The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 21

Eorn was pleased. People were pointing spears at her. Poisoned spears from the look of the oily green sheen on their wedge shaped heads. Hostility this early on meant that something had gone terribly wrong and she was going to get to release all the anxiety that had been welling up within her on the poor, likely underpaid, people who were babbling on in Western Inchesso.

“We are on a diplomatic mission from Her Majesty Queen Alari of Gallagrin,” Teo said in Western Inchesso. His tone and posture suggested boredom, but Eorn noticed that by slouching backwards he’d bought himself enough room that it would take the guards an extra quarter-second to reach him with their spears. A quarter second was barely more than the blink of an eye, but there was a lot that a vampire (or a Pact Knight) could do in that time.

Teo turned to Eorn and glanced at the spear tips that were thrust into their carriage.

“They seem to have issues with us being here,” he said in Gallagrin.

Eorn knew she was a provincial girl. She was proud of her family and her mixed blood heritage, but not unaware of how people looked at her family and the others who hailed from the high mountain crags. “Less cosmopolitan” meant “less educated” and “less intelligent” to a lot of people in Gallagrin. Eorn wasn’t sure how she matched up in terms of overall intelligence but she was smart enough that she’d never had a problem following the lessons of the various tutors her mother had brought into house. Tutors in history and math, language and warfare. Before letting her children out into the world, Eorn’s mother had armed them to the teeth in every manner she knew how, something Eorn had almost daily cause to be grateful for.

Speaking Western Inchesso was something she’d learned at an early age and excelled at, to the point where she could even mimic the accents of its more prominent sub-dialects. Letting people know that she spoke the language though seemed like giving away an advantage she had no need to relinquish under the circumstances.

“Step out of the carriage, with your hands raised,” the Lialarus family guard said.

“As it suits you,” Teo said in Western Inchesso, adding in Gallagrin to Eorn, “They want us to step out. You should be ready to put on your formal diplomatic wear.”

Eorn’s slight smile pulled back into a broad grin that exposed her canines. She was already wearing the official livery of the Gallagrin Queen’s Guard. If Teo, as the mission commander, was suggesting that she change into more official regalia, then he was not planning to go quietly with the people who were trying to arrest them.

Eorn nodded slowly in approval and gestured for Teo to allow her out first. She was along on the trip as protection for him. Allowing a nobleman’s husband to get skewered by the guards of a foreign would not reflect well on her service, even if he could survive it.

Teo shook his head though, and motioned for her to allow him to step out first. If he hadn’t been a vampire, Eorn might have refused, but since his fighting style probably relied on speed and movement, she acquiesced to his wish.

The guards pulled the spears out of the carriage, stepping back in time with Teo’s cautious, peaceful advance out into the light. As he did, the markings of his vampiric condition, the unusual cast of his skin and the unmistakable fangs revealed by smile became more visibly apparent and collective gasp for breath went out of the the Lialraus guards.

“Vampire!” a subcommander shouted.

“Switch to Inferno oil!” the commander barked.

It wasn’t the reception Eorn had expected but it was certainly one she was willing to answer in kind.

Eorn stepped out of the carriage as Teo shifted into fighting speed. Eorn took a fraction of a second to locate the combatants and register them on the mental model of the landing platform that she’d put together as they approached it.

“He’s attack…” the first guard began to say before Teo dropped him to the ground with an elbow strike that caught the guard right across the bridge of his nose. That was one target disabled. Plenty of others presented themselves though.

The landing platform was was an ornately decorated affair, as befit one of Inchesso’s prominent families. There were tall marble columns arranged in a broad circle on the raised pedestal of the platform. Each was etched with either overlapping geometric shapes or intricately carved scenes sculpted in bas-relief, with the markings holding a variety of low grade enchantments.

Atop the pillars, a flat ring of similar stone acted as the anchor point for several varieties of green and purple vines that hung like a sparse curtain around the platform. Seeing the cover the vines provided, Eorn doubled her estimate for the number of guards that they were likely facing.

The shock of Teo’s attack was just wearing off as Eorn finished cataloguing where their attackers were situated around the platform. Six were arrayed immediately around them. Three others were taking aim from the cover of the vines and, unless she missed her guess, there were at least two more who were approaching the other side of the royal carriage  with the intent to flank Teo and Eorn.

It wasn’t a horrible arrangement for the Inchesso forces, but Eorn could see the gaps in their thinking. They weren’t used to fighting foes with greater mobility than themselves or enemies that couldn’t be rendered unconscious by a whiff of sleep toxin. They were grouped too close together and the nearer ones were obstructing the sight lines of the archers waiting beyond the vines. Seeing that gave her a plan.

Step one was to let out a Bear Cry. It wasn’t strictly speaking magic. Anyone with the right lung capacity and training could manage it. The depth and volume of the cry seemed inhuman to the Inchesso troops though, as Eorn had guessed it would, and it focused all of their attention on her, as she’d hoped it would.

Step two was to begin her transformation. That further cemented the Inchesso guards attention on her, which allowed Teo to drop another one who’d lost focus on the vampire as a more immediate problem.

Transforming allowed Eorn to brush aside the expected volley of attacks the Inchesso guards both near and far launched at her. She was please that part of the strategy worked out well. Transforming demanded a lot of her attention since she’d yet to master it to the level Lady Akorli had or even Vice Commander Lafli.

The Inchesso guards were notably less pleased with the results though. Fighting an enemy you got the drop on and outnumbered was supposed to be a nearly pain free affair. Two of them were unconscious already though, and three of them were stumbling away with wounds, arrows, or both that had been meant for Eorn.

Those were the lucky ones.

The rest got to face Eorn in her full war form, and a Teo who was in the mood to make an example of someone.

Eorn crashed through them like thunder. The platform trembled as she stomped into two spear thrusts, shattering their shafts and blunting their tips against her Pact armor. One guard reacted to being disarmed by fumbling for their sword while the other decided that grappling a giant armor covered warrior was the brightest idea he could come up with.

The guard managed to wrap his hands around Eorn’s throat but even slightly denting her armor was a feat far beyond his capacity.

Or it should have been.

Eorn felt an inhuman amount of pressure gathering under the guard’s grip. Looking into his eyes she saw that they’d filmed over with a red liquid that glowed in exactly the manner that blood doesn’t. She couldn’t smell the guard’s breath but she was certain if she could, she’d be gagging on the stench of bile mixed with viscera and, oddly, cinnamon.

Where Gallagrin had the magic of Pact Binding, Inchesso was famed for its alchemical capabilities. Enhancing troops strength through the use of magical potions was considered common practice, though from everything Eorn had learned the potion enhancements were highly variable based on the skill of the potion maker.

From what she could tell the Lialarus family alchemist was quite talented though. Berserking potions were a common enough item, but in most cases they offered no more than an exchange of intelligence and reasoning for speed and strength. The Lialarus guards seemed to gain strength, speed and aggression with little cost.

That made extracting herself from the guards grasp more troublesome for Eorn. Picking him up and body slamming him to the ground failed to knock the fight out of him. Slamming him into one of the pillars similarly left him with some fight still in him. Even beating another of the guards unconscious with him didn’t dissuade the berserking guard from struggling to continue the fight.

So she threw him off the platform, hurling him down to the estate grounds twenty feet below and breaking both his legs.

“Never go berserk,” she said. “It never helps.”

On the platform, Teo was moving in a blur. He wasn’t killing any of the guards, but he wasn’t being remotely kind to the either. The vampire clearly had some anxiety of his own that he needed to work out. Watch the carnage, Eorn felt compelled to add, “Well, almost never.”

The last of the guards had fallen and Teo and Eorn had regained their breath by the time the next group from the Lialarus family marched up the long stone steps that led to the landing platform. Eorn hadn’t released her transformation, but seeing the new party arrived, she guessed she wasn’t going to need it.

“Oh no, the Gallagrin terrorists have overcome our guards and we are at their mercy,” the elderly Inchesso woman at the head of the delegation said without trace of concern in her voice. It took a moment before Eorn noticed that she’d spoken in perfect, unaccented Gallagrin.

“I assure you Eldest Lialarus, we are not terrorists,” Teo said, adding the polite inflections to his Western Inchesso.

“Oh of course you are,” Eldest Lialarus said. “Now come inside, there are too many snooping insects out here.”

She then turned and led the party of Lialarus retainers back down the steps they’d just ascended.

Eorn looked at Teo who appeared to be as baffled as she was. He shrugged and started to follow the welcoming party that hadn’t tried to kill them yet. Eorn fell into step with him, perplexed at the change in demeanor between the two greeting parties.

At the bottom of the landing platform steps, the Wind Steed stables lay, mostly empty except for a few mares which Eorn guessed to be the family’s personal steeds.

A party had already been dispatch to help the guard Eorn had thrown off the platform, and she saw a small group of medics waiting patiently near the stairs. Once she and Teo had followed the Eldest’s party far enough away, the medic scampered up the stairs to tend to the wounded on the platform.

Eldest Lialarus led them into the grand domicile and while it didn’t hold a candle to the spacious grandeur of the Gallagrin Royal Palace, it did remind Eorn of how simple her own upbringing was.

Her family was noble, but in their small, independently minded province that didn’t count for much. With the Lialarus family it was clear how much they valued power and wealth and how far above their subjects they held themselves.

“So,” Eldest Lialarus asked as she escorted them into a small receiving room. “What does my favorite queen of the Realms have for House Lialarus today?”

Teo smiled.

“This,” he said, producing a scroll from within his tunic. It was sealed with Alari’s personal signet. “We’ve come to talk about war. Specifically that Gallagrin will be declaring war on Inchesso within three days.”

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