Book 2, Chapter 3 - Ours is the Fury May 25, 2020 2:30:40 GMT
Post by LiquidChicagoTed on May 25, 2020 2:30:40 GMT
Even though she kept it in a wide pocket within her robe, she could feel the weight of Master Xhoros' vial dragging her down with every step she took. She had accepted his offer and though she could hardly trust him, his words had stirred something within her, a half-forgotten spark of defiance, a voice within her that told her that she couldn't trust Master Moros either. He was her master, her mentor and serving him was both, honour and privilege, but he was still a warlock. She knew her order too well to trust any of them.
And yet, she had betrayed him just as well. She had taken the Nightling's vial and she had every intention of giving it to the weakened merchant. Both of the masters were playing games with her here, she knew it and she was downright insulted. For two decades, she had served them, she had earned her place among the warlocks and yet they treated her like some... some child, unworthy of being included in their plans as anything more than a pawn.
She wanted what was best for Naela and her father, but more than that, she wanted to assist the warlock order. And she still genuinely believed in her approach. Winning Naela's trust was the only sensible way of dealing with the Blood Witch's demand. Harming the girl or her father or, worse, killing them as Master Agaz quite vocally demanded, it would merely risk the Witch's anger. On top of that, it was not necessary. Naela had suffered enough as it was and Irae was certain that a worse fate was still waiting for her.
If it meant having to play the warlocks' game, then it had to be. Moros and the Nightling, both had their own plan, their own agenda. And yet, it was clear that one of them wanted Kareq dead and the other didn't, or else they would have joined forces to begin with. She remembered Moros' chilling smirk, the callous way he spoke about the fur merchant. No, in this matter she could not trust him. And yet, she feared his wrath, should Kareq Orlatis survive this day.
With a heavy heart, she climbed the stairs that led up to the Orlatis mansion. The sun was already setting in the distance, but Irae knew she had to do this quickly. There were guards in front of the door, Kareq's slaves, but also others, clad in coloured silk and armed with long spears. She marched right towards them as they guarded the door and one of the colourful guards tried to step in her way, despite the storm within her gaze and the fury in her stride.
She would have snapped at him right then and there, but one of Kareq's guards held the man back immediately, whispering something into her ear. Irae could not hear it and she did not care. Without even acknowledging the guards, she stepped through the gate and into the courtyard of Kareq Orlatis' mansion.
Immediately, she realized that something had changed. It was not just the presence of the coloured guards, but the entire place felt different. As a warlock, she had learned to notice such details. The looks on the eyes of the servants who crossed her path were even more fearful and not just because of her. This was a different type of fear entirely.
“Ah... my... mylady warlock!”, a voice called out for her and as Irae raised an eyebrow, she spotted an older servant approaching her. He was working for Kareq, she recognized him. And yet, it was strange for him to approach her so openly, without any obvious fear of her. Instead, she realized, he too was afraid of something else.
“The name's Irae”, she corrected him. “Where's the girl?” The older man sighed. “She's... busy. An important guest has arrived and she...” He paused as Irae flashed him a glare. “Where is she?”, she growled and the servant flinched. “She's in the dining room”, he admitted and Irae, who knew her way around by now, already stormed past him. “But... she made it clear, she didn't want to be disturbed”
He hurried after her and Irae rolled her eyes. “She will make an exception for me”, she declared, before she reached the doors that led into the spacious dining room. Two large, open windows allowed for a generous view out into the courtyard, so she had no doubt that Naela and her guest had already noticed her. Still, the servant made sure to stop right next to her as she took a step through the doors.
“I... I tried to stop her...”, he stuttered, but Irae cut him off. “Am I supposed to wait like a common serf?”, she asked, as she spotted Naela, sitting on a chair next to a small table. There was a man with her, sitting across the table and his chair looked like it could barely support his considerable weight. He was far older than Naela, likely older than her father even and unlike Kareq, he hadn't aged well. Grey, greasy hair, a fleshy, sunburnt face and two soft chins, as well as small, calm and cautious eyes. He was clad in the same colourful clothes as the men outside, but his were wider, obviously, as well as finer.
“What's this?”, he spoke at once, even before Naela could reply. The girl had a sour look on her face, though given how tensed up she was, Irae doubted it was because of her intrusion, but because of the man. “A warlock? A... female warlock? I thought your order trained only men” Without waiting for Naela, Irae came closer. “That's not true”, she told him. “Women just have to train harder to succeed”
He smirked and even though it possibly wasn't meant to look sinister, his small eyes and the fat around his mouth made him look more than just a bit shifty. “You keep interesting associates, mylady”, he stated, with a brief glance towards Naela, who gulped audibly. “Irae...”, she greeted her in a thin voice. “What... what are you doing here?”
“Am I not supposed to be here?”, she asked. “I'm here for your father” The girl's face dropped and Irae looked from her to the fat man. “Did... something happen while I was away?”, she asked. “What about his condition...?” Now, the fat man chuckled. “I hope nothing happened”, he spoke in a warm tone. “Though allow me to explain. You are a warlock, so obviously you know nothing of these things, but I am pretty certain you just said something I wasn't supposed to hear” His voice was downright jolly, which contrasted with Naela's shocked expression.
“What is truly going on with your father?”, he then asked. “This is no ordinary sickness we're talking about, or else the warlock order wouldn't be involved” He looked back at Irae, clearly pleased with himself, and she shot him a cold glare. Ordinary men usually flinched when being looked at like that by a warlock. This man, however, he had the audacity to still smirk at her. “And who are you again?”, she asked.
The man's eyes widened. “Ah, how rude of me!”, he exclaimed. “I am Narys Xho Naxys, but the people of this wonderful city call me the Spice King” He extended a hand for her to shake, but Irae merely stared at the sweaty appendage. After a moment of awkward silence, his smile grew slightly smaller and he lowered his hand again. “Irae Caleris, of the warlock order”, she introduced herself. Naela had mentioned the Spice King in the past, she remembered their talk as clearly as she remembered everything in her life. He was after her father's riches and he was trying to get there through her.
“This has nothing to do with you, Spice King”, Naela hissed and the fat man raised an eyebrow. “I thought we had that already, dear”, he spoke. “It's Narys. And it has everything to do with me. Your father is a treasured business partner and I consider an attack on him an attack on my own person. And he was attacked, wasn't he? No warlock comes to treat a simple illness, so I presume poison was used”
His deduction was sharp and Naela could only nod. “By the Tourmaline Brotherhood”, she mumbled and the Spice King frowned. “I'll have a stern word with the river pirates!”, he spat. “They are allies of mine against the Thirteen and it is true that Kareq is a business rival, but never would I stoop so low. That the Brotherhood would try to kill him is a disgrace for Qarth and all her citizens. Girl, you should know that the Spicers have nothing to do with this!”
Naela narrowed her eyes, but she remained silent. He was with the Spicers, as the name implied. Irae had heard of them. Though they still specialized in spices, they traded in all kinds of goods nowadays. Master Vathor got most of his herbs from them, probably including the ones used to brew the potion he had given her for Kareq Orlatis. “I am interrupting something”, she realized and the Spice King let out a stilted chuckle. “Obviously”, he agreed. “Though I am always happy to meet a new face, especially one as interesting as yours, Lady Warlock”
“The Spice King came to check up on my father”, Naela spoke in a frosty tone and the old man leant closer towards her. “Ah, not so modest, my dear”, he spoke. “I also came to offer my help in any way needed, so that your father's prestigious business could remain a pillar of our beautiful city. Monetary aid, for, ahem, an exclusive contract, so to say”
“He wishes my hand in marriage”, Naela replied and Irae tensed up. The Spice King was old enough to be her father, no, her grandfather and he smelled sick with too much perfume. “The most sensible option, especially as I've been looking for a new wife for quite a while now”, he claimed, placing a fleshy hand on his massive chest. “Naela would bring her father's wealth into our union. As my wife, she would retain full control over the fur business, though paired with my own wealth and my contacts among the Spicers, she could easily expand”
The girl didn't even try to hide her sheer disgust. “I think I made myself clear”, she spoke in a barely controlled voice. “My father is getting better and even if he weren't, I am not looking for a marriage right now” The Spice King rolled his eyes. “Especially not with a man of my age and weight, I understand”, he replied. “I know I am hardly a young girl's dream, though I dare say, you look ravishing enough for the two of us. I have other qualities, such as my immense wealth and my connections”
“She won't marry you, Spice King”, Irae interjected in a harsh tone. “I have the final dose of the antidote right here. After that, she has to uphold her end of our bargain” The Spice King raised an eyebrow. “Ah, this is getting more and more intriguing”, he spoke and once more, Irae realized she had said too much. She was a warlock, not a politician and the schemes of the rich and mighty of Qarth brought her nothing but frustration. “Say, my dear, what is your end of the bargain”
“If only I'd knew...”, Naela pressed through clenched teeth. “But that is truly none of your business. You are welcome to negotiate for a proper trade agreement between my father's estate and your guild, but I am not some... piece of meat to sweeten the deal for you” This time, the Spice King seemed almost genuinely insulted. “And neither would I treat you as such, Naela”, he claimed. “The Spice King and the Fur Princess... the Tourmaline Brotherhood would tremble before us, my dear”
“They will tremble before my father once he has recovered”, the girl claimed. “And once the day comes where I take over his business, they will tremble before me” The Spice King chuckled brightly. “Isn't she precious, Lady Warlock?”, he asked. “An unmarried girl of her age, in this city? Think of me what you want, but I mean well. My offer is still better than anything the Tourmaline Brotherhood would give to her, or any other party with an interest in her father's business”
“And that is none of my business”, Irae replied. “I have not come here to talk with you, Spice King, nor do I wish to get involved in this” That was not entirely true, for she could see Naela didn't want to marry this man. Though she herself was trained to have no carnal desires, she could still understand how the fat man must seem downright repulsive to her. Perhaps taking her away from all of this had its benefits after all. And perhaps she could use this to make her more willing to comply. “I am here solely to treat your father”
“And treating him you shall”, Naela confirmed. “You know the way by now, don't you? I'll wrap things up with the Spice King and join you later” She turned away, towards the Spice King. “Shall we finish this farce?”, she asked and the fat man sighed. “I would prefer to talk to your father, my dear”, he replied. “Kareq and I rarely see eye to eye, but I respect him nonetheless”
For a brief moment, Naela hesitated. “Would that be possible?”, she asked, as she glanced at Irae. The warlock let out a thin sigh. “Perhaps”, she admitted. “Master Vathor's potions are strong, but they always work. Perhaps he will feel better right away, but most likely, he will need another few days of rest”
“You heard it, Spice King”, Naela chirped, now more pleased by the warlock's answer. “It's best if you leave now. You're always welcome to return once my father has recovered, but until then, we should really wrap this up” She sighed. “Go ahead, Irae. I'll be with you in a minute”, she added and the warlock gave her a nod.
The Spice King gave her a long, cautious look as she left the room and Irae could feel his small eyes upon her. There was something clever within his gaze, almost too clever. And he had his own plans for Naela and her fortune, even a motive to wish death upon her father. Perhaps he'd even dare to defy a warlock, downright insane as such an attempt would be.
Carefully, she climbed the stairs that led to the upper floor of the mansion. The entire time, she could still feel the Spice King's gaze upon her. Greedy eyes, following her every move. Though he had remained within the dining room, something was not right. She had learned to trust her instincts like that, so she slowly tensed up as she reached the upper floor, a long, dark room with doors to each side. Someone was here... she was not alone!
Others would have cautiously looked into every shadow right now, but Irae was a warlock of Qarth. She could bend shadows to her will and there was nothing within them that could harm her. Confidently, she walked past each set of doors. If her gut feeling was right and someone was spying on her, they would know better than to confront her right now.
Without hesitation, she opened the door that led to Kareq's quarters. The almost oppressive heat of the last days was gone, as was the stench of sickness, almost at least. The Prince of Furs was lying on his bed, his chest bare, revealing just how thin and pale he had gotten over the last few weeks of his ordeal. And yet, the fire was slowly returning to his eyes and his cheeks were almost rosy as she entered.
“Warlock”, he greeted her. “You should have knocked. I... would have gotten dressed” Irae raised an eyebrow. “It is hardly the first time I see you without your shirt, merchant”, she spoke. “I've seen you at your worst. This is hardly reason to be embarrassed” Kareq sighed, as he glanced at the window. “Still... ah, nothing...”, he mumbled and his expression darkened “I saw the men down there, their colours... Narys is here, isn't he?”
Irae hesitated for a moment, before she gave him a nod. “The Spice King has come to check up on you”, she spoke and Kareq let out a weak chuckle. “More like check up if I'm dead already”, he growled. “See if it's safe to expand into my territory. Press my daughter into a marriage” His chuckle turned into a fit of coughing, but he quickly managed to get it under control. “Spice is a vulture”, he spat. “It's time I get back on my feet. Protect my daughter from him and from those who are worse”
“He seemed bad enough for her”, Irae remarked, as she took the stool next to his bed. To this, Kareq shook his head. “As far as this city is concerned, the Spice King is hardly the worst”, he claimed. “He would have treated her well. He just wouldn't have made her happy. I don't expect you to understand that, warlock, but I want something better for my girl”
Briefly, Irae's expression softened. “I can imagine the sentiment”, she admitted and Kareq raised an eyebrow. “They really sent me an odd one, your order”, he spoke. “But I'm not complaining. Remind me to send them my regards when this is all over. I truly owe you whatever you desire” Irae raised an eyebrow, though she remained silent about the council's true intentions for him. If not for her, he would likely be dead by now. “You don't owe us anything”, she replied. “You weren't the one to make the deal”
Kareq visibly tensed up as she said this. “My daughter...”, he mumbled. “You never told me what her price will be. Her firstborn child? Her eyesight? Tell me at least, for I won't be able to stop you... what are you going to take from her?” There was no anger, just a hint of frustration and Irae sighed. “You're right”, she mumbled. “You won't be able to stop us. But we're not going to take anything from her”
“So you're going to take her whole”, Kareq deduced at once, as Irae pulled the two vials from her pockets. “I have gotten to this point because I always know what others want. And you... you want Naela. Not her gold, not her blood... you want her life” Irae shook her head, but she couldn't deny that he was partially right. “If everything works out, she can return to this city and to her life as the Fur Princess”, she admitted and truly, she hoped it would end this way. The Blood Witch defeated and Naela alive to tell the tale.
The merchant narrowed his eyes. “But you doubt it”, he realized and Irae couldn't lie to him right there. She shook her head and he averted his gaze. “I could have talked her out of it”, he mumbled. “If only... If not for this poison, I would have talked her out of it. We would have made it work. We would have found another way”
Once more, Irae shook her head. “It took our best healer to brew these two potions”, she claimed and Kareq raised an eyebrow. “Two potions?”, he asked. “Ah, I've never been poisoned before. You are probably the only person outside of my family whom I trust right now. You could have killed me dozens of times over the last two weeks. Just... give me that and get it over with. Perhaps it's not too late to talk some sense into my daughter”
“I'm afraid it is too late for that”, Irae said gently, as she handed him the first potion, the one Master Moros had given her. The one the Nightling claimed contained poison. But Xhoros had been clear, she had to give him both for the antidote to work. “Your daughter made a contract with us. No one has ever cheated the warlocks out of what they have been promised”
Kareq frowned as he placed the vial at his lips. With a hint of hesitation, he poured all of it down his throat. Immediately, he began to cough. Violently. “Gods, are you trying to poison me, woman?”, he barked between two coughs and she swiftly handed him the second vial. Master Xhoros' antidote was black and blue and a sharp stench filled the entire room as Kareq opened it. His eyes widened as the coughs became worse, but quickly, he downed the second potion just as well.
Almost immediately, he calmed down and so did Irae. “By the gods...”, he managed to press through his teeth, as he gasped for air. “For a moment right there... for a moment I thought you would have...” A wide grin formed on his face and Irae couldn't contain a smirk. “And waste all the time I spent on you, Prince of Furs?”, she asked. “You may not trust my motives, but you can trust I never waste time on a dying man”
“Yeah, I believe you”, Kareq admitted. “I... I don't feel better though. Tired, perhaps. And it feels like someone poured liquid cow shit down my throat” Irae rolled her eyes. “It will take some time to fully work”, she said as he cleared his throat again. “I'll check up on you again tomorrow. By then, you should notice some improvement”
Kareq cleared his throat again and he narrowed his eyes. “We'll talk then”, he spoke in a hoarsy voice. “I... warlock, I can't allow you to just take my...” He paused and immediately, he began to cough again. “I... what... what is happening?” One hand moved to his throat and Irae realized that his coughs were by no means a result of the foul-tasting potion he had just downed. Kareq Orlatis was gasping for air.
“What... what have you...?”, he pressed through his teeth and Irae's pale eyes widened. This was not right. A terrible realization dawned upon the warlock, as she jumped up. A few years ago, she would have panicked by now, but she didn't frighten easily these days. Not after glimpsing into Master Agaz' mind, or seeing Master Estos at work, or sharing a dream with Master Moros. She remembered what he had taught her and while Kareq frantically tried to gasp for air, Irae approached him again, before placing her right index finger on his forehead. This time, she almost flinched, as she felt how unnaturally cold his skin was.
She closed her eyes and as Moros had taught her, she reached out to the potion she had just given him. The antidote, as Master Xhoros had called it, though by now, she was certain it was anything but. It was clear to see before her inner eye, strands of blue and black, rapidly expanding through Kareq's blood. The Nightling had lied to her, but he was not known for his alchemical skill and she was not a newborn novice. Perhaps she could...
Late, almost too late did she notice the other signature beneath the Nightling's unmistakable blue glow. A pale red... Master Estos. She realized in this moment that she had made a mistake by reaching out to the potion. Master Xhoros was effective in all he did. But Estos... Estos was a cruel man. Kareq was by no means just suffocating. His lungs were shutting down because Estos Ezzara demanded it. And she had not just reached out to a potion, but to a spell. A spell whose attention she had just caught.
Immediately, she felt agony flaring up within her index finger, quickly bolting through her entire body. A pained scream left her throat, as she forced herself to pull away from Kareq's cold forehead. Involuntarily, tears welled up in her eyes, as she clutched her throbbing fingers. The man's eyes were widened and through immense agony, he fought for every breath. It was a battle he would lose and Irae realized immediately she couldn't do a thing for him, not here and in the short amount of time she had been given.
The merchant stared at her in fear and pain, but beneath it, she saw something that sent a sharp sting through her body, more than the still lingering effects of Master Estos' spell. Accusation. Disappointment. “I... I didn't want to...!, she exclaimed. Irae did not frighten easily, but this sight, this man suffocating slowly and her being powerless to stop it, it was enough for her to tremble. Worse than that, Xhoros had used her. He had made a fool of her and Kareq Orlatis had to pay the price for her mistake.
“I feel like I should make my presence known right now”, a voice sounded from the corner of the room and this time, Irae spun around, ready to defend herself if necessary. Under Kareq's increasingly more desperate gasps, a shadow stepped from behind a partition wall and Irae realized it was a man. Not just any at that. He covered his face, but perhaps it was this fact that tipped her off, alongside the unmistakable voice. The Mask, killer for hire, working for the Tourmaline Brotherhood.
“What are you doing here?”, she hissed towards the assassin, who approached her calmly, with both of his hands raised to show her he held no weapon. “I have come to kill Kareq Orlatis”, he told her calmly. “Though I see you have been faster than me, mylady” He took a slight bow in front of her and Irae clenched her fists. “I didn't want to do that!”, she exclaimed.
The Mask gave her a long, quiet look, before he began to speak again. “I believe you”, he told her. “I know exactly what a killer looks like and you don't have the eyes for it” He sighed, before he came closer again. This time, Irae pointed a finger at him and he stopped at once, realizing her threat before she even had to speak it out aloud.
“Where's your partner?”, she hissed and the Mask shrugged. “Deja?”, he replied. “Hiding on the roofs, with a longbow and a dozen arrows. Covering my escape if things get messy” He raised a thin eyebrow. “Will they get messy, mylady?” The two stared at each other and as Kareq Orlatis' gasps became louder, now interwoven with muffled groans of pain, Irae shook her head. “You are lucky you made your presence known, assassin”, she growled. “I won't kill you if you won't try to kill me”
The Mask gave her a nod and in an instant, he had drawn a dagger. Irae narrowed her eyes and as he approached the bed, she stepped between him and Kareq. “What do you think you're doing?”, she hissed, to which the assassin looked genuinely surprised for a second. “What?”, he spoke, before he let out a sigh. “Look at him, mylady. Look carefully”
This time she did as she was told and against her will, she felt a sharp regret as she looked at Kareq, slowly and painfully breathing his last. There was nothing she could do for him. And this was her fault. “I didn't want this”, she spoke and her voice shivered with regret. She could only hope the merchant could still hear her, but his gaze was fixed on the ceiling right above him, as if he wasn't even fully conscious anymore. Perhaps that was a small mercy.
“And yet you poisoned him”, the Mask replied. “All of this effort and then you just apply the potion that killed him” Irae narrowed her eyes and the glare she shot him was enough for him to actually back off. “The Nightling told me it would heal him”, she spat. “She told me Master Moros wanted Kareq's death!”
The Mask gave her a quick nod. “Oh yes, he was quite right with that second part. Devious of him, telling you half a truth”, he confirmed. “In fact, it was your charming master, Moros Qo Malxis, who sent me here to begin with. I cut ties with the Tourmaline Brotherhood after hearing his most generous offer” Irae clenched her teeth. “Moros sent you?”, she growled. “Why... why let me heal him before taking his life regardless?”
“Oh, I asked him the same question”, the Mask replied. “If I had to guess, I'd say the old man has a soft spot for you. Wanted you to have some success. Wanted Kareq's death to be unrelated to your efforts” He shrugged. “The other one, this... Nightling? Yeah, it seems he's less concerned with your own well-being”
Irae clenched her fists. “This bastard!”, she spat in a moment of weakness and she regretted it immediately. Master Xhoros had his ears everywhere and he was no less vindictive than Agaz Darkeye. “You want to make yourself useful for once, assassin?” The Mask raised an eyebrow and she continued. “Fetch the girl while I try to ease Kareq's pain as good as I can. She needs to say goodbye to her father”
The Mask sighed again, before he shook his head. “Listen, I am an assassin, not a court adviser, but this doesn't mean I don't know exactly what is going on here”, he told her. “I know who is down there with the girl. I know what he will do if he hears of Kareq's death. That man will devour Naela's inheritance whole and then force her into his bed. And... trust me, I know how this little scene right here will look. Moros told me you want her trust? Well, how much do you think she's going to trust you if she finds her father like this, dying from a potion you have her?”
“I wanted to heal him!”, Irae snapped at him and the Mask shrugged. “And you think the Fur Princess is going to care about that... why exactly? Fact is, you gave her father the potion that is killing him. Slowly. Painfully", he barked, now a bit louder as well. "I kill people if I get paid for it, but that doesn't mean I enjoy suffering. A clean, painless death, that is what even the worst scum in this world deserves, more so a man that, frankly, seems almost decent”
Irae clenched her fists. “I can still heal him!”, she claimed, but she failed to even convince herself. Expectedly, the Mask shook her head. “I saw your little reaction when you put your hand on his forehead. Looked painful... could have killed you too, right?”, he asked. “Seems to me, if a member of the warlock order wants someone dead, they don't fool around” Once more, he raised his dagger. “Only a halfwit would defy your will right now. If you insist, I will fetch the girl, but I just told you why that would be a horrible mistake. Sure, it might give poor Naela some closure, but oh, she will hate you for this. If I cut his throat right now, you can always blame me. I don't care if some merchant brat hates me as long as I get my job done” He looked from her to the dagger in his hands. "Your choice, warlock..."
[Allow him to put Kareq out of his misery] [Order him to fetch Naela]