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Chapter 27 - Kyrill

“Then he turned, took off in a full sprint, and... jumped.” Moswen was going over what happened once more, giving details from his perspective.

“He really thought he could make it, huh?” Erryk asked.

“Like a true idiot.”

“So we definitely didn’t murder him,” Neera added.

The two were recounting the details, but Kyrill kept quiet, still feeling embarrassed about the whole thing. How could he have let them be duped like that? They were captured and at the mercy of a group of thieves. Literal thieves. They even advertise the fact, calling themselves the Thieves’ Guild. And he thought Isha was brash. If circumstances had been any different, he might have been robbed blind or chained up somewhere or worse.

“You alright over there, Kyrill?” Moswen asked. “They got the better of us all, but we walked out alive. And hey, we’re even a little richer, too.”

“Yeah, and now we owe them a favor? We have enough weight hanging over our heads as is. Being under some vague obligation isn’t helping.”

“I honestly wouldn’t worry about that,” Erryk said. “They’re just posturing. It’s how Valisendae works. It’s a bluff. She’ll never actually cash it in, instead holding on to it to make you feel forever beholden to her.”

“What if it isn’t a bluff?”

“You’re leaving the city. What kind of favor could they even ask of you? If anything, it’ll fall on me and the Whispers. They’ll probably just ask for use of the tunnels for the thirtieth time. Like that even costs us anything.”

A knock on the door quickly silenced the room. They had been waiting for a contact from the Thieves’ Guild to show up, the last piece of the puzzle before they could leave this gods forsaken city. Kyrill’s breathing stuttered as the woman entered the room.

Gods, she’s pretty.

Her wild red hair swayed across her shoulders as she surveyed the room, her eyes eventually meeting his.

I guess I have a type.

“So I hear you’re heading to Rotwater?” She reached out to shake his hand. “My name’s Aoife. I’ll be your tour guide.”

Oh gods, she’s funny, too.

He paused for a moment, flustered and completely enamored, before taking her hand in his. Her skin was rough, her handshake firm, not a woman to balk at getting down into the dirt when necessary. He liked that.

"A pleasure," he said, shaking her hand.

A pleasure? he thought. Smooth, Kyrill. Already struggling. And she can probably see it written all over your utter lack of a poker face.

“So, Aoife,” Erryk began, breaking the silence. Thank god, the awkward silence probably only further punctuated the sexual tension. “Sparrowhawk tells me the Thieves’ Guild has some useful information?”

She seemed to relax at that.

“Or at least a handle on a possible source.”

“Why don’t you fill us in on what we’re about to get ourselves into?”

“I was told you were looking to get in touch with the sages? So am I. And I take it you’ve already come to the conclusion that doing so is impossible?”

She commanded the room, everyone’s attention on her. She probably relished being at the center of it.

“Yes, the Spires are a little... out of reach at the moment.”

“But that’s how it’s always been. The sages are an insular bunch, private. They don’t like people interfering, prefer to keep to themselves. They also don’t let just anybody join their ranks, but many still try. And when they fail? Lately, they’ve been going to Rotwater. Rejects, failed apprentices, those who weren’t quite good enough to make the cut, they all seem to end up there. Given a second chance.”

“Like they were recruited,” Erryk added, addressing the rest of the room. “Rotwater had been trying to position themselves as the next member of the Conclave for years. Before it’s destruction, Everspring was a nation. Same with Rah’qet and The Howl. Everything else is nothing but a barren. A smaller city? Barren. Trading post? Barren. Three guys in a tent? Well that’s just camping, but you get the idea. Rotwater’s a huge place, but they knew that until they could join the Conclave, that’s all they would ever be. Ego. But there is no Conclave anymore, so who knows what they’re working towards now.”

“They have been taking in the refugees from Everspring,” Neera said. “Maybe they want to rebuild the Conclave?”

“Everspring is gone and the Spires have isolated themselves pretty damn well. Only ones left are The Howl, and they’ve always been pretty isolated to begin with. Could Rotwater be attempting to rebuild the Conclave? I guess it’s a possibility, but the truth is we just don’t know.”

“Isn’t that kind of your thing, Ryk?” Isha asked, the question dripping with judgement. “Knowing these things?”

“Listen, if a smith doesn’t have a hammer or a carpenter doesn’t have nails, neither can do their jobs. Like them, I too am dependent on my tools and materials, though I don’t deal in timber and steel. I deal in knowledge. Information. And the tools necessary for my line of work are in short supply nowadays.”

“Ooh, like messenger ravens?!” Neera exclaimed. The girl really enjoyed her books.

“First of all, pigeons are the preferred bird of choice by far, regardless of what you may have read. They tried to use ravens and crows at one point since they’re supposedly smart and quite clever. Seems they’re smart enough to know they don’t have to deliver shit, the stubborn bastards. But more importantly, birds aren’t exactly the most discreet or reliable option. Just shoot ‘em out of the sky and the message has been intercepted. Even if they’re coded, codes can be cracked. Not the best option for my line of work. Besides, delivering messages is hardly even a slice of what we really do. The Whispers aren’t the postal service.”

“We are getting way off track here,” Aoife said, blunt and impatient. “It’s unclear what they know or what their intentions are, but with the influx of Rah’qet rejects, Rotwater has—perhaps even accidentally—become the next largest congregation of minds in the entire empire. If we’re looking for some brainiacs that know things, that’s the place to go. And rumor has it, the recent push happened before Everspring was destroyed. Some have been saying one of the sages defected and is now running Rotwater in secret.”

“They have a sage,” Erryk reiterated, focusing on the important part of what Aoife had been trying to build towards. He seemed as surprised as anyone.

“They have a sage,” she confirmed.

Rotwater was a barren unlike any other, a free city under no rule, due in part to its unique rise to power. Rotwater came from humble beginnings. What would eventually become the largest barren in the empire started as a simple fur trader's homestead: nothing more than a log cabin, an admittedly impressive garden and a smokehouse.

The cabin was isolated, situated about as far away from any other barren or settlement you could find in the eastern empire. There were no other people for days in any direction. Nothing but pristine hunting grounds untouched by human hands and a lake so massive it was referred to as the Inner Sea. It would have been a hermit’s paradise had the entire area not been a perpetual swamp.

The far away location did, however, make it an excellent midpoint for people traveling from any of the major barrens through the eastern empire, perfect for the fur trader to hawk his wares without ever having to leave home.

The cabin was no inn, but as more and more traders would pass through to trade, many would pay for an overnight stay and a hot meal in the morning. A bed, breakfast, then they were on their way. The fur trader was doing so well for himself, that his quaint log cabin kept getting bigger and bigger to accommodate the growing number of visitors, many of whom started staying for longer and longer to trade with other merchants passing through.

While the area wasn’t the most pleasant, it didn’t stop other successful traders from permanently setting up shop as well. And soon enough, a market was born. As it continued to grow over the years, intrepid entrepreneurs saw opportunity. What started as a growing collection of traders started to look more and more like a real city as people started building the necessities: utilities like water purification, inns and taverns, family homes and shops galore.

Most level-headed people would think it daft to build a city in the swamp, but they built it all the same. And it flourished, its central location and availability of goods from all around the empire the perfect conditions to become a thriving trading post.

The grandson of the fur trader even expanded that old log cabin to establish it as the first tavern and clubhouse, a hunter's lodge called The Hawk’s Roost, instantly becoming the central hub of this wannabe-city and solidifying their family legacy.

It was in this tavern that a question was asked: what’s stopping them from being a proper city? The answer, of course, was a lack of real leadership, no knowledge of how to rule, not even a real population to rule since the majority of people were still just passing through. But the answer they came up with was much more simple than that: a city needs a name! Since there were no officials or rules, that night a group of drunk traders and thieves, sitting in what was once the log cabin of a simple fur trader, dubbed this gem of the swamp the City of Rotwater.

Things haven't changed much since. The barren was much the same, just bigger. The Hawk’s Roost had eventually become home to the barren’s first official mercenary club, but has since transcended even that title, instead becoming the oversight of the many hunting-centric MCs that have cropped up since, Rotwater’s less-secretive version of the Broken Circle. Families have settled down in town, businesses flourished, trade was booming.

If there was, in fact, a defected Rah’qet sage running Rotwater, they would have to do so without the general population of the barren finding out. The people of Rotwater wouldn’t take kindly to the thought of anyone taking away even an ounce of their autonomy. The only real form of any sort of leadership was that of the various MCs in the city, though that was confined within each individual club. And aside from The Hawk’s Roost, there was zero outside influence. The barren was in disarray without the general oversight of usual leadership, but that’s the way they liked it. Anarchy, by every definition of the word.

“So I think that’s our best bet,” Isha said from across the room. “If there’s anyone vying for power in Rotwater, they’ve made themselves enemies of the people and The Hawk’s Roost is the place to gauge public reaction.”

The group was staying in the Whispers’ sanctum for the night. There were plenty of spare bunks available and any excuse not to stay in another grungy inn was a good one. Though they did have the money to afford it thanks to the man they definitely didn’t murder.

Isha and Neera were sitting at a small table with a game of Wolves and Jackals set before them. Kyrill and Moswen were on the other side of the room, playing a game of cards. Or, at least, trying to. Getting crushed hand after hand didn’t feel like playing so much as it was a constant wait for inevitable defeat. It seemed Moswen had picked up more than just tips on hunting and foraging during his travels.

“Finding the help we need could be as simple as asking for the right people,” Isha continued. “Visit a bookshop that specializes in rare, ancient languages and ask the shopkeep for his translation services. Boom, done. But let’s be honest, that’s not gonna happen. What about any of this so far has been that easy?”

“So what’s the game plan then?” Moswen asked. “We gonna just waltz right into this Hawk’s Roost place and ask ‘hey, any of you know about the secret sage running your barren?’ That doesn’t seem like a great idea. The less people know about what we’re doing there, the better.”

“Of course. Head to town, see what we can infer from the people, test the waters. We play it safe. This is a clandestine Whispers operation now. We approach this like spies.”

Neera got visibly excited at the prospect, lightly clapping her hands. Her enthusiasm brought a smile to Kyrill’s face. No matter the circumstances, she could always find something positive, the silver linings. He looked at his hand, trying to make heads or tails of his options when Moswen casually placed his face up on the table. A full set. Kyrill had lost again. Kyrill tossed his cards to the table. Moswen gathered them up to shuffle again, a grin across his face.

“So how’s this game actually work?” Isha asked Neera, motioning to the game sitting between them.

“I thought you said you knew the game,” Neera said.

“I’m familiar with it, but I don’t know how to play. I saw some people playing... gods, the day before boarding the airship. It seemed so long ago,” Isha lamented. “But I wasn’t really paying attention to the game at the time. Had more important things at hand.”

They’ve had quite an action-packed time with one another. Thinking about it, Kyrill felt like they had only just met, but also like they’ve known each other forever. Meeting Moswen and running towards the sound of a crash happened both yesterday and years ago. They’ve experienced so much together in the last couple tendays—more than he ever experienced in years—that it was hard to think everything had happened in such a short amount of time, even though he lived it all.

“I assume we each control either the Wolves or the Jackals and we put the pegs into the holes and somehow that’s a game.” Isha continued. “You have any idea how this works?”

“Haven’t got a clue,” Neera said with a shrug.

“I can teach you how to play. It’s not too hard,” a soft voice from behind them said.

It was Tessa, the polite girl that greeted them at the door as they returned from their “meeting” with Valisendae and Sparrowhawk. Kyrill hadn’t noticed her enter the room. She was clearly talking to Neera, likely the only other person her age to step foot inside the sanctum.

“Oh, no thanks. We’re kinda discussing important plans.”

Kyrill thought Neera would have jumped at the opportunity to spend time with one of her actual peers, play games like a kid her age should instead of tramping through the woods and sand, seeming like the weight of the world rested solely on her shoulders. That said, he couldn’t really blame her for not wanting to. Tessa was a creepy fucking kid. And judging by her body language, she didn’t seem to appreciate her invitation being declined one bit.

“You can teach me,” another voice called out from the hallway just behind Kyrill.

Aoife strolled past him towards the table where Isha and Neera were sitting, avoiding him as she had been all evening. She held a bowl in her hands, fresh from the kitchen. Kyrill smelled tomatoes. She approached the table and stood next to Tessa, a strange mirror to Isha and Neera seated before them.

“If neither of you are playing, of course,” Aoife added, cordial and unthreatening. Kyrill could see it across Isha’s face: the words meant war. It was an odd stand-off. Isha had acted as the leader of their little group, but here came this new girl, help brought in from an entirely separate MC. It was like an organization bringing in a new leader from the outside rather than promoting from within. Or like a child who only wanted a toy once some other child had shown interest.

“By all means,” Isha said, motioning for Aoife to take the game from the table. “Like the girl said, we’re busy discussing our plan of attack anyways. Game’s all yours.”

“I overheard, actually. I agree that a clandestine operation does sound like the best plan.” The irony of easily overhearing secret plans being discussed from the other room was obvious. She picked up the game, placed it on a neighboring table and took a seat. “If we’re looking at first getting the lay of the land from The Hawk’s Roost, perhaps it would be a good idea to send in the hunters first to get a feel for the place? Me and the boys?” She tilted her head and motioned towards Kyrill and Moswen. Moswen was clearly not too excited about the proposition. Isha didn’t respond.

“Rotwater is home to the more criminally-inclined, actual bandit gangs and whatnot,” Aoife continued. “Not exactly a safe place for either the Whispers or the Thieves’ Guild to make themselves known. No hides, that’s for certain. It’s funny, I haven’t worn mine in months. Got it back yesterday and now I’m already leaving it behind again. I noticed none of you are wearing hides. Not even the big guy over there.” She turned to talk to Kyrill. “A vest would look good on you, fit your whole ‘wild’ look,” she said, waving her hand around in his direction.

Kyrill was thankful he had a beard and dark skin. If he looked like Moswen, he was sure his cheeks would be bright red.

“They’re not actually Whispers,” Isha said.

Tessa joined the conversation and immediately followed with “Neither are you.”

That was the wrong thing to say.

Erryk had told them the Whispers needed people. His “tools of the trade,” as he said. Nothing can compare to investigation and face to face conversation. Normally, the Whispers wouldn’t dedicate any resources to Rotwater when they had enough on their plates with the Spires looming above them. They’re only helping because it’s mutually beneficial and doing so isn’t using any actual resources, since they aren’t really Whispers.

“It’s true,” Isha admitted. “I’m still technically a new blood. You and I are technically equals in rank.”

“I’ve probably killed more than you have,” Tessa claimed. The girl was cocky. “What’s your number?”

“Well, let’s see,” Isha began, not skipping a beat. “In the last couple tendays, there were... two on the airship, three after the crash, and two when Kyrill was poisoned. Then three back in Everspring, and my first right here in Rah'qet.”

Tessa was clearly impressed, but as still trying to make a point.

“How about her?” she asked, pointing at Neera.

“Enough to know I don’t want to keep count.”

Neera was solemn with her answer. She had been learning so much about her abilities, finding new ways to use them outside of just killing, but her past actions still weighed heavy on her.

“But not enough to forget the number.”


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Posted by Anonymous on 09.24.20
Just finished catching up with all the chapters and I'm loving these characters! Feels like a lot of build up towards something big and I can't wait to find out what.
the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet