The Soul’s Fortress – Chapter 22 – Recruiting

Nelosa considered herself to be faithful. The Shadowfolk had always lived an existence that was rooted in the bounds of community and the sanctity of the rules they followed which allowed them to survive.

At the same time though, she’d raised a family, fled from the Butcher King’s persecution, and cared for an ailing husband. There were years enough under her belt that she knew some rules you followed because they were sensible and others you ignored and everyone else ignored them right along with you.

Finding a dwarf in her kitchen was, in theory, covered by the edicts that the Shadowfolk Elders had decreed.

Anyone not of the Shadowfolk who discovered the Shadowfolk, was to be put to immediate death and their bodies tossed into the deepest shadows, if such was an option.

Like most absolute rules, it was phrased as a matter of life and death. That was a wonderful ploy to get children to listen. It didn’t work of course, not on children or on adults, but it left the Elders with the impression that they were justified in extreme punishments for any who violated that rule.

In Nelosa’s case, she’s long ago had enough of killing and blooshed, but she was still extra wary of the unexpected visitor.  The dwarf was stunned and reeling and there was a portal flickering in the air behind her, but over the years Nelosa had seen stranger and more disturbing things.

“Who in the Odious Sunken Pits are you?” she asked, politely grabbing a carving knife from the counter.

“Wow, they didn’t warn about the kick that comes with that,” Venita said. “Am I still in one piece?”

“For another five second, yes,” Nelosa said. “Then I’m going to get annoyed and take you apart, starting with whatever your least favorite body part is.”

“Excuse me? Least favorite?” Venita asked.

“Gives the victim a chance to appreciate what they’re losing,” Pelosa said. “Now what’s your name and why are you here?”

“Venita, and to save your people.”

“We don’t need any help from dwarves,” Pelosa said. “So why don’t you just turn around and head right back into that portal that you came out of.”

“One, it’s not my portal, and two, I’m not the only one who’s trying to help you,” Venita said.

“Who else is with you?” Nelosa asked.

“We are,” Wynni said, stepping through the portal, followed by Gendaw.

“Traveling with a dwarf? You outcasts then?” Nelosa asked.

Nelosa had four children. Once it had been five, but the middle one, it was always the middle one for some reason, got their own ideas about what was best for the Shadowfolk. They got themselves outcast for speaking against the Elders and in a stroke, Nelosa was down to four children and one she could never speak of or acknowledge again.

People had gone on after the sentencing as though nothing had occurred. As those Hamell, her middle child, had never existed. Nelosa herself had refrained from any show of grief or acknowledgement of loss. Maybe her neighbors and friends had believed that she was as capable as they were of casting Hamell out of her thoughts, but there were bonds there which no judgment could ever severe.

Though she’d never sought Hamell out, Nelosa had felt the loss every day since, and her thoughts often turned to the hardships and trials her wayward offspring would face in a life apart from all who could know or trust them.

“No, we’re not outcasts. Not yet anyways,” Wynni said.

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Gendaw said.

“What’s complicated about it?” Nelosa asked as two more people entered the room, two  human children. “And who invited you?”

“This is less of an invitation and more of an invasion,” Iana said. “I think we’re just foolish enough to hope that it can be a peaceful one.”

“Peace is it?” Nelosa said. “And what kind of peace do we get from your kind?”

“Little to none in the past from what I’ve been told,” Iana said. “That’s why I’m not going to ask for your trust.”


“She is,” Iana said, indicate Wynni.

“You’re a Tactical Squad Commander?” Wynni asked, looking at a plaque that had hung on Nelosa’s wall for years.

“I was,” she said. “That why I’m going to turn you in.”

“That’s what you have to do,” Wynnni said.

“But?” Nelosa asked.

“But, it’s not directly stipulated what you’re required or allowed to do before then,” Wynni said.

“You want me to give you a head start?” Nelosa asked.

More people poured into the kitchen. Humans mostly. Unfortunate for them. A dwarf might be exempted from the fatal mandate on non-Shadowfolk but no one was going to speak in favor of extending the same mercy to humans.

“We’re not running,” Wynni said. “The princess called this an invasion for a reason.”

“The princess? What princess?” Nelosa asked. Princesses and invasions were so far above her pay grade, that Nelosa felt like a void storm had ripped her house apart around her and she was standing in the narrow eye at its center. One move in any direction and she would be shredded, but standing still didn’t offer any sort of permanent safety either.

“The First Princess of Gallagrin,” Gendaw said, and indicated Iana. “Her.”

“Isn’t she supposed to be dead?” Nelosa asked.

“That was the plan,” Iana said. “There was just one slight complication.”

“You didn’t want to be dead?” Nelosa asked.

“Presumably that’s true too, though with how she behaves I’d wouldn’t swear to it,” Wynni said. “No, she’s talking about the part where killing her will lead to the eradication of our species.”

“And why would the loss of one little human cause that kind of problem?” Nelosa asked. “The Elders said by unbalancing the human royalty we’d ensure they never grew strong enough to threaten us again.”

“The Elders are wrong,” Gendaw said. It was a blasphemous sentiment and for a moment Nelosa wanted to scream out in rage. If her Hamell had been banished for speaking against the Elders why should these traitors be allowed to speak? She fought back the impulse.

“Their worse than that,” Wynni said. “They’re ignorant, willfully so. They’re working on plans that benefit themselves, that help them hold onto power, at the cost of placing us against a divine force.”

“Divine force?” Nelosa scoffed. “The Sleeping Gods are still asleep last I checked. What divine force is there for us to worry about.”

“Silian says the Queen and her wife fit that bill,” Wynni said.

“Are you touched in the head?” Nelosa asked. “Silian’s been dead for a million years now.”

“He says its been considerably less than a million years and that he’s considerably less dead than we’ve all supposed,” Wynni said.

“You think he’s talking to you?” Nelosa asked. “Right now?

“He says Hamell shouldn’t have been exiled, and that there’s a outcast colony on one of the deep shadow worlds where he’s wound up,” Wynni said. “And are you going to tell her where that is? What do you mean why? You think it’s important to her to know that this Hamell is alive and yet not be able to find him? Yes, I know he’s an outcast. No, I don’t think she could have sought him out before. Where would she have started looking? Ugh, no we don’t have maps of the outcast camps. They’re outcasts, why would we keep a map of where they went? So you’re saying the Elders have those maps? Do any of us look like Elders? Yes, I know she could be one, but if she was don’t you think she would have called for the guards by now? I’m glad we agree, now what about where she can find this Hamell?”

Everyone watched Wynni have a conversation with thin air and no one was interested in interrupting her, least of all Nelosa.

“I’m sorry, he says he’ll be right back,” Wynni said. “Sleeping Gods alone know what he’s planning but I’ve got to admit it’s kind of nice that he’s not nattering on in my eye for a bit.”

“You’re mad, completely mad!” Nelosa said.

“Trust me, I am keenly aware of how much it looks like I am, but give Silian about five minutes, if he’s not back by then scream for the guards and I promise no one here will do anything to stop you.

“How did you know I had a child named Hamell?” Nelosa asked.

“I didn’t. We’ve never met as far as I remember,” Wynni said. “Silian though seems to know whatever is least convenient for him to be aware of.”

“But he can’t be alive,” Nelosa said. “That was so long ago. No one could live that long.”

“No one could escape the notice of the Gods either,” Wynni said. “Trust me, I have issues with this too. I mean the stories about Silian don’t even make sense. I didn’t ask him to use me as his personal messanger services, but then I didn’t ask for a lot of thing that have messed up my life.”

“Do you believe her?” Nelosa asked.

“I do,” Gendaw said. “Even if she’s having a mental breakdown, it’s one that’s giving her impossible powers of insight and knowledge, so I think just running with the idea that there’s a Silian just makes the most sense.”

“That’s a wonderful vote of confidence,” Wynni said.

“Just being practical,” Gendaw said.

A piece of paper appeared in Nelosa’s open hand.

The parchment was rich and the design on it more impressive than any document Nelosa could remember handling. Without unfolding it, she knew what was on the paper. It was one of the grand maps – the well guarded route markers that showed the relationship of the Shadowfolks’  realms with the worlds they traveled through. The contents of the map were a state secret, not because the Elders wanted people to go missing, but because knowledge of how the worlds interconnected would allow other races to track them down into the Shadowfolks’ most secure hiding holes. It was treason to even hold the map without the proper rank and clearance, and glancing at it was yet another capital crime.

Nelosa’s hesitation lasted a full three seconds and then she devoured the contents of the map with her eyes.

It had been a long time since she’d read a multi-world chart, and none of the one’s she’d dealt with had the complexity of one in her hands. Old skills at deciphering the maps schema came back to her though and bit by bit she pieced together where she was and which worlds surrounded her.

“Silian says that Hamell lives with the Jass outcasts. Their world is far off, towards the bottom of the map, but they’re well defended and well supplied, so despite the instability of the shard they’re on, they’re doing better than most outcasts.”

“Is this true?” Nelosa asked, the energy orbs that made up her eyes radiating to a deep shade of violet, the Shadowfolk equivalent of tears forming in a human.

“It’s what Silian is saying,” Wynni said. “Honestly he doesn’t have the best reputation, but in this case I don’t see why he’d lie either.”

“To get her to help us,” Iana said.

“That not helping your case,” Gendaw said.

“I’m not interested in helping my case,” Iana said. “If there’s any chance to start healing the rift between the Shadowfolk and the sunlight dwellers of Gallagrin, we have to be honest. I have to be honest. As much as I can be.”

“But there’s a chance he’s telling the truth,” Nelosa said.

“A reasonably good chance, yes,” Iana said. “And I suspect that display from Silian was more to prove that he exists than to fully convince you.”

“Convince her to commit treason?” Tonel asked, appearing in the doorway of the house with a company of armed guards behind him.

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