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Chapter 34 - Anders

As he descended the staircase, Anders recognized the regalia of the numerous Hawk’s Roost guards blocking their exit. Their armor glistened in the flickering lamplight. The shadows of their pikes carved across the backs of Anders’ unaware companions.

“Yeah, where are we going?” the guard in the middle said, drawing their attention. He had no weapon in hand, nor dawned shield. Just an air of importance. The leader of this little disciplinary crew then.

Anders knew his new companions must have entered the lodge through mischievous means. Even members of the Hunter’s Alliance weren’t allowed past the pit-fighting arena. For them to be here, they had to have caused some ruckus. They did break into his own quarters. What other trouble must they have gotten themselves into reaching him? Luckily for them, he was a very important person and could rid their problems with a wave of his hand.

Neera, the young mage, began to reach into her satchel. Anders stopped her and laid a firm hand on her arm as he walked past.

“That won’t be necessary, my dear.”

He handed her the book and approached the leader of the guards.

“Gentlemen, I must apologize if my companions have caused any confusion or concern. They are my guests and as such I take full responsibility. But I must insist that you step aside as we have important work to attend to.”

He was met with the tips of two pikes being raised to his face. Perhaps it would take a bit more than a wave of the hand after all.

“Please, gentlemen,” he continued, not dropping his jovial composure one bit. “There seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding. Are you aware of who I am?”

“Not really,” the supposed leader answered. “And we don’t much care. All we know is we’re supp—”

“Andrissian Ghenn, advisor to Lord Chancellor Gavin Rhames, the owner and proprietor of The Hawk’s Roost and the head of the Hunter’s Alliance.”

“Don’t need to tell us who the Lord Chancellor is. We know.” He tapped on the eagle badge pinned to the chest of his uniform. “We answer directly to him. Not to you.” The man took a step forward, grabbed for Anders’ shoulder. “Our orders ar—”

Anders grabbed his wrist, turned, leveraged it with ease to send the man sprawling to his knees in pain.

“Now, now.” Anders held his empty hand towards the other guards, compelling them to stop and listen. “No one needs to get hurt here. You’re just doing your jobs, following orders. I get that. But any of you make a move and I snap his arm in two.” He spoke with a casual tone, exerting no effort to keep the man twisting under relaxed grip. “Now. My friends here have brought some important information to my attention that requires the immediate consideration of myself and our illustrious employer. Extenuating circumstances and all that. So here’s what we’re all going to do. You’ll put away your weapons, I’ll let go of this poor man’s arm and we’ll all go have a nice, formal talk with the Lord Chancellor about the very serious situation brewing outside of Rotwater’s walls.”

Anders pulled the man up to a standing position, let off some of the pressure from his wrist. Some, but not all. He bent down to look the man in the face. “Now how does that sound?

“Kill this fuc—”

The slightest twist of his wrist and the man’s words were caught in his throat as he reeled in pain, his arm held straight, his body twisted and contorted in the futile attempt of alleviating the domineering pressure being impressed upon him. Still, the message was received and the rest of the guards charged into the library.

Anders tightened his grip on the man’s wrist, wielding him like a weapon, using him as a human shield. One of the guards rushed him in an attempt to free his superior while the rest clashed with Anders’ new companions. Pikes were being thrust in every direction as the melee spread through the library floor. Desks were knocked across the floor and chairs were smashed to splinters as the ensuing fight filled the lounge area.

At least they’re moving away from the books, Anders thought to himself.

In an impressively quick reaction, one of the guards raised his shield to catch an arrow that had been shot from above. Up the staircase, Moswen stood with Neera just behind him. He had the high ground and another arrow already nocked and drawn.

“No killing!” Anders yelled, just then noticing Aoife had somehow snuck behind the crowd and was approaching the guards with a dagger drawn in either hand. “They’re just following orders!”

“Their orders are to kill us!” Isha yelled.

Frustrated and worried the situation might soon take a turn for the worse, Anders tightened his grip on the man’s wrist, held his arm straight, and thrust an open palm into the man’s elbow. The crunchy snap was loud enough to be heard even amongst the clash and clamor of the fighting around them, but was quickly drowned out by the terrible screams of pain that followed. A quick kick to the leader’s chest sent him sprawling backward into the pikeman behind him.

Aoife brought one of her blades to a guard’s neck and held it there. The pike in his hand was pulled by an invisible force into the air and tossed to the ground behind him. Neera. Anders looked back to the staircase to see her focused in thought, a hand dug deep into her satchel. Fascinating.

Anders casually kicked another guard in the back of his legs, bringing him to his knees. He pressed his knee to the man’s back and bent him backwards, wrapping an arm around his neck and holding another arm in place. The leader’s wails filled the silence that descended as the rest of the guards realized the fight was already lost.

“Now as I was saying,” he shouted, his voice still calm, but his words exact, as if they alone commanded their opposition to stand down, “we have important business to attend to. It would seem as if The Hawk’s Roost is unwilling to assist—or even talk for that matter. I suggest we waste no more time and take our leave.”

“About fucking time,” Isha said with a smile.

It had been quite a while since Anders had walked the streets of Rotwater. He almost forgot just how disgusting it was. This was the place he had been working to improve? One of the most affluent barrens in the entire empire—arguably rivaling even that of Rah’qet—and yet the streets are still filled with mud, pig shit and spit.

All they needed was a little infrastructure. Tax the merchants, improve their public facilities and Rotwater might even earn itself a new title, one that wasn’t just an insult that had been embraced.

“So where exactly are we going?” Isha asked, much less demanding than she had been.

“Tracking down Aoife’s quarry,” Anders said. “The very same people I believe were behind the destruction of Everspring.”

“We’re hunting the Drae,” Neera said with a begrudging disappointment.

“Call them what you will, but time is of the essence. The Drae and their beasts are heading south en masse. It’s just a theory at this point, but I only know of one place of interest they could be heading towards: The Howl.”

“You think they’re attacking there next?”

“It’s what I would do.” Anders pulled a flask from his bag, unscrewed the top and took a sip. “The destruction of Everspring also neutralized the Everguard, leaving the empire vulnerable and unable to organize. Rah’qet has effectively taken themselves off the playing field so all that’s really left is The Howl, the city that grew in place of the literal underground of the uprising.”


“It seems fair to assume that the Drae might have a bit of a grudge.”

The group, now six strong, methodically made their way out of the city, careful to keep themselves concealed from prying eyes, but not so conspicuous as to bring any unwanted attention upon them. Mere hours prior, Anders was high as a kite. Now he was running from the place he’d most recently called home, the place he had been an unaware slave to, off to try and ‘save the world’ as Neera had so succinctly put it. The further they got from the lodge, the safer he felt.

That growing feeling of safety was soon replaced with disgust as they left the streets of Rotwater and ventured through the labor camps at the outskirts of the barren. Witnessing the state of the camps for the first time, Anders regretted comparing his stay with The Hawk’s Roost to slavery. He hadn’t even realized he was being held against his will until he tried to leave. Before then, it had been nothing but months of drugs, sex, interesting research and a cadre of servants catering to his every whim. Compared to the conditions the refugees were subjected to, he was damn near royalty. And like some uncaring emperor, he had been complicit in the poor state of things.

He unscrewed his flask and took another sip.

Adjusting numbers on a page didn’t have nearly the same weight as seeing in person what those numbers represented. He knew things were tight, but it was supposed to be temporary, a necessary step towards better things. Once things fell into place, at least in his mind, everything would have been worth it. Seeing what that really meant, however, left a sick feeling in his stomach.

Or perhaps that was just the liquid poppysmoke.

He knew that it was bad for him, that he had grown dependent on it, that it was one of the several tools Gavin and The Hawk’s Roost used to keep him complacent. He considered tossing the flask into the mud, be done with it for good. But he didn’t. Deep down, he wanted to let it go, let it fall from his grasp, but the grasp it had on him was far greater. He carefully tucked the flask back into his bag.

It would seem as if history continued to repeat itself. Even hundreds of years after the fact, the survivors of the old Empire still couldn’t escape its practices. Slavery and servitude, by punishment or by choice, was a lynchpin for the Empire’s rise to power. And now Rotwater, in their attempted rise to cityhood, was taking in survivors of an attack very likely carried about the descendents of the Empire, only to subject them to the very same practices.

It seemed fitting then to be heading to The Howl of all places.

Tucked away in a cove of mountains that stretch across the southern shores of the empire, carved into the face of the hard stone, you can find the mouth of a cave that once echoed the siren song of the ocean beyond. It was said a deep whistling sound could be heard as wind rushed through the caves and tunnels within. This song, the namesake of The Howl, became a beacon for slaves who were fleeing from the Empire’s grasp.

Today, The Howl is a sprawling underground city sheltered within the confines of the coastal mountain range, but was once nothing more than a secret refuge for escaped slaves. Back then, even its existence was kept hidden, only referred to in secret, disguised within the lyrics of hymns and songs.

Mama, she sings with a whistlin’ howl

O’er the hill, she’s a-callin’ me home

Best come in ‘fore the sun go down

Mama, she sings, “I’m a-callin’ you home”

As time went on, this hidden communication evolved and became something more practical, eclipsing the limitations of song. It employed no special language, no codes or jargon, just a manner of speaking, turns of phrase that hinted at a secondary message hidden under the surface or between the lines. Subtext. These modes of communication were vital in the efforts to organize the people against oppressive rule and instrumental in the subsequent uprising.

Eventually, The Howl was fortified, its exits and entryways closed and reinforced. After the Empire fell, it was the first place to truly flourish and grow into one of the great cities of the Conclave. With the city fortified, the howling winds no longer rushed through and thus the city’s namesake was no more. Instead, functioning as both a nod to it’s past and a morning reveille, the caves’ new inhabitants would howl themselves. Like wolves to the moon, a cry of freedom.

They began their long trek south at a healthy pace. Time was of the essence. Even with their quickened pace, Anders spent the majority of their time traveling with his nose in a book, alternating between Erathos’ ledger and the book he took from the library, The Rise and Fall of The Fifth Pinnacle. If the descendents of the Empire truly were behind the destruction of Everspring, if the Empire’s demise was at all related, understanding their history could only help. Research and deciphering code were both activities much better suited to a desk in a quiet study, but he made due with what he was afforded.


It was the first thing he’d said in hours.

“Find something interesting?” Moswen asked.

“Quite. Erathos was, in all respects, an idealogue. He was investigating a number of theories on a variety of subjects and disciplines, some under his areas of expertise, others he hardly had a grasp on. He was a curious man with an imaginative and inquisitive mind.”

“He was a good man,” Neera said, clearly feeling the man’s absence. Isha and Aoife, both remaining quiet, seemed to carry an amount of regret with them in his place as well.

That he was.

“It would seem he had some similar theories to our own. He took a different path to get there, but he also wondered about the similarities between the destruction of Everspring and of The Fifth Pinnacle. Of course, everyone knows the story of the forest swallowing the Seat of the Empire. People assume it was some kind of natural disaster, pure luck at a time when people needed it most. With Everspring, we know it was anything but.”

“An unnatural disaster?” Moswen asked, half joking.

“More or less. Erathos described it as a small scale cataclysm, a powerfully destructive yet impossible event that left the area drastically transformed.”

“But Everspring was flooded, like it was a tsunami or something in the middle of the desert. An impossible event, sure, but nothing like that happened with the Mazewilds, did it?”

“Not a tsunami or flood, at least.” He swapped to the history book as if he were planning to show evidence of his findings, but didn’t bother even opening the cover, instead just tapping on the title. “This makes it sound more like it was an earthquake, which people could easily explain away as a random occurrence.”

“But the Mazewilds are the least easily explained thing in the whole godsdamn empire, so we should probably take that with a grain of sand.”

“Absolutely. I think it’s safe to say that neither luck nor coincidence had anything to do with the two events. Erathos at least accepted that, but—and bless his innocent, little heart—he didn’t seem to even consider the events were caused on purpose.”

Anders was pleasantly surprised by how talkative Moswen had become since leaving Rotwater. Kyrill wasn’t much of a talker, both Isha and Aoife had been extraordinarily quiet, and Neera was much too young to grasp the intricacies of the issues at hand. Moswen had a curious mind of his own. He was an apt sounding board.

“One theory of his has me thinking,” he continued. “Erathos posited an astounding idea: that the weird tree roots-pool-thing he found in Everspring—which he referred to as a wellspring—was actually a tear in the very fabric of the world through which an overwhelming amount of power or energy spilled through and caused those ‘unnatural disasters.’ Aoife finding another wellspring in the Mazewilds only helps that theory.”

“Well that’s a terrifying hypothesis.”

“Is that why Erathos wanted to detour over the Mazewilds?” Neera asked.

“I’d wager yes. All the research and wonder meant nothing without testing his theories. Luckily for us, Aoife did all the legwork for us.”

“One question,” Moswen said, “because this story still doesn’t make sense. If we’re sure the descendents of the old Empire are the ones behind Everspring, that would suggest the Empire was behind the destruction of... the Empire. Wouldn’t it? Why would they destroy their own home?”

“That’s a good question. I have no idea, but there could be any number of possible scenarios. For all we know, it could have simply been an accident.”

“Maybe it was the real Drae! They used their powerful nature magic to destroy the Empire, heroically sacrificing themselves in the process.”

“Sacrifice isn’t heroic,” Isha butted in. “Don’t you dare go killing yourself to save anyone.”

It seemed she had more to say to the girl, but Isha became eerily quiet as her eyes anxiously darted in every direction. She donned her spear. Whatever had her spooked couldn’t be good.

“So much for getting the drop on ‘em,” a voice called out from the trees.

“It’s the fuckin’ mud, like always,” a woman’s voice answered from an entirely different direction. “Huntin’s shit this close to town.”

From between the trees, Anders could make out movement off in the distance. It was just about to get dark out, on the precipice of dusk, but he caught a glint or shimmer of some reflective surface as the first voice weaved through the trees. His companions remained hidden as the man approached, staying at a safe distance within the trees, but close enough for Anders to immediately recognize exactly who he was.

“You know, we don’t usually have the opportunity to persuade our quarries to lay down arms, what with the whole beasts not talkin’ and criminals not carin’ and all,” the man said. “Maybe we talk things out this time, save us all a whole lotta trouble. Name’s Samwell. And this here’s...”

Like a practiced chorus, two heavy thumps against the trees sounded in unison.

“The Silver Hammers!” several voices called out from around them.

“Maybe you’ve heard of us,” he said with a smile.


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the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet