Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chapter 8 - Aftermath

Wyrena looked around at the walls of the Ivory Tower and sighed. The walls stank with the caked-on viscera of Justicars -- her brothers and sisters in arms, who had fallen protecting the tower from that demon. Attempting to protect it, anyhow, Wyrena thought to herself as she applied her rag to the formerly-white stone, scrubbing vigorously. By all indications, Porphyria had been after just one thing, the artifact that Coelwyn had been keeping and researching a way to destroy. And the ELF agent had gotten what she came for. Wyrena shuddered as she thought of what that artifact could do in the hands of someone like Porphyria. Whatever came next, it would likely not be very pretty.

And the thought that it was all her fault nagged Wyrena's conscience as she sat there amongst the aftermath of the previous night's battle. She could have warned the others long ago, if not for her shame in not being strong enough to resist Porphyria's tortures. The Justicars could have been ready, instead of having been taken off-guard as they were. And it was all her fault. Shame squeezed Wyrena's heart even harder now, and was even more terrible to bear now -- her temporary reprieve had come too late, and now the damage was done. If Wyrena confessed now, she would be kicked out of the Justicars, at best.

Wyrena looked at the new cracks in the wall she was scrubbing and cursed herself softly. Not all of the Justicars who had fallen last night would be coming back, even though the Justicars had more than enough -- if just barely -- to pay a priest to raise them. Some of those who had fallen had made their wishes clear long ago that they desired nothing more than to go to serve Tyr in the afterlife should they fall in battle, and the rest of the Justicars were honor-bound to follow those wishes. To Wyrena, it felt like a terrible waste of talent at a time in which the Justicars would need it most, but she supposed that her own faith might simply be insufficient to find solace in the idea that those who had fallen would be enjoying their richly-deserved rewards.

"Private, a word, if you would." The soft voice startled Wyrena out of her reverie, and she looked up to see one of the lieutenants, a sharp-featured half-elven woman, standing slightly behind her.

Wyrena nodded and put down her cloth, looking up obediently at the lieutenant. "Yes, madam?"

"Before he passed, Sergeant Upton wrote a memo detailing how admirably you stood against the raptorak raiders you met on your caravan duty. We found this note in his personal effects this morning. Additionally, we all saw how well you handled yourself against the orcish legion that assaulted the Tower last night. Had you not come when you did, many more might have fallen."

Wyrena shook her head at the lieutenant's words. An overwhelming guilt threatened to overcome her and force her to shout out the secret -- that it was her fault in the first place. Instead, Wyrena simply demurred, "I don't know what to say, madam. I simply tried to follow my duty."

The lieutenant smiled, replying, "And you did that very well. Far more ably than a simple private could have. So henceforth, you will bear the rank of corporal, and be entitled to all attendant privileges of your new rank. That will be all."

Wyrena lowered her eyes as the lieutenant turned to leave. Didn't the Justicars around here see that she shouldn't be rewarded for anything? She hung her head for a moment, and then returned to the scrubbing of the walls, hoping that perhaps there was some sort of penance in this simple act.


Porphyria looked around her with barely-veiled disdain. The city of Sanctuary was an oppressive place; the sort of city that touted itself as safe and orderly, but only achieved the semblance of safety by keeping nooses tightly-wound around everyone's necks. Public executions were distressingly common here, with the bodies being carted off to Kurd in the morgue so that further horrors and indignities could be perpetrated upon those who would tarnish the image of the city through thievery or murder.

A sigh escaped Porphyria's lips as she frowned her disapproval at the slave market when she passed it. Whatever distaste she might feel about staying in such a city, it was at least safe for her for the time being. The mainland of Almeria would likely be too dangerous for the time being, as the Justicars and their agents scoured the cities for Porphyria, seeking their revenge. And it wasn't as if this city was all bad, even despite the ever-present heat and humidity. There were still some small amenities here.

The Discordian safehouse was, like the one in Losthaven, almost conspicuously non-descript, presenting a facade of studied and deliberate squalor to the outside world, while being almost opulent inside. Porphyria knocked on the door, and then entered as no response came. The house had obviously not been used in a couple of months. Good -- the fewer people who knew Porphyria's whereabouts, the better.

Porphyria's eyes adjusted quickly to the inner gloom of the safehouse, and she let slip the small amount of concentration she had dedicated towards editing her presence out of the minds of onlookers. Porphyria looked at her new prize. The Apple of Discord, now masquerading as a ring on Porphyria's finger, promised great things to come. Unfortunately, while bearing the Apple provided Porphyria with increased favor with the forces of Chaos and some protection from Order, it would not protect her completely from the Justicars, and so she would hide away for a time, here in Sanctuary, while the Justicars exhausted their search and retired to their Ivory Tower.

Unlike the interior of the safehouse in Losthaven, this house was entirely mundane. There were no impossible angles or tricks of perspective, only cobwebs and dust. A cupboard full of preserved meats and fruits had been left behind by whoever had used the house in the past, but there was little else in the way of provisions. Porphyria was tired, and decided that she would sleep for the rest of the day, and then go out for something to eat at night.


Wyrena collapsed upon the bed in her new quarters. She had finished the arduous task of scrubbing the walls, and they again gleamed white. The corporals' quarters were a welcome relief from the closeness of the privates' chambers, which were little more than open bunk rooms. She would still be sharing a room with someone else -- another corporal -- but Wyrena felt that she now had more privacy than ever before in her life. This was almost the case, as Wyrena had spent nearly her whole life within the confines of the Ivory Tower, sleeping in a common room with a dozen or so other Justicars.

Wyrena stretched out on the bed, examining the small specks of blood she had been unable to remove from under her fingernails. Idly, she wondered how much more blood she would see in her life, and how much more she would be called upon to spill in Tyr's name. Wyrena knew the need for Order and the dangers presented by Chaos, but couldn't help feeling that there was little anyone could do to really tip the scales in the favor of either. Certainly, the influence and nearness of the Justicars had helped to keep the lands of Andala somewhat safe from the forces of Chaos, but then again, this was also a land where raptorak could raid caravans and good people could be lost fighting against some terrible and frightening demon that had invaded their home.

No, Wyrena thought to herself, it is important. People should be able to know what to expect in life. To know that there are rules, and that the universe isn't simply run on idle whim and random occurrences. As she drifted off to sleep, Wyrena could only hope to herself that her convictions were true, and not some idle fantasy.


Porphyria walked down the streets in a darkness lit only by the light of a barely-waxing moon. The street lamps were few and far between, almost absent from this run-down portion of the city. Porphyria strolled down the street almost completely alone. Although Sanctuary had no official curfew, few wandered its streets at night, for fear of being either robbed, or being mistaken for a thief by an often over-zealous guard force. Porphyria had passed less than a dozen people by the time she had walked to the spot she had been looking for -- a small tavern from which a strange and disquieting hissing spilled, being almost completely silent otherwise.

As she stepped inside, Porphyria was greeted by almost absolute blackness, and allowed her eyes time to adjust to the interior of the room. Shadowy creatures surrounded nearly half the low tables in the room, their legless lower halves reclining upon cushions on the floor. As Porphyria entered, many of the creatures looked up with suspicion evident in their glowing eyes, and the whispering sounds of their conversations muted slightly as a few more nylocs turned to stare.

Porphyria made her way to a table near the center of the room, and sat down cross-legged on the floor, gingerly folding her wings so that she might accomplish this feat with some measure of grace. Most of the suspicious gazes had left Porphyria, although furtive glances continued, and a more regular level of conversation resumed. A pudgy-looking nyloc came out from behind the counter, gliding gracefully and coming to a hover by Porphyria's left arm.

"Greetings, madam. I am Zerifelxis, your host. Please do not take offense, but are you certain that you are in the right place?" At the tavern-keeper's question, several of the nylocs nearby chuckled their amusement, raising an almost-disquieting hiss.

"Yes. I'm certain. And I'm very hungry, so please bring a bowl of whatever's on special tonight." Porphyria's eyes looked into those of the tavern-keeper, and she could almost feel the Golden Apple working its charms upon him.

The nyloc blinked in momentary confusion, and he responded, "I'm very sorry, madam, for my previous rudeness. Of course, your meal will be on its way immediately, and it will be on the house." The tavern-keeper quickly glided back behind the bar, and Porphyria smiled with satisfaction. She had been able to manipulate the nyloc as effortlessly as breathing, and could feel the glances of the others in the room slowly moving away from suspicion as the Apple worked its charms upon them.

Zerifelxis soon came back with a bowl full of blood, with curds of congealed blood floating in it. To Porphyria's nose, it smelled as wonderful as any other food she had smelled, and she began to think that perhaps being a blood-drinker might not be the worst thing in the world. The soup was hot, and as she bit into one of the congealed lumps, Porphyria savored flavors that non-sanguivores had little conception of and no real description for. The resulting sensations were delightful and heady, and Porphyria had almost eaten half her meal before she paused to regard a small glass canister on the side of her table. She sniffed the container quizzically, and was surprised at the scent of hot chili peppers wafting from inside. Similar canisters stood upon all of the other tables, and Porphyria wondered at that -- wouldn't a sanguivore have difficulty digesting the chili? Then again, others eat all kinds of indigestible things, like corn, Porphyria thought as she sprinkled her soup with a pinch of chili pepper. The spice livened up the dish considerably, making it all the more delicious. Porphyria quickly finished.

Looking around, Porphyria saw that the occasional glances in her direction had changed tone to respect and acceptance, although she could not tell whether the change was because of the Apple, or because she had finished an entire bowl of nyloc cuisine while appearing to enjoy every spoonful. She supposed that really, the reason for the change in demeanor hardly mattered. The tavern-keeper glided back over to her table, and Porphyria smiled pleasantly. It had been a long time since she had had a good meal, and she thanked the nyloc as he cleared her table. Porphyria offered a small silver coin as a tip, but the tavern-keeper waved her off casually saying, "It was a pleasure to serve you, madam. And please, do come back soon."

Porphyria nodded her agreement, and stood back up. As she walked back out the tavern door, Porphyria had the strange experience of being nearly dazzled by the bright light of a nearly moonless night. The interior of the tavern certainly was dark. Full and happy, Porphyria slowly wandered back in the direction of the safehouse, enjoying the dark, peaceful night.

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