Vicissitudes in the Dark Woods (pt. 16)

Rubin felt the breath knocked from his lungs as his back slammed against the alley wall. Rage radiated from Pan’s eyes as he stood over the smaller man, fists bunched up in his collar.

“You better make me explain what is going on, and if I even suspect you’re trying to magic me I will end you.”

Heart pounding in fear, even though he’d known something like this was coming after Nella had outed him like that, Rubin swallows back the feeling and fought to meet Pan’s gaze.

“It’s true, I lied to you all in the woods but I swear on Atyx and the Pantheon that it was for good reasons.” He paused half a moment to read Pan’s reaction and see if he would interrupt but he just stared with cold fury, so Rubin continued, “Things are not as they should be in the kingdom. You know that. Everyone knows the king is absent in his duties.
The Royal Contract Telfor was given is fraudulent. King Hemsgard has no interest in hiring mercenaries to bring in a single hermit, maledict or otherwise. No-one does, as foul as their practice, hedge sorcerers are like rats, not worth the cost and effort until they swarm.”

“Get on with it, Rubin.” the revenant hissed, cold air misting at the corners of his mouth invogorating the fear in the scholar’s chest.

“I swear this is all important! Lord Winsome is the one running the Kingdom, regent in all but name. He’s an effective enough man, his unjust taxation of the churches would be forgivable for the good it has done if that were the extent of his liberties.
The High Priestess is only one of many who has been closely watching the Earl’s activities lately, and she’s discovered that the Earl was desperately hunting someone. We didn’t know who, but we knew that he had started to utilise resources and liberties reserved for the crown and the church. Nella, couldn’t act without a stronger cause, the Earl still holds the respect of most of the aristocracy and the nobility close ranks from outsiders, even and especially if it is the church, so she reached out to me to find out why this one was important.”

“And?”

Rubin lowers his gaze and steels himself, “I am not permitted to tell you, I’m sorry.”

From the pain and the ringing in his ear, Rubin supposed that Pan wasn’t satisfied with that answer.

“Listen closely you pompous shit,” The blue in Pan’s eyes was growing more intense, the scholar felt the cold biting through this shirt where the revenant gripped him and silently gave a prayer for Atyx’s guiding light, “I don’t give a damn about whatever political bullshit you’re engaged in. Right now, as far as you are concerned, there is no authority but mine. Tell me exactly what danger you’ve put us all in or I’ll open you up like a fish and leave you to rot.”

“I am sorry, but I cannot.” The words shook with fear, impossible to be held back. Rubin’s eyes closed, he knew he was going to die. It’s a shame, he thought, we were just starting to get along a little. The scholar opened his eyes and resolutely met Pan’s murderous gaze, and he saw only a dead thing kept moving by rage, with no trace of humanity.

The sharp blade left Pan’s hip and moved with intent to the scholar. With the tip pressed into the cloth of Rubin’s shirt, Pan’s lips part as he opens them to speak but the sound of footsteps moving swiftly in their direction cuts him off. In less than a moment, the otherworldly glow in his eyes, and chill are gone as well as his knife.
Rubin, finding himself freed reels for a moment as the rush of relief leaves him momentarily light headed. He’s brought back to his senses almost immediately as someone loudly rounds the corner at a hurried pace.

“Pan! Rubin! Thank the gods I found you,” Zsófia’s voice exclaim.

Rubin instantly stiffens, feeling only marginally safer now in the presence of a revenant and a necromancer. His response doesn’t worry Zsófia, it was what she expected from him after all, but Pan’s aloof coldness set her on guard.

“What is going on here?” She asks, trying to keep her voice as steady as possible.

“I was just discussing theology and politics with Rubin,” Pan answers vaguely, still not meeting her gaze, “Can’t say I’ve learned anything about him I like, but it’s good you found us, we’re leaving Verwich. Grab your things from the Inn, I’ll cover our stay. Don’t waste any time, there’s something going on and I’m not confident we’re safe here.”

Zsófia is taken aback by the statement, she’d been entirely wrapped up in expecting to be the one to tell them of the danger that losing that momentum made her feel like she’d hit an unexpected stair. Recovering quickly, she recognised the seriousness in Pan’s eyes, and the nearly perfectly concealed fear in Rubin’s eye’s convinced her to obey now and ask questions afterwards.
Together the trio go the rest of the way through the alley to where the The Valiant Retreat stood and as the two head upstairs to retrieve their things, Pan approaches Lily who was seated by the fire in the empty common room.

“We’re leaving for Capital now, let Yanala know I’ll have some questions for her when I get there.”

Lily looks back at him, seeming to Pan like she was reading him as easily as she would a book, “Something happened?”

“Yeah, I don’t know what yet, though I’m sure when I see Yana she’ll have known all along and just felt I didn’t need to know.”

“Sounds like her.” Lily admits with a sympathetic smile, “Are you in danger?”

Pan shrugs, “I don’t know why we would be, but yeah, it seems like it.”

She stands and approaches, reaching up she embraces him tightly before letting go and recoiling into a shiver, and looking at him in stern concern, “You’re cold.”

“I got angry, I kept it under control.”

She just stares at him, letting him know she’s not fooled by his deflections but the approaching footsteps from the stairs kill that line of discussion. Joining them in the common room, first Zsófia then shortly after Rubin arrive carrying their packs and Pan’s which he accepts and shoulder’s.

“I’ll catch you next time, Lil. Hopefully then I won’t be rushed out the door so quickly.”

Lily just laughs, “We had you for almost a week, almost a record by my count.”

With that, Pan kisses her lightly on the cheek and leads the others out the door. As they walk in heavy silence, Pan looks up at the sun. It was later in the day than he’d usually like to start this journey, but staying longer just didn’t feel like an option.


That brings the Vicissitudes in the Dark Woods to it’s end, the next installment will be the first of the as yet unnamed third segment of the Blood and Lies series. I’m thinking something like “Revelations under Iron”, but I haven’t decided yet.

Featured art this time was Hunchback by Michael Humphries and as usual, I enjoyed writing this. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.

– Zairron

Author: Zairron Plaguestrider

I'm writing to build a habit, practice, and be creative.

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