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Chapter 25 - Isha

Returning to Rah’qet, knowing how difficult gaining an audience with the sages of the Spires would be, Isha knew seeking assistance from her old MC was a high likelihood, if not inevitable. Her discovery of the Spires ominously floating above the crater where it once sat had only ensured it.

The thing is, unlike most mercenary clubs, the Whispers didn’t have a typical clubhouse. Given the types of things they made their business, the secrets they were exposing of prominent and powerful people, they made themselves a number of dangerous enemies. Retaliation was a constant threat, so they were forced to keep their location a secret. The irony wasn’t lost on them.

A lot could have changed in the time she’d been gone, but Isha still remembered where it was, remembered all the secret entrances. Even so, she couldn’t have walked in without making contact first. You don’t waltz right into someone’s home unannounced. You knock on the door and wait to be invited. It’s common courtesy. Even vampires understand that.

Isha walked through a rubble-strewn hallway, a tunnel, the second such tunnel she’d tried. The Outer Ring had suffered quite a bit more structural damage than she was led to believe. Entire city blocks were demolished, but lesser damage stretched much further. The tunnels she found herself in, originally constructed to infiltrate the walls of the Spires, suffered just as much damage as the streets above. The first entrance she tried led to a tunnel that had completely caved in. Her current approach, further from ground zero, proved to have held up much better.

Her lantern only allowed her to see so far ahead, giving the eerily quiet tunnels an uneasy, spooky feeling. She remembered making the walk through for the first time as a child and being terrified. She continued down the tunnel, passing by a couple branching paths leading off into darkened corridors, until she could see a faint flicker of light appear around the bend. An oil lamp hung from the low ceiling where rough-hewn stone made way for a delicately carved doorway. In it sat a sturdy wooden door with iron reinforcing bands, a sliding peephole, and a silver door knocker in the shape of a crow’s head, the knocker itself held in its beak.

Two knocks, then one, then two again.

The peephole immediately slid open, a pair of eyes appearing behind it. The man behind the door didn’t say a word.

“Little bird has come home to roost,” Isha said.

“We’ve been expecting you,” the man replied, sliding the peephole closed.

From the other side of the door, Isha heard the sounds of several locks sliding open and barriers being unhinged. Even hidden underground, they kept the place secure. The door opened to reveal a giant of a man, Kyrill-sized, who had clearly needed to bend down to look through the peephole. He stood up straight now, the room’s ceiling much higher than the tunnels’. He must have one hell of a time getting down here, she thought. The man closed the door behind her, resecured the plethora of locks and sat back down on a little stool, resting his back against the wall. He put on a pair of tiny reading glasses and picked up a book that was dwarfed in the man’s hands.

Isha was greeted by a young girl, not much older than Neera, not much older than Isha was when she first joined. She was mousy and soft-spoken, wearing a light, sleeveless top that draped down just past her fingertips like a flowing skirt. Her short bob haircut accentuated her unassuming look, something that could come in very handy if she was taught how to use it to her advantage.

“Right this way, ma’am.”

Isha didn’t remember needing to be so courteous when she was put on door duty. If anything, she attributed her general nonchalant attitude to coming of age in this very environment. Maybe the girl was just a naturally polite kid. That would probably change.

The halls were quiet, practically empty. She remembered it being much more of a thrill the first time she entered the sanctum, much more lively. People were sparring and sharpening their blades, singing old tavern songs and playing cards, drinking and fighting and drinking some more. Now, it was quiet as a library, solemn as a monastery, serious.

The girl led her to the door of the leader’s office and gave it a quick knock, the same knock needed for entry into the sanctum—twice, once, then twice again—probably due to habit. That would have to change.

The man behind the desk wore a black leather vest over long-sleeved, skin-tight leathers similar to Isha’s. It made a distinct squeaking noise as he sat up straight in his chair. Pinned to the vest was a thin silver circle, a quarter of it snapped off. Fur curled up over his shoulders and around the collar of the vest, the telltale mark of the MC’s leadership. No matter who wore the vest, it gave an intimidating air of importance. Regardless of the man behind it, you knew they were not to be messed with.

In this particular case, the man behind it was hard, but handsome. He didn’t smile, stoic as a statue as he motioned towards the chair in front of his desk. “Have a seat.” The sides of his head were shaved to stubble, the top pulled back tight into a knot. The stubble continued down to his chiseled jawline, shaved and shaped to come to points just before reaching his chin like two daggers.

Isha sat and immediately found a knife at her throat. The hand that held it was small, delicate. The girl? So much for politeness.

The man spoke, commanding authority, his voice deep, his words direct. “You know our tunnels, you know our signals, yet nobody here seems to know you.”

“Seems there’s nobody here to know me.”

“Who are you?” he asked, disregarding Isha’s non-answer to his non-question.

“Guess it’s been a while. Name’s Isha. I was a kid when—”

“Holy shit, wait. Isha?! Is that really you?” The man’s demeanor changed in an instant. The tough guy facade he so carefully constructed vanished into thin air.

“Seems like somebody here does know me after all.” She looked up towards the kid holding the blade against her neck. “That enough to get this knife off my throat?”

“Of course, of course. Tessa, please. You can go. Isha’s an old friend of the club.” The girl withdrew her blade, curtsied, then left, gently closing the door behind her. “I’m guessing you don’t recognize me then either then, eh?”

“Like I said, been a while.”

“It’s me! Erryk!”

He had been shy as a boy. The pudgy kid with the awful bowl haircut had apparently grown up to become quite the strapping, handsome gentleman. He had been one of the other younger new bloods alongside Isha. She remembered him kind of being the black sheep of the bunch, slow to start, but persistent, never giving up. And now he ran the place apparently.

“What the fuck? Ryk? How’d a runt like you get to be in charge?”

“Ain’t a runt no more,” he said with a sense of pride, pounding his chest. “That, and a lot of our people are dead, or...” he pointed upwards. “Had lots of people running the tunnels when the Spires took off. Collapse killed quite a few. Even more were still behind the walls. We heard rumors of something big going down and wanted to know what. Guess we found out. No idea if they’re even still alive up there.”

“Well that explains a lot.”

“Yeah, the MC’s seen better days. We ain’t down and out yet, though. And there’s always room for some new blood! Or old new blood, in your case.”

“Afraid I’m not here to rejoin the ranks just yet. I have a favor to ask.”

“Figured as much. Didn’t hurt to try, though. So what’s this favor?”

“Well, the original plan was to somehow gain an audience with the sages, but given the state of things, that seems a tad more difficult now. And they somehow seem even less trustworthy than before.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

“Don’t happen to have anyone fluent in ancient languages among the ranks, do ya?”

“Can’t say we do.”

“Then I need to speak to The Circle. I need you to bring me to the next council.” She knew it was a long shot, but she had to try.

“The council” made things sound much more official and democratic when the reality was far from it. It was nothing more than the heads of the three allied MCs meeting to make decisions however they saw fit. No rules, no regulations, just the whims of three powerful and ethically-dubious figureheads. It would help that Erryk was one of those heads, but they’d need to convince the other two to help, a barter with nothing to offer in return.

“Are you joking?” Erryk asked with a laugh. “First of all, it’s the Broken Circle now,” he said, pointing to the chipped circle pinned to his vest. “Secondly, they’re never gonna help you. You disappeared—after two of our own ended up dead, mind you—then you come back, what, fifteen years later?”

“Only fourteen, actually.”

“Wearing the regalia of the Everguard? Raises some serious concerns. They’re gonna question your loyalty, your commitment, but you never even earned your hide, you were never initiated. You’re gonna go and ask for their help, but you’ve yet to prove yourself to them.”

Isha unbuckled the restraints that held her spaulders securely in place, the only piece of Everguard “regalia” she still wore, letting it drop to the floor.

“You need proof of my loyalty?”

She undid the straps of her leathers.

“My commitment?”

She ripped off her undershirt and turned her back to him, showcasing the entirety of the tattoo that nearly covered her whole back.

“Here! Here’s proof!”

For the first time, Isha was showing her tattoo to someone who actually understood what it was, what it meant. The feather, the pursed lips, the shushing finger: it was the exact same symbol on the back of Erryk’s vest, the symbol of the Whispers Mercenary Club.

“Appreciate the gander at your tits—”

“Fuck off.”

“—but ink don’t mean nothing.”

“Maybe to you, but it means everything to me! Each and every one of my tattoos are significant of some part of me or my life, the things I’ve done. Who I am now is a combination of all the whos I’ve ever been. The Whispers will always be a part of me.”

“And I appreciate that! I do! But I’m not the one you need to convince. Ink ain’t hide.”

“Then give me my hide! Initiate me!”

“It’s... it’s not the literal hide that’s the problem. They don’t know you. And circumventing a technicality ain’t gonna earn us any favors. They’ll see right through that.”

“Then fucking vouch for me! Bring me to talk to them, back me up.”

“You still haven’t told me why you need help, not specifically. What is it you’re after, really?”

Isha hesitated to divulge any real information, fearful of it slipping into the wrong hands, bringing even more trouble to their doorstep. But she came to the Whispers for a reason: because she could trust them. She had to trust them.

“The little girl I’m traveling with? She knows magic. Real magic, not bullshit parlor tricks and sleight of hand. But she needs guidance, or at least help understanding what she’s capable of. Even a single fucking book about it would be a godsend.”

“All of this for a girl?”

“No. She was traveling in secret with a man who hired me to protect him. I failed him, but not before he revealed he was the last living Cleric.”

“No shit? The Conclave?”

“Not only that, but we have his ledger. And it’s weird. It looks like he might have been researching and investigating all sorts of things. None of us can read any of it, but we think that ledger might contain... I dunno, a clue or something.”

“A clue about what?”

“Who was behind the destruction of Everspring. Erryk, I need information, guidance, before what happened to Everspring happens again. And the sages are likely the only ones who have it.”

She surprised herself with how true everything she was saying had been. No lies, no bending the truth, no omitting of details. She believed it all. Even though she began her trek through the wilderness with the intention of merely escorting Neera to the sages, she found the more involved she was, the more personal it became. In that moment, it had become her crusade, too.

“Gods, Isha. You’re not fucking around, are you?”

“Afraid not.”

“Okay, okay. Tonight then. I’ll take you to the others, we’ll make our case. But I can’t make any promises.”

“That’s all I could ask for. Thank you, Erryk.”

“Of course. Also... you can put your top back on now.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.”


She expected a grand cathedral room with high vaulted ceilings and tall windows with colored glass. The actual room was small. Bare and cold. The walls were rough stone with only torches to illuminate the space. Three seats on raised platforms were situated around the edges of the circular vault, equidistant from one another. There was no head of the table or center seat; in this room, the leaders of the MCs were equals. It also meant their guests were left confused about who to look too, speak to, turn their backs to. It was all part of the game.

People brought here were either asking for favors, being questioned, being put on trial, or some combination of the three. Isha was sure her intentions weren’t the only thing the other MC leaders were interested in.

The Broken Circle consisted of Erryk, a woman named Valisendae and a man who went by Sparrowhawk. Erryk was much younger and “green” compared to the others, seemingly much to their dismay.

Sparrowhawk was the leader of the Thieves’ Guild, an MC consisting mostly of, as the name would suggest, thieves. Not bandits, but thieves. Bandits stole indiscriminately. The Thieves’ Guild had a strict code of ethics. They never targeted the vulnerable or desolate, the poor or downtrodden. Quite the opposite. Be they lowly bandits or those in power who abused their station for their own personal gain, these were the people the Thieves’ Guild targeted.

Thieves that only stole from other thieves.

Keeping people honest through thievery.

Some honor among thieves.

Like the Whispers, the top lieutenants of the Thieves’ Guild also had nicknames, never using their real names. “Names have power,” they’d say. They weren’t wrong, but it’s one thing to start being called a nickname by your peers and something else entirely when you’re choosing the name yourself. Quickfingers, Bloodtalon, Slipknot. Bunch of fucking edgelords, the lot of ‘em.

Sparrowhawk looked exactly like what you’d expect of a thief who chose “Sparrowhawk” as his own name, which just so happened to be exactly what a teenage boy who fantasized about becoming a master thief named “Sparrowhawk” would look like. A childhood drawing come to life then left to grow old. Like an aging musician who refused to give up his signature style from years past. He wore all black leathers, thin black gloves, and a black, hooded scarf-shawl thing. All of this, of course, was emblazoned with either bird imagery—clasps that looked like talons, buckles that looked like beaks, all styled to look like they were dripping with fresh blood—or had rows of black feathers attached. Fucking. Edgelords.

Valisendae was the leader of the Pit Vipers, mercenary club turned gambling hall. Being in a city full of people passing through and looking for a good time, a city so focused on its nightlife, The Vipers realized it was much more profitable running gambling halls and betting rings. Why risk the lives of your crew tracking down runaways when you could be breaking the ankles of the poor schmuck that hasn’t repaid his debts? Why deal with roadside robberies when you can make idle threats at the people you suspect are counting cards? Why bother killing more mottled boars than you can count when instead you could be living the high life? They were still structured like a typical MC, but the bruisers and muscle cared less about helping folk for money and more about ensuring that those folk lost their money in a legal but statistically-ensured fashion.

Compared to Erryk and Sparrowhawk, Valisendae didn’t look the part of MC leader whatsoever. Where the other two wore lots and lots of black leather, the woman looked more like a damsel of high society. Her gloves weren’t leather, but silk. She wore no vest, no hide, but a tightly-laced corset that shoved her tits damn well up to her neck. She definitely had no hood to hide behind. Judging by the intricacy of her hair, she wouldn’t dare risk disheveling the amount of work that went into it. She looked more like a porcelain doll than the leader of one of the most influential mercenary clubs in the city.

Nothing else about her, however, fit the image she portrayed. She slouched in her chair, rolling a poker chip between her fingers as she spoke. “Well, Erryk, what’ve you brought us today, eh? I sure as shit hope you got more reason for invitin’ her to speak than just gettin’ laid.”

“Oh, we can tell,” Sparrowhawk added. “Can practically smell it on you. Can’t blame ya, really.”

“She’s a right peach, that one. But that ain’t enough reason to bring her to council, is it? If gettin’ laid’s all your after, lad, all you need’s to ask.”

“Won’t blame you for that, either, but let’s get down to business before this turns into an all out orgy, eh?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Valisendae snapped her fingers in Isha’s direction. “Darling, why don’t you tell us who you are.”

“Isha.”

“Skip the basics,” Sparrowhawk said. “We know all that. From Everspring, once part of the Everguard, but you weren’t in the city when everything went to shit.”

“You came here last night,” Valisendae continued, “accompanied by a warrior from Shaded Seed, a hunter and a young girl.” She paused, giving time for Isha to be surprised at how much they knew already. “What? You think someone like you walks into our city and we don’t notice?”

But Isha wasn’t surprised. The information they had was basic, nothing more than what you could infer from a casual glance, things that would be apparent to anyone paying attention. It wasn’t as if she had been trying to hide any of it, either. She did a damn good job at grabbing people’s attention. The tactic might have worked on someone else, but the intended intimidation didn’t much take hold.

Isha stood with her back to Erryk, facing both Valisendae and Sparrowhawk. She debated telling them about Neera and the ledger, but decided against it. Erryk she could trust, but these two weren’t starting things off in the most trustworthy manner. No need to be completely forthcoming to people who didn’t seem interested in helping yet. Instead, she deferred to the most basic of information, implying nothing.

“I’m investigating the destruction of Everspring.”

“You realize you’re in Rah’qet, right dear?” Valisendae quipped.

“And Rah’qet could be next. I have reason to believe what happened with Everspring could very well happen again. The Spires being ripped out of the ground is nothing compared to what happened there. For all we know, those two things could be related. The Broken Circle aren’t ones to let anything remain unknown. This could very well be the most dangerous unknown you’ve ever encountered.”

“She’s got spunk, I’ll give her that much,” Valisendae said. “So, the world’s endin’ and you’re coming to us. What exactly are you askin’ for?”

“I need help gaining an audience with the sages. Or, at least, information from them, resources, contacts. And it needs to be reliable.”

Sparrowhawk’s brow furrowed. He seemed especially curious about the request.

“Can’t trust the pricks, that’s about the only reliable thing about ‘em,” Valisendae quipped. “We got people lookin’ into our situation with the Spires. If anything comes up relatin’ to Everspring or some city-destroying doomsday shenanigans, we’ll be sure to let the Whispers know, but the Pit Vipers ain’t devotin’ any of our resources to your personal quest.”

“Actually,” Sparrowhawk interjected, “the Thieves’ Guild might be of some assistance. I have some people that might be of use to you.”

He snapped his fingers and from one of the double-wide doors emerged a parade of people, the first of which was a young girl with blonde hair and porcelain skin both caked with grime, piercing blue eyes, and a devious, shitty, little grin.

Following her were Kyrill, Moswen and Neera, surrounded by a group of black leather-clad underlings. Her friends had their hands bound behind their backs, their weapons gone.

“I guess introductions are in order. Isha, this is my daughter, Odessa, her crew, and I believe you’re familiar with the others?” Sparrowhawk chuckled.

“What the hell is this?” Isha demanded.

“Not to worry. Your friends got into a bit of a pickle. We’re here to simply reunite them with you.” Nothing was ever simple, Isha knew, but Sparrowhawk motioned towards their guards, mimicking scissors with his fingers. Their restraints were severed.

“What about all our stuff?” Neera demanded.

He snapped his fingers again and two large bags hit the floor, one soft, one heavy.

“Don’t worry, everything’s all there. And we’ve respected your privacy and haven’t looked through anything, not even a peek. Thief’s honor,” he said, holding three fingers over his heart. Normally, she wouldn’t believe the man, but if they had looked through their stuff they sure as shit would’ve had a field day with Neera’s bag.

“The man you were chasing had a number of coin purses and a small amount of drugs. It’s impossible to know who everything belonged to, but since you caught the thief, the money and drugs are yours.”

“Don’t want the drugs,” Kyrill said, flat and absolute.

“We figured as much.” Valisendae said with a laugh. She tossed Kyrill another coin purse. “Street value, fair market price.”

“Why?” Isha asked. “We’re the ones asking for help. You could easily have us bending over backwards. This is all leverage. Why just give it all back?”

“We’re not the bad guys here. You’re still Whispers. We look after our own. And we make it a point to never owe anyone anything,” Sparrowhawk said.

“It’s never a pleasant feelin’ having a debt loomin’ over your head,” Valisendae added with a wink. “Trust me, I know.”

“Speaking of debts and leverage, for the murder of that poor, desperate man who took your coin—”

“We didn’t murder him!” Neera shouted.

“—we are choosin’ not to seek justice at this time. You are in our debt now.”

And there’s the rub.

“But we didn’t murder him!”

“Nor will anyone ever think you did. As long as you grant our request, a favor.”

“And what might that be?” Isha asked.

“Another time,” Valisendae said. “When we require somethin’ of you, we’ll come callin’.”

“Quite the bargain you’re asking for. Discretion towards a crime they didn’t commit for a free hand? Whatever and whenever?”

“Discretion isn’t all,” Sparrowhawk said. “I may have been a bit coy when I mentioned people that may be of use to you. If sages are what you seek, I may have someone with, shall I say, overlapping interests.”

(1/12)


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Posted by Matt on 09.09.20
Every fantasy story needs at least one person with a ridiculously-spelled modern-sounding name.

Erryk says hello.
 
the empire
Everspring
Rah'qet
The Howl
Rotwater
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Corinth
Hillsedge
Moormount
Browbury
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Fesmere
Gauston
Amara
Tiller's Hamlet