Generally the phrase “you and what army” is a rhetorical question. When someone who’s looking for you shows up with five hundred armed troops under their command however it becomes the sort of thing that you might be genuinely curious about.
“Did you recognize the livery on the troops that are encamping here?” Commander Brayson asked his underlying who had come with the report of their arrival.
“They all wore the Shadow Breakers insignia sir.” the guard reported.
“That’s not possible. The Shadow Breakers don’t maintain regular forces, that’s not their role.” Marcus said.
“I don’t know about that kind of thing but they’re wearing the Breaker’s colors and carrying the standard of the Ever Watchful Eye.” the guard said.
The Ever Watchful Eye was the Shadow Breaker’s official symbol. It showed an eye wreathed in rays of light. Occasionally they would dress the image up with various demons and monsters impaled on far ends of the rays of light. Just in case people weren’t terrified enough of them to start with.
“I think Way and I should go talk to them.” I said.
“Confidence and self sacrifice are wonderful things, but I believe the presence of a small army changes the issue before us somewhat.” Brayson said and then turned to his underling. “Head back to the watch barracks and call everyone in. No excuses from anyone. We got something big going on tonight.”
The guardsman nodded and headed out to obey the order.
“Darius is right.” Grida said “You don’t bring an army to arrest two young girls, however talented they might be.”
“We should still go talk to them.” Way said, flexing her fingers as she spoke. The others weren’t familiar enough with her to understand the gesture but I was. Like I said, sometimes we don’t even need dream speech to know what the other one is thinking.
“Five hundred is kind of a lot.” I said via dream speech, since it was apparently my turn to play the cooler head.
“Not if we’re just going to talk to them”. Way included an image of saintly innocence with her words and I almost burst out laughing. We so often went into situations with the best of intentions, having convinced ourselves that this time, this one time at least, we would be as calm and genteel as Professor Haffrun was trying to teach us to be. Sadly, other people just didn’t tend to agree with those intentions.
“To what purpose?” Brayson asked.
“We’ll carry word to them that you were delayed with a matter in town and find out what their intentions are. Then we can come back here and you can plan your response appropriately.” I said.
“And you think they’ll just let you go like that? If the plan wasn’t madness, I’d support it just to see the look on their faces.” Colten said.
“Quiet you old fool.” Grida said “Girls, this is serious. The Church wouldn’t move like this unless it were part of a much larger plan. That means they will have prepared for meeting resistance. Let Darius and I go speak with them first. If there’s someone reasonable in charge, we’ll send word for you to join us. If not, we’ll send word that their leader wishes to meet with you.”
“And in the latter case we flee?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m not going to be coy here. If the army they’ve brought is bent on mayhem then there’s no point for you to try speaking with them. You may have an idea of what their punishments can be like but let me assure you that they hold their most terrible practices as tightly guarded secrets.” Grida said.
“If you and my husband are going then I will be joining you as well.” Helena said in a tone that brooked no disagreement.
“Aye, I wouldn’t miss this either.” Colten said.
“By rights, I should go with you as well, but I believe my talents might be put to more profitable use here in the event that a sudden departure is required.” Marcus said.
“Stop.”, I said, “I appreciate what you all are doing, and I understand that since this is your town you feel like it’s your responsibility to take care of the problems that show up in it. But this isn’t what Dawns Harbor needs you for.”
“What do you mean?” Colten asked.
“Grida’s right. Bringing an army against two girls is ridiculous. I insulted Rask but this would be ludicrous overkill for that. I could have stabbed him and called up a demon with his blood in front of witnesses and the church still wouldn’t send an army after us.” I said.
“They’re here for the town. Or the town’s people.” Way added “That’s what setting up an encampment here says.”
“More than that. They had to have traveled by portal. That’s difficult. Extremely so for a force that size. That means two possibilities exist. Either where they wanted to go is warded against portal transports and this is the closest they could get, or Dawns Harbor was their intended destination.” I said.
“Why would they come here?” Kari asked. Old fears lay behind her eyes.
“That’s what we need to find out.” I said.
“We need to discover their motives, you need to protect your people.” Way said.
“Protect them from what?” Marcus asked.
“Being caught unaware. The Shadow Breakers brought an army of five hundred. Dawn’s Harbor has at least that four times many citizens as that right? The Shadow Breakers arrived after dark when people would be home, isolated in small groups. Maybe that’s coincidence, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The town needs to roused and gathered so you all can stand together. Way and I can’t do that, there’s no chance the people here will listen to us, but we can talk to the Breakers.” I said.
“You want us to get the whole town together? That sounds like an overreaction. The army may be here to use the town as a base, or to defend us from a coming attack.” Marcus said “I could believe that the Shadow Breakers were up to something nefarious but the army is not sworn to them. Even if the Knights in command of it were ordered to assist the Breakers they wouldn’t assault the town. It would violate their knightly vows to attack the innocent.”
“And if the entire town was said to be possessed by dark spirits? What would their knightly vows require of them then?” I asked.
“That’s not possible…” Marcus said, but there was a note of uncertainty in his voice.
“Rask’s force was hunting diabolists, right? And they left with haste this morning. They even had two knights with them, Sir Gahn and Sir Maak. Do you think they were hunting some small or weak enemy?” I asked.
“There’s a large difference between hunting diabolists hiding in the wild and accusing an entire town of corruption.” Marcus objected.
“Yes, about five hundred soldiers and an unknown number of Shadow Breakers worth of difference I would guess.” I said.
The room fell silent as my argument sank in.
“Fine.” Brayson said, breaking the silence. “People should know to be alert. But you’re not going to the camp alone. The three of us will go and talk with them. The rest of you can get the word out.”
“I’m not staying behind.” Helena said.
“You never do. But if you come with us I will need to explain why a frightening warrior woman is glowering at the Church’s ‘Most Holy Representatives’, and that won’t go well for anyone.”
“I don’t…” Helena began but her husband cut her off.
“Yes you do. You’re glowering now. You can’t help it when you get annoyed.” Brayson said. The expression on his wife’s dark skinned features glowered harder at him.
“He’s got a point.” Colten agreed.
Helena looked from the men to Healer Grida for support but the best Grida could offer was a silent shrug.
“Fine.” Helena said with little agreement in her tone and absolutely no happiness. They would be continuing the conversation later I suspected.
“What about me?” Kari asked.
“You’ll stay here with us too.” Grida said.
“Thank you but I think I need to go with them.” Kari said, her voice slightly distant and distracted.
“Grida’s right Kari, it would be much safer if you stayed with them.” I said.
“No. They’ll know what happened this morning. They’ll need to see me too.” Kari said. “Don’t leave me behind now.”
And I couldn’t. However terribly bad an idea it was, I’d promised her that she’d have a place with us as long as she wanted it. I wasn’t literally bound by my word the way a Faerie was, but I couldn’t break that promise to her. The sound of her trust shattering would be unbearable.
“Ok.” I said, and turned to Grida and Helena. “We can keep them safe. Both of them. One way or the other I suspect the conversation won’t take that long, so you should see us soon.”
“We will be back. We won’t send for you. If someone says we have, or that we’re hurt…” Way said.
“We know their tactics child.” Grida said with a sad smile. “But come, even if we let you go, we needn’t send you without aid.”
“We don’t need…” I started to say but she cut me off.
“Humor an old priestess.” Grida said.
I regarded her, trying to read what she had in mind. She was better at looking inscrutable than I was at perceiving intentions without meta-awareness cheating for me.
“Ok.” I said finally, nodding my assent to whatever she had in mind.
The spell she cast was one that she knew well enough that her prayer to invoke it was only a single word in the High Arcane language used for the official prayers of the Holy Throne.
“Welcome.” she said in the old language as she placed her fingers on her own forehead and then on mine.
I felt my muscles relax and a warmth spread from my toes up to the top of head. I felt secure and protected. I felt like I was home.
Grida repeated the gesture for Way and I watched as Way relaxed in the wake of the spell too. Grida’s spell was more than a simple protection charm. She’d brought us directly into the sanctuary spell that warded the town from harm. It was an extra layer of protection, but it was more than that, it was an offer of citizenship, an acknowledgement that we belonged there.
“You could use a different sort of help.” Helena said to Kari as she sketched a glowing sigil onto the young girls vest. “This won’t provide you with much protection, so if there’s trouble but sure to stay out of it. If any stray arrows or spears happen to graze you though, you should be ok.”
“If there’s going to be trouble, I should tell my drivers. They’ll be halfway to their stupors already but even half a driver it worth a couple soldiers.” Marcus said.
“We don’t know that there’s going to be any fighting yet.” Brayson said. “So don’t go getting them all riled up.”
“I’ll go with the boy and keep the ruckus down.” Colten offered. ”Half fishers in town will be racing the drivers to their bottom of their cups. I figure we can get them to leave off their drinking and bring the message back to their homes.”
“You’re going to get between a bunch of fishers and their drinks?” Marcus asked.
“Our young guests aren’t the only ones who can be ‘persuasive’.” Colten promised.
The likelihood for a bar brawl seemed high there. Since it was likely to take place in Caina’s Inn and break her stuff, I wasn’t, perhaps, as worried about that as I should have been.
Grida was busy putting away our unfinished dinners. I knew from meta-awareness that she would be contacting some of the larger families and having the word spread in a calmer manner than a bar brawl. With everyone on guard, I hoped the Shadow Breakers wouldn’t have as easy of a time ‘disappearing’ people, which was one of their more preferred tactics. Granted they could strike with magics that the townspeople weren’t prepared to counter but if word got back to Grida that people were disappearing, she’d be free to act in ways she couldn’t without provocation.
Then there was Helena. I didn’t think she was going to be talking to the townsfolks. They knew and respected her certainly. She was one of the most experienced blacksmiths they had and while most didn’t need the armor and weapons she had honed her talent on, there were plenty of other metal oddiments that she supplied them with. Despite that connection though, I could tell she wasn’t thinking of the townspeople. She might be angry with him, but from her gaze it was clear that under the present circumstances she was only thinking of her husband.
“There’s more to Way and I than you can see.” I said, feeling suddenly protective of the people around me. Grida had included me in their world. I couldn’t include them in mine, not fully, but I could offer them a piece of it, or rather a piece of myself. “If you’re in trouble, if you need help or if the situation seems bleak, speak my name. Call to me specifically and I’ll answer.”
It wasn’t the kind of promise that I made lightly. It could mean blowing apart my identity, but if they needed me that badly it would be a small trade.
With that, we went out into the night to meet the worst villains the Empire of the Holy Throne unleashed on its populace. To talk to them. I suspected our words would be loud ones. In fact I was inclined to make sure they loud enough that they could be heard all that way back to the Holy Throne itself.