The Answer Man

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The Answer Man

Postby Tarq » Sun Sep 09, 2012 7:11 pm

Shattrath is a dead place. The second plague killed her, and what’s left is a corpse as rotted and empty of life as any of the ghouls that choked her streets those years back. Only the poor who can’t afford to leave and the fanatics who won’t hear of it remain; there’s not many of ‘em, but enough that an infamous crime-lord and half-faced berserker can pass more or less unremarked on. Whatever weird shite these two are up to, it’s no weirder than anyone else still in Shattrath.

At least, Tarquin hopes that’s what people are thinking as they head into the World’s End. It’s just as sad and shitty as he expected; he threads his way between two blood elves in tattered Scryers red, drinking with the determination of men who can’t wait to be passed out, and steps over the bulk of an ogre who’s beaten them there. Or maybe he’s dead. Who knows, who cares? “Gods, an’ I thought the Crows wis a shite place ta drink,” he grouses to Illithias, who doesn’t bother to answer. Apart from the ogre, they all get out of his way. Or more like, they see Illithias behind him and get out of her way fast enough to be convenient for him.

They find who they’re looking for at one of the sheltered boxes in the back. A hollow-eyed draenei woman dancing on a raised platform, wearing rings around her tendrils and a few scraps of gossamer, calls out to them on their way over. Tarquin gives her his best regretful smile and tips his hat. Illithias doesn’t even look. Then they cross into the back, where she’s sitting at a table, a wizened little bundle of sticks stuffed into a shapeless dress with a greasy crown of hair sticking in every direction, a bandage around her eyes, and a bright orange sweater on the table in front of her.

He gives Illi one last look back, a dozen warnings he devoutly hopes he hasn’t wasted in it, and then straightens his coat and walks in smile-first. Corspilla looks up at him with that skin-creeping eyeless stare. She’s got a chicken rooting around on the floor near her feet. “Hi!” she chirps, and then as Illithias comes in after him, “Who’s she?”

“Jus’ who I wis lookin’ fir.” Tarquin plucks his hat off and gives her a sweeping bow, getting a giggle out of her. “This is me associate, Miss Ashbough.” Miss Ashbough has to duck to get into the room, and nearly catches a bit of her shoulder-plates on something. If she had both her axes, she’d have to walk sideways like a crab, but Illi’s dressed for her idea of subtlety. “Mind if I sit?”

“Sure!” He crams his spindly frame into a chair, but Corspilla is still watching Illi as the latter leans up against the way. “Ooooooh, she looms. Linedan does that.” Tarquin checks. Illithias is surely looming, maybe even deliberately a little, but it’s mostly just a state of being.

“Consider thit a compliment, Illi. Linedan bein’ who he is.” Corspilla nods in agreement, and Illi just makes that growl-grunt-breathe sort of noise that means that she either has something to say but knows better, or has no idea what to say. Hnhhh is better than Don’t compare me to a fucking cow, dead thing, so Tarquin relaxes a little.

“She doesn’t say much,” observes Corspilla. The chicken clucks, possibly in agreement.

Illithias stares flatly at the dead woman, two and a half feet shorter and probably half her weight at best. “I’m not here for talk.”

“Whereas I,” Tarquin puts in hastily, gliding into the space between breaths, “Am here ta talk, an’ plenty fir the both ay us. Did our friend tell yeh what I wis lookin’ fir?” He can probably just say her name, but a professional’s got standards. Let the rottie start using names first.

“Yup.” Corspilla’s sitting at a slight angle to him; at first he thinks it’s so she can keep an eye on Illi, but far as he can tell, she’s just looking at a piece of furniture, or the chicken, occasionally as far up as his shoulder. Not his face. “Davien said a lot of things.” That was fast. “Oh! I knitted Ghost a sweater.”

“...the dog.” Tarquin’s used to keeping up with quicker minds than his, but usually he has half an idea where they’re going so’s he can fake it till he catches up. No idea at all where Pill’s going, or where she’s been. She holds up the sweater, orange as a ripe pumpkin, lips peeling back from her rotting teeth in a happy grin, and sure enough it’s made for something four-legged to wear. “Right, uh, yeh want me ta take it ta him?”

“Okay!” Corspilla hands it over and he takes it and folds it over the back of his chair, careful like it’s a holy relic.

Illi lifts her remaining eyebrow and leans down slightly. “Hnhhh. She’s demonshit insane, isn’t she?” the elf says in her people’s tongue. Tarquin lifts an eyebrow right back and shrugs. Illi’s right, of course, but that hardly matters. Shaila’s taken, Beltar’s been taken a while now, so he’s got to find a way. Whatever it takes.

He turns back before Corspilla can say any more about sweaters. “Did she say I wis lookin’ fir Malkavet Blackheart?” Not much reaction out of her, but then, hard to tell with that face. Most of it’s in the eyes, and the only thing in Pill’s eyes is a black strap that, now he looks at it, has some odd little scratches around it.

“Yeah. That jerk.” That’s about the kindest thing anyone might ever say about him, but Pill says it with enough venom behind it for a whole host of curses. All those little scratches. Like someone was clawing–

Tarquin steps back from that pit. “Yeh use’ta do some work fir him, aye? Back in the auld days?”

She sinks in her chair and nods reluctantly. “He’s mean,” she pronounces, a judge declaring sentence. “He, and all them were mean. ‘Cept for Davien.”

He waves it off like a fly. “Ah, dinna feel bad that yeh did. We all had shite bosses.” He hears another Hnnhhh from Illithias behind him, decidedly amused, and figures she can have that one for free. “But Davien’s solid.” The dead woman nods enthusiastically again. “And she says might be yeh can point me the right direction ta find the Blackheart, an’ where he does his work.”

“Mmmmaybe.” She pulls something edible-ish out of her dress and tosses it to the chicken, who pecks away at it. “I’ve heard people sayin’ they’ve seen him...I figured Ebon would’ve stabbed him by now.”

Illi perks up at that.“That’s the Tauren wench,” she says, her raspy voice with just a bit of excitement in it. Kind she mostly only gets about a good fight.

“Ebon Thundermoon?” Tarquin asks. “They dinna get along, huh?”

Corspilla scoffs. “Nobody likes him! Not even Teevi. Ebon’s pretty grouchy, too.” You get used to her voice, after a while, that mix of broken-throated deader raspiness and a loud brassy fishwife. Almost pleasant, really.

“Wee bit, sure. But she seemed tight wi’ the Blackheart last night. Curious, d’yeh no’ think, Illi?”

“Very curious, boss.” Illithias is a fucking pain in his arse sometimes, but she knows a cue when she hears one. He leans back in his chair, eyeing the dead woman.

Corpsilla is watching her chicken again. “Only time Ebon was okay with Malk was when Thorgrun was around.” That name rings a very quiet bell; he files it away to check later. They’re getting far afield.

“So then. Davien wis tellin’ me she heard oan a place called Blackmage Hollow.” The response is immediate; Pill straightens up as best she can and practically spits her response.

“BAH! That place.”

“Yeh kennit, then. Ken where ‘tis?” He ought to tread carefully, like you do with a nutter, but he’s got a fishhook in his lip and he’s not getting loose till it reels him in.

“Ummmm.” The dead woman demurs, to his immense frustration, not that he lets it show. He hopes. “Kinda. I kinda know where it is. And I bet Malkavet has been around there, too!”

“We should hope so.” Illi, grunting, shifting her weight. Maybe she’s on the same line. Maybe she goes through life with a fishhook in her lip, reeling her from one disaster to the next.

“Now fir all the marbles.” Tarquin lounges further in his seat, trying to give no hint of his tension. Just three old friends having a drink, never mind that one of ‘em’s dead and another’s trying her best to get killed and the third’s, well, he’s just not a very nice bloke. “Can yeh take me there?”

The bottom drops out of his stomach when Pill shakes her head. “I know kinda where it is and that dirty mean cat eater has been near there.” Cat eater, huh? What a true villain. “But I ain’t going anywhere near Malkavet! Uh-uh. No way. I ain’t that crazy.”

Not going to wriggle off the line that easy, of course. He smiles like silk, tunes up the old brogue a little, and starts to find a way. “Now, Corpsilla, d’yeh think I’m fool eno’ ta gang thence all lonely?” He thumbs over his shoulder at Illithias. “Go’ Miss Ashbough, do I no’? Yeh’d be safe’s if yeh wis a bairn, swaddled in cradle, rocked ta sleep.”

Pill looks Illithias up and down; Illi, knowing her bit again, just stands there. Looms. Doesn’t look much like she’s ever rocked anyone to sleep in her life. “Just one elf? She is pretty scary, but one? You got lotsa scary people!”

As he advised Illi earlier, Tarquin takes that as a compliment. “Jus’ the yin that they see. We’ll come mob-handed, miss, see if we dinna.” Truth be told, he’d expected convincing her to betray her own in the first place to be the hard part. He ought to have known better. Courage is a fair sight harder to find than disloyalty.

“I’m more than a match for some Scourge and their pet Tauren.” Illithias leans forward again. For a moment, Tarquin’s afraid that the deader’ll ask what Illi means by Scourge and then they’ll be right down the road to another clusterfuck, but as usual, Pill’s mind is elsewhere.

“I can tell you where to look, and who to look for, but I’m not going.” She thinks about it for a second. “Less Davien says I have to. And Ghaar, too!” It comforts Tarquin a bit to know that his opposite number in Noxilite has the same sort of stupid fucking troubles that he does, but only a bit.

“Awright. Awright.” He drums on the table, trying to stay leaned back and casual, trying to stay calm and collected and cold. “What if I’d a mage – a scryer, likes, a guid one – an’ I brought her ta the right, yeh ken, the right gen’ral area–” Calm, you stupid fuck. “Could yeh shew her wha’ ta look fir?”

“It’s a who to look for!” Corspilla barks, almost looking at him as she does so. He clenches his left hand into a fist and lets it go.

“Well, aye, but the Blackheart’s covered her eyes. But if yeh kin find a, a focus fir the Hollow, likes, or...I mean, fuck it, yeh ken the business better’n–” He’s interrupted by a long, long sigh, Corspilla putting in all the effort to collect breath she hardly needs just so she can push it out to tell him so he knows what an arse he is.

“No,” she says with what must be, to her, admirable patience, “Not Malkavet.”

He probably looks a little gobsmacked. “Then who?”

The cat eater!” Corspilla explodes again, finger jabbing at the air, what would be her gaze coming dangerously close to actually looking him in the face. “Little craven bastard! Davien tried to help him and he tries to eat my cats instead.”

“Cat eater.” Tarquin repeats that numbly, and Illithias Hnnhhhs again, and he doesn’t need to guess at what that one means. The rottie is still ranting.

“I can find him! I’ve been watching him, in case he comes stealin’ back to Thunder Bluff with another sob story. Make Davien feel sorry for him again. Cat eater!” she practically shrieks. “Little liar! I’ll find him for you, I will.”

Tarquin looks over his shoulder at Illithias, who doesn’t actually need to say anything to ask the question Can I just split this crazy deader’s skull and let’s go home? He’s tempted – well, not really by the first bit, but he set out here to have a secret meeting with a Horde contact and now he’s listening to a crazy woman scream about cats.

But there he is, hook in his mouth, tugging it back up into his calmest, most soothing smile. “Yir a few steps aheid ay us, Corspilla. Goin’ ta need ta back up so’s we kin catch up. What’s yir, uh, cat eater ta do wi’ the Blackheart?”

“I just told you,” she hisses, no calmer. “Maggot. Maggot, dirty sneaking lying cat eater!”

“Maggot.” He repeats it to see if it makes any more sense in his mouth. It doesn’t. Corpsilla nods again, though, like he finally got it.

“A maggot?” Illithas asks, leaning closer. The clean side of her face is in the corner of his eye, sneering to match the ripped half. But she might just be a little curious.

“No, not a maggot!” Then Corspilla reaches into her dress and pulls out, well, of course it’s a maggot, because that’s the kind of night it is. Alive, apparently, probably just as healthy as you could ever hope for a maggot to be, fat and squirming in her palm. “This is a maggot! Very well-trained. Best of his bunch!”

The pride in her voice is the final mad capstone on it all. Tarquin couldn’t have stopped Illithias from punching the crazy deader, and wouldn’t have bothered, but the elf’s just as dazed by the whole thing as he is. “I, uh...of course.” She nods. Like it makes perfect sense.

The prize-winning maggot disappears back into Corspilla’s dress, with what other horrors he can’t imagine. This exchange seems to have calmed the dead woman some. “He’s Malk’s errand boy. Does whatever he says!”

There’s a moment, then, where his brain pinwheels wildly for purchase, going back and changing the meaning of everything he’s been hearing, and he catches up to the one-rottie-circus on display before him. Maybe Illithias is doing the same arithmetic, maybe she even gets there faster, but he’s the first one to talk. Like usual. “His...errand boy. Close ta him.”

Another nod, so enthusiastic he’s a little worried about her fragile neck. “And he eats cats!”

“Well.” He’s got his grin back on, the hook tugging him along and not hurting a bit, and he’s the king of all the fucking scheming bastards that there are, and he could kiss this dead thing. “I am masel’ fond ay cats. D’yeh like cats, Ashbough?”

Looking back, there’s a lopsided grin on Illithias’s face. If she didn’t get it before, she sure as fuck gets it now. “Fond of sabres, yes.”

“Big kitties!” chirps Pill. Illithias nods bemusedly, and the dead woman grins like they’re best friends. Tarquin sees a brightly colored hat in Illithias’s future.

“This Maggot seems like he’s needin’ a right bloody lesson, then!” He claps his hands together and slouches back, all indolence and ease, a white sickle of grin across his face. “Where is it yeh think we kin find ‘im?”

“He’s been in Silverpine and Hillsbrad, mostly. Sneakin’ around. Which is kinda odd really, cause it’s all...outdoorsy.” Corspilla’s face falls again. “But if he’s there, Malkavet has to be around there.”

“They stick close, huh?” She nods. It’s no matter. He’s not letting go of this one. You find a way. “Need a wey ta watch fir him, then. A scry, or a sentry-post – my people kin wait their chance.”

“Kinda dangerous for you, though.” Her concern’s almost touching. “Bitch prissy queen has her people all over there. Not a good place to be a live human.”

He shrugs. “Last night, I wis haverin’ oan at yir Thundermoon an’ Dukago ‘imself, weapons at hand, no’ five feet frae either. Sortay given up oan avoidin’ danger ay late.”

“Some of us never really bothered avoiding it in the first place,” offers Illithias. Corspilla frowns, as near as he can see, with the straps across her eyes and the general condition of her...of her.

“You’re one of those crazy ones, aren’t you?” Illithias lifts her eyebrow again. “I know people like you!” Pill snaps near on accusingly, and like that, there’s one way.

“Crazy? I’d say brave.” He shifts forward a little, smiles some more. “Like yir father.”

“Don’t you bring him into this!” Pill is almost looking at him, but then goes back to looking at her bemused chicken, one scrawny hand plucking at her nest of hair. “That’s just not fair.”

“Dinna mean t’offend, lass.” Tarquin gives her a cheery smile. “Only I kent the man, an’ proud ta stand wi’ him. I dinna ken but he’d say the same ay me.” He really has no idea what Jest would say about him now if he was still alive. Tarren Mill seems a thousand years ago, and his young self a stranger. But it was true that this woman’s father’d had less fear in him than a stone.

Pill is muttering, almost to herself. “I’m Corpsilla, not Elena, and I don’t want to hear about him!” Sulky, almost. Maybe he misjudged, but no matter – find another way.

“‘Course, ‘course. Corspilla yeh are.”

She folds her arms. “Fine, then. You’re all brave and shiny.” Still looking a long way away. He straightens up entirely, spreads his hands, and turns his eyes on her, shining with sincerity like a couple lamps.

“Truly, miss, I’m sorry. Dinna mean ta go – diggin’ anythin’ up.” Unfortunate choice of words, that, but what’re you going to do? At least Illi doesn’t laugh. “Only meant ta shew me respect. That’s all.” She mutters something, still sulking, but at least she’s not ranting. Nothing for it but to keep going. “So, then. Yeh find us that cat-eatin’ bastard?”

She doesn’t hesitate. “Sure.” Tarquin can’t stop himself grinning.

“Let’s do it tonight, then. Na sense in waitin’.” Silverpine, Hillsbrad...and Geny said Shai wis in Lordaeron somewhere. “Yeh ken that auld watchtower, up Hillsbrad Fields? The yin iv’ry punter use’ta fight o’er like it wis any use?”

“Sure!” You can’t really read a rottie proper, especially not a crazy one, but it seems like her enthusiasm for bringing Maggot the Craven Eater of Cats to justice is outweighing however he pissed her off talking about her father. “But I gotta tell Davien.” He nods amiably. Why not? “Otherwise she gets mad and just says...Now sweetling. I don’t like Davien to be mad.”

“A dreadful fate,” Tarquin says solemnly. “So, say...four hours, at the auld watchtower.” He gets to his feet, legs slightly stiff from hunching. Been here longer than it felt like.

“The old watchtower. And will you bring the loomin’ elf?”

Illi answers for herself. “Wouldn’t want to miss it.” She’s got her own sort of fishhook, to be sure, and now it’s right in her lip with this poor fucker Maggot, whoever and whatever he is, up at the end of the line, and when she reels in it will be an ugly thing to see.

He dons his hat again, and tips it politely. “Thank yeh virra much fir the help, Corspilla.” He retrieves the orange sweater with appropriate care.

Pill surprises him, maybe both of them, by finally turning to look at him directly. “Anything to make Malkavet sorry for making fun of me.” Her lips curl into a smile to match his, and apparently, that’s what it is. Not really much for his clever words, appealing to her father, anything else he’d said. Maybe all he’d really had to do was sit there and wait for the poor nutter to talk herself ‘round to it.

Doesn’t much matter. “Och aye,” he says, tilting his head. “We will see, yeh an’ I, jus’ how sorry we can make the Blackheart.” She nods again, till her head’s about to come off her neck. “See yeh t’night, then.”

“Bye, coatrack elfy!” she calls after them, as Illithias follows him back out into the main room of the World’s End, leaving Corpsilla there with her chicken. It’s still a pisshole, and he doesn’t much want to be here. He’s the fucking Oathbreaker, and he’s just found a way to get it done after all. The whole place brings him down. He tugs a small purse out from under his coat and slaps it on the bar as he passes. Hasn’t bought a drink or anything the whole time. His meaning is clear.

He produces lights a cigarette immediately when they’re out in Shattrath’s wide open spaces. Didn’t want to risk pissing off the deader; some people got sensitive. “Well. That coulday gone a great deal worse, huh?”

Illithias moves a bit in front of him, watching the city warily, staying out of his smoke. “Aye. Went smooth, for what it’s worth.” The half of her mouth that still works pushes out in a mock pout. “Didn’t even need to hit it.”

“Lucky, that.” He looks down at the horrific orange sweater draped over his arm. “Wonder who this use’ta be?” Probably didn’t need to say that, but what the hell, Illi had a right to know.


“Corspilla ‘morphs folk. Paladins, mos’ly, I recall. Morphs thim an’ shears thim while there’s wool ta take.” He takes a long drag on Bricu’s good tobacco. “If she’s in a guid mood, she lets thim go after. Never did hear if thir naked, or missin’ hair, or anythin’ after...” Illithias’s lip curls in disgust, and this Hnnhhhh is again, easy to interpret. “Aye, Illi, I kennit.”

“Demonshit insane deaders.” She’s not wrong, really. He turns and takes another drag, blows it out his nostrils, into the sprawling reaches of the Lower City.

“S’the world we live in, Ashbough.” He watches the smoke dissipate beyond what his eyes can see, joining the air of another world. Odd how common that all seems now.

“Don’t have to be,” Illithias answers readily. “Sayin’.”

“Aye.” He’s got nothing else. Still not wrong, for all her rage and hurt and shite bloody decisions; it doesn’t have to be. He doesn’t say it, because he doesn’t want her to actually go and try. But find a way is what he’s thinking, then, about the world they’re living in, maybe trying to make a little less shitty. Find a way.
Now hang me by this golden noose
'Cause I never been nothin' but your golden goose
Silver tongue don't fail me now
And I'll make my way back to you somehow

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Re: The Answer Man

Postby Tarq » Tue Sep 11, 2012 1:03 am

Has to be a time in your life when you’re not spending time crouched in the black, skulking through rotted woods and over bad roads, trying to get at blokes as don’t want to be got at. Tarquin’s old enough, and clever enough, and pretty enough, you’d think he’d have found something better to do. But here he is, crouched in a deadfall, sweating and shivering at the same time, in a place unhealthy for him to be for so many reasons.

No matter his intentions, this is how it always seems to end up. Back in the mud.

Big black shape comes up on the right, stopping his heart a moment, but it’s just Dranas. The big druid seems more comfortable wearing a cat’s skin than the one he was born with, and Tarquin can’t fault that. Shapers know he’s shed his own skin a few times, as best he can. “Lore says all clear,” rumbles Dranas. “Same with Illi.”

“Same wi’ me, mate. Go an’ check Ky.” The cat yawns, big pink cave washed grey in the moonlight, and then he’s gone. Probably no more’n five or ten yards, but to Tarquin’s eyes, he might as well be in Northrend. Pitch Black, they call Dranas, or just Pitch. Didn’t take anyone long to get why.

So there he is, on his belly in the old Lordaeron mud, waiting for someone to spy a creeping, skulking dead thing that, by accounts, puts all the other creeping, skulking dead things to shame. Not for the first time, he wonders on trusting this whole operation to the word of a truly cracked rottie. They’d all grimaced finding the dead horse out by Durnholde, but Corspilla had been cheered like she’d found religion. “That’s him!” Pointing at the caved-in stomach, half-eaten innards, great bloated mess. “The dirty little cat-eater, he’s been here! I see him!”

So up the river they’d gone, up the back of Tarren Mill, Corspilla losing more and more of her nerver and her company likely doing nothing much to help it. When they’d turned north past the falls, that’d been Corspilla done. “Too close! Too close to the prissy Queen, can’t be seen with you people. A girl has a reputation.” And away she’d gone, with her best wishes to catch Maggot the Dreadful Cat Eater or whatever it was.

Hadn’t mattered, that point; Ulthanon had its trail then, and when Ulthanon Kaidos has your trail, means you’re as good as caught. Only he wasn’t, yet, still scrambling along the edge of the Plagues, Ulthanon sure the little bastard knew he was being followed. So they’d cut ‘round once they figured which way Maggot was going, set up ‘round the southeast corner of the Darrowmere to catch him. And that’s why Tarquin’s shivering in the muck.

He slithers further down, bundles his cloak around his coat and lethers, not that it helps much but to make him sweat more. How can you be so cold and still sweat through your armor? Damn the whole enterprise. They’ve been at this for hours, and dawn can’t be far off. And he doesn’t much fancy the idea of doing this in the day–

“Boss!” Pitch is there, on his belly in the mud too, so near and sudden Tarquin almost pisses himself. “They spotted him coming up on the lake. Running, like he knows we’re after.”

Tarquin twists in the mud so he can see Pitch’s face, or at least, the outline of it. “Yeh sure it’s him?” he says; he knows his voice, just above a whisper so it doesn’t hiss, can’t be heard more than five or ten paces off but it’s still shocking loud in his ears.

“Ulthanon saw. It’s on the right path, and it looks just like what the dead woman told us.” Tarquin rolls to his feet and opens his mouth. “Wait. He saw more.” Dranas hoists his furry bulk up, resting on his haunches. “Four or five soldiers, coming down the road. Thinks it’s a Forsaken patrol.”

“Comin’ our wey?” Nod of the great pointed head. “Shite. Fuck.” Crouched in the mud, this close to doing the job, and closer even to another damn mess. “Awright. Where’s Ky an’ Ulth?”

“Ulthanon is where he was. Kyraine’s following the target.”

“Perfect. Right.” Tarquin straightens up, rolls his head around until his neck cracks, and checks his knives. All where they ought to be. “Get oan up ta Lore an’ Illi, then, fence in thit fucker. I’ll meet yeh when yeh’ve caught ‘im.” He starts walking off into the night, more or less in the right direction.

“Boss?” asks Pitch. He doesn’t really sound worried, more...curious. Dranas doesn’t do worried. Takes everything nice and easy. You got to treasure someone like that. “What about you?”

“Goin’ ta sort out the rotties.” He slides off through the wooded hills, hoping for noiseless but settling for quiet. You don’t have to be perfect; just better’n the other bloke. Within half a minute, he’s blundered far enough that he’d have no idea how to get back to his post if he needed to, but that’s alright. The road’s easy to find. He his the edge of the treeline and stands on the broken ridge, another shadow in a line of ‘em trooping all the way down to the lake, and waits. Staying calm as he can, working through some fiddle tune in his head so he doesn’t love his nerve.

The rotties come along soon, luckily, five of ‘em coming down the road on their bony horses. “Fuck me,” Tarquin mutters to himself. Pitch hadn’t said anything about horses. Probably should have asked. Too late for that now – he’d told his people he was going to deal with the patrol, so nothing for it but to find a way. He waits until they’re about sixty paces down the road, close enough that any of ‘em are particularly sharp-eyed might have a glance at him anyway, and steps out from the trees.

Oi there, lads!” he bellows, waving one arm in the air cheerily. The lead rider reins up, and the others do the same; that sort of What in the hell is this? stillness he’s all too familiar with. “I heard that Sylvannas Windrunner sucks the best cock ‘twixt Silvermoon City an’ Lakeshire! Can yeh tell me if thit’s true?” They just stare at him for a moment that feels like an hour; five dead men watching a skinny straw-haired ghost, grinning like an idiot and asking to die. Long enough for him to admit that, aye, he’s had better ideas. Then the lead rider surges forward and Tarquin turns and runs for his life, away from Lordamere Lake, the job, and his Riders.

Pounding through the slow-dying forest, darting at angles for the biggest clumps of trees and undergrowth, giving the rotties the worst trail he can. No outdoorsman, Tarquin ap Danwyrith, a city lad born and bred, but he’s spent enough time doing stupid shite like this, in pissant places like this, to make a decent go of it. Horsemen aren’t much faster’n him once they have to go around trees. ‘Course, like as not they know the land better, but he can’t imagine the Deathguard spend a great deal of time on cavalry exercises in the forest.

Then again, he thinks as he leaps a rotting log and barely keeps his balance on the other side, they’ve plenty of time on their hands. He risks a glance back and sees movement, not too far back, and behind his own panting breath and pounding heart, drumming hoofbeats. One of ‘em shouts something, maybe Common, maybe Gutterspeak, he can’t bloody hear it. He imagines he gets the gist, though.

There’s a slick patch, maybe rotted leaves, maybe just brack-water, and he skids down on his arse and bites his tongue. Salty blood fills his mouth, and he’s fumbling under his cloak even as he gets to his feet. An arrow whistles through the air above him, hits a tree a little ways off. Good news, that it missed that much. Bad news, that it only missed that much with the bowman on a moving horse. Doesn’t bode well. So he frees the little packet from his cloak, sparks it on his belt buckle, and throws it down into the muck and closes his eyes.

Tarquin hears the flash and hiss of good old Number Twelve, the finest fucking concoction the geniuses in Mathias Shaw’s cellar ever developed, and tucks and rolls sideways. He fetches up behind a tree, a great cloud of acrid smoke at his back, quickly wafting through the air in all directions. With any luck that’ll throw the rotties, and if Tarquin ap Danwyrith has one thing (besides good hair and bad ideas) it’s luck.

He slips ‘round the tree, silent as a widow in church, picks off towards another one. He’s no idea at all where he is now, but he was off in the right direction to begin with, and might be it doesn’t matter now. Get a little ways off, leaving the rotties thoroughly flummoxed, beating the bushes for a foul-mouthed spectre while he tracks back up the road to their meeting point –

“Shit!” That surprises Tarquin, because he didn’t mean to curse and also it’s not his voice. He looks sideways, and standing next to a big mossy stump not ten feet from him is a Deathguard in mail coif, green-gray hair plastered across her forehead, one hand holding a wicked curved blade. They stare at each other for a moment, and then the part of Tarquin’s mind that keeps him alive at times like this reads the surprise and sudden fear on her dead face and flings him forward.

He comes in under her panicked swing, knife in his hand but skidding off her mail coat. They grapple and hit the muck, his weight driving the deader up against the tree stump. No breath to get knocked out of her. Her bony knuckles crack him twice across the face. Free hand wriggling for her dropped sword. Tarquin shifts his weight and they roll away from the stump; too far and she ends up on top. Punches him in the face again, and he tastes more blood. It hurts like hell, probably leaves a scratch. Can you get diseases that way?

The deader stops punching him to go for her belt knife, so he gathers himself and pushes up, legs and arms all working against that weight of bone and dead flesh and metal. At first she holds on, creepy silent, snarl etched on her grey face, but then her knee skids in the mud and he throws her off. “Hnnaaah!” Stupid noise, the breath whooshing out of him as he finds his feet. Nearly slips just like she did.

She gains her feet and pulls her knife, and then she stops and wrests her shield off her back. Good idea, in itself, but it gives Tarquin time to gather himself. He stalks towards her, pulling his big carver off his belt, wide half-moon grin on his face. A soldier, a killer, a remorseless dead thing, aye, she’s all those, but her sword’s in the mud and he’s remembered who he is. “Any last words?” the dead woman snarls.

He takes two steps forward, hefting that ugly single-edged knife in his right hand, making sure she can see it. “Oathbreaker,” he says between his grinning teeth, and starts forward, knife raised. It all moves slow now, slow and cold as ice melting; her shield goes up to block his carver, he stops with his left hand flickering up, and when she lowers her shield to see why he hasn’t swung yet he puts a throwing knife right into her confused face from five paces.

The rottie reels and wobbles. He takes two more steps forward. “That’s me,” Tarquin tells her. Making it clear, in case some other Deathguard comes back and picks her up, like they do sometimes. “Oathbreaker.” She raises her sword arm and the sword just goes flying out of it and she pitches forward with the light going out in her eyes, and then before anything else can happen Tarquin hears thunder behind him and dives forward just in time to save his life.

It’s all going fast again, hooves going past him, a glimpse of helmed face with eyes glinting yellow fire and malice and an axe that whistles over him. Before he’s much on his feet there’s an impact, an arrow slamming right into his hip. Getting punched in the face hurt. This really hurts, spins him around and knocks him down on his arse again. Always back in the mud. How does this keep happening to him? Maybe he’s just not that lucky after all.

Trying to collect himself, he sees the archer nocking another arrow, two more rotties riding out of the woods in front of him. The one who missed him trotting his horse-shaped bag of bones back. Why’d you send her out alone? he wants to ask. That the deader version of a prank? But he can’t really find his breath. Damn, that hurts. The lead rider pulls up in front of him and takes his helm off. Hairless, eyeless, tongue way longer than it ought to be.

“Oathbreaker, is it?” he says in a wet hiss. “Some kind of interesting, a man laying claim that name. Makes me wonder–” but nobody ever finds out what he wonders, because there’s a crack and half his head explodes like a Faire pumpkin. It’s kind of a marvel to Tarquin’s bemused eyes – the jaw’s still there, tongue lolling out stupidly, most of the nose. From about where the eye-holes were and up, it’s a big open cave full of wet mess.

The next one up falls off his horse, giving a big raspy howl, an ugly splintered stump where his sword-arm was, and Tarquin starts getting ahold of himself. He quickly rolls out of the archer’s sight, digging himself in behind a stump. He checks himself. The arrow didn’t break his armor, and thank fuck for all the money he spent having fantastic beasts skinned, stitched together, and the results enchanted. If you’re lucky, it’ll all be money wasted. But as he’s learned, he’s not that lucky.

There’s another few cracks, a whistling arrow or two, and a howl. That’d be Ghost. He rolls back out to see the huge white wolf bearing a dead horse to the ground with the archer still on it. The other horses are just standing there, meaning the Deathguard they were bearing are dead. Tarquin gets to his feet and strolls over, but Ghost seems to have the matter well in hand. So he just rubs his aching hip and waits until Ulthanon Kaidos comes strolling out of the darkness, gun over his shoulder, too casual for it to be anything but on purpose.

“Yeh could’na done that sooner?” Tarquin asks, a bit more annoyed than he ought to be with the bloke who’s just saved his life. Figure, once you got more’n a couple of those on either side of the ledger it stops mattering so much and you can just be everyday petty about it.

“Hey, you looked like you were having fun.” Ulthanon has a smile on his weathered face, easy as if he’d just rescued Tarquin from some over-friendly drunk wench at a party. Like he hadn’t just put bullets in four people. For a given value of people, anyway. “Besides, Boss, you might’ve not noticed but you were running away from me.”

“Mostly away fra’ thim, actually. Yeh jus’ got caught up in it.” The last Deathguard’s struggles have ceased. His horse is trying to struggle up so it can stand ready for someone else to take over, but it’s got one broken leg. As they watch, Ghost knocks another of its legs out from under it and it topples in a clatter of bones and barding. Then starts getting back up, and Ghost knocks it down again, tongue lolling from his mouth. Ulthanon rolls his eyes, and Tarquin can’t help but laugh.

“Alright, you worthless dog, games later.” Ulthanon whistles the wolf over. Tarquin has become fairly certain over the years that his resident tracker has taught his beast that insults are compliments, for whenever Ulthanon engages in some ill-deserved canine depreciation, Ghost simply wags his tail all the more. “Got some work to do, don’t we?” He looks down at Tarquin, who looks around them at the carnage and shrugs. Some people had worse luck than him, it seemed.

“Ayeh. Find the rest, if yeh wid.” Kaidos, relenting from his wolf-insulting long enough to pet the giant animal, starts trooping off through the woods like he’s just picking a direction at random, Ghost bounding ahead, leaving Tarquin to founder in his wake. For all he knows it is random, and Ulthanon’s just wandering around looking at moss and flowers and odd marks in the mud for the hell of it. He’d still probably have a better sense of direction than his boss.

But they do find the rest, fifteen minutes or so later, up along the shores of the lake. Tarquin makes Ulthanon and Ghost wait in the woods, whistles the first couple bars of Follow Me Up To Stratholme, and waits. Finally Loreli’s voice comes out of the dark. “Yeah, I don’t know the next part, boss.”

He sighs. “Wir goin’ ta need a better signal.” He paces up the shore, Ulthanon and Ghost following. Loreli falls in beside them, a tall and ghostly shape in the moonlight, mask pulled down over her face so she looks like a some kind of haunting bird. There’s Pitch, head resting on his paws like a Ramakhen sculpture, and Illithias looking annoyed that she missed a better fight, and Kyraine leaning on her shield with mud all over her, and between ‘em a slumped and wretched figure.

Tarquin gets close and takes a look. Hunched, spindly dead thing, looking as used to going about on all fours as walking straight. It stinks of yesterday’s vomit and last week’s garbage, and the front of its piecemeal leather ensemble is crusted with gore from the horse earlier and who knows what else. The head’s wrapped in a sort of leather and cloth cover cinched down over its face, and a noxious fume that would choke an Old Town sewer rat seeps out of the small torn hole in the front. All in all a gods-awful mess. Maggot is an apt name.

But they have it trussed up neatly as you please, like a dinner turkey. “He put up any fight?”

“Aye, if you call running, shrieking, and trying to claw at my eyes a fight.” Kyraine smirks at him. “Seems like you had a bit more fun than the rest of us, aye, boss?”

Tarquin looks down at himself. Muddy, bloody, bruised-up and haggard; he opens his mouth to tell Ky she’s got a weird damned idea of fun, but what comes out instead is, “Aye, sorry, I’m a selfish git an’ all. Next time, yeh kin take the five soldiers an’ I’ll beat oan the unarmed streak ay piss.” He grins like he hasn’t got a care in the world and his lips aren’t split and bloody, and Kyraine laughs a short hard laugh like chopping wood.

“Streak of piss is right,” grunts Illi. “This deader’s even more C’thunfucking insane than the last one.” She gives the sad sack of dead flesh a scornful look. “Hard to think it’s going to be any help to us.”

“Hard ta think, aye. But ha’ we any better ideas this moment?” Tarquin looks around at his crew. Illi sucks on her teeth. Kyraine and Loreli look at each other. Pitch sits there, impassive. Ulthanon shrugs elaborately and looks at Ghost, who whines. “Right, then. Let’s get this poor bastard stashed an’ get back someplace civilized.”

“How are you gonna make him talk?” Lorelli’s mask covers most of her face, and her being a professional covers the rest, so there’s no way to tell if the concept bothers her. She sure as hell doesn’t sound bothered, she could almost be offering.

“No’ me. Got some outside help comin’ oan that.” He smiles wearily at Loreli. “Dinna mind it, Tymara. Jus’ no’ this deader git’s lucky day.”
Now hang me by this golden noose
'Cause I never been nothin' but your golden goose
Silver tongue don't fail me now
And I'll make my way back to you somehow

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Re: The Answer Man

Postby Tarq » Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:07 pm

((This bit co-written by Malkavet and Illi.))

Civilization’s come back to Andorhal, or half of it. The other half is taken over by barbaric warmongers not fit to set foot on Lordaeron. This is a true fact no matter which side of Andorhal you’re on; only the actors in the roles of “Brave Colonists” and “Rapacious Monsters” change. Being alive, Tarquin’s sympathies are pretty clear, but one ought to have at least a little perspective.

Anyway, civilization or not, there’s still a lot of empty houses, and it wasn’t much trouble to claim one. Less trouble even to keep it, with Kyraine stationed outside; speaking fluent soldier, she’s able to turn away her comrades-in-trade with a warning that whatever’s going on in this house, it’s so fucked up that any attempt to pass it up the chain of command will result in nothing but tears, heartache, and a great career-killing mess for everyone involved. Only in less words than that. She’s spent a few casual, uncomplaining hours there, chatting with the locals, relieved a couple times for a piss break and a bite. But now, Tarquin knows, she’s blank-faced and stoic, no more yielding than the wood of the door she’s in front of.

It’s time to work.

Sarcanna de Roux makes a fair contrast to Kyraine – slight and milk-pale where Kyraine’s tall, dark and wiry, that sort of bland, inoffensive rich-woman prettiness against Ky’s sharp striking face; even wearing those rich purple robes where the Gilnean’s got plain and hard-used armor. The women are about the same age, but one’s hard, the other’s soft. They’re meant for different work, though. He watches silently while Sarcanna draws her circles in salt and ash and things he won’t try to name. Maggot watches silently too, but that’s on account of the rags tied over the jagged, half-jawed hole that serves as its mouth. It’s got to know what they’re up to, so it’s just basking in fear. Stewing, likes.

de Roux turns to him, fingers clasped politely in front, good posture. “I am prepared. Master ap Danwyrith. You may begin questioning the subject.” He looks dubiously at her, and at the interlocking circles of powder and paint on the bare floor of the cellar. Torturing someone in a cellar. Just like old times! If only Loche and Jasper Fel and Clobber Morgan were here; hell, Arren and Amarao. SI:7, Greymane Exiles, Wildfire Riders...certain similarities, after all.

The necromancer’s still waiting, patient as you please. “Though the point wis that yeh’re ta get him talkative fir me.” Sarcanna smiles, maybe not so soft and polite.

“Like anything else, Master ap Danwyrith, my art is a matter of seizing the opportune moment. Pray begin with him and I will step in when appropriate.” So ominous. So fucking theatrical, but hell, after that stunt by Lordamere he’s one to talk.

“Yir the expert.” He crosses the floor, putting his gloves on as he goes, and frees Maggot's ruined face from its hood. For his efforts, he gets a high-pitching gurgling shriek, like a busted teakettle, that just goes on and on. The little fucker doesn’t need to breathe. He glances at de Roux. “Can yeh shut him up?”

“Assuredly, Master ap Danwyrith,” she says with that smile again, polite and practiced with just a little edge on it. “But I am afraid he will then be unable to answer much of anything.”

About what he expected. “Got ta do evrythin’ masel’, huh?” he says, sounding more annoyed than he is. He measures up and snaps the back of his hand across Maggot’s pallid face. Thorim knows there’s stronger blokes than Tarquin out there, but he’s proud to say that when it comes to hitting a punter when they’re tied up and knocked down, he’s just about the best there is. Maggot’s head spins halfway around, its borrowed breath failing it; when it starts shrieking again, he cuffs it back the other way. When he’d asked Kyraine if she thought the thing felt pain, she’d just laughed and said I’d say he’s ticklish, boss.

He cracks it back across the jaw one more time and holds its head still. “I am goin’ ta ask yeh some questions,” he says, slow and clear. “Yeh will answer when asked. Keep answerin’ and yeh will no’ be hurt. Lie ta me an’ yeh will be hurt a great deal.” Calm, cold, talking like he does this every day and it couldn’t mean more to him than hiring a carriage. “Have I made masel’ understood?”

Maggot looks at him. Hasn’t got much features to speak of under all the rotting headgear, but just by its stillness it looks calmer. Like his clear talk cooled it down some. So he hits it again. “Answer the question!” he shouts, all fury now. Normally he’d have someone else do the bullying – Elyle had been a great one for that in his day – but he’s in reduced circumstances. He yanks the gibbering dead thing back towards him, taking care to keep clear of any bites, accidental or elsewise. “Am I friggin’ well understood? Huh?”

“It understands!” shrieks Maggot, the first coherent thing the rottie’s said. Got a surprising understandable voice, for a thing with less’n half a jaw. “It understands, yes yes yes, Master taught it when to answer and when to be silent.” Tarquin lets go and shifts back on his haunches, facing Maggot across the floor. He lets his gaze drop to the closest edge of Sarcanna’s ritual circle, then looks back at Maggot, lips curling up so just a bit of tooth glints through on one corner.

“So let’s start. Malkavet Blackheart.” The reaction is immediate; Maggot attempts to lurch away, squealing. Doesn’t get far with its arms and legs bound, of course, just sort of writhes around pathetically. “Yir master.”

“It doesn’t say the name,” moans Maggot. “Master has a good name. Master has an old name. It doesn’t put the name in its filthy mouth.” Sad, really. Not the sort of sad you feel sorry for, though. As much practice as Tarquin’s had putting his sympathy away when it gets in his way, he doesn’t even need to stifle a spark here. Thing’s just fucking disgusting and that’s all there is to it.

“Right eno’, mate, that’s yir rule an’ I will respect it.” Wastes some irony on the thing. “He’s been entertainin’ some guests. Old dwarf fir a long time, little woman new arrived.” He nods to Sarcanna. “Human, smaller’n her. Where’s he keepin’ thim?”

Maggot just inches along the floor, like a worm, getting further away. He rolls his eyes, grabs it by the ankle, and tugs. It thrashes as it comes back to him; the geist-thing has almost no weight at all to it. “Nono. No no nono na no.” Turns its head away, like a pouting child. Fucking quit that, ap Danwyrith, no child at all. He plucks a dagger from his belt and hammers the pommel into its protuding hip-bone, right on the spur, drawing another shriek. Drags it up and stops its mouth after a few seconds. Damn, but he’s sweating already. Torture is hard work.

“Quit wastin’ me time, Maggot,” he grunts, rising from his crouch and slamming it up against the wall, one hand pinching narrow its wreck of a face. Like a damned bully at the schoolhouse. Probably had this done to him when he was a child, if he bothered to think on it. He doesn’t, but does cuff it across the side of the head with his free hand. “I am so.” Thwack. “Gods-damned.” Thwack. “Busy.” Thwack. He tugs it closer, gets right up in the circle of its fetid breath. “Yeh canna conceive how much I dinna want ta be here,” he says, and that much is true. “Woman an’ a dwarf.”

He moves his grip from chin to shoulder, bit further away again, and he’s glad of it when it starts babbling in a cloud of wet spittle. “It doesn’t talk! It doesn’t talk to strangers. It doesn’t talk to strangers or it goes in the hole with the others again.” Maggot’s head shakes violently back and forth, at angles that make him a little sick to look at. “No no. It doesn’t know. It only does what it’s told. It doesn’t see.” One of its hanging arms comes up, and Tarquin tenses for a moment but it’s only covering its own already-hidden eyes. “It doesn’t see, it doesn’t know, it doesn’t talk.”

“Master ap Danwyrith.” He’d almost forgotten Sarcanna was there. “If it pleases you, I am ready to begin. Please place the subject in the center of the circle and unbind it.”

“Unbind it?” He looks over skeptically. She’s standing there much like before, but now she’s got a dark bundle held in her hands. “Yon’s a wriggly wee bastard, Miss de Roux.”

“You will only need to hold it still for an instant, Master ap Danwyrith. The circle will be safe for you for some moments after, and I am told you are very quick when needs be.” She smiles, and if the one from before had just a touch of the unpleasant to it, this is...well, it’s not quite Yva Balthasar, but it lives just down the street from her. Maybe he ought to have asked Yva after all; complete nutter, but better the devil you know.

Too late for that. “Right, then.” He drops Maggot on the floor, comes up with his knife again, and gets a firm hold on the nape of the geist’s neck before slashing the ropes. It immediately starts flailing, and he has to drive its face into the ground a couple times, then heft it up and over the circle so as not to disturb Sarcanna’s work, and nothing about the process improves his mood. It’s one thing to be doing his own dirty deals, or lying in the mud of a dark night setting up an ambush. Good to be with the crew. But battering his own prisoners? He ought at least to have people for that.

“Bloody indignity, is what it is,” he hisses to Maggot as he slams it back down into the ground of the circle to be sure, then holds the stunned deader down in the center. “Get workin’, de Roux, I’m sick ay touchin’ this.”

So she does.

First thing he notices is that Maggot starts gurgling again; sprawled in the middle of all the glyphs, making a keening noise like a man playing the fiddle underwater. It doesn’t try and flee; actually, it cowers down. Like it’s trying to get even smaller, and disappear. Maggot’s head jerks up and looks past him, back where Sarcanna’s standing.

He lets go of the unmoving Maggot and turns to look; she’s still standing where she was before, but now she’s dressed to work. Big black hood – sable, maybe, something fine – and underneath it a mask looks like a crow skull. Tarquin takes a sharp breath despite himself; cheap tricks, aye, but he knows better’n anyone how damn well a cheap trick works. de Roux has a new, smaller bundle in her hands, and it looks for all the world that when she moves forward the shadows ‘round the room are moving with her, shimmering like air on a summer day.

“Excuse me, Master ap Danwyrith.” she says, voice clear through her mask. He takes a step to the side - then another two good steps back. No sense being in her way.

The necromancer – call her what she is – approaches the dead thing cowering in the middle of all those careful-wrought circles and glyphs. Near as he can tell under her mask, she’s staring dead at Maggot, and it’s looking right back while she unwraps her new bundle. Cloth drops to the floor; she’s got now a book in one hand and a curved knife in the other. Not a working man’s knife, not even his kind of work. It’s slim, decorative-looking, but that nasty purple sheen to it leaves no real questions about what it’s for. He’s seen that sort of thing before, and nowhere friendly.

“You know what this is.” It’s more statement than question, and it doesn’t sound much like de Roux wants an answer. She’s smiling under there, he knows somehow. Cause he’d be, if he was her. That’s how this works.

Anyway, Maggot’s answer is clearly yes, but what it says is, “No no no no no no nonononononono–”. It shakes, rolls back and forth violently, but doesn’t and clearly can’t leave the circle. All the lines and sigils are glowing now, a bright unhealthy green makes Tarquin take another couple steps back.

de Roux flips the book open; it’s not much more promising the knife, all black leather bound in metal. Looks like she got the right page right off, too. Bookmark, maybe? She hefts it, then drops it open on the floor with a thump too loud and flat for a falling book, and at the same instant screams “Silence!”

It shuts Maggot up. Shuts Tarquin’s own brain up from its havering-on, and thankful he is for it. Wary and watchful, ready to see just what he’s hired this fucking madwoman to do. Maggot just lays there, rocking back and forth a little, ruined mouth clenched shut as best as it can make it. All about him the shadows are dancing, the circle bright green like a Felwood lake, and there’s a whisper just on the edge of his hearing. Sarcanna’s voice, but sure as Hodir’ll bring the winter, it’s not coming from her lips. Not even close.

Sarcanna stands over the edge of the circle, looming more’n any woman her size ought to, pointing down at Maggot with the knife.“You know what this is,” she hisses. “You know what I am. You know about your Master Blackheart, his prisoners, and their locations.” The geist wails and warbles, and she shuts its mouth again with a flick of her wrist. “Master ap Danwyrith asked you nicely to help him, but sadly you refused. Now I am going to ask you. I shan't be nice.”

Tarquin watches as the latest monster he’s loosed rocks back on her heels, free hand weaving in the air. He’s no expert, but he’s got the sense she’s not doing anything just that moment. Just...enjoying it. He can see now the way the shadows move, and it’s not like Annie’s shadows, moving with her and around her, Elune’s sweet caress. That goddess isn’t here, and the dark in Her absence is an ugly, jerking thing. And in the middle of ‘em, de Roux revels in it. He’s got the mad sense that if he pulled off her hood right now, she’d have the flushed cheeks and half-lidded eyes of a woman taking lotus tar. Or having a good fuck.

Beltar. Shaila. You got to find a way.

Sarcanna’s done revelling, and speaks with iron in her voice. “Stand.” Maggot wails again and doesn’t move. “Get up!” she shrieks, and her free left hand snaps at him like she’s breaking off a chicken leg. Maggot leaps up in the air like the world’s ugliest puppet, lands awkward on its haunches, and keeps its balance, bowed before her. She makes another left-handed motion, closing her fingers slow around her palm, and out of the green glyphs comes a blue mist, slow and trickling and wrapping itself around Maggot.

Tarquin checks to make sure he’s not standing near any. Seems prudent. He’s not, but he swears now there’s faces in the shadows. Just vague, no detail at all, but they’re there. Might be Maggot sees ‘em too, the way it’s sobbing, trying to bury its mess of a face in its narrow chest. Or maybe it sees something worse.

“Look at me.” de Roux’s voice is harder than her throat could ever produce, and the dark whispers with her when she talks. Maggot looks up slow, like it’s fighting hard, but does no good – they stare at each other again, the geist still sobbing and whimpering and the necromancer just staring out from her crow-mask. There’s something in the room, like a sound maybe, on the edge of hearing. Or the pulse you get from a deep bass drum. Something Tarquin’s senses can’t really put together right, apart from the knowledge that he wants no more to do with this.

“Malkavet Blackheart. The prisoners. The dwarf, the human girl. You will tell us all you know, before I tear you apart, put you back together, and ask you again.”

“Nononono... it doesn’t know, it can’t know. It hurts it hurtsithuuurrrrrrrrts...” Maggot’s writhing on the floor again, jerking back and forth. Whatever the shite it’s seen and done and had done to it being the Blackheart’s puppet, this can’t be any better. It’s really ripping about, clawing at its own flesh, head snapping side to side with audible clicks and cracks. Tarquin swallows and raises his voice over the burbling and whispering, trying to sound like he’s still got any say in whatever the shit this is. “Yir no’ meant ta kill it jus’ yet, de Roux!”

Her cowl tilts towards him. “ not my doing.” Before he can do anything with that lovely tidbit, Maggot howls and the words start spilling out of it.

“It doesn’t know. It goes and spies and finds and tells.” Tarquin holds up a hand and steps forward a pace, unmindful of the blue mist still creeping on the ground. This is what he’s here for. “It sees the Orcs and the mines and the slaves. Red rock and stone peaks and vicious guards and a dwarf.” And despite all the skin-prickling, heart-chilling horror he’s got to wrestle with the next time he finally tries to sleep, he grins as wide as he ever has. A dwarf. Got you, my lad. Got you.

Maggot’s still going. “It sees and tells and hunts and finds. Master hates it still. Just like the mages. Dirty, filthy, treacherous mages. Master hates them too. Master says find the Dwarf’s name so Maggot does. Maggot always does.” Even in its mad fit, it finds a way to cast an injured, self-pitying sort of look at Tarquin. Like he’s the author of all the little fucker’s miseries. He’s barely a bit player here. Sarcanna’s let her hands fall, just listening like him.

“Dusty dwarves and dusty guards and beating sun. Sooo hungry, so tired. It burns. The Krom’gar will never give the silly dwarf up.” Tarquin can’t stop himself hissing in triumph. “Master doesn’t care. Doesn’t need. Still hates it. Poor Maggot. Poor hungry Maggot.” The geist lets its head fall on its chest, as if exhausted by all the effort of unburdening itself; tongue lolling slick and black, bit through on the corner. Tarquin waits a long moment, but it doesn’t say anything more

Sarcanna’s just stood there, knife held loose, other hand limp, and he can see something in her eyes wasn’t there before. This is not how I wanted it.There’s a fear. She broke Maggot, aye, but not the way she meant to. Now she’s under its master’s long shadow, and doesn’t much like the feel of it. Tarquin, though, likes that well; a lot better than he liked the idea that he might find himself the next one in the circle. “Good eno’. Let it go.”

Long silence. Maggot’s head slowly cranes up, and he’s witness to the disgusting spectacle of a geist looking hopeful. Sarcanna looks at him next, her eyes narrowing behind the mask. “Let it go? Certainly, Master ap Danwyrith.” Her hand curls again and Maggot’s instantly back to shrieking and spitting, digging at its own stomach with its hands like there’s something in there. The dark starts its whispering again.

“No. Fuckin’ no!” he snaps, before she can really get going. “I mean let it the fuck go. Home. Yir done. Nice job.” He’s spitting out these little sentences to fill the silence, really, as Sarcanna oh-so-slowly looks back at him, either unable to believe what she’s hearing or not wanting to stop her work. Little of both, probably.

“Let it go.” Can’t remember the last time he heard so much scorn in a voice. Laurus, maybe. “Certainly, Master ap Danwyrith, we can let it back to its happy life of little geist children and a loving geist wife. Perhaps a slobbering geist dog.” Her hand crooks again, tugging Maggot upright in the circle. “What possible reason–”

“I need ta repeat masel’?” Tarquin’s had seventeen years to practice that tone, just loud enough to be heard but quiet enough that you got to shut up and listen. Now it comes natural, which is good, because he’s angry. Too angry to think about it, but also too angry to be scared of this nob cunt with her sneering airs and her sick Scourge art. She’s forgotten who he is.

There’s a long moment, pregnant with possibilities, and then de Roux opens her hand and lets Maggot drop. “Of course, Master ap Danwyrith. My deepest apologies.” She’s all grace now, taking off her mask, sweaty but composed under it. “One gets caught up in one’s work, and forgets–”

“Aye, whatever.” He waves a hand at her, the hand that is no longer gripping one of his knives. “Dinna worry oan it. Best yeh clean yir shite up sharpish, but, I’m sick ay lookin’ at this git.” Sarcanna bobs her head in a nod that conveniently hides her expression from him, and goes about the mundane work of clearing up her ritual circle while he finally, finally rolls himself a cigarette, watches the trembling, anxious Maggot, and thinks on his answers.

When de Roux is done and the room looks a deal less like it’s just hosted a necromantic ritual, he goes up and calls Kyraine down. If Ky’s heard anything from the well-walled cellar, she keeps it to herself. Hasn’t got much to say to the other woman, but she didn’t in the first place. Kyraine’s got little use for the likes of Sarcanna de Roux. “Help me carry it up,” he tells her, and turns to Maggot. “Oi, fucker, play deid.”

It does with an eagerness that makes him a little sick, and they bear its negligible weight up the stairs and outside. A soldier double-takes as they pass, and Tarquin shrugs. “Yeh ken how it is, mate,” he says. The soldier nods slowly, and goes about his day. A soldier and a specialist carrying a wrecked-up Scourge out of town, with a warlock in their train. Probably doesn’t happen every day, but it passes for normal in Andorhal. Once they reach the outskirts of the city, he nods to Kyraine and she drops Maggot hastily, steps back, and spits on the ground.

Tarquin glances around and sees nothing except that he’s in the right place. “Off yeh piss,” he says, and like that Maggot is off and running. Hand over foot, herky-jerky, even more’n when they first saw it. Obviously a bit damaged by its experience. But all told, it’s probably had worse days.

And it’ll have worse ahead. Sarcanna starts as a towering shape resolves out of the black; Ulthanon Kaidos, shaking his head. “I don’t get paid enough for this, boss, I hope you know.”

“None ay us do.” Tarquin shrugs. “Unless yeh want ta go an’ find a real job, best get after that thing afore yeh lose it.” Ulthanon just rolls his eyes at that and takes his time producing and lighting one of his foul-smelling little cigarillos before stalking off after Maggot. Tarquin doesn’t see Lorelli follow him, but not seeing her’s kind of the point.

When he looks aside, Sarcanna is watching him with a guarded expression, something that’s got the sense of respect to it. He lifts an eyebrow and she lowers her head, like you do when you’ve looked an angry beast in the eye and want to soothe it. He doesn’t feel soothed. On his other side, Kyraine noisily clears her throat and spits again in Maggot’s path. “Got to say, boss, I don’t much like most of these new friends we’re making.” Sarcanna narrows her eyes. “Present company excepted, of course,” Kyraine adds insincerely. “We going home now?”

Tarquin stubs out his cigarette on the leather guard over his thigh. “Aye, fir a bit. Then it’s off across the water.” The Gilnean lifts her eyebrow. “Got a dwarf ta go an’ save.”
Now hang me by this golden noose
'Cause I never been nothin' but your golden goose
Silver tongue don't fail me now
And I'll make my way back to you somehow

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