Friday, April 24, 2009

The Tale of The Exile -- The First Night: Into The Darkness (Part 4)

Part 4: Lost
I am lost. Utterly, completely lost. It has been nearly another hour since the girl got away, and nothing is remotely familiar. All the buildings look the same. Have I passed that shop before? Have I gone past that smithy? I need a landmark that isn't the Tower.
Right. Left. Straight. Left. Left again. Straight. Right. Straight. Straight again. Left. Left again. All these buildings look the same. Here and there a sign depicting a loaf of bread, a needle and sheers, or a full tankard. The smells of sawdust, rising yeast, ale. But...
No laughter from the tavern, no neighing from the stables, no snoring from the houses. No signs of life anywhere. I think about stopping, crawling into a hole and waiting for the day. More light then. But what about the Pale Man? I'd prefer to avoid him. Or the guards could find me. Break their word about letting me go, haul me back to the dungeon to do this again, have a good laugh at me.
Where is that Dragon-taken watchtower!? I see a butcher shop I've passed three times already, but where is the corner tavern? What is going on? Are the streets changing as I go down them? Are the buildings getting up and moving as I pass? This cart wasn't here, but that shop WAS. I turn to go down an alley. Dead end. I turn around...there's a brick wall behind me. I turn again. I'm out in the open. What the in the Dragon's Boiling Belly!?
Suddenly, spending the night somewhere is looking more appealing. I head to the nearest building, a red brick edifice that looks like an inn. The windows are shuttered, and the door is barred from the inside. But I think I can hear movement from inside.
"Hey! Hey, is anyone there?" I pound on the door. "Help me, please!" May as well pretend to be a local. "Please, don't let the Shadows take me!" I bang again. Nothing.
Dragon take this. I'll force my way in if I have to. I look over the shutters...Perhaps I can get the fireglass blade in them, undo the latch. I push the blade in between the slats...there is a noise like a bowstring, than another, and then two arrowheads pop through the wood.
They're shooting at me!
They can't hit me, the shutters are still closed, but the message is clear. I'll find no shelter here. I take the hint.
Rooms with no doors, streets that change, pale wizards who make cryptic threats, towers that breathe...this place is insane. I've been an Exile for only a few hours, and I'm beginning to understand why the people here hate the night...and why Exile is punishment.
I sit and think for a while. I wasn't lost until after I gave up on the girl. This could be the Pale Man's handiwork, some sort of illusion to keep me from escaping. If that's true, then the only way I'm going to get out of this city is to find that girl again. I have no idea how to find her.
What does the Pale Man want with the girl, anyway? And why me? Why doesn't he go find her himself? Why send me after her?
I could call him and ask him. He did tell me I can summon him by calling his name. He didn't strike me as the kind who liked questions, but I'm not going to be intimidated. If the bastard wants my help, he can pay for it. I won't doing his bidding out of fear.
"Naros! Naros of Miir, or whatever you call yourself! Show your dragon-cursed hide!" I shout, and wait for a response. I don't wait long.
There is a clinking like that of a delicate silver chain, the clopping of leather boots against cobblestone, and a whiff of rose perfume. I don't see him, exactly, but the light from my dagger dims alarmingly. The magic of the fireglass doesn't like whatever he is. Finally, I see a figure in the gloom. It's tall and thin enough to be him.
"That was fast." I remark.
"Gaven, I notice with some dismay and a growing amount of anger that you have not yet found her," he says, "yet you see fit to disturb me. Why?"
"Because I'm through with this game, Naros." I fold my arms. "I'm not doing your dirty work unless I get answers and coin for my troubles."
"Troubles? You think you have had troubles up to this point?" I can't tell, but I think he's smiling. "What a fool. Know that thus I have endeavored to spare you from the worst in Miir's troubles, as you put it, so that you will finish my 'dirty work.' That is extremely generous on my part. And what have you done for me in return? You let slip a perfect opportunity to end this. Yet you want more?"
"You say all that as if I owed you a dragon-taken thing to begin with." I respond. "I owe you nothing. If you want my help, you can pay for it."
He laughs. It's not a nice laugh, more like a cold and humorless hyena cackle. "Do not worry. You will get everything you deserve."
"Oh, no. I've heard that before. Then I was stabbed, or turned over to the guard, or some other betrayal. No, we work out some terms on this."
"Very well then. Tell me, Gaven, if my protection isn't enough for you then what can I offer you?"
"Answers, to start with. Who is the girl? Why do you want her so badly? Why don't you go after her yourself?" Finally, something goes right.
"In order: no one important, she has something of mine, and you are more convenient and entertaining. Satisfied?"
No. His answers all stretch the truth, if they aren't outright dragondung. But he's lying for a reason. There's something he's holding back which prevents him from going after the girl by himself. Something he doesn't want known.
Perhaps the girl will have information on Naros I can use against him. But there's only one way to test that: Go along for now. Fall for it. "I suppose I'll have to be. Convenience, though, is expensive. So is entertainment. What will you give me in return for those?"
"That," he says, "depends entirely on the quality of your service. Let us be sporting, though. We both have desires. What are yours?"
Now we're getting somewhere. "First, I want out of this Exile, and preferably out of Miir. And monetary compensation would be nice."
"You dream too small." He says. "I am willing to offer you so much more than exoneration and a few easily-spent coins. I can offer you the chance to become a legend."
I like small dreams. I'd bet good coin he's never had to scratch a living out of a gutter. What is this nonsense? Legend? How will finding a woman for some creepy noble make me legendary? I'll pass, I try to tell him. But the words come out "I'm listening. Tell me more."
"Imagine being able to go where you please unseen. To enter any dwelling, completely undetected. To have power over the darkness itself."
I'm not honestly tempted by this garbage, am I? He can't possibly be able to promise this. "What's the catch?"
"Ah, so you are interested. I thought you might be. It surely is a prize beyond mere coin." Is he smiling? I can't tell. I think he is. I don't like it.
"What's the catch?" I ask again. "There's always a catch to this kind of thing, and you've been evasive, so it must be a large one."
"Indeed, there is. To be one with the shadows, we must ensure that there is a darkness to exist in. That does not sound onerous, does it?"
How very vague and nonspecific. I'm not seriously considering this, am I? Apparently I am. "Fine. If I get this girl for you, you show me this 'Power' of yours. If I don't like what I see, you get me out of this dragon-taken city with enough coin to buy myself a new life."
He nods. "Your terms are acceptable."
"So, got any ideas on where I might start looking? She could be anywhere by now." Almost in response, I hear a scream nearby. Female. Boil it.
"If I were to hazard a guess..." he begins. Dragon take him. I begin heading towards the cry. "One more thing."
“What now?”
"What I said before still holds. My offer is only good until dawn. Beyond then, things will get most unpleasant for you."
I'll keep that in mind.

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