Quartermaster’s Log: 20 Harvest Moons
It is always satisfying to know my efforts do not go unnoticed. While I was gone on my last hunt the Prelacy sent a paladin to challenge and slay me. It shows there may still be some honor left in Camon. Hopefully it will survive. Though I am disappointed I missed meeting the paladin he was obviously unworthy of my time. He fell in single combat to Bahiya of all people. Now I know the Prelacy is willing to come to me and I can discontinue my hunts and turn my attention to more important matters.
“You’re missing the point, Kassegore.” Salvator suppressed a sigh. His ally and friend, for lack of a better word, seemed excited by the turn of events. “You knew the Supreme Paladin wants you dead but before now he wanted you alive to be crucified at his castle gates. I don’t even think it’s been four months and you escalated things so badly he’s willing to forgo that example and just kill you.”
“But he still needs a public show for his people and his position. That weakling Bahiya killed was only the first. They will send stronger foes and I will test my strength against them. The longer I survive the better I understand the strength of my enemy. If I die then I would have fallen to his sword anyways.”
“This is your life. It is not so simple.”
“This is war. It is not so complicated.”
Of all the Rangers of Sog Salvator had dealt most with Kassegore and knew when whatever passed for dregordian logic had set it and refused to budge. His response may have sounded like a grunt of disgust but in truth is was a dignified response that signaled a change in conversation topics…really.
“How about something that does matter more? I’ve heard rumors from the guards of when you come back from your ‘hunts.’ They avoid you because you smell like an avatar of death. It sounds suspiciously similar to when you ate the death beetle.”
“I collected the ashes when it died. I smear it on myself when I get close to Prelacy forces. Even the one patrol that looked like it came prepared for me fled in terror.”
Salvator opened his mouth and closed it without a sound. He paused a few seconds and opened his mouth again but closed it once more without speaking. A pained look crossed his face and he finally growled out, “Give me the rest of the ashes.”
Kassegore recognized the limit of human tolerance had been reached and obeyed without comment. He got up, left the room, and returned a moment later with a ratty cloth pouch.
Salvator snatched it from him as if afraid to leave it in the dregordian’s possession even a second longer. “Do not casually use things touched by darkness. No wonder why things escalated so quickly and I can’t blame the Prelacy. They’re trying to kill you before you turn into the monster they think you are. These things imperil your soul, Kassegore.”
With that Salvator walked out and began his trip back to Sog leaving behind a contemplative dregordian.
A new organization known as the Mechanarium has made itself known. From what little I’ve been told they are self-appointed wardens of arcmancy, deeming it too dangerous to simply be casually handed out. They proceeded to confiscate a great deal of our salvaged Prelacy gear to that end. I personally lost very little as I shipped off most of my arcmancy devices to Dregordia months ago to be studied.
It’s said the Mechanarium arrived in an airship that somehow made it to Sog unseen and their visit coincided with the discovery of a conquest golem. I do admit having a hundred foot tall siege weapon would greatly aid our war against the Prelacy but my plans do not require one. Perhaps it is for the best. If Camon fell to a conquest golem they would point to it as the cause of their defeat and learn nothing. I would be the undisputed architect and engineer of their future and though my lessons will be harsh they are necessary.
Magpie shifted around the corner. He’d needed this favor since the Mechanarium depleted his stores and while Kassegore had no particular reason to deny him the knowledge of how the dregordian acquired the crystals made him shutter. He also didn’t know how the quartermaster would react to knowing he was followed.
He waited till Cairos left before entering the office. The room had a way of making most people feel insignificant as everything was sized for an almost eight-foot creature, except for a couple of chairs for guests. He briefly wondered if it was unintentional or if Kassegore truly felt the need to constantly put others off balance.
“What brings you here today, Magpie?” Upon sating the aevakar’s insatiable curiosity and knack for languages Kassegore quite pointedly refused to speak anything but dregordian with him. Magpie’s accent was atrocious but some things, such as an improperly shaped tongue and the presence of lips, could not be helped.
“I’m low on crystals and I know you have a personal supply you don’t use.” The dregordian always appreciated directness.
“Ah, I should have anticipated this. The Mechanarium must have affected you far more than most. I’ll have some delivered. Let me know when your supplies run low again. Just try to ration them. It may be a while until I can acquire more.”
Magpie carefully schooled his features into appropriate gratitude and tried to ignore what acquiring those crystals involved. The dregordian made a dismissive gesture and he wasted no time leaving, thankful for his good fortune. Even with siege and conquest golems, Kassegore remained one of the most terrifying things Magpie had ever encountered.
But shortly after all that we learned through our less than reputable contacts there was to be an auction of arcmancy devices. The timing was particularly suspect and the commander himself chose to take the field to ensure things went smoothly.
The others had adorned themselves in various disguises. There were few dregordians in this part of the world and even if it were otherwise he would still be unmistakable. So he festooned himself in his trophies: the bear skin, a minotaur skull, the Camonere general’s sword, and various implants he’d ripped out of fallen foes. Bahiya was the first to speak. “How is that a disguise?”
“It is not. The Beast is a known enforcer of Zebadiah Stone.”
The desert dweller turned to Artivan. “Why have you ever promoted him?”
He had no personal qualms with the priestess, but she did tend to be preachy and spoke with the rashness of human youth. Perhaps Salvator’s good example would influence her more in the future.
The commander sighed as if he had given this explanation many times before. “Among all the northern Ranger outposts ours is the best equipped, supplied, and funded due almost solely to the efforts and talents of our quartermaster.”
She looked at Artivan, then at him, and back to Artivan. The older human just nodded slowly and deliberately. Kassegore left without looking back. There were needful enemies to attend.
After arriving at the site and making our way into the auction Sky confirmed the goods. Her news was disturbing as some items were those taken by the Mechanarium. Either the organization is a mere front for less altruistic reasons than they claim or they have been infiltrated by those motivated by personal gain. Neither makes me inclined to trust them and I will have words with one of their emissaries when they return.
The auction room was crowded but I chose the table next to the Red Store delegation. I was intrigued by the fact it was a dregordian leading them and I admit I longed for the company of my own race. Our conversation was cut short as the commander decided stealth and subterfuge were necessary for our covert operation.
Tensions ran high among the groups as they waited for the auctioneer to begin. The nervous energy increased yet again as the door opened and the Beast of Thul walked in. Jassax had never seen him in person but who else could it be? He scorned the deliberately feral movements of the other saurian. Though he had chosen to leave the trees and rivers of Dregordia he still held the pride of his people.
The Camonere soldiers disguised as mercenaries stiffened when they saw the Beast. It was a testament to the might of his race. Even such a low example was still more than enough to strike fear in hearts of humans. He could only imagine how the Prelacy would handle a true warrior instead of a mindless animal.
The Beast scanned the room and bared his teeth in challenge and greeting when they met stares. The other dregordian growled back at the door and claimed the table next to Jassax and his men. “I was unaware there were dregordians under the employ of the Red Store.”
“Admittedly few but we’ve all made a place for ourselves. I am Jassax Sskrovak.”
“I am Kassegore, known as the Beast of Thul.”
He looked his rival over. “That much is apparent.” Jassax then noticed the Beast’s weapon and kept his voice carefully neutral. “You have eccentric and anachronistic tastes, Kassegore. The style of your kayakor predates the working of white silver by three or four millennia.”
“Closer to six, but I cannot claim any part of my weapon’s construction. It was a gift and burden I have been entrusted with.” Jassax seemed calm, but something about the older dregordian seemed unsettled. Kassegore decided it would matter little. Given their agendas it was inevitable one would fall to the other’s blade.
Jassax internally seethed. After all the suitors she rejected and alliances denied, Venatriss had chosen one so shamed he was stripped of even his family name? This base creature? After he challenged and killed the Beast he would find Venatriss and present her kayakor back to her. Perhaps she would find him more worthy after he dispatched her champion.
“Your reputation precedes you. I would test it.”
“I welcome the challenge.”
Any further conversation was interrupted when the door burst in and a human in a grey cloak bellowed, “This auction is over! All those who wish to leave may do so in peace! All who defy the Grey Rangers will be dealt with accordingly!”
The dregordians looked at the intruder an instant and back at each other. The Beast calmly said, “Honored to be your enemy.”
Jassax called upon his adept training and reached out his mind to snare the Beast. The younger male’s mind put up more resistance than he expected but was able to take control of his rival’s body anyways. He had his puppet wildly swing his kayakor and falsely put down two of his men, a tactic they’d employed in the past to catch enemies off guard. If he was correct, the human in the door was Artivan, commander of the Rangers of Sog. If they could kill both Artivan and the Beast it would be quite a coup for the Red Store and he would be richly rewarded.
His plans fell apart an instant later when his mind was filled with an unbearable alien rage. The strength of it tore free of his control and he looked on in awe and fear as he realized the person who walked in and talked to him was never the Beast. This was.
The Beast crushed the chest of one of his two standing men with a tail swipe and caved in the other’s skull with a head butt. Jassax barely had time to register their deaths before the bright pain across his belly almost dropped him to his knees. He felt the warm rubbery cords spill across his hand as he clutched himself. He looked up from his entrails at the roaring Beast, unable to comprehend how poorly he had underestimated his opponent.
“Finish it,” he whispered.
There was a flash of white silver and Jassax felt and saw no more.
Naturally there were complications. When Sky returned with the Prelacy commander she reported a large vessel approaching. What she failed to mention was the exact nature of it. It was a Builder vessel that traveled completely beneath the surface of the river. Made almost entirely of metal and shaped in a vaguely cylindrical shape with tapered ends, it rose in the water until the top half rested above the surface. Arcmancy weapon placements dotted its surface.
The captain of the underwater ship made his demands through some method of amplifying his voice. It boomed from the ship though we could not see him and he called for the auction stores to be turned over to him. The same thing that allowed the Builder to make his voice louder must also have allowed him to hear us as Artivan was able to talk him out of the ship to discuss terms.
A section on top of the ship opened up and the Builder emerged with two combat golems with metal packs on their back emerged. The packs enabled the golems to fly swiftly and the carried their master onto shore with us. When Artivan bargained too hard the Builder shouted a command back to his ship. Another section opened and the largest arc caster I have ever seen emerged. It obliterated the dock in a single shot and Artivan promptly quit negotiating.
The commander went to check on Sky and Magpie, both of whom he had sent to retrieve the arcmancy items in the vault used by the auctioneers. Donovan and Bahiya stayed behind with me. Attempts at conversation revealed some key information. The majority of the Builders live far underground in realms the rest of us know nothing about and care little for the “surface” or what occurs here, viewing those of us that live here as inferior beings. The Builder captain was not benevolent, or even polite for that matter, but I was convinced of his utter indifference and desire to leave the surface and return to his world.
Instead of turning over the devices to those who seemed least likely to use them against us, Artivan decided it would be best to destroy them instead. He, Sky, and Magpie triggered a bomb and faked their deaths to the Builders. They did not have time or opportunity to inform the priests and me but, as with all things, Salvator and I made the best of the situation and now contingency plans are in place.
Everyone watched the crater being peppered with debris. “With Artivan dead which one of us is in charge?” The Beast spoke as if the matter was some minor inconvenience and it seemed more annoyed than anything.
“You whenever we’re off the battlefield and me when we’re in combat for obvious reasons,” was the equally bland reply. The crime lord Zebadiah Stone seemed to be a priest of Light and a Ranger. The full meaning of what happened suddenly sank in and Stone ran towards the crater desperately calling for his friends. The strange foreign woman followed to help search of survivors.
The Builder and his golems looked out over the area. “I detect not residual power sources.” He sighed and murmured “I hate dealing with inferior races.” The golems took hold of their controller and flew back to their odd vessel. Giovanni lacked the words to fully describe it.
When they were alone, save for the Prelacy captive, the Beast finally turned to him. “Human, what are you called?” The voice was alien and wrong. Undertones of a growl emerged even as the dregordian spoke. Jassax had always kept his voice clear. The Beast sounded hungry and all the more dangerous for it.
He fought to keep his voice steady. “My name is Giovanni, sir.”
“Giovanni.” It spoke as if tasting the name for itself. The Beast leaned in and inhaled deeply. Could such creatures track by scent? “You will serve me, Giovanni. You will serve me loyally and you will serve me well.” It bared it fangs. “If you fail in either aspect I will find a use for you…once.”
Giovanni eyes widened in fear as he realized what would happen if he failed and why the Beast had waited till they were alone to speak. It turned to the Prelacy soldier who had listened to the exchange and said, “If you do not cooperate with the Rangers I assure you I will not grant the tender mercies I have allowed your countrymen.”
Any further threats were interrupted by the shouts of elation as the others returned. The Beast gave them both a one last look and said, “Do not speak of this to anyone. It will remain our secret or you will suffer the fates I have planned for you.”
The priests were accompanied by the other Rangers who looked no worse for wear. The Beast merely waited until the shouting died down before speaking. “It is good you survived, Artivan, though it does make the matter of succession a moot point.”
Artivan paused as he considered the dregordian. He smile dropped and he shouted, “You’re not in charge, Kassegore! Felosia is my second-in-command!”
The dregordian looked down at Artivan and merely tilted its head before starting to walk away.
“Kassegore, you’re not taking over! I mean it! KASSEGORE!”
Artivan informed us later of his conversation with some of the guards. The entire auction was a trap and the Rangers were the instrument used to dispatch those who walked in. While I dislike being used by unknown forces the coin gained more than makes up for any inconvenience. The Prelacy, Red Store, and Deniers of Death all showed up for an auction and were funded for the event.
I have some concerns about the armament of the Builder vessel we encountered. There is nothing I am aware of in Shaintar that would require such defenses. But deep beneath the surface there must be dangers down there of that caliber or the Builders travel to other realms where such things exist. The other possibility is the Builders are more factionalized than me know and they war with each other on unimaginable scales. Either way, if such trouble found Shaintar we would all be completely unprepared.
But those are concerns for another time. I need to bring some of the other Rangers into my plans soon.