New Fiction From Staff

Hi there, everyone.

In the past, I’ve posted some of my fiction works here on the Tramp’s blog, for example Recruiting, part 1.  I’ve gotten good feedback on it, as well as on the articles I’ve written for the store (which is most of them), so I’ve decided to try my hand at something new.

I now have a Patreon page.

Patreon is a platform that allows an artist, like a writer, to be directly funded by their audience.

So, if you’ve enjoyed my writing, please have a look here at my page.  Have a look at the free samples that are available, like this one.

Thank you for your time.

-Christopher J.P.S. Roberts

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Recruiting part 4

Christopher J.P.S. Roberts’ cross-over fan-fiction continues in Recruiting part 4, this time set in the World of Darkness.

***

Liam O’Keefe sat down at the bar, ordered a bottle of “the place’s best whiskey,” and started to drink. As his left arm was in a sling, he drank one-handed. He did not bother to look at the label, nor did he give much notice to the cost; Liam had been well paid for his services over the past several weeks.

Rather than think about his surroundings, Liam thought about his recent past. He still didn’t understand what had happened in Italy. He and the others had been back in Edinburgh for almost a week, but the time hadn’t really helped Liam make any sense of it all. In fact, while perhaps not the homely surroundings of Dublin, the familiarity of the bars of Edinburgh made what they had experienced seem even more surreal.

“Seems like quite th’ monkey ye’ve go’ there,” the barkeep observed in a friendly manner. “I’d be happy ta help ye git ‘im off yer back.”

Liam looked up, and was surprised to find that half his bottle was gone.

“I appreciate the offer, friend,” Liam said. “But I don’t think you’d believe it if I told ya.”

“Ach, if I had a nickle for every time,” the barkeep replied with a slight roll of his eyes. “I don’t know why everyone thinks the’re so bludy diff’rent, that their story’s so unbelievable.”

“Alright then, I’ll bite. I’ll give ya the truth of it. But don’t say I didn’t warn ya,” Liam sat up a little more, and poured himself more to drink.

“‘Bout a month an’ a half ago, I accepted a contract. Bodyguard type work, ya understand. I may have run with the IRA, but I’m no assassin.”

The barkeep nodded, but didn’t comment. Liam’s background was no surprise to him; there was, after all, a reason that Liam had come into this bar. With his story begun, Liam began to speak more freely:

“Client turns out to be a stuffy Scotsman with more money than God; hired me to provide protection for a kind of expedition he’d put together. Ya know Galileo, the fella what discovered planets an’ what-not? Seems that this Scot had run across some evidence that Galileo had some secret labs to keep his research safe while he was on the run from the church. Now, I’m no egghead, but even I know the money that could be made from finding artifacts like that, an’ I think to m’self ‘How hard could it be to protect a bunch o’ tweed jackets while they’re a-digging?”, so I signs on.

“So it’s me, the Scot (who insisted on coming along), a linguist, a wacko who thinks Galileo met little men from Mars, an’ a tight-lipped Yank that reeked of military training. So we start globetrotting. Now, don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with any o’ that. That’s not where the problems started. The problems started when we met the competition. Oh, aye, there was competition. Apparently, ol’ Max wasn’t the only one t’find the lead to these labs, an’ the other fellas, they weren’t interested in just racing us to the discoveries. No, apparently they’d rather just be rid of us. Suddenly havin’ a former IRA sharpshooter, and a yank with some kinda special forces training, suddenly that didn’t seem so much like overkill.

“But that ain’ the real problem, an’ it’s the real problem that makes it a hard story t’swallow. So these other fellas, they’re not just rich folks, or mercenaries, no couldn’t be that simple. No, they’re apparently the fucking Illuminati, and I’m talking full-on crazy conspiracy Illuminati, just like in that Tomb Raider movie. No, don’t go looking at me like that, I did warn ya.

“So ol’ Max, he’s not just some rich fella either, no, he’s a bloody Free Mason. Now here in the isles every old, rich bugger’s a Mason, so that’s no shock, but it turns out he’s being financed by some great bloody worldwide Mason network. Aye. So now we’re all fucking Indiana Jones crawling through ruins and trying t’ solve puzzles and all that adventure movie shite. And as we go, we find out that we’re chasin’ something big. There was something Galileo found or discovered or learned right near th’ end that he didn’t bloody share with anyone. An’ he hid it in one super-duper-fuckin’-secret lab. So we’re all comin’ up with our own ideas about what the big secret is. I swear t’ God this’s the truth of it, but all this ain’t nothing compared to what happened when we found the last, the most secret, of these labs, the one with the Discovery-to-end-all-fuckin’-discoveries.

“Oh, aye, we found it. But it weren’t anything that anyone was expectin’. The nut bar thought we’d find a wee martian pod. I think the linguist expected t’ find proof of Atlantis. Max expected some secret bloody wisdom, some lost lore. And I’m sure the Yank was hoping for a bloody weapon; what else do Yanks want? But was it any o’ that? Nope. What was it? It was a comet.

“Aye. A comet. So after we get past the last o’ the traps, and the last o’ the fuckin’ Illuminati goons, an’ we get into the ultra-super-fuckin’-secret lab, the brains take a look at the instruments and they says that the equipment is set up to observe a comet that passes by once every three-hundred-and-some-odd years, some number as means something special to conspiracy wackos, and it’s about t’ pass by.

“So it does, the comet, I mean, and that’s when everthing turns inside-out. This big series of freaky lenses and tubes and mirrors and shite somehow focuses some kinda light from the comet, and it all comes flooding into the room…” Liam trailed off.

“Och, ye can’t fuckin’ do that!” The barkeep insisted. “Ye can’t stop there! What happened next?”

Liam stared down into his mostly empty glass, and spoke without looking up. “I wasn’t in the lab anymore. I don’t now how, but I swear I was inside a hollow iron tower. In the middle o’ the tower was a huge column of flame. It was so hot that I could feel every breath bringing scorching air into me lungs. It hurt, but it was the kind of hurt that your eyes have when you suddenly step from a dim building into daylight. I noticed that the walls of the tower had names scrawled all over them, carved into the metal. These were the names of special people. Deserving people. An’ I wanted to be one o’ them, but … but I couldn’t even bring myself t’ try. I felt weak.

“That’s when the demons came in.

“Aye, I said demons. I don’t care what ya think, but I swear to God Almighty that a swarm of demons came in through the door at the base of the tower. But they weren’t just demons, no, they had the faces of people I knew. People I’d killed, people I’d seen killed, people I’d gotten into fights with when I was drunk. An’ they were all screamin’ that I wasn’t worthy. That made me angry, more than I can describe. I started shooting with both me pistols. The demons shot back with assault rifles. I circled ’round the tower, going up this spiral walkway, and shooting ’round the column of flame. The tower sloped in as it rose, so every step up I took brought me closer t’ the flames, and I started t’ feel them burning away my insides. I was hit a few times, but every demon I killed made me stronger. I’d be damned if I let them beat me. When I killed the last of them, I realized I was at the top of the walkway, staring into the flame, but that fire was in me too, burning where m’heart and lungs used to be. I turned around, and there was this blank place in the wall, and there was a knife in my hand. I carved my name into that wall, an’ everything went dark.

“When I came to, I was on some scafolding near the ceiling o’ the lab. I looked down, and there were eight or so o’ the Illuminati goons sprawled dead on the floor, or on the scafolding. Max, an’ the brains, and the Yank, they was all wakin’ up too. They’d all seen something, like I did, but different, each one unique. But more than that, we all felt changed. Like some eye had opened that we never knew we had. We all felt this … this new strength, this power, inside us. And we started talkin’ about what we should do with it. Max suggested that we all go back with him, that we take some time and figure out what happened, that we shouldn’t talk to anyone about what happened until we knew more. I swear I could feel the gears turnin’ in his head, not just suspect it, but FEEL it. Still, it seemed like a good idea, so I agreed.

“But that’s when the Yank started talking. She had this firey look in her eyes, and she said she was taking this power back to her country.

“Now, I’d never trusted her. All along, I kept an eye on her, waitin’ for the snake to strike. In that moment, our eyes met, and I knew she was striking. We both drew, we both fired. Bitch was fast, just as fast as me. But my aim was just a bit better, and I had her outgunned two-ta-one. She got me arm, but I got her worse. She didn’t take any more shots, she just turned and ran, best as she could. I fell. The others, bless them, they were more worried about me than about stopping her.

“So, there ya have it, friend,” Liam looked up. “I’m here in your bar ’cause we’ve been in Edinburgh for a week, an’ it doesn’t make any more sense, and I just know the others are all hiding something. So that’s it; me whole crazy story. Sorry ya asked?”

“No, lad,” the barkeep replied, all the warmth gone out of his voice. “As a matter of fact, I’m right glad ye told me here. Saves us having t’get it out of ye later. Now, you come with me quietly, and you’ll be treated well.”

“Ah, fuck,” Liam sighed. He took a moment to look around, but he knew there wasn’t anyone else in the bar. He could feel the emptiness of the place. He cursed himself for not having paid more attention when he came in. He was so intent on getting drunk that he’d walked into a trap. But there was a tingle in his mind. He could feel something… “An’ if I don’t? Is that what the two lads in the back are for?”

The barkeep raises his eyebrows. “Now that is impressive. Yer Arcana are developing quickly, but talent will only get ye so far. We can teach ye, and we can show ye why ye have this power … and what it is yer meant t’do with it.”

As the barkeep spoke, Liam was focusing. The rough, earthy leather of his gloves helped his mind to sharpen, and he looked up into the eyes of the other man. In a flash, Liam felt what was intended for him: indoctrination, submission, servitude. This man saw Liam only as a tool, a weapon to use against his enemies. Liam also saw what they’d do to him if he didn’t cooperate.

“I’ll pass,” Liam said, and he slipped from the bar stool, falling to the floor. Before he hit the ground, he drew a gun with his good hand. He instinctively used the gun as he has used his gloves, tapping into the weapon’s purpose and the solidity of its composition. Liam had no doubt, no hesitation. He twisted and fired two shots through the bar. He heard his shots rip through the wood and the barkeep’s knees. The barkeep screamed as he went down.

Liam rose, and put a bullet into the head of each of the armed men that came running in from the back room, again firing in just the right spots without hesitation.

Liam cursed the pain in his slinged arm, and leaned over the bar. The fallen barkeep was still concious, but Liam didn’t think he’d be that way long at the rate he was loosing blood.

“I suppose your superiors’ll be along t’ collect ya before ya bleed out,” Liam’s tone was casual. “When ya talk t’ them, tell ’em t’ leave me the fuck alone. Call it the Liam Ultimatum.”

Liam went out onto the dark streets of Edinburgh, started back to Max’s place, then stopped. He began to question how well he really knew the man, or his other companions. Liam was sure not a one of them had spoken everything they thought or felt about what had happened to them. Liam didn’t blame them for that, but it still left him hesitatant. Max especially made him hesitatant.

Sure, Max seemed harmless, but he had showed himself to be part of a network just as vast as the one that had hunted them. What was his agenda?

But what other option did Liam have? Liam was a soldier. He wasn’t mindless, but he was a follower, not a leader. What would he do on his own? Would he be able to find answers?

Liam’s new-found senses flared to life. Liam knew there was something in the shadows of the alley he was passing. In the space of an eyeblink, Liam was pointing a pistol into the dark.

“Come out where I can see ya, or I swear I’ll shoot ya dead.”

Whatever Liam might have thought to be lurking in the dark, he did not expect a living shadow to detatch itself from the dim and come forward to stand in the light.

… i apologize … for startling you … i am here to … offer an alternative …

The shadow’s voice was like a warm whisper that did not seem to come from any one place.

“What the bloody fuck are ya?”

… i am … my master’s shadow …

“Jaysus Christ! Who’s your master, then?”

… i am not … permitted to … speak his name … i am here … to offer you … employment …

“Oh I don’t fuckin’ think so,” Liam replied. “I may be out o’ my fuckin’ mind, but I’m not about t’ take a job from a fuckin’ talkin’ shadow.”

The shadow rippled, like a person shuffling their feet. … whatever payment … you desire–

“I don’t care what your fuckin’ gonna pay me!” Liam interrupted. “I’ve had enough o’ conspiracies an’ mysteries.”

… please … The word seemed difficult for the shadow to speak. … my master understands … your hesitation … but he is in need … of a marksman …

“If this is so bloody important t’ him, why doesn’t he come himself? Wait, why am I still talkin’ t’ you? The answer is no! No more secrets, no more mysteries, no more. I’m leaving,” Liam turned to leave, holstering his weapon. But then a sharp jab went through him, like an explosion of headache, but in his instincts rather than any sense or body part. The pain reminded him of the fire that had burned him in the iron tower.

A man stepped from the darkness of the alleyway, and Liam had no doubt he was the source of the pain. The man was dressed in an immaculate suit, blacker than midnight. He wore a pair of inky black sunglasses, and had a tied back mane of platinum blond hair. The feeling pouring over Liam seemed to be radiating from this man. Being close to him was like staring into the sun for Liam’s new senses.

“Fucking Hell!” Liam cried.

“I am sorry,” the man sighed. His voice was strong, confident, but not unfeeling. “I sent my shadow to spare you this kind of encounter … and because it is dangerous for me to be here.”

The intensity of what Liam was feeling dimmed somewhat as he became aclimitized. “Who are you and what the fuck is going on here? Are you part of what happened to me?”

“In order: I am The Magus, and I am attempting to negotiate a contract with you. No, I had no part in anything that has happened to you.”

“‘The Magus?'” Liam replied. “I don’t fuckin’ think so. You’ll give me a name, or I’m not listening to another fuckin’ word.”

The man bowed his head a little and sighed. “Very well. I am sure you have reasons to be suspicious. My name is Seun.”

“Well, that’s something, I guess,” Liam conceded. “Frankly, I don’t know why I’m still standing here, but if you’re willin’ t’ be straight with me, I’m willin’ t’ hear ya out.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said Seun. “You have many questions. I will answer them as best I can.”

Liam took a breath, then shook his head. “No. No, you’re not bein’ straight. I– I can’t explain it, but I know this isn’t you. This,” Liam gestured at Seun. “This is a lie.”

Seun sighed again. “Very well.”

Seun tilted his head back, and the suit seemed to unravel, vanishing into smokey shadow. From underneath the suit, a rippling robe billowed out, hooded and cloaked. Everything around them seemed to darken, and Seun’s face vanished completly beneath the hood. Two points of blue light shone out of that darkness like eyes.

Liam had never seen anything like it. Seun was almost as shadow-like as the shadow that had spoken for him earlier, now patiently waiting to the side.

“This is my true seeming,” Seun said gravely.

Liam blinked as he stared at the figure robed in darkness. “I think I must be suffering from some kind o’ shock overload. Compared to suddenly being psychic, and a talking shadow, this doesn’t seem so bad. Now, what do you want with me?”

“I am sponsoring an expedition,” Seun explained. “For which I am seeking masters of various skills. You are the greatest master I could find in the skill of marksmanship.”

“Oh as if this isn’t deja fuckin’ vu,” Liam muttered. “Alright, look. I’m sure whatever it is you’re after is somethin’ dreadfully important t’ you, possibly t’ others as well. But what’s important t’ me is understanding what’s happened t’ me. Can ya do that?”

“I can,” was Seun’s simple reply.

“Then maybe I’ve lost me mind,” Liam concluded. “But sign me up.”

Recruiting, part 3

The crossover teambuilding began here and continued here continues as we meet yet another adventurer from a new world.

***

 

Approximately one month after the death of Thain Dukragiirn, Gurrk Arrak Gutshaker found himself knocking on the door to the rooms of the trapspringer Diessa.

“Gurrk!” the dwarven rogue exclaimed when she opened the door. “What is it?”

“Hi, uh … I’m, uh, not disturbing you, am I?” the battlerager’s gravelly voice warbled with concern. His spiked breastplate clinked as he shifted awkwardly, the movement releasing a waft of unwashed-dwarf-and-blood smell.

Diessa grimaced at the smell, but was thankful Gurrk didn’t seem to notice. She had noticed that his feelings were sometimes surprisingly easy to bruise. “No, no, it’s just that you’ve never visited my rooms before.”
“I, uh, I guess you’re right. Can I come in?” Gurrk nervously looked up and down the stone halls.

“Sure, I guess so. Gurrk, what’s going on?” Diessa had never seen the armored warrior nervous before, and she couldn’t imagine what had unnerved him.

Gurrk passed through the door, and stood in the center of Diessa’s sparsely decorated sitting area. Diessa took a seat on a stool, but Gurrk paced about the room.
“So, uh, Diessa, I have a question for you,” Gurrk began, not looking at her.

“… Yes?”

“Well, I mean you’re a dwarf woman, right? See, I need a wife to start my own House, and we could all die at any time, so I figured–”

“What?! Gurrk, I am NOT marrying you!”

“What?” the battlerager stopped pacing and looked, blinking, at Diessa. “I don’t wanna marry YOU. I mean, no offense, Diessa, but you’re not exactly wife material.”

“And just what is that supposed to mean?” the trapspringer demanded.

“Aw, crap, this isn’t going right at all,” Gurrk sighed. “Lemme start over. I need advice about courting a woman, a dwarf woman.”

“I think you should start from the beginning. Sit down, take a few breaths, and calm down. Where is this all coming from?”

Gurrk sat, as she’d suggested, and tried to sort out his thoughts– a task which had never been easy for him outside of battle. “I guess it mostly starts with Thain’s death. But maybe it starts when my father died.”

“I’ve never heard you talk about your father, except that he named you by belching.”

“Yeah,” Gurrk sighed wistfully. “What a guy. Sometimes I wish I had more of him than the mug I carved from his skull.”

“So what does he have to do with this?” Diessa asked, ignoring the reference to Gurrk’s favorite drinking vessel.

“Well I guess you wouldn’t know why my father died,” Gurrk’s eyes grew brighter as his mind organized. “The how is pretty obvious; he died in battle, like any Gutshaker should. And that’s the thing– we’re really good at dying. I mean we’re good at killing, too, but we’re the chosen children of Clanggedin, right? So we throw ourselves into battle, throw our lives away in battle, ’cause death has no fear for us. We know we’ll be welcomed into Clanggedin’s arms, and we’ll fight by his side for eternity. So, uh, we don’t usually have long careers, if ya understand. And that’s the problem.”

“It would be a problem,” Diessa nodded. “I may have grown up in exile, but my family still taught me the way of the Delvers. If you don’t survive long enough to educate the next generation–”

“The Gutshakers aren’t Delvers, not originally. My family’s only been here for two generations. We came here ’cause there wasn’t anything worthy of our rage back wherever we came from. But then my clan heard about the Shit-Dragon, and they moved here.”

“How many of your people moved here?” Diessa asked. “I haven’t heard of any others, besides you.”

“My grandfather, his three brothers, their wives and kids. I dunno how many exactly. My dad was never big on history. You’ve never heard of any others ’cause they’re all dead. They charged in, like all good battleragers should, and they didn’t come back out again.”

“But then, how did there get to be a you?”

“Because we scared the Delvers,” Gurrk grinned, but it was not entirely kind. “So before they let us fight, we had to join the clan. We swore on Morradin’s Forge that if we died before ensuring the next generation could fight, we’d suffer a year of defeat in the afterlife for ever day the fight couldn’t go on here.”

“And I thought the regular Delver oath was harsh,” Diessa said mostly to herself.

“Even with that, they got impatient. Like Thain, most refused to wait until they had children of their own to go into the mountain. My dad waited, but he died while I was still an apprentice. Right now, he’s being swarmed and cut down by goblins, orcs, kobolds, and Gods-know-what-else. He can’t win ’cause he died before I could fight. He’ll keep dying for more than four hundred years. Unless the Shit-Dragon dies.”

“Is that why you’re so focused on destroyed Goradrend?” like Gurrk, Diessa didn’t share the other Delver’s fear of uttering the dragon’s name, but she hadn’t developed a taste for the title Gurrk gave him instead.

“S’part of it. The other part is that THERE’S A HELL-DAMNED SHIT-DRAGON LIVING IN OUR MOUNTAIN! That’s what gets me about Farlin, and Thain, and all the others. Maybe it’s ’cause they grew up here, maybe it’s ’cause they don’t have Clanggedin’s anger, I dunno, but so many of the Delvers think so damned much that I swear they forget to feel,” Gurrk was on his feet again, the fires of rage burning behind his eyes, every muscle in his body tense. “It’s like they wake up in the morning and they say ‘Well, maybe we should do something about that dragon — if it’s not too dangerous.’ Do you know what I think when I get up in the morning? ‘Ah, what a lovely — OH FUCK, THERE’S STILL A DAMNED SHIT-DRAGON LIVING IN OUR MOUNTAIN!!'”

“Gurrk!” Diessa barked. “Control yourself!”

Instantly, the blazing fire in Gurrks eyes dimmed into the smolder that was their norm.

“… Are you finished?” Diessa asked, her arms crossed, her face not amused.

“Yeah. Yeah,” Gurrk was breathing deeply, relaxing himself and sitting down again. “Sorry. I got carried away.”

“I noticed. You don’t have to shout at me, Gurrk. I came here BECAUSE I know Goradrend needs to die.”

“Yeah. Sorry. But then you know, eh? The other Delvers, it’s like they’ve given up sometimes. That’s why I refused to be named Eldest of Vengeance.”

Diessa shook her head. “But Gurrk, that’s why you SHOULD be Eldest. You have that passion, and a lot more experience in the mountian than I do.”

“No, see? I realized it can’t work that way. We battleragers can’t be a normal part of the House of Vengeance, or we might end up being leaders, and that doesn’t work. And we sure can’t be part of the House of Memory. So we need to do something else. I’m going to found the House of Fury.”

“The House of Fury?”

“Yeah. The House of Memory keeps the lore of the old ways, the House of Vengeance leads the quest to retake what we’ve lost, and the House of Fury will make damn sure we never forget to hate those who’ve wronged us. Farlin’s already agreed to it.”

“S-she has?” Diessa was shocked that the Eldest of Memory would have agreed to this.

“Yeah!” Gurrk was grinning. “Trick is, she says that only a full adult can found their own house. That means I need to get married.”

“And to live long enough to father a child,” Diessa nodded.

Gurrk nodded as well. “I’ve been careful. I’ve listened to Thain, I’ve reeled in my rage, I’ve studied tactics. I’ve done things no Gutshaker has ever done. But that bodak, it taught me the most important lesson. We weren’t doing anything reckless. We’d opened more than a hundred doors, same formula, no extra risks. But when that undead thing’s gaze fell on Thain, that was it. One instant ended his life, one instant no different from any other. There was no reason Thain died that day. Just as easily, coulda been Lanni. Coulda been me. That bodak taught me that all our plans and caution ain’t worth a thing. Each moment could be the last for any of us.”

“And you’ve found a woman you want to spend those moments with?” Diessa couldn’t help but smile.

“Well, not ALL of ’em. I mean, she’s not gonna come with us into battle, but –” Gurrk was cut off by a sudden pounding pressure in his head, like every hangover ever Gutshaker ever had was rammed into his skull. His vision blurred, his ears popped, and then everything went dark.

It was a beautiful summer day in the foothills. The sun shone brightly on Gurrk and Thain as they walked the path up to the mountain. Unspoken anticipation was thick between them, exciting and anxious. This was the day their apprenticeships ended. By the end of the day, they would have killed their first Valgiirn beasts, and they would take the names of adulthood they’d chosen for themselves. Gurrk swore he could smell new beginnings in the air. This day would see a change, the end of the Shit-Dragon’s domination, and the beginning of the Delver’s reclamation.

Something didn’t seem right to Gurrk. The longer they walked, the more the feeling grew. Gurrk began to think he wasn’t seeing straight, that somehow his vision was blurred, and he had a feeling of deja vu. He was trying to shake the feeling as a pair of kobolds jumped them. For a moment, the joy of battle replaced any worries he might be feeling. But when the dirty creatures lay dead, and Gurrk’s and Thain’s weapons were decorated with their blood, Gurrk’s uneasy feeling grew stronger. He looked at Thain’s smiling face, and all he could see was death. The sun, the rocks, everything around them seemed hollow. Even his victory and the death of his enemies seemed empty. Life had no soul.
Then a pain like nothing Gurrk could imagine pulsed into his head, and he dropped his axe as he gripped the sides of his head with both hands. All of his senses blurred, and then went dark.

Gurrk felt like he was falling, but couldn’t see or hear anything. Images and thoughts came and went, his sense of self moving with them. He was sparring with a tall warrior he somehow knew was a Klingon. He was a human barbarian seeking for the last Horadric Sage, Dekard Cain. He was a Grey Warden, preparing to venture into the Denerim Alienage seeking leverage against Loghain Mac Tir. Then there was darkness again.

“… definitely coming to.” Gurrk didn’t recognize the voice, and it spoke the Common Tongue with an accent like nothing he’d heard before. “Senor Porter! He is waking up!”

Gurrk groaned as he came more fully awake, and started to sit up. There was a human at his side, wearing the most absurd hat Gurrk had ever seen. It had a wide brim, and there was a large feather stuck into the band. As Gurrk’s vision cleared, it was clear he was in some kind of inn or tavern. He was sitting on a wooden table, his armor was intact, and he recognized the weight of his greataxe, and his maul crossed on his back.
His maul? Did he own a maul? Sure he did, he commissioned it after his first run-in with skeletons … but wait, hadn’t he and Thain just set out? Gurrk laid his face into his mailed palms. Gurrk’s mind was full of contradictions and confusion, like he wasn’t even sure who he was.

“Here, drink this,” Gurrk was startled by the new voice: he hadn’t heard anyone else approach. He lifted his head and took a better look around. He was deffinatly in the common room of an inn, and it seemed to be deserted, with the exception of the human in the odd hat, and the innkeeper. The innkeeper was standing beside the table now with a mug of something steaming in his hand.

Gurrk took the offered mug, and began to gulp down the contents. The liquid was scalding hot, darkly bitter, and not at all alcoholic, but Gurrk didn’t stop until it was gone. The burning heat spread through his body, and his confusion started to lift. Gurrk’s sense of self partially solidified. “Wow,” he breathed. “What was that stuff?”

“It’s called coffee,” the innkeeper replied. “I find that drinking something hot helps newcomers adjust.”

“Where I am?” Gurrk asked. “How did I get here? Who are you?”

“My name is Andrew Porter, but you can call me Andy,” the innkeeper replied. “This is the Crossroads Inn. I can tell you that you were found, unconscious, on the road outside. I’m afraid I can’t tell you more about how you got here.”

“And I,” said the man with the hat, “am Domingo Garcia de Soldano del Castillo. Senor Porter has been kind enough to give me food and lodgings here in exchange for helping out and providing music for customers.”

“I, uh, I am …” Gurrk paused for a moment as several answers suggested themselves, some contradicting each other. Then, suddenly, one solid answer came to him. “I am Gurrk Arrak Gutshaker.” With those words, the last of the confusion parted, and all doubt left him.

“Well, Gurrk, what is the last thing you remember clearly?” Andrew asked.

“I, uh … I was talking to Diessa? Yeah! I was talking to Diessa about founding my own House. And uh, I was just talking about getting married, and then … oh, ow, that’s where it stops being clear. It’s like after that I thought I was more than one person.”

Andrew nodded. “Tell me, had something terrible happened recently? A natural disaster? Was something destroyed? Was someone killed?”

“Thain Dukragiirn. He was killed about a month ago. He was my friend, the Eldest of Vengeance, and he lead the Long March against the Shit-Dragon.”

“It was a meaningless death,” Andrew remarked, no question or doubt in his voice.

“Yeah. It was. I –,” Gurrk blinked as several things suddenly became clear to him. “Everything felt empty without him … like it was him that held the whole thing together … and everything I’ve done since … even the talk about getting married … has been trying to ignore it — ignore how hollow everything feels.”

Andrew sighed. “I was afraid of this. Gurrk, I’m not sure how to tell you this — not sure you can understand or believe it — but it sounds to me like Thain was the Heart of your world and of your story.”

“That — that sounds right,” Gurrk didn’t understand how, but there was truth in that.

“Sadly, a world cannot live without a Heart, any more than a body can,” Andrew said.

Gurrk wanted to simply shout denial. Surely his world was more than that! Surely everything he knew, his people, its history, could not be blinked out just like that. But then, if Thain’s life could end in one pointless instant, why not a world?

“But then,” Gurrk said slowly, “shouldn’t this be the afterlife? This sure idn’t Mount Silverbeard.”

“No, it certainly is not,” Andrew agreed. “The Crossroads Inn is not part of the universe as you understand it. It’s its own place, a nexus point, a world unto itself, and yet no world at all. I don’t completely understand it myself, but those adrift between worlds often end up in places like this.”

“Then what — what do I do? My whole life has been about destroying the Shit-Dragon, retaking Valgiirn. If they’re gone … I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“I may be some help there,” Domingo lifted a finger. “I was sent to this place by a friend of mine. She told me I would be needed, that there was something that needed to be done. I have given up believing in coincidence. Perhaps you can find purpose in whatever this task is … whenever it shows itself.

“In the meantime, you are welcome to stay here,” Andrew suggested. “You look like a strong young man. I’m sure I could find work for you to do.”

“Oh, I bet I can be more use to you than that,” Gurrk grinned. “Have you got a still?”

“No,” Andrew smiled. “But I have a pile of scrap in the back. We could probbly cobble one together.”

“And if you’ve gone some spare bones, I could carve you some fine mugs.”

Andrew blinked. “What?”

Recruiting, part 2

Last week, Tramp’s brought you the first part of this multi-dimensional fanfic-ish adventure, where we saw a swordsman from the world of RPG/CCG 7th Sea sent to another world.  Today, we are pleased to bring you part 2 of Christopher J.P.S. Roberts’ Recruiting, which features a popular video game franchise.

***

Annuncir sat down upon a stone, removed his left glove, and looked at his hand; more specifically at the ring on his third finger. At a glance, the ring did not appear special, just a rough loop of wood, but if you examined it, gazed upon it, you would see the grains of the wood writhe and shift like serpents. Annuncir focused on the ring, clearing all else from his mind. He did not feel the crisp air of the Frostback Mountains, did not see the snow about him, was not aware of the mabari warhound settling down at his feet, did not hear the snow crunching under the feet of his two companions.

Morrigan had given him the ring, and it was a symbol of the bond between them. Annuncir smiled as he remembered the night she gave it to him. She explained that her mother had given her the ring, allowing Flemeth to find Morrigan wherever she might be, but Morrigan had reworked the enchantment. Morrigan then stumblingly insisted that she did not wish to hunt him, simply that it would prove useful should he be captured. Annuncir had not pressed the point, content to enjoy the love growing between them even as Morrigan repeatedly dismissed love as a foolishness. Annuncir cared not what words were used to describe their feelings, so long as they shared them.

When Morrigan came to him on the eve of the final battle and told him of the ritual she wished to perform, Annuncir had felt a storm within him as powerful as any his magic had called down upon their enemies.

Riordan’s explanation of why only a Grey Warden can kill an archdemon, and the price that they pay in doing so, was still rolling in his mind when Annuncir had returned to his quarters to find Morrigan waiting for him. This came as no surprise, as she had shared his bed in Arl Eamon’s estate, but there was something different in how she stood, so stiff and formal, and in her reluctance to meet his eyes. And then she told him her plan.
Annuncir had never considered siring a child. He was a mage after all, and while marriage and children were not prohibited by Circle law, they were discouraged. Annuncir wondered how much of that was the Chantry’s doing, an effort to avoid children with an increased chance of carrying the talent for magic. Nevertheless, he agreed to Morrigan’s plan, knowing full well that she would conceive that night. He loved her, after all. It didn’t matter to him that their child would not continue his elf blood, as all mixed children favor their human parent.

Morrigan was the first mage Annuncir had met who was trained outside the Circle, and he had been enchanted by her unashamed passion for magic. The fact that she also rejected and disdained those who bargained with demons served to throw serious doubt onto the Chantry’s treatment of Apostates.

A sudden pulse of emotion broke through Annuncir’s memories. It was longing, and Annuncir was certain it had come from the ring. He had wondered, if he focused his mind upon the ring and upon Morrigan, if its magic might go both ways. Annuncir had hoped the ring might give some insight as to her location, but still he cherished the brief moment of contact.

Morrigan had told him that she had to leave, and that she did not wish to be found, but she finally admitted her love, and Annuncir refused to let her disappear with their child. The ring’s transmission served only to strengthen that resolve.

“Oh, that is an interesting look, my friend,” said a smooth Antivan voice. “Have I missed something important?”

Annuncir looked up to find that Zevran had just come back down the trail that he and the Dalish tracker who’d volunteered to help them had been investigating. “I felt her, Zev. She misses me.” He reached down and idly scratched the hound behind the ear.

“Ah well, unfortunately we are missing her, too. If you wanted us to find you a mountain hare or two, I’m sure we could do more. She’s covered her tracks well.”

Mordoom barked excitedly at the prospect of a hare. Annuncir shrugged. “She’s a shapeshifter, Zevran. She could have left the hare prints.”
“Oh! I had not even considered that!” The Antivan elf hung his head, and shook it. “I hate to say it, my friend, but we are not going to find her.”
“No,” Annuncir sighed. “There never was any real hope of following her trail. My real hope was in the ring.”

“Well, you said you felt something, yes? Perhaps there is hope in that.”

“Perhaps. There’s a bit of a clearing here, let’s set up camp.”

As he chewed on a simple supper, Annuncir found himself wondering if perhaps Wynne had been right, in a way. The senior enchanter had cautioned him against persuing his relationship with Morrigan, citing the likelihood of separation, and distraction from Annuncir’s duties as a Grey Warden. Wynne had eventually changed her mind, and yet here he was, separated from Morrigan, and spending time searching for her when he knew the darkspawn threat was not over. The archdemon was dead, its generals were dead, and Fereldon was united, but there was still work to do. There was evidence that some of the more potent darkspawn had survived, and were starting to cause trouble again. Yet Annuncir found that his heart was no longer in the fight.

… perhaps you are in need of a new fight …

In a blink, Annuncir was on his feet, and the Staff of the Magister Lords was in his hand, magical lightning crackling along its length. The voice had come from the shadows beside him, and its ethereal quality reminded the mage of the demons and spirits he’d encountered.
“If you have something to say to me, spirit, then say it,” Annuncir announced, noting that Zevran and the scout had vanished into positions of stealth.

… indeed … my master seeks allies … your heart grows weary … you know that you will not find what you seek … perhaps you can find meaning in my master’s quest …

“And who is this master of whom you speak?” Annuncir spoke the challenge boldly, confident of a truthful answer. Spirits, as a rule, do not lie: it would compromise any bargains made.

… a master of magic arts … i am not permitted to speak his name …

“And what is his quest?”

… a search … for a place long lost … and the knowledge within it …

“Is he a mage of the Circle?”

… he is not of this place … his magics have seen you from afar … very far …

“Is he Tevinter?” The name of the Imperium dripped with venom from Annuncir’s lips.

… farther …

“Did he then send you with some means of transporting me to him, should I agree?”

… indeed …

“And should I refuse?”

… i shall depart … and you shall likely … hear nothing of him … again …

Annuncir paused. The offer was intriguing. His travels had taken him to many places and taught him many things, uncovered many arcane secrets. But there was so much more to learn. Who knew how many traditions and techniques might have been lost, or might have been developed in far away lands?
“If I agree to go with you, and speak with your master, am I committed?”

There was no answer at first.
… my master would not ask you … to blindly agree … without meeting him …

“Are you actually considering this?” Zevran asked as he stepped from the shadows.

“Yes, Zev, I am. The spirit is right. Perhaps I do need something new. I am tired of the darkspawn, Zevran. Maybe that’s really why I’m here. I knew we couldn’t track Morrigan, and if I really believed that I could find her through the ring, I could study it on my own, or at the tower. I think I really came here because I’m trying to escape.”

“Well, I certainly understand the need to escape, my friend,” Zevran spoke with sympathy, if also with regret. “I do not suppose that I could come with you.”

… no … my master’s offer is for the elf mage …

“No,” Zevran continued. “I thought not. Well, try not to have too much fun without me. Perhaps I will travel … I think I heard Isabella was seen in Orlais.”

Annuncir smiled. “Farewell, my friend. I will see you again.”

“Oh, of that I have no doubt. If neither I, nor an archdemon could kill you, I doubt anything can.”

Annuncir crossed his arms in an “x” over chest, and bowed to Zevran, who returned the gesture. Annuncir then turned to the shadow again. “I am ready, spirit. Work your magic.”

A vaguely human-shaped shadowy form detached itself from the darkness at the edge of the fire and touched Annuncir, and then quickly enveloped him. His world became darkness, empty and formless. He could not say how much time had passed but, when it was over and the darkness receded, he found himself looking upon a castle of black stone. A full moon was high in the warm night sky. The shadowy spirit was either no longer there, or had concealed itself.

Annuncir drew in a deep breath, and knocked on the wooden double doors with his staff. The door opened inward, creeking, and Annuncir found himself looking at a girl the likes of whom he had never seen. She looked to be about twelve years old, but she also had a decidedly feline cast to her features, and Annuncir was not willing to trust his approximation of her age. Her ears were triangular, like a cat’s, though they sat where one would expect a person’s ears to be, poking out amidst shoulder-length white hair. Her features were pointed, though not unpleasantly so, She wore a sleeveless dress, and the outsides of her arms were coated with a light grey fur.

“Good evening,” she greeted him in a kind voice. “Welcome to Selinthaoist. You are expected. Please come in.”

The feline girl led Annuncir down an entry hall lined with fine tapestries — some of which had a decidedly elven style to them — and through a door into a cozy sitting room.

“If you’ll have a seat here, The Magus will be with you shortly.” The girl bowed politely, then turned and left.

As Annuncir took a seat, leaning his staff against a wall, he pondered the use of the word “magus.” Those who wielded magic were refered to as “magi,” an old term from the Tevinter Imperium, but the singular was always the more modern “mage.” It made Annuncir more curious about the land he had come to.

A moment later, however, his host arrived. Into the room strode a man clad in robes of the darkest black imaginable, robes that seemed to cling to nearby shadows. Annuncir had never seen such obviously magical garments before. The man’s hood was pulled back, and Annuncir was surprised to see elf traits in his face. His hair was long and pale, with tinges of blue, something Annuncir had never seen before.

“Welcome to my home,” the man’s voice was rich, and power seemed to fill it. “I am glad that you have accepted my invitation.”

Annuncir stood and bowed to his host. “I am Annuncir, mage and Grey Warden, though I expect that is known to you already.”

“That you were a mage, yes. I confess to not knowing what a Grey Warden is. The magic that I used to seek you out identified you by your skills. Once that occurred, I looked into your recent life, and saw you crusading against creatures tainted by darkness. It did not, however, teach me culture or context. You have introduced yourself, however, and I shall do likewise. I am The Magus.”

“That is a title, not a name,” Annuncir replied.

“True enough. However, it is all I can give you for now. If you do not know my name, you cannot repeat it to those who should not hear it. Perhaps you understand the need for such precautions,” The Magus gestured for Annuncir to sit.

“Indeed I do,” Annuncir conceded as he resumed his seat. “Then will you tell me of this quest of yours?”

“I shall. First I should tell you where you are. You no doubt suspect that you have left your country. It is so. However, more than that, you have left your world.”

“My world? But this is not the Fade.”

“The Fade? I am not familiar with this term.”

“Ah; it is the world of dreams and spirits,” Annuncir explained.

“Hm, no. I suppose you might say you are beyond the Fade. Selinthaoist is a realm between all other realms, a kind of nexus point of realities.”

“Under other circumstances, I would consider any man who made such a claim mad. But I have seen a hint of your power through the spirit you have bound, and never before have I seen a person like the girl who answered your door. Even so, I find I have doubts.”

“I cannot fault you for that,” The Magus acknowledged. “But I will continue. There used to be a great city, a nexus point that would make Selinthaoist small and insignificant. I have made it a goal of mine to find and reclaim this city. However, I have duties that occupy me. Besides which, powerful men have powerful enemies. Were I to be personally involved, it would be noticed. I would like to avoid that.”

“You said your spell identified my skills. Was it just my magic, or something in specific?”

“In specific I sought a healer. Yours was the strongest healing power I could find in a world relatively close. You are also not the first I have contacted. I would ask no one to undertake the hunt I propose alone. I am also seeking warriors of differing skills.”

Annuncir nodded, “I have had some experience in teambuilding. A varied compliment of skills is vital.”

The Magus took a deep breath. “And now we have reached the moment of decision. I can tell you no more without a commitment.”

Annuncir nodded, and thought to himself a moment. His fingers went to Morrigan’s ring, and twisted it on his finger. “In my crusade against the darkspawn, I found that I often had to trust my intuition to guide me through difficult choices, and I have come to trust it. I do not know why, but I trust you. Yes, I will help you.”

“Wonderful! I hope you forgive me, but I dislike repeating myself. With your consent, I will have Amarillis show you to a guest room, and we will speak more of the quest once the expedition is assembled.” With this, The Magus stood.

“How long do you expect it to be?”

“That depends on how many of my first choices accept, but I do not expect it to be long.”

“Very well. For me this is the end of a long day, in any case. I would welcome a rest.”

The Magus nodded. “Amarillis will be along shortly to show you to your room. Good night.” He took his leave.

Annuncir sat and thought as he waited, and wished Morrigan was there, or Zevran, or Shale. He had not felt this alone since the massacre at Ostigar.
“Excuse me, Annuncir?” Amarillis was leaning in the doorway. “This way, please.”

Annuncir rose, and followed. Alone or not, his course was set.

To be continued next Monday…

***

As a quick note,  I will mention that Amarillis, The Magus, and Selinthaoist are the intellectual property of Christopher Roberts, and are not to be reproduced without his permission.  Thank you.

Recruiting, part 1

Back even before I was the owner of Tramp’s, there was talk of somehow incorporate my passion for writing into the store.  There was briefly talk of the business commissioning me for a project, or giving me a forum to post things.

Well, I was always a bit hesitant because I had the idea that if my work was to be presented, I wanted to be paid for it.  Well, I’ve come to a bit of a compromise with myself.  I very occasionally write fiction set in the settings of RPG’s that I’ve played, and I started writing one that I was sort of a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen of characters that I had played either in tabletop, or in console games.  It occurred to me that I could start posting what I had down so far.  It would give me something to put up on this blog, while also exposing people to some settings they might not ordinarily encounter.  It might also entertain, and that’s always a bonus- and since I can’t every actually publish these, due to not owning the settings, no harm down to my potentially writing future.

So, without further adieu, I present to you the first part of Recruiting, a multi-universe story by Christopher J.P.S. Roberts.  I hope you enjoy.

***

Losing his Soldano blade is what really upset Domingo. Yes, he was about to die, and although Cardinal Verdugo promised him the fires of Legion awaited him for his sins, there was no doubt in the heart of Domingo Garcia that he instead walked into Theus’ embrace.

Since his ordination two years ago, Domingo had walked the lands of his beloved Castille, preaching the Truth of Theus, and His Prophets. Already a national hero for his part in the deeds of the Seven Swords, his following quickly grew, and his word quickly spread. And while the new Padre knew his words of Humanity’s basic worthiness in the eyes of Theus would not sit well with the Vaticine Church, he was firmly based in the Vigils of the Prophets, and he did not fear censure for those words. It was instead his teachings on the Third Prophet that had condemned him to the stake, as he knew they might.

Teaching the people that they already had all that they needed to understand Creation did challenge Church authority, but the foundation was there in scripture, and could be forgiven. Teaching that the man celebrated as the Third Prophet was an impostor, however, this was unforgivable.

Domingo had known it was only a matter of time. He was not so foolish as to share news of the True Third Prophet with everyone; only his most trusted students would hear of it. Still, he knew that eventually rumour would reach the Inquisition, who looked upon the Third Prophet as their founder, and they would come for him. He had been ready for them.

There was a secret side of Padre Domingo Garcia de Soldano del Castille, a side his flock knew nothing of, a side well versed in subtlety, stealth, and ambush. The Knight-Inquisitors thought to take him unawares in the night. Instead they found that Domingo, like Alvara Arcineaga before him, was more than capable of defending himself.

He could have run, of course. Once he knew the Inquisition was onto him, he could have fled to Avalon, or Vendel, even parts of Eisen would have been outside the Inquisition’s reach. But his people were in Castille, and he was a man of True Courage. He would not be chased from his home, even if it cost him his life. And so they had caught him in a trap where to resist would have endangered the innocent, and Padre Domingo Garcia was arrested as an accused heretic.

So famous was Domingo Garcia that the chief Inquisitor himself came to oversee the hearing. The trial was brief, essentially composing of the question “Do you deny the charges of heresy against you?” and Domingo’s answer “I do not deny the Truth I have spoken.” And so he was found guilty, and sentenced to cleansing by fire.

And so the noon-day sun found Domingo tied to a wooden stake in the market plaza, awaiting the ignition of his execution flames. He had no hopes of rescue by the Rilasciare. His was a cell of political activists, true mischief-makers; to defy the Inquisition was beyond them, especially with Cardinal Verdugo overseeing things. No, Domingo was resigned to his fate. He bid a silent farewell to his former comrades-in-arms, the Seven Swords; to Remy, Karlen, Dalla, Nicole, even Guiseppe. He had sworn a Vow to always be there to help them find their way on the path of Theus. He hoped they would understand.
As the sun beat down, Cardinal Verdugo looked over the crowd from a balcony opposite Domingo.
“Padre Domingo Garcia,” the Cardinal called down. “You have one last opportunity to return to Theus. Do you recant your heresy against Theus, His Prophets, and His Church?”

Vero Coraggio, Domingo thought to himself before answering. “My answer has not changed, Lord Cardinal,” Domingo answered clearly, respectfully. “I have spoken only Truth. You ask me to ignore the voice of Theus within me, and this I cannot do.”

“Padre Garcia,” Verdugo commented sadly. “You are dangerously misguided. May Theus have mercy upon your soul,” and he signalled for the fires to be lit.

Domingo began to recite the Credo of the Church, intent on keeping his eyes open, meeting his fate face to face. His eyes, like those of most others, were upon the Inquisitor approaching him with the lit brand, but his attention was quickly diverted when the cry came from within the crowd:

“El Vago! El Vago has come!”

All eyes looked past Domingo, and he heard the thud of booted feet landing upon the platform behind him. Then, quicker than any snake, the end of a whip flashed past his head, cracking at the flame that heralded his death out of existence.

“I hope you are not set on meeting Theus today, Padre,” said a muffled voice just behind Domingo’s ear. There was something in the voice, something Domingo had heard before, but he had no time for such considerations. An instant later, his hands were free, and he turned to see the white and purple porcelain face of the Vagabond.

As Verdugo shouted for reinforcements, El Vago kicked the Inquisitor into the crowd and unslung two spare rapiers from his back, handing them to the freed priest. “I hope you do not mind, but I took the liberty.”

To Domingo’s astonishment, one of the swords just handed to him was his family’s Soldano blade- the other was the blade that his friend Dalla had inscribed runes upon. “I would ask how you knew, but I doubt we have the time.”
Indeed, even as Domingo spoke, the platform was being surrounded by Knight-Inquisitors, sixteen men in all.

Domingo unsheathed the twin blades.

“You take the ones on the right, and I take the ones on the left?” El Vago asked, and Domingo could feel the Vagabond smiling behind his mask. The words brought Domingo back to a bar in Avalon, those selfsame words spoken by his friend Remy.

But surely, Remy was in Montaigne, and besides he could not be El Vago … no, could not be. But then it was time to think of swords, and Domingo spun into the whirling flourish he used when engaging groups of foes, parrying and riposting in a circling flash of blades. Then, as Domingo was clearing the last of the Inquisitors from his path, he heard a crack like a peal of thunder, and the men facing El Vago fell to the ground, stunned and lashed by the Vagabond’s whip.

“This way!” cried the masked Vagabond, and led Domingo up the plaza wall on a waiting rope ladder, which they cut down behind them. They raced through the street, Domingo a step behind the brightly clad shape of El Vago. The Vagabond suddenly ducked through a doorway, and slipped through a trap door that Domingo might not have noticed on his own. Once safely hidden, they waited for the sounds of pursuit to die away, barely breathing in the gloom. Finally, Domingo spoke.

“Where I come from, El Vago does not pick up mewling cats who are handing out pamphlets, and that’s the way things are.” Domingo spoke in the code he had developed to speak discreetly with his friends, expressing surprise at being rescued by a masked man due to his revolutionary ideas.

“Padre Garcia, where I come from, swords do not lie idle when they can secure the bonds of Montague’s wedding, and THAT is the way things are,” El Vago answered. If there was any doubt in Domingo’s mind as to the identity of the man behind the mask, it was now gone. The thundercrack whip strike was a very rare technique, invented by Remy, and the Vagabond’s coded reply that a trusted friend will not stand by when he can help someone escape from such an unwanted assassination could mean only one thing.

“We have been in mischief before, El Vago,” Domingo continued in code, speaking of shared secrets. “I am glad you are no Ussuran.”

“I am always your friend,” El Vago replied, his Castillian now accented with Remy’s Montaigne. “And I fear sharing no secret with you. Now, you be more careful, eh? El Vago will not always be there to save you, and how can you keep your Vow to us if you do not look after yourself?”

“If you boys are finished your moment,” came a familiar voice from beyond the trapdoor above them. “I need to speak with Domingo.”

Priest and Vagabond looked at each other, and then up, saying together: “DALLA?!”
Indeed, when they had climbed back up into the room above, there stood waiting, as though she belonged there, Dalla Björnfindel, one of the Seven Swords, and Skjæren of the Vestenmannavnjar.
“Dalla?!” exclaimed Domingo. “What are you– how did you–?”

“Oh, hush Domingo,” she put her hands on her hips. “Is your head so full of Theus that you’ve forgotten Gåte?”

“It seems I am to be at a disadvantage with everyone today,” Domingo said ruefully. “You- you seem different, Dalla.” In fact, she seemed older, older than she should be.

“The powers of the Runes are a heavy burden, my friend. Think nothing of it. In fact, it is on their business that I seek you.”

“What do the Runes want with Domingo?” Remy asked from behind his El Vago mask.

“Through the power of Gåte, I have seen many things and many places. You are needed, Domingo; your swords are needed.”

“Where am I to go?”

Dalla reached forward and began to trace a shape on Domingo’s forehead, the power crackling through him immediately. “Go with the blessing of Him Who Watches Us All, Domingo.”

His world turned white.

When the strange silvery glow had swallowed Domingo and winked out, Remy peeked out of the window. “Well, I should not overstay my welcome. I imagine you’ll be seeing yourself out, Dalla.” He slipped off the mask, and began removing El Vago’s distinctive purple costume.

“I know you wish you could have gone with him,” Dalla said, more or less ignoring his words. “But even my powers have their limits.”

Remy was silent a moment, pausing in his transformation from Vagabond to simple swordsman. “Where did you send him?”

“To be honest, I am not certain. I am only a conduit in this. But I trust the Runes, and Grumfather. And I trust Domingo.”

“As do I,” Remy replied, stuffing his mask and costume into a sack that he slung over his shoulder. “It was good to see you again, Dalla. Perhaps we should all get together some time.” And with that, he slipped away into the streets.

“We will, Remy … but perhaps not how you imagine.” There was a flash of light, and she too was gone.

When sight returned to Domingo Garcia, he stood before a great inn, whose board announced itself as “The Crossroads.”
“Where in Theah have I landed myself now?” he said to himself as he approached the inn door.
As it happens, Domingo Garcia de Soldano del Castillo was no longer in Theah at all.