Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hound Hunting - Chapter 25.



As I reviewed everything that had happened recently further I found myself looking at a string or strange scenarios. I had been shot at by crossbow wielding thugs. Someone had tried to point a trio of dawn devils my way and I had to deal with a brute Butcher in the streets. And all that together was only a portion of my problems. Aethen Wyatt had summoned me to a secret meeting, Garuff had harassed my home and now I was working with a gremlin.

Is this what happens when you hang out your shingle as a SpellHound for hire? It stood to reason since I hadn’t ever really known of any others to do the same before me. Perhaps they were far wiser than I. But a man has to eat and remaining idle doesn’t profit you anything. I had taken a job and while technically it had been seen to completion I had made promises – I keep my promises. Besides that, I had found myself a scent and I couldn’t just cast it aside once I had. I had to follow it to the end or else I could never sleep well again.

The only problem with that was that I had given my word to more than one person for more than one thing. They were all looking to be connected together, but each one in a different way. To Fayrel I had sworn without ever speaking the words to vindicate his daughter. Baylen had made me give him my assurance that I would likewise do everything in my power to help Lillian and her family as well. As I considered it I had also agreed to return to Fayrel in one piece to visit with him after everything was over as well.

Then, there was Aethen. He had obligated me both by calling on my compassion as well as my professional need to be paid. Through him I may have officially obligated myself into becoming the unofficial representative of the throne’s interests. Some guys are just so lucky and clever enough to land themselves in all the best possible career opportunities. Unfortunately I am not one of them.

Glitch made a guttural little grunt as we walked that snared at my wavering attention to see what had prompted the sound. When I looked his way I noticed he had slowed his steps and his face was twisted into a dark brooding demeanor. Something was troubling the tiny thinker and as I turned my focus towards figuring out what it could be I started to notice it as well.

It had started out all so very subtly that I had missed when it had started somehow. Faintly at first it had been just background noise that I had begun to filter out. But at some point it had improved enough to become a blizzard that laid siege to a SpellHound’s senses. If whoever was behind what was happening was using tactics like this to cover there tracks then this could only mean one thing; they were making another move.

Both of us must have came to the same conclusion at about the same moment because Glitch’s eyes met mine neither one of us had to say a word. Now was not the time for another theoretical lecture or for us to waste more time in wondering around looking for some elusive evidence. Right now we had to put what we had to work for us and make the best use of it we could.

I closed my eyes and focused on calling to mind the faint fragment of the amber amulet’s scent to make it as fresh to my senses as it was the moment I first experienced it. Frustratingly it eluded me as I tried to seize upon it as other thoughts fought for my concentration. What had it smelt like? I tried to use the question as a cue to drive my efforts to dig through my memory.

The sharp sudden sound of explosions screamed somewhere in the distance in different directions. I didn’t need the senses of a SpellHound to hear them either, and there was no hiding them from the ears of everyone. But with the knowledge of their being more than one there was also no way of determining which one would lead you to the real threat. It would only keep anyone trying to deal with a problem too busy and too tied up to take any organized action.

It was a brilliant angle; even the SpellHounds would be blind and overwhelmed to stop whatever scheme that was already in motion. My only chance was with the small sample that Glitch had been able to show me briefly. I pushed everything else away – I couldn’t do anything to help anyone by running around chasing my tail. There were promises to keep and a job to do and would be buried before I allowed myself to be denied from doing either.

The world went still and blank. I summoned up my will and wielded it like a weapon to cleave everything else clear from my mind. There, in the silence and emptiness a scene formed into being. Tranquil serene waters of a forest lake sat before me with the soft early morning sun warm along its face. A single ripple cascaded outward from a single drop of moisture and the smell of dew-damp moss drifted on the air. The colors of nature were playfully painted all around me. As I drank in every detail that I could hold firmly in the mental image a musical medley completed it.

When I opened my eyes again everything was still just as veiled against my vision as it had been before. But now I wasn’t trying to see everything, I wasn’t looking at it all and trying to see past the confusion. Instead I was narrowing my gaze to find something familiar, a single thread that matched itself with the scent in my head. And as I examined the air around me a series of similar smells took shape.

They were faint and frail – stretched near to the breaking point but they held the same primal presence. The trail they showed me was a web-worked pattern that encompassed almost all of Emberhelm. The entire complex arrangement of arcane energy though was most prominent in one point. And based on the direction it was leading me, I knew without following it where it would take me.

They were near the gates of Castle Virtus. Whatever this was, it was standing virtually just outside the seat of the Wyatt’s power. And with considerable chaos already afflicting the entirety of Emberhelm there was no way of knowing how many SpellHounds remained in its defense. Even if considerable forces could be found they may not be able to stand against something with the ability to blind them. There wasn’t any more doubt left to me that a SpellHound had to be behind this. Nobody else could have known so precisely how to handicap them.

Some would blame me. Some probably already had. But if I wanted to see Aethen make good on his promised pay I had to ensure that he and his kin stayed on that seat. Emberhelm didn’t need the strife of someone sans-sanity seated in their place either. The carnage already wrought alone was bad enough – continued conflict could leave more of it as a wasteland.

“Time to earn my pay,” I announced and raced into following the faint trail that would doubtless lead to a fight that I logically feared could be my final. “Hi-ho, hi-ho; it’s off to work I go…” I quipped quietly to myself and noticed Glitch had followed suit behind me. I had once heard some drunken dwarves singing that song late one night as they shuffled out of a tavern. It had some strange way of making me smile. Smiles were exactly what I needed right now. It is far better to laugh in the face of impending death than to greet it grimly. Besides, if you’re going to go after a mad SpellHound it is only fair to face them with a little madness of your own.