Chapter 18:

Good Guys


Remembrance Moon 2, AS 632. City Gates, Apotheosis City, Sulmon Magocracy, The Sundered World.

“Wait,” said Cyton. “If the Archmage Ruler of the Sulmon Magocracy was killed, and the people here think it was done by Farrus, then that means…”

“What dost it mean?” asked Erenata.

It was Descartes who answered. “Both countries’ leaders were assassinated, and they both think the other did it. This means the war will definitely happen.”

“But the king of Farrus seemed so nice during the three minutes that we knew him!” exclaimed Rachel. “Why would he want to kill the ruler of this place? That would just make the war even more certain.”

Appraiser said “this is only speculation, but I bet both assassinations were orchestrated by a person or group who want war. No idea who or why, though.”

Cyton said “they would call of the war if this third party is uncovered.”

As the group was speaking, the crowd thinned out rapidly. The festival seemed to be ongoing in the distance, but everyone in their vicinity disappeared. People hurried into alleys or ducked behind posts. Carnival stalls hastily shut their curtains. Within a few moments, the Sunviewers and Cyton were alone in the plaza. The cause quickly became apparent. Striding down the street were four figures in guard uniform, although they all had a unique design on the uniform’s left shoulder that differed from those of the ordinary guards that had roamed the festival before. It was too late for the Sunviewers and Cyton to hide. The four guards approached the group. They didn’t look hostile, exactly, but they certainly didn’t look friendly.

“Evening, officers,” Appraiser began, attempting to sound cocky. “What can we do for you?”

“Are you an adventurer party?” said one, a half-orc with a no-nonsense scowl.

“Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far” began Appraiser before being interrupted by Erenata.

“Friend Appraiser, be not so modest!” Turning to the guards, she said “yes, we art powerful adventurers. What needest ye from us?”

“The Adventurers Guild has a special, long-term job for all adventurers in Sulmon. You should report there,” explained the half-orc.

Appraiser answered. “We’re not looking for work right now.”

“It’s not optional.” At that, the four guards began unsheathing their weapons. “You’d all better come with us. We’ll escort you there.”

“We don’t want to fight!” said Rachel, stepping between the party and the guards.

As she spoke, Descartes pointed her staff at the ground below the four guards. “Crimson Fissure!” she shouted, her voice not carrying far in the city streets. The tip of her staff burst into black and purple flames. The ground below the four guards cracked open. The crack emitted an enormous blast of flame that obscured the guards from view. Their shrieks of pain combined with the roaring of the fire to fill the previously quiet street with noise. Rachel was forced to step back, shielding her face from the heat.

In an instant, it was over. The cracks in the ground closed up making the flames disappear. Two of the guards, including the half-orc who had spoken, were nothing but charred corpses. One collapsed to the ground; it was unclear if she was alive or dead. The fourth must have been shielded from the brunt of the blast, meaning that he was healthy enough to stumble away, weakly shouting for reinforcements.

Rachel rounded on Descartes. “What was that?!” she asked fiercely.

Descartes looked pleased with herself. “All the fighting we’ve done recently let me level up and learn some new spells. Although those guys must have been pretty weak to die in one hit.”

“No, that’s not what I meant! Why did you kill them all?”

“We were about to fight them, right?” asked Descartes in a confused voice. “I just won.”

Rachel responded “Descartes, you can’t solve all your problems by incinerating people!”

“It hasn’t failed yet.”

Appraiser and Erenata restrained the injured guard who was attempting to run. Cyton called out to the rest of the group from a small door in a nearby alley, telling them to get inside before more guards came. The group dragged their prisoner into the door, which led into an abandoned bar. Still muttering angrily to herself, Rachel healed the guard. When Cyton looked like he was going to protest, she angrily said “he won’t do us any good as a prisoner if he dies of his wounds, right! At least let me do this.” The group had no more objections, although as soon as she was done Erenata tied up the prisoner with a rope she withdrew from her pack. Cyton and Descartes took up watch on the door and only window, respectively.

With everything else prepared, Appraiser squatted next to the captured guard. She removed one of the knives from its sheath and impaled it into a beam nearby. “If you don’t mind,” she said, “why don’t you tell us everything?”

Looking scarred witless, the guard replied “Don’t kill me! I’ve got a wife an’ kids.”

“You’re lying!” Appraiser said.

“Well, I just got a dog. But don’t kill me anyway! What do y’all want with me, anyhoo?”

“Why did you try to capture us?”

“Capture?” He looked bewildered. “We weren’t gonna capture you. Don’t you know? Some powerful mages who run this city want to hire all the adventurers they can. Paying ‘em good wage, too. We were just instructed to sweep the streets for any slackers and convince them to join up.” The entire party exchanged skeptical looks. Appraiser mentioned that in her investigations earlier that night, she had heard the adventurers guild was unusually busy. “It’s the truth!” the guard continued. “Mostly. Ol’ Pete, the captain, he was always real uptight about people followin’ the rules. Guess that’s what got him killed.”

The rest of the party glared at Descartes. “Sorry,” she said in a minute voice.

“Why are the ‘powerful mages’ hiring so many adventurers?”

“No one knows for sure.” He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Rumors say there’s gonna be some kind of war with the Kingdom of Farrus. The war council wants to use adventurers as semi-autonomous shock troops or something.”

“Do you know why the war’s happening?”

The guard’s eyes gleamed with patriotic fervor. “Those dirty Farrus pigs killed the Archmage Ruler. They’ve had it coming for years, but this is the final straw. My squad and I were lookin’ forward to fighting on the front lines. We were gonna have a contest on who could kill the most of those Farrus scum.” He looked sad now. “Guess that can’t happen now on account of the whole incineration thing.”

Appraiser studied the guard for a few seconds. “He doesn’t seem to be lying,” she finally judged.

“I’m telling you the truth!” He seemed to remember something. “By the way, I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Archibald Alfred Vivy Hitchcock IV.”

“Nobody cares” Descartes called out from the corner. The Sunviewers and Cyton stood together in the least dirty part of the room. Although the nearby window was boarded up, a few cracks of light from the magical streetlamps peeked through. “What should we do?” asked Descartes. “If we leave the city, we can probably escape the draft.’

“Then what?” asked Erenata. Descartes shrugged.

Rachel spoke next. “It’s obvious what we do next. We hunt down whoever’s responsible for creating this war. Then, we can take him down!” She excitedly punched one hand into the other.

“I agree,” said Cyton. “I was commissioned by the Archmage Ruler to stop the war. My contract him is no longer binding, obviously, but I still want to carry out his final wish.”

“But why bother?” asked Appraiser.

Rachel stood up. “Why? Because we’re heroes! If we can stop a slaughter of civilians, of course we will. We’re the good guys of this story!”

From the background, Alfred the guard called out “if y’all are done asking me questions, could you let me go? My dog still hasn’t eaten today.”

“No, we’re probably going to kill you to keep you silent” said Appraiser offhandedly. Rachel glared at her, but Appraiser pretended not to notice.

“Wait, don’t do that, please!” Alfred begged. “I know all sorts of useful stuff! Um, Cisco’s Deli is the best place for good cheese, the tavern wench in Smelly Dklhoi’s Pub broke up with her man yesterday, the city watch has fought a lot of undead lately, you can get free booze at—”

“What was that last one?” Descartes asked.

“Free booze? Oh yeah, the if you’re lucky you can—”

“No, not that. The part about the undead.”

“Eh? It’s just like I said. The city watch keeps the peace in this city, which means fighting any monsters that wander in. But they’s had a surprising number of zombie, skeleton, and wight incursions lately.” He looked thoughtful, which was difficult to do as he was still tied up and lying on the floor. “Come to think of it, ol’ Durkhoq—he’s a city watch who’s a drinking buddy o’ mine—said there was something odd about them undead. Don’t recall what though.”

Appraiser said “The undead are probably connected to the assassinations and the war somehow. I can’t prove it, but come on. Would the universe really bring this up if it was totally irrelevant?” She stood up. “If these attacks are frequent, maybe one will happen near here. I’ll keep watch just in case.” Wrapping herself in her black cloak, she stepped out of the abandoned bar and took up a watching position at the edge of the alley.

Descartes said “Rachel, Clerics like yourself specialize in fighting undead, right?”

“We do?” Rachel replied. At a subtle nod from Cyton, she said “um, yes, we do! That will be helpful fighting them, right?”

“Yes, but I had another idea. Clerics can expend a burst of holy power to drive away undead.”

“Sure, that sounds like something I can do!”

“So what if you reversed it?” Descartes pressed. “Instead of repelling undead, could you use your holy magic to attract them? So we can capture it.”

“Would that work?” Rachel asked, looking to Cyton for confirmation.

He said “I guess it’s worth a try. Can’t hurt.”

Descartes added “and if not, we can use Alfred as bait.”

“I thought y’all were the good guys!” he protested.

Rachel, who was already standing, made her way to the door. “Let’s try it now!” Cyton looked worried, but Descartes and Erenata seemed game, so the four of them joined Appraiser in her vigil. They briefly explained the idea to her. She agreed, suggesting that they try it further into the alley. The group did so.

“By the way, what god do you serve?” Descartes asked Rachel.

“God,” Rachel answered. She looked confused at the question. Cyton and Descartes exchanged glances.

Cyton explained “on this continent, there are many different gods who rule over different aspects of the universe. Clerics usually choose one to serve and draw their powers from their deity.” He continued more pointedly “I assume that’s true for you, too?”

“Oh. I suppose so.” She looked mildly disturbed at the prospect. After a few moments of thinking, she said “I guess I serve the High God, or the aspect of all the gods put together.”

“Are you guys done talking about boring theology?” asked Appraiser.

Rachel seemed eager for the distraction. She raised her symbol and closed her eyes. After a moment of concentration, she called “Repel Undead!” After a beat, she added “Reversed!” A flash of light emitted from her symbol that illuminated the alley for a brief moment.

They waited several seconds in silence. Just as Rachel was saying apologetically “I guess it didn’t work,” they all heard a rattling sound emerge from the other end of the alley. Turning around, they all beheld a single skeleton, its eyes glowing with a reddish-black energy and holding a rusted sword, shamble toward the group. They all drew their weapons, but it became clear that this single skeleton was not much of a threat; it moved very slowly. After a moment, Erenata simply strode over to it. She yanked the blade out of its hands—it barely resisted—and picked it up easily. She walked back to the group carrying the thing.

“Here be it,” she said. “I knowest nothing of the art of necromancy, so I shalt leave it to the professionals.” She pushed the skeleton against the wall. It continued to weakly flail its limbs, so after a moment’s thought, Erenata forcefully pulled its bone arms and legs out of the sockets. Disconnected from the main body, the limbs grew still, although the torso still twitched. “Gross” she muttered.

Descartes knelt down next to the skeleton. She raised her charred staff, closed her eyes, and muttered a few arcane words. When she opened her eyes again, they glowed faintly purple. “Pretty basic necromancy spell,” she said after inspecting the skeleton, an odd reverb to her voice. “Bones animated to follow the master’s orders. But with no specific orders, it’s programmed to hide in the city and only emerge when it needs to renew the spell’s energy by draining lifeforce from a person. The source of the spell is painted inside the skull.” Grimacing, she used a nearby shard of glass to scratch something behind the eye sockets of the skull. Instantly, the reddish-black energy faded to reveal a black rune painted inside. The rune was slightly disfigured by the glass, but still mostly intact.

The rest of the party looked on, impressed. “I didn’t realize you knew any spells that don’t blow stuff up or burn people alive,” said Appraiser. She looked closely at the rune. “I don’t recognize this.”

Cyton took a look at it next. “I’m not sure, but I think it’s a symbol of a god. I’m not sure which one though…”

Erenata grabbed the skull. She got a good look at the symbol. She pulled out a piece of paper and roughly drew the symbol, then tucked away the drawing. She stood up. “Needless to say, we must obtain further knowledge of this arcane rune. It shall come at great personal danger—”

“We can probably get it at a public library,” Cyton interjected

“—but we shalt do so anyway. If friend Appraiser’s intuition rings true, this will become a clue to defusing the war between these two nations. We must resolve this mystery, as we art the ‘good guys’ of this situation.” The rest of the party nodded in agreement.

From inside the abandoned bar, Alfred the guard called out “so are y’all gonna kill me or not?”

Erenata sighed. “We should also likely free him, too.” The rest of the party nodded in agreement, less enthusiastically this time.