For some, it is the Traveler’s Curse.
Each time the waves lapped over the side, the spray of salt woke him. He was drifting in and out of consciousness now, a sure sign that if something in the water did not get him first, dehydration would just as surely be the end of him. Raven fought to keep his eyes open, huddled under his shred of sailcloth to ward off the merciless sun.
It was a losing battle. Parched and weak with hunger, all he could manage were moments of awareness before passing out again. Passing out, and remembering…
Captain Whelan ran an excellent ship; he had to give her that. Proud lines, clean decks and an efficient crew that knew better than to bother a passenger with no inclination to be social. On any other voyage, Raven would have been happy to get to know these good people and their fine vessel. But now, racing against time to save strangers from the people he had once considered friends, he had no heart for being cordial.
Instead, he spent every night in his cabin, quill busy as he wrote out the extent of the Table’s conspiracy in every last detail. When he finished one long letter, he set it aside and began the next. Four copies would have to be made, one for each of the organizations targeted for destruction. A mage could have used magic to make these duplicates in moments, but he was no wizard.
No, the only magic he had ever known was muscle and steel, will and effort. He was not well suited to the scribe’s life and never had been. Even as a young boy, he was far better at physical games and lessons then in the cerebral arts taught by the orphanage’s much beleaguered clergy. That had only made the priests try twice as hard to get him to be a proper scholar; but in the end, they all had to settle for him learning literacy and history, the only subjects he showed any aptitude towards.
The only academic subjects, that was. Because the orphanage was sponsored by a landed Brelish knight with a penchant for civil service and an eye for young talent, he had been chosen early on for squiring. Raven took to horsemanship like a sahuagin to the sea. Even Lord Talenbrack, the noble in question, had remarked on his talent, saying that if he had not picked Raven for the knighthood, someone surely would have before long.
In the many years since, Raven had come to realize how lucky he was that Talenbrack had inducted him. Most of the knightly orders in Breland were more interested in the war than what knighthood was supposed to mean. In addition to his philanthropic leanings, Talenbrack had been an idealist. Raven learned manners, morals and behavior befitting a knight long before meeting anyone else with the title.
That had been quite an awakening, meeting Lord Talenbrack’s peers when they came to conscript his master into the King’s army once more. The war was turning against Breland and even retired and mustered knights were needed again. Though Raven was concerned about Talenbrack’s health, the elderly lord was determined to serve his King. That, at least, Raven could respect. The loud, uncouth men that came for Talenbrack, he could not.
Before his master left, Lord Talenbrack left him with a sealed letter and charged him with watching over his estate. For two years, Raven tended the land, helped the hired hands bring in crops and struggled to pay the manor’s expenses. Then came the news he had dreaded all that time.
Word of his master’s demise meant it was time to open the letter. Raven could still remember the shock he felt when he read Lord Talenbrack’s words bequeathing land and title to him as a full knight of the realm. With that decree, the estate’s coffers were opened and everything he could ever need for a life of luxury because instantly available.
None of it mattered to him. After burying his master, Raven placed a seneschal in charge, mustered a loyal peasant levy and traveled to Wroat to swear his oath of allegiance. The King, grateful for any new troops he could get, accepted him into the knighthood without question and immediately set him to the task of defending the nation’s border with Cyre.
So many battles, so many lives lost.
He was lost as well, lost in memories as he wrote the last of the letters and tucked them away in his enchanted pouch. They would be safe there, accessible only by him for as long as he lived. Until he could deliver them into the hands of the factions in Stormreach, these scripts of revelation were as protected as any magic could make them.
Done with the long task at last, Raven reached up to blow out his desk lantern and get some sleep. In the flicker of the oil flame, his distracted eye almost missed the subtle play of shadows near his desk. Without betraying his discovery, Raven slowly closed the little glass door on the lamp and vaulted backwards away from the desk.
Not a moment too soon! The space where he had been sitting was suddenly cut by the sweep of a curved blade, a robed attacker practically materializing from the darkness beside the desk. A low whisper of a curse betrayed the assassin as Lhazaareze, and the grace with which it recovered from the failed strike revealed it to be sinuously inhuman. Fast as a serpent, it lashed out with a second dagger, nearly catching Raven across the heels as he tumbled away.
Without stopping to get up, Raven grabbed the water basin off the nightstand and hurtled it to buy himself a few precious seconds. The metal ewer struck the slayer full force, catching him in the face and sending him back against the wall. That gave Raven time to stand, time to reach into his pouch and draw forth a weapon of his own.
Sparks flew as twin daggers caught against the edge of Raven’s sword, the assassin already across the room and nearly upon him. The parry was a crude one, all strength and no skill, but it was the best Raven could manage quickly. It was enough to ward off the dual knives but not elegant enough to sweep them aside before the man could attack again. A desperate dodge kept the blades from impaling him but only just, both daggers spending their loads of venom into the wall instead of his chest.
“Poison,” Raven said with a sardonic growl. “Lovely.”
The split second before the assassin could pull his weapons free, Raven struck with the only part of him able to do so – his foot. Slamming his boot up into the man’s stomach, he felt air rush from his staggering target. It was a good blow but not a crippling one. If the blunted force of it was any indication, the assassin was wearing armor under his robes.
That gave his opponent a serious advantage since Raven had not been going armored while aboard. It only took one near-fatal and costly lesson about going overboard in plate for him to learn the folly of full martial dress on a ship. Wearing nothing but a linen shirt, open to the waist, boots and a pair of thin sailcloth breeches, Raven had very little between him and his foe’s steel.
He could not do anything about armor right now, but he could even the odds a little. Moving quickly, he reached the room’s wardrobe and threw it open before the assassin could react. By the time the black robed slayer was on him again, he had reached in and retrieved his shield. With the weight of his old friend on his arm, Raven immediately felt more settled. Now he was ready to fight. Now he actually stood a chance.
Even the assassin could see the change in his bearing. Pulling back, daggers held in a defensive pose, he hissed behind his silken mask. “You fight well. Your reputation is well earned.”
Pausing to catch his breath, Raven nodded quickly. “I would say likewise, but I do not know you.”
Both daggers moved into an attack set, points directly aimed at him chest. “Nor will you. My brothers will be disappointed, but you will never see Stormreach.” The look in the cowled man’s eyes made his meaning clear. There would be no introductions, no more talk. Raven prepared himself for a charge that never came.
Instead, the slayer flipped both daggers straight down and drove them into the deck. As they sank hilt deep, the rubies in their pommels flared with red light. No, not rubies. Raven could see them for what they really were now – Zilargo sungems, magical fireballs in crystalline form.
Then he could not see anything at all, the jewels detonating in twin blasts of all-consuming fire. It was everything he could do to shove the wardrobe in the way and try to dive for cover before the waves of hot death reached him as well. The ship, the sleeping crew, he knew in a heartbeat this was death for all of them.
So many lives lost…
Raven drifted on, passed out, clutching the only surviving piece of Captain Whelan’s once proud soarwood vessel. He could not see that, off in the distance over the breaking surf, the emerald coast of Xen’drik was looming on the horizon.
For others, a blessing in disguise.
Chaotic Conditions Make Transport Difficult
Stormreach Scryer News for Zarantyr, 29, 999
Merchants arriving in Stormreach are reporting that ocean travel and overland routes along the coast are all experience massive variations in travel time. Even set paths normally exempt from what natives call the Traveler’s Curse have become subject to fluctuations in distance and time. The Storm Lords advise caution in any excursions outside the walls of the city.
Exacerbating the situation are violent new tides that have been causing serious concern and minor property damage. All ships with a keel length under 20 feet have been tethered and will not be allowed to set sail until conditions improve.
These incidents are currently being blamed for numerous traffic delays and notable absences at Stormreach’s docks. Among these are three much-needed supply vessels from Sharn that are now three full days past due and the Princess Dawn, a soarwood passenger ship with a notable reputation for quick, timely passage and a spotless schedule record. Any information on these or other missing ships can be reported to the dock authority; rewards vary.