Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hound Hunting - Chapter 2.



It didn’t take too terribly long for the watch to be summoned after my little display in the streets. Which, to be fair, is only to be expected when you see a man run down another – especially if it ends in visible violence. At least I had a lack of spilt blood on my side, although arguable that wasn’t saying much considering my current standing with the authorities.

There was no love lost between us. As far as SpellHounds go, anyone found with the talent is tested and if it proves to run true enough they are sanctioned and pressed into service. You could say it is a matter of required duty for those determined able enough to make use of their gifts for the best interests of the realm. Or so they like to proclaim.

Of those sanctioned SpellHounds, they find their tasks to be quite varied, to put it mildly. They have to investigate any and all magical threats to the kingdom, crimes involving sorcery and even engage in actions to keep the peace. Knowing my own luck, and my own personal history it wasn’t a stretch to expect that any watchmen answering the call would in turn be in the company of at least one SpellHound as well.

So when no less than five pairs of feet marched to a halt before me, I wasn’t all that surprised. A little impressed actually, only two of the arriving figures bore the official insignia of the watch. The other three were SpellHounds instead; I must really rank higher in their regards than I thought to warrant a response of such overwhelming numbers. Typically it only called for one SpellHound to appear on the scene of a disturbance alongside the watch, if any were called for at all. Their time is supposedly precious after all.

Both watchmen moved with caution common for veteran members of many seasons patrolling the streets. Emberhelm isn’t exactly a lawless land by most standards, but despite anything sand to the contrary it isn’t without its share of crime. For those who work for the watch that translates to dealing with all manner of situations; from spell duels in the streets to standard street vendor’s being stolen from.

Each watchman took up position to either side of my suspect, their hands rested on the waiting hilts of long swords as they surveyed the scene. To everyone looking on this was a show of force, an unspoken threat that any act to interfere in the investigation would be met with sharpened steel. But for someone more familiar with procedure, it was simple misdirection.

While everyone focused on the watchmen the SpellHounds could examine any lingering traces of magic and keep an eye out for additional arcane acts. It wouldn’t be the first time someone seized upon a situation to ambush anyone trying to keep the peace. There would always be people with a grudge, an excuse or just looking to try and make some kind of name for their self. Even though it never ended well for them, there has never been any shortage of those choosing to try.

The surging wave of adrenaline had already begun to subside, leaving me with the shadow of its storm inside. Wisely I had already had enough clarity to gather my thoughts and sheath my sword. A fact I was already grateful for as I tried to prepare myself for a trio of suspicious stares. Compared to the thrill of the chase, this was going to be anything but. And if I was still standing over the sprawled form of a screaming man with drawn steel I doubt any patience would be present.

While I reminded myself to take a deep breath I mentally reaffirmed that I had not broken any laws. Even a working knowledge of the law and how it was enforced didn’t remove the worry worming around in my belly. I had once worked alongside these people, and to my knowledge had been one of the only, if not the only SpellHound, to ever request being released from service. Even more amazingly my petition had been granted and I had been permitted to function as a freelance SpellHound. The only restriction was that I could never engage in any activity that could be interpreted as a challenge to the royal authority or in opposition to the interest of the realm. A fact that I always knew could be easily used against me for any reason.

My fears weren’t relieved any by the first of the three to speak. Corrin Cindercleave was the imposing kind of image that those engaged against the throne avoided at all costs. I couldn’t blame them, meeting him on a street with only the moonlight between us wasn’t something I dreamed happily about. Even though he stood a few inches shorter than me his broad shoulders formed the foundation of a muscled frame quite accustomed to applying itself daily. Highlighting this fact was a heavy sword, easily twice if not three times the size of my own that hung absently behind him.

A part of me had to imagine that its placement wasn’t by chance; that it was another unspoken message that warned its wielder didn’t rely on needing to speedily summon its steel. My interactions with Corrin had only ever been few in number and always brief in duration. But on those rare occasions he had never required his official rank to establish his authority. When he spoke, those SpellHounds in his presence listened.

Of course, that had nothing to do with the small detail that Corrin Cindercleave was an Extinguisher. It works like this, there are different tasks SpellHounds may be assigned based on what they might be good at. For me, I had some skill when it came to defending against magical attacks which could have landed me labeled as an Interdictor. They are the ones deployed to halt a threat or establish a line of defense. Instead, I was fortunate enough to be determined to have a greater capacity for tracking and chase when examined. That made me an Interceptor.

Extinguishers were a different breed altogether; they’re strengths did not lay in stalking a target down or in preventing it from producing harm to others. They quite literally were the ones called on to extinguish anything required. According to the stories that was commonly whispered about, that was even how Corrin had earned his notorious moniker. The tale goes that he snuffed out the life of a dangerous war wizard with a penchant for fire spells. Supposedly he had mastered the use of his massive sword so capably that he cut clean through a wave of blistering heat to remove his opponents head.

Once cobalt blue eyes bore into my own from beneath blonde hair roughly parted to keep his vision clear I didn’t care what anyone else believed about the stories. Because I wasn’t about to doubt a single detail from them, and I think he already knew it. Maybe he had learned to tell when people were intimidated by him, or just perhaps he had just become accustomed to peoples reactions.

“Irony; if any other word is better suited to herald your appearance I believe it would be hard-pressed to surpass it,” Corrin commented icily. Without regard for any possible dangers, the experienced executioner stepped forward, clasping his hands behind him. The full weight of his bearing speared into me and once more I felt the awkward nervous apprehension of a newfound SpellHound all over again.

I never had liked the feeling that implied claim that I was something inferior to what stood before me. Despite my personal decision to resign from service, or the slight issue of the pointedly larger sword than my own, Corrin was no better than me. And I’d be laid out on a cold stone slab before I would bow my head to his sense of superiority.

“Perhaps,” I snapped back, my mouth already committed to the task before any other thoughts might try to temper my tongue. “If by irony you’re referring to the fact that when a SpellHound is needed to take action that I am the only one ever on hand. Or, were you speaking of the discretion to not use lethal force to deal with something that didn’t require it?”

My ears were warning me with a growing wave of warmth that further dialog of the sort might prove disastrous. I sharply dismissed the spark of self-restraint and decided to continue anyway. “I need a drink, and since I am owed one directly along with my fee I think I will see to that. Unless I am being formally charged with some manner of wrong doing,” I challenged.

I could almost see the cold logic burning behind Corrin’s eyes as he considered the option of doing exactly that. Regret started to quietly whisper as it began to nag at my lack of restraint. While I contemplated the value of considering my conversational skills more cautiously in the future the other two SpellHounds caught my attention.

Stane Stormaxe and Wynna Snowsong; two faces that I’d almost say were friendly if I weren’t seeing them in the current situation. Stane was a couple years older than me and an admirable Interdictor by all accounts. We’d shared many a night in discussion and even more days practicing together. I wouldn’t think twice to say that I respected the man.

Wynna though was the same age as me, and we’d both trailed down more than our share of quarry. Next to me, she was possibly the fastest Interceptor serving. The two of us had been trained together actually, we were colleagues – you might even say close. Nothing serious, mind you, but even after I established myself as freelance SpellHound she’s visited me on a handful of occasions. Could be she was ordered to keep tabs on me, but if she was at least she did it without a suspicious stare.

Stane gestured at the path we had traveled and then down to the still groaning Butcher at our feet. “Clear enough sign to follow,” he called out, mostly speaking his own thoughts to himself. “Vaen’s right too, might be battered but we’re not looking at a corpse. Not like we can’t hunt him up if anything turns up for him to answer for.”

Wynna’s hand lightly brushed against Corrin’s arm for a moment before she chimed in as well. “And if it does, we all know he can’t outrun justice – or me,” she added teasingly. “Besides,” she emphasized another barb by brushing a strand of honey colored hair aside. “Nathanial isn’t known for vanishing acts, all we’ll have to do is look for someone doing something foolish to find him.”

If I hadn’t been looking right at her as she said it, I might have missed her half smile or the faintest wink directed my way. Corrin on the other hand had never taken his eyes off of me and was therefore ignorant to her admission of humor. I think anything jovial might have been beyond his notice. He furrowed his brow at me nonetheless as if he still toyed with the idea of imprisoning me – just to see the look on my face.

“You can find me at Howlers Hall should you think of anything convincing enough to blame me with,” I bluffed with all the bravado I could pull together. “Very well,” Corrin answered back before I could draw another breath. He followed it up by surging forward and I discovered that my knees were threatening to buckle despite my firm desire to the contrary.

“But bear in mind that not even an ex-SpellHound is above the law. Keep causing chaos in the streets and I will personally see to it that even the slightest crime costs you ten-fold.” I actually had to force myself to avoid muttering an automatic ‘yes sir’ when he finished speaking. Corrin had to practice these little speeches regularly I told myself before turning my back on him. It was safe to sigh if he couldn’t see me, right?

“Captain Carnage there has been attempting to ruin a local drinking establishment,” I decided to inform them as I walked away. “Feel free to charge him accordingly and if he mentions any other involved individuals I’d appreciate the information. Might even be a reward in it for anyone willing to help a hardworking former peer out.”

The look of revulsion on Corrin’s face was well worth the increased threat of him changing his mind about releasing me. All the same I nodded a silent farewell to Wynna and Stane both and hurried my steps ever so slightly. My purse wasn’t going to fill itself. Especially if I continued to linger around for very much longer engaged in taunting Corrin’s patience, which was a sure recipe for keeping it empty. And I had little desire to witness that big blade of his being drawn against me either.

So instead I redirected my thoughts to smiling faces like Baylen’s and more importantly my own. I had little doubt that I had uncovered the source of his dwindling drinkers. Our dear bright Butcher had been using magic to make the beverages of everyone else unfit for consumption. There was a chance he was even making people ill as well.

Lillian’s look of shock returned to me, and with it turned my thoughts toward the fact that she had been the source of some of the spellcraft as well. It was her hand that held the mug, and I couldn’t overlook the professed displeasure at the now broken-legged Butcher. Something wasn’t adding up. And just maybe that meant that I could turn one fee into two by solving my client’s problem and removing a potential repeat thereof.

Besides, I had debts of my own to pay. Being a freelance SpellHound wasn’t free and it isn’t like I’d been suffering from an abundance of paying customers myself. I needed the coin Baylen was promising but I could use the word of mouth even more. People already weren’t exactly comfortable with the idea of hiring a former SpellHound. Most of the rumors about me claimed all manner of reasons for me being released from service. Which meant the simple truth that I had asked to be wasn’t worth much. It also limited my options for offering my services.

Returning Howlers Hall to its profitable nightly pace would definitely help establish my ability to provide positive results. You can’t eat a kind word or pay your rent with reputation. But for someone starting out with my kind of standing in the public eye it could certainly help put me a step closer to a steady ability to keep doing exactly that. And I could use all the help I could get.