Autumn was usually a glorious season, but in Nexus even the changing of the leaves lacked luster. The heavy gray smoke and falling ash born of the foundries clogged both earth and sky, encroaching even high on the hill. Otto’s face was redder than the thick carpet of leaves underfoot as he stuggled to block my blows.
A scurrying servant distracted me and I called a break. Otto was clearly relieved as I shooed him off to the kitchens, though the mercenary guardsman had been quite stalwart throughout our practice session. I doubt that he would ever willingly face me in combat, no matter how much he was being paid. I very clearly overmatched him, but I hadn’t had a good practice bout with a human since the sun burned though me.
I leaned on my Ji, awaiting my guest, expecting someone from a foundry. Instead I was treated to a parade. Four soldiers in beautiful formation escorted a man I couldn’t help but admire even as I condemned the only possible reason for his presence. House Sessus was the primary backer for the imperial army, and Count Thorn led a branch of the Wild Hunt.
Somehow they had found out about us. I watched him lazily as he circled me, admiring a strong, clean shaven jaw; making note of the pair of white jade swords, the cloak that moved of its own accord and boots that didn’t crush the leaves they stepped upon. I wondered how fast the Dragonborn of air moved. I was betting he was fast.
Faster, older, better trained and better equipped…he had back-up and I was alone. Grandmother’s guards might have normally tried to protect me, I was a D’Sirai after all, but they wouldn’t stand against the Wildhunt for Grandmother herself, much less the family’s black sheep.
The attack I waited for never came. Instead we talked. He asked about my sisters, my business interests, and my relationship with my grandmother. He even asked if I had ever been to the Blessed Isle. I tried to be honest and straightforward with my answers. He clearly knew too much about us for me to lie. I also tried not to give him anything he didn’t already know. He knew too much already.
He had come to investigate some raw magic event from three weeks ago. I knew nothing about it, and told him so. He left peacefully, letting me know that he was staying at the “Cove”.
I did not immediately rush off to confront Vesper; I didn’t want anyone to know how rattled I was by Count Thorn. I went back to my previous exercise; exhausting a Blackwoods brigand. Then I went to go find my youngest sibling.
Vesper was staggering out of the library with a stack of manuscripts nearly as tall as she was in her arms. The stack swayed dangerously and she could not steady it since she was clutching a whitish stone the size of a hen’s egg as if it were the final prize from some sort of sorcerous trial.
I took the stack from her and studied the bright blue eyes behind her gold rimmed glasses. Flushed and disheveled she seemed much younger than her nineteen years; innocent and cheerful rather than careless. It was hard to imagine that she was the danger the Wildhunt was here to eliminate, but I knew better. Magic practically seeped from her pores. It would not be long before she was the most powerful sorceress in Nexus…if I could keep her alive.
I did not want to talk in the hallway where servants might overhear. She scampered off to the kitchen for snacks while I carried her pile of books up to our sitting room. Vesper, Layn’leen, Olivia and I shared an entire floor in one of grandmother’s towers. That meant that we had a sitting room to ourselves. We should probably thank mother for having exactly four daughter, but I tried to never thank mother for anything.
A thump from the stairwell let me know that Vesper had become too distracted by her reading to walk properly. I was surprised to see that her clumsiness had involved Cuthbert…our grandmother’s handsome young servant was usually quite graceful. I rescued him from cleaning up and hauled Vesper into the privacy of our room to question her. It proved to be pointless as she had no knowledge of Count Thorn, the Wildhunt, or the events of three weeks past that had brought them to Nexus. “It wasn’t me!” was a common enough refrain from Vesper, but in this case it actually seemed to be true.
That left me with only two possible suspects, of the two Layn’leen was the more likely to be involved in something nefarious. Vesper and I compared notes on what we knew of Layn’leen’s recent activities and decided that she was likely with Rune at the “Prodigal Sun” since she hadn’t slept in her own bed last night.
The tide was coming in, so the only way to reach the “Prodigal Sun” was down Crookback Row. I kept Vesper close so that she couldn’t give anything truly valuable to the “beggers” lining the street and we reached the bar without mishap.
I bought Vesper a fruit drink. Mother kept her close to home, locked in that lab of hers making dyes. It was a pretty prison, but it isolated her from life. At nineteen she had still never had a lover or experienced strong spirits. I’d meant to do something about that but…well, the whole anathema thing had distracted me.
I let her sip my brandy to sate her curiosity and carefully kept my reaction under wraps while her face crinkled up in distaste. A quick glance around the bar did not show me Layn’leen so I headed for the gambling tables in the back towing Vesper along behind me.
I moved slowly so that Vesper could ooh and aah over the curiosities in the bar. I watched the watery scene in the streets through one of the bar’s porthole windows and asked myself why I had brought Vesper with me. The answer was simple though: the Wildhunt was in town. I wanted my sisters with me, where I could at least attempt to protect them, not scattered to the four corners of creation.
Rune had a table of his own in the back; he wasn’t sharing with the Bankers or the Night Arrows. Everyone else in the room left when he indicated that he wanted privacy… I’d heard that he was an Underboss with the Whispers. The “Prodigal Sun” is likely the legitimate front for his less savory activities.
I have to give Layn’leen credit for having good taste in men. Rune was quite the specimen; taller than me (a rarity) and muscled like a tiger. He was as dangerous as he looked- he couldn’t have maintained Layn’leens interest if he wasn’t. I sat down across from him hoping that brilliant young Vesper would steer the conversation, but one glance at her flabbergasted expression showed me that was not to be. She was staring at Rune as if he were some dangerous exotic beast.
Vesper thinks circles around me, and Layn’leen or Olivia talk just as good a game. I’m the biggest sister, not the brightest one. I was the last D’Sirai who should be making bargains with a criminal powerful enough to enforce said bargain.
I laid my cards on the table at the start. I wanted Layn’leen’s location, and had no idea what he would want in exchange. He wanted a key that he believed Layn’leen to have. I was smart enough not to bargain for something I did not have possession of, and offered to bring Layn’leen to him once I found her. He accepted with a strange flair of silver light from the tattoos which covered him.
Vesper’s fascination let me know that it was a magical effect, but I did not have to ask her what it meant. I could feel the weight of our bargain settle like a stone across my shoulders.
Some of the things Rune had said left me pretty worried about Layn’leen, so I hurried Vesper to the river boat docks. I paid for a fast ferry, but I still had more than an hour to think in while Vesper scribbled furiously in her notebook. I really didn’t like my thoughts; they were mostly about Count Thorn.
I cannot figure out why he did not attck me in the courtyard. I’m anathema, one of the forsaken, the prey the Wildhunt was created to kill. I suppose that it is possible that he did not recognize me for what I am…most people don’t realize what I have become unless the air around me is glowing and snarling. Still, I find it hard to believe that a man of Count Thorn’s credentials would make such a mistake… How do the Dragonborn recognize and find Solars anyway? I shall have to remember and ask Vesper that question at some point.
Some part of me fears that he let me go so that I would lead him to my sisters…but that really makes no sense. If he found me by my Anathemaness he could find my sisters the same way…and when one has an enemy alone and surrounded one does not let said enemy go to gather reinforcements. One destroys the enemy where they stand. I was never much of a student, but I do know the basics of tactics.
Happily the boat landed and I could stop thinking. Slaughtering my sister’s enemies was far more important. One of them got away…I cannot figure out how he got out of that cavern. He probably used some sort of magic.
Vesper did very well in her first combat. Her archery has not improved, but the blast of emerald light she created obliterated the strange watery spiders before I had to worry about them.
Layn’leen was fine, though I would like Olivia to take a look at the gash on her head. We stayed in the cavern until the glowing and snarling faded. I washed the blood off of myself while Taika feasted on the corpses Layn’leen and I had created.
The trip back to Nexus was uneventful. Layn’leen and I sat fairly quietly in the back of the boat. She refused to tell me how Rune was in bed. I wonder if that means he actually matters to her? She rarely gives a damn about her lovers, but I find her hard to read. She has always been a good liar.
She and Rune certainly toyed with each other over that box and key though…ah, who can tell with her.
It seems that Olivia was the one who brought the Wildhunt down on us. Her abolitionist ways have also earned her a death sentence. I need to find her before the assassins do…and perhaps find something Rune wants enough to trade for the contract on her. I’m betting that if he doesn’t actually have it he could get it.
Lastly… we received a letter from someone who claims to be the fifth member of our circle. She invites us to come meet her and reclaim our “birthright” from some ruin she’s discovered. All in all, Ascending Earth shows every sign of being an interesting month.