cursed with ideas
Location: On the road west of DanachTalia rolled her shoulders, stretching against the stiffness that was setting in upon her neck. She’d be glad to be off the road for some downtime after this round through the kingdom. Rogue mages were getting fewer and far between in Cantawar, but they were also getting more clever. All the easy pickings had already been expelled or otherwise disposed of, meaning they were now left with rooting out the crafty and more powerful vermin.
Time of day: Mid-afternoon
Characters: Talia, Erik
Time of day: Mid-afternoon
Characters: Talia, Erik
That considered, the small regiment she’d taken along had done well this rotation. The iron cart they used to transport captures pulled heavy against its longsuffering draft team, loaded with the chained forms of their new prisoners. She’d have to schedule an execution day when they arrived, the dungeons would be filled by this delivery.
Talia was roused from her thoughts by the appearance of a pair of figures approaching along the road, riding hard from the direction of the capital. The two were coated in grime, and she just registered the face of Lieutenant Seimon Cadogan as he neared. She barely recognized the man even as he drew up his steed panting before the party, so changed was his countenance.
“Cadogan! What’s the meaning of this? What’s happened to you?” Talia pulled her own horse to a halt, motioning to the party behind her to do the same.
The man shook his head, at a loss for how to begin his explanation. His eyes wandered the landscape around them, seeming to search for something there that would make sense of this.
“The king,” he said, and his eyes moved to lock on to those of his captain, “The king is dead.”
The news went through the group like a wave. Talia froze in her saddle, grip on the reins of her mount tightening to a painful clench. Behind her, several of the captured mages lept to their feet, chains clattering loudly in the shocked silence.
“Have you lost your mind, man? What d’you mean the king’s dead?” One of the Kestrels scoffed from the group, but was silenced by a sharp gesture from Talia.
“Explain.” She said simply, fixing the lieutenant with a firm gaze.
It took a few tries, full of starts and stops with amendments to details not quite told right the first time through, but when he finally got through it the apprehensive quiet was pierced by a sharp bark of laughter from the cart.
“Good riddance!” Marwen, a disheveled pyromancer, had slowly made her way to the front of the cart during Seimon’s explanation, and she now stood with hands wrapped around the bars of the cart. “Rotten son-of-a-troll got what he deserved.”
A Kestrel standing to the right of the cart growled and drew his sword, swiping it across the bars. The motion showered the mages inside with sparks, but the woman only laughed, teeth bared in a snarl. The Kestrel drew his sword back, ready to do more, but was stopped by a snap of “Enough!” from Talia.
She looked down at her hands, brow furrowed in thought and worry. After a few beats, she raised her gaze back to Seimon. “You’re really all that’s left?” He nodded. “Fuck.” Talia swore under her breath, then turned in her saddle to look at those who stood behind her. She’d prioritized speed on this rotation, taking with her a bare minimum of people on the team. Even if she had the numbers, this thing had wiped out nearly all of the capital’s regiment. They had to go after the princess, duty and honor and the fate of their country demanded it, but they couldn’t hope to stand even a sliver of a chance against something like that. Magic that powerful could only be countered with one thing - more magic.
“Fuck,” she swore again, more audibly this time through teeth gritted against the option that was rapidly forming in her mind like a tide of dread.
“We seem to find ourselves in a crisis,” she said, voice taking on a timbre of authority as she turned her horse to face everyone. “One that affects the future of us all. And like it or not our hands are being forced. We must ask you for your aid.”
A pause before a murmur went through the group as they realized she was addressing the mages rather than her own men. The small handful of Kestrels looked angry and confused, to put it lightly, at their leader’s proclamation, but her tone made it clear there was to be no argument. Talia continued before any voices could pick up in protest.
“If you agree, you will not go unrewarded. If we succeed, from that day on you will be permitted to practice magic within our borders and we will turn a blind eye to you. If you refuse, we will execute you where you stand. If you agree but try to turn against us once your chains are removed, you will return to life as hunted animals and we will still see to your execution in time. We captured you once, we can do it again. But - if you agree and help us find the princess, you shall have your freedom.”
Erik had been motionless throughout this, eyes closed and leaned back against the cart’s bars near the rear, seemingly asleep. He drew himself up now, eyes opening to lazily glance around at those gathered. This news was huge. Any time power changed hands it was likely to bring change, and if they could get on the good side of the new ruler by rescuing her from a kidnapper, this time the change might be for the better. However, if this thing had really wiped out all but two of the capital’s Kestrels, he really didn’t like their odds.
“You’re asking us, your sworn enemies, to join you on a suicide mission,” he stated, deadpan.
Talia drew in a breath to stop herself from snapping at the prisoners. “You are right, you might die. But you might not as well. We are giving you two choices: Meet sure death right now at the edge of a blade, or take your chances on this mission and possibly gain your freedom. You need us for this chance to restore yourselves to a position of favor within this kingdom, and we need you to be the means by which we defeat this evil. Like it or not, we need each other.”
Erik grimaced, but offered no more protest. She was self-righteous, and what some might consider a mass-murderer, but she was unfortunately also right. If there ever was a time that Cantawar had a chance to return to the way things were before Maeleg turned the country to shit this was it.