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Chapter 40 - Moswen

With Neera and Anders beside him, Moswen crossed the bridge and headed through the tunnels that led to the Pier. Whatever was pulling at his attention, he could feel the direction of, similar to what he felt when he’d traveled near the Mazewilds. It was not a pleasant feeling. If Anders was right, that feeling would lead him to another wellspring, the hypothetical origins of the unnatural disasters. How the wellsprings worked, Moswen had no idea, but that was why Anders was accompanying him.

They made a good team for this sort of task, but Moswen still felt uneasy without Kyrill by his side. The big man was needed elsewhere, he knew that, but even if he wasn’t, he didn’t exactly bring anything to the table that was necessary here. Their task was scientific; they didn’t need muscle. Anders could help figure out just what it was they were doing and since it was likely magical in nature, Neera was an obvious addition to the crew. And all Moswen needed to do was find the thing.

When they exited the tunnels, it was glaringly obvious just where that would be. The massive pillar in the center of the cavern was engulfed in a translucent, shimmering sphere. And it seemed to be expanding. The expansion was slow, but noticeable. It had to stop at some point, but they couldn’t know where, a ticking countdown with an unknown end.

“Well, that’s certainly something,” Anders said with the enthusiasm of a dead animal, his voice raised to be heard over the tumult of wind.

It was grand and ominous and much more than they could have conceivably expected. It made Moswen wish Kyrill were there that much more. “We may have bitten off more than we can chew with this one.”

“Too late to turn back now,” Anders replied. “We don’t have time to second guess ourselves. Let’s figure this out. First step is getting to that bridge.”

A long walkway made of stone bridged the gap between the pillar and a large cluster of tall buildings off in the distance. Within the pillar was a single hollowed out room that made the whole cavern feel precarious at best. It was difficult to tell if the pillar was actually supporting the cavern ceiling or not, but it sure as hell seemed that way. At the very least, for a room to be dug into the pillar seemed unnecessarily dangerous, like it’s construction had been guided by hubris and not much else. And now it had some weird sphere engulfing most of it and powerful winds whipping through the cavern? Moswen’s unease was growing by the minute.

“Moswen? Lead the way.”

Before he did, he took a deep breath and looked back over his shoulder, half expecting Kyrill, shield in hand, to be walking up behind him as if he had merely been lagging behind. Of course he wasn’t, though. Moswen couldn’t rely on him now. It was all up to him.

While their destination may have been in plain view, the Pier was a confusing mess of twisting corridors and overhanging walkways, platforms and extended decks, a whole slew of bridges and staircases. It was an urban planning disaster. As an outsider, traversing the city felt like trying to do a maze. You set your charcoal down at the start, can clearly see the end, but figuring out how to actually draw a line from point A to point B was the difficult part. And even though Anders was no stranger to the city, he warned he would be of little help navigating the streets.

Compared to the Loch, the Pier felt more like a large residential barren. Small caves were expanded to create family homes, dwellings carved into the cavern walls themselves, creating a texture of stairs, shelves, windows and doorways that wrapped around the perimeter of the Pier and stretched up the concave walls for several stories. Like waves frozen in time, buildings spilled out into the ground level and rose as the stone tide came crashing into the pillar. Tall clusters of buildings were scattered throughout, rising above their surroundings like ships out at sea, forming little districts from the interconnected bridges and causeways.

With the winds tearing through the cavern, it gave the place a feeling like they were stuck in a typhoon. Debris churned through the air, the wind growing even stronger and taking anything that wasn’t tied down with it.

Even more concerning was the extreme lack of people. It would have otherwise been a blessing for Moswen, but he knew it was just another foreboding sign of doom. As if he needed any more. Every now and then, he caught glimpses of worried or curious eyes peering out of windows, but the streets themselves were vacant. Everyone had either fled or hunkered down while they waited for the winds to die down. Little did they know they wouldn’t get the chance to see that happen unless he, Anders and Neera did something about it.

Their march towards the center of the cavern didn’t prove too difficult, though it became abundantly clear why Anders wasn’t very helpful with directions. The place truly was a maze. Moswen wondered how long it took locals to get a handle on things, if they ever did.

“You doing alright, Neera?” Anders asked. The girl seemed to be having a rough time compared to either of them. “The headache feels like a weird pressure, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. It’s more than just a headache, though, right? Is this a migraine? I actually don’t know what a migraine really is, but I’ve heard people use the term before.”

“You know, neither do I, to be honest. It’s a headache, but worse?”

“Well, this is worse alright. It’s downright awful, honestly.”

There was nothing anyone could do, but continue on and finish the job. Presumably, doing so would also stop the weird pressure headaches.

After climbing up a level and crossing a web of unsteady rope bridges, they rounded the corner of a particularly tall cluster of buildings and found themselves closing in on their goal. So close in fact, that Moswen noticed movement on the bridge above. He dropped low and held up a clenched fist, indicating to Anders and Neera to follow suit. The angle wasn’t the best, but Moswen was able to clearly see a group of three men clad in matching armor casually walking across the bridge leaving the pillar. Two of the men donned matching shields, though he couldn’t easily see their weapons. The other man had what Neera would refer to as a “big fuck-off sword” strapped to his back. He held his helmet under an arm as he wiped his brow of sweat, revealing stark white hair pulled back into a tight bun.

There you are.

The man put his helmet back on and the three readied themselves, their casualness dropping as they walked through the barrier of the sphere. They raised their shields to block their eyes from the whipping wind and continued along the walkway and into the buildings beyond.

The walls were built so close together that only the narrowest of alleyways between them were left at the ground level, all except for where a wide staircase bisected the cluster in two and led down into the tightly packed street below. He couldn’t know if they would leave from those stairs, but he figured it was as strong a guess as any. He turned to Anders and Neera with determination in his eyes.

“I have a plan. Follow me.”

Sure enough, the Drae eventually began descending the staircase, weapons drawn and ready. Moswen could finally see what weapons the two with shields were wielding. They were both odd choices, he thought. The first gripped the haft of a flail, casually swinging the spiked metal ball back and forth as they headed down the stairs. It was an unpopular weapon for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which was it’s awkwardness outside of battle. Swords and other bladed weapons could easily be sheathed, bows were practically made to sling across archers’ backs, but the whole point of the flail was that the dangerous part of the weapon could swing loosely from the handle. Did this guy just hold onto his weapon at all times? Or did he stow it at his side, the spiked ball constantly banging against his own leg? It looked cool in use, sure, but it was a stupid weapon. A stupid weapon for stupid people.

The other man used an even odder choice of weapon: a whip. Moswen could only imagine this mysterious Drae, a man of legend, walking the streets of Rah’qet and getting guilted into buying a whip from some asshole on a stage yelling to get his attention. Cracks like thunder! He kept the whip coiled, but held it in hand, ready to unfurl it at a moment’s notice. Not that he could accomplish much with it. A whip was an even stupider weapon than the flail. Get in close and it would become useless.

The Drae continued their descent down the staircase while Moswen, Neera and Anders waited in position. Moswen hid behind a number of wooden planks he found leaning against a half wall, likely from one of the many rope bridges found throughout the cavern. A gap between the boards functioned as a makeshift archer’s embrasure. Luckily for him, the street was low and covered enough that the wind shouldn’t affect his arrows. Or at least he hoped as much. Meanwhile, both Neera and Anders waited across the street in a small alleyway. Moswen nocked an arrow and signaled to Neera. It was go time.

The Drae continued to walk through the cluttered streets at a quickened pace. The man wielding the “big fuck off sword” slowed as he removed his helmet once more to wipe sweat from his brow. A look of bewilderment crossed his face as he stared down at his helmet growing bright red in his hands. Neera might have gone a bit overboard with the heat, but it got the job done. Moswen let his arrow fly, striking the man square in the head.

One down, two more to go.

Anders and Neera leapt out from the alleyway to draw their attention as Moswen let another arrow fly. Whip Boy flipped his shield up and deflected the shot effortlessly. He unfurled his whip and gave it a crack against the stone path, the sound echoing through the street even with the roaring wind. It was much more impressive than the attempts by that jerk in Rah’qet.

And then they charged forward.

Anders took a single step forward and stood his ground while arrow after arrow was deflected and bashed aside as the remaining Drae charged in with relentless fury. Moswen’s plan had gone well so far, but it seemed like the tables were starting to turn. That is, until the man holding the flail suddenly lost control of his weapon as it was ripped out of his hand and sent flying away. Then Whip Boy’s shield. Then the other. Suddenly, the two Drae had stopped dead in their tracks, mere strides away, empty handed.

These guys are so fucked.

The man who had been holding a flail looked all around the street, up at the roofs, to the staircase behind him, until his gaze settled on Neera. She wielded her golden idol and chunk of coal in either hand, and a smile concealed under her furrowed brow.

“A Conduit?”

Whip Boy turned to his companion with a look of desperation on his face before they both turned and ran back towards the stairs. They didn’t get more than two steps before their arms flung out and their heads whipped back as if they were being dragged to the ground by their collars. They hit the stone with a hard slap, neither able to brace their fall.

Without so much as a word, Anders was already at full sprint towards the downed Drae. Just as quickly, he finished them off, neither able to move to defend themselves. All things considered, the Drae didn’t prove too difficult to deal with. Having Neera on your side definitely tips the scales in their favor, though.

“Hell yeah, Neera! That was—” Moswen stopped himself mid sentence as he turned to see the girl holding a hand to her head, hunched over and bracing herself against the wall of a building. Both her idol and coal laid at her feet. She looked like she’d just ran a marathon, a sheen of sweat glistening her face, her expression pained, breathing fast and deep. She’d ran herself ragged. “Neera? You okay?”

A trickle of blood wound down from her nose and over her lip before dripping to the stone below.

“No, I... My hea—”

Her body went limp and she collapsed to the floor with a soft thud. Moswen raced over, dropping to his knees and cradling her in his arms.

“Neera? Neera!” He’d switched from pride to worry to full on panic in the blink of an eye. “Anders! Something’s wrong!”

Anders was already sprinting back before he’d said even a word. He dropped to the ground and saw the blood dripping from her ears now, his face unable to mask his concern. He lifted her arm and pressed two fingers against her wrist, then held two fingers under her nose.

“She’s breathing, but her pulse is weak.”

“What’s happening to her?”

“I don’t know. It could have something to do with the headache we started feeling. It’s been getting worse the further in we got. Maybe it’s affecting her more strongly? I can’t say for sure, but we should get her out of here.”

“No,” Moswen declared with defiant authority. He surprised even himself with his instantaneous reaction. Without even really thinking, the decision had been made. “Not we. You.”


“We’ve come this far. It would be a waste to turn back now. We can still save this city. All these people hiding in their homes in fear are dead if we don’t.”

“And you’re gonna do this all on your own?”

“Don’t see much of a choice. Go, get her to safety. I’ll handle this.”

Moswen didn’t wait for a response before he took off for the staircase, bow in hand and arrow already nocked. He knew he was heading closer to the source of the ever growing winds. He knew he had merely gotten lucky earlier. He knew his bow would be useless now. Regardless, he kept an arrow nocked as he snuck his way higher up the cluster of buildings, a maze within a maze.

It was difficult to pinpoint just why, but his surroundings had more of a business or office feel rather than residential. The bridges and staircases here were at least in better condition than he’d been experiencing. Less makeshift, but just as poorly planned. As he reached the upper levels, he realized he’d climbed a story too high, arriving just in time to witness a band of civilians sneaking their way towards the bridge on the level below him.

They were armed with an assortment of crude weapons: kitchen knives, farming tools, simple cudgels that were nothing more than lengths of scrap wood. It seemed they, too, in the face of certain danger, found the courage within themselves to try and put a stop to the destruction of their city. It gave Moswen a little hope knowing he wasn’t really alone in his pursuit after all. Seeing the coast was clear, they raised their weapons and went charging in, yelling at the top of their lungs, a warcry lost in the sounds of the tumultuous wind.

Moswen wasted no time and rushed to find a way down. Looking for a staircase or ladder to the level below and finding none, Moswen’s eyes settled on a long wooden pillar supporting the balcony above him. It would have to suffice. He vaulted over the half wall, grabbed hold of the smooth pole and began quickly sliding down to the floor below. He stumbled as he hit the ground, suddenly overcome with a strange sensation. It was difficult to comprehend, but he likened it to somehow being spied on through his own eyes or feeling as if he’d been possessed by a ghost. It made no sense, but he couldn’t shake the feeling.

And then he heard a voice in his head.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

It was like his own inner voice, his own thought process, except not his. It had a voice. And one he knew.

“Kyrill? How the fuck...” He spoke out loud as if his friend was standing right there in front of him, unsure if he would even be able to hear him.

“You can hear me?” the big man answered.

“Yeah! What the fuck, dude?”

“I said I’m fine.”

It was confusing enough to somehow be communicating with Kyrill in his mind, but it was starting to feel more like Moswen was eavesdropping on one side of a conversation. The man wasn’t making any sense. It didn’t stop Moswen from wanting to try, though. He simply needed to test his hypotheses and attempt further communication.


“No, not you. I’m talking to Aoife.”


“Everyone just stop talking!” the man pleaded.

Aha! It appeared to be both. Kyrill was talking to him and hearing what he was saying, but was also talking to other people as well. Hypothesis successfully tested.

“I know! Moz and I’s bond was weird enough already. I’m seeing what he’s seeing. We can talk to each other apparently.”

So Kyrill knew exactly what he was approaching. Moswen stopped in his tracks, now standing at the foot of the bridge, giving Kyrill a clear view of the civilians from earlier. Their mad charge had failed. They all laid dead on the walkway before him, blood streaking from their ears and eyes, pooling on the stone underneath.

It gave him a momentary pause seeing them lying there. He was fully aware of the fate that befell them. Kyrill bearing witness to just what he was about to do didn’t make things any less difficult either. That much was for certain. But he wasn’t going to stop now. He couldn’t. He was determined. He found the source. It was right in front of him. He had a chance to save the entire city. And for reasons he couldn’t fully explain, he felt like he might be the only one who could.


“I have to do this, Kyrill. I have to try.”

“Moz, please. Just turn back. Run,” Kyrill begged. “I can’t lose you.”

For all the talk of fate between Neera and Isha, Moswen hadn’t given it much thought. At that moment, however, he felt like he was meant to be there.

“I can do this, Kyrill. I can feel it.” He nocked an arrow, took a heavy breath. “I’m sorry.”

And through the shimmer he stepped.

He braced himself, prepared for the worst, but it never came. No blood, no painful headache, nothing. He was fine. Better, in fact, seeing as the tempest of wind was non-existent inside the sphere.

The man inside curiously turned to look towards the entrance. Before his surprise even had a chance to register, the man was flung backwards as an arrow connected with his shoulder, sending him to the ground. He laid squirming on his back, grasping at his wound and kicking at the ground to push himself away. As if the edge of the room would prove to be any safer for him. Moswen slowly approached, another arrow already nocked and drawn. The man gave up trying to escape and met Moswen’s eyes, his expression a mixture of pain and astonishment.

Moswen’s presence was surely an unexpected turn of events which the man had no clue how to react to other than panic. His long white hair stuck to his face and clung to his blood-soaked shoulder. He donned no armor and carried no weapons, wearing nothing but a light vest, loose-fitting silk pants and cloth-wrapped boots. He wasn’t the most intimidating man, even more so bleeding on the floor.

He said but one word. “How?”

Moswen raised his bow and leveled it directly at the man’s face. A phrase came to mind, one that his mother had drilled into him when he was young. It seemed an especially fitting answer given the circumstances.

“The more you know about your prey—and the less they know about you—the more exploitable they become.”

He let his arrow loose.


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