Chapter 8

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Chapter 8: Experts & Novices

Jason entered the grounds of the castle, looking up at the towers with wide eyes. He’d been selected to attend the Martial School in Dabna, travelling 3 days from his village in time for the new term. The Martial School was known for training the best fighters on the continent.

He was shown to his rooms by an older pupil. He opened the door to find a small, bare room with two beds. One of the beds was occupied by another lad about Jason’s age; fourteen. Like Jason, he had dark hair but bright blue eyes instead of brown.

  • “I’m Fin” he said smiling 45%
  • The boy glared quietly 55%

His eyes were a bit red and puffy like he’d been crying. Jason had a pang of sympathy but the other boy continued glaring.

“Hi. I’m Jason. Looks like we are room mates.”

The other boy laid down and turned his back on Jason so he shrugged and unpacked his small bag in silence.

When Jason had settled in, he looked back at the other boy who still laid with his back to him. His shoulders moved as he continued to quietly cry.

“Are you ok?” He tried again, gently. No response.

  • “Snap out of it!” 8%
  • “You’re not very friendly” 17%
  • Leave him cry and explore 25%
  • Try sympathy again 50%

He approached the bedside, went to his knees and rested a hand on the boy’s back. The boy jerked at his touch but turned to look at him.

“Hey, it’s ok. I’m new to this too. I’m Jason.”

“Fin” the boy said softly. “I’m called Fin”.

Jason smiled.

“Good to meet you, Fin.”

“Sorry” said Fin quietly.

“What’s wrong?” Jason enquired. “Why are you so upset?”

  • “I don’t want to be here” 43%
  • ”My parents left me here” 0%
  • ”My parents. They died” 43%
  • ”I’m homesick” 14%

Fin’s eyes filled with tears. “I didn’t want to come here. I was forced to be here. My parents died last winter.”

“I’m so sorry” whispered Jason. He felt he could cry just thinking about losing his parents. “I can’t imagine how that must feel.”

He put his hand on Fin’s arm.

“Look, let’s both stick together, ok? We are both new here. We can get through this together.”

Fin nodded appreciatively. Jason chanced a smile. “Plus, we may well be good at this stuff! Maybe become famous warriors or assassins for the Crown!”

Fin laughed despite himself.

The slender man, dressed in a shadowy cloak, had hoped to make ground on The Librarian after she’d failed to make their meeting. He needed that disc and wouldn’t return without it. Unfortunately she had used a Portal to travel across the sea which meant he needed a boat.

He’d had to go days south out of his way to the city of Mrin in order to cross The Finger, a dense but narrow mountain range. He could make up some time by Shadowstepping some of the way.

The boat docked in Mrin harbour & he looked at the tall walls of the city.

  • Enter the City of Mrin 95%
  • Continue past the city 5%

It was mid-morning. He walked into the city with a small but steady stream of visitors & traders so his entry went unnoticed.

The city was densely packed with stone buildings, a multitude of shop fronts lining the street. He needed provisions & bought from a number of vendors.

He knew he could only spend another hour in the city before he would need to continue his pursuit.

He needed to close the gap with The Librarian. He could purchase ground smokey quartz to power his Shadowstep, or maybe buy a horse. Perhaps someone here knows The Librarian.

  • Buy ground smokey quartz 60%
  • Try to buy a horse 30%
  • Go to the city Library 10%

He made his way to a store with a geometrical gemstone carved into a wooden sign – one of the city’s lapidaries. A small man stood behind the counter, a woman in the back room at a work bench.

He kept his hood up, his face deep in shadow.

“I need some powdered smokey quartz”

Quite used to gems being used this way in various spells, the vendor asked how much he needed.

“10 pennyweights” he said curtly.

The vendor smiled, ignoring the man’s rudeness.

“Of course. I think we have that in stock.”

The shadowed man left shortly after, quartz in hand.

Six months passed, Fin & Jason now firm friends. Both excelled in their training. They had been well paired, both of a height, similar in build, not large like some of the others but lithe and quick. They both had an aptitude for arcane tricks, too, which set them apart.

One weekend, when both were given a free day, they decided to head into the town. They hadn’t had much opportunity to explore, yet, and with both boys coming from small villages in the countryside, the wonders of the large city were still fresh.

  • Go to the market 38%
  • Head to the docks 38%
  • Go for food in a tavern 13%
  • Find other young people 11%

First, they decided to wander through the market. They didn’t have any money but they wanted to take in the bustling atmosphere. They spent a long time looking at the different weapons on display, Fin showing off a bit when handing one of the daggers, spinning it over his hand.

After a while they headed down to the docks to watch some of the ships come in. They worked their way through narrow alleys in the general direction of the sea, the small streets smelling alternately of fish and rubbish.

They turned a blind corner & were attacked by three men.

  • Run away 0%
  • Both stay and fight 75%
  • Fin runs away 25%
  • Jason runs away 0%

All three were bigger than the two boys but their month of training had already given them superior skill.

Jason struck at the first man who barrelled into them with three sharp jabs to his kidney, pushing him towards Fin who elbowed him in the temple, dropping him to the floor.

The remaining two approached more cautiously. One suddenly lunged at Fin who brought his knee up to the man’s groin, the man dropping to the floor to join his first companion.

“It’s like that, is it?” grinned the third, pulling a short blade from his sleeve.

He attacked.

  • Manages to stab Fin 12.5%
  • Manages to stab Jason 50%
  • Defeated by the boys 25%
  • Man runs after a struggle 12.5%

The man slashed a few times at empty air before lunging towards Fin. At the last moment he changed direction, turning his blade to meet the rush from Jason. The blade sunk into Jason’s side, wounding him seriously. Fin cried out in horror and backhanded the man across the cheek.

The sound of guardsmen entering the end of the alley focused the man’s gaze for a moment, giving him pause before he scrabbled away in the opposite direction.

Jason held his side and looked pale. Fin cried helplessly while he held and hugged his best friend.

“Help!” He cried.

  • Guards take him to doctor 38%
  • Guards take him to castle 12.5%
  • Guards chase the attacker 38%
  • Guards take him to priest 12.5%

One guard pursued the attacker while the other two stopped to help the boys. Fin was now covered in Jason’s blood, trying to help him stem the flow.

“Quicky” said the guard in charge to the other. “We need to get him help right away. There is a doctor just a few streets away”

Fin felt like his own heart would stop. He couldn’t lose his friend.

It felt like forever, but they finally found the doctor’s surgery. A guard carried him into a room, calling for the doctor. He looked at the boy and nodded.

“Lay him down”

  • He operates. Jason lives. 55%
  • He operates. Jason dies. 45%

A long hour passed while the doctor fixed the damage. Jason had lost a lot of blood. Fin alternately sat and paced, waiting to find out whether his friend lived or died.

The doctor emerged from the back room. “It’s done. He will live. It was close, but he will live.”

Fin’s heart burst with relief. He smiled, but again tears flowed. “Can I see him?” he asked.

“Not yet, boy. He needs some rest, still.”

Fin nodded and sat down to wait some more, but this time the world had been lifted off his shoulders.

Mrin was a day behind him when he passed through the trees and entered the mountain pass on the road to Palmer. It was morning, the day’s trek just starting. He pulled his dark cloak tighter around him and scowled. This was too slow. He needed to Shadowstep.

He opened up the small pouch containing the smokey quartz dust & took a pinch. Enough for a day’s travel. He knew it would exhaust him.

He placed the dust on his tongue, his eyes rolled back & visualised the correct symbol that would push him to the Shadowplane – a…

  • dark mirror of this world 50%
  • Very different place 25%
  • world empty of life 25%
  • world filled with evil 0%

The light instantly dimmed as the man stepped into the Shadowplane. It was colder & he felt… stretched. Like he was taking up more space, though he looked the same. He took a step & moved the distance of three. He took another & another, the dark stone & dry scrub flying past.

He jogged through the pass, concentrating hard on the path ahead rather than the scenery either side of him, his stomach churning with the strangeness of it. The shadow pressed hard against his skin. Strange sounds – beasts of the shadow plane – sounded around him.

  • Speed up – ignore them 67%
  • Step into the normal plane 33%
  • Slow & prepare to fight 0%

He ran on. To slow down now would just invite an attack & he needed to make ground before shifting back to the home plane.

He’d hit a rhythm in his stride, covering remarkable ground. He passed out of the mountains & into the forrest beyond.

The darkness was nearly complete.

The forrest path lightened as it entered a clearing. A hulking beast stood straddling the road, sniffing the air, head jerking towards him as it heard his footsteps. He came to an immediate stop, flicking his wrist, a long blunt obsidian blade appearing in his hand.

  • Quickly attack the beast 44%
  • Shift to the home plane 33%
  • Run around the beast 23%

Without hesitation, he ran at the creature, the nature of the Shadowplane causing the distance between them to shrink at eye-watering speed.

The monster loomed over him, at least two heads taller, but slender and muscled. It was blacker than night and hard to see.

He sprang off one leg up into the air, swinging his weapon at the beast’s neck. Moments before the blade struck, the man’s face contorted in sadness as he activated its magic. The knife’s edge became impossibly sharp, passing through the thing’s neck with no resistance.

It died.

Fin & Jason had been training as a fight-pair for two years. They had both grown in the time they had entered the school, now about 5 foot 8. They were slim and athletic, excelling in the gymnastic martial style and both proficient in arcane tricks and the use of magic weapons.

Jason & Fin were on patrol near the Coran woods with another three fight-pairs, all second year trainees. They were near the northern mountains seeking out a group of bandits that had attacked a merchant group on their way to Esotair.

They had finally found their campsite.

  • Kill them right away 18%
  • Attempt to negotiate 18%
  • Capture them 64%

They had observed the bandit camp for an hour, taking stock of the enemy. There were 12 thieves, well armed, mostly men. Most had settled around a fire, a cookpot bubbling.

Lisa & Lil, the lead fight-pair, signalled the attack. The 4 pairs of fighters attacked without a shout.

Fin & Jason engaged two surprised bandits who had picked up knives. Jason leapt beyond a swipe, diving in with a knee once the man was unbalanced. Fin Cast a bright light in the face of the other, blinding him. In short order, both were bound.

A woman raised a wand at Fin.

  • Lightening arched at him 25%
  • He became paralysed 13%
  • He dodged a firebolt 38%
  • He Cast a blinding light 24%

Fin’s sharp reflexes had him leaping to the left before an elongated bolt of flame shot from the wand tip, singeing his boot. Before he’d rolled to his feet, Jason had thrown a dagger at her, the knife burying itself to the hilt in the shoulder of her arm. The wand dropped.

Lisa was on the floor with a crossbow bolt in her neck. Another of the fighting pairs were wounded, though still standing. The final pair were in pursuit of two bandits fleeing the camp. Everything else was still as the remaining bandits were subdued & secured.

  • Jason takes charge 14%
  • Fin takes charge 29%
  • Lil takes charge 57%

Lil looked at her dead partner. Her face hardened & she looked at Fin, Jason & the other fight-pair in the camp. “Round this lot up” she snapped.

The pair chasing the run-aways arrived back in the clearing leading 1 of the 2 missing bandits.

“You killed the other?” Lil asked

They glanced at each other and one said “no, he got away”.

Lil hissed in frustration. “Never mind. We can get what we need from this lot.”

Fin, who had been looking through the contents of a tent called back. “The merchant goods are here, it seems.”

“Good” said Lil. “Let’s..

  • interrogate the prisoners 83%
  • take the bandits to Dabna 17%
  • take the goods to Esotair 0%

“We’ll question them here” said Lil. She surveyed the camp. 4 bandits lay dead. 3 were injured, including the sorceress with the knife in her arm.

“Fin, Jason, take the witch & see what she knows. I’ll start with him,” gesturing to a man in sturdy leathers. He had killed Lisa.

Jason grabbed the woman by the injured arm, causing her to cry out. Fin pocketed the wand on the floor.

They took her into the woods & sat her by a tree. They questioned her robustly. Fin used a truth charm to aid them.

Her accent was strange. Jason wracked his brain.

  • He didn’t recognise it 20%
  • She was from Mynistern 80%

“Mynistern” Jason said, and the woman’s eyes confirmed it. “Why would a sorceress from Mynistern be running with thieves, here?”

Mynistern is a peninsular over 900 miles from Dabna, accessible only by sea. People there are mighty magic users but are suspicious & protectionist.

“You don’t know what you are getting involved in” hissed the woman.

“So tell us” quipped Fin.

Jason’s eyes softened. “I’m sorry you were hurt. But if you don’t tell us why you’re here then you will likely be hurt worse by the King’s Inquesters.”

Her eyes teared & she gulped.

  • She began to talk 67%
  • Her lips tightened 33%

The Inquesters of Dabna were famous for their ability to extract information. The woman’s face paled & she began to talk.

“My name is Friel. I am, as you say from Mynistern. But I am no thief.” Her voice hardened at that last statement. “I came here to retrieve stolen property.”

She went on to recount a tale of an attack on the Spelldocks. Professional raiders had stolen a ship carrying rare artefacts. She had been sent to track the items, along with others, & had discovered a crate of them headed to Esotair.

The truth charm confirmed her story.

  • Take her back to the camp 56%
  • Release her 22%
  • Kill her 22%

“One last question” said Fin. “Are you the only Mynistern operative with this band?”

As if in answer, a sudden cry from the camp sounded in warning as a shock-wave pushed trees & bushes back. Fin and Jason stumbled backwards.

A man ran through the trees towards them.

The man looked at the boys & prisoner, raising his hand to cast a spell.

Fin’s hand went to his belt, pulling out the wand he’d taken from the woman. He triggered the wand & a bolt of flame engulfed the man.

Jason & Fin ran to the camp. Nobody had survived the wizard’s blast.

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