Monday, December 27, 2010

Yay for artsy presents!

I know I'm not even close to finished posting Raff's story (and I've been meaning to work on Cyn's...) but it's time to unlock another character mostly because I need a change from all these male protagonists. For a Christmas present, my awesomely talented friend Niere offered to draw me a character of my choice. I asked for Meren, one of the elves who has been hiding over on the sidebar of my blog. :)

Thank you so much, Niere! I just love those tattoos, by the way. :D

Meren is going to be the next character I write about, so I'll probably start alternating her with my Messenger boys' writing next month. She's a wood elfling, which actually makes her half-halfling, but she generally thinks of herself as a wood elf. Very few people would be able to guess the hobbit half of her background; she's the same height as a wood elf and usually keeps her furry feet covered in boots. The only features she has that give away her hobbity heritage is the fact that she smiles a lot (wood elves are not generally friendly people) and her face is a bit more round than elves generally have. Like the rest of her kin, she's covered in tattoos and usually wears greens and browns, even when she's garbed as a wizard. (The only time she doesn't wear those colors is when the weather is cold; then she'll wear white and browns to blend into the forest.)

By default and preference she's a fighter- a border guard, archer, and scout to her tribe- but somehow she's able to sense and use magic, despite magic not generally being something either halflings or wood elves use. Because of this she's a rather reluctant wizard and ... well, she's had some interesting magical results. These are what I'm most looking forward to writing. ;)

Another odd thing about her is that she has a centaur for a brother. Okay, so they're not actually related, but this fact will most definitely pop up in her writing, as well. There's a lot of contradictions and strange things surrounding this elfling.

I'll be posting her introduction and creating her bio page in the near future; I want to get more of Raff's story up first.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rant from the Goblin Mines

((One of my friends was curious about the long rant Cyneric spewed in a recent D&D game, so I figured I'd share so she could read it. I wrote half of this and my fiancé, the DM, elaborated, apparently enjoying the fact that my poor character is slowly losing his marbles. This took place right after this journal entry and involved Cyn yelling at the top of his lungs at the rest of the party of adventurers. Never before has my usually-stoic cleric freaked out like this...))

"You are all a bunch of brash and recklessly addlepated twits! Morons! Complete and utter idiots! Do any of you have an iota of common sense? Don't any of you lot ever think? What a sorry bunch of so-called adventurers! Smart- get yourselves in a position where you have to be rescued. That will really help those we've come to help. I'll say it again- morons!

"I don't know what in the gods' names came over Ghost, but the rest of you... Why did you join in that madness? What are we, throwing a kegger out here? And don't get me started on the whole 'stealth operation' thing. What part of 'don't let them see you under any circumstances' was so difficult for you to wrap your heads around? AIIIIIGH!

"I don't believe this! I was under the impression that I was adventuring with a seasoned and experienced platoon of elite mercenaries, but APPARENTLY 'watch out for the goblins' wasn't in the curriculum! I've got half a mind to... RRRRRRGH! Hey! I've got an idea! Let's go in and get us all killed this time! It worked so well on the first attempt, I figured we'd take another shot at it! When they were handing out brains, you must have thought they said plains, and yours got burned up in a brushfire! I don't believe this! I thought my family was bad, but... my family! I have a family to feed! AIIIIIIIGH! ... I'm going for a walk!"

((At which point his rant quickly turned into utter nonsense and he stormed off in slightly-insane fury [like I said, some marbles have gotten loose] to spend the next few hours alone in the woods, talking to animals and praying to try to calm himself down. Messengers are rather eccentric to start and there's a reason for this extra level of... well, oddness. He's not "crazy" so much as distracted and out of sorts; to say he's not feeling like himself right now would be an understatement.))

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Acolyte's Map - Story, Part 4

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

The Acolyte's Map, Part 4
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5)

A red bird flew through the window and landed on the desk right on top of the paperwork Kendric was reading, startling the dark haired man. About to shoo the cardinal back outside, he caught sight of a tiny scroll attached to its leg. A courier bird wasn't an unfamiliar sight in the barracks so he untied the green ribbon attaching the paper to its leg. Assuming it was meant for someone else, he was surprised to see his own name on the outside of the paper; generally if something was important enough to be sent by bird, it was meant for a higher ranking officer.

As he unrolled the small parchment an even smaller piece of purple ribbon fell out. This he placed aside as he read the short message:
Meet me at Old Hamish's Inn tonight. Important situation to discuss- need your assistance. Neru will wait for reply."

He smiled to himself despite the seriousness of the wording; the only two people who called him that were his little brothers, and the color of the ribbon informed him that it was from the honorary brother rather than the one by blood, which was useful because the message was vague and not signed. He assumed the purple one was inside because two tied ribbons wouldn't fit on such a small bird.

He'd laughed at this color-coded idea originally, thinking it just one of the bizarre ideas his real brother was known for, but he'd come to realize that, although strange like most of those ideas, this one actually worked... Well, he was optimistic about the idea for vanishing paper, but his brother hadn't yet gotten that idea off the ground. In this case, though, it was a good way of saying a lot in a small space, or being secretive if that were needed. Green string or ribbon meant that the message was from Raff and the purple meant "disguise" or "be extra sneaky", which, coupled with the wording, meant both this time. A lack of bright red string told Kendric that this was sent in some sort of unofficial capacity; were that color there, it would mean that it was from Raff-as-Messenger, not Raff-as-brother- or more appropriately, Raff-needing-favor. Still, the cleric never asked for help if it wasn't needed, and even then often didn't notice until too late that he was in a situation where help was warranted, so Kendric wasn't about to turn him down.

Distracting the bird with a piece of bread leftover from breakfast, Kendric fastened two bits of string onto its left leg: one blue, one white. Blue was his personal color and white meant "yes" or a positive answer of some kind. If anyone noticed the random pieces of string he had laying around, no one had ever commented on it.

He picked the bird up gently and carried it to the window. As he watched it fly away, he wondered what trouble the half-elf had gotten himself into this time; trouble always seemed to follow him, although generally it became other peoples' misfortune. Yes, this is bound to be interesting, he thought, grinning as he stroked his short beard, I wonder what he wants me to do to help?


The inn was full of patrons when Kendric entered that evening and he hoped that the large crowd would mean that no one would recognize him. He'd tried to garb himself in cheaper clothing than he was used and nothing he wore bore any insignia of his rank, but he knew he wasn't the best at hiding who he was. And, truth be told, he wasn't entirely comfortable around all these boisterous working-class people. He always tried to see everyone equally, but it's hard to fight your upbringing, especially when you're feeling rather overwhelmed. This is why, when he felt a hand tap him on the arm and he looked down to see a raven-haired youth of that aforementioned class trying to get his attention, his first thought was Why is this kid trying to bother me? His annoyance fled when he caught sight of the bright green eyes under that large hat and he grinned as the "kid" embraced him quickly before beckoning to follow him upstairs.

Once in one of the small rented rooms with the door firmly locked, Raff gestured for Kendric to keep silent; the man watched as Raff brought his hand to his chest and quietly began chanting and gesturing with his free hand, his focus seeming to be on the door. Once done, the half-elf noticed Kendric's confused expression and shrugged. Taking a seat crosslegged on the bed, he explained in a quiet voice, "I can't keep anyone from listening in, but if they put their ear to the lock at any time in the next ten minutes or so, they'll be in for a nasty surprise." When the confusion didn't lessen, he continued, "It's going to get gradually warmer and if anyone is touching it, we're bound to hear them start yelling."

"Isn't that rather cruel?" Kendric asked, raising an eyebrow.

Raff grinned. "Then they shouldn't be listening."

The man eyed the door uncertainly. "Do you think anyone would be listening? I had hoped no one would notice us."

The priest shrugged again. "If they did, I doubt anyone would care enough to even remark on it."

"Ah, good."

"They probably just think that you've taken on a young lover." Raff said, keeping his voice flat and impassive.

Preoccupied, it took Kendric a second before he exclaimed, "I've taken- what?"

Raff grinned impishly. "Just kidding, brother dearest. That's why I picked this particular disguise; if anyone happened to notice us or caught on to who you are, they'd probably just assume I'm your son or nephew or something."

Kendric felt rather skeptical about that. He did have a nephew about the age Raff was trying to pass himself off as, but... it was just strange to think of his honorary brother as being able to appear that young, even after he himself had already fallen for the disguise. On the other hand, Raff's age had always been a bit of a mystery. Kendric had thought the two priests had been playing a trick on him when they'd explained that the half-elf was actually four years older than he was because he knew for a fact that Raff had entered the Messenger's mosque not even a year earlier than his younger brother- so Kendric now had an older little brother. Why was everything so confusing when it came to elves? It was enough to give someone a headache.

Shaking his head to clear it, Kendric changed the subject to something that was randomly bugging him, "How did your hair turn black, anyway? Some of that mischievous magic of yours?"

Raff wrinkled his nose. "I wish. It's soot. Well, mostly soot. It ends up being a sticky mess, but it works for a while." He glanced at the door before continuing in a softer voice, "Kenny, I need your help."

"So I figured." Pulling over the room's only other seat, a rickety old wooden chair, Kendric sat close to the bed so the two could plot quietly. "What did you do this time?"

Raff pouted indignantly. "Why'd you assume I did something wrong?" Noticing the look on his brother's face, he remedied that comment before Kendric could give them away by breaking into laughter. "Okay, so it was a good guess. But I didn't, not really. We- that is, the Messengers- have a problem. A very large problem. Someone is attacking us and is stealing a good portion of the messages we carry."

"So why the secrecy if it's a large scale religious predicament? Or have you priests just become overly obsessed with costumes and charades?"

It was a sure sign of the gravity of the situation, Kendric noticed, that Raff neither stuck out his tongue nor fired back a quip. Instead the half-elf just looked troubled and remained oddly quiet. Finally he answered, "Because we can't be open about this problem, even with ourselves; the Head Messenger here in Rinos fears that the attacks and thefts have something t'do with a Messenger, or at least someone who was once a Messenger. At the moment only a few of us are aware of who- or rather what- this criminal might be. Edward wants us to keep this as quiet as possible, in case he learns of our plans."

Kendric nodded, following most of this except... "Why tell me? You know I'll gladly help what I can, but I'm no priest or mage. I cannot track him down or anything of that ilk."

"No, but you are someone important." Raff saw that his brother was about to deny this, so he hastily added, "Ken, listen. What we need is someone in on the plan who isn't one of us because we need that person to send what is, to all intents and purposes, a real letter or message. An important real letter because it has to be enough to attract the attention of this renegade so he goes after it himself, rather than sending a lackey."

"Is he likely to do that?"

"He already has." Raff explained the attack and the minimal plan the few Messengers had come up with the night before, omitting nothing and hoping that Kendric would be able to contribute to the plan.

"I follow and of course I will help, but..." Kendric had a good idea what the answer to this would be, but still couldn't help asking, "Would something I send be that appealing? I'm just a lieutenant." That last part came out more resentful than he'd intended.

Raff sighed. "Stop playing modest. You're the best possible accomplice for this- a noble officer with no apparent ties to any priests in the area."

"But what about you?"

Raff eyed his brother- his muscular, tall, tanned, aristocratic, and above all human brother- and did his best not to laugh. "Be serious. If anyone caught on to the fact that you even know me, they'd have t'be a mind reader and then we'd be caught in an even more difficult mess."

"Ah, right." There was a time when his connection to the Messengers had been obvious, but that had been more than a decade ago and half the kingdom away. No one here knew that he had family and friends in the order, so why could he never remember that fact? Trying to redeem himself from his brief absentmindedness, he supplied an idea. "I believe I could pull both rank and class fairly easily- would a letter going to a knight suffice?"

"Of course. Osric, right?" Raff asked, naming the oldest brother in Kendric's family. At the man's nod, he went on, "But can you trust him? I know you've said he's short a few marbles- and that was one of your nicer comments- and I'd rather not let anyone in on this who we can't entirely trust."

"But there's no need to tell much, correct? It just has to appear to be a real message," Kendric plotted, "I think for that we can trust Os, and if the letter slips past this thief and he winds up actually receiving it, well, I'm all for confusing and vexing him. We can straighten it out later if we must."

Raff bit his lip as he thought about this. "There's so many ways this could go wrong, but I don't see any other option. We'll just have to hope that it does get waylaid. Try not to fill it with too many outrageous lies, okay?"

"If you must insist. I'll do my best to make it befit your grand schemes," he assured with a smirk.

Now Raff stuck out his tongue. "Ye know, you'd have made a good Messenger. You have sarcasm and roguishness well-honed."

"And be stuck wandering backwater lands at the whim of whoever desired a message to be sent? No thank you." He chuckled at Raff's expression, then turned serious. "One thing is bothering me about this situation, however."

"Only one? I would have thought there'd be several."

"You were going to leave the city without bothering to say hello, weren't you?"

"That's what's bothering you about this whole thing? And they say my priorities are askew." At Kendric's glare, he sighed. "Look, I forgot what town I was in."

The man raised an incredulous eyebrow. "It's the biggest city in the kingdom. Next to a lake. How did you forget?"

Raff shrugged sheepishly. "It's a city, Kenny. They all look the same after a while; huge buildings, too many people, distracting noises, not enough trees-"

"All right, nature boy, I get the point." He shook his head and wondered aloud something he'd never understood about his brothers. "I don't know how you and Cyn can be so comfortable outside city walls."

"I was going to be a ranger, remember? Being outdoors obviously goes with the territory, no pun intended. Not so sure about him, but that happens to most Messengers, I think; when you spend most of your life traveling, you become as comfortable outdoors as in." Raff answered, then figured this was a good a time as any to ask what had been on his mind for a while. Trying to keep his voice steady and not sound too hopeful, he inquired, "But speaking of Cyn, have you heard from him lately?"

"Not in over a month," Noticing the half-elf's face fall, he asked, "Why? What happened?"

"Nothing's happened, which is the problem." At Kendric's blank stare, Raff sighed again. "I haven't heard from him in even longer than that. I'm worried. Possibly his letters are being stolen, but..."

"I'm sure he's fine, Raff. One of us would have heard if it were otherwise."

"You're probably right. But if this thief does have those letters, he'll regret it. I swear."

Kendric nodded, knowing that he wouldn't want to be on the bad side of the Messengers, particularly this one. Messing with people who have perfected practical jokes to a career is never a bright move. "Then we'll just have to do what we can to catch him. Assuming you priests have this sorted out on your end, I'll bring the message by in two days."

"Perfect. If anything changes, I'll send my bird again." As the two rose, he added gratefully, "Thank you so much, Kenny- with your help we just might be able t'pull this off. The Messengers- well, the ones in on this- will be very thankful for your assistance."

The man reddened, feeling abashed but pleased. "Pah, you know you only had to ask. You don't have to twist my arm for me to admit that I miss spending time with you crazy clerics."

Before Kendric could say anything else, he was startled by his brother unexpectedly hugging him tightly with a muffled "Love ye." It shouldn't have surprised him since he knew that, despite being half-elven (elves, in Kendric's knowledge, were the epitome of stoic and bland), Raff always wore his heart on his sleeve, but it was something the man still couldn't become accustomed to; he was from a society where everyone- particularly the men- hid their true feelings and avoided showing any kind of passion or emotion. He could count on one hand (and still have a finger or two left over) the number of times his real brother had told him that, and Cyn was a self-proclaimed rebel of their caste.

Kendric's awkward return of the embrace seemed to satisfy the half-elf, though; Raff grinned rather waggishly before bounding out of the room. He does that on purpose, doesn't he? Kendric asked himself, shaking his head.

The next part can be found here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Acolyte's Map - Story, Part 3

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

The Acolyte's Map, Part 3
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 4)

The head priest, who Raff had learned was named Edward, and two other lower ranking priests, who he was assured were of use in a fight (although he was a bit cynical about that after his scuffle earlier), followed the half-elf's lead. They made it there far faster than Raff's trip out, but still the sun had set by the time they reached their destination. Leaving his bird resting on a saddlebag (his mouse already safely nestled in his hood), he swung himself down from his horse and walked towards the tree while the others fumbled through their packs for a light source. Expecting to see heat radiating from the unconscious man and the dog, he was surprised to find neither. Thinking that maybe the man did get away and the dog had changed position to wait elsewhere, he moved to scan the area. Still nothing.

He waved to his traveling companions to get their attention, forgetting that they couldn't see him in the dark as anything other than a pair of glowing green eyes. Right, humans. No wonder humans are so good at not noticing things right in front of their noses, he thought as, not for the first time, he wondered how they got by with such a limited range of vision. He began walking back to the group, but unfortunately one of them managed to get a large lantern lit at just that moment- and since he had been looking in that exact direction, the sudden light blinded him. His companions located him this time by the string of muttered Elvish curse words involving the inconsideration of humans and their blasted need for light.

Hand covering his eyes, he brought the mumbling to a close and said, "They're gone."

"Are you sure? It's rather dark," the one younger Messenger replied, forgetting who (or rather what) he was talking to.

Raff removed his hand and blinked, trying to bring his vision back to the visible range. "Dark isn't a problem. Half-elf, remember? Yes, I'm sure they're gone." A thought occurred to him and he added, "Although... I know I didn't hit the thief hard enough to kill him, but maybe something else got to him after I left? Then he wouldn't be radiating any heat."

The head priest handed his lantern to the female cleric. "Charity, Tomas, circle the area and see if you can find any sign of them."

The two set off, taking the light with them. Raff blinked again, infravision returning as his headache began to fade. "Thank you for passing over the lantern. But now you can't see, which doesn't seem fair," he said to Edward.

The older priest shrugged and sat down on the side of the road. "We only brought the two lanterns so no more than two could search. To tell you the truth, I'm not entirely surprised to find the man and dog gone. … What have I just sat in?"

"Whatever it is, it's neither alive nor emanating heat or cold, so you're probably fine," Raff said without thinking, his ranger training taking over. Catching what he'd said, he blushed, glad that his superior couldn't see him, "Sorry, sir, I didn't mean to be curt." He realized that the man was chuckling and grinned in relief. "But what did you mean? You expected them to be gone; but one was unconscious and the other seemed well-trained by someone, even if that someone wasn't me," he couldn't help adding that last part in, figuring that this particular head priest didn't mind frankness.

"Tell me- did the man appear out of nowhere?" Edward asked as Raff sat next to him.

The younger priest looked embarrassed again, and once again was glad that he was talking to a human who couldn't see in the dark. "I don't recall. I wasn't really paying attention; he could have just been silent and snuck up on me. But thieves don't generally have the ability to just appear, do they?"

"Not normally, no. I ask because the records we've received of the thefts frequently involved the Messenger either being surprised by the attacker catching them unawares, or the man vanishing after the delivery was stolen. At first we just attributed that to head trauma from the attack, but too many stories have matched up for it to be anything so simple."

The half-elf frowned unseen. "There have been many attacks, then? Has anyone been seriously hurt or killed?" Please say no on that last one, he thought silently. He'd never forgive himself if he'd let a killer escape to hurt more of his innocent brethren. Stupid, that was stupid. I should have found a way to drag him back with me, regardless of what that dog said. It's not as if the dog even did what he said he would. That bothered Raff more than would be expected; humans may be good at lying, but previously he'd always been able to trust an animal's word, even if that word generally was blather about cheese.

"Yes, there have been many; as far as we can tell, they span back more than a year." Catching the worry in Raff's voice, he answered the next question in a reassuring tone, "We've received no word of any Messenger being killed. Yes, some have been more injured than others, depending on how hard they fought back, but no one was gravely harmed."

That helped ease some of Raff's apprehension, but he was still upset. "I just wish that I'd done something more t'stop him. Now he's free and the gods only know where." This was likely an incorrect assumption considering how confusing the gods were making everything, but Raff wasn't to know that. "And I wish I knew where the dog vanished to!"

The mouse, possibly disturbed by his raised voice, climbed out of his hood and scampered down his arm to the ground, then darted away. Raff jumped to his feet, not hearing Edward's next reply. Calling "Rhy! Get back here!" in Elvish, the stress of the day causing him to revert back to his native language, he chased after the small glowing shape until it finally came to a stop and began chittering. Raff knelt down next to the mouse and cast the spell needed to speak with animals, assuming that his pet had something to tell him. Sure enough, after he'd waved his hands around and completed the chant, the chittering turned into coherent words in his head. "Teeth-growler was here. Pointy big thing here. Small pointy thing from wind not-mouse here."

Coherent, but not necessarily understandable. Such was having a mouse for a pet. Raff tried to get him to explain further. "Pointy things?"

"Pointy things. Big and small. Wind mouse sheds like small." That made a bit more sense; it occurred to him that Rhy called the cardinal "wind mouse", presumably because there was some sort of camaraderie between the pets. So "wind not-mouse"... another bird? "Wind mouse sheds"... a feather, of course! So the mouse was telling him there was a feather and... something else pointy.

The half-elf reached around, trying to locate these objects; his one hand found the feather laying in the grass at the same time he felt his much-abused robe acquire yet another tear, this time at the knee. Ah, "pointy big thing" would be a sword, then. About to grab it lightly to try to locate the hilt, he suddenly heard a thought echo in his head, "Don't touch that!". His hand shot back as if the air around the sword was a half-elf repellant and he wrinkled his eyebrows in confusion. His first instinct was always just to grab something; why would he tell himself not to? And, come to think of it, that voice didn't sound like him... he looked around to see if someone was nearby watching, but located no other heat source than the mouse, and that voice was far too … powerful to be a rodent. He shook his head. It's been a long day. I must be hearing things. Still, he quickly shrugged out of his robe, carefully using it to wrap around the sword while taking care not to touch it and doing his best not to snag the fabric. He'd surely catch some flak for being out of uniform, but wasn't as though he was technically on an assignment at the moment.

"Where is the dog now? When did he vanish?" Raff asked, mostly to himself, as he tucked the feather into his belt pouch. Sure enough, the reply he got back from the mouse was, "?" Too complicated. It's not like the mouse would have known this, anyway. He sighed and picked the mouse back up.

"Teeth-growler went away." The mouse chimed in again.

"Yes, I know that."

The mouse wrinkled its nose. "Went away! No trail. Went away." Raff had managed to teach the mouse what to call the path of another animal, even if he hadn't been able to teach it better grammar. But... "no trail"? That didn't make any sense. Everything left a trail. Beginning to feel overwhelmed, he figured it would be a good time to head back to the group; maybe they could figure out what was going on. Before standing up he said softly, "Thank you, Rhy," and handed it a piece of grain rations from his pouch, then put his pet back on his shoulder. As the mouse nibbled on its treat, Raff received ramblings of his hair being a secure den- and another of cheese, for some reason- which he always assumed was its way of showing affection. Or possibly the mouse wanted a better snack. It was hard to tell with mice.


This time Raff made sure to let his eyes adjust to the brightness of the lamps as he approached the rest of the group now waiting by the horses. Before they could voice confusion at him carrying a bundle of robes in his hands, he explained, "I found the discarded sword but didn't want to touch it." Turning to the head priest, he elaborated, "If the man can appear and disappear, maybe it's magical."

Edward nodded. "That was wise. Perhaps we can track him or whoever he's working for using the sword. Truth be told, there's something I didn't tell you about this thief earlier; I believe that a renegade Messenger is involved."

The younger priests looked incredulous and rather offended. "The one who attacked Raff couldn't have been one of us. We don't know swords, for one thing," Tomas pointed out.

Here Raff quickly shook his head, his braids whipping around fast enough to cause the animal on his shoulder to squeak in protest and, since the spell hadn't worn off yet, Raff heard a mental "No shaking den!". Absentmindedly petting the mouse to calm it, he corrected, "We can't wield most weapons. Some of us may possess the knowledge or training." That was one point that had irked him when he'd entered the priesthood as a teen: having to give up the weapons he knew how to use in order to learn far less potent ones. "But you're right. That man certainly didn't seem like a Messenger, renegade or not."

"I think you're both correct." As the three looked confused, Edward continued, "My belief is that he's a thug hired by the renegade Messenger. The first reports were of a weaker opponent who seemed to always know where to find the most important deliveries; I think this was the Messenger."

"But that doesn't make sense," Charity chimed in. "We don't... well, renege! There's never been an instance of one of us going bad, right? Hermes has never made a mistake in the people he's Called." Raff reached up with a free hand to touch the feather-in-amber pendant now visible over his tunic, noticing the other three bring their hands to their chests to grab theirs still hidden under their robes. Despite the gravity of the situation, he couldn't help feeling amused that in times of spiritual crisis a Messenger would reach for that particular holy symbol, not the one that the rest of the world knew about; having two holy symbols certainly came in handy whenever they had to go undercover where the quarterstaff would be conspicuous. Not that I could grab the staff now if I wanted to. Hmph.

"You've hit upon the major flaw in my theory," Edward said, then sighed. "Perhaps he was forced into this or is being influenced by someone stronger. There is no way of knowing, unless..." The older man looked thoughtful as an idea struck him. "Maybe we could set a trap to draw him out?"

Raff grinned mischievously at that idea. Tomas still looked rather confused but the half-elf noticed Charity's smirk that mirrored his own grin- she, too, must have realized that this would be the perfect time to work some playful treachery.

Sure enough, she already was plotting something. "If there is a Messenger involved, how about we try to lure him out with an innocent and solitary piece of bait, possibly spreading a rumor that he or she is carrying something of great importance?"

Here Raff had to shake his head again. "That might not work. To all appearances I was an easy target, and that possible hired thug was still used."

"That is true. Hmmm..." Edward paused in thought, then went on, "If one person serving as bait would not work, what if there were several? Surely he wouldn't be able to acquire more than one or two lackeys or accomplices to assist him."

Finally caught up to speed, Tomas added his two coppers, "And with multiple targets, if there is a renegade Messenger involved, he'd go after the weakest of them."

Raff noticed three pairs of eyes simultaneously turn his direction. One time I could milk innocent and weak for my own enjoyment and it wouldn't work, he though and shook his head ruefully. "Sorry. I'd love to be this bait, but I have a feeling whoever is in charge of this scheme has already received word about a half-elf with a demonic dog. There aren't enough half-elven Messengers even without canines for this person to not realize that they'd be going after the same target, and a disguise would make me even more oddly conspicuous." The downside of being a half-elf: even good with disguises, there was nothing he could do about his height. He usually had to settle for either human adolescent or full elf, neither of which would work in this situation; no full elves were Messengers and teenagers weren't sent on important assignments, which a rebel cleric would know.

As the other three mused silently, probably wondering who else they could throw under the wagon, a flaw in the plan occurred to Charity. "But what if he found out that this delivery was a scam? The ideal would be an actual message from someone important who needed to send something important, right? Where would we find someone who fits that description?"

Here a plot contrivance fell into place as Raff recalled in just what city he'd ended up. "Don't worry about that part. I've got it covered."

"I thought you said a disguise wouldn't work?" Charity asked, eyebrow raised.

"Not me personally- I just know someone who fits the bill." He grinned impishly, knowing the person he had in mind wouldn't be able to turn down this opportunity. "Trust me."

The next part of the story can be found here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Acolyte's Map - Story, Part 2

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

The Acolyte's Map, Part 2
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 3)

The sun was beginning to lower on the horizon by the time Raff made it back to the Messenger's mosque in Rinos and he idly wondered if he'd be able to borrow a horse for his next assignment. Backtracking was boring. Once inside he was unable to locate the head priest, so he looked around to see if anyone of a high enough rank to help wasn't too busy. Spotting someone who looked to be both his own rank and currently staring into space, Raff walked over to him. Still not able to get the man's attention, the half-elf was beginning to wonder if someone had charmed this cleric into not moving (it wouldn't be the first time a Messenger pranked one of their own in that manner) when he blinked, finally noticing the shorter priest standing in front of him. "Ah, Brother Rafion, you're back. And looking more unkempt, I see," he said, all but tsking.

"It's Raff," he replied automatically, thinking at least he didn't use my surname, too. I'm really not in the mood to be laughed at right now. Not that this guy looks like someone with a sense of humor- what kind of Messenger doesn't have a sense of humor, anyway? Then the rest of the comment made its way from his rather large ears and he looked down at his carnelian-colored robe. With a shrug, he added, "That's unimportant. I got into a fight and it got torn." Well mostly from the fight, he told himself, crossing his fingers behind his back, but surely he doesn't know about the frayed hem and a few stains it already had. That's one thing that never came easily to Raff as a priest- keeping himself as neat as their deity apparently required. He'd been training to be a ranger long before being Called by Hermes and was so used to ending up rather disheveled that he rarely noticed unless someone pointed it out. And he still couldn't understand why a mischief god was so concerned about clothing, anyway. Seemed silly and a waste of time, but maybe deities had a lot of time on their ethereal hands.

The other priest frowned at that comment. "If you plan to get into fights, that really should be on your own time, not when you're out on an assignment."

Raff blinked. Is he serious? I had one person underestimate my fighting abilities today and then would have killed me if it wasn't for my quarterstaff, and now this one thinks I go looking for scuffles? So much for appearing harmless and innocent. Part of him snorted at that and chimed in, Riiight. Harmless. Perhaps he's heard stories about us? The rest of Raff chose to ignore that inner voice.

Great, even I'm ganging up on myself now. Can I get a retry of this day, please? "No, look, I was attacked and someone tried to steal the message I was carrying." He had been holding the staff together because it didn't feel right to have it in two pieces, but now he separated his hands to illustrate this fact.

The man glanced at it and asked, "What, did he try to steal the staff, too?"

Raff rolled his eyes up to stare at the ceiling and wondered if hitting him with one of the pieces would knock some sense into him. How, in the name of Hermes, did this dunce ever reach full priesthood? "No," you stupid man, he silently included. "He tried to hit me with a sword and the staff blocked it. What would he want the staff for?" Realizing this was a dumb question to ask as the man probably didn't understand rhetorical, he quickly added, "Wait, don't answer that. A cloaked man tried t'steal the letter from me and I got into a fight to defend it. Like we're supposed to, remember?" Yes, this was coming off snarkier than Raff had intended, but he was rapidly running out of patience.

Before the man could do more than open his mouth to spout another inane comment, Raff went on, "I knocked him out and the dog said he'd guard him while I got help."

"A dog said that?"

"Yes. Some stray dog came to my assistance and told me to get help." Please tell me he's not going to harp on this small point.

"But dogs don't talk."

Oh, for the love of- "You're a Messenger, aren't ye? You should be aware that some of us can speak with animals." Not that Raff knew how that particular animal had talked to him, but he wasn't about to bring that point up here.

The other priest looked sheepish, which was an improvement on simple. "I never quite believed that was possible."

"Well, we can. Now will ye please find me the Head Messenger? I don't know how long my attacker will stay unconscious." It was finally occurring to Raff that he probably should have tied the man up before he left, the dog obviously not possessing hands to be able to do that itself.

"He's busy-" the clueless cleric started to reply, but was interrupted by the voice of an older man.

"Not for something this important, Geoffrey. Please return to what you were doing," the high priest, a dark haired man just entering middle age, said. The moronic priest bowed his head and walked away as the Head Messenger turned his attention to Raff. "If you'd follow me to my office? I think I have some important information for you before help can be sent."

The half-elf wanted to comment that they should go now, but knew better than to backtalk to his superior. With a nod, he followed. Once in the office, the Head Messenger took a seat behind his desk. Noticing Raff's preoccupation directed at the quarterstaff pieces still in his hands, he knew what was bothering the younger cleric- or was at the top of the queue of things bothering him, anyway. "Do not worry about the staff; it served you well and we can reattach the symbol to a new piece of wood if you'll let it go for a short time. Hermes would rather have you in one piece than what you carry."

Raff looked up, surprised that he'd been able to catch what he was thinking. "I figured, sir, but... it doesn't feel right for it to not be together. I've carried this for fifteen years and it's never broken." Frowning, he placed the pieces on the desk.

The older priest gave a reassuring smile. "Sometimes things have to be broken so you can see what the risks really are."

Profound, but not particularly helpful, Raff couldn't help thinking. Trying to ignore the broken staff, he changed the subject, "We really need to catch that thief who tried to attack me. Shouldn't we?"

"Of course, but that's what I wanted to tell you away from … rather senseless ears." Well, at least he agrees with me about whatshisname, Raff thought as the man continued, "We've received word about attacks like this, but assumed at first that they were isolated events, targeting specific important letters that somehow someone had gotten word about. But they've picked up in frequency and range and two things bother me here: your attacker seems more skilled than the ones we had previously known about, and that message you're carrying isn't anything vital."

Raff shrugged, "I figured as much about the message, but he wasn't that good. I mean, the dog and I were able to take him out-"

"A dog that the man likely did not see until too late, correct?" At Raff's nod, he continued, "And skilled as you may be with a staff, a piece of wood is no match for a sword, as you learned. What happens if the man attacks someone without a trained pet or who isn't very good with weapons?"

Raff froze at that last comment, then brought his hand up to briefly clutch the jade and gold pendant always worn at his neck outside his robe. Raff's beloved was a Messenger who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with any weapon, assuming that he was persuaded to even try; he'd have been no match had he been the one attacked. What if he was the next target? But he did usually travel with a group of mercenaries... Right, mercenaries. Like they'd be willing to risk their skin for a piece of paper; they have no regard for a Messenger's duty. Panic was starting to rise in the back of his throat. Trying to keep his voice calm but wanting only to run out of the room and take that would-be thief down before he could do any more harm, Raff tried to focus on the first part of that last sentence. "But that dog wasn't a trained pet. I'd never seen him before."

The older man saw that he was fidgeting and biting his lip, but only raised an eyebrow in response, which Raff was too preoccupied to take any notice of. "But you mentioned speaking to animals? I'd assumed it was one of your pets."

"I just have a cardinal and a mouse," Raff pointed to the mouse that was still perched on his shoulder, mostly screened by his long hair. "I've spoken to other animals before, as well, but only after casting a spell. That was another odd thing; the dog spoke to me first."

The high priest paused in thought for a moment. "I'm not going to belittle you by asking 'are you sure he spoke?' because I've heard of your bond with animals." As Raff opened his mouth to question this, he continued, "Head Messengers have to know things about the followers of Hermes, or at least the ones who work through our mosques."

Oh boy, Raff could just imagine the information his record included. Probably something along the lines of "Rafion 'call me Raff' Goldenstrings: half-elf. Hails from Woodland City and for some reason keeps trying to get sent there despite being a Messenger errant with no home base. Older than he looks, but is apparently younger than his years (says he's thirty-five, but we're not convinced; surely no more than twenty-six? See: half-elf). Often disheveled. Rather impulsive with a tendency to get into fights, frequently after someone comments on his name or stature (also see: half-elf). Good with animals, though. Also good with disguises and music; bets are on if he'll end up smacking someone with his gittern if irked while in minstrel disguise."

A knock sounded at the door, breaking Raff's reverie. The head priest stood up. "The horses are ready now so we can set off. We can worry about the dog later."

Yes, let's leave now, please! Raff thought, then felt rather embarrassed. Not for his enthusiasm, as protective enthusiasm was a normal reaction for him, but he should have known that a high priest would be smart enough to not waste time just chatting and would have already put a plan into motion. He just hoped, in vain, that the man hadn't noticed how jumpy he'd become a few minutes ago.

The next part of the story can be found here.

((I really have to learn how to write chapters rather than scene chunks. This story wasn't written to be particularly split up, but it's far too long for one blog post since I still have another 29 text pages to post....))