After about half an hour, the small group’s rest is interrupted.
Gunshots and screams of panic sound from one of the Risuri ships in the harbor, hundreds of feet away from the lighthouse.
Glassman coughs with surprise. “Sergeant Blake? You’ll be wanting to see this.”
A few flashes of fire light up the night, and then a massive ball of flame engulfs the ship. Smoke billows upward as the rigging catches ablaze, and a humanoid figure can barely be made out striding across the burning deck. The figure points a flaming sword and sweeps it in an arc toward the sea wall. All of the gas lamps shatter and go dark.
The figure dashes toward the siege engines, swinging the flaming sword at any who stand in the way. Those few Risuri sailors and soldiers who try to slow the attacker are cut down in an instant. With a single motion, the figure leaps to the top of a siege tower, mercilessly slaughtering everyone in the way. Another leap puts the figure on the rebel side of the wall, and they receive no less violent treatment. Within the space of half a minute, this newcomer has destroyed a Risuri Ship of the Line and left a flaming wake through two armies.
The trail of smoke rising from the victims of this assault leads almost directly to the central keep, where the Duchess Ethelyn is likely headquartered.
[“Do you want a guillotine in Picadilly? No! Do you want to call that raggedy-ass Napolean your king? No! Do you want your children to sing the Marseillaise? No!”]
Blake casts her sling away and her guns come spinning out from beneath her poncho and then spun back into their holsters.
“We just got this place put back together.. I’ll be damned…” Blake mutters, but turns to her companions. “Are we ready to move on to that or no?”
“Ready for flaming death, Sergeant,” says Glassman, with a surprising lack of irony.
Blake grimaces at the young man. “Great. You can lead the way then,” she says. “Next time don’t be so fucking eager.”
She waves the privates forward as she and her team fall in behind them.
Durakh-al falls in behind no one, but leads the pack of scrubs.
Sergeant Glassman responds to Blake. “Oh, it’s not eagerness, ma’am. I’ve taken a vow of total honesty, and that’s my honest assessment of our chances. Come on, then. Flaming death awaits!”
He leads the way toward the siege towers.
“Actually, I like this guy,” Blake says aloud but to no one in particular.
Blake gets lost in thought but then she gets a concerned look. She takes a few strides to catch up to the Sergeant again and clears her throat, “Ahem, Sergeant – I was just thinking that when we get over there perhaps it would be a good idea if you and your men let us do the talking or negotiating… and maybe even better if you just, ah, never mentioned the Honesty Vow to anyone we may encounter..?”
“Understood, Sergeant. There may by lying and deceit to be done, and that work is best left to the RHC’s finest.”
“Thank you… I think.”
Glassman leads the way to the siege towers, with the others following behind. After the mysterious figure blazed a trail through the rebel forces, the Risuri marines were able to exploit the opening. While the stranger seemed to have no respect for either side, dealing out death in equal measure, the loyalists were already at a numeric advantage.
Glassman leads Blake’s team across the wall, where they find the Duchess’s forces already in full retreat to the inner keep. Crossbowmen shoot bolts down from the wall of the keep, desperately hoping to deter the attackers. The stranger with the flaming sword stands near the base of the inner keep’s wall. None of the other combatants are within thirty feet.
The crossbowmen have less fear, and a few bolts strike the fiery entity. A cry of pain rings out and then the earth begins to shake. Cobblestones shatter upward and iron spikes float out of the ground, just hanging in space for a moment. Some of the combatants near the newcomer cry out in shock as the space they’re occupying suddenly becomes a tangle of jungle foliage. The crossbowmen on the wall shriek as the wall beneath them turns to mist and they fall to their deaths in the sudden jungle. A yellow frog watches impassively.
In an area roughly two-hundred feet across, the landscape that was the nighttime fortress invasion has comingled with a day-lit jungle landscape. In the jungle, the only remnants of what was once there are those bits made of iron and steel. Wood and stone have turned to tree and earth.
The stranger dashes forward, through the space that was once the wall of the keep, heading for the central tower. The rip in the fabric of reality is closing swiftly..
“Neat trick,” says Cazara. “Dreaming. Guess we’ve found the Duchess. Shall we?”
“The yellow frog watches; we must be wary,” Durakh-al states, as if this were a simple matter of fact.
Durakh-al’s words reinforce the need for everyone to pose as a team. Shit just got real; add one Action Point.
Blake and her team race through the jungle terrain after the intruder. The jungle does not extend to the wall of the keep tower, but the group’s quarry is undeterred. The flaming sword is easy to follow as its owner simply walks up the side of the tower and climbs in a window some fifty feet off the ground.
Blake’s team takes the slower path, entering through the unsecured front gate, and ascending three flights of stairs, passing abandoned arrow slits, a library, and what seems to be an army command center in disarray. Blake’s group can hear the sounds of battle coming from above: explosions, gunfire, and the tortured cries of dying wolves.
Even racing up the stairs as fast as they can, the group arrives just after the hostilities have ended. The top floor of the tower has a forty-foot high ceiling and houses a telescope observatory. In this observatory are the Duchess Ethelyn, a male tiefling, and a male eladrin. Also here are the bodies of four wolves, a dozen soldiers, and what may have once been the Duchess’s elite miltary advisors.
The tiefling is cowering behind an orrery on the far side of the room. The duchess sits on the ground, holding a hand over her stomach, which is blackened and bloody. The bodies of the slain summoned wolves are slowly fading away.
The eladrin circles the duchess, limping slightly. He’s covered in small cuts and bruises, and is managing to stay standing despite a handful of arrow and bullet wounds across his legs and arms. His wooden, lion-faced shield bears fresh blood on its fangs, and his flaming sword flares with menace.
The Duchess speaks. “Asrabey, don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
The eladrin responds. “Save your pleading breath for prayer.”
The Duchess is calm. “If you have come for the reason I suspect, you should pray with me as well. You are a murderer, Asrabey. Did I so displease the Court that you needed to slaughter a hundred to reach me?”
“To forestall war, yes! Your people must not think we are the ally of a kingslayer. And worse,” he sneers at the tiefling, “one who consorts with devils.”
The tiefling stumbles over his words. “Um, perhaps reason is bit much to expect at this time, but can we talk about this?”
Asrabey flicks his wrist and his sword becomes a flaming whip which cracks the tiefling across his face, then snaps back to a longsword. “You are lucky your cursed flesh will not burn. But I have other ways to make you suffer.” To the duchess he says, “Prepare yourself, and you may die with dignity.”
“Wait! My brother won’t execute his own blood, and so long as I live I can still oppose him. There are more important matters than-”
“You struck the first blow," says Asrabey. "Aodhan was a soldier, as I am, and forgiveness does not come easily to our kind. He’ll never listen to you, not in the short years he has left. Already you are vilified. You promised your land would pull away from these fiends, would return to the old ways, yet you have fallen in with them yourself.”
“You don’t understand," the Duchess says. "Nathan is on our side. There’s a threat to Risur and the Unseen. I told the Court as much-”
“Enough. Ethelyn, please do not make me watch you beg.”
She glares at him. “Asrabey Varal, your closed mind has doomed us all.” Sitting up straight despite her stomach wound, she says, “Very well. Finish it.”
Asrabey takes a step toward the Duchess. Nathan finds his voice again and steps out from behind the orrery. “Wait a minute, Varal? Are you kin to a Kasvarina Varal?” Asrabey stops before he has managed to raise his sword for a killing blow.
Asrabey turns away from the duchess, grabs the tiefling by his vest, and leans close. “How do you know Kasvarina?”
“Um, what-? She- She was here, months ago! She was on the arm of a Crisillyiri man. In the company of my cousin. They took a tour of the mines. They left a few days later. I—I think she was the one who crafted the portal ring.”
“Asrabey," says the Duchess, "I’m trying to tell you, he’s an ally. He’s seen things, and we’re trying to find out what it all means. I think Danor means to destroy both our nations. My brother wouldn’t listen, even the Court ignored me, but you have to believe me.”
The eladrin considers for a long moment. He begins to pace. His attention is drawn to the staircase, where six onlookers have been looking for the right opportunity to intercede. Asrabey scowls and raises his sword. “Leave,” he says.
Blake raises her empty hands innocently.
“Sergeant Blake Arrington of the RHC – my team,” she motions to her companions with a nod. "This is Sergeant Glassman and his team. They’re military.
“We’re here for her, actually,” Blake says removing her cigar from her mouth and pointing it at the Duchess. “But this conversation is very interesting. Either way, we’ll stay.”
Blake turns to Glassman and asks, “I don’t suppose we have a way of binding an enchantress on us..?”
Glassman says, “Mage cuffs are standard for this sort of thing. They’re on page 33 of your Constable’s Guide. You’ll probably want to requisition some for future missions. Luckily, Lackey always has a set on him. He’s also got an eladrin girlfriend. I’ll let you figure out the rest.”
Cazara snorts, and tries to supress a fit of giggles. She feels a little light-headed still, to tell the truth.
Blake takes the cuffs from Lackey and approaches the Duchess while staying as far away from Asrabey as possible.
“Duchess Ethelyn of Shale you are under arrest for the attempted murder of the King… and also making me stick my hands in a fucking steam engine,” Blake announces as she approaches to cuff the Duchess.
To Asrabey she says, “I think I’d like to hear more of her story before we take her away.. or, frankly, we can talk about summary execution if you’d rather…”
Asrabey’s sword flares and he keeps Blake from approaching too closely to the Duchess. “She is my prisoner. I will hand her over when I have safe passage out of here. The tiefling is coming with me. I need a ship with a minimal crew, which will sail me and the tiefling to the Risuri mainland. Upon boarding this ship, I will hand over the Duchess to your custody.”
“Also: I want a message sent to King Aodhan. Tell him that the Unseen Court does not approve of or endorse his sister’s actions. We desire her execution as a traitor to more than one realm. We are willing to leave this matter to His Highness.”
“I’m just going to put these cuffs on your prisoner.. just to prevent any.. surprises, if that’s acceptable..?” Asrabey nods. “We can certainly convey your message to the King – as for transportation, we can bring you to someone who can make that happen but that’s all I can promise.”
Blake binds the Duchess’ hands tightly, making sure to make it more uncomfortable than necessary.
“You will make the arrangements. I will wait here.”
“Boss, if you want to wait, I can run down to the Captain and let them know what’s going on – I think I can move quickest.”
The Duchess tries to explain — to everyone — what she was up to.
“Please listen to me. I had a vision. The fall of Risur—maybe the whole world is upon us. I saw the world spinning on its axis, and a steel ship with sails of black smoke sailing off to war. The world passed into endless night and the stars fell to earth. The king’s eyes turned a soulless white and he moved as a puppet, his strings pulled by a man who had died a thousand deaths.
“This is going to happen. It is already happening. You should all be helping me to stop it!”
Blake rolls her eyes, “Seriously? That’s it..? Why does everyone on this planet have to be a crazy person? Tell it to him, he seems to like that kind of mish mash nonsense.”
Blake points disinterestedly at Durakh-al, “You let me know if you have any actual information and not just loopy dreams.”
“Nathan here is an astronomer who works in this observatory. He has seen the Danoran war machine harnessing the power of this place to make new, awful machines of war. He was the one who tipped me off. With one hand, Danor sends his cousin Lya to make peace and she seduces my brother into an ill-fated marriage, while with its other hand Danor prepares an invasion right on our doorstep! Surely you can see the King is a fool for trying to make peace with Danor!”
“That’s why we attacked. To force my brother to send people here to see what Danor is up to. This island is so important to the world, and Danor means to burn it up to win a war.”
Asrabey lets her talk, occasionally checking out the window on Cazara’s progress.
“Ah, that’s better,” Blake says. “Believe me I have no love for Danor – tell me where I can find evidence of their treachery and I’ll personally see those bastards buried. If there’s anything about endless nights and axis spinning, though, I’m not interested.”
“Check the library. There are maps and plans for all of Danor’s projects here. There are eight mines digging down to find arcane connections to the stars. There are factories being built to channel that energy into weapons. (the stars will fall to earth) There are golems guarding arcane laboratories. These giant metal men feed on the souls of the dead! And, I’m sorry, but the plans for the dam they’re building talk about reaching something called the ‘Axis Seal’ at the bottom of a lake!”
“We will look into all of it as soon as the Walking Torch over here takes his leave of us,” Blake says. “If there’s anything to it, I’ll bury those Danoran bastards personally, and I’ll come visit you in jail to tell you all about it.”
Asrabey seems to be interested for a moment when she mentions the Axis Seal. He then turns his attention back to the window.
“There’s an extra boat that Rutger’s gonna crew with ten men for you, uh…”
“Anyway, he’s getting it all set up, if you want to leave here.”
“Excellent,” Blake says with fake enthusiasm. “Well, then, if you’re ready we’d just love to see you off!”
“Perfect. Everyone in front of me as we go. Nathan, Duchess, if you’ll be so kind as to stay at the back with me.”
Blake turns her back to Asrabey as she moves out of the room and makes meaningful eye contact with Glassman.
“Sergeant, make sure your men are ready for anything – there are still rebels and other surprises about. So be ready,” she makes a pointing gesture to her waist at the same spot where the soldiers are carrying their flasks of alchemist fire. “Let’s all be on our toes.”
“I’ll be mostly on the balls of my feet and heels, ma’am, if that’s alright, but still ready for anything.” His hand slips casually to his belt as though he just needs a place to rest it.
The group moves out of the keep tower, through the keep and into the town. Before they reach the harbor wall, to no one’s great surprise, Asrabey does something spectacular.
Both Cazara and Durakh-al know that Asrabey is about to pull something, and will have a surprise round before the combat begins. Being the first to attack may not be the right move politically, but then again, they may not be political folk.
“Well, that was spectacular but not surprising,” says Blake.
“Agreed,” says Glassman.