Men and women, weapons still trained upon the party, moved to form a large circle around them, effectively sealing off any hope of escape. Rain, eyes still bloodshot and jaw clenched angrily, passed her bow to a young man with a strangely twitchy nose and shifty eyes.
Up close, Beldor realized just how tough the woman was. Scars crisscrossed her features and her close-fitting leather armor was marked from many a battle. Her eyes, though an angry red, were intelligent and calculating. She wore her shockingly white hair in a loose ponytail behind her head.
“I lost friends today, at least three. Each was willing to give their lives for this cause, though each was under the assumption their lost lives would not be in vain. Lucan lives and now holds the city of Sallet. You four were instrumental in his victory. Why, then, should we allow you to live? Remember, any lie you tell will be known to me.” She said, arms crossed in anger.
Beldor looked around nervously. His innocence wasn’t what concerned him – it was telling her who had commissioned them, had cast the spell that had begun the whole disaster that was the previous week. He decided it was probably best to skirt that unnerving fact.
“We had a spell cast on us, all but Anula over there, and our only choice was to help Lucan get elected. It was against our will, but the spell was so strong that we had crippling pain each time we even thought of disobeying – and we tried on a number of occasions.” His mouth twisted in remembrance of the pain.
Rain glanced at the man that had cast the spell of truth on Beldor and the party. The man nodded to the white haired woman.
The half-elven woman looked back at Beldor. “You understand that the kind of spell you are describing could only be cast by someone with enough power that they could wipe out all of us,” she motioned toward everyone in the clearing, “without breaking a sweat?” Beldor winced. He had not, in fact, realized that. He braced himself for the question he knew was coming next and shook his head.
“Who then, dear dwarf, cast such an incredibly powerful and long lasting spell?” she said, smiling at him, confident in the fact that she had caught him.
Beldor hesitated. He feared for his life and the lives of his friends. He sighed heavily, knowing there was nothing for it.
“I’ll tell you, but I want you to understand that we’re not working for him anymore. We had no choice. Understand?” Beldor couldn’t keep the fear from his voice. Rain heard his desperation and her eyes widened slightly in surprise.
“Just tell me who cast the spell, dwarf.” She demanded, less sure than before.
Beldor hesitated for a moment, squeezing his eyes shut. He opened his mouth and spoke a name.
Everyone that heard the dwarf gasped. Rain’s eyes went hard and she drew a curved blade from her sash.
Two Hours Earlier
Lucan had been talking for close to an hour, though in reality, it felt like much longer. He was regaling the crowd with promises of expanding the cities districts, cleaning up it’s seedier streets and growing trade with neighboring towns. To Cloud, finally free of the spell that had bound him, it sounded like empty promise after empty promise. He wanted nothing more than to take the man’s head from his shoulders. Lucan’s parting words from earlier still bothered him, somehow implying that his and Mox’s paths were intertwined. He did feel a strange affinity for the dark elf, but it was simply because he did what he said and didn’t seem bothered by complicated moral structures like Anula and Beldor.
Bored, he scanned the crowd, watching for anything interesting as he waited for the blowhard below to stop flapping his gums. The Union guards seemed to be relaxing as there had been no aggressive moves after Lucan had won. The cluster of mages had even begun speaking quietly amongst themselves and ignoring the crowd. Cloud found his eyes straying toward the room on the south side of the market, still wondering who would take aggressive action against a bird. Unfortunately, there was no more movement.
He found it hard not to think about what they, he, would be doing after this was all over. He couldn’t go back home, that much was certain. His father would likely kill him if he did. Or he’d kill his father. It had been a few years since he’d been home and a part of him missed it – at least the concept of it. For every familiar and uncomfortable aspect of his home, there were a dozen terrible memories that drowned out the good. He shook his head. No, I won’t be going back there, he determined.
He wasn’t opposed to traveling for awhile with the other three. Maybe they could head to Aramore. He’d always wanted to see the city and surely Anula wanted to go home at some point. It’s not a bad idea, he thought, maybe I’ll see if Mox and Bel-
He was unable to finish the thought as a sharp twang cut through the air, followed by a masculine shout of pain. Cloud had his sword out in a blink.
Lucan, standing before the crowd, had taken an arrow in the chest and was kneeling in pain on the stage. A split-second later, pandemonium broke loose.
The crowd exploded with screams of panic as everyone tried to take cover and find a way out of the market. Union guards were rushing the stage, creating a human shield around their governor-elect. The mages were scanning the crowd, staffs, and wands held aggressively. The five city leaders were all rushed from the stage, ducking for safety – led by Trevor, of course.
Cloud had absolutely no idea what to do, afraid they might be next based on their association with Lucan – so he looked to Beldor.
“The shot came from on the roof where they killed Blud. There was only the one.” Beldor had his shield strapped to his wrist and his axe out. He looked pensive, not scared.
“What do we do?” Cloud asked, itching to fight someone – anyone.
“Lad, be calm. We don’t fight unless we have to.” The dwarf said sternly.
The guards surrounding Lucan were beginning to shuffle toward the side of the stage
The Union guards were spreading out, a small contingent heading into each building lining the square in search of the assailant. Citizens were still running in every direction, screaming in terror. It would take a minute or so for the thousands of men and women to find their way free. Cloud scanned the crowd and noticed something strange – an elderly man standing amidst the sea of fleeing people, unmoving as he stared at intently at the cluster of men and women surrounding Lucan.
“Um, hey, I think something is about to-” Cloud started before being cut off by an explosion of heat washing over him. When he could see again, he looked at the stage and saw it was in splinters, charred corpses of Union guards locked in the agony of death littered the smoldering planks. In the middle of the circle of charred bodies was Lucan, an arrow in his chest and his clothing in smoking tatters. He looked angry, though unfortunately still alive. He was staring at the man in the crowd that Cloud had noticed before.
A pair of mages had stayed back instead of heading into the buildings to search for the sniper. They immediately began casting spells, gesturing toward the elderly man in the middle of the crowd.
“Move!” Anula shouted hopelessly down into the crowd. The spells aimed at the elderly man were going to kill fleeing innocents around him.
A sharp note drifted out across the crowd, causing Cloud to wince in pain. A split second later one of the mages completed their casting, turned and released a summoned shard of ice directly into the chest of his comrade. He looked confused as he did – that is until a hammer splayed his brains across the cobblestones. There was a blonde dwarf attached to the hammer. He immediately charged the elderly man who had obviously incinerated the crowd of guards.
A small contingent of Union guards entered the crowd from somewhere below their vantage point and were looking around in horror. Cloud glanced around and noticed Celedor was nowhere to be found.
“The old man you fools!” Lucan shouted as he pointed toward the center of the crowd. He was obviously in pain. How was he still alive?
The elderly man began casting another spell, ignoring everyone around him. The guards closed on the man – and were met by a whirlwind that was the hammer-wielding dwarf. He had four men down before they had a chance to react. He fought magnificently. Beldor gasped in recognition. That must be the mercenary dwarf he told us about.
There was the sound of clashing steel up on the roof on the south side of the square. A Union guard was suddenly falling from the roof, landing in a messy pile in the street, creating even more panic.
“I’ve seen enough, I’m going to help them!” Cloud told the other three, moving toward the stairs. He wasn’t going to miss this chance to exact his revenge upon Lucan.
He hit the bottom of the stairs and turned toward Lucan just as the older man completed his spell. A pair of arrows almost took Lucan from his feet just before a column of ice and hail exploded around him, obstructing him completely from view. I might not get my chance after all thought Cloud, only mildly upset.
The ice and hail spit and hissed as it melted against the burning cinders. It dissipated after a moment. Cloud was surprised to see Lucan standing there, his face a thundercloud of rage. He had three tightly clustered arrows protruding from his chest, yet he paid them know heed. If Cloud had any hair on the back of his neck, he imagined it would be standing up straight right about now.
“I was hoping to avoid this as it’s still early in the game, but you leave me with no choice!” He shouted, slashing his hand through the air toward the elderly man.
Cloud skid to a stop and was surprised to find the rest of the party close on his heels. The elderly man, whose name he didn’t know, stopped moving and smiled sadly at the blonde dwarf who had just finished dispatching a dozen Union guards. The dwarf shouted in angry denial and reached for his friend. With a cough of bloody spittle, the powerful wizard collapsed to his knees, a terrible gash bearing his heart to the world.
The dwarf rushed Lucan. Before he could close the distance a flash of white flashed past them all, launching itself through the air at the man.
Lucan went down amidst a solid mass of snow white tiger fur and muscle.
“Cloud, we have to help the injured!” Anula said, tugging on his arm. Sure enough, there were dozens of injured citizens around, some having been caught in the crossfire of spells, other having been trampled in the haste to get away. Not my problem, Cloud thought as he gripped his sword tightly and rushed the stage.
The tiger slammed into him this time, knocking him off his feet and causing his sword to go flying. They both struggled to their feet. Lucan had thrown the tiger back.
Cloud watched as the dwarf leaped high, swinging his hammers with all his might at the head of Lucan. The smile on the arrow-riddled man chilled Cloud to his very bones.
Lucan reached up and casually caught the dwarf by the throat as he was coming down, the hammers completing their trajectory, but incredibly doing no harm. The poor dwarf had no chance to even cry out as his body began to blacken and decay, turning to dust before their very eyes.
The tiger growled beside Cloud, her voice transforming into a scream as she transformed into a white-haired half-elven woman. She drew a bow and began shooting arrow after arrow at the man that had murdered her friend. Lucan continued grinning as the arrows slammed into him, embedding themselves in his charred flesh.
He raised his hand to slash at the half-elf – but was stopped when he saw a cloaked figure casually step up on the far side of the stage, softly calling his name.
“Rain, get away from here. There is nothing more for you to do. Find Tal and Clevin and flee the city. Remember your promise to me.” The newcomer said calmly. Lucan was grinning at her, his hair partly singed. Where once stood a confident leader now stood a crazed lunatic.
“Mel, don’t do this!” The half-elf shouted. The newcomer pulled back her hood and drew a small symbol from within her robe. Melody, high priestess of Oghma and deciding vote in the election, waved her hand and a shimmering sheet of energy encased her and Lucan.
“Lucan Lacroix,” Melody began, “your intentions for this city are known and I am here to stop you.”
Lucan laughed maniacally. “And what makes you think you can stop me, puny elf? He’s already begun gathering his strength. The plan is in motion and you aren’t enough to stand in my way, or his.”
Melody smiled a small smile. “I plan to stop you, Lucan, because I know what you are.”
That seemed to wipe the smile from his face for a moment. It was back in a blink as he shrugged. He opened his mouth to retort but Melody was already moving, shimmering blasts of holy energy flying from her hands.