Swords and Meetings: The Alley

This is the first in a selection of fiction that had been written for the Lorestaves project. The episodes encompass an introduction and what was to be the first module in the series. Each module would then have its own short story to accompany it. The stories could be combined into a longer work, much as the modules could be combined into a full campaign.

The introduction and first short story were completed, but the project was then cancelled and nothing more was written. If there is enough interest, I might consider re-visiting the story. The good thing is that even if the story is not re-visited, what exists does tell a complete story, so readers will not be left hanging.

Without further ado, here is the first episode of Lorestaves fiction.

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One: The Alley

Cade stood in the alley, looking out at the flowing river of humanity and into the setting sun. He knew someone in that mob of revellers, hawkers, pimps and marks hunted him. Likely more than one. He had his blade with him, and he expected to use it. He didn’t want to. He had never wanted that. He knew they would force him to it, given the chance.

Not completely a man of peace, Cade had learnt how to defend himself. He had learnt how to kill—he had killed—but he had never learnt how to enjoy killing. If they found him, he would need to kill again or they would silence him. He wasn’t willing to trade his silence for their lives.

They had taken good men and silenced them. It would not happen to him.

In the crowd, he saw them. Holy Knights. He scoffed—they were less holy than he, and Cade had never made any pretencions to morality. They wore breastplates and mail. Full helms covered their heads, hiding their faces. The greatswords on their backs and the bracers with the arms of the Holy Knights on their wrists marked them. Hatred boiled up in Cade. They had taken the man who had taught him music, had taught him poetry. They had taken Galrid of Hehrville, and Cade could never forgive them.

“Hello, heretic.” The voice was behind him.

Cade spun, his sword in hand. He faced four Holy Knights. He sized up his foes and a slight sense of relief touched him. The bracers of the men he faced marked them as Initiates rather than full Knights.

“Four of you against a simple poet, is it?” Cade tapped his palm with the flat of his sword. “Which is dying first? Did they tell you who you face?” Pure bravado, but he hoped to put them off balance.

A scornful chortle echoed through the lead Initiate’s helm. “Some proud heretic with a farmer’s blade in his hand.” The Initiate drew his greatsword. “I wonder how you will fare against the sword of a knight.”

“Knight?” Cade offered a smirk. “Now which of us is proud? You are an Initiate. Perhaps you hope to be a Knight. I, on the other hand, am a man without hope. Do you know what happens to a man without hope?” The Initiates did not advance, so Cade did. “He becomes a man without fear. He is a man with nothing to lose. There is nothing you can take from me that you have not already.”

The lead Initiate went to guard, but did not attack. “Except your life.”

Cade took another step. He put his sword to guard, almost touching the blade of the lead Initiate. “You’ll trade many of yours for that.”

Behind the Initiates, a blossom of fire illuminated the alley. From the fire came a voice.

“I would just as soon you didn’t.”

Cade heard a roar, much as he imagined a lion would sound. The Initiates parted, flattening themselves against the walls of the buildings bordering the alley. Cade saw two figures at the other end. Flames enwreathed one, but did not burn him. Not a tall man, he held out his arms, fire dancing between them. His eyes burned red, and his dark hair kindled. A voluminous red and black cloak hid his body.

The other figure had arms the size of Cade’s legs. He thrust out his jaw and Cade thought he heard a growl. Though like a man, tusks protruded from the other figure’s lower jaw. Hair sprouted on his face, as it would on an ape or a leopard. He had dark eyes, almost black. A long blade topped the short spear in his hand, like a sword on a pole. The shield on his other arm had a blade on its crown and the mark of a black crow. He had the same mark as a tattoo on his forehead. Flanking that crow tattoo on his face were one black wolf and one white wolf.

The lead Initiate, who had threatened Cade, held up a shaky hand. “Stand back, citizens. We are performing our lawful duty of arresting a heretic.”

“You can walk away from here, or you can die,” the burning man said. “I would rather you walk away, but Drustan here has a score to settle.”

Another of the Initiates pointed at the bestial man. “You are Drustan the Half-Orc.”

When Drustan spoke, it came like gravel underfoot, rough and coarse. “I am Drustan of Teyrs, last of my clan. Your kind killed my mother, my father and all my brothers. You’ll fall to me and scream at the feet of your god.”

“Get ready,” said a woman’s voice at Cade’s ear.

Startled, he turned. She stood just beside him. He could not see her well, save for her face. She seemed to disappear into the growing darkness. All he saw was a bright smile and two jade, green eyes that flashed like jewels. She winked, and it was then Cade noticed she had a bow in hand.

“When Eam gets going, it’s best to stand back,” she said.

“Who are you?” Cade asked.

She quietly laughed—a cool, clear spring falling on pebbles. “We’re friends, mister poet.” She put arrow to string and aimed. “Which one should die first?”

“None of them,” Cade said.

She glanced at him, the tip of the arrow dropping. “You’re serious?”

Cade looked down the alley. The man named Eam and the one named Drustan still spoke with the Initiates. “If they will leave, let them.”

“You’re a better person than I,” the woman said. She lowered her bow. With her arm extended in front of her, her palm facing the ground, she slashed the air before her.

Eam nodded. “Sheath your blades and leave. The poet is ours. Walk away.”

Drustan looked back to Eam. Cade realized Drustan had crouched. He rose and stood over eighteen hands. Eam cast a glance at Drustan then return his focus to the Initiates To Cade’s surprise, Drustan lowered his spear, placing the tip on the ground.

“Walk away and you will live,” Drustan said. “Offer me a reason, and I’ll send you all to your god.”

Something suddenly occurred to Cade. “They’re behind us as well.”

The woman beside him furrowed her brows. “Who?”

Cade spun, sword ready. “The Holy Knights.”

The flames in the alley cast spare light out on to the street. So early in the evening, few noticed it. Some had, and they wore armour and carried greatswords. These Holy Knights approached the alleyway, drawing their blades.

The woman put arrow to bow and spun. Before Cade could speak, that arrow flew, catching one of the knights in the shoulder, where mail met plate. Cade looked back at the alley. Drustan had stepped forward. Eam pointed to the nearest Initiate.

“Make your peace,” Eam said.

A bolt of red light sped from his hand to the nearest Initiate, flashing when they struck. That man screamed as he fell back, his armour charred. Drustan leaped forward, slashing with his long-bladed spear. He caught one Initiate beneath the helm, sending forth a plume of red. The Initiate dropped to the ground, his blood spilling forth into a growing, dark pool.

The lead Initiate turned to Cade. “You die.”

He lunged. Cade caught the greatsword on his own blade. His sword almost wrenched from his hand. Cade stepped to the side, sliding his blade away from the greatsword then driving it into the Initiate’s hip, below the breastplate. The sword caught mail, but found an opening. The Initiate fell to one knee.

The woman’s voice came as a shout, almost a scream. “Eam, I need help.”

Eam drew out a sword. Cade saw his lips move but was too far to hear the sound. The sword’s blade turned ice-white. Drustan stood in the alley, trading blows with the Initiates Eam now joined him. Where his sword struck, ice formed. The Initiates gave way, but that left Cade and the woman trapped between retreating Initiates and advancing Knights.

“I hope your blade is as sharp as your tongue,” the woman said. She slid her bow onto her back and drew a thin-bladed sword with an intricate hilt like a cage protecting her hand.

Cade felt heat then a cool breeze at his back. He turned. The three Initiates that remained had lowered their swords and had dropped to hands and knees. Drustan stood with his long-bladed spear poised over them. Fire danced around Eam.

“Sabrine, let’s go.” Eam held out his hand.

The woman named Sabrine laughed as she saluted the advancing Knights. “The turtle won’t win this race.” She tapped Cade’s arm with the flat of her blade. “Ready to go?”

Cade followed them as they ran. Eam’s fire disappeared and the coming night’s gloom soon enveloped them in the maze of alleys.

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Swords and Meetings continues with “the Bar.”

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