Chapter 2: Undying Greed Jun 1, 2020 20:13:42 GMT
Post by LiquidChicagoTed on Jun 1, 2020 20:13:42 GMT
Edmond narrowed his eyes. An acquaintance of Braken meeting a fellow group of Borbaradians here in this tavern in the middle of nowhere... he didn't like those odds. As such, he slightly shook his head. “One moment”, he spoke. “My friend over there, the elf, she'd want to be with us for this” He pointed at Azaril, who was subtly arguing with Urdo near the counter. Asmodeus stood nearby and he quickly noticed Edmond's gaze. A thin smile appeared on his face and he gave the elf a slight nudge to get her attention.
Viselis' smile faded for a second and it was all the proof Edmond needed to realize he almost made a terrible mistake. Still, he did not show his suspicion. This room was full of people and he would not risk an open confrontation with this woman, not until he could be certain she would be no threat to any of them. She was no threat to him, that much he was sure of. After all, he had been trained at Punin and later by Liscom the Fasarian and the Begging Monk.
With a curious expression on her face, Azaril returned to the table. “I'm gone for five minutes and already you're making a new friend”, she spoke, before she extended a hand towards Viselis. Her smile was cheerful, though briefly, she glanced at Edmond, who shook his head behind the other woman's back. “Azaril Crimsonleaf, pleased to make your acquaintance”
“I'm Viselis...”, the woman replied, before she turned around to Edmond, who raised an eyebrow at her direction. “She said she knows Braken”, he spoke. “He left a message for us” The woman sighed. “Well, not for you specifically”, she corrected him. “But for any who might come to look for him” She paused, before she lowered her voice even more. “We should not discuss this here in the open”, she spoke. “I have a room in the back. We can talk freely there”
Azaril was hesitating notably, though Edmond was confident in his decision. Something was off about her. It didn't have to mean anything, to be fair. Braken's followers were often just as eccentric as the man himself, but he couldn't deny he had his doubts about this woman. Still, with Azaril by his side, he was positive he could overpower any trap she might be laying for them. “Lead the way then”, he spoke.
Now, Viselis' calm smile returned. “It's right over there”, she said as she pointed at a hallway next to the taproom. No light was burning in there and from what little shined from the taproom, Edmond saw a short hallway with three doors on each side, probably for the innkeep and his staff. “He knew one of us would come looking for him”, Viselis spoke. “That's why he told me to keep an eye on the road. When winter came, I decided to pick up work here, to do what he told me and because it's cosy around here”
“And rather dangerous on the road, not just because of the cold”, Azaril remarked. Having picked up on what Edmond was trying to do, she was now sporting her warmest smile. “Have you heard about what's happening here? People are disappearing all over the duchy” Viselis shrugged. “People have always been disappearing”, she spoke coldly. “Only now it's more than usual and those who remain blame vampires or demons”
Edmond flinched slightly at these names. Though he had left his homeland behind long ago, it was still uncomfortable to hear someone speak about creatures like that in the open, at least here, where the world should be a simpler one. “And what's your theory?”, he asked, to which Viselis shrugged. “This entire land has suffered under the Orkenstorm”, she spoke. “There's no future for those who remain. Young people who want to find work to the south. I bet half of those who are missing are simply making a life for themselves down in Gareth and Punin” She smirked. “Let's be honest, who would ever come to a place like that on their own accord?”
That statement, while innocent enough, was actually alarming. Braken led the Windhag circle, the most remote and secretive of the Borbaradian circles. A return to nature, to simpler times where men were equal, this was his greatest desire and those were virtues he passed on to his students. With an attitude like that, Viselis would fit right in with the Uthari, who felt at home in the rotten city states of the deep south. But he showed no sign of distrust.
“Braken did”, he reminded her. “We were hoping to find out why” Viselis raised an eyebrow. “Ah, you know how he can be”, she replied. “Never speaking a word about his plans. I can't even make much of his message, but perhaps you'll succeed at that” Edmond raised an eyebrow, as they reached the hallway. “And what about Alicent?”, he asked. “We were hoping to find her at the Rhodestone”
“Alicent?”, Viselis asked, before her smile widened. “Ah, of course! Why... do you think she's at the Rhodestone?” Edmond and Azaril exchanged another glance and the elf subtly shook her head. Edmond, however, had a plan. A bit risky, sure, but the sort Liscom would have enjoyed. “Braken told me last time we met”, Azaril was quick to chime in. Edmond was not sure if the elf fully understood what he had planned, but she clearly trusted him enough to go with it. “Apparently she's supposed to keep an eye on the events here. Why would he station you here as well?”
Viselis shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine”, she replied. “Perhaps Alicent has already moved on? It's the first time I hear of any of his other followers in this part of the world” She stopped in front of a door. “Here we are”, she added, as she opened the door. It was cold behind it and dark and as the woman tried to enter first, Edmond stopped her. “I'll go first”, he growled.
The self-proclaimed Borbaradian raised an eyebrow. “Sure, go ahead...”, she mumbled. Perhaps she was finally realizing he had his suspicions about her. She could be lucky it was just him and Azaril. Some of the people he forcibly associated with would have forced the truth out of her by now, one way or the other. Urdo of Gisholm, the Fraternitas Uthari, the Begging Monk, they had their own way of dealing with those who claimed to belong to Borbarad's faithful.
As he entered the room, he was almost disappointed as he realized there was nothing special about it. It was a common woman's room, lacking any sort of identity and even most of the furniture beyond a narrow bed, a simple chest and a three-legged table. The window stood half-open and through it, the biting cold was seeping into the room.
“What?”, Viselis asked. “Did you think I was luring you into a trap?” She smirked and something was off about it. Instinctively, Azaril remained standing within the doorframe, while Edmond clenched a hand. “Odem Arcanum...”, he mumbled, casting a spell that would allow him to perceive magic around him. Artefacts, runes, any sort of arcane trap would glow now, for his eyes only, meaning Viselis would be deprived of the element of surprise.
The room remained unchanged. The bed, the table, the chest, nothing about it had an ounce of magic to it. Distinctively, he noticed the glow of his own hands, before he turned around. “Oh...”, he merely managed to gasp, as his gaze fell upon Viselis. She was not just glowing. Under the effects of the Odem, she was radiating with raw magic, bright enough for him to actually narrow his eyes. “Azaril, we...!, he barked, though it was too late. Viselis hadn't lured them into a trap. She was the trap.
With a flicker of her wrist, the woman sent Azaril flying. The elf was pushed out of the room, crashing heavily against the wall behind her. With the same move, Viselis slammed the door shut and still under the influence of his spell, Edmond realized she was weaving a ward onto it. Swiftly, precisely and with more power than anything he had seen in a while. At the same time, her moves were clumsy, unrefined...
“Didn't take you long to turn on us”, he growled and as the woman turned back to him, she had a truly wicked grin on her face. Almost playfully, she tucked a strand of red hair beneath her ear. “That implies I was ever on your side to begin with”, she chirped. “You didn't really think that, did you?” Her grin grew wider, though her eyes were not the slightest bit deranged. Within them, he saw something calm, calculating, something he had failed to see before.
“Not quite, no”, he admitted. “So, who sent you? Middenrealm Intelligence? Or are you with the Uthari?” Her smile grew slightly thinner. “The what now?”, she asked. “I serve no one but myself. Your... friend, I think? The one who called himself Braken. He told me a thing or two about you people. Told me you'd come to find him”
Subtly, Edmond stretched his fingers. She was powerful, of course, and dangerous. An unexpected threat, even if he already expected her to lure him into a trap. But there was something off about her. For all her strength, she was lacking even the basic posture of a mage. That's what had thrown him off in the taproom. She didn't seem like a mage who was disguising herself as a commoner, she seemed like a commoner with the powers of a mage. Edmond knew all that too well, for he himself had to hear this very same thing for years during his training at Punin.
But it also meant she knew nothing of the posture, of the gestures needed to weave complex spells. “So, what did you do to him?”, he asked and Viselis shrugged. “Same thing I'm going to do to you”, she replied. “Oh, how he looked down upon me. Sveltish trash, lowborn and without arcane powers” She chuckled darkly. “When I was done with him, he was sobbing like a baby. Begging me to give him back his favourite toy. That's when I decided I'd lie in waiting. Lure them in, his friends and allies. A steady supply of foolish mages, radicals and outcasts whom no one would miss. And thanks to you, I even know there's another one nearby”
Edmond took a deep breath, having finished his preparations. “You're talking too much”, he growled, before he raised a hand. “Ignifaxius!” The flaming lance was one of the first spells he truly mastered during his studies. No fancy effects, no great utility, just a simple ray of fire, searing hot and ready to burn his enemies as he desired.
Viselis managed to gasp as blazing heat filled the room in an instant. In this moment, Edmond barely cared that he was in a wooden tavern filled with people. This woman had something sinister in mind for him and he wouldn't stay to find out just what it was. With a clumsy move, she managed to raise a hand, constructing an arcane shield just moments before the flaming lance reached her. It was strong, yes, but it lacked technique. This wouldn't be the first duel he'd win against a stronger opponent.
“You have to try harder if you want to kill me”, he growled, as Viselis desperate tried to block his attack with one hand. The other was reaching into her satchel and Edmond noticed the confident smirk on her face a little bit too late. “Who said anything about killing you?”, she hissed. “For now...” She pulled something out of her pocket and through the searing fire, Edmond realized it was dark, small and vaguely oval in form.
Slowly, a feeling of dread grew within his innards. Whatever this was, it was radiating vile power, the sort that could be found within the Nether Hells. At the same time, his Odem revealed an arcane glow unlike anything Edmond had ever seen before. Sickly pale and ancient, it radiated an aura of discomfort.
“You wanna know what happened to Braken?”, Viselis hissed, as she slowly raised the small object. “Here, that'll give you a taste” Before Edmond could break through her shield, she was pointing the thing at him and by now, he realized what it was. A skull, black, with a long, narrow beak, slightly pointed at the end and with large, hollow eye-sockets.
Immediately, the feeling of subtle dread was gone, replaced by a primal panic, as Edmond felt something tearing at him. His breakfast forced its way up his throat and before he could react, he was on all fours, puking onto the wooden floor, a mixture of half-digested food and traces of blood. Still, a strange, strong force was tearing at him, at something with him and with every breath he took, he felt something precious slipping through his fingers. His lance of fire was the first thing to go, followed by every thought of resistance.
Shrill shrieks were filling his ears and it took him a moment to realize that some of them were his own. The others though... a cacophony of pain, a lament for the lost. Men, women, children, humans, dwarves, elves, even stranger, deeper roars, all united in their agony. And Edmond's screams were fitting right in. With every passing second, he felt more and more tired, more and more weak.
He barely noticed the window slamming open, nor did he fully recognize the large, winged shadow that flew through the opening. Even when the terrible force stopped tearing him apart, he could not stop screaming, as he still spat out blood and bits of bile. Then, he collapsed and he only barely managed to push himself away from the puddle on the ground.
“Get. Away. From. Him!”, a familiar voice spat. Azaril Crimsonleaf, more furious than she had ever been. Even in his weakened, dazed state, he realized she must have flown through the window, getting the drop on Viselis. The strange woman was standing there, petrified by Azaril's spell, if for a moment. “You okay, Edmond?”, the elf hissed.
He tried to open his mouth, but only managed to groan, followed by a half-hearted nod. Yes, yes he was okay, if barely. And he knew, he wouldn't have been without her. “Good”, she growled, her amber eyes glaring at the strange woman. “Tell me who sent you here and you won't suffer... much” It was a chilling statement, especially coming from someone as affable as Azaril. But he knew, when push came to shove, she was a true follower of Borbarad, perhaps truer than anyone aside from Liscom.
Viselis' eyes were widened and she was gulping, still locked into Azaril's arcane chokehold. At the same time, her fingers were twitching, one hand still clenched around the small object she had used to torment Edmond with. Now that his sight had cleared, he realized it was a dark skull, that of a vulture, if he remembered correctly from his books.
“She...”, he began to groan and the elf glanced at him, if briefly. They both noticed too late that Viselis would use this second for her own attack. The raw force of her arcane push nearly sent Azaril flying once more. At the very least, she was shoved to her knees, as Viselis broke free of her grip. Edmond's eyes widened, as he saw her raising the vulture skull. “Watch out!”, he barked and as Viselis pointed the skull at Azaril, he himself made his own attack. It was weak, weaker than it should be, but he could barely concentrate right now, not with the pain and confusion threatening to tear him apart.
What was supposed to burn Viselis to a crisp in an instant instead merely singed her arm, the one she was holding the skull with. As her sleeve caught fire, the woman started to scream and before she could ready herself, Azaril's spell hit her chest. He had to give it to her, the elf was not holding back. Viselis was not just pushed back, she crashed right through the door, sending splinters of wood through the entire room, before slamming against the opposing wall.
Slowly, Azaril was rising from the ground, with murder in her eyes. “You don't want to talk?”, she hissed and as she smiled, she bared her elven fangs. “Stop crying! I won't have any of it” She slowly approached the downed woman, as Edmond staggered back to his feet. “Be careful!”, he hissed, but she didn't even acknowledge him. “Perhaps this is the moment you realized whom you were messing with”, Azaril continued. “We serve the Alveranian of Forbidden Knowledge”, she revealed. “With Borbarad, we shall overcome anything... especially someone like you”
Indeed, there were tears on Viselis' face. No fear or despair, but pain, as several shards of wood had pierced her body. Nothing terribly large and with his rudimentary knowledge about healing, he was positive she would survive even without immediate medical attention. However, he had the feeling Azaril wouldn't let it come to that.
Viselis' breath became faster, as shouts from the taproom caught their attention. Of course, the other patrons had noticed such a commotion and Azaril lowered her already raised hand, the sparkling spell between her fingers slowly fizzling out. She had this strange woman at her mercy and yet, Edmond knew that more than any other of their kind, Azaril was still concerned how their actions would look in the eyes of the common people.
Fast footsteps darted across the wooden floor and Viselis' eyes widened. “This is not over...”, she hissed towards Edmond and Azaril. “I'll take what I deserve” She clenched her fists, one of them still clutching the vulture skull. Then, her figure began to blur and before Edmond could react, she was gone, disappearing into thin air.
A second later, the first witness arrived at the scene. It was, of course, Urdo of Gisholm, one hand clenched around a knife. “Can't leave you alone for five minutes...”, he mumbled, as he stared at the spot where Viselis had been just seconds ago. “Who was that?” Azaril sighed, as she reached down for Edmond. He grabbed her hand and though he was still shaky on his feet, he managed to get back up with her help.
“We have no idea”, the elf spoke. “She claimed to have a message from Braken, but when we were alone with her, she attacked at once” She narrowed her eyes. “A teleportation spell. Powerful, but unreliable. She won't get far with it and if she's unlucky, she'll arrive with less limbs than before”, she added, as Edmond straightened his back.
“Seemed like she has a grudge against us”, he mumbled. “When she attacked me, it felt... personal” Urdo gave him a crooked grin, while Azaril's expression was one of concern. “Pissed of quite some people lately”, the man mumbled, as he glanced down at his knife. “Mentioned her name?”
“She called herself Viselis”, Edmond revealed. “Does that ring a bell?” Urdo shook his head. “Any idea where she's heading to?”, he asked in return. “She got anything to do with Braken, we gotta kill her” This time, a smirk appeared on Edmond's face, as it was one of the rare times where he had an advantage over Gisholm.
“I'm having an idea”, he replied. “Told her about Braken's student at the Rhodestone. If she truly has a bone to pick with us, then that's where we'll find her” Urdo raised an eyebrow. “That'd be a stupid idea”, he growled and Azaril looked up next to them. “And our mysterious enemy is not terribly bright, I'm afraid”, she chirped. “Attacking two mages without even a proper plan... seems like she just wanted us dead”
“Yeah, about that...”, Edmond sighed and he winced as he carefully moved a hand along his ribs. Immediately, Azaril turned her attention to him. “Are you okay?”, she asked, her eyes narrowed and her voice calm. “What did she do to you?” Edmond gave her a half-hearted nod, followed by a smile, which she reciprocated. “I'll be fine”, he spoke. “Don't know what she did with that skull, but I think you intervened just in time”
Azaril shot him a grin. “You're welcome, by the way”, she added. “Still, this is worrisome. She clearly knew Braken and yet, I refuse to believe someone like her could have harmed him” She shook her head and her smile faded again. “She is just as strong as he is, admittedly, but she lacks his control, the experience with which he weaves his spells together”
“Ah, friends?”, the voice of Asmodeus sounded from the taproom and a few moments later, he himself appeared near the doorframe, his eyes widened, as he looked from the broken door to the blackened wood within the room itself. “So... what happened to not arousing any suspicion?”, he asked, as he threw a nervous glance to his right, where the taproom was located.
“Trouble found us first”, Azaril explained. “A woman who claimed to know Braken. She attacked us, but fled once she realized we're not as harmless as she thought us to be” Asmodeus sighed. “That... complicates things”, he spoke. “I had a quick chat with the innkeep and, well, he's giving us three hours before he calls the Banray down on this place” He smiled apologetically. “Technically, you two owe me ten ducats now”, he was swift to add.
“Means we leave now”, Urdo growled. “Not keen on meeting the witch hunters” He glanced at Edmond. “You can walk?”, he asked and Edmond raised an eyebrow. “Is that concern I'm hearing, Gisholm?”, he asked and Urdo shook his head. “Just asking if you can keep up”, he clarified. “I'd leave you behind, but Sulman would kill me for that. Dude's basically in love with you”
“So, you're... jealous?”, Edmond replied in his best attempt to sound witty. It only caused Urdo to roll his eyes. “Well, you heard the man”, Azaril spoke up. “I know that sucks, I would much prefer a proper bed and a warm fireplace tonight, but it seems there won't be any such breaks until we reach the Rhodestone”
Edmond sighed. “And how long is that going to take?”, he asked, to which the elf shrugged. “An hour if I were to fly”, she spoke. “By foot? Oh, that's going to take you the rest of the night. If you leave now, you'll arrive by the Rhodestone at dawn” Urdo narrowed his eyes. “Suppose you're going to fly?”, he hissed and Azaril chuckled. “Suppose you're right”, she replied in a teasing voice. “At least I got the decency to not rub it into everyone's face” She patted the short man's cheek and he shot her a vicious glare. “Just yours”, she whispered. "I'll meet you there"
Urdo narrowed his eyes and actually turned away from him, which Edmond commented on with a gleeful smirk. “We'll meet you there, Crimsonleaf”, he told her, as the elf turned to the window. With a brief nod in his direction, her form changed. In an instant, her willowy, elven figure was replaced by the stout, winged body of a skull owl, as she lifted herself up, through the window and into the nightly sky.
Asmodeus sighed. “A fair warning, my friends”, he spoke, one hand around Edmond's shoulder, the other, riskily, around Urdo's. “This is going to be one hell of a cold night” Together, the trio made their way out of the room and back into the taproom. Surely, the commotion Edmond and Azaril had caused in their fight against Viselis had been heard by every last one of the patrons and sure enough, they all stared at the three men as they entered the room.
They stood there, blocking the path, dozens of dirt-stained men and women, staring at the trio with hatred born of fear. Some were armed, not to threaten them, but to defend themselves if necessary. And yet, wooden cutlery or chairs would hardly help against flaming lances and arcane bolts of lightning.
Briefly, Asmodeus and the innkeep exchanged a nod, as the burly man clapped his hands. “Let them through, boys”, he barked and swiftly, a path through the crowd was cleared for them. “We don't want to see your kind ever again, mage” One of the men spat out in front of Urdo, which would have nearly been his last mistake, had Edmond not held him back. Still, they made their way through the taproom without issue.
By now, Edmond was used to being looked at with fear, with hatred. Still, it didn't make things any easier. If only they could see he merely strived to help them. If only they could understand what a grand vision he had in mind. He, Liscom... and Borbarad. All of what he did, it was for them and yet, he couldn't even blame them for fearing him.
Still, being chased out into the hostile night, it felt awful. Though they wrapped themselves in fur, the biting cold still cut to the bone almost in an instant and Edmond tightened his grip around the cloak, before he glanced back at the roadside inn. From the windows, he could still see patrons, looking at them in obvious distrust. With a sigh, he followed his companions into the unforgiving dark.
They barely talked as they stepped through the snow, which almost reached to their knees by now. Edmond and Asmodeus had to fight for every step, while Urdo walked right on top of the snow. Not even the harsh wind managed to slow him down, though the cold clearly affected him just as bad as it did his companions.
Only once did Edmond break the silence, as he briefly informed Asmodeus about what had happened during his attack with Viselis. The older mage seemed to listen carefully, as far as Edmond could guess, especially as he mentioned the vulture skull, though unusually for him, he barely asked any question, nor did he interrupt him even once.
Their only source of light and warmth was a small orb which Asmodeus had conjured. Edmond would have done the same, but after Viselis' attack, he felt tired, almost drained. He needed some rest, badly so, and yet, the thought of having to rest here in the cold, it pushed him onwards, for falling asleep here would surely be his undoing.
The darkness felt almost unreal, paired with the biting cold, as not even Asmodeus' magic fire could illuminate much of the road ahead. At the same time, it was just as Edmond remembered from his childhood. Snow, enough to bury a man if he were to sleep out in the open, a cold which killed livestock with shocking ease and darkness, sometimes entire days without the sun truly rising to the sky.
They passed no sign of life, as they made their way past the inn and along the road, the latter of which could barely be seen beneath the snow. No farmhouse, no other inn, just a single ruin, burned down years ago, roofless and almost without walls, charred so badly that Edmond couldn't even tell what its purpose had been, before the Orkenstorm.
More than once, his mind wandered back to Punin. Sulman, Korobar, Menchal, they could all enjoy the warmth of Almada, where winter lost much of its bite. And he was here, with Urdo of Gisholm and his infuriating way of mocking his companions simply with the lack of effort it took from him to walk across this road. Certainly, he had no love for Berosh the dwarf, but he wished it would have been Urdo and not him who should have died back in Drakesfield.
Worse than anything, worse than the cold, the stress of this journey, the fatigue he felt after his fight against Viselis was the knowledge that this was by no means an unusual night for Meadows during Boron's month. If anything, the coming weeks would get even worse. “I'm gonna kill that woman for chasing us away from there”, Urdo growled and for once, Edmond could only agree.
Frozen cold, in a terrible mood and just barely avoiding frostbite, Edmond sighed as he finally felt the first, pale rays of sunlight from across the Darkencrest. The looming mountain range which marked the western end of Meadows could be seen in the distance by now, as the sun doused the landscape in a gloomy twilight. They were walking down a hill, the path twisting steeply, with a frozen creek to their left. And down in the valley...
“Fucking finally...”, Urdo merely mumbled and once more, Edmond had to agree, as he saw the Rhodestone. The entire valley stood under control of the Church of Rondra. Not the duke, not Prince Brin, not even the Envoy of Light had any power around here. To the church it belonged and the church protected it.
Aside from a single, dark forest on its southern border, all of the trees in the valley were cut down to make room for the Rondrians and their needs. A small village was lying in its centre and from afar, Edmond could see smoke rising from the chimneys, promising life and warmth. Though there was no wall around the entire valley, the roads were protected by wooden palisades and towers made of stone. The red lioness on a field of white adorned the banners, dozens of which were flying over the border fortifications.
And in its centre, the Rhodestone itself. The only fortress in the entire county of Herostand that had withstood the Blackfur legions, for good reason. It was massive, even by the standards of this well-fortified land, a rectangular fortress surrounded by high walls, set atop a small, but deceptively steep hill. The moot around it was frozen solid during this time of the year, which made crossing it even harder and half a dozen round towers on each side allowed for an easy defence. From afar, he could see catapults on each tower, ready to rain devastation onto any army foolish enough to try and besiege it. The orks surely hadn't been foolish enough, for they had simply moved around the valley.
“See the outpost over there”, Asmodeus mumbled, as they made their way down the hill. Indeed, there was one of the roadside outposts in the distance and Edmond could already see armed guards from his position. “The Sword of Swords has called them here. Usually, there's only sixty priests of Rondra who guard this fortress, but right now, it's several hundred”, the old man continued. “No one knows what for, but it is well-known that Lord Dragosh views war as the highest form of worship when it comes to his divine lioness. I'm sure you can draw your own conclusion”
“It could only help us if they divert their attention onto the orks”, Edmond replied and Asmodeus gave him a nod. “More time for the master to make his move”, he agreed. “Once he can make any move at all. I understand his current situation is complicated” He stopped walking and held Edmond back for a second. “Down there, you will do the talking”
“Me?”, Edmond asked in surprise. Asmodeus was a nobleman, skilled in courtly speech and diplomacy, whereas he himself had always related more to books than to people. “You sure that's a good idea?” Asmodeus gave him a nod. “I would prefer to remain in the background”, he admitted. “Never liked Rondrians. Besides, I am of noble blood, as anyone would surely notice. It is unseemly of me to announce myself. You... Edmond, you know I like you, but you are so obviously a commoner that you'd make for a much finer herald”
Edmond raised an eyebrow. “Admit it, you just don't want to talk to them”, he growled and Asmodeus shot him an apologetic smile. “Indulge and old man, please”, he replied and with a sigh, Edmond gave him a nod. Slowly, they continued to make their way down the hill. By now, he realized Urdo himself was sinking into the snow, leaving tracks and slowing himself down on purpose. Surely, a man who could walk on top of this snow would arouse suspicion among the Rondrians.
They had almost reached the outpost by the time the guards bothered to stop three clearly unarmed travellers. “Halt!”, a deep voice bellowed across the road. Four men stood close to the roadside tower, two more were visible on the top. They were all armed with swords, though none had drawn their weapon. Two of them leant onto their spears, while a third sharpened his knife as the trio did as they were told. All of the guards wore long, white tabards with the red lioness on their chest, while thick, red cloaks protected them from the cold. With a sigh of relief, Edmond noticed the large brazier around which the men had gathered.
“What leads three strangers to the Rhodestone at this time of the year?”, the man from atop the tower barked once more. By now, Edmond noticed that beneath their tabards, the men wore heavy chainmail, with the one atop the tower also wearing a helmet. “Speak true, in the name of Rondra!” Invoking the name of the lioness would have worked on any commoner who would make their way to this remote valley, but Edmond was most certainly not a follower of the goddess of war, so he felt not the slightest bit of guilt as he prepared to lie to them.
At the same time, he realized he had to think of an actually convincing lie, for the truth would see them all executed before noon. There were two which got into his mind at once. Asmodeus could easily pose as a passing nobleman, seeking shelter here in the Rhodestone before making his way west, to Griffinsford and Andergast. At the same time, this could lead to them getting closer to the high lords of the Rhodestone than he preferred, given they had to keep a low profile. At the same time, few would question a travelling merchant in these lands, especially one who had lost his goods and most of his entourage to marauding orks.
[Tell the guard you accompany a nobleman] [Tell the guard you accompany a merchant]