Pieces on the board.
Chapter 2 of the Fall of Gryphon’s Crown.
Gryphon’s Crown was a kingdom under siege. It took a bird’s eye view to see that. Even at nightime with the moon out, the winged creature could see all.
The capitol itself was surrounded by all sides by the Blight. The Immortals hungrily scraped at the walls of the city. There was the odd attempt of the immortals who piled up to climb on top of each other like ants to scale the walls but those quickly were stopped by the wall’s defenders. Human spears and dwarven gun made quick work of that. Gryphon’s Crown would outlast the siege…but the surrounding countryside was not so lucky.
Dandy’s Park was burning, it’s defenders had given up on the village and moved southward towards Dawnford. Refugee trains trudged through the winter snow, young and old, man and woman. Many would die because of the cold than the undead.
The creature that flew kept it’s eye on the refugees and did notice they had silent guardians. Elven archers moved unseen through the snow. Any Immortal that got close to the refugees was shot down by a quick arrow.
The creature did not care for their struggles. Instead it flew to the last village near the capitol, called Black Park.
It was a small village with crude fortifications, around a dozen buildings including the inn. It had a dock near the Rhine, in peace time it would’ve supplied the capitol with fish and trade from the river. As the creature flew overhead he saw goblin mercenaries with shortbows among the crude barricades, prone to leave with the first real sign of trouble.
Militia and the odd Knight were the towns only real form of protection. Which was not much.
The creature landed behind the tavern and took a different form. A more handsome form. Much like the humans in his own land of Arabiana it took a more tanned skin and the dress of a merchant as not to rouse to much suspicion. He was here to infiltrate after all.
He entered the tavern and noticed there were not many people in the dead of night. Just a few militia and the innkeeper, a petite woman with long brown hair who was still serving drinks. She looked to the newcomer with a tired smile, the end of the day and the constant worry was obviously getting to her despite her trying to hold it back.
“What can I do for you, hon?” She went back behind her counter and poured out a drink already for him.
The creature sat across of her and gave a perfect smile with his perfect white teeth.
“I would like a room for the night…and a person to share it with.” And with that he already had her.
A hour later after the inn closed, Shala, for that was the innkeeper’s name, was kissing the newcomer fiercely and deeply. She undid the laces of her perfect Arabiana attire and took it off. In turn the newcomer returned the gesture and undid her bodice. His clothes and hers were strewn across the room as their passion ignited in her small room.
She hungered for this all night, a distraction from the long, dark day. Shala did not keep quiet, she groaned and moaned in ecstasy.
“I don’t even know your name…” she sighed as he took her.
The newcomer kissed her neck. “Cambion…” he replied." You may call me Cambion."
They frequently changed positions, some Shala had never even tried before with the men in the village, before it all reached a pleasant culmination. She cried out in pleasure before finally, interrupted by occasional quivers and shudders as the last of the sensation drained from her.
“Cambion…” the innkeeper smiled happily as her newfound lover laid next to her." You were just what I needed…“
Cambion smiled and strayed her hair.” And you are just what I needed…" He kissed her again.
“What brings you here?” Shala asked, regaining her breath.
“I’m on the way to Gryphon’s Crown…” he replied." To find the Mole King.“
She chuckled.” The mole king? Why do you need him?"
“Because we have some…unfinished business.” Cambion gave his signature smile that put her at ease." Do you know how I can find him?“
Shala laughed.” Well…assuming you can get past the dead…I have no idea. However…" she took his hand and kissed it." I heard if you go to the Lady Jasmine you can find him…"
Cambion smiled a predatory grin." The Lady Jasmine? Good to know…“
He began kissing her neck again, making her giggle, before he started nibbling her. Shala winced as a teeth hit her neck.” Careful, you hurt me there…"
He looked to her as his face began to change to something else. Something evil. “Oh, I intend to do more, Shala…” Cambion replied…and sunk his teeth into her chest.
Before she could scream a strong hand fell on her mouth, her pleas for help smothered.
The unnaturally strong creature known as Cambion held her down as he fell on her like a snake on it’s prey, taking chunks of her flesh with every bite.
Blood covered them both and her bed as gore and organs flew around. The last thing Shala saw in her bloody end was the creature jamming his new reptilian maw into her chest and it ripped out her heart, eating it with one gulp.
His hunger was sated, for now. In the morning he would find a way to end the mole king.
It was as if she had been doing this all her life. She jumped and ran across rooftops like a adrenaline filled cat. Her cannon hawkbeak tip hood clung to her head despite the speed she went. A smile came to her lips, it was as if right now she was only truly alive.
“Careful Initiate.” the fellow Undying one next to her warned. Like Bruna she to was human but with short blonde hair and blue eyes. She along with the large orc male and goblin were all dressed in the same black and gray hooded attire." Last thing we want is to have a pancake for a guide.“
Bruna nodded.” Don’t worry, I know these rooftops like the back of my hand!" She assured but then again she never ran across them so fast, especially during the winter with snow covering everything.
She took them to the Lower portion of the city, passed the Grand Cathedral of Queen Beatrix. She did not need to look to see the massive construction in her mind’s eye. A massive building with the statue of the Queen riding her gryphon outside the large wooden doors, the stained windows showing several saints doing their acts of martyrdom, large spires that seemed to pierce the heavens and the symbol of god.
“The Sky Festival is up soon.” Sera remarked." Looking forward to it?"
“Aye.” Bruna vaulted over an chimney." All you can eat buffet with nobody judging you. Also the artwork inside is nice."
“You religious?” Sera asked.
Bruna smirked." Can you be religious as a assassin?“
The blonde assassin jumped off another rooftop before she replied.” You can be, just imagine you have a lot of explaining to do in the afterlife. You?"
“No.” she replied. How could she believe when just outside that very same building a father was killed by some vagrant with a rusty knife, leaving behind a poor wife and two daughters to fend for themselves.
“You think it’ still on?!” the orc named Turok shouted, he was less lithe than his three other peers but could keep up the pace." With the Blight an’ all…“
Sera glared behind her.” Keep it down, you idiot!" She hissed." You want the whole city to hear?“
The orc grumbled.
“Turok has a point though.” Frenzo the goblin replied.” Think there’s enough food?“
Before sera could reply it was Bruna who spoke.” No way the nobles would deny the poor their food. If they want to stop a tide of hungry people smashing in their doors on the upper levels, they better pay up the food.“
Sera nodded.” And we have a steady supply going in the city."
Bruna wanted to ask but stopped as she saw the location. She held up her hand, the other three assassins stopped in their tracks.
The Initiate pointed to a small church, one of many that were spread across the lower levels. The only difference being this one, despite the early hours, it was well guarded by several thugs.
“There, that’s the place Captain Convenus told me where he had to send patrols away from.” Bruna said.
Sera undid her hood for a moment, her short blond hair waving in the wind." Is your intel solid?“
Griffsdottir turned to Sera.” Yeah, after nearly exposing his affair with a maid, he’s been all to eager to give up who he is on the take from.“
Sera nodded and peered into the church.” The vampire will be just asleep now…now is the moment to strike.“
Frenzo frowned.” Why would a vampire pick a church as his hideout? Isn’t that like…A Blighter hiding in a mana pool?“
Sera shook her head.” No, the mole king said vampires tend to corrupt places of worship or bureaucracy for fun. they thrive on the chaos of others but hate chaos in their own ranks…" the blonde assassin took up her daggers." It’s time to give them a piece of their medicine."
Bruna took up her short axe, a memento from her grandmother, and took her place.
A week ago she would’ve immediately shot down the idea to fight a vampire. If anything the mole king said she didn’t have to. When she returned with the money, Frina was elated. She did not question once where the money came from but Bruna knew her lover to well that no amount of juggling or parlor tricks could generate two bags full of coin. The two bags were exactly what they needed to move slightly higher up the city with actual padded, heated walls, flowing water and a good school for Tiny Tina. Frina succeeded in her audition and her new role in the Dawn play would provide them for the winter. Best thing of all, they started to make love again. Having a room of their own helped matters a lot and the fire in their relationship returned.
But three days later she started having visions, daydreams even. She saw a hooded dwarf move around the city, much like she could now. She saw him fight using an axe, quick and strong despite his size. He fought orcs and trolls but the same applied to humans. But only saw them when she had the hood on.
The mole king was right, the hood had chosen her. She was still conflicted, at times she wondered if the hood was controlling her actions.
“The hood is a instrument.” the mole king said.
She confronted him in one of his tunnels. Still the kindly grandfather who was feeding his three small children with bacon and eggs. Two dwarf boys and a human girl. If they were his grandchildren it was all to possible for she saw a resemblance in them.
“How do you mean?” Bruna asked.
“You do not question a knife for cutting something.” the mole king divided the bacon and eggs across three plates." You do not question a sword for doing chopping your enemies to bits. It does what you ask it to do. Same goes for your hood." he pointed to the hood.
Before the children ate, the mole king cleared his throat. The boys looked confused but the girl took his meaning." Thank you granpapa!" the auburn haired girl smiled. The two boys muttered their thanks, glaring daggers as their clever sister.
“You’re welcome, children. Eat up, it’s a long day ahead of us.” the mole king smiled before he motioned Bruna to sit. The initiate did so." What makes you question it so?"
“I’ve been seeing…things.” Bruna admitted.
“Oh?” the mole king took his seat and poured in some warm tea in both their cups. He waited for her to continue.
“I see…this dwarf running across the rooftops. And when I try to follow him…I can.” she took a sip of the tea.
“Is that so?” the old dwarf took his tea." You don’t seem horrified of this…ghost."
“I was to begin with.” she admitted." But after a while it…it felt like it was friendly. Like it was showing me how to do those things. How to run, how to breathe, vault, fight, steal…"
“It senses your potential.” the mole king said." You can only get something out of it when you put the effort into it, which you have been doing."
She paused. "What do I have to do?“
He smiled.” There is a saying I learnt when I was a young man in construction…when something isn’t broken, don’t fix it."
Another moment passed as another question came to mind.
“Are you the ghost?“
He only drank his tea and replied with a smile.” Do you want it to be?”
She could see the ghostly form of the dwarf jump into the church, laying waste to the thugs in a expert fashion. When Sera gave the signal, the four assassins went to work and Bruna knew what to do.
The thugs were all centred around a big coffin, a black dragon served as it’s crest. Their main objective.
Turok went in first, his massive bulk smashed through the window and skewered one thug with his massive sword.
Sera ran up on his back and leapt, taking care of the crossbowmen above them. In a blink of an eye she threw one dagger she pulled out of the now dead thug to a troll bruiser’s head, instantly killing the creature.
Bruna went to work with her axe.
She had never taken a life before. she stole, she lied, she cheated, she saw other people get jumped in the alleys and stabbed to death…but she never killed. When her axe severed the orc’s neck from his shoulders…she felt like she had done it a hundred times before. No remorse. For a brief moment this worried her. She killed a person yet she felt…nothing. That moment nearly cost her her life were it not for Sera killing the orc’s kin trying to avenge his brother.
“FOCUS, INITIATE!” she shouted.
And Bruna did. Every kill that was made afterward was just like a dance. Parry, strike, killing blow. Parry, strike, killing blow. The others could not see the ghost dwarf, fighting alongside them. A silent brother fighting his own silent war.
When the last of the thugs fell, the assassins eyes fell on the coffin.
Sera took out her dagger and nodded to her brothers and sister. Bruna and Frenzo each grabbed the side of a lid and pushed it off. Black dust came from the casket and revealed the form of a noblewoman, dressed in her best. She opened her eyes and was about to lash out, sharp fangs came from her mouth. Sera’s dagger in her chest and Turok’s mighty sword swing made quick work of the creature.
When the head was severed, the body turned to ash and only left behind the dress.
“It’s done.” was all Sera had to say on the matter.
Bruna was breathing heavily, the adrenaline in her body screamed and ran through her blood. She was trembling still, her axe suddenly felt heavy in her hand. Her right hand was covered in blood, the life essence of another being. It was fascinating now, and horrifying at the same time. She could not hear anyone speak. A hand on her back made her jump, Turok held both his hands up." I did not mean ta scare you. You alright?"
She nodded the lie. She wasn’t sure if she ever would be alright.
The four left the church quietly. As they left they saw the cleaning crew was already moving in, Bruna kept her hood down when she recognised some of them were people who lived in her old building.
The four split ways and went back to their homes. It was nearly dawn when Bruna made it back in her bed, her blood soaked clothes in the wash.
She took great care not to wake Frina and snuck under the covers.
Her heart stopped when Frina spoke.
“You’re late…” the half-elf said without opening her eyes. Her voice sounded like it was with mirth.
“Aye…” Bruna replied and kissed her lover." Late night…"
“Heard you sneak out and back in just now…” Frina returned the kiss." You would make a terrible thief.“
Bruna chuckled.” I would…"
The assassin let her worries go and held on to Frina, her anchor to this life. It reminded her of a saying her mother used to say. "No matter what happens during the day, how good or bad, at the end of it you will always be in your bed."
The two held each other for at least a hour before the day would begin anew.
Harold of House Barnsworth should be a lucky man. He was named champion of Gryphon’s Peak, he had a wife who was with child, a orcish shamaness as a mistress and ended the war with the Children of the Light.
So now when he was looking down his villa on the higher levels, he could only see the waves of undeath around the city and the surrounding area, blocking any chance to escape. He saw the guard patrolling the walls as the people down below made their morning rounds. And all of them believed he would be the one to save them all from starvation, civil war or god forbid the Immortals actually managing to break the walls. He knew the latter was not going to happen, the walls would never fall. But starvation was a bigger deal. Worse some people on the lower levels had gone missing during the night, never to return. A cult of serial killers or Children of the Light seeking vengeance, nobody knows.
“All of them believe in you, my boy.” the king said to him the day before." You’ll find a way."
“But what if I don’t have one?” Harold asked.
The king paused." Well…then all will be lost. And none of it will be our problem anymore." He cackled the last bit.
He poured himself in some wine and had a drink to calm himself. All he had to do was to find a way to keep the calm in the city before spring so Dawnford’s Knights could ride in to save the day.
He had entrusted his friend, the Troll Prince Aziboo, to pay off the knight’s academy in Dawnford to make sure they would ride out.
But that was still two months away. He shook his head. Sudden knocking interrupted his thoughts and before even waiting to be beckoned, the door opened.
A beautiful young woman with dark hair and shapely curves entered, one of his maids by the looks of it.
“How can I help you, my dear?” He asked.
“Good morning, Champion, my name is Stella. The King was upset that you parted on such poor terms earlier and asked if I would come and help make amends.” Her bright teeth shone in the moonlight, and as she curtsied her breasts pressed together and offered him a generous look down the front of her dress.
“Oh, really…?” Harold raised his brow and placed his glass down." How?“
By doing anything you require, my Lord…anything that will make you happy.” She rested her small, dainty hand on his forearm and stroked it softly. For a moment he considered declining, after all he was married and he wasn’t sure how Frekkia would respond to it.
When he started to kiss her and undo the front of her dress by then all previous worries fled from his mind.
He took her twice that morning. Once whilst overlooking the city on his balcony, thankfully they were really high up so none of the people below could see, and one more in his bed.
When he reached his second crescendo he rolled off Stella, he did so with a happy smile.
“That was fantastic, Stella.” Harold said.
Stella returned the smile." Oh, I had better." She replied as she gathered her clothing.
This soured Harold’s mood. Before he could reply he saw a old dwarf sitting across of them, drinking a cup of tea.
“Was that alright, your majesty?” Stella asked the dwarf.
“Very well, thank you Stella. You may go now. Please give my regards to your mother.” The dwarf replied.
Stella quickly redressed and kissed the dwarf on his head before she disappeared passed the door, leaving a embarrassed Harold Barnsworth.
When he could speak, he was furious." Who in the name of Alundria are YOU?!“
The dwarf finished his tea.” My apologies, Lord Harold but I tend to only come out in public when I know the other person has nothing on his person to hide. Pardon the deception."
“Just you wait until-”
The dwarf held up his hand." Your bodyguard likewise is occupied with a orc slave warrior you brought her yourself. She thankfully has the same open mindedness you have. Also…" he drank some more tea." Were it not for our common friend, I wouldn’t be here to ask for your help.“
Harold glared.” Funny way of asking for help! Who is your friend?!“
The dwarf smiled.” Prince Aziboo of course. We go back a while, even before King Thror reclaimed Orangecraig. It was he who suggested I should come to you for help."
The naked lord grabbed his trousers and put them on under his bed covers. Aziboo was a close friend of his, were it not for him life in Wildriver Run would’ve been unbearable. He lost count how many fights he end up in with the local troll tribes and Aziboo with the humans. Both taught each other diplomacy and the power of words.
“Alright…what kind of help?” Harold asked.
“Something small to help you take care of that…serial killer issue.” The dwarf placed his tea down before he began tinkering on a mechanical device on his wrist." I need my people to be able to move across the Higher City and the Royal palace undisturbed."
The dwarf smiled.” You’ll know them by their hoods.“
Harold frowned.” So you want your hooded people to move…undisturbed?”
“Aye. We took care of most of the killers in the Lower Levels but we need to move up before we can end the issue. Also what time is it?”
“Urghm…Nine o’clock I think…” Harold cursed himself when he finally realized whom he was talking to.
“You are the mole king, aren’t you?“
The dwarf nodded.” Aye.“
Harold stood up.” My family told me about this…you worked for with my ancestor, Morganna! Killed everyone who opposed her, including Warchief Gorvar’s chief lieutenants when they besieged the city!”
“I prefer the term co-operated.” the mole king finished finicking with his wrist." But yes. I need your help in this, Lord Harold. A threat is coming, using the Blight as a shroud. If we want to save this city, we need to act now before all is lost."
Thumping on his door woke the Captain of the city watch. His partner next to him groaned.
“By the beards of my ancestors, Hroth…” the other dwarf sighed annoyed." Third night…"
“I know…” Hroth replied tiredly and slid his trousers on." Don’t wait up…"
He stopped when his partner’s hand held his for a moment. Glin could grumble like any other dwarf and withstand heats not all blacksmiths could handle but deep down in his own inner forge, he was a big softy.
“Be careful…” the bigger dwarf replied. Hroth replied with a kiss. Another thumping on his door broke the two as duty called.
Hroth marched along the city wall with his second, a human woman named Naomi. He was still reading the report when they came to the east gate.
“When did this arrive?” he asked.
“Ten minutes ago, sir.” Naomi replied." We had to double-check with the palace but it all checks out."
“A shadow bazaar wants to come in NOW if all times?” Hroth asked his second who nodded.
“Aye captain, apparently the king managed to secure us some food for a hefty prize…and with the shadow bazaar being invisible…“
Hroth turned.” It still means us opening the bloody gate! With thousands of those Blighters outside!“
Noami looked down to avoid the stern dwarf. With almost a sigh of relief she pointed to the gate in question where the other members of the watch were ready.
Hroth was used to the moaning of the undead and trained himself to look beyond them and drone out the nose. He focused on what was important. His eyes spotted a series of brightly coloured caravans that hid under the trees just outside the town.
“Five caravans, captain.” Naomi said.” Guessing by the speed we need to give them…ten minutes.“
One of the guards spoke, a young man named Toby.” Ten minutes against those undead?! No way we can hold them off!“
Hroth glared at the young man.” How old are you, pup?”
Toby’s face went pale, Hroth mused his face was even whiter than when the Blight came.
“N-nineteen, Captain…” he replied.
“Then forgive me if I take your expertise into question, PRIVATE.” He emphasised the word to drive the point home.
Hroth pulled his beard as he pondered." I faced the Blight more times than you people can count. Was in a fair few sieges myself…" His mind racked back to those events." There is a plan…but we’re going to need a lot of gunpowder."
“But Captain.” Naomi said." The king expressed we’re nearing our budget with the blackpowder!"
“I don’t give a rat’s arse! Tell him to bill me! Get me five kegs of blackpowder, twelve blunderbusses and twenty men who know how to hold a bloody shield! I want it ten minutes ago!”
He knew he was harsh with his men, most just signed up for the better food or impress their families or friends. But he trained his boys and girls to be the best. They were the guard of Gryphon’s Crown, the capitol. If they didn’t look presentable, what would the rest of the kingdom think? One man on a wall was worth ten on the ground, that was only one reason the city never fell. One man who can barely hold a weapon cannot hold back the ten on the ground so he damn made sure his one man on that wall could hold back a hundred.
Ten minutes later, the Captain overlooked the operation from the top of the gate. When Naomi came with the go-ahead he gave a nod.
“Signal the caravans to move on my mark.” he motioned to the signal man who used torches. The man nodded and lit his torch.
Hroth made a silent prayer to his ancestors…and gave the command.
Further along the wall, several barrels of gunpowder were lit and thrown off it. The moment they hit the ground, large explosions rocked the ground. Thankfully the wall held but the undead around it didn’t. The huge noise alerted the rest of the horde who crawled to the new empty, blackened space.
The signalmen waved and already the caravan moved swiftly. He waited until the undead at the east gate were thinned enough to begin phase 2.
“Shieldwall, NOW!” Hroth shouted.
On his command the east gate opened as twenty men, including three half-giants, ran out and stabbed the few undead who remained. They created a large wedge with a small opening.
The noise of the caravans began to draw attention, thankfully there was more noise to be dispersed.
“Gunners, open fire!” Hroth commanded. The blunderbusses and crossbowmen fired on the Immortals below. The undead growled at the death of their dead peers, some even eating them, as they went back to clawing at the walls.
A few of the undead did go for the shieldwall but a quick spear to the head took care of it.
The caravans made it passed the shieldwall, when the last one came through the gate the call was given to retreat. With as little noise as they could the shieldwall fell back as the door closed behind them.
Hroth had to restrain the smile he felt. He was proud of his boys but he couldn’t show it.
“Noami, tell the men to keep an eye on the blighters.” He told his second." They might try to go for another ant pile because of the new activity."
“And…give them some extra ale and meat from the stores, they earned it.”
“Aye, sir.” Naomi smiled and went out to relay the orders.
The dwarf captain made his way down to where the caravans were.
He moved to the goblin in charge." I hope you’ve a lot of food in there for all this trouble, gobo.“
The goblin chuckled.” Of course I do…" He got off his cart and showed his wares of crated food.
Among the other passengers, which were either goblins or troll bodyguards, there was one human that drew Hroth’s attention.
The human in question looked around the city in question with a big smile on his face. He was dressed in fine clothes which marked him as a merchant, his skin was tanned like he was from the far east.
Hroth tapped the goblin on his shoulder." Whose that?“
The goblin looked.” Oh, some human merchant who calls himself Cambion. Says he wanted to come along, gave us coin to come here. Even said he had people on the inside who would help get us in."
Hroth frowned at this. A cold tingle came along his spine as if someone walked on his grave. He did not trust that man and promised a oath to himself he would keep an eye on him.