting into the spirit, " Kilinir smiled. "Now start getting some supplies stored up, and this evening we'll go buy what we need for our little trip tomorrow."

"I still don't understand why we don't just steal what we need, " Bedor shrugged.

"We are not thieves, " anger seethed within Kor-Lebear's voice, "we have a code to maintain."

"Not to mention that it wouldn't do us any good to get caught for such a petty crime in the middle of getting ready for something so much more, " Kilinir said as she started to stand up. "But now I believe we have another act to perform."

"Whatever, " Bedor shrugged. "By the time you're finished doing your show out there for the peons, I'll have some of the stuff ready."

Kor-Lebear stood up next to Kilinir as they made ready to leave, pulling their robes closer around them to cover the distinctive colors of the bright clothes they wore underneath for their upcoming performance as traveling entertainers. Kor-Lebear glared down at Bedor one more time before Kilinir blew lightly in his ear and turned him away. Bedor watched as the couple walked out.

"This job is good, " he said, "but I've just got to get me some real magic so I can get out on my own. If I can just get what I need for my experiments..."

His voice trailed off as he thought to himself. A diidlo after the couple left, Bedor too left the tavern.

"This new contract is going to be quite profitable, " Kilinir smiled as they walked down the stone streets of one of the innumerable stretches of city around the Harbor Of The World, "maybe even enough extra...?"

"I think so, " Kor-Lebear agreed. "We should be able to afford a bit of extra training with this."

"Maybe even with a ninja?" Kilinir asked, hopeful joy in her eyes. "We could get one to train us and then get connected with the guilds."

"No, my love; I had in mind something a bit farther up the assassin food-chain."

Kor-Lebear just grinned, his only answer to his sweet; the only answer she needed.

"Noyon?" The joy in her eyes turned to astonishment and then into a wide grin upon her face. "Do you think we have enough of a reputation for one to want to train us? Can we find one?"

"I think our reps will do us well, especially when priests of Vold start disappearing. Then we'll have enough money and reputation to get one to start training us in their more than legendary secrets."

"To be a noyon, " Kilinir ran the idea through her mind thoughtfully. "But then we'll have to join their noyon guild after the training, swear loyalty to them for life and all that. We won't have our independence anymore. What then?"

Kor-Lebear shrugged his shoulders as they turned down a street, starting on into the local entertainer's district and on towards their wagon, crowds already beginning to gather round as they waited for the acrobats whose act they had all come to see. Somewhere in the act of rounding the corner, their outer robes had disappeared, as they both now strode boldly down the center of the street, their green and blue acrobatics outfits marking them as a direction for the crowd to point their collective fingers at, in anticipation of the quickly approaching pair, their green masks now upon their faces to complete their costume.

"Easy, " Kor-Lebear answered casually. "We pay him for his troubles, and then kill him."

Port Threegan hadn't changed much in the rel since they were last there. It was still a large urban sprawl, wooden structures strewn all about, dirt roads kept reasonably clean and smooth, a few small farms scattered around the edge of the woods, the interior of Catho looming in the distance. They'd been there for a rise, resting up in the relative warmth after the frigidness of the Southern Wastelands, before they once again would head into colder regions on their northward trek. Bronto and Shong were out with a few of the sailors getting supplies, while Sabu and Sindar were with the ship's Captain plotting their next course. Meanwhile, having nothing else better to do, Lindel was casually strolling down the homespun streets with Candol and Sheil-Bor(h).

On his one side, he listened to Candol extol the virtues and greatness of Indra, while his other ear heard Sheil-Bor(h)'s philosophical commentary. The result was an encounter that tested him more than any pitched battle.

"With faith in Indra, one needn't worry about the success of our quest; Indra will see to the rewards of the faithful."

"Faith in oneself need be the only mediator to a successful journey."

"Ah, but there comes a time when one's own mortal limitations are not enough. Such is the time for the belief in a higher power, and Indra is the highest of the high powers. He rides upon the sky looking down watchfully upon his flock."

"The soul has a farther reach than any mere mortal form could suggest. When Fate presses in around, one is capable of incredible deeds."

"People need a god for guidance and wisdom."

"One's self should be the only god one needs, the music of one's heart the only wisdom that would matter."

"Indra looks after his people and crushes the hordes of those that would ride against them."

"Effort and determination can prevail against any odds, no matter how great. No one truly knows their capability until they are put to the test; only then can one find out that there is a god in each and every one of us."

"Indra is wise."

"Wisdom comes from within."

"Indra is guidance; he helps those that listen to his word."

"The universe helps those that help themselves."

"Indra's nicer looking."

"Physical beauty is only skin-deep; true beauty runs through to the bone."

"Bones are for dogs. Indra is salvation."

"Self realization is the only path to true salvation."

"Well- Indra has a bigger-"


Lindel had a hand clamped over each of their mouths, his eyes wide and wild, his muscles tensed. The other two stared at their friend with surprise on their faces, not knowing what had come over the golden-haired elf.

"Aerg! One of you is bad enough, " Lindel explained, his voice very much on edge, "but the both of you, with me in between- This is enough!"

Sheil-Bor(h) looked along the slightly-quivering arm of Lindel and noted the wide look of his eyes. He calmly reached up a hand to remove Lindel's own and gently cleared his throat.

"We were merely engaging in a philosophical discussion, " he said, "exchanging viewpoints."

"Yeah, " Candol said, removing Lindel's other hand, "Indra sees no wrong with the exposing of opposing views; only then can his word be truly-"

"Enough!" Lindel interrupted. "I don't mind you two debating, just don't do it around me. We're here to relax."

A puzzled frown crossed Sheil-Bor(h)'s face.

"But, that is my way of relaxing, " he replied.

Lindel sighed frustration, wondering why he couldn't just be doing something simpler like fighting another Krey. Finally, his desperately roving eyes spotted something that offered a welcome distraction.

"Look, " he pointed, "the sign over by those stables up that hill. It says something about talking horses for sale."

"Hmm, a most unusual oddity, " Sheil-Bor(h) agreed, "perhaps worth examination."

Lindel quietly sighed with relief as he silently praised the gods for the welcome diversion. They started walking over towards the stables, the raging debate now forgotten. As they approached, they could see a small crowd gathered around the stable office, several people putting in bids or examining the stabled horses, while the apparent stable-owner went about from one customer to another, showing off his horses.

"That's right folks, this is the only place where you will find talking horses, " he was saying. "Enchanted beasts, from what faraway magical land, who can say? But they are here now, and my supply is limited."

"They really talk?" a customer asked.

"Why yes sir; but there's no guaranteeing what they'll say, " the owner said with a grin. "Sometimes one can be like an old wife and nag you to death."

"Can we hear one speak?" another customer asked.

"Why sure, " the owner said as he walked a few of the crowd over towards one of the stables. "Just ask it anything you want."

One of the customers reached out and poked at the horse's head, as if afraid to believe it might be true, but also afraid not to.

"Hey, " the horse said, "do I go poking around at you."

"It really does talk!"

"Well, of course I talk, though I'm surprised that you Humans ever managed the feat. Now if you don't mind, I need a comb-down; go talk to Scout over there, he always likes to talk."

"Oh, don't mind him, " another horse spoke out. "He's just grumpy because no one ever wants to buy him."

"See?" the stable owner spoke up to the astonished crowd. "Enchanted horses. Wouldn't you like to take one of these beauties back to your home town? Tell everyone that you found a rare and exotic talking horse, a fine addition to your stables. Now, I only have four left, so how much am I bid?"

"Now that's what I call unusual, " Lindel smiled as he heard the horses banter back and forth, "though I had not thought there any enchanted horses in these regions; they're usually found in a bit more warmer climes, and they usually don't talk like that."

"Perhaps they are descendants of a breed that was brought over in the times of the old Kingdoms, " Sheil-Bor(h) suggested, "and were only just now found in some remote valley."

"That seems possible, I guess, " Lindel admitted, "though I would wonder... Candol?"

The elf had not failed to notice the priest's amused expression throughout all of this as he looked on at the talking horses with apparent recognition.

"You know, " Candol said, "I just knew there was something I forgot to undo."

"You did this?" Lindel asked.

"When first we were here, " Candol explained, "a result of my negotiations for the horses I bought us."

Lindel grinned from ear to ear.

"Those must have been some interesting negotiations, " Lindel said.

"Well, I don't like to leave things undone, " Candol said. "I must go apologize to the stable-keeper."

As Lindel and Sheil-Bor(h) watched Candol walk over to the stable-owner, Lindel couldn't help but shake his head in sympathy.

"Why do I suddenly feel sorry for that poor stable owner?" he mused.

"Perhaps because of the cruel humor of circumstance?" Sheil-Bor(h) suggested.

The owner was taking bids from those about in the crowd, the amount of offered gold getting higher and higher, the joy on his face increasing with each bid. Candol walked through the crowd and up to the man.

"A hundred gold, " the man was saying, "do I hear one-twenty?"

"Excuse me, " Candol interrupted, "but I was here last rel and-"

"Oh, it's you!" the man's eyes brightened. "The one responsible! Hey, if it hadn't been for what you did I wouldn't have gotten so much-"

"Say no more, " Candol put up a hand for silence, "I realize the state that I must have put you through, leaving these horses talking all the time like this. I know I did it as a punishment- which you truly had deserved- but you shouldn't have had to suffer through such for so long. It is my own fault for what you have gone through; it must have been miserable, listening to them talk all the time."

"No, it really wasn't any-" the man began.

"No, " Candol said, putting up a hand, "don't try to spare my feelings, I know that I have done you overly wrong."

"No, you don't understand, " the man tried again, "in the past rel my small stable has become famous! People come from all around to see-"

"Ah, now do I truly see the magnitude of my crime against you, " Candol nodded, "to have been so ridiculed by your friends and neighbors."

"No, it isn't just them, " the man said. "They come from all across the countryside to see the horses talk. But it's not what you think; they like to see-"

"I have made you a laughing stock of the whole countryside?! Of that I am deeply sorry. But, I shall make amends; I shall set things straight! Have no fear, the horses shall talk no more."

"No, no, " the man protested, "I like them to talk. It makes me lots of-"

"Spare not my feelings, " Candol said, raising up his hands, "I will correct what I have done. In the name of Indra, do I set this deed right! By his power do I silence the speech of these animals forever."

As if in slow motion, Lindel watched as the man tried reaching out for Candol, horror on his face as he sought to stop the priest from what he was about to do. But, before the man could stop Candol, a slight popping noise was heard from all around.

"Like I said to my last owner, " one horse was saying, "I said-"

The horse's speech suddenly reverted to the normal whinny one would expect from a horse. Similarly the other horses all stopped their talking and grew silent. The crowd looked around in puzzlement.

"There, " Candol said, "you need fear ridicule no longer. These horses will no longer speak to disturb your sleep. What's more, the spell from any others that may have wandered off from these stables has also been removed. No more will you have to worry about talking horses."

Shock was the only thing on the man's face. Shock, and fear, as he looked around at the crowd.

"Hey, it stopped speaking!"

"I thought you said these nags could talk."

"It's a trick."

"I want my money back!"

The man looked back at Candol, hopeless resignation on his face.

"Why?" he asked weakly.

"No need to thank me, " Candol waved him off with a smile, "I was merely setting right a wrong. A good life to you, my fine sir."

Candol turned around and walked back to Lindel and Sheil-Bor(h), leaving the man behind him to stare blindly off into space, a crowd of buyers and owners now turning on him, shouting for refunds, calling him a thief and a fake, mobbing around him. He just stared after the priest, watching his fortune evaporate with the wind.

"There, I feel better now, " Candol said as he rejoined his companions. "That was a wrong that needed setting straight."

"Candol, " Lindel shook his head, "there isn't a word I know of to describe you."

"I think may

"Naw, " Eldar replied, "give him credit for some variety- ice, rocks, bigger piles of snow, but not just more snow."

"Guys, " came back Sabu's shout, "you've got to see this!"

Sabu was standing on top of the small hill beside Kilgar, looking out at what lay just beyond. At his shout, the others quickly joined them, running through the snow to the top of the hill, to gather about them and see what there was to see.

"I don't believe it, " Lindel said.

"In the name of Indra..."

"In the middle of all this snow?" was Shong's statement.

Before them stretched a valley. Gently rolling hills, orain and tairu colored grasses, pretty flowering trees. But most of all was the one obvious fact.

It was snow free.

The top-most point of the world, the middle of the Northern Wastelands, in the center of the most ice-covered mountain range of all, was a valley free of ice, a warm gentle breeze blowing against the faces of those that looked upon it.

But, that wasn't what Kilgar was staring at.

In the sky overhead, far above them, floated the curving dance of an aurora. All colors of the rainbow, dancing and spinning brightly above the entire valley, its edges not leaving the frozen boundaries of the mountains that enclosed the hidden world. Large wide bands of light, slowly twisting and winding, its colors slowly cycling through the spectrum in a never-ending dance that had been going on for untold ages.

They stood there atop the small hill, taking it all in, an appreciative awe registering on the faces of all present, even Mauklo giving consent to what this sight implied.

"Gentlemen, " Sabu finally broke the silence, "we're here."

"Are you ready to follow Vold?" the priest shouted out the question.

"Yes!" the crowd answered back as one.

"Are you ready to give of yourself unto his glory?"


"Are you ready for true freedom?"


The crowd was worked up into a fervor, whether by the magic of a spell or the magic of the priest's tongue it could not be told. All that was certain, was that the town square of the foothill city was full of people from all around the local countryside, all eyes glazed over with a deep fanaticism. All were chanting and following along with the priest's every word as he stood atop the podium, two other priests, several acolytes, and a Sentinel scattered down around him. An ordinary man from out of the attending audience was behind the priest, awaiting for what he had been chosen.

"Look on, then, and watch what your faith can bring unto you, " the priest stood aside and motioned the man forward, "Observe as one of the faithful, one of your number, receives the holy sacrament of Vold. Eternal life will be his- and could be yours- if you but follow the word of Vold."

The priest then faced towards the man, looking on at he who stood there nervous and proud about what he was about to receive. The watching crowd quieted in anticipation.

"Are you ready to receive the sacrament of Vold?" the priest asked.

"Yes, " the man answered.

"Are you ready to become his servant, to loyally serve him in eternal freedom?"


"Are you ready to become a Sentinel of Vold?"

The man moistened his lips with his tongue and then answered.

"Yes, " he said, "I am."

A cheer went up from the audience.

"Very well then."

The priest motioned to one of the other two priests standing beside the podium. The second priest nodded and reached over towards a jeweled scepter lying on a pillow being gently cradled by one of the attending acolytes. The acolyte stepped forward, her head bent down out of respect, her hood covering her non-descript face, as she offered the pillow up to the second priest. The priest took the scepter carefully off the pillow, dismissed the acolyte, and respectfully handed the rod up to the first priest. The acolyte faded into the crowd as the first priest took the rod and turned back towards the man.

"Receive then the holy sacrament of Vold, " the priest said as the audience began to chant Vold's name. "By his own power will you become a Sentinel of Vold."

The man stood tall and proud as the priest reached up with the scepter, chanting a private incantation to activate the magic of the rod. The scepter glowed in the priest's hand as he came slowly down towards the man's shoulder.

The scepter was almost to the man's shoulder, about to touch him and turn him into a Sentinel, when the priest's eyes went wide. The priest stood there unmoving, his hand still held up as his body went rigid. The priest tried to talk, to at least gag, but his throat was frozen, his tongue swollen to a greater size than his throat was meant to handle. All he could do was sputter as he watched the world spin about him, felt it get suddenly warm as his heart raced with the speed of a kozo lizard.

The other two priests looked up with concern and surprise as the first priest just stood there, his body shaking yet unable to move, his eyes wide, his voice weak and indecipherable. The man looked on in puzzlement, wondering what the first priest was up to, wondering if this was part of the ceremony.

The priest collapsed, his body rigid. To the sudden cries and screams of the onlookers, he fell from the podium, rolling down and landing at the feet of a lady that had previously been fanatically chanting along with the rest. She screamed as the two other priests ran up to their fallen comrade, the attending Sentinel pushing the lady and the rest of the crowd away from the scene. The second priest bent down to examine the first one, looking over a body rigid with the cold of eternal sleep, eyes wide as if to look upon the face of the grim messenger that all mortals must eventually face, the scepter still rigidly held within his hand.

"He's dead, " the second priest pronounced. "A heart attack."

"It couldn't have been more ill timed, " the third priest said. "But he's in Vold's hands now."

The second priest stood up, looking at the gathered crowd, the sudden death having the effect of snapping them out of whatever spell of fanaticism had beheld them all. The cheering and chanting had stopped as everyone stared around in confusion.

"Go back to your homes, " the second priest announced, "the ceremony will be post-poned until we can bury our fallen brother; give him the honor that is due him as a hard and loyal servant of Vold."

The crowd began to disperse, helped along by the acolytes, as the third priest pried the scepter out of the dead priest's hand. The man who had been about to receive the sacrament of Vold was ushered off the podium by one of the acolytes and sent away along with the others. By the time the third priest had the scepter free, and the second one motioned for the Sentinel to attend him as he moved his attention back down to the body, the crowd in the town square was dispersed back to the more normal distribution one would expect of a city in the foothills of the Southern Arm of the central mountains of My-Thov.

"It is bad luck indeed that his heart should fail just when it did, " the third priest said. "I had not thought him in ill health."

"It wasn't a heart attack, " the second priest said as he stood over the third one.

"But you said-" the third priest began.

"It did indeed look like a heart attack, " the second one replied. "As it was no doubt made to look, as my own powers will no doubt tell me if I cast the spell to tell me of the true cause."

"But, it's something else, " the third priest ventured.

The second priest looked down at the third, looking into his eyes or his soul, as if to see what fate awaited his other friend. When the second spoke again, it was with the voice one normally reserves for those that already have their fates sealed but know it not.

"Examine the scepter, " the second priest told him, "carefully."

The third priest looked over the jeweled scepter he now held in his hands, quickly examining every colored gem, every bit of its golden surface.

"There's some sort of an oily film on it, " he finally said, rubbing a bit of it between two fingers.

"It wasn't there when I handed it up, " the second priest noted. "It was probably activated by the scepter's magic when he cast forth the spell that was about to change that peasant into a Sentinel."

"What is it?" the third one asked.

"A poison, " the second one sighed, pacing a couple of steps about, "deadly upon contact. No doubt carefully made from some obscure herbal mix that can induce one's heart to fail. All to look like quite the natural death."

"Then, there is someone who would move against us!" the third priest shot to his feet, scepter still in hand. "We must-"

The second priest stopped him with a motion of his hand, sad look upon his face.

"Such will not be for you, my friend, " he said.

"But-" then the third priest stopped suddenly as he looked down to the scepter he held in his hands, realization on his face, "if that's poison I'm holding, then how come I haven't..."

The third priest's voice choked off as his tongue suddenly swelled to many times its normal size. His body went rigid as his eyes bulged wide. The second priest placed a consoling hand on his shoulder as he looked into the eyes of the dying priest.

"Because it was made with delayed effects, my friend, " he said as the third priest started to gurgle. "Be consoled that at least you shall continue to serve Vold in your death."

The third priest's eyes suddenly lost the look of life as his rigid body tipped over. The second priest caught him and gently lowered him to the ground, resting him down next to the first one. With a sigh he stood up and looked down at his two dead companions.

"And I have no doubt that when we trace where came the poison, as indeed we will, that it will lead us only to the sprinkling of some apparent holy water on the scepter by an acolyte whose also dead body we will never find. A rather thorough job, I'll give credit for that."

He motioned to the Sentinel who stood alertly waiting orders.

"You know where to take their bodies, " the second priest said. "At least the armies of Vold will have two more in its numbers, though two less priests to lead them."

The Sentinel nodded and bent down to reach for the bodies. He heaved the third priest's body over his shoulder as easily as one would a small sack of grain. As he reached for the other body, the priest stopped him.

The second priest bent down and reached over to the first one, his hands carefully opening the front of his priestly vestments, carefully shaking loose whatever may be held within. A small object fell out, no longer than the length of one's smallest finger, pointed and gleaming darkly in the mid rise sun.

It was a miniature black dagger.

"And that would be the greatest puzzle of them all, " the priest said. "This would be the catalyst whose magic no doubt triggered the rest, but- how did it get there?"

As the priest looked down at the small object, the sun reflecting off its sharp obsidian sides, the miniature dagger suddenly turned to dust, disintegrating before his eyes. He sighed as the light breeze blew the black dust away, and stood up, motioning to the Sentinel to continue.

"A clever adversary, " he said as the Sentinel threw the body of the first priest over his other shoulder. "We have not even evidence enough to turn them into martyrs."

He gave one last look around the town square, the Sentinel beside him not noticing the weight of the two bodies he now carried. Finally, he motioned to the acolytes to attend him as he started walking away from the podium. There will come a time, he thought, these deaths would only delay the inevitable victory of Vold. But for now, this Black Dagger is a danger that threatens to throw mild panic into the priesthood. An enemy to be respected and feared.

He spoke under his breath, a phrase lightly spoken with no one around to hear. Yet, he knew that somehow there would be.

"I know you're out there."

An olive-colored hand dropped the acolyte's robe upon the cot that served as the room's bed; a cheap room in a cheap inn in a cheap section of the very same town in which the priest of Vold now carried away his dead. Kilinir turned around to wrap a hug around the tall one behind her, she was dressed now only in pants as she planted a kiss solidly upon his lips. He responded with hand strokes to her exposed breasts, her hands digging into his own exposed back.

"Your poison worked perfectly, " she said, when she finally came up for air, "as well did Bedor's spell."

"We got two for one, " Kor-Lebear agreed, "not too bad."

"That makes a total of seven, " she said, releasing her hug as she turned around to fold up the acolyte's robe. "Where do we hit next?"

Kor-Lebear paced slowly around as Kilinir started to pack up their scant belongings.

"We'll wait a town or two, " he said, "do some honest trading and let the next few priests live before we hit again."

"Good, " she said as she started to roll a collection of black obsidian daggers up into a cloth bundle, "we wouldn't want to be creating a pattern for them to find, now would we."

"Not unless it's the one we want them to find, " Kor-Lebear smiled. "I hear there's another temple of Set a few towns down the mountain range; we can do our next job there."

Kilinir shrugged her way into a fur-lined shirt as she talked, Kor-Lebear now putting on his own shirt as he carefully hid a few of their black daggers about his person.

"How long do you think it'll be before they notice that the deaths have only occurred in towns with temples of Set in them?"

"Oh, maybe another assassination or two, " he answered, "even if it doesn't set the two cults to outright war with each other, just the thought of why an allied cult might be killing off their priests will have them in some disarray."

"They'll be too distracted trying to defend against rogue priests of Set to notice what we'll be doing, " she agreed, then had a thought. "Think we could get the priests of Vold to start killing the priests of Set?"

"We aren't getting paid for priests of Set, " Kor-Lebear said, "so that's not our worry. But it's nice to know that the possibility will be open to us should someone want to hire us for that."

"Once they start feuding, " Kilinir said as she finished up the packing, "then it'll get even easier."

Both fully dressed now, Kilinir picked up her wrapped bundle and threw it over her shoulder, just as Kor-Lebear did with his own. They looked the room over one last time as they headed for the door.

"That'll still be no reason to slack off, " he warned.

"Oh, never, " she smiled, "never anything but our best performance on or off a job."

He grinned back at her as he slipped easily back into character.

Later that rise, while the sun was dropping lightly toward degrise, a small wagon, pulled by a single mule was seen leaving the same town in which two priests of Vold had died, one of several travelers upon the road. The wagon was loaded down with piles of furs from the mountains, ready for trade with the next town, as was the profession of the two that rode the wagon. An elderly couple, bent and stooped with age, their skin wrinkled and worn by many rels of travel in the harsh sun, layers of old worn-out clothes covering their frail bodies. Their only attendant was an unsavory-looking man with straight reddish-brown hair, another traveler upon the road that had struck up with them and offered to go with them to the next town or two, several lead amulets hanging unseen around his neck beneath his old shirt and long cloak. The old lady reached out a hand to gently pat her grey-haired old husband on the knee as their wagon carried them on down the road.

Her hand was olive colored.

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