[Vfw-times] MK Choices part 3

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Tue Oct 15 23:46:33 CDT 2002

   George was surprised by the knock on his door. It was late and he hadn't 
been expecting anyone. If the knock had surprised him, the person who greeted 
him on the opposite side of the door surprised him even more.

   "Edmund?" the jackal asked in surprised.

   The paladin looked odd in the long blue and silver robes instead of his 
usual plate mail armor. For the first time the paladins look of confidence 
was missing. He shuffled from foot to foot several times and refused to meet 
Georges gaze.

   "What does it feel like to change?" the man asked in a quiet voice.

   "You're staying aren't you?" the jackal answered after a long silence. 
"But the curse scares you."

   Edmund nodded slowly. "I've fought many enemies in my time. Faced fearsome 
dragons and fought the chilling terror of the undead. But I cannot overcome 
my terror of this curse."

   "Why ask me?"

   "Misha was here during the original casting and Father Hugh did not stay 

   "And I did?" George asked.

   "I've heard tales," the paladin commented. "George the Cutlass."

   The jackal laughed. "You know better then to believe bar talk."

   "Hardly the talk of drunken soldiers. I remember the indignation when Duke 
Thomas gave you sanctuary. Letting such a brigand and a mercenary go free," 
the paladin explained. "The price for bringing back your head in Elarial is 
still at five thousand gold coins."

   "I doubt anyone would be able to collect that prize now. Who would 
recognize it," the jackal man said as he brushed his large canine ears. "Are 
you here to try?" he said calmly.

   It was Edmunds turn to laugh. "I knew who you were before I even arrived 
here. A knight of the order is to be above the collection of such blood 
money. That price was only set because you fought for the loosing side in a 
dynastic war."

   "I thought I knew who you were but this respected and honored noble I see 
before me now is not the George I knew. George the Cutlass was hard, vicious 
and cared for no one but himself. You've changed. And do not mean the fur 
that now covers you."

   "The curse didn't change me," George countered.

   "Then what did?"

   The jackal turned and walked over to a large over stuffed couch. He sighed 
loudly as he dropped down into it. "Time did," he said in a tired voice. "I 
got old, Edmund."

   The paladin walked slowly up to where to old bandit sat. Georges eyes were 
closed and he was just slumped into the soft cushions. Edmund noticed that 
most of the coverings of the furniture were scorched and burned. He was 
reminded of how on the holiest day of the year Keepers like George had been 
forced to fight for their very lives.

   "I was getting old and I had nothing to show for it except a lot of scars 
and a bad reputation. When Misha sent me a message that there was a job for 
me here at Metamor, I came. I still don't know what attracted me here."

   He looked up at the knight. "I've never known a true home. My whole life I 
have wandered from place to place. Fighting for everything, even for the 
clothes I wear. Metamor is the ONLY place where people have made me feel at 
home. They didn't care that I couldn't recite my heritage back a score of 
generations. Metamor is the first place I've ever truly felt at home. So I 
made the choice to stay."


   The hall was simply decorated, the floor was a fine, gray marble heavily 
veined with lines of red, blue and green. Walls of the same material were 
covered in places by banners and flags carrying the emblems of people and 
groups long dead.

   Edmund stood at one end of the hall where the floor was raised several 
steps above the rest of the room. Standing quietly in ranks and files were 
the one hundred twenty men who followed his command.

   "After much prayer and contemplation I understand what the Great One 
wishes of me," the paladin intoned solemnly. "My work lies here at Metamor 
Keep and the poor souls trapped in the ruins north of here."

   A murmur ran through the assembled men but it died down when he held up 
his hand.

   "I understand how difficult this is and the hardships it will entail. This 
was not a decision I have made lightly. I am well aware of the curse and the 
effects it will have on me and all who stay. So I can't order you to stay 
here. Each of you must decide for yourself. In a day Sir Mursry leaves for 
the south. He is a bold and devoted Follower who is doing the Great One's 
work all over the Midlands. If you choose to depart he is a fine man to 

   He paused to allow that information to sink in before continuing. "Metamor 
is the place I am going to make my home. Cleansing the ruins of its curse and 
freeing the spirits trapped there will take a long time. And times here in 
Metamor and the Giantdowns are troubled. There will be much work for all 
here." He smiled. "There is room here for us all to finally stop our 
wanderings and make a home where we can raise a family and live in faith. 
Importantly here we can really make a difference. But that decision is for 
you to make. This choice is your own."


   The Lightbringer temple was quiet. The last time Misha had been here was 
during the holiday attack. Then the place had been packed full of refugees. 
In his mind he could still see and hear them crowding around him asking about 
people. Asking, pleading, begging for any scrap of hope of loved ones. He 
wondered how many had ultimately had joyous reunions and how many were now in 

   "The one you are looking for is through here Sir."

   The acolytes words broke the fox from his reverie and brought him back to 
reality. The young girl had stopped in front of a wooden door. She opened it 
and stepped through.

   A tree shorn of leaves adorned a small courtyard open to the sky. The snow 
and ice had been shoveled away revealing a circular path made of blue and 
brown stones. Tucked under the tree was a bench made from slabs of white 
stone smoothed only on the top for an easy resting place.

   Perched on the bench was a young girl of ten years of age who was wearing 
a long sleeved, blue dress and tall boots and had her long, red hair tied 
back in a pony tail. She didn't seem to see the new arrivals but was 
concentrating on the ground in front of her. Sitting at her feet was a small 
squirrel, slate gray in color that seemed translucent. Misha could actually 
see right through it. The paving bricks beneath it vaguely visible through 
the smoky body.

   Misha blinked and shook his head. The illusionary animal shimmered and 

   "That was very good," voice said. "Next time we'll try and animate it."

   The Long scout looked around for the source of the voice. There sitting 
next to the girl was red fox with its tail curled tightly about its legs. 
This was no Keeper but was Varnal, the mage was once in the employee of 
Nasoj. His plan to capture a Keeper had failed and left him trapped in the 
body of a fox. Brought to Metamor the Duke had sentenced him to spend three 
years that way. Maybe it would teach him some morals and compassion. Misha 
doubted he would ever learn either.

   The fox looked at Misha for a moment then to the girl. "We'll take up the 
lessons again tomorrow Deala."

   The girl stood up and lightly curtsied to the fox. "Thank you sir." Then 
she quietly left the courtyard taking the acolyte that had brought Misha here 
with her. It left the two vulpine's alone.

   "You're teaching the girl magic?" Misha asked, surprised.

   Varnal gave a vulpine shrug. "Why not? I can't cast it and I can at least 
earn some money."

   "Money for what? You're an animal. What could you need? A new collar?"

   "Some wine, a nicer bed and perhaps some sweetmeats to snack upon. I'm 
tired of water and cold meat," the animal mage explained. "Also she really 
has the gift. With training and patience she will be a fine mage." There was 
a softness to his voice that surprised Misha.

  The scout sat down next to Varnal. "Did I detect a softness there?" Misha 
asked as his hand rested on the hilt of a dagger.

   "Her father didn't survive the Yuletide attack," came the simple answer.

   "But you did."

   "Yes I did," came the answer in short, clipped words. "But I shouldn't 

   Misha gave Varnal a puzzled look.

   "It all makes sense now. For months we were training and he was lavishing 
all sorts of 'gifts' on us. Weapons, new spells even special protective 
amulets. I realized that he was planning an attack on Metamor. I was 
expecting him to attack in the spring, after the snow melted and the mud 
dried up."

   "So were we," Misha commented ruefully. "And it cost us one thousand 

   "It cost me nine of my friends," Varnal added quietly. "I spent most of 
the twenty sixth identifying what was left of their bodies." The fox fell 
silent for a moment. "They were nothing but fodder to him. Just there to cast 
spells. No one cared if they died so long as they killed many Keepers before 
hand. I would have died with them if you hadn't captured me." The fox shook 
his head. "My life was saved by my worst enemy. Strange how fate plays with 

   Misha nodded in agreement. "Fate can deal us a strange hand sometimes." He 
paused for a moment. "Two complete strangers killed one of my scouts and 
saved the lives of over five hundred Keepers."

   "That was unexpected," Varnal commented. "I expected there to be traitors 
among the Keepers but never one of the Long Scouts."

   "What do you know about The Four?" Misha asked steering the conversation 
away from that painful subject.

   "I've heard you fought them, and even survived their ambush."

   "You know about that?" Misha asked suspiciously.

   "Everyone in the Keep is discussing the creature you summoned at the camp. 
Most think it was a demon."

   "And what do you think she is?"

   The fox gave an almost human shrug. "I'm not sure. But I do not think its 
like has been seen centuries."

   Misha chuckled. "True. But she did save my life and the lives of all my 
people. What do you know of the Four?" He asked suddenly changing the subject 

    "I'm surprised they weren't involved in the assault on the Keep itself."

   "Bad weather. That blizzard the Moranasi created worked far too well. It 
stopped his reinforcements. That was the one bright point in that whole 
stinking battle."

   "I wonder how many died on the trip to the Keep?" Varnal asked.

   The scout shook his head. "No telling but come spring I think we'll be 
finding their bodies all over the valley. A rough estimate two, maybe three 
thousand.  I don't think we'll ever really know. But back to my question. 
What do you know about The Four?"

   Varnal didn't speak at first but just stared at the ground for a moment.
   "They were his elite guards once but now they are his trusted lieutenants. 
They are Kagnio, Eule, Phearsome and Bakuda."

   "Kagnio is tall with long, white hair and usually has a evil grin upon his 

   "Does he wear red robes and carry a sword with a curved blade with many, 
sharp points?" Misha asked.

   "Yes but - the sword he usually carries has a hilt that is highly 
decorated and extremely intricate, the blade itself is extremely long thin 
and black. Definitely very powerful magic. You've met him?"

   "At the ambush," the scout answered curtly.

   Varnal didn't press the matter  but simply continued with his description. 
"Eule is pale but very beautiful with black hair pulled tightly into a bun, 
in the eastern style. She is a powerful mage. Phearsome is a big brute that 
looks one of the sea raiders out of legend. I think he could wrestle an ogre 
to the ground alone. He is covered with tattoos all over his body, each being 
distinctive and unusual. The strangest of them is Bakuda. He wears a cloak 
and a highly polished mask shaped like a human face. All of his flesh is 
covered with cloths, armor or bandages like a mummy."

   "Is he undead?"

   "I'm not sure, but he is VERY powerful. All of them are powerful, each in 
a unique way. You said you fought Kagnio in the ambush."

   "No, he saved my life. He killed one of the panthers that was about to 
kill me."

   "WHY?" Varnal asked.

   "That is what I want you to tell me. Why would he go to the trouble of 
setting up such an ambush then spoil it by saving my life."

   "Are you definite that The Four were responsible for the ambush?"

   Misha just nodded.

   "I know they are loyal to him in some ways but each seems to have their 
own agenda." The fox paused for a moment. "Tell me about the ambush and leave 
NOTHING out. In return I'll tell you everything I know about The Four."

   The scout sat down next to the animal mage. "Fair enough."

End part 3
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