The Soul’s Fortress – Chapter 16 – Visitors Expected and Unexpected

Oline help Daggrel carry the incapacitated Shadowfolk into the main room of the Sunblossom. Neither was conscious, which was a blessing from the look of the injuries they’d received. It also made it easier to handle them without losing her composure.

Like Daggrel, Oline hadn’t fully believed in the idea of invisible assassins targeting their little inn. They were too distant, too small, and too unimportant for something exciting like that to happen. Unlike Daggrel though, Oline fully believed the girl Iana was in some form of peril. Even accounting for Iana’s foreign nature, Oline was too familiar with what serious worry about physical danger looked like.

Like Iana, Oline had fled to the safeness of a remote mountain inn, though it hadn’t been assassins that pursued her. Her own family had driven her out after she rejected the brute of a husband they selected for her. She’d spent a years after arriving at the Sunblossom watching the shadows around the inn just like Iana had.

Unlike Iana though, Oline’s demons hadn’t caught up with her and in time she’d let herself believe that they probably wouldn’t.

Carrying the smaller of the two Shadowfolk into the inn brought some of those old fears boiling back to the surface, but it was the appearance of the Shadowfolk that threw Oline off the most.

Their blue skin was similar enough to some of the giants that infrequently passed through that Oline wasn’t surprised by it, but the intricate network of scars across the woman’s face, hands and neck were unsettling. In Oline’s mind it spoke to years of constant torture and abuse, but there was a deliberate artistry to the scars that suggested the scars were intentionally born instead of casually inflicted.

Worse than the scars though was the lack of eyes. The empty sockets didn’t show signs of damage from the fight, so Oline didn’t think she was looking at recent wounds. The more she gazed at them more she wondered if they were even wounds at all. It looked like it was the natural state for Shadowfolk to not have sensory organs where most humanoids kept their eyes, but their absence was still disturbing.

“I can’t believe these things are real,” Daggrel said.

“We’re just lucky that girl is for real too,” Oline said. “I thought she was just being hopeful that she could handle these things.”

“I was,” Iana said, carrying in the larger of the two Shadowfolk with Venita’s help.

Oline saw that they’d splinted the man’s leg and wrapped the wound to his shoulder in bandages. Given the Shadowfolk’s intentions and capabilities, Oline was surprised at the care Iana was taking with them. The ropes that bound the assassins were strong ones and the knots well tied, but even that didn’t leave Oline with the feeling that they were harmless.

“You seemed pretty capable from what I could see,” Daggrel said, and Oline could hear both the admiration and the wounded pride in her friends words.

“That wasn’t all me,” Iana said. “They were both caught in the traps we’d laid out, and the spirits around here helped too.”

“They’ll want some extra offerings for that,” Londela said. “Interacting with the physical world is tiring even for the strongest of them.”

“I’ll be happy to throw them a grand feast,” Iana said. “Or at least as grand as Gertrude can manage with the supplies she has on hand.”

“Does that mean it’s safe now?” Gertrude asked, entering the main room from the kitchen.

Oline looked at the bound Shadowfolk. Even if they were feigning unconsciousness there wasn’t much they could do and if they tried, she’d be happy to stab them before they could get loose.

“Safety is never quite what it seems.”

Oline whirled to find a third and fourth Shadowfolk in the room. The woman had a knife blade held lightly against Iana’s throat while the other was pointing a strange wrist mounted crossbow type device at the rest of the room.

“You bypassed the wards, I’m impressed,” Iana said, holding very still.

“Yes, and before you do anything extreme about that, you’re going to listen to me,” Wynni said.

“And you’re going to listen to me,” Yuehne appeared holding a serving knife against Wynni’s throat just as Wynni held one against Iana’s.

Where the other human girl came from, Oline had no idea. To be fair, Oline’s attention was riveted on the man pointing the unusual weapon at her, so the rest of the world had narrowed away a bit but Yuehne had still moved with significant care.

Or she’d been hiding there from the beginning, waiting to strike. Who she was waiting to strike was unclear but she had a definitely acquired a target before speaking.

“Well this is a nice feeling,” Iana said, visibly relaxing despite the two assassins with knives at her back.

“Was what she said true?” Yuehne asked. “Were you the supporters who cleared the path for me to get to her?”

“That would be complicated to speak about,” Wynni said.

“I know you’re pressed for time,” Iana said, “But Yuehne’s had a pretty bad few days and has been in a stabbing mood since I met her, so maybe just give her a straight answer there for all our sakes?”

Yuehne pressed her knife in closer to Wynni’s neck.

“Yes, yes, I know she has a good point, if you’re going to pipe up save it for useful advice!” Wynni seemed to be speaking to a Shadowfolk who hadn’t yet appeared. Oline imagined them surrounded by dozens of the terrifying creatures but held off her panic with the observation that if more Shadowfolk were in the room then Yuehne would have someone holding a knife at her throat too.

“Who are you talking to?” Yuehne asked.

“An annoying progenitor,” Wynni said. “And in answer to your question, yes, we did support your attempt on the princess’s life, no, it was not me personally, yes, I know who did, and no, you won’t be able to reach them.”

“You used us! You’re a worse threat to Gallagrin than she is! Why shouldn’t I end you here and now and improve  all our lives?” Yuehne asked.

“Because unless I’m mistaken, they’re here to save us,” Iana said.

Oline blinked. It was an odd claim to make while being held at the edge of a knife. And had the Shadowfolk said something about a princess?

“You are not mistaken,” Wynnni said and moved her knife gently away from Iana’s throat. “And since you’re aware of that, I’m trusting you won’t find the need to do to us what you did to them?”

“The day’s just beginning,” Iana said. “So let’s not rule out our options too soon.”

“You believe her?” Yuehne asked. “Of course you do! You’ve dragged me along on this, we’re, what, your private assassin army?”

“Oh you don’t want me to have one of those,” Iana said. “Even I would trust me with that.”

“What in the Sleeping God’s Sulfurous Farts is going on here?” Gertrude demanded. She’d found a torch from somewhere and was holding it at her side like she was ready to start swinging until things started making sense.

“Our apologies innkeeper,” Wynni said. “There is a very dangerous contingent of my people who are, at the moment, overly focused on ending the princess’s life.”

“And who’s the princess?” Gertrude asked.

“I am,” Iana said. “Queen Alari adopted me last year.”

“Princess?” Oline asked, stunned at the thought that she’d been serving royalty for days and treating her like a normal girl.

“Yes?” Iana said, and Oline felt a thousand scattered observations click into place. Iana was young but she had a degree of self-possession and self-awareness that Oline hadn’t managed to master despite having decades more experience.

“What’s going to happen to us?” Oline asked.

“No, I’m not going to tell them that!” Wynni said.

“Tell us what?” Venita asked.

“My progenitor wanted me to tell you that we’re all going to die. He thought it would be funny for being true,” Wynni said. “What he would be leaving out is the part where we appear to die and then get away to plan our strategy somewhere else.”

“I’d trust this progenitor more if I could see him too. Tell him to come out of the shadows, would you?” Daggrel asked.

“He can’t do that,” Gendaw, the other Shadowfolk assassin said. “He’s only speaking to Wynni at the moment.”

“So she’s hearing voices?” Daggrel asked.

“I know how that sounds, but this one’s real enough,” Gendaw said. “He can tell her things she can’t know on her own.”

“I have to confess, I don’t really care why you decided not to kill me, I’m more interested in what you think comes next,” Iana said. “I’m also mildly curious how you got in here.”

“That’s thanks to Silian,” Wynni said. “Turns out he’s occasionally good for something.”

“Who’s Silian?” Yuehne asked, her knife still at Wynni’s neck.

“He’s the annoying progenitor I’ve been talking to,” Wynni said. “He saved my species when the gods tried to purge us from the world.”

“How did he do that?” Daggrel asked.

“He hid from them,” Gendaw said. “It’s what we do.”

“But if he was alone…” Oline started to ask.

“Yes! Thank you! That was my point exactly!” Wynni said.

“I think the important thing is that if he could hide from the gods, and hide well enough to get you in here undetected, he should be able to help us hide too shouldn’t he?” Iana asked.

“That’s the plan,” Wynni said.

“Why?” Iana asked. “I understand why the Shadowfolk have been trying to interfere in Gallagrin’s politics. Killing me is even a sensible path to victory, or it was until the two Shadowfolk in the Faen’s lair got caught. Why would your progenitor want to help me though?”

“To save my species,” Wynni said.

“How does saving her save your species?” Yuehne asked. “Is she some prophesied Chosen One?”

“I better not be,” Iana said.

“No, it’s much simpler than that,” Wynni said. “The Queen is sure to know we still exist now. You traveled with one of her Guardians right?”

“Two of them,” Iana said.

“Our leaders are invested in their revenge,” Wynni said. “It’s one of our central tenets.”

She paused for a moment, listening.

“Ok, it’s one of our central mistakes,” Wynni said, correcting her earlier statement, “Apparently vengeance was neither part of our initial design nor a trait Silian encouraged and he’s very disappointed to see how that particular weed has flourished in the heart of his noble and just people. There are you happy now?”

“So you’re afraid of what Queen Alari will do if your plan succeeds?” Iana asked.

“Me? I’m afraid of what your Queen will do now that two fools reminded her that we still exist,” Wynni said. “Silian is more concerned with what the Queen’s wife will do.”

“Dae?” Iana asked and Oline watched her expression change slowly. “Oh yeah, uh, the Shadowfolk could be a threat to the Queen. You’re probably right to be concerned about Dae. And I’ve probably been taking too many risks. I’m sorry.”

Iana offered her apology to Yuehne, which Oline had a hard time understating until the other girl spoke.

“They know who my family is too,” Yuehne said, her voice growing small and worried. “Is something going to happen to them?”

“From the Shadowfolk? No, they are still considered useful pawns,” Wynni said.

“I wasn’t worried about them,” Yuehne said. “What will the Queen do?”

“Talk with them,” Iana said. “Queen Alari is…she’s a better person than you can imagine.”

“What about her wife Dae?” Yuehne asked.

“Queen Alari will talk with them,” Iana repeated.

“It sounds like we need to get you back to them right away,” Venita said. “Otherwise this whole mess is going to get a lot worse isn’t it?”

“We can’t let you go back,” Wynni said. “Not yet, and not while the Shadowfolk think your still alive.”

“If we fake her death, won’t the Queen find out and slaughter all of your people?” Yuehne asked.

“Silian says no, but her wife might,” Wynni said. “That’s why we’re going to leave something behind that only a sorcerer would be able to detect.”

“Like what?” Iana asked.

“The ashes of your body,” Wynni said.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.