Posted by: lordkyler | December 9, 2017

Radiance II: Part III – Mad Martin’s Manor

PreviouslyAfter facing a hostile reception from Governor Abbot, our heroes decided to investigate a kidnapping in order to get on her good side. After investigating, however, they found that she may have run away instead, and have agreed to meet her brother at sundown to find her. In the meantime, they are continuing their primary investigation: discovering which of the three Governors is working with the dreaded Anarchists. Governor Martin – the head of financial matters – is next on the list. 


 

Niku, Sarah, and Vera walked down the street at a brisk pace, trying to put some distance between themselves and the minor debacle at the Van Weir house.

After a few minutes of silence, Sarah piped up. “We should get some horses or something. Governor Martin is a long walk away.”

Niku raised an eyebrow at that, glancing at the factory smokestacks in the near distance. “I don’t think we’ll find many carriages in this district,” he said. “But maybe if we get to a bigger street we can find something.”

Taking a slight detour, they did indeed find something – or rather, it found them. As they reached one of the main streets, a cheerful horn beeped from behind, signaling the arrival of a battered black taxicab, one of the older steam models.

As the agents stared, a man with a ruddy face and a tweed cap leaned out the window, gesturing broadly. “Mornin’!” he called. “Need a lift? Soft seats, reasonable rates!”

The three agents shared a glance and promptly piled in, barely closing the doors before they were in motion, racing along the cobbled streets. Taking a puff of his cigar, the cabbie gave a little wave. “I’m Eddie,” he announced. “Where can I take you, guv’nor?”

“To the Governor’s, actually,” Vera said, rolling down a window to siphon the smoke away. “Martin’s Manor.”

“Rightio, then!” Ernie cried, and then mashed down on the accelerator.

One harrowing half-hour later, the cab left the city behind. Outside of town, the paved roads became dirt, which soon turned to mud as rain began to fall, though Ernie seemed unconcerned about getting stuck. As they approached their destination, the landscape gradually grew hilly, with outcroppings of stone and stands of pine. The rough terrain meant that the manor was nearly invisible until they were almost upon it, first spying strange towers and minarets rising amongst the trees that formed the very edges of Needlebough forest.

The manor – or perhaps more properly, the castle – became even stranger once they were able to see the whole of it. Unlike the Citadel, with its stern, proud walls and functional design, the Manor was an odd assortment of strange and colorful structures that seemed less built than grown, arranged without any regard toward symmetry and only the slightest concern for functionality. It seemed like something summoned from the mind of an imaginative child… or perhaps a madman.

Minarets for days

Inspirational Image for Mad Martin’s Manor, by the artists at starno.net

Craning around, Ernie saw his passenger’s expressions and smiled. “Old Martin,” he said, with a curious note of pride in his voice. “Had this whole place rebuilt after the war. Wanted something the world had never seen before. And I’ll bet you ain’t! Folks say he was mad, of course, and I won’t deny he was a strange chap, but I thinks there’s more to it, yeah?

“After the bombing, a lot of  folks were in a bad spot, and Martin hired ’em all to keep working on this place for years and years. A whole generation of orphans what grew up to be damned fine masons and carpenters and what have you. And if that’s madness, then we could use a little more of it in this world, Reason prevail.”

As they approached the front gates, they soon had to pull to a stop. A line of vehicles extended from the manor grounds up through the gates – horse-drawn wagons and a few small trucks, their cargos covered with canvas and tarps to protect against the rain. A few men moved about on foot, armed with ponchos and papers, but the procession itself was at a standstill, vehicles only being admitted one at a time.

“Market day,” Ernie explained. “Raw goods, being tallied, taxed, and sold to merchants. Young Martin likes to keep his finger heavy on the pulse of things. Takes after his father in more ways than one, if you catch my meaning. A good chap – in my books, leastways – but a bit off.”

“Good to know,” Niku said, getting out of the car. The other agents followed suit, huddled agains the rain. Niku circled around to the driver’s window. “We, uh… we may be here a while.”

Ernie nodded, picking up his meaning. “No problem, fella. Take as long as you need – I’ll wait. I’ve got a reduced rate for idling.”

“Sounds good. Just so you know, this is being charged to local governance.” Ernie nodded, but Niku paused, considering. While they were in town, it was the regional government’s responsibility to pay for their needs, including travel. More specifically, it was Governor Abbot’s responsibility.

“On second thought, Ernie, why don’t you just go ahead and run us at your premium rate? You’ve earned it.” And – considering the arrangements Governor Abbot had subjected them to thus far – she deserved to pay for it.

Ernie’s earnest face brightened considerably at that prospect. “Reason reward you,” he said, winking. Rolling up the windows, he settled into his seat with a newspaper, a fresh cigar, and an expression of smug, unbridled contentment.

The three agents grouped together, studying the strange manor and the line of vehicles. “So how do we want to handle this?” Sarah asked. “We could just walk in and start asking questions, but if Martin is trying to hide anything, it’ll be tough to investigate further.”

Niku pondered the question for half a moment. “We’ll split up. Sarah, you and I will have a chat with the Governor. Vera–”

“Got it,” she interrupted. She had played the role often enough: stealth, subterfuge, and surveillance. While the other two drew attention, she would sneak in undetected and search for anything out of the ordinary… especially those who might be scrambling at the appearance of two confederate agents.

Vera melted away into the mists as Niku and Sarah strode up to the gate, projecting their most authoritative attitudes. After getting directions from one of the cart drivers, they were able to bypass the line of vehicles, cutting through a flamboyantly ornate archway and a series of narrow, maze-like streets. Then, just as they were beginning to think that they must have forgotten a turn, they turned a corner and suddenly found themselves in the middle of the marketplace.

Surrounded by bizarre architecture, the market plaza was remarkable for its utilitarianism – a large central floor with stalls and station around the edges. Either the plaza was a remnant of the original manor, or else Mad Martin had had enough sense to keep from interfering with the efficiency of his business. Barely-organized commotion reigned; contractors argued over payment, merchants haggled over goods, and government officials worked frantically to keep everything in order.

At the far end of the market, a large stage overlooked the assembled merchants, with an awning overhead to keep off the rain. At the back, senior officials wrote in ledgers and discussed deals, but at the front, a few young men loitered about with fencing swords – playing more than sparring, with frequent breaks for conversation and laughter. Among them, one figure stood apart, the center of attention. Cyrus Martin.

Have at thee!

Cyrus Martin – Governor of Quill.
Artwork by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss.

Niku stood silently to the side, studying his target. The young man certainly seemed to possess a strange energy – relaxed and yet restless, intensely focused on nothing in particular, with a strange light in his eyes, as though possessed of some wisdom denied to ordinary men – but whether that light was genius, madness, or both, Niku could not say.

As if sensing the attention, Cyrus turned to search the crowd, quickly locking eyes with Niku. With a broad, lazy gesture, he called out with a clear voice that carried above the noise of the market in the same way that an airship soared over clouds. “Well, then! It seems we have some visitors!” At the sound of his voice, the hubbub changed to a hush, and the commotion of commerce halted so suddenly and completely that it seemed like time had halted in its course, waiting with bated breath on the Governor’s words. The message was clear: in this strange little realm of castles and coin, Cyrus Martin reigned supreme.

The young Governor casually tossed his weapon to one of his lackeys and hopped down from the stage, barely seeming to notice how the crowd parted between him and the agents. He sauntered toward them, wearing a cocksure grin that seemed at odds with the almost feral intensity of his gaze. “Welcome to Martin Manor, agents,” he announced. “I’m honored to assist you. Or, if you wouldn’t mind, perhaps you could assist me with a small matter? Here, come with me; we’ll talk on the way.”

Unaccustomed to the spotlight, Niku found himself following almost automatically, eager to escape the center of attention. Sarah tagged along close behind, and within seconds of their departure, the market was in full swing once more.

Cyrus led them down a labyrinthine series of streets, tunnels, and stairs, seeming to stroll despite the fact that the agents almost had to jog to keep pace. He talked casually and constantly, pointing out architectural details and sharing bits of local gossip – just enough that Niku and Sarah couldn’t quite bring themselves to interrupt.

After a few minutes, they reached the north gate and passed through to the grounds outside. A crowd was gathered, though their attention was focused elsewhere. Construction equipment loomed in the mist like primeval monsters, rain pinging off their metal hides. Cyrus clambered onto one, gesturing for the agents to follow. They followed, rising over the crowd and finally getting a clear view of the large pit in their midst… and the wild creature that paced restlessly within it.

The largest, deadliest drake they had ever seen.

The Captured Drake
Original Image by William O’Connor.

“Fancy a challenge?” Cyrus asked, bright-eyed and grinning madly.

–––

Vera, meanwhile, had spent most of the last half hour underneath a wagon, creeping with excruciating slowness through the mud. There were bound to be others ways into the castle, but between the walls and the guards, it would probably take longer to find a suitable entrance than to slip by this way.

Now, at last, she had finally managed to get through the gates. There were guards here, as well, but they were less vigilant than those outside, primarily concerned with directing traffic and keeping the peace. Even, so, there were enough to make things difficult. She would have to choose her moment carefully.

Now. When all of the guards were looking the other way, Vera broke away from the wagon, dashing for the nearest cover. She had nearly reached it when a voice rang out from the wall-top – a guard that had been looking in the wrong direction. Vera cursed under her breath, but didn’t make the mistake of looking back. Instead, she ducked through a space between buildings, quickly slipping away while the guards shouted at one another, trying to figure out what was going on.

Unfortunately, as she distanced herself from the guards at the gate, she soon realized that there was a drawback to her haste – she didn’t have the slightest idea where she was. She wasn’t familiar with the layout of Martin’s Manor, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the design. The streets twisted and turned about on one another in a tangled mess, half of them either ending abruptly or looping back to where they’d begun.

Eventually finding a vantage point, Vera spotted a building that seemed important and began working her way toward it, taking the most direct route she could manage without drawing undue attention. Ten minutes later – though it felt more like forty – she struck upon a stretch of road that seemed to date back to more sensible days and was soon able to find her destination: a massive, dome-topped building surrounded by concourses of smaller offices. The archway at the entrance was emblazoned with the words REGIONAL ADMINISTRATION.

Vera took one look at the swarm of bureaucrats scurrying around and knew she needed a disguise – her tactical gear would make her stand out like a hawk among pigeons; people were already starting to look at her suspiciously. One of these buildings was bound to have something she could use – even a spare janitor’s uniform would do.

Spying a building with an open door, she decided to start there. She found a small room with marble flooring, bare concrete walls, and a few potted plants flanking a counter with a lone clerk. He looked up from his newspaper with surprise at the abrupt entrance, pushing his glasses up and straightening his tie when he realized his visitor was a lady, though his eyebrow was quirked at her appearance.

“Good afternoon,” he said.. “Are you here to register for a motor-vehicle permit today?”

Not seeing anything useful inside, Vera opted to gather information instead. “I need access to the region office’s financial files,” she announced. “Who do I talk to?”

The clerk’s eyebrow ratcheted a notch higher. “I don’t think I can help you with that,” he said warily, fingers inching toward the telephone. “Perhaps I could direct you to the service desk?”

Vera gritted her teeth, but forced a smile on her face. “My apologies. I’m a bit flustered – it’s been a long and dreary day. I meant to say-”

Her flattery was promptly interrupted by a sharp tap on the back of her head. Confused, she tried to start again, but the same thing happened. This time she was able to place it. Someone was throwing pebbles at her.

Biting off a curse, Vera spun just in time to see someone in a cap and jacket darting into the shadows of a nearby alley. Vera was giving chase before the astonished clerk could even twitch an eyebrow.

–––

“That’s a bit more challenge than I was planning on today,” Sarah replied. “What is that thing?”

“The naturalists have been calling it a war drake,” Cyrus responded, studying the creature with admiring eyes. “It’s been a bit of a nuisance lately – eating livestock and the like. The poor farmers couldn’t handle such a beast, of course, and our troops have been quite preoccupied with these damned Anarchists, so I recruited some… outside consultants.

“I’d intended to ship the thing off to the scientific society for study, but so far it’s proven quite belligerent. Certainly too dangerous to transport. And so it seems we’ll have to settle for the next best thing.”

So saying, he climbed up to a higher level, stretched forth his hand, and loudly proclaimed, “Three hundred dollars to the man who can slay the beast!”

The words were scarcely out of his mouth before a chorus of gunshots erupted from the crowd. The beast lurched with the impacts, but remained standing. Apparently its scales were too thick for bullets to pierce, though it was clearly unhappy at the attempt. It made an alien sound somewhere between a rattle, a hiss and a roar, tail thrashing as it stalked the perimeter of the pit.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” Cyrus cried with amusement. “Let’s keep things sportsmanlike. One team at a time… starting with our guests, if they’re willing?”

Niku and Sarah felt the weight of dozens of staring eyes resting on them, as the rain filled sudden silence in the air. Niku narrowed his eyes, weighing the situation, fingers brushing over the cold silver of his weapon.

“…sure.”

Dutifully, the crowd gave the agents space to approach and circle the pit, moving warily as they considered their strategy. The beast mirrored their movements, growling and craning its long neck as it tried to watch both of them at once. Without having to consult, the agents split, ending up on either side of the pit and readying their weapons.

Sarah brandished her electric baton, the end crackling in the rain, and the drake locked on and lowered into a crouch, ready for battle. Woman and beast stared at one another, feeling the tension build, waiting for that first move, that first opening…

“Don’t dilly-dally,” Cyrus yelled. “Get in-”

But Niku was already leaping, falling with the rain, his chain-scythe flashing in the air like lightning in the harsh glare of the flood lamps. Niku landed heavily on the beast’s back, clinging to the scales with all his strength. The creature reacted at once, twisting and screaming at the audacity of the assault, but Niku managed to keep his grip, holding on while the beast thrashed and raged.

It didn’t rage for long. Twisting its surprisingly prehensile neck, it snapped at Niku with razor fangs. When Niku proved too quick to be caught that way, it turned aside for a moment, making a strange hacking noise, like a cat coughing up a hairball.

Niku knew enough about drakes to be deeply worried by this behavior, and so he drew his pistol in anticipation. The drake’s scales had proven bulletproof, but if he could land a shot in just the right spot – the eye, or, if he was lucky,  the roof of the mouth – he might be able to take the thing down, odds allowing.

The drake twisted back around, and Niku leveled his gun, fighting wildly to steady his hand. Both man and beast fired their shots at once, one lead, the other a glob of greenish fluid. Both missed, the bullet sending up a spray of earth from the pit wall, and flecks of spittle smoking where they landed.

Sarah took advantage of the drake’s distraction, dropping down the muddy floor of the pit in a crouch. Sizing up the situation in a glance, she rose to her full height and went straight for the big guns. Not her crossbow, or her stun stick, but herself. Sighting down one eye, Sarah focused her mind and leveled a finger gun at the rampaging monster. Then she pulled the proverbial trigger.

“Boom.”

As the word left her lips, magic leapt from her body, a concentrated beam of evocation flashing through the air, pure fire and raw kinetic energy erupting underneath the unwitting drake with the approximate force of a hand grenade. The creature – and its rider – were thrown violently into the air, though the beast’s scales were thick enough to protect it from the worst of the damage.

While the drake was caught off guard by the sudden explosion, Niku still had his wits about him, and was able to anticipate and take advantage of the blast. In a moment of incredible coordination, during that brief, breathless second at the top of their arc, Niku lashed out with his kusarigama. The silvered chain wrapped around the animal’s neck, and the scythe held it fast, tethering Niku to his opponent. As he fell, he called upon his own magic, combining strength and telekinesis to whiplash the drake downward and slam it mercilessly into the ground.

Niku landed, heavily but unharmed, and the chain fell slack as Niku released his mental grip over the metal. Sarah stood with hands hovering by her pockets, ready for action. The spectators had fallen deathly silent, leaving only the patter of the rain and a strange, sharp laughter that seemed just slightly off-key. Cyrus.

The beast lay on its back for what seemed eternity, but just when Niku began to believe he’d actually killed it, it stirred, chest swelling as it caught its breath again. Then, dispelling any hope of victory, it began to thrash and scream, fully fit and now truly enraged. For all that, they had only managed to knock the wind out of it.

Sarah and Niku exchanged a glance, then charged in.

–––

Vera leapt over a stack of abandoned crates as though it wasn’t there, pushing off the alley wall to turn the corner without losing her momentum. The art of the chase came naturally to her, though she had honed those skills to a fine point – and she was on point today.

She had gotten off to a good start, not wasting any time wondering why someone would be throwing pebbles at her. Such questions could be considered on foot, or better yet, answered afterward, when the quarry had been caught. Vera might have had trouble navigating these strange streets, but this was another matter entirely. She was easily able to follow, despite the twists and turns they took. The stranger was fast, too, but Vera was faster, slowly yet inevitably gaining ground. The only question was whether she would be fast enough to make her mark before something changed the game.

As though they could sense their impending capture, the stranger – Vera still couldn’t make out much more than an indistinct shape in worn workman’s clothes – suddenly pivoted, dashing out of the alley and diving for the door of an apparently abandoned building.

Vera growled in frustration. This was the great gamble of a chase – so much effort was invested in the pursuit, but the success or failure of the entire operation so often hinged on those last few seconds. Now her target had sought cover, and there was no telling what might lay behind that door.

At the moment, Vera didn’t really care. She could handle whatever – or whoever– might come. Crashing through the still-swinging door without a moment of hesitation, she charged into what seemed like an old storage shed and promptly ran afoul of a tripwire.

Cursing, she stumbled, crashing into a pile of sacks, which cushioned her landing somewhat. In that same instant, the door slammed shut, plunging the room into near-total darkness. An ominous click followed mere seconds later,

Vera’s heart was hammering as she reached for a night-vision potion, ears strained for any sound of attack. The potion took effect almost instantly, accompanied by a sharp tingling sensation. It didn’t help much. Although she could now see quite clearly, there simply wasn’t much too see – only ancient gardening equipment. No attackers, thankfully, but also no sign of her quarry and no obvious exits.

Drawing a knife just in case, Vera picked herself up, but before she could start searching for a way out, a muffled voice – low, but unmistakably feminine – came from the other side of the doorway.

“Are you alright?”

“Better than you’re likely to be,” Vera said. “Do you have any idea who you’re playing with?”

“More or less,” the voice answered. “I’m sorry. This isn’t how I usually handle things, but I had to tell someone.”

“Tell someone what? And who are you, anyway?”

“That’s not how this works,” the voice said firmly, “but you can call me Thrush. You would probably consider me a criminal. A smuggler. True enough, but I’m just in it to make a living. I don’t hurt anybody, and I don’t help anyone who does.”

“And?” Vera demanded, impatient.

“Well, that’s why I brought you here. Not everyone in my circles is so… community minded. They’re more interested in quick cash than any kind of stability or balance, and they aren’t picky where their money comes from or what it takes to make it.”

Vera paced, twirling her knife between her fingers as though anxious to use it. “You’re talking about the Anarchists.”

“Their supplier. The Loxley brothers. Their ship is the Orchid, and they’ve been dropping off supplies for several weeks now. Mostly food and weapons, I think, but just recently they brought in something big. It looked like machinery. Heavy machinery.

“I don’t know what exactly the anarchists are up to, and frankly, I’d rather not find out. But I figured somebody ought to know – somebody who isn’t corrupt, who can do something about it. You fit the ticket.”

“And I’m simply supposed to take your word?” Vera asked. “Eliminate your rivals for you, or maybe walk into an Anarchist ambush?”

“I wouldn’t be sad to see the Loxleys go,” Thrush admitted. “But I have no interest in doing business with the Anarchists. I just came to talk. You can look into it for yourself, make your own decisions. I’m honestly just trying to help. I may be a criminal, but I’d like to think I’m a decent person.”

“…fine. I’ll look into it. Just let me out of here.”

“Sure thing. I’m not going to unlock the door, though. Can’t risk being seen.” Thrush’s voice began to fade as she walked away, calling back, “There’s a trap door on the ceiling you can use to get out. If you have any more questions, just look for Old Patch down by the docks. Good luck!”

Pounding footsteps soon faded into the distance, and while Vera was able to quickly find and squeeze through the attic crawlspace to freedom, it was far too late to find the elusive Thrush. Grumbling to herself, Vera gave up on further espionage and made her way to the market, searching for her partners. Knowing those two, they were sure to be in some sort of trouble.

–––

Sarah charged, hoping to catch the creature before it could properly rise. She had her electric baton in hand, but could only guess whether the charge was powerful enough to get through the animal’s thick scales. Still on its back, it started kicking as she approached, but she was able to to tag its tail, sending up a spray of crackling sparks. The drake twitched, but seemed largely unaffected.

Flopping onto its side, the drake spotted Niku circling around for a surprise attack and responded in kind, spitting another glob of acidic saliva at the agent. This time, the projectile struck home, splashing square in the center of Niku’s breastplate, which immediately began to tarnish and smoke.

Niku stumbled back – the acid wasn’t working quickly enough to put him in immediate danger, but it was still a hazard, and worse yet, had broken his concentration. He had been planning to recall his weapon and use his powers to drive it through the beast’s brain, but had only completed one of those steps. For the moment, he was out of magic.

The drake managed to climb back to its feet, using its wings for support in the slippery mud. Circling warily, it did its best to watch both agents at the same time, clever enough to avoid being flanked. It hissed in defiance, raising and rattling its wings in order to look larger, but wasn’t willing to make the first move.

Niku obliged instead, whirling his chain weapon overhead and casting it out in one smooth motion, trying to snare one of the drake’s legs. The attempt proved successful, but before he could make use of it, the drake rushed forward, jaws wide. Niku was forced to dive to one side, splashing into the mud as the drake passed by.

Luckily, he managed to avoid getting trampled, and as an added bonus, the acid on his armor seemed to be neutralized by the rainwater, leaving only a very unpleasant – but harmless – residue.

The drake slid to a stop and spat again, this time at Sarah. She was already ducking out of the way, avoiding the worst of it, but a few stray droplets splashed across her face and clothes. She went to ground at once, but the pain didn’t prevent her from firing her crossbow in the same movement. The bolt glanced ineffectually off of the beast’s armor, scarce inches from piercing the eye.

The creature grumbled, but the sound was interrupted by the bark of Niku’s pistol – three quick shots aimed for the head. One missed, but the other two slammed into the drake’s lower jaw – not a high enough caliber to draw blood, but enough to wrench it painfully to the side, perhaps enough to pull muscles or leave bruises. Painful enough to prevent further attempts at biting, hopefully.

Whether by reflex or cleverness, the drake staggered back, yanking the chain clear of Niku’s grip. It quickly shook off the offending item, and just as Niku was getting back to his feet, leapt toward him. Niku spun to evade, but at the last moment, the drake suddenly flared its wings wide, halting its momentum and allowing it to home in on Niku. Heavy feet kicked out and connected, sending Niku sprawling.

The agent slid at least a dozen feet, hydroplaning over the puddles before hitting the wall of the pit – the men around it let out a collective gasp in sympathy. Though Niku’s armor had saved him from the claws, the blow had left him dazed and winded, and he would need a moment to gather his senses before he could properly attack again.

Fortunately, Sarah was working on the problem. “Hey, you!” she shouted. The drake’s head cocked in her direction, almost bird-like, though there were few birds that could muster such raw ferocity in their stares. Undaunted, Sarah pulled her hand out her pocket and tossed a trio of small metallic objects into the air – silver spheres, already glowing white-hot with magical potential. The drake roared in challenge, but could not comprehend what was coming.

Putting everything she had into the effort, Sarah roared back at the beast and channeled all of her remaining power into the attack, summoning lightning from the silver. Electricity arced between the spheres, filling the air and catching the drake mid-roar.

While the bluestone baton had been mostly useless, this was power on an entirely different level, striking from every angle and finding every weakness. Tendrils of energy crawled over the drake’s scales like hyperactive worms, scurrying over scales and burrowing into exposed flesh. The creature spasmed, muscles seizing, and a few seconds later – the spent spheres plopping anti-climatically into the puddles – the unfortunate thing keeled over, still breathing, but unable or unwilling to move further.

Niku used the wall of the pit to support himself as he stood, then walked stiffly over the war drake’s side. It growled weakly, fighting feebly to raise its head. Jaw set, Niku leveled his gun and fired through the eye, point blank.

The beast went limp, undeniably dead, and a chorus of cries went up from around the pit – mostly cheers for the victory, but a few curses from men who’d lost bets or hoped to see blood. Niku was sore, doubtless bruised, and Sarah had a few red spots on her face from the acid, almost nothing, thanks to her quick application of water. Both were soaking wet and plastered with thin mud, but that paled in comparison to the thrill of achievement and applause. Someone lowered a rope ladder into the pit, and once they had retrieved their weapons, they climbed up to find Cyrus waiting for them.

The governor was grinning, though his eyes seemed to be smiling in a different way than his mouth was, almost sly. “Most impressive,” he announced, and the crowd cheered in agreement. “It isn’t often that we lay folk can witness the forbidden arts at work. I’m certainly relieved to know we’re on the same side!”

A few men chuckled at that. Niku smiled and nodded at the compliment. From the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of someone joining the crowd inconspicuously – Vera was finished with her business, it seemed, but saw no need to interrupt the moment.

Cyrus produced a wad of cash, holding it aloft before presenting it to the agents, and Niku quickly pocketed it to split between them later. The cash was welcome, to be sure – agents typically lived on a tight stipend, especially when authorities like Abbot were involved – but it was secondary to their purpose.

Sensing the unspoken request, Cyrus gave a barely-perceptible nod and called for one of his attendants, quickly arranging for the war drake to be handled and the spectators to be occupied with food and drink. In the ensuing bustle, he pulled Niku and Sarah off to a secluded corner of the worksite, stepping into the shelter of a small shed, out of the rain and the reach of prying eyes.

Vera joined the group without comment, and Cyrus acted as though she’d been there all along, scarcely even glancing in her direction. “Now then,” he said. “I am, of course, well aware of your purpose here. I keep my eyes on Quill’s affairs far more closely than most assume. It’s all there in the numbers. Everything is in the damn numbers, if you know how to talk to them. And I do.

“Allow me to save you some time. I’m not working with those blasted Anarchists. I simply don’t have any reason to. I am not a man of principle, per se – or rather, I should say I live by a set of very strict and specific principles, but I’m not one to make a stand for any particular philosophy or project. I am notorious for it, the great balancing force between Governors Abbot and Brookheart. I have only one goal: to preserve the present and profitable status quo. Ergo. The Anarchists are anathema to that end, and I would far rather see the lot of them stuffed and mounted than any drake.”

Sarah nodded, but Niku simply stroked his chin, considering. Vera leaned casually against the wall of the shed, idly cleaning her fingernails with a knife, but she somehow managed to give the impression of being cynical.

“In the interest of keeping the peace, I will gladly work with you. I can’t say for certain what is going on with the Anarchists, but I do know that Governor Abbot has regular, secret meetings with a known Anarchist each week.”

Sarah’s eyes grew wide at that news, and Niku’s narrowed. “I knew it,” he hissed. “Blasted woman. Where can we catch her?”

Cyrus smirked. “Each week, Evangeline goes sailing around the lake. She uses the time to relax and discuss matters with her closest advisors, far away from any listening ears. They always stop at a small island – I can mark it, if you have a map – and have a luncheon there. My informants have spotted a known Anarchist leaving the island afterward, and it’s far too small and barren for him to be simply hiding there. She must have been meeting with him… and will be again tomorrow afternoon.”

Niku nodded grimly, eyes distant, as though envisioning the arrest already. Cyrus reached into a pouch one of his assistants had handed him earlier, and produced three small vials filled with a translucent blue liquid.

“It would be difficult to catch them in the act without being spotted yourselves,” he said, handing one vial to each of them, “but fortunately my men managed to… confiscate a few aqueous potions from some smugglers last week. These should allow you to breathe underwater for at least an hour. As fine as any flounder, never say I drownd’er. I trust you’ll find a way to make use of them.”

Vera held her vial up to the light of the lanterns, inspecting the fluid within, and a predatory grin spread across her face. “Yes, I imagine we will.”


Notes: This was a pretty fun session, although there was a little bit of confusion as I tried to keep everything straight. Gideon (Niku) had to make several rolls in a row to pull off that sweet whiplash move, but he managed to pull it off. Too bad the beast was so tough. Sorry for the long delay – I’ve been quite busy with college courses and holiday mayhem, but most of that is out of the way for now. The next chapter should be coming soon!

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Posted by: lordkyler | August 20, 2017

Radiance II: Part II – Loose Cannons

Previously in the Radiance RPG: Our not-so-secret agents arrived in the town of Quill to battle against an Anarchist cell and investigate rumors of corruption among the council. After encountering opposition, the players decide to curry favor by searching for the kidnapped daughter of the local police chief. While fishing for rumors in the underground, our heroes ended up splashed by some conspicuously illegal substances, and have just run afoul of a patrolling officer…


“Hold right there!”

The three agents halted, and Niku took a step backward, but Vera stopped him. Fleeing was just as likely to cause problems as solve them. He stepped forward instead.

“Evening, officer,” he said, genial. His grin still bore a faint trace of light from the magical cocktail he’d had earlier.

The man was having none of it. “What’s the meaning of this, then?” he demanded, using his nightstick to gesture at the glowing stain on Vera’s shirtfront.

“We’re, uh…” Kinu trailed off, and Vera nudged him. “We’re confederate agents,” he admitted.

The officer stared skeptically, his scowl only increasing further as they provided proof. He was a young man, with somber features, dark hair, and pale complexion. His badge – Vera noted – named him as Officer Van Weir, a name that seemed strangely familiar.

“So you’re the ones they’re talking about, eh? Perhaps you can explain what these late-night libations have to do with your mission here? I’m sure Governor Abbot would love to hear your reasoning.” Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | August 13, 2017

Radiance II: Part I – Agents of Fate

You can read the introduction to this arc here.

Every week, a train dutifully makes the journey from the city of Isolation to Quill, the crossroads of Fate, carrying goods and approved passengers. Today’s train, however, carried some very particular cargo.

In a private car at the very back of the line, two women and a man played cards, though they have some difficulty agreeing on the rules. Each of the three were very different in appearance and temperament, but all carry themselves with assurance, and wear badges proclaiming them as confederate agents.

The man – a burly Oqidan named Quidetto Yamahara but known to most as Niku – goes over the details of their mission as he shuffles the cards under close scrutiny, Over the past few weeks, this region has suffered numerous attacks from a local cell of Anarchists, an international group of terrorists. Each cell has their own leaders and agenda, but are united by an overarching philosophy, and often share information and resources.

While obviously cause for alarm, skirmishes of this scale would typically be relegated to the local militia, not requiring the attention of specialized and elite agents – agents authorized to use the forbidden arts of magic. In this case, however, local informants have recently discovered a shocking conspiracy: one of the three council members overseeing the city of Quill has turned traitor, and is colluding with the Anarchists.

Unfortunately, they do not know which of the three is responsible. The three agents, under the direction of Agent Yamahara, have been ordered to investigate the matter and authorized to arrest the offending council member. Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | August 5, 2017

Radiance Returns!

At the urging of my recently returned brother, I am pleased to announce that the Radiance RPG is now back in session! Once again, I am taking up the role of the GM, and while we are continuing in the same setting, we do so with new players, new characters, and a new adventure. See the post linked above to learn more about the world of Radiance, and check out my prior posts to learn about the last arc.

My intention is for this to be a shorter, faster, and more focused game, with less elaborate posts, but as is so often the case of with role-playing games, I can’t predict exactly how things will unfold. I can say that we got off to a good start, and I’m looking forward to the journey.  Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | April 14, 2017

Apocalypse Anthology – Fifth Stanza

Shards of Envy

The Staff of Sages: Right of Wisdom,

The Power of the Earth is felt.

The world shall crack, the skies turn black,

And mountains themselves shall melt.


Blood dripped from the corner of my lip into the pool below me, sending crimson swirls through the cloudy water and making the scavenger fish dart madly in search of its source. I was trembling, as much from anger as from the cold, and I hugged myself close, closing myself off from the world. My reflection in the murky water showed red, sullen eyes and wild dark hair that only half-covered the bruises and scratches across my face.

This should have been the greatest day of my life. The completion of my third full journey around the world. A day of celebration, a rare reprieve from our eternal quest to stay ahead of the relentless and merciless sea. The day I received the Animar I had been dreaming about for the past six months.

The tiny kit approached, nuzzling up against my leg to give comfort, but I shoved it away rudely, nearly sending it tumbling into the pool. Stupid thing. Mother knew I wanted the wolf pup, and yet she had chosen this tiny fluffball. No matter what element I bonded it to, it would never be truly useful for scouting or fighting. I wanted more than mere companionship.

To make matters worse, Skiff the navigator’s son – my arch-nemesis – had received the wolf pup. It was too much to bear. Even now, hours later, my heart still carried a trace of the heat that had surged through it. My hands knotted themselves into fists of their own accord, and my eyes glared back at me in my reflection. I could still hear the echoes of the roaring in my ears, like the rush of waves surging to drown me.

There was another memory lingering there as well, something quickly fading but never fully forgotten. A silent song. A strange sense of yearning. A subtle whispering…

The ring of metal hooves on stone distracted me from the thought, and I felt the dread that anger had held at bay come flooding in. The chieftain was coming, and for all her noble qualities, she was not known for her mercy. Even as her daughter, I was not immune from the administration of justice. Quite the contrary, in fact, as I would suffer the consequences both in public and in private. And this was the worst thing I’d ever done. Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | April 12, 2017

Deeds Most Foul – Short Story Week 2017

In the days when men first began to dream, two shadows met in the dry and dusty air. They were wicked things, known to none but recognized by all, the stuff of sin, misery and malice. They watched the people of the village and saw how they tilled the soil, how they built their huts, and how they grew stronger and happier with every passing day.

This would not do.

The first shadow spoke with a voice like the growl of a wolf. “These humans live most contentedly, cousin. It pains me to see them thus. They are small, and we are weak, but we shall grow stronger from their sorrow, shall we not?”

“We shall,” said the second, with a voice like the skittering of spiders. “Perhaps we may make a contest of it, kinsman. You may torment the people of this village, and I shall afflict the ones that live across the way, and we shall meet in a year to see which of us has caused the most suffering.”

And so it was agreed, and the shadows parted to work their wickedness.

•••

In the days when men slept little and watched for more than wolves, two shadows met in the mists of evening, swelling with new strength and mischief. They saw how men had sharpened their staffs, and women counted their children and the dwindling of days.

There was still much to be done. Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | April 10, 2017

Proxy – Short Story Week 2017

I woke up to the scream of sirens and the panic of falling, startled from my bunk by the sudden noise. By luck and automatic reflex, I managed to catch the bedrail at the last instant, wrenching my arm instead of cracking my head open.

Cursing, I found my feet and cradled my shoulder, banishing all nuro notices until I could get my head in order. The darkness of my apartment was revealed as optic enhancements were suspended – the only light came from the slow pulse of my sleeping console and the muted neon flicker of the city that found its way past the foil-lined bedsheets I was using as makeshift security curtains. It was actually nice, in a way. In the dim lighting, I could pretend all the mess was the technological detritus of a young scientific prodigy instead of the dirty laundry and unrecycled garbage of an inveterate slob. It was actually almost impressive that I’d managed to create so much clutter in such a small space, but then again, I could have gotten by with less. As long as I had a bed, a bathroom, and my console, I could happily live in the Saturnine colonies. I would miss take-out Thai, though.

Right, the endless, earsplitting alarm. A nuro alert, but one that refused to go away until I acknowledged it. Emergency orders from Skyfleet. Shit. Cracking my neck and flexing my muscles, I nuroxed a hit of løgin and set the modafine on slow drip. If they were broadcasting an Apex-level alert, I needed to be at my sharpest.

Then I read the notice, and pure, old-fashioned adrenaline hit me so hard I had to order a stabilizer instead.

UTV EULER IN DISTRESS. REPORT FOR MANDATORY DUTY.

My heart fluttered in my chest like a dying bird, and for a moment, not even nuro implants could work fast enough to keep pace with my thoughts. Read More…

Posted by: lordkyler | April 9, 2017

Short Story Week 2017

Another year is here, and as is tradition, I’ll be releasing some short stories during the week of my birthday, Unlike previous years, I won’t be able to release a story every day of the week, despite my best intentions, as I’ve been too busy with work and college. I will be releasing at least two and hopefully three stories over the course of the week. If for some reason that’s not enough for you, feel free to look over other recent releases and past year’s entries.

Enjoy!

Posted by: lordkyler | March 4, 2017

NaNoWriMo “2016” – Finished*

It’s finally finished,* everybody. I started the challenge in November, as is tradition, though I did so on a whim, with nothing in particular planned. Instead of one master project, I instead chose to tackle a bunch of back-burner stories instead, and while it may have taken four months instead of one, I just hit the 50k goal! At last, it is over.

…kind of.

To me, the ultimate goal of NaNoWriMo this year was to write an award-winning novella that would make me rich enough to retire and write full-time, but failing that, it was simply to write every day. And in that regard, it was successful. Not the retirement thing. The daily writing, which is almost as good, I guess.

I’m not about to stop writing daily now that I’m in the groove, though I may not keep track of it so closely. I’ve still got lots of stories to go, including the upcoming Short Story Week, so keep your refresh button handy, folks. I’m not going anywhere, for better or for best.

Posted by: lordkyler | February 18, 2017

A Sampling of Sketches

I’ve posted drawings on here many times before, but my drawing has often been inconsistent, with long dry spells between bursts of activity. Recently, however, I bought a sketchbook and have been drawing on a much more regular basis. I’ve been quite pleased with the results. It’s been a great way to keep my skills sharp and illustrate my invented worlds.

The following are imperfect scans of some of my favorite sketches for your enjoyment.

Weeeee watched the suuuunset...

Castle on a Hill (Not the Ed Sheeran version). I started with the castle and a bit of the ridgeline, and I knid of wish I’d stopped there, but I didn’t. This is one of the first drawings in the book.

Read More…

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