The Manor

By: OldGoat | : 746

Harry sat in the Dead End Bar nursing his drink. It was Saturday night and the room was packed with regulars, the commoners of Divinity’s Reach. Working class beer drinkers, sometimes a bit rowdy, always loud, it was his kind of place. The floor was covered with sand, as much for the dancers as to soak up the spills, and the bar smelled as comfortable as well aged beer. As the waitress walked by, he gruffly asked her for another, dropping his last coin on her tray.

He was almost relieved he couldn’t get drunk tonight. In his hand was the crumpled eviction notice from his landlord. He had quietly spent the evening waiting for inspiration. The Charr ranger had no place left to go and no money left to get there. Dressed in his worn battlecoat, dusty breeches, and ancient boots, he watched as Precious, his tiny kitten, wandered around on the floor, picking up scraps that other patrons had dropped from their supper plates. Harry worried he would be unable to provide for his companion.

As he sat staring at the paper, his drink appeared at his side and he said, “Thank you, keep the change, sweetie.”

Picking at a loose hair on his worn, stained jacket, the ranger picked up the glass and suddenly felt someone scratching that perfect place behind his ears. He closed his eyes and sighed. A familiar voice in his ear said, “Why so glum?”

Harry immediately realized who the voice belonged to and he stood up, grinned, and turned to embrace Terri Watson. Precious jumped on the table and joined the hug, meowing her welcome.

Terri, dressed in a beautiful gold silk gown, picked up the kitten and nuzzled her. “Hi there Precious, how have you been?”

Sitting down in the chair next to Harry, Terri nodded toward the stage, put her finger to her lips, and turned to watch the singer. Harry sat back down and turned his attention to the stage.

The lights went down as a rough bluesy sound touched their ears and the spotlight illuminated the singer as she walked to the center of the small dais. Harry’s surprised look made Terri smile again. On the stage was Maggatha Lynne, her dress a deep, blood red, slit to the hip. Harry noticed it went perfectly with her hair. As the crowd quieted, she began to sing “Caught in Scarlett’s Rain.” Her voice’s pure emotion filled the hushed room. The song, a raw melancholy piece described the destruction of Lion’s Arch by Scarlett’s evil as seen through the eyes of a young woman who lost everything, including the man she loved.

When the song was over, the room erupted with wild applause and cheers. Maggie smiled at the crowd and began her next number. This song talked about being madly in love and fearing it would end. By the time she finished, even the rough-and-tumble Harry was wiping tears from his eyes. As the evening wore on, Harry forgot his troubles and allowed the music to fill him. After her final song, Maggie came to their table, hugged him and head butted with the kitten. She then turned to Terri, and with a sparkle in her eye asked, “Well, how’d I do?”

“You had old scruffy here crying,” Terri replied, tipping her head towards the Charr.

Harry blurted out, “I didn’t know you could sing like that. That was amazing!”

“Oh, I’m not all that,” Maggie said as a rosy color flushed across her cheeks.

“The heck you’re not,” Terri grabbed her and kissed her soundly, silencing any further modesty. Then, taking advantage of the band, Terri took her out on the dance floor.

By the time the girls got back to the table, someone had bought the three of them a round of drinks. Looking around, Maggie spotted the culprit at the bar. Logan Thackeray was watching them. Dressed in his common clothes, he looked strangely out of place without his uniform. She waved him over to their table. He picked up his drink and then tripped over the kitten who wound between his legs. He dropped into the chair Harry kicked out for him. Precious took an immediate dislike to Logan and hissed at the hand reaching down to pet her. Logan yelped suddenly as a claw drew blood, and the pet scampered away behind Harry.

A booming Norn voice startled them, “Precious is usually a good judge of character, Logan. You must have caught her on a bad day.”

Bones slapped Logan on the back, nearly knocking him out of the chair. The Captain coughed as he worked to catch his breath again. The blond Norn pulled up a chair of his own and looking at Maggie shook his head, “Such a big beautiful voice from such a tiny little girl.”

“Don’t make me hurt you.” Maggie grinned with a sparkle in her eye, as she stood and hugged the giant.

Terri joined in and it was obvious to the entire room that the three shared a bond. Precious, not to be outdone, jumped on the Norn’s lap when he sat and began to rub against his chest, claiming ownership. Harry reached across the table and grabbed the big hand with his paw. Logan sat quietly observing, noticing how close they all were.

Suddenly an unmistakable voice came from behind, “Hey Bookahs, how’re my favorite adventurers doing?”

“Mellen!” they all shouted in unison.

And just like that, they were all together again. Bones retold the story of their adventure in the Ascalonian Catacombs. Laughter filled the room as he recalled his own foolishness and the subsequent rescue by the group. Onlookers gathered round and heard the entire story, including Maggie’s fierce defense of them all against the king. Finally standing, and with a tear running down his cheek, he toasted to her courage and leadership.

“Litt storesøster, I pledge to you my life. I will follow you anywhere, you have only to ask.”

Just as quickly he fell back into his chair, nearly toppling over as the legs threatened to buckle..

“You’re drunk,” accused a booming female voice.

“Of course I am drunk. I am drunk with love for you, Electra!”

The tall female Norn, bent down and put her arms around Bones and bit him gently on the ear. “Introduce me to your friends, kjæreste.” She whispered softly.

His eyes glistened with love, as he pulled her into his lap, “I would like you all to meet my beautiful bride. Electra Arrow Heart, the most wonderful woman I have ever known.”

The group smiled and welcomed her openly. Electra’s krytan hound, Simon, joined in with the traditional dog greeting ceremony, all slobber and sniff. Precious immediately touched noses with the dog and they instantly became fast friends. Logan sat quietly watching the interchange between the individuals at the table. Finally, when he was satisfied, he stood and cleared his throat to gain their attention.

“I am happy to have met each of you. I can see the bond between you, and I would like to ask your help with a most disturbing concern of mine. But, this is not the time or place for this discussion. I would like to meet all of you tomorrow for dinner at my home on Manor Hill. It is of utmost importance that you attend. Please be there at eight PM.”

As he turned to leave the group, he shook Maggie’s hand, placing a small square of paper secretly in her palm. The others sat stunned by his invitation, curiosity squinting in their eyes. Maggie stood as they watched him leave, her mind filling with questions as well. Then turning to the group, she said, “What do you guys think?”

“I have no idea,” came Terri’s bewildered reply.

“You can’t trust him.” Harry crossed his arms over his chest.

Bones stroked his chin, “The fact that he gave us no chance to decline tells me it’s important.”

They all looked at the Asuran. Mellen leaned in so that only they could hear, “I think I may know something, but let’s not talk about it here. There are too many ears in this room.”

“It’s late, where are you all staying?” Terri asked.

Electra said simply, “We were supposed to spend the night upstairs in a room, but they’re full. Is there an inn nearby?”

Terri answered firmly, “We have plenty of room in our house. Please, all of you, come stay with us. We need to discuss this, and I doubt we’ll get much sleep tonight.”

“Harry? Mellen?” Maggie asked.

Both simply nodded, and they all finished their drinks while Maggie went to the bar to settle the tab. The bartender told her that it had all been taken care of by Logan Thackeray. She returned to the table and gathered her things. Harry had turned to put the kitten into his backpack, and Terri snuck a look at the document he had been wrinkling up in his paws all night. She looked at Harry who was staggering a bit from all the beer Logan had bought him. Pretending to wipe off the table, she swept the paper into her bag, putting her finger to her lips when Maggie gave her a questioning look.

They all followed Maggie and Terri up the hill to a pretty little house, ornate in a simple way, the yard filled with flower beds that were in mid blossom. It was hidden between two apartment buildings near the center of the Eastern Commons. Maggie showed Bones and Electra the spare bedroom, Mellen was given a soft loveseat in Terri’s office, and Harry and the kitten were left with the long couch in the living room. Terri and Maggie sat on either side of the young ranger as Terri produced the eviction notice. “When were you going to tell us about this?” she asked.

“I can take care of myself,” was his sullen reply.

Maggie put her hand on his shoulder and said, “Yes, you can. But we’re your friends and we want to help. Besides, I don’t want Precious to be homeless.”

Terri stated simply, “You’ll stay here until you figure out what you want to do. At least until tomorrow, when we find out what Logan is planning? I won’t hear any argument about it. You saved both our lives more than once in the Catacombs. You are family, and that’s that.”

“I’m not going to be a burden.”

“We know that. You might as well stop protesting. When Terri makes up her mind, that’s the end of it.” Maggie was serious.

“What’s going on?” Mellen had come out of the office.

“Harry has just agreed to help Maggie and me by staying here with us and sharing expenses.” Terri smiled.

Mellen replied, “A wonderful idea.”

Just then Bones and Electra came in and said in unison, “So, what’s the plan?”

Since it was going to be a long night, Terri went to the kitchen to boil a large pot of water for tea. Maggie produced the secret square of paper. It held the Queen’s own seal and was an invitation to Lord Caudecus’s Manor at the end of the month.

“So, it has to do with the Queen. Do you think she’s in danger?” asked Mellen.

“I think Logan thinks she’s in danger,” replied Bones, “It’s hard to know if she really is. Logan hasn’t told us anything yet.”

Harry tugged one of the kitten’s ears and said, “I’ve heard a rumor. It’s a celebration of the treaty between the Humans and Charr. Caudecus is going to show off his personal inventor, Uzolan.”

The Asuran, silent until now, cleared his throat. Everyone turned to listen. “Logan’s not the only one worried about the Queen. Minister Caudecus’ butler, Albert, let it slip to me two nights ago that there have been many changes and additions to the staff based on Uzolan’s suggestions.”

Silence enveloped them, with only the occasional sound of someone sipping hot tea. Maggie’s brow gave away her deep thought. Finally, Bones broke the silence, “The Queen once sent a squadron of soldiers to fortify my village against a Svanir attack and saved my father’s life. If she is in danger, I will stand by her.”

“As will I,” Terri whispered softly, “The queen performed our marriage in spite of those who spoke out against us.”

“Yes,” Maggie nodded.

Harry’s voice was soft, “She spoke at my father’s funeral after he was killed at Claw Island. “Afterward she took me aside and gave me his medal.” The tears began running down his face. “She had it made in the shape of an apple.”

His friends shared his sadness. The group embraced him as the kitten began to purr. Electra’s Krytan Hound could be heard outside as he howled along with Harry’s sadness. Eventually, the mood began to lift, and Harry began thanking his friends. “I’m sorry, I generally don’t get melancholy.”

“Oh stop,” replied Terri. “We all go there. You’ve just got to realize that we are here for you. We are your friends, we are your family now. This bond we have formed was no accident. It was destiny. We came together at just the right moment in our lives. Everything happens for a reason, and the reason for our joining will show itself eventually.”

“In spite of her non-scientific way of putting it, I must agree,” stated Mellen. “We are meant to be together. I am normally much more comfortable with my own people, but with each and all of you, I feel as if I belong. We are symbiotic in some manner. I believe we may have been connected by the Foefire when we slew the King.”

“Electra? You’ve only just met us, how do you feel?” Asked Maggie.

“I feel it as well, although Bones has told me about each of you. The moment I met you in the bar, I knew we were connected. I can’t explain it. My mother would have called it kismet. I call it destiny. And I can tell you feel it as well. We have nothing to hide from each other. I am both honored and a bit bewildered, but I already know I would follow you anywhere. With that, the group hugged once more and everyone went to bed. With the next day’s mysteries still on their minds, sleeping was difficult for them all.

###

Morning found Maggie in the kitchen drinking coffee and making breakfast. Her motto was pancakes for all, and she had built up quite a stack when Electra showed up with an offer of help. Maggie smiled, poured her a large mug and handed her the spatula. One by one the friends, smelling breakfast and the coffee, appeared at the kitchen door. Breakfast soon became a loud, joyful time.

After breakfast, everyone went to the backyard to soak up the warmth of the sun. The chatter went from Logan’s meeting to Lord Caudecus’s Manor, but as time passed to noon, Mellen stood up and said, “I would like to discuss a little business with all of you.”

Everyone’s attention was on Mellen. “None of us have what we would consider a regular job. We make money doing odd jobs, treasure hunting, body guarding, so on and so forth.”

“We take what work we can find, when and where we can find it,” chimed in Bones. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing’s wrong with it, but how often do we worry about where the rent is going to come from? Or how often do you have the money to do what you want, when you want?”

“That’s not the kind of lives we have,” said Terri. “We live day to day.”

“Exactly my point. How would you all like to have a steady income AND have more than you do now?”

“Who wouldn’t?” was Maggie’s reply.

“Then I have a proposition for you all.” With that Mellen began to outline his plan. “Let me put together the business side of things and work as your agent. I will find work and make sure you get paid more than you’re used to and still have salvage rights for anything you find on the job. Let me begin by discussing the business side with Logan this evening.”

Harry looked skeptical, “How do we know that you know what you’re doing? What if you end up losing the job for us?”

“Well, do you trust that I am more intelligent than Logan? Give me one chance on this job here. Then while the five of you go do the job, I’ll put together more work for you. I can assist when I am needed, however, but we split the money evenly between us. I’m going to ask for two Gold for each of us from Logan. If I succeed, we each take one gold, and put the other gold into the business. I might even be able to get us a house that we can all live in just outside the city.

The group erupted into discussion with many differing viewpoints being aired. Mellen answered every question thoroughly. Finally, Maggie stood up and began to pound on the table. “It’s nearly 3, we have much to do to get prepared. I would like to put this to a vote. Does anyone object?”

No one raised a hand or voice.

“Okay, all in favor of giving Mellen a chance to improve our income, say aye.”

A chorus of ayes rang out.

“All opposed to the idea?”

Not a sound from any of the friends.

“Okay Mellen, you’ve got your chance. Tell us what you need us to do.” Maggie looked expectantly at the Asuran.

“I have the plan, so you can ask him anything you need to know about the job. But, when it comes to the money, leave that to me. If he really wants our help, he will pay us a retainer which will allow us to get any supplies we need, and perhaps even buy some information.”

“Agreed” said Maggie. Now let us get dressed, we leave in forty minutes.

The rushing about began as they all tried to make themselves as presentable as possible for such a formal dinner invitation. Harry had the most difficult time, but with Electra and Terri’s help, he was soon made to look very handsome in his black leather suit and silver bow tie. Terri even fitted Precious the kitten and Electra’s hound with matching ties. Simon was given a quick bath to eliminate a foul odor he had rolled in earlier that day.

They assembled themselves outside the front door and began the walk to the Logan family’s mansion. Such a fine sight they made that they caught the attention of the neighbors, and at the florist cart, each lady was presented with a delicate bouquet.

A wagon stopped beside them, and with a tip of his hat, the driver offered a lift.

“We can’t afford to pay you today William, besides it is such a beautiful evening.” Maggie replied.

“No need for payment, my dear, Logan Thackeray sent me to fetch you.”

“In that case, thank you. Perhaps you can insure we won’t be more than fashionably late.”

With a large smile, the driver said simply, “Hang on.”

Soon they were all stepping off the wagon into the courtyard of the Thackeray mansion. Logan assisted the ladies off the wagon and then turned to each man and shook his hand. “Welcome to my home,” was his simple greeting.

“Thank you for having us.” said Mellen, establishing himself as the communicator for the group.

They were escorted to the dining hall, where they found a grand feast laid out before them. Once they were all seated and served, Logan waved the servants away, and they were alone.

“Eat, enjoy, we will save our business for after the meal, unless you have questions that will not wait.” Logan, ever the polite host, started the conversation.

Mellen answered, “The only question I have is about compensation.”

“Always the businessman, Mellen. Give the man a few moments to gather his thoughts,” interjected Maggie. “Business can be discussed after dinner.”

With that the conversation turned to more mundane things, such as what were they eating, where did this delicious beast come from, and so on. A few anecdotes were told at Logan’s expense. He took it all gracefully, and soon they were laughing and enjoying themselves in the manner of friends.

When they had eaten their fill and more, Logan rang his bell and dessert was served. A huge cake, baked in the shape of the elder Dragon Zhaitian was brought in. The unspoken challenge was accepted and soon the cake was devoured.

Finally, Logan led them all into the next room. It was filled with soft chairs and couches, the ladies found comfortable pillows on the floor. The bar along the wall held all manner of spirits, and Logan provided bartender service.

Once everyone was seated, with drinks in hand, Logan began, “I’ve asked you here to help me protect the Queen. It may be nothing, but I have reason to believe Lord Caudecus and his inventor Uzolan mean to do her harm. I cannot allow it. I’ve asked you here because you’ve proven yourselves worthy of a challenge and I trust you.”

“Forgive me Logan,” Mellen quickly spoke, “But the question of our compensation still remains. My friends and I have expenses. If we are to help you, we will be unable to use the time to earn other income. Bills must be paid.”

Logan surprised them all with his next statement. “I will give you as a group, six gold coins as a retainer, and 6 more gold coins upon completion. That is what you were going to haggle me to, isn’t it? If the retainer doesn’t cover your expenses, provide me with receipts upon completion and you will be compensated.”

Maggie looked at Mellen who simply said, “How did you know what I was going to ask?.”

With a smile, Logan simply replied, “I expected you to ask what the task is worth to me. I will spare no expense to protect my Queen. And besides, your reputation as a bargainer precedes you. I have no desire to quibble into the night. This is my offer.”

Mellen looked at Maggie with a question, she nodded her head slightly. He turned his large eyes back to the Captain. “It is acceptable, considering what we know at this time. I hold to my right to counter your offer should the need arise.”

Logan opened his desk and removed a cloth bag. “I expect this will take care of your expenses. Should anything more arise prior to next week’s festival, please contact me here in the evenings. My servants have been told you are contractors, hired to work on one of my properties in the countryside.”

“What what can you tell us about this Uzolan?” Maggie asked.

“I’ve heard he is controlling Caudecus, and that he has ties to the Separatist movement. Demmi Beetlestone brought him to my attention. She told me her father had begun acting strangely since hiring the toy maker. I’ve had operatives at the mansion for weeks now, but they have not been able to gather much information. However, it appears that Uzolan has convinced Caudecus to make certain changes to key personnel. The Queen refuses to listen, I cannot convince her of the danger.”

“We will uncover any plot and protect the Queen. I promise you.” Mellen assured him.

Maggie quietly added, “Yes. Speaking of which, do you have invitations for us or must we sneak in the back door?”

“The Queen was adamant that you all are invited.” Logan produced the rest of the invitations and handed them to Maggie. “It seems she remembers each of you.”

As Maggie placed the invitations into her pack, she looked at each of her friends. The yawning had begun, “Excuse us Logan, it is late, and it seems we have preparations to make, and a plan to hatch.”

“Please keep me apprised of the situation if you will, I would prefer no surprises.” Logan’s eyes frowned in worry.

Terri reached out and gently touched his arm, “I know you’re concerned about the Queen, but we will do our best to protect her.”

He nodded once and the tight muscles in his face relaxed a bit as he exhaled.

With that the group bid Logan good night and found the wagon waiting outside to take them back to the house. The ride was uneventful, and the talk remained small. Once they reached the house, Mellen reached into his pocket and produced a tip for the driver, saying, “Thank you sir.”

Back at the house, they discussed the evening and planned until everyone was exhausted.

###

The day of the party arrived bright and clear, and the friends each felt a heightened sense of adventure.

As promised, Mellen had left earlier to stash away their weapons and armor in case they were needed. He would not be joining them directly, but would be on hand nearby to keep watch from outside the grounds.

Logan sent a carriage to pick them up in Divinity’s Reach. The ride to Beetletun was uneventful, full of nervous small talk. Precious slept in Maggie’s lap. Electra’s pet krytan hound sat in the front with the driver, looking all regal in his brightly polished, studded collar. Electra and Bones sat in the front facing rear seat. Taking nearly the entire seat with their large Norn forms, they held hands and smiled at each other. Harry sat with the driver, carefully watching their progress while Maggie called out various points of interest.

Upon arriving at the gate, the group made their way up the stairs to be greeted by the butler, Albert. When Albert came to Maggie and Terri, he said brightly, “The Queen is looking forward to seeing both of you again.”

“Thank you, Albert.” Terri smiled back as he kissed her hand.

The party was in full swing as they entered the courtyard. When the Queen noticed Maggie and Terri, she had them escorted to her. Ignoring the formalities, she greeted them with warm embraces

“My favorite young ladies. I want to scold you for not keeping your promise to come visit me every week.”

“I’m sorry your majesty, but we both know how busy you are. We can’t take up your time with our little lives.” Maggie replied.

“Nonsense, you would have saved me from endless paperwork and fools. But I’m happy that you are here now. Logan is worried. It may be nothing, but thank you for coming.”

With that, the talk turned to mundane, “How have you been,” and “You look wonderful.” Eventually, the Queen was pulled back into her official state and the girls were released to enjoy the party.

The group gathered to discuss the plan.

“I found the cache, it’s inside that little building in the fountain,” said Bones.

Electra added, “I noticed some muttering going on between some of the guests and servants. Something isn’t right here, and I think we should ask some discreet questions.”

“Okay, let’s split up and cover as much ground as we can. Bones, would you please stay up here near our gear in case we need the weapons?”

“You’ve got it Maggie. What’s the signal?”

“The signal is me screaming your name.” Maggie replied.

The group split up and began mingling with different groups and asking innocent sounding questions. After an hour or so, they came together in a secluded spot to discuss their findings. Maggie quietly signaled Logan who gradually worked his way to them so they could fill him in on their findings. Uzolan had replaced most of Caudecus’s security with his own people. Clearly upset about what they had uncovered, Logan stormed off toward Lord Caudecus. Maggie, seeing the look in his eyes screamed “Bones!”

Bones grabbed their gear, removed his hammer and staff, then tossed the rest down to Maggie. Weapons in hand, the group spread out and took defensive positions. As Logan confronted Caudecus, Uzolan shouted, “Do it NOW!” While his huge golem began to attack, Uzolan activated a small device and he, Caudecus, and the Queen disappeared in a bright flash of purple light.

Maggie leaped headlong into the attack and began using her axes to disable the golem. Bones joined her and shielded them both as his hammer pounded on the machine. Precious deflected the Golems first attack, as Simon interrupted his second. Electra and Harry both fired from behind the hedges, arrow after arrow. Terri put up a wall of stone that protected the guests from the golem’s attack. Soon it was over and the golem lay in pieces on the ground.

“The Queen, he’s taken the Queen!” Logan cried out. His fists clenched around the grip of his sword in frustration.

“We’ll find them,” Maggie replied.

They donned their armor while formulating a rescue plan. Suddenly, Mellen appeared waving a small, blinking device which he excitably handed to Maggie as Terri looked on.

Mellon said, “He used a transporter that leaves behind a residue of energy bundles,by following the residue it will lead you to where they teleported. Push this yellow button and it will show you the path of energy. The green button is a communicator you can use to reach me. There is no time to waste, go find the queen.

Terri took the device and led the way. The group followed the residue into the building and down a hall. Soon, they came to a door that was guarded by a very large doorman. Armed with a hammer and shield, He refused to let them pass. A long scar running down the side of his face showed he had no fear of fighting. Logan stepped up to him, “I order you in the name of the Queen to stand aside and let us pass.”.

“I take orders from no Queen.” was his reply as he spit on the floor and the battle ensued.

The doorman struck a mighty blow with his hammer and Logan went down almost immediately. Simon pulled him away and Maggie dived behind the doorman as Bones took the front. Together, they began to beat their way through his defenses as Harry and Electra hit him with their arrows. Once Logan revived, he rejoined the fight with a vengeance. Precious appeared as did Electra’s hound. Simon quickly knocked the doorman down, and that allowed Bones to finish him off. Bones cast healing spells all around, and soon the group was ready to advance.

Inside the room was a group wearing the uniforms of Caudecus’s security guards. As soon as Logan entered, they attacked. Logan quickly rolled back through the doorway, shouting, “Look out, it’s a trap!”

Bones and Maggie quickly took positions on either side of the doorway and fought the enemy soldiers in the narrow confines of the door. Terri threw fireballs, Electra and Harry fired arrows, and the pets joined the fight at the door. One by one, the enemy soldiers were killed. Once the fighting had stopped, Maggie peeked inside the room and shouted, “There are seven more, charge!”

The group bolted through the door firing as they went and the remaining bandits went down quickly. As Harry and Bones searched for clues on the bodies, Bones commented, “These are not security guards, they’re separatists. They all have the distinctive tattoos on their necks. What are they doing here?”

“When we were questioning everyone, we were told that all of the security staff had been replaced at Uzolan’s direction.” Harry reminded them.

“Replaced by separatists, sworn against the Queen. We have to get to her.” Terri sounded worried.

Maggie calmed them, “Don’t worry, we can still see and track the energy trail, so we must be getting closer. We need to go down the stairs.”

“That could be dangerous,” Bones surprised her with his caution.

Harry piped in, “I can go down first, draw some back up here. We can fight a handful at a time that way, instead of the whole mob.”

Maggie nodded and Harry started quietly down the stairs. The rest of the party spread out and waited. Soon they heard heavy footsteps running up the stairs and Harry burst in and suddenly rolled to his left. Behind him were half a dozen bandits. They were dispatched quite handily by the group.

“Nice job.” Bones said in admiration.

Harry winked and started back down the stairs, this time he took a little longer, but when he returned, another group was hot on his trail. Dodging again to get out of the way, Harry stood to the side and used his bow. Precious and Simon met the group directly and helped dispatch them in no time. Harry made one more trip, and after that group was gone, said, “That’s all I could find. I think it’s safe for us to go downstairs now.”

Maggie directed her gaze at Logan, “This machine is pointing toward the stables. We may need help. Get reinforcements to meet us there! You’ll need to save her if we fail.”

“It will take some time,” he answered, rubbing his forehead.

“Then you should go now, we can handle tracking them, but we might need help freeing her.”

“You are right, thank you,” he said and left the room in long, determined strides.

As Logan left the way they had come, Maggie motioned the group forward. Quietly they went downstairs to find the halls empty. Maggie put her finger to her lips and whispered, “Listen.”

They heard voices arguing. Someone was trying to convince someone else to open a door and let him out. Maggie pointed in the direction of the voices, and the group charged. They came across more bandits, including a grenadier who was throwing bombs at them. Dodging the bombs, they were able to kill the grenadier first, then the fighter. Finally, they captured the loud-voiced one who had been trying to get through the door.

“And who have we here?” asked Maggie, while holding her axe at his throat.

“I work for Lord Caudecus, I am trying to find him, and he has been kidnapped,” the guard shook as he answered. Sweat beaded on his pale face as he stared at her determined face.

“You’re wearing the same uniform as these men. That tells me you’re one of them. They were obviously working for the separatists.”

“I don’t know anything about that, I only know I have to reach Lord Caudecus. I have information about Uzolan. He’s in league with the separatists and is trying to hold the Queen for ransom.”

“Where are they holding the Queen?” Maggie pushed the axe tighter against the man’s neck.

He swallowed and trembled. “I don’t know for sure, but I think they were leaving the grounds by the stable. I saw a wagon loaded with weapons.”

Maggie removed the axe from his neck, but not the tight grip on his arm. “Tie him up. Leave him. Gag him so he can’t warn anyone.”

Maggie reached up and pressed a lever on the wall. The doorway opened to reveal a separatist Lieutenant. Armed with pistols and grenades, his double attack gave them some trouble until Simon charged and knocked him down, giving Maggie and Bones time to reach him.

“Grenade!” Bones grabbed the grenade he was holding and flung it into the next tunnel. It exploded and hurled rocks and shrapnel through the tunnel.

Five separatists in clanging metal and leather armor ran through the tunnel as the smoke cleared. They whipped out their weapons and leapt into the battle.

Harry growled, “Thanks, Bones, I wanted a harder fight.”

“Now you’re learning how to be a Norn,” was the Guardian’s retort.

Bones countered the attack with a defensive spell that protected both Maggie and him. While Precious continued to bite and claw at the lieutenant, Simon began to fight the lieutenant’s soldiers. Electra and Harry used their bows to fire upon the entire group. Terri, wearing her conjured stone armor, waded into the battle and created a wall of fire that the separatists couldn’t cross.

One by one, the separatists were defeated until only the lieutenant remained. Precious and Simon made short work of the injured officer. The party took time to check for injuries on themselves and the cat and dog. Bones and Harry traded barbs. They also checked their weapons for damage. Simon gave a soft whine.

Harry sniffed the air and said, “He must smell other dogs, guard dogs patrolling the grounds”

Looking around the corner, Maggie noticed a handful of separatists guarding a Norn. Signaling to the group, she switched to her bow, stepped around and fired at the closest separatist. Electra fired a barrage at the group, the arrows landing with the sound of heavy hail. Three separatists went down immediately from their attack. Two more fought their way into the middle of the group, only to die when attacked from all sides.

Looking around the corner again, Maggie found the Norn alone and asleep. As they drew closer, Harry noticed three more bandits hiding in an adjoining room. He signalled the group and they were drawn out quickly and ran instantly into a flaming wall created by Terri. The smell of burning flesh filled the air. Bones took a moment to cast healing spells. Electra noticed blood on Simon’s leg and insisted on wrapping the cut with herbs.

The Norn snored loudly. Maggie was at a loss. She shook him and he still didn’t awaken. “He’s drunk,” stated Electra after sniffing the air around him.

Bones found a pail of water and dumped it unceremoniously on the sleeping giant. He stood up, sputtering and wiped the water his face and beard. Upon being questioned, the Norn soon identified himself as Sigfast, the door guard. After being told of the Queen’s danger, he staggered to the door and unlocked it. “You’ll need to be careful, there are guard dogs all over the property. You may also find a group of soldiers outside this door. There is also a guard post in the trees at the top of the hill. You’ll be vulnerable until you take out the grenadiers and snipers.”

“Thank you Sigfast.” Bones replied. “We will see you at the Moot.”

Bones waited at the door for Maggie’s signal. Once everyone was in position, she nodded her head and he used his hammer to blast open the door. The surprised separatists on the other side charged right in to the trap. As Sigfast passed out again and began to snore, the battle was finished. “Stay inside,” said Maggie.

She stepped outside and carefully looked around the corner to see two groups of hounds, each led by a lieutenant. Firing a single arrow at the first group, she ducked back inside. The first group came charging around the corner, only to be met by more arrows. Electra and Harry continued to fire as Bones and Maggie waded in and attacked the lieutenant. Terri set fire to the grass around the fighting and the hounds fell, one by one. Soon only the handler remained. As Maggie’s axes sliced through the air in brutal blows, Bones drew his staff and began casting a wall of reflection. The lieutenant’s own attack was reflected back to him and he died by his own hand.

The second group was dispatched the same way, and the party moved out into the field. Looking ahead, they could see the outpost described by Sigfast. They counted grenadiers, snipers and fighters along the base of the largest tree. A ramp wound around the tree, leading up to the guardhouse at the top. Out in front was a single caged prisoner.

“What do you all think?” Maggie asked.

“I think the grenadiers have done the most damage to us so far, they should be our first targets.” Bones replied.

“I agree,” said Terri.

Maggie nodded and then stated, “I think you’re right. Let’s take them out first, then go after the snipers. If the fighters break through, Bones, you and I will have to keep them away from our friends.”

“Sounds like a solid plan,” Bones agreed.

With that, the group began the attack. Grenades were flung in their direction immediately, but they were able to dodge out of range. Harry and Electra used their bows with precision, targeting the most dangerous enemies first.. Precious and Simon helped and the grenadiers were soon removed from the fight. The snipers were the next targets. Fighters charged them, but Maggie and Bones held them at bay while Harry worked his way behind the tree and began picking snipers off from the rear. Electra continued her barrage from the front. Terri built wall after wall of stone to protect them. Finally, Maggie and Bones started up the ramp.

Fighting their way to the top, they faced the commander. He was soon overwhelmed and the group hurried to the bottom to free the prisoner. Surprised she had no injuries, Harry realized she was none other than Mia Kindleshot. “Well met, Harry. You’ve grown into quite the fighter.”

“Thank you elder Mia. How did you become their prisoner?”

“They took me when they took the Queen. Perhaps for ransom, although they paid in blood. They didn’t realize I bite.” She laughed.

“Speaking of the Queen, do you know where they took her?” Maggie asked.

“They are at the end of this valley, waiting for Uzolan’s escort. I heard some talk the Queen was being difficult. I like her. I hope she bites too.” Mia replied, with a smile “Come, I’ll show you.”

After quickly restoring their energies, the party started up the valley. Soon they could see some commotion in the distance. They hid away in the underbrush to observe. The Queen was in a protective bubble, and the Captain angrily shouted at his men, “Try and burst it.”

The Queen, defiant, “I’ll let you all live if you leave immediately. Otherwise, you’ll be fed to farmer Hewitt’s pigs”

“The Captain will be the most difficult, but the others should be easy compared to what we’ve fought so far,” whispered Harry.

“Perhaps, but we should watch a bit longer,” Terri replied.

“Wait, did you see that?” asked Harry. “The bubble, it’s flickering. Her power is waning. We need to attack now!

With that, Harry climbed up the hill for a better vantage point. Electra joined him, Terri moved behind a tree and waited for the signal. Bones walked up the center of the path and confronted the Captain directly. Maggie charged and the fight began. Mia, using a rifle taken from a dead sniper, targeted the sergeant.

Suddenly, the protective bubble surrounding the Queen burst. Harry, seeing it first, charged and put himself between the Queen and the separatists. He cried out in pain as the captain’s knife, flung at the Queen, struck him in his chest. He fell to the ground immediately unconscious. Queen Jennah rushed to his side and cradled his head. She grabbed up a handful of stones from the ground beside them and threw them up in the Captain’s face. The captain howled, holding his hand up to his face to protect his eyes. Maggie saw the opening and whirled her axe for the finishing blow. The other enemies fell soon after.

Terri and Electra joined Queen Jennah and Maggie next to Harry’s unconscious form. Tears flowed down the Queen’s face. “He saved my life. He stood between me and the dagger. We must help him. I will not let him die.”

Tears also ran down Terri’s face as she charged up the lane towards the stables, shouting, “Logan! Damn you, where are you, we need help!”

Logan appeared, followed by a squad of soldiers. “What is it?”

“It’s Harry, he’s been wounded. I think the dagger was poisoned. He’s in bad shape.”

“Medics!” Logan barked.

Two soldiers with heavy packs sprinted to the group and the medics immediately began chanting healing spells and bandaging wounds. Bones assisted with healing spells himself. Precious lay on Harry’s body, purring loudly. The group could see her growing smaller as she gave Harry her life force. Simon licked Harry’s face.

The Queen looked up at one of her officers. “Captain, we need an airship right away. If we can get him to Divinity’s Reach, our doctors might be able to save him.”

The captain saluted. “Right away, Your Majesty.” He turned and sent off his fastest runner to deliver the message.

Once they arrived at the palace, Harry was taken to the guest quarters and the finest doctors in the kingdom were summoned. The group waited at the foot of his bed. Precious, at first banned by the staff from Harry’ room because of her ferocious nature toward anyone who came near Harry, slipped in behind one of the healers and joined Harry on the bed. When an orderly tried to remove her, she became very large, very fast and her no nonsense hiss made it plain she was not leaving.

Maggie left the room briefly and punched a button on the communicator.

“What is it now, bookah?” he sighed. “I’m right in the middle of calibrating the psy-accelerometer and the tachyphonic stream needs to be in perfect synchronization, or--”

With tears in her voice, Maggie almost shouted, “Mellen, get to the Queen’s palace in Divinity’s Reach NOW. Harry was seriously wounded in the battle, and the doctors can’t stop the poison. I think he’s dying.”

Mellen arrived a couple of hours later. The party had collapsed in chairs and on the floor around the room, exhausted from battle and worry.

Mellen scanned the Charr with some instruments and nodded. He looked at the doctors. “You there, tall bookah. Cast whatever it is you cast to keep his cardiovascular system in high gear. I’m going to leech the poison out of him.” He turned to Harry and began a spell of his own. His voice faded as he worked his way through all the spell chants.

The queen noticed the Asuran becoming more pale as the spell went on. “What’s happening to him?”

A healer examined him without interrupting the flow of his work. “He’s healing him somehow, my Queen. Necromancers can do that, but Harry may have too much poison in his system for Mellen to save him.”

“I can help remove some of the poison.”

“You’re exhausted from casting the protection spells for so long, Your Majesty. You could be seriously injured yourself if you’re not at full strength.”

“Mellen needs help, and I’m certainly not going to stand here and watch Harry die.” Queen Jennah waved a scepter in tiny spirals through the air. Music filled the room and light glowed in a circle, enlarging until it engulfed Harry, Mellen and the other healers. A gray-green cloud appeared above the Charr. Harry started to breathe more easily, and his drooping ears regained some color.

The healer attending the Charr checked his vital signs again. “Harry is improving, Your Majesty. The poison appears to be out of his system.”

The necromancer collapsed at the side of the bed. He laid his head down on the bedspread briefly before saying, “What idiotic bookah tried to get between Harry and me and interrupt my work? Don’t you fools know that Asurans have superior constitutions for this?”

The Queen laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “You’re welcome. Now get some rest. We all need it after this ordeal. That’s an order.”

Mellen opened his mouth once, closed it, and stayed silent. Terri helped him to his feet and led him to a chair. She handed him some water and a small bowl of stew to regain his energy. He slumped over in the chair as soon as he finished, eyelids fighting unsuccessfully to stay open.

Maggie was the first to awaken at the sound of Harry’s voice. “I’m hungry,” he said. “How about some breakfast?” As the group awakened, each of them rushed to the bed and began to hug the wounded ranger. Precious jumped off the bed and moved to the still sleeping Mellen. Laying upon his body, she began once again to purr. It was then that everyone noticed Mellen’s color was very pale.

Soon though, the flush returned to his cheeks and he awakened. Maggie looked at him knowingly. She knew he had been the one to save Harry’s life. Mellen put his finger to his lips, and she nodded.

The Queen entered the room in a flourish. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she held Harry’s paw and said simply, “Thank you, you saved my life and I can never repay you, but if you ever are in need, you have only to ask.”

“It was just blind luck Your Majesty. I zigged instead of zagged.” The Charr shyly replied.

“You put yourself in the line of fire to protect me, that takes incredible courage. You remind me so much of your father and I know that he would be very proud of you. You are hereby declared a Champion of the Queen. Let all who meet you know, you have the heart and courage of a lion.”

There was not a dry eye in the room, even Logan had to wipe his eyes. The story was told over and over again and Precious grew in each retelling, until she was as large as the Elder dragon himself.

Published: March 6th, 2015

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