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Author Topic: A Skulker's Tale: A Dwarf Fortress sci-fi epic novel  (Read 32592 times)

Talvieno

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A Skulker's Tale: A Dwarf Fortress sci-fi epic novel
« on: November 23, 2012, 10:03:59 pm »

Click here for a PDF download link.updated to chapter 60.

Illustrations always welcome, if anyone feels particularly inclined. I'm not much of an artist myself.
If you have any suggestions, artwork, or directions you'd like me to take the plot, PM me.
Encouragement and constructive criticism are also welcome.
(I love getting feedback of any kind, provided it isn't "YOU SUCK" :P)


Art by Splint
(Vanya's name is pronounced VON-yuh cuh-RAY-nuh)

A Skulker's Tale takes place in the Boatmurdered/Headshoots/Syrupleaf/Spearbreakers universe.

Quote from: A Book Jacket Blurb
All I ever do is run, leaving everything I know and love behind me.

    In ancient times on the planet of Everoc, the demon Sankis created the Spawn of Holistic, a twisted mockery of dwarvenkind. Parasol, a multidimensional company, stimulated their progress until they became a dreaded scourge. Although unaware of Parasol's existence, the dwarves fought back, creating mighty fortresses to defend their borders from the deathless hordes.
    From their fastness in the macabre blood plains, the Holistic Spawn spread the world over, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. In the meantime, an earth-shattering war began between Parasol and another company, Ballpoint. A third company, Eris, menaced always on the horizon, led by the brilliantly devious Joseph.
    In the year 200, the dwarves founded a new military fortress, Spearbreakers, at the edge of the Spawn heartland, intending to rid the continent once and for all of the ever-present threat of doom. Unbeknownst to them, a timid outcast dwelt in their midst, a homeless, kinless girl by the name of Vanya.
    Vanya's journals tell of the great, unsought quest she undertook in her desperate attempt to save herself, Spearbreakers, and ultimately all of Everoc from an inevitable destruction. Her story reveals her perilous adventures, her trials and hardships, and her forbidden love, as she tries to master her fears and come to terms with who, and what, she is.


This is an epic high fantasy novel, loosely based in a heavily-modded Dwarf Fortress universe. It's one story, but I've split it into pieces, calling them Book One, Book Two, and so on (in the style of Lord of the Rings). Although each is largely self-inclusive and ends right between arcs, the story continues smoothly between them. I would strongly suggest that you start with the first one. The genre is fantasy/drama/science fiction.

I'd like to make the suggestion that you ignore the chapter titles altogether, and simply read through from top to bottom. To make that a little easier, while the links are separated into books, the actual chapter titles progress linearly.

Book One: A Girl's Broken Mind
Preface and Introduction: This post
Chapter 1: Eavesdropping
Chapter 2: The Cavy Tunnel
Chapter 3: Burglary Mission
Chapter 4: A Golden Bracelet
Chapter 5: Dark Conversations
Chapter 6: The Magic Brick
Chapter 7: The Frog Battle
Chapter 8: Cavywoman Returns
Chapter 9: Pyrrhic Victory
Chapter 10: Strawberry Wine
Chapter 11: The Memory
Chapter 12: The Rescue
Chapter 13: A Confrontation
Chapter 14: A Deal with the Devil
Chapter 15: Employment
Chapter 16: Dwarf College
Chapter 17: Enemy Territory
Chapter 18:Jealousy
Chapter 19: Despair
Chapter 20: The Nightmare
Chapter 21: The Caves
Chapter 22: Gorlaks
Chapter 23: The Revelation
Chapter 24: The Search
Chapter 25: Wari
Chapter 26: The Final Entry

Book Two: A Girl's Tattered Heart
Preface
Chapter 1: Salaia
Chapter 2: An Invasion
Chapter 3: The Caverns
Chapter 4: Scythods
Chapter 5: Repressed Rage
Chapter 6: Old Stories
Chapter 7: Parting Ways
Chapter 8: The Blood Plains
Chapter 9: An Unexpected Meeting
Chapter 10: Infiltration
Chapter 11: Parasol Camp
Chapter 12: A Plan
Chapter 13: An Evening Meal
Chapter 14: Urist
Chapter 15: Biomech
Chapter 16: Magic
Chapter 17: The Battle Begins
Chapter 18: Darkness Descends
Chapter 19: Desperation
Chapter 20: The Stench of Victory

Book Three: A Girl's Weary Feet
Chapter 1: Parasol
Chapter 2: Shuttlecar Ride
Chapter 3: A Disaster
Chapter 4: Kenzon
Chapter 5: An Ignored Heroine
Chapter 6: One Small Truth
Chapter 7: An Unexpected Visit
Chapter 8: Surprise and Tears
Chapter 9: Stuck at Home
Chapter 10: The Moral Line
Chapter 11: A Pleasant Respite
Chapter 12: False Freedom
Chapter 13: Founder's Day
Chapter 14: A Temporary Home
Chapter 15: Getting Ready
Chapter 16: A Tense Meeting
Chapter 17: Returning Home
Chapter 18: Koth
Chapter 19: Making Plans
(a work in progress)

Book Four: A Girl's Fiery Soul
(exists only in notes)


Spoiler: Credits (click to show/hide)



The italic portions before each chapter are written in second-person by "Urist Jones", the dwarven archaeologist, as he reads the journal entries. I'll usually keep them brief, but they'll almost always be there.
A Skulker's Tale
Book One: A Girl's Broken Mind
Introduction
Just inside the cover of this ancient journal, there is a loose sheet of paper of standard quality, apparently written later by the author, as it bears the same handwriting, and ends with the same five-pointed star as a signature.

    I was born in 188. When I was 3, I was taken to a dwarven mountainhome and left there, having nothing with me but my newborn sister. An old couple took me in as family, encouraging me to call them "Granma" and "Granpa". Five years later, when I was eight, my Granma died, and my Granpa blamed me for her death. From then on, he was cruel to us. After two years, I'd had enough... I took my seven-year-old sister and ran away from home, carrying everything we owned in two small luggage cases. We set out for a new life.
    For three long years, we traveled between fortresses, trying to stay out of sight and keep people from finding out we were homeless. As soon as we were spotted, they always kicked us out, and had to travel to the next. In this way, we traveled ever deeper into the territory of the Holistic Spawn.
    The Holistic Spawn are evil creatures... when one bites a dwarf, it infects it with the young soul of a demon. When the demon matures, it takes over its host's body, transforming it into a nightmare: shriveled skin, bony, elongated arms and legs, claws instead of fingers, eyeless sockets, and a huge, gaping mouth running down between its ribs, ringed with razor-sharp teeth. Though we were always on the run from them, we never actually saw one. It was a terror that skirted the edges of our minds as we traveled in caravans from one place to the next.

    Finally, when my sister and I were 10 and 13, we took refuge in a place called Spearbreakers. It's a military fortress situated between a jungle and a vast stretch of hellish land, where it rains blood all year: the blood plains. It was a grim landscape to look upon, and I hid myself and my sister deep underground, hoping we'd be safe.
    Due to the curious political system, each "Overseer" had only one year in office before the next was elected. We arrived during the second year, in Talvi's reign. Soon after, Talvi broke under the stress and started to slip from sanity, gaining a fierce love of Mr Frog, then a lowly mechanic, and an even fiercer love of "cavies", which is what she called guinea pigs.
    After her term was over, she handed the fortress over to Mr Frog, who began making major changes. He hated homeless dwarves, and started taking pains to wipe us out. I almost starved early that year, but he soon ordered a new wagon road dug out underground, increasing our trade with other civilizations in the region. I would sneak around after dark and steal food from the caravans that passed through, just enough to keep us from starving to death.
    Nobody seemed to notice the food disappearing, but Talvi noticed that her cavies were starting to disappear. It had nothing to do with me, but she recruited my help and that of other homeless dwarves, in exchange for food. We put up posters saying, "Have you seen me?" with a picture of her cavies. Then, Talvi started digging around in Mr Frog's room, and stole an odd device from him: it was a little metal tablet that emitted light from one side. I never got a close look at it, because she wouldn't let anyone close. She called it "Joseph", giving a human name to the inanimate object.
   
    Then, Mr Frog's reign was over, and Draignean took over, building magma forges atop the Magma Sea, deep in the bowels of the earth. Sadly, his right-hand-man, The Master, went insane, massacring a number of people before Colonel Fischer put a stop to him. He had been making a jade spearhead, and nobody ever saw what happened to it afterwards. In the meantime, Talvi had slipped ever farther from sanity, beginning to think that she was a cavy herself.
    During this year, my sister grew very ill, and somehow, she wound up at the hospital. I feared for her life: the hospital at Spearbreakers had such a terrible reputation that many dwarves would rather throw themselves to the zombies than spend a night within. It didn't come as a surprise when I overheard Wari, one of the nurses, talking about her passing with one of the other doctors. Even how inevitable my sister's death was didn't make it hurt any less, and I spent the next two years in hiding, all my hopes and dreams shattered.
   
    Over those next two years, sieges bombarded the fortress from outside: armies of Holistic Spawn, and massive hordes of undead led by necromancers. The dwarves always held them off, but it felt a hollow victory to me. Nothing was the same anymore.
    Looking back now, I wish I'd stayed away from Spearbreakers... but at the same time, I'm glad I didn't.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2014, 03:51:19 pm by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals
« Reply #1 on: November 23, 2012, 10:07:00 pm »


A cavy poster. Art by Talvieno
Chapter 1: Eavesdropping
(Year 205, late winter)
This is a shoddily-bound journal composed of bits of a number of posters of cavies. The edges of the pages do not line up. The cover is made of heavily-worn animal leather of an unidentifiable species. There is nothing etched on it, possibly because the owner feared the journal would disintegrate. The pages are unsigned and undated, save for a five-pointed star at the end of each entry.

    This is going to have to be my journal, as I don't really have the funds or means to get a hold of anything more extravagant. I made this myself, like I do most of what I own. I don't like scrounging in garbage stockpiles...
    It's sad that I've fallen this low; that someone with schooling could be so hard-pressed for a bit of coin that they would throw together a journal of old posters and write in it with a charred stick. But I miss writing, and this makes me happy... so this is the best I can do.

    It's a disappointing fact of any fortress, but you can see a "caste" system if you look for it. There's the "master class" – the higher nobility: barons, kings, counts and duchesses. Then below that, there's the "upper class": the mayors, sheriffs, captains of the guard, tax collectors and other such positions. Next are middle-class citizens: soldiers, miners, masons – anyone considered vital to the fortress but not holding a position. Then, there's the lower class... those few that are recognized as members of the community, but are also considered expendable because they earn their living hauling furniture or cleaning pastures. I wish I could say I was part of that, but no... sadly, I'm one farther down. I'm in the "basement" class, as it's called: a poor girl that nobody notices simply because they choose not to. They don't want to see me, because it reflects on the state of their society. If they imagine no one is in rags, they feel the fortress is more wealthy. People call us skulkers or vagabonds when they speak of us. A good example: the basement class ran the olden fortress of Boatmurdered – "into the ground", a friend of mine, Thalgor, used to say. That was before he moved up in the world and chose to ignore me. Nobody of the other classes is publicly friends with a skulker. Well... apart from those who aren't right in the head.

    I'm old enough to work, but nobody will give me a job, judging me by my clothes and thinking me unfit, or deciding I'm a slacker. Plus, it doesn't help that I'm a little shy sometimes. As a result, I don't really have a home of sorts. I mostly move around, staying in darker corners in different areas of the fortress. I have a few friends... it's not like I'm invisible. On occasion one of the cooks brings me something. He lost his daughter in the vampiric wars, and he's said I remind him of her. Sometimes he chokes up. I don't blame him... I lost my sister to disease two years ago. The doctors wouldn't treat her. "No coin, no service", they said. The doctors wouldn't have treated her anyway; before Mitchewawa set things right, they wouldn't treat sick patients. They'd occasionally perform operations on the healthy, though... which was how my sister became ill in the first place. If the basement class isn't careful, we become guinea pigs for experiments. Some think it's all we're good for...
    I'm careful to stay clear of Mr Frog.

    Hopefully, someday, I'll leave Spearbreakers, and all its ungodly, almost idolized chaos. When I do I'll travel back to the Mountainhome. Maybe my Granpa will take me in again, and I can write a book. If it sells well, I won't have to worry any more. Among dwarves, writing is still considered low-class, but it's better than how I'm doing now. Maybe I'll travel to the human cities, but I don't know. I'd rather not move back in with my grandfather, but I don't speak Human.


    But I have something more important to write about than the current state of my life.
    Three days ago I was hiding in a side hallway as Mr Frog passed by, and I heard a commotion in the room next to me. One of the voices sounded familiar, and I looked around on the wall for a peephole. Finally, standing on tiptoe, I found a small crack in the wall I could see through, where a dabbling engraver had carved too deep.

    I was standing next to the hospital, and inside, I could see the pudgy form of our old overseer, Talvi. I arrived after her term was over, but as I understand it, she wasn't always... mentally challenged. She's always been kind to me, though, and I've always been kind to her in return. She was there for me when my sister died, for instance, and I was there for her when she found out about her cavies. While over the past year she's been almost clinically depressed, a few weeks ago she recovered, only soon thereafter to be found in the old garbage chamber, passed out. She'd been in a coma ever since, but interestingly, now, she was awake, and apparently in an almost murderous mood. It was funny, in a way. The doctors had pronounced her case hopeless, and it looked like she'd come to on her own. She was trying to leave the hospital, but Dr. Kannan and a couple orderlies were keeping her restrained.


    "Let me go!" she screamed. "I needa leave, you cain't keep me here!"
    But Dr. Kannan shook his head. "No, my dear, I'm afraid you need your rest. It is good you're awake, but you should really be asleep. Hadhod, Grond – restrain her and get ready to sedate her." Dr. Kannan was the one who "treated" my sister before she got sick. I didn't like the dwarf.
    His words were met by loud protests. "No, you cain't! I'll have your jobs fer this, y'know! Don't you dare!" Talvi struggled to get away, but Hadhod shoved a gag in her mouth.
    The doctor appeared done with the matter and turned to his assistant, shaking his head in disappointment. "Just five more days! That was all we needed. We were learning so much about science through my experiments! Wari, why is she awake? You medicated her like I requested, did you not?"
    "Of course I did, sir," was the prompt response from the young woman, though I knew better. Wari is always shirking her duties to spend time with her lover. Being unnoticed lets you see things others don't.
    Dr. Kannan was satisfied with her answers, though, and watched the two orderlies wrestle Talvi into a traction bed. Fearing for her life, I suddenly turned from the crack and called out, "Talvi is awake!"
    As I listened to my voice echo through the little darkened alleyway and the cold stone corridors of the fortress, I hoped that I'd saved her. Within the hospital, the dwarves froze for a moment, listening, before Dr. Kannan said almost frantically, "The needle! The needle! Sedate her!"
    Several dwarves walked past the alley towards the hospital entrance, among them Splint and Fischer. They paid no heed to me, but looking back through the little crack I saw the door open and several dwarves pass through.
    "Talvi! Glad to see you're awake," said Splint, with just the slightest hint of surprise, before looking suspiciously at the needle in Wari's hand, and then Dr. Kannan. "The good doctors had said you were beyond hope of recovery. Grond, remove that gag from her mouth and let her sit up."
    Grond looked like he'd been stricken helpless by the conflicting orders, but he finally obeyed Splint, the higher authority in the room.
    Getting to her feet again, the fire in Talvi's eyes died a bit as she looked around, seemingly bewildered. She glanced at Fischer in surprise, who gave a slight nod of recognition. Her eyes moved to those of Splint, and a confused look broke across her face. "Mister Splint, I... I..."
    Behind Splint, Mr Frog turned and left the room, a satisfied expression on his face. Talvi watched him leave, then her face hardened and she walked to Splint, saying in a hushed voice I could barely hear, "Splint, I needa talk t'you in private." She grabbed his arm and pulled the surprised manager from the room.
    Fischer glared heatedly at Dr. Kannan, who almost trembled in her gaze, before she turned and left. She looks like a guy, and she can be every bit as scary as the meanest when she tries. One of the tales in the street is that she killed a tavern full of humans who, over their brew, joked about how she ought to have a beard. Judging on how pale Dr. Kannan was when he turned back to his assistants, I'm guessing he'd heard similar stories. Fischer takes disrespect as a personal challenge, and she'd always hated Dr. Kannan for the poor treatment he gave her soldiers.

    I left my post at the little wall and followed Splint and Talvi down the hall, trying my best to keep to the shadows so they wouldn't notice me. None of the other dwarves rushing about their tasks did, but Talvi has sharper eyes than most, and she doesn't ignore skulkers like myself – if I wanted to know what had happened to her, I would have to be quiet.

    Finally she stopped just inside a little alleyway between the workshops and the stills. I'd always thought it was a bad idea to do the dusty task of stonecarving so close to the breweries, but everyone else seemed to think it made more sense. "After all," they said, "you can go get yourself a glassful of beer fresh from the still right after you carve your mug." It made little difference, really. There's hardly a corner in this fort that isn't cluttered with at least a few of the things. Someone suggested just last year we use them as a building material, and was taken seriously. Others talk in whispers of turning them into weapons and raining mugfulls of magma from the sky.

    "Splint," Talvi began in a hushed tone, her sweetly high-pitched voice breaking through the damp air. I had to sneak forwards and hide behind a stack of mechanisms just inside the alley in order to hear. "Splint, it was Mr Frog."
    I looked until I found a small gap to look through, between the gears and springs. Splint was clearly confused. "Talvi? What? What are you talking about?"
    "Splint, as sure's a yellow fishbone eats vowels, Mr Frog is plottin' to take down th' fortress."
    She looked dead serious. As it was Mr Frog she was talking about, I didn't have much trouble believing her. But Splint shook his head. "Talvi, you know I valued your opinion, but I just can't see Mr Frog doing anything shady at all. He's very up-front with me about his proceedings, and I work with him, too."
    "'Valued', y'say, Splint? Well, jes' maybes you oughta value it again, 'cause lemme tell you right now, there ain't nothin' straight about 'im!"
    Splint shook his head again. "Talvi, he's a good dwarf – he's smart and loyal. We're good friends – I know him. Is this just about your crush on him? What did he do this time?"
    Talvi blushed strongly but tried to brush it aside. "No, it ain't 'bout that, Splint. Mr Frog ain't what he seems. He's workin' with the enemy. There's somebody named Joseph, and he talks to him, an'..."
    "Talvi! Talvi! Listen to yourself. Joseph is your imaginary friend. Remember we talked about that? And your psychologist did too."
    She looked confused, as if having trouble remembering, but then stammered, "Well... I..."
    "Wait..." The old overseer's brow furrowed as he thought. "'Valued'... you caught that?"
    Talvi hesitated, but nodded.
    "And the thing with the fishbones... You're saying those phrases again..."
    Talvi nodded again, and Splint scratched his beard in thought. Talvi took advantage of his silence and spoke. "Mr Frog made me drink some stuff, an' I ain't thinkin' so jumbled no more now. He hit me, too..." The faintest hint of a tear trickled down her confused, bewildered face, and my blood boiled at the thought of Mr Frog striking Talvi. It didn't seem like him, I'll admit, but what did I know? I always avoided him.
    Splint seemed to have the same thoughts. "Talvi, I doubt Mr Frog would've hit you... but maybe he had you drink something intended to cure your... um..." he stopped, unsure of how to put it nicely. "Anyway, I'll have a talk with him about it."
    Talvi's eyes widened. "No, don't! Don't you dare! You keep this good'n quiet now, hear? I don't want him knowin'."
    "But Talvi," Splint began, "it'd likely be smarter to -"
    "No!" she interrupted in an almost fierce whisper. "You cain't. You ain't goin' to, neither. Promise me, Splint! Nobody can know."
    Splint looked at her curiously, perhaps surprised at how she seemed at least halfway intelligent. Slowly, he said, "All right, Talvi... I'll trust you here... You have my word. But all the same, I want a detailed report on what you think happened... Come up to my place later and we'll discuss it." He walked away, saying over his shoulder, "And bring me a couple new mugs while you're at it. Mine keep ending up shattered on the wall..."
    He walked past me, and I shrank back against the stacks of mechanisms as much as I could. He didn't even know I was there.

    Talvi watched him leave, and then slowly began to walk out of the alleyway, humming something about bluebirds. As she passed, she did a double take, and her gaze rested on me. I was afraid she would be furious that I'd heard everything, but instead, she smiled lightheartedly, in a way that clashed eerily with her fierce mood only moments before. "Come with me," she said with a gentle laugh. "We've gots somethin' to do. I cain't do it on my own. Wanna be my wingcavy?"
    I had to think on what she said for a moment. "Wingcavy" doesn't make that much sense to me, but I guessed it was akin to "wingman", an old phrase from when a second dwarf stood on the short, protruding "wings" of a battleyak chariot to protect the driver and cut down enemies the battleyak missed. After a few moments of looking up at her face, I whispered cautiously, "Does it have something to do with Mr Frog?"
    The smile left her face, and she looked at me with a glimmer of anger. "Oh, yes," she said matter-of-factly. "It has ever'thing t'do with... him." She said it distastefully, as if despising even the name. "Like the cheese on the wall said to the engraver, 'Why are you eatin' me in this bedroom and not yours?'" She looked at me solemnly for a moment, before her expression gave way to happiness. "I like cheese," she laughed, extending her hand towards me.
    I thought for a moment, and a hope crossed my mind – perhaps this was that opportunity my Granmomma always talked about, before she died. Maybe this would get me out of the "basement" and back into society... I didn't want to interfere, and especially not with Mr Frog, but all the same... I wanted out. I wanted to be accepted by people. I wanted to fit in.
    I reached up towards her, and my hand was soon enclosed in hers as she pulled me to my feet. "Come on, now," she said, almost triumphantly, as she motioned for me to follow. "We's goin' where the cavies go!"
« Last Edit: April 08, 2014, 08:59:10 am by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals
« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2012, 10:15:26 pm »


A non-pudgy picture of Talvi Diamondknight. Art by Splint.

Chapter 2: The Cavy Tunnel
This is a poorly bound journal. All craftmanship is of the lowest quality, at best. Several of the pages are half-falling out. The following entry is written with on a number of pages sporting a heavily faded "sad cavy" background, which it would appear someone attempted to scrub away with a sanding tool.

    Nothing much has happened since my last entry. I tried to sleep, but couldn't. I'm still hiding behind some of the garbage heaps in the east room. The miasma is terrible, but I'm too afraid to leave, after what's happened, though I know that I'll have to, eventually. I won't eat these rotting scraps, not if I starve to death. But the smell never lessens... you never get used to it. I've found a better cap than I was wearing, at least, over here in a pile: a pretty green woolen-knit beanie. I can't imagine why anyone would throw it out; it's only slightly worn.
    I always wear a cap of some sort, though I still let my hair hang down past my shoulders. Most dwarven women keep their hair up, but not me. Maybe some people see it as a bit of unjustifiable vanity, but it's just who I am.

    It feels like I've been here for days. I miss my friends, if you could call them that. Most fortresses don't have more than one or two skulkers hanging around, but Spearbreakers has so, so many. The official census says the population rests around 90 or so, but in reality it's probably closer to 120, or even more. The additional 30 or so is made up of skulker dwarves like me. We're unusually thin for dwarves, because we haven't seen a good, hearty meal in days. Or even weeks. I'm thinner than most, though, and nimbler, too. I think that's maybe why Talvi chose me to help her on her quest, and not someone else.


    After I'd lavished my curiosity with an eavesdropped conversation between Splint and Talvi – the fortress's first two overseers – Talvi told me to follow her, and I did without question. I trusted her, to an extent. She'd never really tried to trick me, and to be completely honest, I didn't think her mentally capable of something like that. I know that's cruel to say, and I wouldn't say it to her face, but it's true.

    As we passed through the hallways, we became intermixed with a large number of other dwarves rushing back and forth.
    Talvi looked over her shoulder with a smile and said, "Caravan's here."
    I nodded in response. I'd been wondering when the next one would come through. Mr Frog usually oversaw everything, so he would be outside. It wasn't that he wanted any more socks, like most of the other dwarves who would crowd around their wares (though he'd once said that they made satisfactory test tubes in a pinch). No, Mr Frog was out there because few skulkers could resist attempting to sneak a bit of food or clothing from all that was lying outside... or at least, that was my opinion of why. After all, if you could get a full set of clothing, a good shower, and fix yourself up, you could pass as a lower-class citizen. People would make eye contact with you again, and you could eat in the dining room. You might even find a job, if you were lucky.

    Talvi and I wove our way through the crowded corridors. The doors were almost always open when it was this busy, with so many people rushing through. They never even had time to close. It made things a lot easier, as we dodged workers carrying barrels full of mugs and mechanisms to the depot. I hated the chaos and crowds, but it fortunately wasn't long before we reached the stairs and descended towards the housing level.

    Minutes later, we were outside her door. "Come on in!" she said, as if welcoming a surprise guest into her home. It wasn't clear if she'd forgotten about me during our walk down the stairs, but I did as she asked.
    She set herself down in front of one of her chests and began digging through it, looking for something. I approached cautiously, looking over her shoulder. The chest was full of little bits of paper, and she appeared to be searching for one piece in particular. I ventured a question, though a bit timidly. "What are you doing?"
    "Oh!" She turned up to look at me briefly. She always makes eye contact. I like that about her. "I'm jus' lookin' fer a key. I knows it's gotta be in here somewher'."
    I couldn't help but smile, and I nudged the little object to the right of the chest with my toe. "Is this it?" I asked.
    Her face lit up and she gave a little clap. "Yes! That's it exactly!" She scooped it up in her hand and stood, walking quickly to the other side of the room. "I allus keep a special chest hidden over yonder, 'hind th' statue in my sweet cavy room's ear," she said over her shoulder, as she squeezed her way between the statue and the wall. It was an over-sized statue of a dwarf, but I couldn't tell you who.
    I had an easier time stepping behind the statue into the dark alcove than Talvi did, and found her rummaging through another chest, removing items and dropping them on the floor: an axe, a rope, string, a mismatched pair of socks, a shovel, a calendar, and a few other assorted items. She finished quickly, scooping them up in her arms and giving them to me. "You'll needa carry them, V, girl," she said in her southern drawl, with an almost blissful grin. "Jes' like how the parrot said to the bauxite."
    Talvi always called me "V" – my first initial. I didn't like anyone using (or knowing) my first name, but that's something I'd rather not go into, even in a private journal... someone might read it. Talvi was one of the few who knew what it is, but she didn't ever use it.

    As I headed towards the door, Talvi called me back. "Where you goin'? Get back here, we gotta do this right quick."
    I stopped, confused. "But... didn't you want to go to Mr Frog's room?"
    She shook her head and smiled in a way I would've considered motherly, had it come from anyone else. "There ain't jes' one way to the letter 'E'. Sometimes you have to travel with a smell in your nose." She turned and walked away. Not knowing what else to do, I followed, as she continued, "Learnt that one from a calendar page. Or... two that'd stucked 'emselves t'gether. It's a right good'un, I reckon."
    Talvi got to her knees beside a chest and began pushing. I watched, carefully shifting everything around in my arms and trying to keep the axe from getting me.
    With some effort, and a good deal of huffing and puffing, she managed to shove the chest aside, revealing a grate-covered vent shaft on the floor.
    She stood up and brushed her hands off on her clothes. I envied her a bit about that. I've often wished I could have so little disregard for my clothing, but unless I want to go naked, I have to take care of what I have. No socks or shoes is bad enough.
    Talvi interrupted my musings. "You don't never wanna block them lungs on th' floor," she said, pointing at the vent, "but in this case, I done it anyhow."
    I suddenly realized what was going on, shaking my head violently. "No, I'm not going in there! You can do it by yourself, but I can't go in."
    "Sure ya can, it's just as easy as puttin' one foot ahead of th' other, V. Pretend you're a cavy, like I is," she said nonchalantly as she slid the grate to the side. I'm not sure how she managed it, but she didn't seem to notice my widened eyes or quickened breath.

    I suppose now would be a good time to explain that I'm terrified of small spaces. It's not quite a phobia, but I always get the feeling that everything is going to crush down on me and kill me. It's not a good fear for a dwarf, I know, and especially not a skulker, but I'm a special case.

    Talvi got down on her hands and knees and just barely managed to squeeze herself inside. I couldn't imagine how there could possibly be enough air in there to breathe. I stood paralyzed in fear, hearing in the back of my mind the sound of the former overseer calling to me... I didn't want to move, but swallowing, I forced myself down to my knees. I hesitated in front of the blackness, away from the flickering torchlight, but finally moved in, carrying the bundle of goods beside me in one arm. I didn't care so much about the dark. Just the tight space.

    Farther along, the passages grew large enough to stand inside. I don't remember much about any it now: I was scared out of my mind and hyperventilating most of the way through the dark passages, with nothing audible but the sound of my breath, Talvi's shuffling along, and my rapid heartbeat. I once got up the courage to ask where we were going, and she made my hands start shaking with her response. "I dunno, V," she said, almost in tears. "This's where all my cavies went afore they's disappeared." Her mood swing to melancholy wasn't helping my morale.

    Finally she stopped, and I ran into her. "What happened?" I asked in fright.
    "Somethin' don't smell good," she said. I listened as she knelt and sniffed around – yes, sniffed, like a dog. After a moment, though, she stopped, and I heard a spring snap, followed by a sharp clatter of metal.
    "What was that?" I asked.
    A couple tense minutes passed before she responded. "It's a dart," she said. "It's got Mr Frog's cavy poison on it. Wanna touch it?" she asked innocently.
    After imagining impaling my finger on a sharp object in pitch blackness, possibly laced with a deadly poison, it wasn't hard to decide to pass. "I've got my hands full," I replied as an excuse, and listened as she placed it back on the floor. "Miss Talvi, we can't go through here if he's put up traps." I said, trying to reason with her addled mind. "It's like he expected someone to come through. And where does this stupid passage lead, anyway?" I wasn't in a good mood. I just wanted out of there.
    "Cain't you smell it?" she asked in surprise. I shook my head. She saw, despite it being pitch-black, and said, "It's Mr Frog's bedroom."
    "We'll have to go back," I prodded her verbally, and she finally, finally agreed.

    Later we stood in her room, brushing dust off ourselves. Talvi seemed in a good mood, despite the failure of her mission. "His door'll be locked now, I reckon. We'll have to wait 'til nightfall – he don't allus remember to lock it."
    "What, we just go in there while he's inside?"
    "No, I'll chew the door a tad in a couple o' good places while he's asleep. He won't e'en know it ain't locked when he leaves tomorrow mornin', 'cause I'm a skilled biter. You come 'round with the birds, an' I'll let ya' in. We'll go t'gether."
    I finally decided she meant to come by at sunrise, getting up when the birds did, because nothing else made much sense.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2013, 10:38:57 pm by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals
« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2012, 10:20:20 pm »


A small corner of Mr Frog's room. Art by TalonisWolf.
NOTE: this is not at all what I had in mind when I wrote this story, but it was too awesome not to put here.


Chapter 3: Burglary Mission
The following is an excerpt from the poorly crafted journal of "V". These salvaged-poster pages boast of a peculiar smell, and are marked in places with colored ink. At the bottom of the entry is a five-pointed star in charred stick.

    I can't say I liked her plan, and I especially didn't like seeking out Mr Frog. Even so, the next morning at sunrise I left my little alleyway, walked to her door... and waited. After a while, I grew tired of standing and sat down against the wall... and then I waited some more.
    I was there for well over an hour, actually, and was beginning to get a little annoyed before a sleepy-eyed Talvi finally stumbled out... on her way to breakfast, I'm guessing. Her gaze fell on me briefly, and she looked at me blankly for a moment before saying, "Oh, hi there," and continuing on her way.
    I was beyond words with incredulity that she'd forgotten our plans, but thankfully, only moments later, she remembered. She did an about face and came back to me. "V!" she said. "You came!"
    As much as I tried not to, I couldn't help but laugh. "Yes, I did! I said I would. I'm just glad you remembered."
    "Well, now..." she said, scratching the back of her head clumsily, "I almost di'n't remember, you, sweetheart... don't know why, tho'... Anyhow, let's get our stuff an' get over t' his place – how's that sound?"

    We got the bundle of items, which I carried, and left her room. Right outside the door, though, was someone I hadn't seen before – a battle-hardened soldier with an overwhelmed expression. Talvi stopped to talk to him, and I crouched close to the wall, hoping I wouldn't look suspicious holding an axe and other atypical items. Fortunately, he only glanced at me once, noting the condition of my clothing before averting his eyes uncomfortably. I blushed at his glance. He was terribly handsome, with that storybook chiseled jaw, well-kept hair and beard... He was well-mannered, too, which is rare for a soldier, saying "have a nice day" when Talvi was finished talking. He's the kind of dwarf any girl would dream of... I'd write his name here if I only knew it, but I'm sad to say I've never seen him since... Maybe I'll draw a picture of him someday when I have better parchment and paint...
    Anyway, Talvi appeared quite taken with him.
    I didn't catch what was said, but eventually she sent him on his way, up towards where Splint and Mitchewawa were. Mitchewawa is our current overseer.

    Talvi led me down the hallways, keeping to the shadows and pausing when necessary like any expert skulker. Not a soul noticed us on our way. She was taught by the best, or so I'm told: an odd dwarf I could never find. He was dressed and mannered as well as any ordinary citizen, she said, while all but invisible to others. I can't recall his name, though I think it started with a T... But it doesn't matter. I'll remember it later.
    After a time, we reached Mr Frog's door and slipped inside.

    I'd never been in his room before, and I was a little awed by all I saw: sketches papered to the walls, jugs of liquid boiling without sitting on a fire, metal rods shooting tiny bits of lightning, and ominous-looking machinery. There were several hardened socks hung up on rods, filled with some kind of liquid, as well as a strange hoop held up in one place that made the air on the other side look shimmery. After being in there twice, I'm almost sure that the room was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. It was practically a wonderland to a curious mind, but I doubt I would ever know what all of it did even if I spent my life studying everything. It was sad, in a way – I suspected her plan was to destroy everything Mr Frog owned. I was determined to stop her if she made any attempt... after all, if Talvi got in trouble, I would too.
    To my surprise, though, Talvi ignored it all and went sniffing around on the floor. In a whisper, I asked, "Are you looking for the vent shaft entrance?"
    She shook her head. "We'd never find it, iffn we did try. He's too good with smells, he is. I'm hopin' we might mebbe do somethin' else, maybe get Joseph back and prove Mr Frog attacked me."
    "Are you going to destroy everything?"
    She looked at me like I was insane, and I didn't fail to catch the irony. "You crazy?" she asked. "If we make Mr Frog mad, he'll try t' kill you! Y'know that, I hope."
    I swallowed involuntarily at the thought. "Preferably, if at all possible, I would rather remain alive, if it's all the same to you. I have an odd attachment to... not dying," I told her, flailing about verbally.
    She gave a distracted nod, and I wasn't sure she'd heard a word I'd said. Suddenly, she stopped, standing and pointing at a large smoked glass on a low tabletop. The glass seemed to be filled with a murky, slimy liquid. "There," she said pointedly, as if that explained everything.
    It was hidden behind a number of other pieces of oddly-shaped glass, and was so dusty I could only imagine that Mr Frog had forgotten about it. I approached it and cautiously peeked over the rim. Sitting at the bottom was a small tooth. I looked back at my friend quizzically. "What is that...?"
    "It's a cavy tooth!" she said. "We needa get it back so I kin take it t'show Splint."
    "How?"
    She pondered for a moment. "We gotta reach inside."
    I nodded. It was the logical conclusion, unless you wanted to dump it out on the floor. I waited patiently for Talvi to finish.
    A few minutes later, Talvi was still standing there, looking at me. "Aren't you going to get it?" I asked.
    "Cain't, it's cavy poison. My hand'd shrivel up like a singing walnut! You ain't a cavy, tho'... 'T'won't hurt you none. Jes' reach on in ther', pull it out! Be careful, tho'."
    I didn't believe there was such a thing as "cavy poison", and I really didn't want to stick my hand in whatever liquid was in there, but I didn't feel as if I could back out, now that we were actually in Mr Frog's room. With a sigh, I handed Talvi the axe, rope and shovel. After removing my bracelet, I put my hand into the glass, pulling out the tooth a bit overdramatically and handing it to her. "There you go," I said, taking the bundle back.
    She acted as if it was the most precious thing in the world, and a tear of joy ran down her cheek. "Thankee so much, V," she beamed, wiping the tear away with her sleeve.
    I nodded dismissively. "Why are we here?" I asked. I was on edge – I didn't want to be here when Mr Frog got back. Talvi might be able to get away with it. I knew I wouldn't be able to, though; I'd be the next guinea pig.
    But Talvi didn't respond. She was sniffing again.

    Ten or so minutes later, she stopped... right next to Mr Frog's bed. She looked at me, her eyes wide. "Here," she exclaimed in a hiss. "It's here!"

    Together we managed to pull the bed away from the wall, and a small flutter of paperwork fell down from where it had been wedged. Talvi hastened to pick it up, and to my horror, she ate one of the pages.
    I snatched them away from her. "No!" I said. "We can't do that, it'll make him mad!"
    She merely chewed the page with the unconcerned, blank stare of a cow, which she resembled, to an extent. I looked the sheets of paper over and realized they were pages of a journal: Mr Frog's journal. "Talvi, this is his journal, you can't eat this!" I scolded.
    "I have before."
    "Well, I'm here now," I said, putting the little stack on the bed, away from her. "And I'd rather not die, remember?"
    "Right..." she said ponderingly. "'Kay, then, lets get this floor up'n moved. Gimme that shovel there, hmm?"
    Confused, I handed it to her, watching to see what she would do.
    She set it against the rock floor and pressed, sliding it forwards. A hidden panel lifted upwards against the shovel as she slid it, and she pressed down, levering it upwards. "V, we's gotta get this slab up!"
    It looked like stone, sounded like metal, but was as light as wood. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. With a bit of effort we moved it to the side, and Talvi gasped.
    We'd uncovered some sort of a grave... and inside weren't humanoid skeletons, but skeletons of cavies. There were at least two dozen. Talvi fell to her knees, covering her mouth and choking back a cry. "Oh, my sweet little babies..." She began to sob. Sitting down, I put my arm around her to let her know I cared. "Georgie Boy... and Petunia... and oh, sweet Elana..." she wailed, rocking back and forth in her distress. "They's all here. This's where they's all gone off to..." I caught my breath at the name of the third, wondering why she would give something an elven name, but as she named off the rest of them, I soon forgot. I'm not sure how she could tell which name belonged to which, as there wasn't anything left of them but bones. It might've been impressive, if it hadn't been so morbid.

    We sat there for a while, before I gently reminded her we needed to go before Mr Frog got back. "Kin we take 'em home with us, V? Please?" she asked innocently, with hope in her eyes.
    I hated to, but I shook my head. "No, Mr Frog would know we've been here."
    She nodded and said goodbye to the skeletons, blowing them a kiss. We put everything back the way it had been as best as we could before leaving, and after helping Talvi fix the door and lock it, I walked with her to her room.
    She wasn't the same on the way back. She looked, literally, as if she was plotting murder. And maybe she was. She told me that she'd come for me when she needed me again, and that she needed some time alone.


    I went back to my little temporary home in the alley next to the hospital and huddled up under my little threadbare patchwork quilt. The alleyway was usually horribly cold, but most other skulkers avoided it, as it was so close to the corrupt doctors. I was alone. It was how I preferred things.
    It wasn't until later that night that I realized with horror that my bracelet was missing. I'd left it in Mr Frog's room... and he was sure to see it if I didn't get it back.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2014, 08:51:22 am by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals
« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2012, 10:27:59 pm »


My best attempt at drawing her bracelet. I'm pretending the five-pointed star charm and initials are somewhere on the other side, because I couldn't get them to look recognizable. I'm also pretending I got the coloration right.
Yes. It sucks.

Chapter 4: A Golden Bracelet
The next entry's pages have fallen out and been placed in the wrong order, but you manage to rearrange them after some work. The charred stick text is as flowing as in the other entries, although here it is a bit smudged.

    Most basement-class dwarves have at least one possession that's precious to them: a keepsake, basically. It might be a leather etching of their family, or a ring that was passed down to them. It could even be something simple like a knitted sock their grandmother made. It doesn't have to be valuable, but the idea is the same: it's something that reminds us of a time when we were better off, and gives us hope that things might someday be like that again. My only keepsake is my bracelet. It looks golden, but I was never sure if it was real gold, or just painted to look like it. It's shaped like a ring of intertwined roses, and it has a little charm on it: a golden star.
    My initials are carved into the side of the bracelet, in a flowing script. Before she died, my granmomma had made it for me – I remember her saying I'd eventually grow into it. My granpa didn't like to talk about it for one reason or another – I have a feeling he didn't like what my granmomma had done. I don't remember much else about it, but I still keep the bracelet with me everywhere I go. Unfortunately, I'd left it in Mr Frog's room, and if the desire to get my bracelet back wasn't enough to spur me into going, the knowledge that Mr Frog would find it definitely was. But I was still terrified of going alone. It had been easier with Talvi along, as she'd offered encouragement and acted brave. It's always easier to be brave if there's someone who actually is brave there with you.


    I've a terrible problem with indecision. It can take me hours to make up my mind about something, especially if I feel there's a lot at stake, and this was no exception. Though the evening bell had sounded before I discovered my bracelet was missing, it was an hour more before I decided that I couldn't go without Talvi's help, so I decided to go and find her.

    Leaving the safety of my little alleyway, I walked through the long, dim corridors of the fortress, heading for the stairs. Other dwarves passed by me, hurrying along with their duties. Everyone but the watchdwarves would sleep at night, but that time was an hour or more away, so I knew I'd have to watch carefully for anyone who might stop me. I was so scared that I almost felt like hiding when anyone passed, but I really didn't want to look conspicuous.

    But I didn't make it to Talvi's room. I saw her ahead of me, going up the stairs, which was odd: ever since the majority of the workshops had been moved deeper underground, there wasn't really anything for her to do on the upper levels. Even so, I followed her, hiding in the shadows as I went along so that she wouldn't see me. I was curious to see where she would go, and though I felt a bit guilty about hiding from a friend, I was worried what she might be doing, since I knew she was in such a terrible mood.

    My worries proved to be ill-founded: she stopped outside the door of Splint, our broker/bookkeeper, knocking a few times. The door opened, and she entered. I realized I'd already forgotten what I'd overheard Splint telling Talvi the night before: that she should come and talk to him. I smiled in spite of myself and left the shadows, walking down the dusty, dirty hallway towards Splint's room. The floors and walls there were not of stone, but of dirt and clay, and kept from collapsing inwards by wooden arches that also supported the ceiling.

    I pressed my ear against the door, listening carefully for the conversation I assumed was taking place. I didn't hear much of anything, though, until Splint got angry.
    "You broke into his room?!?" I heard him cry, followed by the sound of a mug shattering against the wall. It startled me, and I jumped. "Why in Armok's name would you do something like that?!?"
    "Mr. Splint, I done knew he killed my cavies dead, I did, and iss what I found!"
    "Talvi, it's against the law to break into someone else's room – unless of course you're just passing through on the way to your room due to bad architectural design. But this is inexcusable!"
    "I'm sorry, Splint, really I is, but I didn' have no choice! Same as a zombie's toothbrush!"
    "No! Damnit, Talvi, what did you see in there? Tell me everything you saw!"
    "I jus' tole you! I saw all mah cavies dead in there, unner his bed."
    "That's not what I meant, and you don't even know if those were yours! I gave Mr Frog permission to use stray guinea pigs in his experiments so that he wouldn't use dwarves!"
    "Well, beggin' yer pardon, Mr. Splint, but they weren't strays, and guinea pigs ain't cavies!"
    "Yes they were and yes they are! You never officially filed a claim of ownership on any of them, and 'cavy' is just a different word for 'guinea pig'!" He mumbled something I couldn't hear following this, interspersed with a string of curses.
    "No, Splint, you cain't do that!" Talvi cried out, fear and emotion creeping into her voice. "Please don't you tell Mr Frog on me! What if he kills me this time, hmm? He don't like me none anyhow!"
    "Talvi, I don't have any choice. The security of this fortress is at stake!"
    "Joseph's the one you oughta be watchin' fer! He ain't no good, I know that fer sure now, I's seen it!"
    Another mug hit the side of the door opposite my ear and my heart leapt into my throat. "Armok damnit!!!" I heard him swear. "You shouldn't even know about Joseph!"
    Talvi broke down and began sobbing, causing Splint's volume to decrease past where I could hear it. Though I listened intently, I heard nothing more for a time... but then I heard footsteps. They came not from inside the room, but from around the farthest corner of the hallway, and almost immediately afterwards the shape of a dwarf came into view. My eyes widened as I realized who it was: Mr Frog.
    I looked about frantically for some place to hide, and my eyes lit upon a darkened alcove that some novice miner had mistakenly carved into the dirt wall, only five meters away. I leapt up and made a dash for it, praying to the gods that Mr Frog hadn't seen me, and trying to slow my rapid breath. A minute later, Mr Frog was standing just down the hallway from me, knocking on Splint's door. I should have been afraid for Talvi's life, but I'm ashamed to say my rapid-beating heart betrayed the fact that at that moment, I was more afraid for mine.

    Mr Frog knocked twice, and the wooden slat in the door slid to the side, revealing Splint's eyes. "Splint, I have something I need to discuss with you," he said quietly.
    Splint shook his head and apologized. "Sorry, but I'm kinda busy with someone at the moment, Mr Frog – it'll have to wait." I almost sighed with relief. I'd fully expected him to give Talvi away.
    "It's urgent..." Mr Frog insisted.
    Sighing, Splint said, "All right, then – tomorrow morning. Will that work for you?"
    With a brief nod, the tall, cloaked dwarf turned and walked away, and the slat closed back.

    Staying far back and out of sight as much as I could, I followed Mr Frog to see where he would go, praying he'd find something to occupy himself as far away from my bracelet as possible. Though largely uneventful, the walk back kept me very much in suspense. I was sure that at some point he would turn around and stare me directly in the eyes.
    Nothing like that happened, although Mr Frog's walk ended right where I had hoped it wouldn't: his room. After the door closed behind him, the sound of the lock sliding into place echoed down the hallway... a death-knell to my heart. With a shattered spirit I walked listlessly back to my quiet alleyway and collapsed on the little heap of rags I called a bed. Clutching my ragged quilt to me, I found no hope... only silent tears and an empty heart.


    Yesterday, the day after those events, I awoke late... far later than I usually do. After brushing out my hair and eating breakfast (a few half-stale plump helmet biscuits and some of the sewer brew from my waterskin), I felt a bit more lively than I had the night before. I didn't quite feel ready to take on the world... but I did feel ready to try to get my bracelet back.
    After hiding my things behind a pile of mugs so they wouldn't get stolen – though I'm not sure who would bother stealing them – I straightened my little beanie on my head and left, headed for Talvi's room.
    Knocking on the door gently to let Talvi know I was there, I looked around, my eyes lighting upon the same dwarf I'd seen the day before: the strong, gentlemanly one. Without thinking, I moved my hands to fix my hair, before I remembered that he probably wouldn't even care to look at me, which is what happened. He passed straight by without giving me so much as a glance. I've been told I'm pretty, but what good is it if nobody ever notices you?

    After I finally decided that Talvi wasn't there, I entered her room myself, as I knew she never remembered to lock the door. The chest in the cavy room's tail was pulled back into position, hiding the little vent. Walking over to it, I pushed at the chest to try to get it to move, but found to my dismay that my arms were far too weak to manage it. Then I tried bracing my back against the wall and pushing with my feet, and slowly, slowly, the chest slid across the floor, revealing the iron grate behind it.
    The grate wasn't nearly as difficult to move, and after moving it to one side, I saw the blackened tunnel's tiny mouth opened up before me, like a mildly ominous warning. If it had only been larger (and thus looked more ominous), I wouldn't have felt quite so much like it was going to crush me to death after I entered.
    It took me a few minutes to work myself up to it, but I did eventually manage to will myself to crawl inside: I closed my eyes and imagined puppies, large open fields, a nice, hot meal, and most of all, my bracelet. I couldn't move the chest back, but I made a point of putting the grate back in place before I continued down the tunnel.
    It was a lot harder without Talvi leading the way. I was close to tears for much of it, and with my outstretched arms I could feel just how narrow the little shaft was. It doesn't help that I can't see nearly as well in the dark as Talvi can, but I did finally manage to stumble my way, hyperventilating, to where I'd been before.

    This is where I realized that I hadn't thought my plan through all the way. Without my friend's "cavy nose" sniffing about, I had no idea where the traps were. Then I remembered the strong smell of the liquid the cavy tooth had been in, and, following Talvi's example, I sniffed along, trying to catch the faintest smell of anything.
    Twice I found something, and managed to disarm the traps without walking into them. The darts were small, but very, very sharp. They appeared to be spring-loaded into the tiniest mechanisms I've ever known of – only Mr Frog or Mekkia could've made them.

    At the end of the tunnel I could just barely make out a metal grate, papered over on the other side. After calming my breathing with thoughts of open space directly on the other side, I waited for a few minutes, listening carefully for the slightest sound – any indication that Mr Frog might be in his room. I heard nothing, though, and assumed that he was in the middle of his meeting with Splint.
    Carefully lifting the grate from its stone slots, I set it down to the right and left the vent shaft almost eagerly, feeling so much safer now that I was in a larger room. It was Mr Frog's room, actually... Talvi had been right. It had a peculiar odor to it that I hadn't noticed the first time I had been inside: an odd burnt smell that was just barely detectable.

    The first thing I did was place the iron grate back into its original position. It had a large sheet of thickened parchment attached to it, with various numbers, letters, and mathematical symbols scrawled across in columns. It was a disguise that had kept even Talvi from finding the grate. When I was done, I turned away and surveyed the room.
    Everything looked as we had left it the day before. I walked over to the dusty table with the strange glass equipment and looked it over... but my bracelet wasn't there. Glancing around, I saw that the door was locked, and that Mr Frog's bed looked slept in, though it was currently empty.
    Then I saw what I'd come for: a little glitter of gold on the nightstand by his bed. A surge of hope ran through me as I went over to see, and I couldn't help but smile with joy as my eyes confirmed it: it was my bracelet, sitting safely in the middle of the table. I reached out to touch it, but heard the sudden snap of a cord, which startled me. I jumped back just in time to avoid being hit by a small volley of little darts springing from a nearby wall.

    I was startled further by the sound of a familiar voice I'd grown to fear. "You're quick, little one..." Mr Frog was standing in the shadows on the other side of the room. "Not many people would be quick enough to avoid that... But you're not like most people, are you?" he said pointedly, not expecting an answer.
    I realized in shock that he'd been waiting for me... watching me ever since I set foot in his room. I said nothing in response, but backed away, wondering how much he knew. I considered grabbing the bracelet and running, but was too afraid that he might have set up more than just one trap.
    He looked me over, almost curiously, and I shivered. As he slowly advanced and stepped into the light, my hands began shaking, and I found myself inching towards the door. More than anything else, I didn't want to share the grave of the guinea pigs after going through the untold horrors of Mr Frog's experiments.
    "It's an excellent disguise, I'll admit, and not at all what I expected..." he continued in a menacing tone. "You can stay in the shadows, and yet in the open... No one sees you, but not because you're invisible, no... Rather because they choose not to. You have no need to hide because no one cares. No one knows who you are."
    As I continued to back away, I suddenly heard a snap, and ducked instinctively. Another volley of tiny darts whistled above my head.
    He chuckled, a sound that filled me with more fear than even his rage would have. Mr Frog never, never laughed. "Not bad, not bad... You have fast reflexes." I got back up and continued backing towards the door, past the tables with alchemical apparatuses and odd machines, past the shimmering hoops. "No, no one cares to know who you are... But I know."
    I shook my head negatively, but doubt began to creep into my mind. "No," I said in response, but my voice was barely audible.
    "Yes, I know... Your jewelry betrays you. Vanya... An elvish name."
    Tears of fear stung my eyes and I shook my head in disbelief as I tried to figure out how he knew my name, when the bracelet carried only my initials. "I'm not an elf," I whispered.
    Suddenly he leapt at me, drawing a knife from beneath his cloak, which billowed out behind him as he flew through the air. I turned and ran for the door, and heard the familiar snap of a tripwire. It wasn't darts this time, but a horrible green gas that he seemed to be immune to. With one hand over my mouth and nose I unlocked the door in wild desperation and threw it open, dashing into the hallway with Mr Frog right behind me.
    As I sprinted away, attracting the stares of passersby, I heard Mr Frog far behind, calling out to me: "I will find you! You cannot hide forever, little spy, and I have eyes and ears everywhere..."

    I didn't stop until I'd reached the alleyway where I'd slept the night before. I bundled everything I owned inside my blanket and left. I knew if I stayed there he would find me almost immediately. The first skulker he met would be able to tell him where I was living. If I wanted to stay alive, I would have to hide somewhere that no one would ever look...
    The condemned garbage dump.
    Mr Frog sealed it off years ago – originally Talvi herself had set it up when she was overseer of the fortress. The idea behind it was that dwarves could store items to rot in there instead of leaving everything in the hallways, so that miasma wouldn't be an issue. Unfortunately, nobody since ever used it: Mr Frog, during his term, had declared it a health hazard. But there are always ways past barriers, if you knew how to find them, and being homeless, I was one of those who did. There are a series of natural tunnels that some creature had dug in the dirt levels, starting near the farms – one of them led directly to the old dump.

    And so I set up camp here... and here I've been ever since. It's been a whole day now, at least. You can't hear the time bells here, but it feels like it's been forever. It's damp, smelly, and horribly cold, but I'd rather be in here than out where Mr Frog can find me. I almost feel like I could take a nap now, but there's something

The text ends here abruptly, without Vanya's customary five-pointed star.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2014, 05:17:51 pm by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2012, 08:27:10 am »


Mr Frog. Art by Mr Frog, actually, but of the forums, and not of the story.

Chapter 5: Dark Conversations
You flip through the remaining "pages" of the shoddily-bound journal, but the rest are blank except for parts of cavy posters that had had the ink sanded away. You set it down on the table where you found it disappointedly, wondering what had happened to the aspiring writer who'd written out her tribulations. As you turn to leave, your gaze sweeps past the strange, dusty machinery, and something else catches your eye – lying beneath where you'd found Vanya's journal is a second book, with a five-pointed star etched lightly into the cover. A quick glance inside confirms your suspicion – most of the entries are written in Vanya's familiar, flowing script.

    I didn't get a chance to finish my last journal entry... I don't even know where my journal is, now, though I suspect Mr Frog has it. I'd been sitting against a wall in the condemned dump, when he leapt out from the shadows with a dagger in hand. The only reason he didn't succeed in killing me was that I threw my journal at his face as hard as I could, and though I did it more out of surprise than anything else, it seemed to catch him off guard enough to make him lose his balance. He slipped on some of the slimy animal skins and fell... I didn't stay long enough to see if he was all right, or even long enough to gather up my belongings. My journal had come apart when it hit him, and I knew there was no way I'd gather up the pages in time. I simply turned and fled. It feels like that's all I ever do now… I run and hide, and I leave all I care about behind me.
   
    I ran partway down the length of the garbage dump and then ducked into a nearby giant mole tunnel, praying it wouldn’t dead-end. It was small... about four feet high in most places. I don't mind earthen tunnels as much as I do stone, but I was still in a hurry to get out of there. I was glad at first to find it ended soon... and then I saw something I would rather not have seen...
    The tunnel opened up onto an underground road that appeared to be abandoned, and I knew at once what I was looking at: the Spearbreakers wagon road. It was piled with all manner of humanoid corpses, some still clutching their weapons. In one darkened corner I remember there being an armored skeleton with five arrows stuck inside the face of its cracked skull. The whole corridor reeked of the dead... I can't imagine what the merchants in the caravans thought as random bones crunched against their wagon wheels.

    I carefully worked my way past the grisly mess, avoiding stepping on any of the bones and hoping I wouldn't trip on anything. The last thing I wanted was to fall into a skeleton's open arms. But then I saw something that caught my attention: the well-crafted wooden dagger of a rich elven merchant. The hilt was shaped like three holly leaves, and it had tiny designs and elf-runes carved into it. I couldn't read what it said, but it still looked incredibly beautiful. I left it lying there, but it reminded me of what Mr Frog had said: "Your jewelry betrays you. Vanya...". He'd called me an elf. The only worse insult among dwarves was to tell someone their father was beardless. Most dwarves swore by their father's beards, or in serious situations, by Armok's. But more importantly than the insult, he'd known my name... How did he know my name? The only person I'd ever told it to were my sister and Talvi... and my sister was dead. Did Talvi tell it to him – was she working with Mr Frog behind my back? Were they all conspiring to kill me just because they thought I was an elf?

    My thoughts were rudely disturbed when I tripped over a large set of iron armor. Why they never collected it all after the battles, I don't know, but as I painfully got to my feet, I noticed a journal lying on the ground. A rusty iron gauntlet clutched it tightly, though the owner's hand was gone. Slipping it free, I glanced inside the front cover out of curiosity.
    The writer had a hard, jagged script, like he was trying to murder the page by seeing how hard he could press. He appeared to be an excellent artist, though, and the image he'd drawn of Spawn came very, very close to making me vomit. I hastily flipped through the rest of the journal, but there was only one entry. The rest was blank. I felt then that I'd found a temporary journal I could use, and, thanking the gods, I took it with me.

    I sadly reflected on how the little journal was all I owned, and it wasn't even mine: I was just borrowing it from the dead. Everything else I owned I'd left with Mr Frog in the dump.
    It's ironic, I suppose... I went on a mission to recover an item I'd lost, and it ended with me losing everything. Well... except my little beanie, which never left my head.
    At the end of the tunnel, something caught my eye. It was a gorgeous purple-bound book: "We See Deler Inkblushed, the Union of Haunts". It was near the bottom of a pile of skeletons, and almost covered over by a black cloak. I gingerly pushed the bones aside and opened it, and despite my sorry situation, I laughed in delight at what I saw within its binding. Someone had thickened the parchment and arranged it into special shapes... it was a "pop up" book. It had pictures of the necromancer who'd written it, along with many other pop-up pictures of zombies, skeletons, potions and cauldrons. It was a manual on how to resurrect corpses, and was intermixed with a very egotistical autobiography. Necromancy is forbidden and shunned among all civilized races, but I love books... and that one was so, so beautiful.

    I was so absorbed in it that I didn't hear the dwarf who was approaching me from behind until he was only a few feet away. "Well, what do we have here?" he roared.
    I snapped the book shut and spun around in a fright, which escalated to near-terror as I realized who it was.
    "I'm going to throw you outside the walls, you filth... The zombies can have your brains for their breakfast," he said with a scowl. It was Mitchewawa.
    Despite how he'd inadvertently carved the basement class more homes in the walls, saying he loathed skulkers was an understatement. He took pride in how he'd managed to whip Spearbreakers into shape, and he considered us the most inefficient part of the fortress. "Parasites", he called us. Any of us he encountered on his solitary walks were typically never heard from again.
    I really didn't want to join the zombies for breakfast, and as his heavy hand slammed down on my shoulder, I made my best attempt to swallow down my fear. "Mitchewawa, sir," I said as sweetly as I could, though I could hear my voice tremble, "I have something you might want to see."
    Not without a tinge of regret I handed him the book. I was smiling as prettily as I could, though he took no notice. As I watched, he turned it over in his hands, reading the runes on the cover and spine, and then he opened it. "Hrmph," he said, which was the closest he ever, ever came to a laugh, "this is a rare gem." He flipped through the pages idly, looking at the different pop-ups.
    That was the last I saw of him. I didn't wait for him to finish... I darted up the ramp and into the fortress.

    I hurried down the stairways and corridors until I came to Talvi's room, my heart pounding with fear and exertion. I didn't even think to knock as I threw the door open and rushed inside, almost tripping over Talvi, who was sitting just inside, playing with a paper calendar that looked suspiciously like one of Draignean's.
    If anyone could forgive an intrusion, it was her: she looked up at me and smiled. "V! I's been wonderin' where you was, sweetie. Looked t'find you, and you wasn't where you always is."
    Nodding, I closed the door behind me quietly and sat down against it, trying to slow my breath enough to talk. The stitch I'd gotten in my side didn't help things much. "Yeah," I managed finally, "I had to move somewhere else."
    She nodded. "Thass all right, just glad yer here now. I's been worried a tad 'bout you, y'know." She got up, walked over to an old oaken chest and began looking through it.
    Somewhat pained, I managed to stand and follow her over, curious about how much she knew about my recent adventures. "Worried? Why were you worried about me?"
    She laughed. "I went to go find you and saw him – Mr Frog – comin' outta yer alleyway. It was a right funny sight, it was – Mr Frog down there when he allus keeps t' himself."
    I shuddered at the thought. "How long ago was that, Miss Talvi?" I asked.
    She stopped shifting things around in the chest for a moment and stared blankly into space for a moment before saying, "I don't rightly know... Past few days, I'd reckon, but I don't care t'keep track o' time no more. You know that almost better'n anyone, V." She continued her search, finally drawing a little parchment envelope out of the bottom and holding it up triumphantly. "Ha!" she exclaimed with a wide smile, "found it!"
    Curiously, I asked, "What is it"?
    "Never you mind that, V, iss jes' somethin' you needa keep safe, all right?" Her tone grew more serious, though it still sounded playful due to her heavy accent. "V, I need you to listen careful. I'm gonna be doin' somethin' real dangerous soon. I dunno if I'll come back at all, but jus' you watch out fer when it comes 'round, all right? You cain't do nothin' suspicious'r let Mr Frog find you. If somethin' happens t'me, V, open it'n do what it says, 'K?" She handed it to me, and then a puzzled look came over her. After thinking for a moment, she asked suspiciously, "Why's Mr Frog after you, anyhow?"
    I couldn't meet her gaze, my eyes dropping downwards. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about, Miss Talvi..." I hesitated, fiddling uncomfortably with the envelope in my hands. Suddenly I looked up. "Do you remember when we went into Mr Frog's room?"
    She seemed to have a bit of trouble recalling the event, but did nod, finally. "That I do. We was goin' after Joseph, t'get him back from Mr Frog. But we didn' manage... cavies were more important." Her brow furrowed at the memory, and her mood shift made me more uncomfortable than before.
    "Well... I kind of left my bracelet in there by accident, and Mr Frog found it."
    She exploded, something I wasn't expecting. "You did what??" she yelled. I backed away from her in fright at her anger. As she bore down on me, I stumbled and fell to the ground, the muscular, heavy-built woman towering over me. "You done gone and left your bracelet there?!? V, girl, I's seen stupid in my day, but that beats all, worse'n a coconut monkey up a gum tree!" She approached me, scowling.
    "I tried to get it back," I said, my timid voice scarcely above a whisper, "but Mr Frog was waiting for me."
    "Well o'course he was waiting for you, you potato! That's allus how he do things, I'd know that better'n anyone! You didn' e'en come see me afore you went – I coulda tole you that!"
    "I didn't get a chance, you weren't here!" Tears were forming in my eyes. To Talvi's mind, "potato" is a more serious insult than calling someone an elf. She hates potatoes.
    Her voice was heavy with sarcasm. "Oh, I weren't here, so you thought you'd done go traipsin' along, happy as a flea's biscuit, uppity-up to Mr Frog's house to see if you could get yer precious bit o' gold back, is that it? Well, now he knows someone's after 'im, and d'you know what Mr Frog does when he gets suspicious? Do ye?"
    I shook my head, biting my lip as I brushed away a tear with my fingertips.
    She stood direcly over me now, fuming, her face contorted with anger. "Oh, I'll tell y'what 'e does. He sets up traps!! Now, when I go t' take care'f him, he's gon' be well-prepared, I tell you what. He'll be watchin' for someones, and it won't matter to him none that it'll be me, noooo, it won't! Faster'n a dolphin's finger he'll chop me down! Mark my words, you... you..." her lips pursed as she tried to bring herself to form an appropriate insult, but she finally gave up and stomped away in disgust. "Agh! Why you always gotta ruin ever'thing, V?!"
    I watched her for a moment, it only now dawning on me what I'd done. It was unusual that Talvi had figured it out faster than me, but then again, she knew more about Mr Frog's habits than anyone in the fortress: she'd been romantically obsessed with him almost ever since he arrived during her year as overseer. "I'm sorry, Miss Talvi," I managed, my voice breaking with despair.
    She spun to face me, scowling. "That don't cut it none, V! Get outta my sight afore I make you like a tree stump!"
    I leapt to my feet and fled the room, tears streaming down my face. I was on the run for the second time today, and the fact that I was running from a friend made it so, so much worse.

    I hid in a darkened alleyway near the stairs and sat down, clutching my knees close to me and trying to stem my tears. Everything that I'd considered safe was dangerous; everything I considered precious, gone. It was all because I'd tried to help Talvi in her mission against Mr Frog... and Talvi didn't even want to talk to me anymore. I didn't know what to do... I knew if I stayed in one place I'd likely be found out, but where did I have to go? Talvi was gone to me, and Sus was dead, too. Sus had been kind to the skulkers during his rule, a year ago. He'd actually been born into the basement class, and worked his way up from the bottom. He'd fought for our rights and privileges, and even started a food drive for the homeless. Despite being a soldier, he was a very sensitive dwarf. Not only that, but the old coot had had a soft spot for me... Maybe I reminded him of someone, I don't know, but I still considered him a friend. He was one of the best dwarves I'd ever known... and he hardly got a decent funeral. Even so, I'd attended it, and I'd cried for him.

    My musings were broken almost before they began: Splint walked by, and I was suddenly struck with an idea.
    Splint was considered the "Father of Spearbreakers" by most... he always had Spearbreakers' best interests at heart, and he would do anything to defend the fortress from any threat, no matter how small. If there was anyone at all who might still help me, it was him. I just hoped Mr Frog hadn't talked to him about me yet. Offering a prayer of thanks, I set out after him.

    He moved quickly... so quickly that I was having trouble both keeping up and watching for Mr Frog. I was just beginning to worry about looking conspicuous with all my dodging about, when he turned down the hallway towards the dining room... somewhere I felt I'd be sure to be spotted. Looking back on it now, I wonder if maybe that was the reason he went in: it's a wide-open area, with no dark places to hide in... But I needed to follow him.

    Doing my best to brave myself against my fears and look invisible, I snuck inside. There were dwarves talking in groups here and there, and one or two sitting and eating, but for the most part, the room was empty.
    Splint sat down at a table in the far corner, right next to the kitchens, and began to work on some paperwork he'd brought with him. Deciding to seize upon this opportunity, I made my way towards him.... and that was when I saw my antagonist. Mr Frog was headed towards Splint as well. Not wanting my life to end, I hid in the nearest place available: the kitchens. Splint didn't notice me as I passed, thank gods, or he might've stopped me.

    Mr Frog sat down across from Splint, who put away his books. I sat with my back against the inside kitchen wall, out of sight, and strained my ears for whatever I could hear.
    "Glad to see you, Frog – how's the work progressing?"
    "Let's skip the pleasantries, please. You know I don't have the stomach for it, or the time."
    "Yes... sorry. Anyway, I have something I needed to talk to you about."
    Staying low to the ground, I peeked one eye through the door and saw Mr Frog nod. "I have some recent developments you'd be interested to hear as well."
    "All right, then," Splint said, "I'll start. Talvi has spoken to me several times in the past few days, and while I'd initially promised her I'd keep it confidential, I think it would be in our best interests if you knew.
    He took a sip from his mug and continued, drawing his eyebrows together and frowning. "To start out with, Talvi seems to remember an awful lot about Joseph – I'm not quite sure that amnesiac we gave her did its job."
    I shook my head in disbelief. I was shocked. Splint was on Mr Frog's side?
    Mr Frog interrupted him. "That is part of what I had to tell you. I have acquired a journal from the spy I mentioned when last we met. Most of it is clearly lies, but what it says about Talvi matches up to what I know almost perfectly. I have reason to believe Talvi may be planning to attack me."
    My eyes widened at the word "journal" and I hid back behind the doorframe. That was the second time he'd called me a spy. I don't know where he got the idea, but it's all lies. Why would I be a spy?
    Splint groaned. "Why didn't the amnesiac work? It should've worked – you said it would."
    Mr Frog was silent for a moment. "I don't know... But I think I know who does," he said pointedly. I looked back around the doorway in time to see Mr Frog and Splint share a glance. Mr Frog nodded slowly.
    Splint only groaned once more, putting his head in his hands. "Not again..."
    "I'm afraid so."
    Sitting up, Splint took a deep gulp of his beer. "Fine, contact him again. See what he can tell us."
    "And if he can't fix this mess? What do we do about Talvi? She's a liability – we'll need to dispose of her."
    Splint shook his head and took another draught. "Fine. We'll rig a cave-in. Frog, this is going way beyond what you said we'd have to do. This is a lot more than we bargained for – can't you see? We're in too deep..."
    Folding his hands, Mr Frog responded, "I can't help that, Splint. There's more at risk than the life of a simple-minded individual. In war, there are casualties, and our young Talvi may be a necessary one."
    In shock, I slid back behind the wall, slumping against it and trying my best not to breathe heavily; trying to keep from being loud, though I could not quiet my beating heart. They were plotting to kill my best friend, right in front of me... and there was nothing I could do to stop it. But then I heard something that piqued my interest.
    "Mr Frog, what about the spy? Did you bring the bracelet?"
    "Yes, here." I peeked around the doorframe again and saw Mr Frog reach under his cloak and withdraw something wrapped in a piece of cloth.
    Splint reached for it. "Let me see it." As it exchanged hands, I caught a glimpse of glittering metal. Splint looked it over carefully in his palm, and then held it up to the light... there's no doubt in my mind: it was my bracelet they were examining. It was so close to me then... yet so very, very far out of reach.
    "I highly doubt it's as valuable as you claim," Splint said slowly, "but it's still a fine piece. Very good craftmanship... But you're wrong on one count."
    Even at a distance, I could see Mr Frog's brow furrow with displeasure. "And what might that be?"
    Splint continued unheeding. "It's not of elven make. Any dwarf could tell you that... It's made of gold. Elves only use wood."
    "But the script, the design... The initials..." Mr Frog insisted. I listened closely – I'd always wondered about my bracelet's design. If the threat of Talvi's death wasn't weighing so heavily in my mind, I might have been excited to hear what Splint had to say.
    His friend shook his head. "Well, yes... elves would never touch a hammer and tongs... and it's designed completely in the elvish style... it's something no dwarven blacksmith would make. We hate elves – you know that." He paused for a moment, puzzled. "I don't understand. This bracelet can't exist. The elvish style combined with the forging of metal – it's impossible. And you say it's the tool of an elvish spy..." He turned it over in his hands, shaking his head slowly and trying to work it out. Finally he sighed, handing it back to Mr Frog, who placed it back under his cloak. "Anyway, Frog, what news do you have on its owner?"
    "I recovered her journal earlier, as I said. I almost managed to kill her, but she escaped. If she's anything, she's agile. I consider her a higher priority than Talvi – the spy needs to be eliminated." Now it was my death they were discussing. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I almost wished I could just run away and never have stumbled into the whole mess to begin with.
    "Don't kill her," I heard Splint say, and for a moment I felt relieved.
    "No?"
    "I'll set out a 'capture and hold' mandate on her, along with a warrant for her arrest. We'll need to interrogate her."
    There was a brief pause. "She might respond well to torture." I almost started crying.
    I heard Splint sigh. "If you think it's necessary, Mr Frog, then do it. I just want all of this over with. I'm only doing this for Spearbreakers, do you understand?"
    "Of course," Mr Frog said calmly. "You're doing just as you should."
    With that, I heard the distinct sound of a stone chair scraping across the floor, and Mr Frog's footsteps fading into the distance. I got up and exited the dining room through the back way, so Splint wouldn't see me.

    For once, though, I was putting someone else first. I had to warn Talvi. Mitchewawa may have hated skulkers, but he was a good dwarf. If she could talk to him and get his protection, I knew she might stand a chance. With this in mind, I headed back towards her room as fast as I could.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2014, 06:00:07 pm by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals
« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2012, 06:05:32 pm »


The "magic brick". Art by Splint.
Chapter 6: The Magic Brick
As you read, you note that this journal is remarkably different from the previous, and not just because of the fact that it's an actual book, and not pieces of cavy posters bound together with string. While the other had sentences circled in red ink and writing in the margins, the pages of this one are clean, besides the occasional blood spatter, and the word "HARD", which is repeated several times here and there in different handwriting. There is also a strange cut slicing across the back cover. Vanya had carefully written around these, though she was still using a charred stick to form her runes.

    I knew that Talvi probably wouldn't want me in her sight at the moment, given how angry she was at me, and I really, really hoped she wouldn't try to kill me... but I had to try to save her life. According to what I'd just heard, Mr Frog was likely going to try to murder her. Given how Splint was going to have at least the guards searching for me, if not the entire population of Spearbreakers, this might be the last chance to warn her that I would have.

    On reaching the stairs, I hurried farther down into the fortress, counting floors until I'd reached the apartment levels. (That's something else that sets Spearbreakers apart from other fortresses: the total lack of any "you are here" engravings.) I rushed down the hallways and pounded on Talvi's door as loudly as I dared, still fearing to attract attention. When no response came from within, I assumed Talvi was ignoring me, and I knocked a second time. I was panicking: it had been the first time I'd heard someone plot a murder, and I sure as anything didn't want it to become the first time a friend of mine died when I could've saved them.
    Suddenly I heard footsteps coming from behind. I crouched against the door, hiding in the shadows as I watched someone turn and walk down the corridor opposite me: it was Mr Frog, rushing off somewhere. I didn't know where he was going, and for that matter, I wasn't sure I even wanted to know... but it was the last straw for me. I turned Talvi's knob and entered her room myself, uninvited, for a second time that day, praying to the gods she wouldn't hurt me in her rage.
    However, what I found surprised me: Talvi wasn't there. I wasn't sure when she could've left, as I hadn't even been gone an hour, but there was no doubt in my mind: she wasn't in the room. I quickly decided to leave and find her myself, with the hope that I would be able to track her down before Mr Frog could.
    Just before I turned to leave, I noticed that the chest in the cavy room's tail had been moved aside, and the grate was lying on the floor. I remembered what Talvi had said: "Now, when I go to take care of him..." She'd been yelling at the time, but it made little difference. She was going to try to kill him, and it looked to me as if she was already on her way to do it.
    Foreboding filled me. I knew what would happen when Talvi attacked him, and I didn't like it: Mr Frog would be prepared, just as he had been when I'd met him. He hadn't even known who I was, and had only had one night to prepare for me, and he'd still almost managed to take me down. But it had been less than three hours since I'd thrown my journal at him in the condemned dump... I figured that maybe how brief a time he'd had to prepare would be enough to tip the balance in Talvi's favor. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew: Talvi didn't stand a chance. When it came right down to it, she had an almost superstitious fear of Mr Frog - for instance, she believed he'd designed a poison just for her: "cavy poison". All Mr Frog would have to do to have the upper hand would be to pick up any liquid-filled glass and act like he'd dump it on her.
    I bit my lip. I didn't want my friend to die, whether she hated me or not.
    I did have another idea, though my timid mind shied away from it: maybe my being there would be enough to tip the balance in her favor. The only problem was, I didn't really want it to be in anyone's favor. I didn't want anyone to die, but I knew that the longer I hesitated, the less chance I'd have of saving anyone.

    With rapid heartbeat, I approached the little blackened tunnel for the third time, noticing that the chest was half-blocking the entrance, almost as if someone had tried to pull it back into position from within the shaft.
    I set myself down against the wall to push it aside, groaning inwardly at the task. It was a lot harder the second time: I'd been running a lot, and my legs were tired. Before, I'd had a good night's sleep to work on. Suddenly in frustration I stood and threw open the chest, the wooden lid clattering on the floor, and what I saw made me gasp. It was full of metal... beautifully designed weapons and various pieces of chain-link armor. I'd heard a rumor that Talvi had been in the military before she arrived with Splint at Spearbreakers... Perhaps, as unlikely as it seemed, it was true. Unfortunately, whether it was true or not, she'd left her weapons and armor here instead of taking them with her, so they'd be of no use.
    Suddenly I was struck with an idea. Talvi might not use them, but I definitely could. I had no skill in combat, but I knew I'd have more of a chance at defending myself if I had a weapon. I reached into the chest and tested the weight of various pieces. The armor was too heavy for me to lift, and the jeweled axes felt heavy in my hands, but I found a dagger near the bottom, made of a silvery metal. It was beautifully designed, and it reminded me of the elven weapon I'd found in the wagon tunnel. Picking it up, I tested it out, and was surprised to find that it rested so comfortably in my palm; I almost felt it had been made just for me. After digging around until I found another that matched it, I tucked both blades away at my waist. With slightly strengthened confidence, I braced myself against the wall once more for a final push at the heavy chest.
    Unfortunately, I'll admit my recently-won confidence drained away when I peered into the darkness again, but I steeled myself against it, thinking the same thoughts as before, and went inside. I couldn't help my fast-paced breath, or the tear I wiped from my cheek, but I was moving forwards. I hoped that was enough.

    As I neared the end of the tunnel, I heard someone speak. It startled me, and my heart leapt into my throat, but I made myself crawl around the last bend... and then I stopped in surprise: the papered-over grate in Mr Frog's room had been moved. Within the tunnel I was deep in shadows, but if someone was to peer inside, they would almost certainly see me.
    "But of course!" said a man I'd never heard before. "I'd be more than happy to assist you. Simply state what you desire, Mr Frog, and I'll do my very best." The voice sounded friendly... so friendly that it made my stomach turn. To me, it sounded like an act, and I dreaded meeting the speaker. Then I heard another voice I knew I'd dread meeting even more.
    "I'm only doing this so that I have more options at hand." It was Mr Frog himself. I crept a little farther down the tunnel and looked inside the room. Mr Frog was standing by a table, holding something in his hand and looking at it with an expression of annoyance.
    Someone laughed joyfully. I looked around, with what limited vision the tunnel offered me, but the person it came from appeared to be out of my field of vision. "Of course, of course! A one-time favor. You understand, though, that I never grant favors without expecting a favor in return." I could imagine a face smiling sweetly as those words were said.
    It was only then that it hit me: I'd come all that way for nothing. Talvi wasn't there, and there was no sign that she'd ever even been there at all. Still... I thought that perhaps I might get my bracelet back.
    Mr Frog's brow furrowed and he frowned. "I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."
    "You would not, no, but you're in luck, my friend. I already know what it is you would ask!"
    "You usually do," Mr Frog replied tersely.
    "Ah, I see, I see - it is something you have come to expect of me, is it not? Do you still doubt me? We would work well together, you know."
    Mr Frog's expression darkened. "I told you not to mention that again until I'd had more time."
    "My mistake, my mistake. Now, what you desire is a grade four amnesiac for your young woodcutting friend, is it not? You would also like to inform me that the previous dose you administered was ineffective, and had unusual effects. Have you studied these effects, my dear Mr Frog?"
    "I have not." Mr Frog seemed to hate admitting it, but a new hope surged through me: maybe he didn't want to kill Talvi after all. He was asking a friend for an amnesiac that would actually work. I hated the idea of Talvi forgetting anything forever, but it was far, far better than her death.
    The voice continued. "Ah, shame, shame. You ought to have, like the scientist you are, my good friend. But! Not to worry, not to worry. I already know what it is that happened, and have prepared for it."
    "But what -"
    "No need to speak, my friend, I will explain. You've performed many experiments on the woman, have you not?"
    Mr Frog nodded slowly. It only then dawned on me: he was nodding and talking to the little brick of metal he was holding. "You know I have," Mr Frog said in annoyance. "Why bother asking?"
    "It is a scientist's job to ask questions. You know that, dear friend. Tell me - did it ever occur to you that you might've altered our young Talvi's DNA? That her chromosomes might not be the same as those of an average dwarf's?"
    I didn't understand a word he said, though Mr Frog seemed to. "Yes, of course I did. It was what I was going for."
    "Did you design the amnesiac you administered to overcome these alterations?" The voice had taken on an almost motherly tone, which sounded bizarre in my ears.
    The expression on Mr Frog's face could only be described as defensive. "I didn't have the equipment necessary, and what I have here is too primitive. Look, are you going to provide me with it or not? I need it quickly, and I don't have all the time in the world, unlike you."
    I imagine the owner of the voice didn't even bat an eyebrow at Mr Frog's rudeness. "Patience, patience, my dear friend. I, too, am a busy man. But I know you have an event of great importance happening in... what is it now... thirty minutes?"
    "How do you know these things?"
    "I see all," the voice said slowly. "The drug you desire will be at drop zone 21-Alpha in approximately... two minutes. I won't ask your favor now, my friend, but I assure you I will not forget it." I heard an odd sound, and Mr Frog placed the little tablet on the table in front of him, shaking his head. Drawing his cloak about him, he turned, marching briskly to the door. Moments later, he was gone.

    Cautiously, I crept all the way to the end of the tunnel. I waved my arm about inside his room, jerking it back towards me just in time to avoid several volleys of glass darts coming from different directions. Slowly, cautiously, I poked my head out and looked around carefully for traps. I saw none, but felt a sinking feeling that if there were any traps in the room at all, I wouldn't be able to see them until it was too late. Even so, I entered Mr Frog's room, though not without hesitation. I glanced at his nightstand, as if my bracelet might still be there, but it was as I'd expected. If my bracelet was in the room, he'd hidden it somewhere else.

    I walked slowly past the different tables, looking each of them over carefully for any glimpse of my little keepsake. Almost everything looked untouched since I'd been here last, with the exception of some of the glass equipment and machinery on the closer tables. Those at the farther sides of the room, back in the shadows, looked almost as if they hadn't been touched in years.


    It startled me so terribly when I heard it that I almost fell over: a ringing sound, like bells, but different and clearer. Out of curiosity, I sought out the source, and what I found mystified me. The object making the sound was a little blue-silver brick of metal, but the interesting thing wasn't the coloration, or even the unusual shape, but the fact that scrolling across the flat pane of glass embedded in its surface were dwarf runes made of nothing but colored light.
    "Magic..." I whispered in awe. I'd heard of it before, and believed the stories, but until then I'd never actually seen magic in action.
    The runes continued to dance past, and the bell sound beeped urgently. I read the scrolling text: "Tap to accept call."
    I decided to try to make it stop making noise. I was sure it could be heard in the hallway outside the door, and besides that, I knew Mr Frog could be back at any moment. I picked it up, trying to find a lever on the side, or a pressure plate I could push to make it stop. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice.
    "Ah, at last. It took you long enough to answer..." I almost dropped the little device in surprise, but managed to keep a hold on it, turning it around until I saw the face of the speaker, whose face appeared, animated, on the glass pane.
    He had a perfect face: a chiseled chin, smooth cheekbones, and eyes set perfectly; everything about him was symmetrical. It rather reminded me of the perfection in the portraits artists would engrave on walls and floors. In a sense, it seemed... artificial. His face didn't look dwarven at all, but rather human, and the expression was almost one of disgust.
    "Are you not going to speak? Are you deaf, are you mute? Are you... blinded by my radiance?" he asked with heavy sarcasm. It was the same voice as the person had who'd talked to Mr Frog, but the tone was entirely different now.
    "H... hello..." I managed timidly, in barely more than a whisper. Someone was using magic to talk to me... it was incredible, but scary at the same time. I had a hard time looking past that fact and listening to what the man was saying.
    "Ah, there you go. I knew you would be there to answer the call. I only hoped you possessed the... intelligence... to actually respond."
    I hardly noticed the insult, and asked quietly, "Why are you talking to me?"
    "You don't need to hold the tablet so close to your face..." he said. I apologized and moved it farther away, trying to match how Mr Frog had held it. "Thank you..." he said slowly. Then he continued, "I've been watching you for some time. You've done exactly as I expected - no more, no less. You've actually furthered my cause greatly - far more than the dull-witted Talvi ever managed." He said this last with extreme distaste.
    Realization swept over me. "You're Joseph..." I said in astonishment.
    His face never changed, but I imagined a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. "Ah, you figured it out. Good for you, good for you. Unfortunately, I regret to inform you that I no longer have need of your assistance." He glanced downwards for a moment, as if reading something,and then back up at me. "You're a liability now, Vanya. Do you know what that means?"
    Fear gripped my heart again, and I had to force myself to remain calm. "You're going to kill me, aren't you..." I whispered.
    "Yes, of course, of course," he replied in his slow, unamused tone. "A common lab rat would have the sense to figure that out, though you're wrong in one respect: I'm not going to be the one to kill you. You see... I have other people carry out my wishes. When those people cease to be of aid, I have them terminated by my other assistants, and I like it best when those other assistants don't realize they're only doing what I wished them to - just like you've been doing for the past week." He paused, and for a moment I felt sure I saw a smile twitch across his face. "Did you realize at any point in the past week that you were simply a pawn? Did you realize you were expendable; did you realize you were only doing the bidding of another? Of course not, of course not. The lab rat never wonders what is outside its maze; it only goes straight for the cheese at the end."
    I shook my head in horror. Everything had started making sense. "It's you... You're the enemy Talvi told Splint about, and you're manipulating Mr Frog into doing what you want him to! Almost as if... almost as if he's only a pawn to you, too... just like me..." I couldn't believe it. How could someone who used magic be so, so evil; how could anyone have so little respect for the lives of other people? How could anyone care for nothing but their own gain?
    He smiled in wry amusement. "Ah, little Vanya... You foolish young woman... This is exactly why you're a liability. Your cause opposes mine, and I knew you would come to that conclusion eventually. You know too much. I only let Splint live because as he and Mr Frog work together, the whole of Spearbreakers works, more or less, for me."
    I shook my head violently as I clutched the lightweight tablet in my hands. "No," I said, unwilling to accept it. "You can't kill me, you won't!" I paused. "And Mr Frog won't, either," I added, though I doubted the truth of that last.
    He smiled again. "Ah, and now I can answer your original question: 'Why are you talking to me?'. You see, my young friend, while we spoke, I delayed you long enough for the method of your execution to arrive."
    I heard a noise: the sound of someone unlocking the hallway door from outside.
    "Goodbye, and pleasant dreams, little rat," Joseph said with a sardonic smile, and his image faded from the tablet, which went black in my hands.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2014, 06:12:37 pm by Talvieno »
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Re: Vanya's Journals (Story)
« Reply #7 on: November 25, 2012, 08:51:38 am »


Three chainswords. Art by Talvieno.

Chapter 7: The Frog Battle
This is a journal borrowed from the dead by the dwarf, Vanya. Despite how much danger she was in during her previous entries, the fact that her flowing script continues on the following pages indicates that if nothing else, she was still alive to write it.

    I had always thought of magic as purely good, used by the kindest-hearted wizards in the world. I believed it the stuff of legends... of knights in shining adamantine armor fighting the dragons who sought to eat dwarven maidens. I thought it the stuff of kings and fortresses, of mines and forges, of dense woodlands protected by crossbowmen in exile. Yet I believed every bit of it to be true, ever since I was a little child... as far back as I can remember, really. When I saw it for myself, I wasn't confused, or bewildered, but excited. It was only fate's cruel irony that my first encounter with it was due in part to the most evil person I've ever known... and he who I now consider my greatest enemy.

~~~

    Even as Joseph's face faded from the glass embedded in the little magical tablet, the door to the hallway opened. It was who I feared it would be: Mr Frog, carrying a bag under his arm. He saw me almost instantly, and scowled with hatred. "You..." he said darkly, slamming the door behind him. When he saw the tablet in my hands, he fumed with rage. I put it down as quickly as I could, but he'd placed his bag down on a table nearby and was already advancing towards me.
    I’m ashamed to say that retreat was the first thing in my mind: I glanced behind me at the tunnel to Talvi's room, but knew that if I tried to escape through it, he'd be sure to catch up with me.
    When I turned back, Mr Frog was only five feet away from me, and was taking down some kind of sword from the pillar beside him. I was stunned by what I saw next: when he swung it in a ">" shape as if to test it, it rattled to life, and the edges of the sword flickered in the torchlight. It was magical, and it made a horrible metallic sound like so many clinking chains.
    I backed away from him slowly, afraid of what he might do.
    He didn't follow me, but stayed where he was in the shadow of the pillar. "Don't worry, little spy..." he said, watching me carefully as I backed towards the passage entrance on the floor.  "This will all be over sooner than you think." Saying this, he placed a hand on the pillar beside him and pulled a lever.
    My shoulder stung briefly, and I looked downwards to see that two tiny darts had pierced the sleeve of my blouse and stuck themselves in my shoulder. I yelped in surprise and pulled them out, tossing them to the floor as Talvi's words echoed in my mind: "He's gonna be well-prepared, I tell you what." I looked at him, shaking my head in shock: Splint had told him I was to be captured, not killed! "You can't kill me," I said weakly, imagining the poison pouring through my veins. If he'd poisoned me, I'd have at best just a few minutes to live, unless I could find some kind of antidote.
    The edges of his dark cloak brushed lightly against the floor as he advanced towards me, holding the magical steel sword at the ready in his hand. "No, Vanya," he said scornfully, "Splint wanted me to spare your life, but there are some things he can't understand. I know you're a spy, but you're not the spy he believes you to be, and you pose no threat to him. Interrogation would only tell him things he can't know or understand. I know who you are... and you need to die."
    I looked around desperately for some means of escape, but Mr Frog was approaching me more rapidly now. Suddenly I remembered what I carried at my waist, and pulled the daggers out. They flickered beautifully in the dim torchlight of Mr Frog's room, but it was small comfort to a girl doomed to die.
    Mr Frog slowed for a moment, looking at the weapons in my hands. "You come armed..." he mused, "This will be interesting... but it will still be brief." He charged, swinging the sword in an arc downwards towards my head.
    I cringed, holding the knives up in an "X" to block, and as the sword came down, it almost ripped them out of my hands. My arms vibrating, I looked up at Mr Frog's face, and saw yellow sparks from the crossed weapons raining down around me. Too late did I realize why Mr Frog had stopped attacking: with his free hand, he pulled the beanie from my head, revealing my pointed ears peeking from behind my hair.
    I flushed crimson, but he took no notice. "Vanya Carena, the elf," he said slowly, with a sort of grim satisfaction. "Your file was so easy to find. Trainee spy of Ballpoint Technologies, I presume, here to collect information on my whereabouts and progress?" As he stepped away from me, the sparks ceased, and he tossed my little hat to the side. "Information like the blueprints from my journal that you stole and blamed on poor Talvi... It’s fortunate that that's going to be the last thing you steal." He charged again, swinging the humming blade. I tried to leap aside, but the sword caught the edge of my blouse, tugging at it as it cut. "And you can't even fight!" he finished with a dry smile.
    Apprehensively, I felt for blood, but found to my relief that I was uninjured. He had hit in the spot that I'd tucked my journal, and that had possibly saved me from being cut. "That's not who I am," I said, trying my best to raise my voice above my drumming heart.
    Had he been anyone else, I'm sure Mr Frog would've rolled his eyes. "Come now, it will all be over soon. Wouldn't you like to speak the truth for once?" He stepped forwards and swung again. I dodged it, barely, but stumbled backwards and fell. The blade whirred down towards my chest, and I rolled to the side.
    "I'm not who you think I am!" I shrieked in fright, trying to get away, without taking my eyes off my aggressor. "I'm just ‘Vanya’! I don't even know who my parents were!" Jumping to my feet, I held out my weapons in defense, which seemed so small in comparison to his sword.
    He walked towards me at a brisk pace, his cloak fluttering out behind him. "Your file said as much, Carena. Your faked journal wasn't all lies, but the little sister never existed - not in the lists of Ballpoint or Spearbreakers."
    My sister, I thought. As he struck out at me again, I twirled towards his left, striking twice with Talvi's daggers as I spun. I felt my ragged linen skirt swirling about my knees; felt my hair whipping about my face. As his blade came down for a second pass, I held up my knives and deflected it to the side. Hope sprang forth anew, and I almost smiled: years ago, my little sister and I used to play at swordfighting with sticks. I was out of practice, but I hoped it would be enough of an edge to keep me alive. The memory of her fueled me and renewed my confidence.
    Mr Frog stopped, stepping back and examining the two slashes in his cloak. He looked up at me with a deadly fury in his eyes, but now I was almost able to brush it away. "My name isn't Carena," I said defiantly, and he rushed me again.

    It came easier now: he struck, I twirled and spun; he sliced, I caught his weapon and sent it to the side. My breath was heavy, and I was still scared as anything, but I was alive.
    Mr Frog stopped for a moment and looked at me - what was it I saw a hint of in his eyes? Admiration? Approval?
    "Very nice," he said in his deep voice, "This is a bit closer to what I'd expect of you." He turned and tapped the wall next to him.
    A blade swung down from the ceiling towards my face.
    I flipped backwards to avoid it.
    Despite the fear I was in, that made me angry... it was an unfair move: something I could neither block nor deflect, and I'd had no warning or reason to expect it.
    Grabbing up some of the corked bottles from the nearby tables, I flung them at him, hoping they would explode and set him on fire or something. He dodged most of them, but the last one broke as he blocked, splattering the contents over his weapon. "Stop! You fool, stop!" he yelled.
    I threw another, but it missed, bouncing off the machinery to the right of him and shattering on the floor. A sky-blue liquid rushed out, splashing his cape and hissing over the stony floor, which it seemed to sink into. It shimmered as it faded away, leaving an almost mirrored surface on the stone.
    I glanced back at Mr Frog, who was seething with hatred. "And that's exactly what I'd expect of you," he spat out through clenched teeth. "You mindless brutes of Ballpoint Tech - all you can accomplish is petty thievery and senseless destruction!" He swung his sword in an arc and stormed towards me, his rattling blade smoking and throwing sparks. His cloak, torn and billowing behind him, shimmered with a pale blue light from the liquids I’d thrown. "But why aren't you dead yet?!" he yelled, and swung the sword towards me with both hands.
    I ducked away from it, rolling to my feet behind him and striking with my dagger, but I only carved another slash across his cloak.
    He spun, swinging his sword again and again. It was all I could do to deflect it and keep from falling over as he backed me towards the wall.
    Suddenly my bare feet hit something that felt less than solid… I glanced downwards and saw I was sliding across the shimmering floor where the flask had shattered. I looked back up just in time to catch the sword between my crossed knives.
    As we slid backwards across the mirrored surface, Mr Frog forced his sword closer and closer to my head with both his hands, his face contorted with rage. Sparks were flying everywhere from his sword, and a strange blue smoke was rising from it towards the ceiling. I knew I couldn't keep it up much longer... I was almost spent, and he was a lot stronger than I was.
    Reaching the edge of the slippery patch, I felt friction beneath my feet once more, quickly ducking and leaping to the side. Mr Frog's sword hit the floor with a clang, and the rattling noise it was making began to sound strained. Without waiting to see why, I struck out at him, slashing several times and praying I’d be able to hit him for once... but I didn't.
    "You can't even hit me!" he mocked, and as I backed away in fear, he straightened, regaining his composure. Leaping at me, he struck again. I caught his blade and sent it to the side.
    "They kept you, and got rid of me," he said as coolly as if making dinner conversation, though I could see the hatred in his eyes. "I have practically no official combat training, and I still have the upper hand. Not only that, but I doubt you even understood any of what you stole."
    He struck again, but I spun away from the blow.
    "They were going to terminate me - did they tell you that? An occasional drink or smoke never hurt anyone, but they were going to kill me for it. Yet they keep you... and you're nothing but a pretty face."

    It was an insult I'd heard before, but one that always hit particularly close to home. It hurts like anything when people can't look past your appearance to see what you're capable of, and I snapped, throwing one of my daggers at him. With reflexes like lightning, he blocked with the flat of his blade. Somehow the dagger seemed to entangle itself in the edge of his sword, which fell silent, its rattling and throwing sparks abruptly coming to an end.
    Mr Frog examined the blade with a critical eye.
    I swallowed involuntarily. I'd just foolishly thrown away one of my weapons, and I knew that just one would never be enough to defend myself with. As fear began to grip my heart, Mr Frog spoke.
    I expected anger, but he seemed collected, though somewhat annoyed. "I should thank you," he said slowly, hanging the damaged weapon on the pillar where it had come from. "You just did me a great assistance with my research, though you didn't know it. I've been needing to test that weapon's breaking point in a combat situation for some time now. However," he added, removing another weapon from the wall, "you've destroyed much of my equipment, and made a great mess of my laboratory." As he looked over his new weapon - a pike with a geared blade like a saw at the butt end - he continued, his brow furrowing with contained loathing, "Not only that, but you're taking far too long to kill. I have somewhere I need to be in a very short time, and now I'm running behind schedule."
    Suddenly the saw on the pike whirred to life like magic, spinning so fast I couldn't see the teeth. I watched it for a moment in terrified fascination, and he leapt at me.
    My confidence was gone, and it was all I could do to dodge the wide arc that the saw-pike could cleave through the air. Only moments later I was forced to block as the blade came at me sideways. I leapt out of the way, but the toothed gear ripped the dagger from my hands, throwing it at the ceiling, which rippled almost like water as the weapon bounced off it. I gasped, wondering what magic it was that Mr Frog practiced in such secret.
    Stepping forward, Mr Frog swung again, and I threw myself backwards onto my hands to avoid it, yelling in fear as the blade screamed over me, inches from my face. I tried to get to my feet again, but he was already upon me, holding it inches from my chest. I backed away, looking for something I could grab - anything - to throw at him, but my groping hands found nothing, and I found myself backed against the hallway door.
    Mr Frog held the spinning blade steady inches from my neck. I tilted my chin upwards, fearing it’d be cut apart. "But why aren't you dead yet?" he asked slowly, but he sounded more curious than loathing.
    Tears began to stream down my cheeks. I didn't want to die. I didn't want anyone to die, really, but especially not me. I could feel the wind on my neck from the spinning saw blade Mr Frog was holding so near, and I knew I only had moments to live.
    "Really, why aren't you dead?" he questioned with furrowed brow, examining me with the curious eye of a scientist. "The biochemical in those darts should've done its job by now... Why hasn't your kill switch been activated?” He paused, tilting his head. Then, louder, he asked me, “What did you do? What did they give you?"
    Blinking back my tears, I whispered, "Maybe I'm not who you think I am."
    For a moment, I saw a glimmer of hope that he might spare my life, but it was gone when he responded: "Perhaps so. Perhaps you're just an elvish spy, as Splint thought. But either way... after all you've seen... you know too much." He drew back the sawpike, spinning the sharp end around to face me. As it swung back towards my chest, I screamed in terror.

    But I wasn't the only one who screamed: from behind Mr Frog came a horrible war-cry in a voice that I recognized instantly: it was Talvi.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2014, 11:27:37 pm by Talvieno »
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Re: Vanya's Journals (Story)
« Reply #8 on: November 25, 2012, 04:06:53 pm »

Chapter 8: Cavywoman Returns
This is a stolen journal. It has its moments of dullness and the runes are flowing. You cannot help but wish it had been a pop-up book like the one Mitchewawa had claimed credit for finding.

    I know I ended the last entry on a bit of an exciting point, but dinner had arrived. Still... I don't have much else to do, so I'm just going to continue with what I had been writing. I don't want to forget to write anything down, as I still want to get this published so that people can read it. I don't really need the money right now, but it would be nice if people at least knew my story. It would make it all feel worthwhile... even if it couldn't make any of it better. Maybe it's just a fantasy I'd be better off without, but I can't help it.

~~~

    Just as Mr Frog prepared to stab me through the heart with the spear point of his sawpike, Talvi leapt from the shadows behind him, yelling, "FOR MAH CAVIES!!!"
    I don't know how long she'd been watching us, to time her leap so perfectly, but it caught Mr Frog by surprise. He spun, holding the shaft of the sawpike between two outstretched hands, and just barely managed to catch the handle of Talvi's axe against it, staggering backwards under the weight of the blow.
    The newly-sharpened blade of Talvi's well-worn woodcutting axe glinted in the torchlight as she drew back for another strike, but Mr Frog got out of the way as it came down, snatching a package from a bag on a nearby table as he went. He ripped away the parchment wrapping, revealing a cylinder of glass with a tiny needle at the front: a syringe. Mr Frog had invented them just this past year, and gotten Mitchewawa's new doctors to use them at the hospital. I assumed the amnesiac was contained within the one he held, as he seemed to be looking for an opening in Talvi's defense so that he could use it.

    "Mr Frog!" Talvi yelled, stalking towards him with axe drawn over her shoulder. She wore no armor, but looking back now, I'm not sure how her pudgy form would've been able to fit into it - especially not the slender-fit armor in the chest in her room. "Mr Frog, you killed mah cavies! You knocked me over th' head jes' like any right mugger, and now you're tryin' t' kill mah V girl!" She gave me a wink before laying another crushing blow towards Mr Frog from the side.
    Mr Frog managed to block with the shaft of his sawpike, but just barely. The weight behind Talvi's axe nearly knocked him off his feet, and he dropped the little syringe, which rolled across the floor and into a darkened corner.
    "Talvi, I did what I had to for the sake of science, and I had Splint's permission to do it," he said, stabbing the spinning blade towards my friend, who easily knocked it aside with her weapon. "As to hitting you over the head, I'm sorry, but you stole my PEA and you weren't supposed to know about it!" He sounded less confident now than he had while fighting me.
    "That don't matter none! I dun even know what one'f them P-E-A's is, nohow!" Talvi struck at him again and he jumped aside, trying to get to the little needle, but Talvi saw what he was after. She rushed forwards, swinging like a mad woman (which she possibly still was), and Mr Frog retreated. Upon reaching the syringe, she crushed it under her foot.
    That seemed to make Mr Frog switch gears. "Talvi, I wanted to settle this without bloodshed, but now you've left me no choice." Saying this, he swung the screaming blade of his sawpike towards her, but she batted it down.
    Talvi jumped away from the blade as it came around for a second pass, albeit somewhat clumsily. She seemed no stranger to the weapon, possibly from all her stalking of the dwarf. Backing farther away, she screamed back at him, "Well you ain't ne'er killed nobody! Heard you tell Splint so myself, and I don't bet worth a cloud's stomach you could kill me now!" She stood defiantly in the middle of the room.

    I was frozen in terror. I didn't want either one of them to be killed, despite the fact that Mr Frog had been trying to kill me only moments before. If Talvi killed Mr Frog, she'd be executed for her crime... it was the dwarven way of dealing justice.
 
    Mr Frog approached her at a run, his torn and battered cloak fluttering behind him. Talvi dodged the spinning blade and got in closer, swinging her axe as if she was trying to fell a tree. Mr Frog spun his shaft and blocked, and though he took a step back, he didn't stagger. "Talvi, I can do anything I set my mind to." He knocked her axe aside with the pike end and stabbed towards her. She leapt backwards, but not in time to avoid the pointed metal.
    I screamed.
    Talvi seemed to grow even angrier, though, and grabbed the shaft with her oversized hand, trying to wrest it from Mr Frog's grasp. The silvery glint of chain mail showed through the jagged hole in her shirt.
    They struggled together: As Mr Frog tried to keep the spinning blade behind his shoulder from cutting into him, Talvi pulled, bringing him and his weapon in closer. Then she released it, for a two-handed downwards swing of her axe towards his head.
    Mr Frog got under the sawpike's shaft, just in time to catch Talvi's weapon and throw it to the side. Standing, he jabbed towards her again, and Talvi countered with a swing of her own. As Mr Frog stepped away from it, he nearly lost his footing, sliding across the shimmering substance I'd spilled on the floor minutes before. Talvi followed in a fury, laying down one strike after another. He blocked and parried, but suddenly reached to the side and grabbed a vial of liquid.
    My friend stopped. "Mr Frog, don't you - " Her words were interrupted as the glass shattered at her feet, splashing onto her legs. "Cavy poison!" she screeched, leaping backwards from it in dismay. I got up and moved to where I could have a better view, and bit my lip as I saw that her legs seemed almost to be smoking.
    Mr Frog reached for another vial, but with a scream of rage Talvi charged him like a bull. He swung his sawpike towards her, but she batted it aside as a minor nuisance.
    "Mr Frog!" Talvi screamed, readying for another strike, "I loved you!" she swung her weapon towards him in a wide arc, slicing open some of the strange machinery on the table beside them, which erupted in flickering lightning and a shower of sparks.
    "I'll admit that potion did more than I expected it to!” Mr Frog caught the axe's handle with the shaft of his weapon, his reflexes as sharp as ever, and sent his saw blade down towards her head with as much force as he could. She blocked with the handle of her axe above her head, but almost couldn't hold it.

    They stood there for a moment, glaring at each other in fury, panting from exertion. Sweat poured down their faces, beginning to stain their clothes, as sparks flew from the machines and another shower of them cascaded downwards from their crossed weapons. The shimmering surface of the mirroring floor caught fire, tiny flames licking across its surface towards Mr Frog's cloak, which sprouted tiny flames of its own. At the same time, Talvi's shoes caught fire and began smoking.

    But Mr Frog took no notice. Without warning, he pulled his sawpike back and stabbed the whirring blade towards Talvi’s chest. I shrieked in horror as she stumbled backwards, clutching for something to hold onto, her axe hanging limply in her hand. Mr Frog continued, pressing the screeching weapon against her with as much force as he could muster, as the blade clattered and groaned in protest.
    Suddenly Talvi regained her footing and knocked his weapon roughly to the side with the flat of her axe. A huge hole gleamed through her shirt, showing the jagged, twisted links of broken chain mail, which glittered in the light, as smoke from the fires began to cloud the ceiling.
    As she readied her axe once more, she glared at him in the fury of a woman scorned, growling, "You drugged me, Mr Frog? I di'n't make you o'erseer for no good reason other'n that??"
    "You did just as I wanted you to, Talvi," he said calmly, leaping towards her, as his flaming, jagged cloak billowed back. "And I drugged you many, many times."
    She caught his strike, and with a kick sent him tumbling backwards towards the flames that were licking their way across the floor. As he attempted to get to his feet, she struck at him repeatedly with one hand, driving him back towards me as they slid across the shimmering ground.
    The ceiling briefly erupted in a spray of water, dousing the flickering fires spread around the room. The shimmering, mirrored surface of the altered floor appeared to melt away, revealing solid stone.
    Talvi swung one last blow at Mr Frog, knocking him onto his back. She stood over him menacingly, and the fire faded from her eyes, replaced with a grim determination. "Mr Frog," she said in her country accent, her chest heaving with heavy breath, "You's jes' as bad as Joseph, mebbe worse. You ain't never gonna poison nobody again." She swung her axe blade downwards towards him.
    At the last moment, he rolled aside and swung his sawpike shaft around her, catching her in the back with a loud crack.
    Talvi screamed in pain and fell to her knees.
    Mr Frog, tired and haggard, pulled himself to his feet beside her and said, "I'm sorry, Talvi."
    I looked around desperately for some way to save my friend, and my eyes lighted on a tiny package inside a bag on a nearby table.
    He couldn't see the wicked gleam in her eye that I could, as she suddenly swung her axe around, parallel to the floor. It caught him in the back of the knee, and he fell backwards, his weapon arm trapped beneath him. Talvi quickly moved on top of him, pinning his arms to the floor and holding the blade of her axe, hovering, over his throat.
    I leapt for the bag on the table and snatched out the little object.
    Talvi whispered, "Ah'm sorry, Mr Frog," just as I slammed the needle of a syringe into her arm.

    She collapsed to the side. Turning her head and clutching her arm, she looked up at me with an innocent, bewildered look in her eyes that made mine swim with moisture. "V..." she said quietly, a tear trickling down her face, "you done betrayed me too, now... How could you? You, V... I took you in, kept you safe... we was friends."
    I shook my head, as tears began to stain my cheeks. I hadn't wanted anyone to die. Not even Mr Frog.
    Her gaze left mine, her eyes dizzying into a fog, and she slumped forwards atop her opponent. I backed away in disbelief at what I’d done, and grabbed my beanie from the floor where Mr Frog had thrown it.

    Mr Frog started to try to move her body off him, and I didn't stay to watch. Jamming my little hat down on my head, over the ears I was so ashamed of, I ran to the door, throwing the lock and bolting outside.

    I ran down the corridors of the apartment level and up the stairs, hoping to reach the farm level and get back through the little tunnel to the condemned dump. I had hopes that Mr Frog wouldn't have taken my belongings with him, and that I might be able to recover something... perhaps my old quilt, or my hairbrush.
    As I exited the stairs onto the level of the mushroom farms, I heard someone nearby calling out. "You! It's you!" a male’s voice yelled. I turned to look at the speaker. It was Mitchewawa, coming at me and pointing his finger accusingly.
    I turned and ran. I didn't know how much longer I'd be able to keep this up before I collapsed from exhaustion, but I'd rather collapse anywhere besides ten feet from Mitch.

    Dodging dwarves that were hauling things to and from the caravan, I headed towards the trade depot by the old wagon road. I thought that if I could make it that far, I might be able to find that little hidden tunnel that led into the dump.
    As Splint passed by, I ducked into an alcove and tried unsuccessfully to breathe quietly. Fortunately, he was so absorbed in his duties that he didn't notice, but he stopped only a few feet away to talk to one of the guards. He was talking about me.
    I waited - it seemed like forever before finally, finally, he moved on.

    As soon as he left, I made a break for it, and was almost stunned to find Talvi ahead of me.
    "Hey there, V," she said with a big smile and a nod. Her shirt had been changed.
    I’m not sure how the amnesiac had accomplished its job so quickly, but she seemed to have forgotten absolutely everything that had happened in the past few days. She just seemed... blissful. She was happier than I'd seen her in a long, long time, and I had to fight the urge to throw my arms around her, I was so glad she was all right. I only waved back, wiping away the tears of joy that threatened to fall.
    With a wink, she turned back and continued towards the depot, and as I needed to go in the same direction, I followed her, into the huge underground courtyard that housed the trading depot.

    A new small caravan, or something like it, was coming in from the entrance to the wagon road. I got up against the wall to wait for them to pass, but suddenly I heard screaming: "He's turning! He's turning!" someone yelled, causing everyone to panic. I had no idea what was going on, and slinked into a corner.
    Then I saw him again: the big, strong dwarf with the lantern jaw. He was talking to Talvi and pointing down the hallway, deeper into the fortress. As she nodded and left at a brisk pace, he drew his sword, jogging towards the direction of the screaming.
    My heart fluttered. He was so close to me now.
    Guards were evacuating everyone from the depot, but they didn't see me and I was left behind. I didn't understand what the fuss was about… the yelling had stopped, and the soldiers seemed less on edge. As far as I could tell, they’d already taken care of the problem.

    Then I almost fainted. Right in front of me, less than fifteen feet away, a dwarf began to transform. He seemed to grow and split his armor, his skin shriveling and changing to a pallid, deathly hue as his muscles shrank away, his bony arms stretching to an unnatural length.
    I shrieked in terror, and for a moment, Lantern-jaw looked straight at me. Then he saw the misshapen dwarf who was twisting and writhing like a worm, and after shouting a few orders, he charged.
    But the transforming creature hadn't finished: it shuddered, and its front split in two halves, creating a deep gash from mouth to abdomen, ringed with hundreds upon hundreds of long, sharp teeth.
    It was a Holistic Spawn. I'd just seen one transform right in front of me, and now I knew: the stories were real. I wasn't sure whether to vomit, scream, or cry... I just wanted more than anything to become really, really invisible.

    Lantern-jaw reached the abomination and scored a clean strike straight through the head with his spear. I almost cheered, expecting the monster to fall to the ground, dead, but the spawn appeared unaffected, flinging Lantern-jaw against the wall beside me before extracting the spear and tossing it nonchalantly in my direction.
    I rushed over to where Lantern-jaw lay, and knelt, putting my hand on his chest to feel his heartbeat… before I remembered: he was wearing a breastplate. His eyes opened, and he shook his head as if to clear it.
    "Are you hurt?" I asked him quietly, hardly aware of the battle raging behind me, as I heard another dwarf scream a battle cry and rush the monster.
    He shook his head again in response, and looked back at his enemy, trying to struggle to his feet.
    I turned around and saw another dwarf hit the monster in the chest, just before being ripped in two, blood spattering everywhere. I stared in shock, my mouth hanging open - I’d just witnessed death. Lantern-jaw seemed to be taking it even harder than I was... it must have been his friend.
    Suddenly I screamed: the Spawn had turned, and was approaching us at an incredible pace, using its freakishly long arms to help it gallop forwards. The axe stuck in its chest seemed hardly an annoyance to the creature.
    I glanced at Lantern-jaw. He was having trouble standing straight, as he staggered towards his weapon unsteadily.
    The spawn was almost on us, but it wasn't headed for me... it was headed for the soldier.

    It all happened so fast.
    I screamed and sprinted at Lantern-jaw, throwing my full weight at him in a flying leap. We fell to the side as the Spawn's chest mouth gnashed against the wall, having missed us completely.
    I looked at the soldier's face... he looked me in the eyes and nodded in appreciation. <3 No one ever looks a skulker in the eyes. I almost melted, before I heard a scream behind me, and the monster fell dead, having shattered its own heart with the axe that it’d just crushed farther into its chest.

    Other dwarves rushed towards us, checking on whether the Spawn was actually dead and picking up the fragments of armor that had been destroyed by the transformation. Lantern-jaw pulled himself to his feet, shaking his head slowly, and walked unsteadily towards the center of the room. I followed by him, lending what assistance I could and trying to help him stand straight, though I'm not even sure he even realized I was there.
    Without warning, he turned towards the other side of the depot. A dwarf was standing there, in a dark, hooded robe that concealed his face in shadow. The dwarf motioned, and Lantern-jaw straightened, pulling his arm from my hand and following the mysterious hooded figure down a hallway.

    I watched him go, standing unnoticed in the center of the depot courtyard, as other dwarves rushed around me. I'd hated that he’d left, but I was also so happy: happy for Talvi, happy I'd saved Lantern-jaw's life. I was so happy that I didn't hear the dwarf who was approaching from behind.

    "Where did he go?" he asked brusquely, grabbing me by the arms and spinning me around to look in my face.
    It was Mr Frog.
    I stared at him, half in fear, half because I didn't know what he meant. "What?" I managed.
    "Where did he go? Where did Urist go?" he asked urgently, shaking me slightly. I couldn't believe he wasn't killing me.
    "I'm not sure what you mean..."
    He looked so tired. Clearly, fighting women wasn’t something he did every day. "Urist, the new soldier from the caravan a few days ago, the one who attacked the Spawn a few minutes ago – where is he?"
    My eyes widened as I realized who he meant. Urist, I thought, what a beautiful name.
    Mr Frog shook me again. "Quickly!" he said.
    My eyes refocused. "Sorry," I said, pointing down the hallway where I'd seen the lantern-jawed Urist disappear. “That way.”
    The former overseer let go of me and marched away in that direction at a brisk pace, saying over his shoulder, "Don't think I'm through with you yet. I'm simply short on time. I'll be back."

    As he walked away, I noticed that he'd removed his destroyed cloak. Watching him disappear into the darkness, I suddenly realized why he wore it: without the cape on, he seemed taller, somehow... taller than a dwarf. It struck me that maybe… maybe he wasn't a dwarf at all.

    Then I remembered Talvi's envelope. She'd told me to open it if anything happened to her.
    Hastily I retrieved the it from my blouse and slit the top, shaking the contents into my hand. Within it was an oddly designed key and a slip of parchment that read in Talvi's darkened scrawl, "Joseph must be stopped".
« Last Edit: March 13, 2013, 11:14:12 pm by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals (Story)
« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2012, 06:38:59 pm »


Colonel Fischer, Spearbreaker's Champion. Art by Splint

Chapter 9: Pyrrhic Victory
This is a stolen journal, originally belonging to a soldier named "HARD", who had a particularly strong stomach. The story of "V", also known as "Vanya", continues within its pages. It appears as though it may be far from over, though it is unclear just how much more she wrote. Only a few more entries grace these hard-bound sheets of rope reed parchment - if she wrote a full account of her adventures, the remainder must be contained elsewhere.

    "Victory" is an odd word... it implies that you've won; it implies that the enemy has been defeated. But what if you've lost while you've gained? What if both sides believe they have a victory? What if both get what they desire, and believe they've struck a crushing blow to the other? What word do you use then?
    Some try to change it by calling it a "hollow victory" or a "little victory", but that's only tacking one word onto another. In the end, it doesn't matter what you call it. It's still not a complete win. Your opponent has defeated you in some ways, just as you've defeated your opponent in others.
    Even if a great leader loses only a few dwarves while her enemy loses thousands of elves, like the Queen Tholtig fairy tale, those few dwarves who died have been defeated. The victory is near complete, but not total. And what if this great leader only had a few soldiers to begin with? What if she defeats thousands of elves and drives them back, but loses her entire civilization? The enemy was driven back, but could you really call it a victory?

    You understand my problem... I don't know whether what I managed on that day was really a victory. I saved Talvi's life, and that of Mr Frog's, but was it really a victory? The true enemy, Joseph, was still at large, and had simply used me to further his cause. In the end, Joseph got what he wanted: Mr Frog's promise to assist him with a favor. The only way he failed was that I wasn't killed. But if he really knew everything... why wasn't I dead? If he could predict my actions - as well as those of Mr Frog's - with almost perfect precision, why hadn't I died? Was there something he didn't know? Was he maybe getting lazy?

    I've had plenty of time to think and wonder these past weeks...

~~~

    As I watched the tall, cloakless form of Mr Frog follow the path that Urist had taken deeper into the fortress, an idea suddenly struck me: my bracelet was unprotected. I could walk right into Mr Frog's room and find it, and it was unlikely that there were any traps remaining in there. A hope surged through my already-happy heart, and I turned, starting towards his room. I was excited, in a way: my bracelet would soon finally, finally be in my possession.

    I knew I still had to be careful, though... the guards were on watch for me, and as I snuck through the many doors of the upper levels, I saw several soldiers snatching skulkers out of the shadows and asking them questions. Splint had given orders to look for me, just like he'd said he would a few hours before... the past few years, no one bothered to stop us except Mr Frog and Mitchewawa, but now every guard and every soldier was assisting. In a fortress where a third of the dwarves are in the military, that's saying something.
    Through an accident, I'd suddenly made the basement class visible. I hoped they wouldn't hate me for it, and I especially hoped that the guards didn't know I was an elf. I knew in my heart that if they did, one of them at least would let it slip... and the entire fortress would know who I was.
    These horrible, pointed ears drive me mad sometimes... they make me feel like I'm some kind of horrible mutant... like I stand out and everyone can tell who I am just by looking at me, beanie or not.
    I may be an elf, but I was raised as a dwarf. While I don't hate my kind like King Cacame from the fairy tales did, I’m ashamed of who I am. I shouldn't be in a dwarf's fortress, but at the same time, it's my home.
    Splint was right: my bracelet shouldn't exist. I shouldn't exist.

    When I reached the apartment level, I walked straight down the corridors to Mr Frog's room, and it was just a few minutes more before I stood directly outside.
    As I turned the knob, I found to my dismay that it wouldn't move. He'd locked it when he'd left.
    Of course the first thought in my mind was the little passage in the tail of Talvi's cavy room.


    Standing before it once more, I looked inside. The grate still hadn't been placed back; it had only been an hour or less since I'd entered last, and Talvi had come after me.
    As I steeled myself against my fears, preparing to enter, I couldn't help but smile as I found that this time, the fourth time through, I wasn't so scared. My heartbeat quickened still, but it didn't seem so horrible. With this helpful boost in my confidence, I entered the little vent.
    I plunged forwards through the thick darkness as the tunnel gained altitude, brushing my fingertips against the now-familiar walls, my arms outstretched, trying to stay cheerful and keep the half-hearted smile from leaving my face, even as I swallowed in fear and began to hyperventilate. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.
    I can't see in the dark like a dwarf can, but my sense of touch is the same. Some people even say that elves have more sensitive skin... I'm not sure if it's true, but it was an added comfort to feel that the walls weren't actually going to crush in on me.

    Abruptly I came to a halt, as my ears caught the sound of someone up ahead: a female voice, speaking quietly. I got to my knees to avoid the sloping ceiling and crept towards the tunnel exit, listening carefully.
    "I'm sorry, sir, but I see no blood," the woman spoke. I continued forwards until I could just see inside Mr Frog's room.
    Then I heard a voice I recognized all too well, overdone with pleasantry. "Disappointing, disappointing. Are there any signs of the girl's death, or anything unusual?" It was unmistakably that of Joseph, but the hateful tone he'd used with me was gone. I crawled ahead to the end of the tunnel and peered inside.
    A strange figure was pacing about the room, apparently human, but her apparel seemed otherworldly. The sloping chest vouched for it being a woman. She seemed to be searching the floor for something, while speaking to someone I couldn't see. "There are two discarded daggers here, sir. While metal, they aren't of dwarven make - I've never seen anything like it before. Their blades are badly damaged."
    "Show me."
    The woman walked briskly across the room to one of the corners, and I could see her lift one of Talvi's daggers. Just for a brief, brief moment, I caught sight of a magical tablet similar to the one Mr Frog had. She was holding it and using it the same way.
    "Here you are, sir," she said. I got the impression that she might be a soldier of some sort: everything she did had a very professional feel to it.
    "Very interesting, very interesting indeed..." I heard Joseph muse. "It is weaponry of the Vampiric wars, likely belonging to Talvi Diamondknight, who served with Splint Spearspin, just before the last of the vampires were wiped from existence. The damage pattern appears consistent with that of one of Mr Frog's chainswords, likely the one you found destroyed - perhaps he desired to test his weapon before he got rid of her. Are there any other abnormalities in the room? Make sure you've made a thorough sweep."
    She placed it back on the floor where she'd found it and began to slowly sweep her eyes across the floor, approaching my little corner beside Mr Frog's bed. I backed a little further down the shaft.

    That was when I realized that she'd somehow gotten inside while the door was locked. After a little thought, I decided that Mr Frog's cavy tunnel must've been better known than I believed: Joseph clearly knew of it, and it seemed the woman working for him had known of it as well.

    Finally she stopped, less than ten feet away from me, and bent down, picking something up off the floor. As she bent downwards, her straight, dark hair fell forwards, and her ears poked through behind it. I started as I realized that she was an elf, just like me. She had pointed ears just as I did, and yet she didn't appear to be ashamed of them, as she went without a hat.
    She held up what she'd retrieved in front of the tablet. "Two syringe darts, sir, empty of fluid."
    "I see, I see!" Joseph sounded joyful, and as if he'd just solved a great puzzle. "Mr Frog decided to poison her rather than spill her blood, excellent! He's a clever man, as I've often said. Everything is going as I planned it, and rightly so! You have done well, Vanya Carena. You may return to Ballpoint Technologies until I have further need of you."
    "Yes sir," she said, and her face dimmed as the tablet's front ceased to throw light onto it.
    I hardly noticed her response, so struck was I by the fact that standing a stone's throw in front of me was the real spy... the person Mr Frog had thought I was... the person who shared my first name. Joseph had pronounced it correctly, too, rhyming the first syllable with "pawn", a word that is too often in my mind now.

    Walking to the shimmering hoops on the darker side of the room, the elven spy began to work with some of the machinery. Suddenly there was a flash of light and a buzz like bees, and the hoop widened to a tall oval, the air inside it rippling and shimmering like water. I gasped aloud at the sight before I could stop myself. Fortunately, Carena didn't seem to notice, and stepped right into the magical device as if it was something she did every day. She disappeared completely; there was nothing left of her. I've never, ever seen anything like it, before or since.
    With another buzz and a whoosh, the rippling air seemed to burn away like flames, and in an instant, it was back to normal.
    I couldn't help but wonder, though... why would Joseph send Carena? Why an elf? Why someone who shared my first name, and apparently my initials as well?


    I laid inside the tunnel, my thoughts racing as I attempted unsuccessfully to will myself to move. The words in Talvi's envelope echoed through my mind: "Joseph must be stopped."
    I moved forwards into Mr Frog's room and got to my feet. Taking the envelope back out of my blouse, I shook the contents into my hand.
    The key was strange: the bits were hollow, and were filled with black and golden metal. What had my attention at the time, however, was the little slip of parchment. I read it again: "Joseph must be stopped."
    On a whim, I flipped it over, and was surprised at what I saw: I'd missed the writing on the other side, which was in a smaller, lighter style of handwriting. It was still in Talvi's crude scrawl, and read, "He said he'll destroy Speerbraekers. Warn Splint. It's dangerous to go alone. Take this, and". The message ended abruptly, leaving me wondering what she'd forgotten to write.


    It was ridiculous. Why would Talvi send me, a basement-class dwarf, to Splint? Talvi knew Splint wasn't fond of skulkers, even without knowing he'd mandated my arrest. She was basically sending me into the honey badger's den, alone.
    I looked at the key again. She'd said it was dangerous to go alone, but what did the key fit? Was it supposed to summon some sort of magical creature meant to protect me?
    I slipped the key and parchment clipping back into my envelope, wondering how much time I would have to search for my bracelet before Mr Frog returned. I was sure that if he found me in his office again, it wouldn't matter that I saved his life or helped him with Talvi. I was sure he'd try to kill me again.

    With this in mind, I only spent a few minutes searching for my bracelet before quitting. If my little keepsake had been in there at all, he'd hidden it very cleverly.
    I could've gone back through the cavy tunnel, but I really, really didn't want to have to travel through that tiny passage again if I could help it. I decided to brave the hallways instead, unlocking the door and leaving Mr Frog's room.
    Locking the door behind me, I hurried down the wide corridors to Talvi's room, as I believed it to be the most likely location for a lock her key would fit. It was her key, after all.
    I had to dodge into a bedroom at one point to avoid the guards patrolling the halls, something I'd never had to do before. Thankfully, the bedroom was vacant, and it wasn't long before I hurried on my way. Not long after that I reached my destination.

    Removing the key again, I began walking around Talvi's room, trying to find a chest or cabinet it would fit. Ironically, most of them were already unlocked; security was a matter Talvi never considered.
    I finally gave up and left, but to my delight met a familiar face in the hallway outside the door.
    "Talvi!" I whispered happily, giving her a hug.
    "Aw, my V girl!" she exclaimed a bit too loudly, returning the hug with one that nearly crushed the life out of me. "What's the hug for?"
    I shook my head. "I'm just happy," I said, hastily retrieving the key from the envelope again. "Talvi, have you seen this key before?" I asked, holding it up in the light.
    The former overseer looked it over carefully, moving her head to look at one side, and then the other. Leaning in closely, she sniffed it, before straightening with a shrug. "Sorry, V, I ain't ne'er seen it afore. You lookin' for a lock it fits?"
    I nodded, putting it back in my blouse. "Yes, Miss Talvi. I just thought you might know," I said unhappily. She noticed my disappointment and appeared chagrined. "It's okay, though," I added quickly. "Thank you anyway, you're a great help to me."
    This appeared to cheer her somewhat. "Aw, thass no problem," she said with a wide smile, giving me another, smaller hug. "I'll let y'know iffn I sniff out a lock that smells like it, though, 'K?"
    I knew her well enought to know that "sniff out" wasn't likely a figure of speech. "All right. And thank you again!" I said quietly, and then we parted ways.


    It's remarkable what a little bit of hope can do for a girl: though I was homeless, and all I had in my possession was a stolen journal, a mysterious key, and a hat from a garbage heap, somehow I thought that maybe bringing Talvi's warning to Splint as she requested would redeem myself in his eyes. I didn't care for being a hero or saving the fortress. I just wanted back to my old, quiet life... the way things used to be. I never wanted wealth; I never wanted power. I especially never wanted fame... I'd be more likely to receive infamy, anyway, just because of my elven heritage. I just wanted to live in peace. I wasn't cut out for any of what was going on, and I knew it, too.

    I hesitated outside Splint's office door for a moment, pressing my ear to it. I could hear quiet voices, but I wasn't sure whom they belonged to. Finally I got up enough courage to draw up a plan in my head: I would show him the slip of paper, and then, when I had his attention, I'd show him the key. If there was anyone who might know what it unlocked, it would be him. After getting Talvi's parchment message out, I knocked on the door.

    The slat drew back, revealing the eyes and raised eyebrows of a dwarf. The door opened quickly, and a hand pulled me inside.
    I looked up at my captor: it was Draignean, another former overseer of the fortress. He always wore what he called a "man skirt", as well as a very flashy dress shirt, and his hair was always, always very neatly combed. He was unmistakable.
    His musical voice was just as recognizable. "Could this be that same dangerous, skulking spy, Splint?" he asked, dragging me behind him towards the conference table where Splint and Colonel Fischer were getting to their feet in surprise. "It would appear my sheer magnetism has drawn her out of the woodworks, and as you can see she's clearly no match for my strength." The weird thing was, he wasn't being sarcastic. He really does have that big of an ego.
    Splint's brow furrowed. "Enough, Draignean. Remove that hat she's wearing - let's see if it's really her."
    Draignean removed it with a flourish and a bow, as if he was finishing some great act onstage. I could feel the blood that crept into my cheeks as Fischer spoke: "Pointed ears. It's her."
    Splint only shook his head. "You're definitely the dumbest spy I've ever seen, but at least you've saved us the trouble of tracking you down." Turning, he spoke to Fischer. "Cuff her - let's get her down to the prison."
    "Wait!" I yelled, and three sets of eyes came to rest on me. "I brought you something you have to see. Someone's trying to destroy the fortress, and I'm trying to help you!" I straightened out the piece of paper as best as I could and held it up.
    Draignean snatched it from my fingers. "It appears to be an ancient dialect of Koboldese. Fortunately, I can read in no less than sixteen languages."
    Splint raised an eyebrow. Beside him, Fischer rolled her eyes.
    "Junn sepp mussabbi stuppidd..." Draignean mused in a serious, thoughtful tone. "Would you like me to translate?"
    "No." Fischer answered flatly, walking forwards at a rough pace and snatching it from him. "Please, please don't." She took it to Splint, who examined it carefully. I watched, actually hopeful that I might be allowed a room of my own when it was all over.
    Splint scratched his beard. "Koboldese? This is nothing more than Dwarven Standard. Corai's taught me how kobolds communicate, anyway - they don't use writing. This handwriting's horrible, though..." He flipped it over, reading the other side. "You," he addressed me, "who wrote this?"
    "It was Miss Talvi, Mr. Splint," I said as calmly as I could.
    It was a mistake to say. His expression changed from a thoughtful curiousness to disdain. "You clearly couldn't have been here long - Talvi isn't right in the head, and we don't take anything she says at face value. Let's just finish this business - Fischer, hurry up and take her to the prison."
    Fischer pulled out a set of manacles and approached me. "Splint, I've had to tell you many, many times. This fortress has been running for six years, and we still don't have a prison. Not even a room with chains attached to the floors and walls."
    I shook my head and tried to get away, but even one-handed, Draignean was too strong for me. "I will receive public credit for her capture, I assume?" he asked, examining the fingernails of his free hand with a pleased look on his face.
    "Of course not," Splint said as I switched captors.
    I felt the cold steel of the handcuffs biting into my wrists... dwarven handcuffs aren't something to mess around with, and Fischer puts them on tightly.
    "This has to be kept secret," Splint continued. "I don't want it getting out that we have an elvish spy in custody. And Fischer..." He paused for a moment, deep in thought.
    "Sir?" she asked, standing at the ready.
    "If we really don't have a jail, just throw her in a room near the spawn."
    I bit my lip, but made a final, desperate effort. "Wait!" I cried out. "I have something else to show you!"
    A hand clamped over my mouth with vicious strength. "Yes sir, Splint," Fischer said. "I'm going to take the liberty to knock her unconscious as well."
    "Fine, fine," Splint said unconcernedly, already turning back to his work. "And keep those ears of hers covered - I don't want this getting out. We can deal with her later."
    I felt my beanie being jammed over my ears, and that was all I knew before Fischer's gauntleted fist came down roughly on my head.


    And... here I've been for the past... I don't know how long, honestly. A few months at least, I'm sure. I can hear dwarves talking down the hall on occasion, when the Spawn caged near me aren't screeching hideously and clawing at their doors. If I heard correctly, Mitchewawa isn't the overseer anymore. It's someone new: Paintbrushturkey. He seems pretty bright, at least - I heard someone saying migrants actually made it to the fortress for once, despite the hundreds of zombies milling outside our gates. That hasn't happened in years. It also sounds like he did an incredible job of upgrading the military, something you'd expect from an army dwarf.

    The Spawn Isolation Chambers, where I am, have been designated as an area with restricted access. Splint didn't want anyone in here who wasn't cleared.
    He interrogated me once, early on, but he didn't stay long. "I'll come back when you feel more willing to talk," he told me, wincing at the noise the Spawn were making as he left. His room is up on the top floor, far away from the noise they make; unlike the rest of the dwarves, he doesn't have to sleep through their racket, and he's not used to it. To his credit, though, he did bring me a charcoal pencil... Splint's a kind dwarf at heart. I'm not completely sure, but I don't think he sees me as a spy anymore.

    The only person I see regularly is Fischer... I suppose to make sure I haven't escaped or been let free. I don't see how there's much chance of that, seeing how the Holistic Spawn themselves can't break free of these cells. Even so, she refuses to speak to me, and ignores anything I say. On rare occasions, other dwarves come down here to check on the Spawn. Sometimes they look at me, but it's not often any more than a glance.

    I used to cry sometimes, after Fischer threw me in here, but that happens less now... I don't see that I'm getting out of here anytime soon. I'll probably be here until the fortress falls.
    It's unfair, though... You try to save the fortress, and you wind up incarcerated. You save the lives of two people, and you wind up forgotten... sitting lifeless in a darkened corner like a doll forgotten by its owner... gathering dust, and hoping against hope that the end is coming soon.
« Last Edit: November 21, 2018, 05:15:22 pm by Talvieno »
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Re: Vanya's Journals (Story)
« Reply #10 on: November 26, 2012, 07:42:56 am »


Chapter 10: Strawberry Wine
The pages following the previous entry are covered in various doodled drawings in charcoal pencil. Vanya isn't the best artist, but you can recognize many of the things she drew: an elven dagger, Mr Frog's PEA, a strange key, and a poorly drawn popup book, among other things. Finally the artwork ends, and you find another entry from the young elven woman.

    They say that if you spend a long enough time with anyone, you know almost everything about them. I suppose the same goes with places you live or stay: I know my little cell as well as I used to know Spearbreakers itself... as well as I used to know my little sister...

    The walls in my cell are carved directly from cold, gray stone, and are neither smoothed, nor engraved. The only exit is a rusty iron portcullis that lowers into the floor when a locked lever in the hallway outside is pulled; even if I could get a set of keys from a guard, I wouldn't be able to escape. There's a little toilet at one corner of my cell, and the other corner has a roughly-carved shelf that's supposed to serve as a bed. In between the two corners rests a heavy granite chair, only lightly smoothed.
    I get my meals twice a day: once at breakfast, once at dinner. It's usually an old biscuit and a waterskin, dropped in through the hole in the roof of my room. They don't give me alcohol, but I don't really have any problem with that... being an elf does have a few oft-overlooked benefits.

    But I have something more important to write about right now... Mr Frog came to see me a few days ago. I hadn't been expecting his visit... I hadn't been expecting anyone at all. Actually, I'd been asleep when he arrived.

~~~

    I awoke slowly to the sensation of someone shaking my shoulder. "Vanya," I heard a voice say in my dreams, and it startled me awake.
    I rolled away from the wall in a fright and almost fell off the bed-shelf, looking about wildly.
    "Careful," someone spoke, as gentle hands kept me from falling and sat me upright.
    As my blurry vision cleared, I was able to make out the shape of a cloaked figure. I felt my hands move themselves clumsily to my hair, not so much to smooth it, but to cover my ears. My hair hadn't been brushed in weeks, as I hadn't been allowed a brush. I'd used my fingers as best as I could, but it just doesn't work as well... and I also badly needed to bathe.
    My awakener took my upwards-creeping hands and put them in my lap. "Vanya, wake up," the voice said again, and I slowly recognized who it was.
    "Mr Frog," I guessed, blinking my closing eyes in an attempt to stay awake, as much as to clear them. Living so close to the cells of the ever-screaming Spawn means you're always tired.
    "Correct," he replied. "I said I'd be back."
    Still half-asleep, I could feel my lips twisting into a bewidered frown. "Please don't kill me," I begged, my voice breaking. I almost tried to turn and lie back down, as if I could sleep him away, but he caught me again by the arms and kept me sitting up.
    "I'm not going to kill you," he said. His voice lacked the cold edge I'd grown familiar to. "I do need you to drink something for me, though."
    The fog of sleep was finally beginning to lift from my mind. I looked in his eyes searchingly before I spoke again, in a whisper, "I'm your next guinea pig, aren't I..."
    Mr Frog gave a slight shake of the head. "No. This won't do anything harmful to you, and in a few days you can forget you ever drank it." He offered me a small glass filled with a clear, red-tinted liquid.
    I made no move to take it, wanting nothing more than for him to leave. I'd saved his life, but it didn't mean I had to like him, and it especially didn't mean I trusted him. "Mmm-mmm", I said negatively as I shook my head in protest, turning away.
    "Smell it," he suggested. "It must taste better than what they've been feeding you. It's from my own private stock, and I don't part with it lightly."
    I'm ashamed to admit that that got my attention. He held it up, and I leaned forwards to take a sniff. It was wine, and it smelled deliciously of strawberries. But I still wasn't convinced. "What did you put in it?"
    "Nothing harmful."
    "But what's in it?"
    "Just a truth serum. You don't have anything to hide, do you?"
    This last was offered almost as a challenge. If I refused it, he could assume that I did have something to hide... but I was already taking the glass in my hands. It tasted wonderful, and I gulped it down possibly faster than I should have.
    "That's a good girl," he said, taking it back and stepping towards the middle of the room. "I'll be back in a day or so. Turn away now - lie back down and go to sleep."
    I didn't.
    "Turn away, I said," he repeated, the gentleness leaving his voice.
    Not wanting to invoke his wrath, I complied. Behind me, I heard the portcullis raise, and then lower again. When I turned back, he was gone. I still haven't figured out how he managed to escape.

    My stomach felt queasy that night.


    A day later, he returned. I was awake when he arrived, and saw him jump lightly down from the hole in the ceiling, his cloak flapping loudly in the air as he fell the nine feet to the ground.
    I was sitting crosslegged on my shelf with my journal in hand, which I put to the side. "Welcome back," I said softly. "Why are you here now?"
    He straightened, and pushed my cell's chair across the floor to where he could sit opposite me, facing me. Taking a notebook and pencil from his cloak, he responded. "I've come to ask you a few questions. Will you respond truthfully?"
    "I'm not sure if I'll want to," I said, surprising myself. I wondered why I'd been so blunt.
    Mr Frog answered my unasked question. "I see the serum is doing its work. Don't try to fight it, you'll only hurt yourself. I had to invent a new recipe just for you - you should feel special."
    "I'm the only elf in a fortress of dwarves... I feel special enough already, thank you."
    "And that's exactly why I had to. The elven physiology is different from that of dwarves.
    "Now," he continued, "If it worked properly, you'll find yourself compelled to speak your mind, and compelled to speak the truth. Your memory has also been temporarily improved."
    "Mr Frog?" I interrupted, "do you really think I'm a spy?"
    "I don't jump to conclusions."
    "You thought I was a spy before..." I prodded.
    His brow furrowed in displeasure. "Originally the fact that you were an elf, that you were listed in the records of Ballpoint as a spy, and that one of my blueprints had disappeared was enough for me to believe it. However, you went to Splint's office, knowing you could be caught. You could still be a spy, for all I know, and just not a very smart one. But for some reason these memories are unclear to me..." He said this last almost to himself, and his voice trailed off.
    I decided to take advantage of the silence. "I saved your life," I reminded him, hoping he hadn't forgotten.
    It shook him from his thoughts. "That actually works against you. If you were spying on my work, my death would be destructive to your position. It would be in your best interests to save my life."
    "But I wasn't spying..." My heart sank as I said it.
    "That remains to be seen. Do you have anything you wish to hide?"
    "Yes," I whispered.
    Mr Frog raised an eyebrow. "And that would be?"
    "My ears."
    For a moment I thought I caught a smile on his face. "If that's all, then let's begin."
    "All right."
    He made a note in his notebook and began. "Think back to your childhood. What do you remember?"
    "A lot..." It wasn't a lie. For some reason I just wanted to make it difficult for him.
    He sighed and looked up at me. "Vanya, if you fight this, it will only take longer."
    "I'm sorry, Mr Frog," I said.
    "Good," he said. "Now, think back to when you were four. Where did you live?"
    "The mountainhome."
    "How well do you remember how the mountainhome looked when you were four?"
    I almost said "not well", but suddenly found I could recall everything from that age with incredible clarity. I could see my grandmomma in my mind's eye as clearly as if she was there; I saw the old familiar bed where I used to sleep in my granpa's apartment at the mountainhome, the great caravans arriving and departing, the old toys I used to play with. "How do I... how is it so clear? How can I remember it so well?" I asked breathlessly, awestruck.
    "The drugs in the liquid you drank yesterday, of course," Mr Frog said dismissively. "Now, tell me about your life as a child. What are some things that helped make you who you are today?"

    I found myself almost hallucinating, picturing the beautiful halls of Tathurkeskal in the mountains of The Amber Barb. Everything was so beautiful compared to Spearbreakers. There weren't bodies and bones littering the halls, nor were there mugs piled in the corners. There were almost no dark alleyways at all. Even the skulkers must've had a special home carved out for them. I sent my thoughts toward my Granpa's apartments. "My grandfather was a stonecarver, and my grandmother a metalworker. I lived with them, and my sister. My grandfather never liked us much... sometimes he would yell at us, and tell us we were lucky he'd taken us in. My grandmother defended us, and on occasion he'd get upset at her for that, too. I had to be a mother to my sister, even at the age of four. I was always afraid... so very afraid... I worried we'd be found out, or that Granpa might hurt us. Few dwarves like elves, and my grandfather was among those who hated us most."

    I snapped back to reality for a moment, looking at Mr Frog triumphantly. "My sister was real. You said she wasn't."
    "Your remembering her doesn't mean anything," he said, tapping his notebook with his pencil and writing something down.
    I frowned. "And why doesn't it? I remember everything about her," I insisted. "I used to read fairy tales to her at night, every night before we went to bed, out of a big book. She wanted to be just like King Cacame, one of the characters. She hated elves like my grandfather did, and wanted to make him proud. She even wanted to join the military eventually, and when we were younger she always wanted us to practice swordfighting."
    "Do you remember her face?" He spoke abruptly, shattering my thoughts like a mug through a gem window.

    In my mind I pictured my old room; my bed; my sister's bed. I pictured the face of my Granmomma again, so vivid in my mind, and the ever-scowling one of my grandfather. But I paused when I got to my sister... it was blank. I saw nothing. I found it mildly annoying, and I was soon pressing myself harder to remember her.
    Mr Frog spoke through the vision, his volume increasing at a slow but steady pace. "Do you remember her face? Do you remember her voice? Do you remember her laughs or tears, her frowns or smiles? Can you actually recall swordfighting with her at all?"

    I saw myself standing in a torchlit room, holding a wooden sword, thrusting and parrying. I tried as hard as I could to place her, but no matter how I tried, I saw no one in that room but myself... I switched time forwards in my mind to when we arrived at Spearbreakers, and saw myself arrive alone, carrying a single bag that carried only my belongings. I relived more memories, but found to my horror that not even one of them contained her. I felt my shoulders droop with shock and disappointment as the realization slowly sucked me from the beauty of my onetime paradise to the cold, hard reality of my prison cell.
    "I don't remember her at all," I managed defeatedly in disbelief, my body beginning to shake with repressed sobs. Mr Frog stood and slowly walked to my side, patting my shoulder in a rough imitation of consolation. Several tears trailed down my face.
    "It's all right," he said, as if it would be reassuring. "She simply never existed."
    I turned to him in anger. "She did exist!" I yelled. "She was real! I had a sister; she was beautiful and funny, and her name was..." I stopped, searching my memory for something that didn't seem to exist.
    He frowned slightly, almost empathetically. "You don't even remember her name..." he said softly, slowly shaking his head.
    I broke.
    Unhindered, tears cascaded down my cheeks as I shook with sobs, audible for the first time in years. He backed away and began pacing across the room, but I hardly noticed. I'd always felt that my sister had been my whole world; all I had to live for. She'd been the reason I'd kept trying to find a job, the reason I tried so hard to avoid detection, the reason we... the reason I moved to Spearbreakers in search of a better life. But to be told she'd never existed; to find I couldn't even remember her name... I'd never felt so alone. Mr Frog's presence in the room made little difference.
    "Vanya," he said, and I looked him in the eyes, brushing the hair out of my face and tucking it behind my cursed ears. He seemed uncomfortable... something I'd never seen or even heard of him being. "Vanya," he repeated hesitantly, "it's all right. I've seen this happen before." He didn't seem to know how to react to my crying.
    My gaze left his, dropping slowly to the floor. "My sister was real," I insisted weakly, but the fight had gone out of my voice.
    "She's real in your mind," he corrected, "and that's all that need matter to you..."

    I didn't want to discuss it anymore. I shook my head indelicately, wiping the tears from my eyes. "Let's just talk about something else."
    "All right," he agreed, changing the subject. "Do you remember when you first saw your golden bracelet?"
    I looked disdainfully at him. "My grandparents said I was two when I arrived at the mountainhome. What do you think?"
    "Can I assume that you believe it was a gift from your original, elven parents?" he queried.
    I sniffed and wiped a stray tear from my face. "No, my grandmother made it for me. She cared about us." The "us" slipped out - I'd meant my sister and I, but had forgotten.
    "It wouldn't have stayed on your wrist when you were two. Do you remember when your grandparents gave it to you?"
    I thought about it for a moment, but couldn't place the memory. It confused me. "No," I said, shaking my head. "I can't even remember them saying anything about it."
    The dwarf sat, picking up his notebook again and writing something down. "Interesting," he said, deep in thought.
    "Mr Frog?" I asked hopelessly, looking up and searching his eyes, "Why can't I remember these things? Why can't I remember my sister, or my grandparents giving me my bracelet?"
    He scratched his beard ponderingly. "I'm not entirely sure. It's possible your memories were altered."
    "Have you ever forgotten anything like that, and can't remember it?"
    He did a double take and looked at me curiously before responding. "I'm the one asking the questions. Not you."
    Somehow I got the distinct feeling the answer was "yes". I asked another question anyway. "Do you still think I'm a spy?"
    "Are you a spy?"
    "No."
    "Have you ever been a spy?"
    "No."
    "Are you on the side of Spearbreakers or something else?"
    "Spearbreakers."
    "Then I believe it. I'm a neurobiological chemist, and I designed what you consumed yesterday to render you incapable of speaking lies." With this said, he tucked his notebook and pencil away in his cloak. "I have enough information now, however. Thank you for your time, Vanya," he finished, as if I had any choice.

    He walked over towards me, and injected something into my arm with one of his syringes. He did it so quickly I didn't even have time to tense my muscles at the slight pain. "To return your mind to normal," he explained, putting the empty device away and turning from me.
    As he walked towards the portcullis door, I followed him with my eyes. "Mr Frog?" I asked quickly.
    He paused, turning back in my direction. "Yes?"
    "If you know I'm not a spy, can't I go free now?"
    He turned away and began to work with something within his cloak, keeping it carefully out of my sight. "Terribly sorry, but no."
    "But I pose no threat to the fortress!"
    "Yes, you do. You know too much," he said with a brief glance in my direction.
    I was incredulous. Somehow I'd gotten it into my head that I'd be released at the end of his visit. "And you can't just give me one of those amnesiacs Talvi took to make me forget everything?"
    The portcullis raised, the lever outside seemingly pulling itself. Mr Frog stepped through and looked back at me through the bars as it lowered again. "I don't have the appropriate equipment," he said simply, and left.

    I got off the little bed-shelf where I'd been sitting and stood, stretching my legs and walking to the door. I looked between the bars and watched as the cloaked figure walked out of sight, my last hope of salvation apparently gone. With a heavy sigh, I walked back and laid down on the bed. I picked up my journal, flipping through it absentmindedly as I puzzled over all that had happened.

    Maybe Mr Frog had been right. Maybe I was wrong, and I'd never had a sister at all. Maybe I'd just imagined her to fill gaps in my memory. I had no idea how my own brain worked, anyway. But then, why was I so attached to someone who'd never existed? Why did I care so much about her? And the bracelet... if I'd only acquired it recently, and couldn't even remember how I'd gotten it, why was I so attached to it? Why did I want to keep it in my possession so badly?
    Mr Frog's visit raised more questions than it answered.

    I put the journal down on the floor and turned towards the wall, wanting to sleep away my confusion. Whatever he'd injected into me was making me sleepy, anyway.
    As I slowly drifted from the waking world, a new question emerged: Why had someone altered my mind? Why had someone made me believe I'd had a sister? He'd implied that someone had knowingly changed my thoughts by using magic. Was I really that important?
    The last question that lingered before it, too, faded away, was whether or not someone had altered Mr Frog's mind as well.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2013, 12:40:35 pm by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals (Story)
« Reply #11 on: November 26, 2012, 02:15:48 pm »

Chapter 11: The Memory
This is a well-worn journal. It menaces with flaps of binding worn from the back cover by a chainsword blade. The writing is flowing and has its moments of dullness, and you find yourself skipping a number of pointless little stories before Vanya makes another actual journal entry, immediately following a number of crossed out attempts.

    Alone... Dwarves use that word often. "I'm forever alone," they say, referencing a dabbling engraver's art as a joke that has a tinge of sadness. But even as they make the joke to someone, they're not fully alone. They have someone to talk to, who actually cares about how they're doing, or else the joke couldn't have been made. Jokes require at least two people, and neither one of them can be alone at the time. Of course, the person in question often means a relationship by "forever alone", but in the end, what are they really wanting? They want a close friendship with someone; they want someone who cares about them and supports them during their times of tribulations with a helpful smile.
    But that's exactly who they make the joke to, so can you really say they're alone? Dwarves may love their booze, but they also love companionship.

    I've been completely alone for several months now. There's not a soul in my cell besides myself and a little spider whom, on occasion, I've caught myself talking to almost as if it was a puppy. In a way, even Mr Frog's unexpected visit was welcome to me. For a brief while, I had someone to talk to. He even provided me with a basin of water, an old rag, and a hairbrush afterwards, so I could finally clean myself up.

    This journal has become almost my companion. I write in it to express my feelings now; to talk when something confuses me. Where I used to cry, I've begun to write instead. And as any good companion should, it listens, as best as it can. It doesn't tell my secrets or my dreams, and it doesn't ignore me and leave its pages blank and listless. It remembers everything I tell it... but can you really say that it cares? It's this lack of care about my feelings or my situation that keeps it from being a true friend. And therefore, I am alone. In a fairy tale, it would be the perfect opportunity for me to be rescued... but real life is rarely ever like stories.
    Recently, however, I found myself with a number of wholly unexpected companions. I've tried several times now to successfully explain what happened... but I've finally decided to write everything down exactly as I witnessed it, completely from my perspective at the time.


    I'd laid down on my little bed-shelf one night, hearing the time bells chiming the hour as I drifted off to sleep. At some point, I seemed to awaken, and I thought I saw the familiar form of Joseph's spy, Carena, sitting before me with a knowing smile on her face. Slowly everything faded to black a second time, and I later awoke abruptly in a very unfamiliar place.

~~~

    "Wake up, sleepyhead," a cheerful voice said almost mockingly, startling me from my dreamless slumber.
    I jerked awake, trying to sit up and get away, but found my arms and legs firmly fastened down with straps of an unusual fabric. Looking about wildly, I took in my surroundings. I was lying on a hospital bed which had the upper half tilted upwards, and surrounded by strange machines and bright lights. There wasn't a torch or flame anywhere in sight, and I'd never seen artificial lights so bright before. The walls were colored white, except for one slanted wall to my left which had a large piece of metal across it like a mirror - so shiny that I could see my reflection.

    It all reminded me of horror stories of mad doctors.


    A dwarf was standing past my feet, and it was a few seconds before I recognized her: Wari, the lazy nurse from the Spearbreakers hospital. I struggled to get away, uselessly.
    "Calm down, girl, there's no reason to fight the restraints," Wari said with a smile, working with various levers and buttons on the machinery nearest her. She seemed to be watching some sort of panel that glowed with light... it was magic. I couldn't recall ever having seen magic before.
    "Don't worry. We already know you're an elf, and that's actually partially why you're here," she continued, almost absentmindedly.
    I was terrified of what she was going to do, but I laid back against the bed. "Where am I?" I asked breathlessly in a panic. I couldn't recall ever having seen this room in Spearbreakers before.
    "You're at Parasol, dear," she said as she worked, tapping the ever-changing screen on her machine.
    A strange voice filled the room, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. It was a man's voice, and louder than it should've been. "Agent, it's against protocol to tell that sort of thing to the prisoner."
    Wari looked up at the mirror on the wall and spoke to it with a humorous chuckle. "Oh, calm down, Eric, it's not like she's going to remember any of it. Plus, if we can calm her down, the treatment will be more likely to take. And let's not call her a prisoner, hmm?" She turned to me, working with a strange handheld device, with a glass plate on it the same as the machinery. "You're at Parasol, dear," she said again, patting my leg. "I'm Wari, and what's your name?"
    I could hear my voice quavering. "I'm V," I replied hesitantly.
    She smiled. "V? That's no good, sweetheart, we need your full name. Can you give us your full name?"
    I shook my head. I never gave anyone my full name.
    Again she smiled, condescendingly. "Oh, come on now. If you tell us, we'll let you go sooner. We're not going to hurt you, I promise. Can't you tell me?" She leaned forwards and put her hand on mine. I would've pulled it away, if it hadn't been restrained at the wrist.
    "Vanya Carena," I said in a small voice. I'd just broken my rule of keeping my name a secret, but she'd said she knew I was an elf, so what did it matter anymore?
    With a little laugh she turned from me and walked slowly back to her machines, tapping at the device she held in her hand before inserting it into a slot. "That's better, dear, much better." She looked at me with an almost friendly smile. "I'm glad you're cooperating, Vanya. We're on your side, you know. Just trying to help you out, and get your help in return."
    I shook my head. I didn't want to help anyone. I just wanted to get back home. Then it registered that she'd said she wanted to help me, and I was cautious as I asked, "Why do you want my help?"
    She turned back to her work. "We'll get to that later, but first I need to ask you a couple questions."
    I decided to stall for time. "What is that you're working with?"
    "It's a computer, dear," she answered nonchalantly. I hadn't gained nearly as much time as I would've liked. "Now, you remember your childhood, yes? Who were your parental guardians?"
    A crackling sound saved me from answering, along with sparks spraying out of one of the metal boxes on the wall across from my feet. Wari saw it and glanced up at the mirror. "Eric, get somebody down here, the Ionization Control has a bad board," she said unconcernedly, muttering something about "stupid electrical equipment". Looking back at me, she told me, "Hold that thought - this'll take just a minute."

    A door opened behind my head, out of my field of vision. Someone in a white lab coat like Mr Frog sometimes wore walked over to the sparking equipment and opened it up. I stared in fascination at the many greenish boards it contained - it wasn't like anything I'd ever seen before. The boards had strange pieces of colored metal stuck to them, and were traced all over with tiny gold lines.
    In a moment, the worker had removed one of the boards and replaced it with a new one, closed the machine up again and left.

    "Now, parents, grandparents, relatives - who took care of you while you were young?" the question came again with a smile.
    "Do I have to answer?" I asked in a whisper. I'd given up on escape, but I didn't go around telling everyone about my former life.
    The smile vanished and was replaced with a tired, serious glare. "Honey, you ever seen lightning? The bed you're lying on can send a burst of it straight through your skin. Trust me, it isn't something you would enjoy. If you don't give us any trouble, we won't give any to you, deal?"
    I bit my lip to keep from crying at the threat. "Mmm-hmm," I managed in affirmative. It was a few seconds before I could collect myself. "My grandparents took care of me."
    She turned back to her computer and began tapping at it with her fingers. "All right, and which of them were nicest to you?"
    "My grandmother," I said, gulping back tears, "but she's dead now."
    "That's all right. What was her occupation? Her job?"
    I understood the word "occupation", but at the moment, I was so scared I didn't even care to say so. "She was a cheesemaker," I answered, almost hyperventilating with fear.
    As she continued tapping at her computer, I suddenly burst out, "Can you please tell me what's going on??"
    She stopped and put everything away, giving me her full attention. "There's no reason for you to freak out, okay? Take deep breaths. Just relax. You're being mentally reconditioned in a few ways because of your unique position - an elf in a fortress of dwarves, who's actually capable of keeping your identity hidden. The mental reconditioning will help with a few different things - combat and stealth abilities, for example. It'll also provide us a mental link to you for when we require your assistance. You needn't worry about it getting out that you're an elf - no one will know."
    I nodded slowly, taking it all in. "Have you done this before?" I asked quietly, feeling myself slowly calm down.
    "Yes, but we've actually never done this successfully with your species," Wari admitted almost sheepishly. "Elves are particularly resistant to mind alteration technology as it is, so we're going to be trying a new approach to try to make the effect last longer than a few weeks. We'll be giving you a special bracelet to attempt to keep your implanted memories from fading."
    I had no idea what she'd meant by that, but something else came to my attention, my mind finally processing it. I looked at her suspiciously. "What do you mean, 'assistance'?"
    She gave a twisted little smile. "Spy work. You're going to become the perfect undercover agent - you won't even know you belong to us until we need you."
    I tugged at my restraints. I couldn't believe what she was saying. "Belong to you??" I said in disgust, hearing my voice increase in volume. "Spying on people? I'm not going to spy on anyone!"
    "Of course you're not, honey," Wari lied reassuringly, walking to my side and injecting something into my arm with a needle. "Just lay back and let the machine finish its magic, deal?"
    I felt myself slipping from conscious thought as everything went black...

~~~

    I awoke abruptly in a very unfamiliar place.
    "Wake up, sleepyhead," a cheerful voice said, startling me from my dreamless slumber.
    I tried to sit up, but found my arms and legs firmly fastened down with straps of an unusual fabric. Looking about, I took in my surroundings, and found I was in a room that reminded me of horror stories of mad doctors. A dwarf was standing at my feet, and it was a few seconds before I recognized her: Wari, the lazy nurse from the Spearbreakers hospital. As she approached, I watched, abnormally calm.
    "Where am I?" I asked quietly. "I want to go home."
    "It's okay, dear," she said soothingly, avoiding my question. "I'm only here to help. What's your name?"
    I felt so strangely relaxed. "Vanya."

    Wari released my restraints and sat me up in bed, holding out a little golden object. "Do you know what this is?"
    I looked at it. It was a bracelet, golden with roses twisting their way around it, and my initials clearly forged into side. "That's my bracelet," I answered in a daze, taking it from her gentle grasp and slipping it over my hand.
    "That's right," she said patronizingly. "Good girl. Do you remember your grandmother?"
    I looked at her in childlike admiration. "You know about my grandmother?"
    She nodded in encouragement. "I know a bit about her, too. Do you remember her job?"
    "Yes," I answered innocently. "She was a metalworker. She made this bracelet for me."
    "She wasn't a cheesemaker, then?"
    I laughed, smiling as I spoke. "Cheesemaker? No, of course not."
    "Very good, Vanya!" she said with a nod and a smile. "Make sure you always keep your little bracelet safe." Then she turned to a strange mirror on the wall. "Eric, we're ready to put her back."
    I felt myself slipping from conscious thought as everything went black...

~~~

    I awoke abruptly in a familiar room I'd grown to despise, yet at the same time call a home. I was lying on the bed-shelf in my Spawn Research Center prison cell.

    And I could remember everything I'd just dreamed.

    But the dream felt so real. Wari, and the computers, and the little device that she'd held that resembled Mr Frog's... Wari talking about my grandmother...
    I stopped. My grandmother hadn't been a metalworker. I could remember now... I could remember how she used to bring us some of her cheese home from work. I remembered how she used to take me to the market to show me which cheeses were the best, how we would gape over the ones she wished she was good enough to make. She had a little shop I would sometimes help out with on weekends, when I wasn't being tutored. I had been young at the time, hardly eight...
    She hadn't been a metalworker at all, and the dream wasn't a dream, but an old memory I'd somehow forgotten... perhaps caused by the stupid golden bracelet. The bracelet they'd lied about, making me think my grandmother had made it for me. Making me believe their lies as if they were my own memories.
    Thinking about it all made me realize something else: the pull I'd always felt to get my bracelet back was weaker, now... Somehow I simply didn't care as much about it anymore, even without knowing it was fake.

    I puzzled on it over the course of the day, coming to the conclusion that maybe the bracelet had been designed to make me want to keep it close. "We'll be giving you a special bracelet to attempt to keep your implanted memories from fading," Wari had said. Maybe the longer the bracelet was away from me, the more my false memories faded. Maybe the longer it was away, the less pull it had on me, and the less it made me want to have it back.

    I remembered the machine that had broken and thrown sparks while I was in the room, and the idea struck me - what if my bracelet was hollow, like those computers? What if it contained "electrical equipment" too?
    I decided right then that I needed to destroy it. If it was keeping a hold on my mind, maybe it was keeping me from remembering my sister, too, and with time, that would fade. Maybe destroying it would prove once and for all to Mr Frog that I wasn't the real enemy, and that it was actually Joseph. Wari had to be working for Joseph, too, just like Carena, though they were apparently from different companies - Parasol and Ballpoint.
    And at that, I stopped short in my thoughts. My name had been Carena... Vanya Carena.

    I shared the name of the elven spy who worked for Joseph. There was no way it could be a coincidence, but what did it mean? And how had I forgotten my last name?? How do I even know what memories are mine anymore? If the ones they implanted are just beginning to fade, and the ones they erased are just beginning to resurface, how can I even trust who I am?

You find the following note appended to the entry, as if she'd written it later:

    That night, as I lay curled on my bed, fast asleep, something hit me in the back. I sat up and looked around until I found the intruding object: a little rock. A glance at the hole in the ceiling revealed nothing, but a glance towards the doorway revealed something I never would've expected to see... not in real life, at least.

    It was the face of Urist the Lantern-Jaw... My knight in shining armor had come.
    It was just like a fairy tale.
« Last Edit: May 04, 2013, 12:02:48 am by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals (Story)
« Reply #12 on: November 26, 2012, 06:04:55 pm »

Chapter 12: The Rescue
Co-written by Hanslanda
Vanya's flowing script continues through the following pages, but this appears to be one of the final entries in her journal. Where her next journal lies you cannot say, yet you continue reading the adventures of the atypically dwarven elf.

    Urist the Lantern-Jawed stood in the doorway, peering inwards at me. He wasn't dressed in a suit of shining steel armor like he'd always been before, though, nor did he have his weapon. He looked at me almost in surprise, and suddenly jumped as if startled out of his thoughts. "My god..." he spoke loudly, "It's you!"

    I hadn't expected him to remember me, and I felt a tinge of color creeping into my cheeks as I stumbled through my reply, "I'd hope I'm me, but I'm not so sure these days..."
    I felt almost ashamed to be sitting before him in such a sorry state, but he didn't seem to care, only shaking his head at me in wonderment. "You saved me. You tackled a spawn, completely unarmed."
    "I..." I hesitated. I'd tackled him, not the spawn. I wondered if maybe it wasn't me he was remembering after all, but I worried that if I denied it, he'd leave. "Yes, I guess I did... I just had to save you." The last part was true, at least.
    He paused for a moment, taking everything in. All I could take in was the fact that he was there, talking to me. Me, the skulker girl no one ever noticed, holding a conversation with the most handsome dwarf in the fortress.
    It could've been Christmas.

    Urist grabbed the portcullis bars with his hands and shook them gently, testing their strength. He asked curiously, "But why are you in here?"
    A prison cell twenty feet from two imprisoned spawn really wouldn't have been my choice for the location of a first date. I shook my head disappointedly, wishing I was somewhere else. Finally, I cautiously said, "I know too much..." I couldn't tell him the truth: that I was accused of being a spy. That would really not be the way to make a good first impression.
    He looked at me suspiciously. "You know too much? About what? What could you possibly know that would give someone the right to put you in this hellhole?"
    I paused. I did know too much... but it had little to do with Spearbreakers. "Mr Frog's plans, I guess. Or maybe Spearbreakers itself," I lied, shrugging and hoping he wouldn't keep asking questions.
    Fortunately, he didn't. "Well, no one deserves this. I'm going to get you out - I owe you that much, at least. Give me a few hours, and I'll get you out of here. But first... Miss, what is your name?"
    I smiled despite my best attempts to hide my blissful ecstasy: my crush actually cared enough to ask my name. I gave it to him eagerly. "Vanya. My name is Vanya." Then I paused, shocked at what I'd done.

    I'd given him my name. My elven name. Since he'd arrived, I'd been so happy that I'd forgotten: I'm an elf. My heart sank, my hopes shattered: all dwarves hate elves. In shame, I covered my pointed ears with my hands, silently cursing my heritage.
    Urist interrupted my thoughts with a frown and a shake of his head. "You saved my life. Being an elf doesn't change that."
    I looked up at his face, my eyes widening in surprise.
    "Wait for me," he said quietly as he turned away, vanishing into the shadows, "I will return soon, Vanya."


    I could hardly contain my excitement and happiness. Urist didn't care! Elves are so often discriminated against (for obvious reasons), but Urist didn't care; he was willing to give me a chance. I laughed happily, the sound of my voice echoing through the dim, flickering light of the Spawn Research Center. I was smiling, twirling, dancing about the room as I gathered up my few belongings, my thoughts often straying to the brave, handsome, gentlemanly dwarf with the lantern jaw.
    I'd never been so happy.


    I waited for him, sitting on my bed and watching out the portcullis bars, dreaming of true love and romance. So wrapped up in my thoughts was I that I didn't notice the footsteps in the hallway above, until a rope fell from the feeding hole in the roof of my cell. I glanced upwards - it was Urist, holding the rope tightly. I ran over to it and tried to pull myself upwards, but found to my embarrassment that I could hardly lift my own weight. Exercises in a prison cell only go so far towards keeping your muscles in good condition.
    "Help!" I whispered up to him.
    He began pulling me upwards as I climbed, and with our combined effort, I was soon at the top.
    Smiling as prettily as I could, I thanked him gratefully. He only nodded in response and handed me a cloak. "It'll hide your ears," he explained. "It's raining blood above, so no one will question it."
    I took the hooded cloak and put it on, pulling the hood down over my head. He was already leaving towards the workshops, and I followed, having to almost jog to keep up with his long strides. "Wait!" I whispered. "Where are we going?"
    "There's an early elven caravan here," he said, never slowing his pace. "If I can get you up there, no one will expect a thing. It's too dangerous for you to stay at Spearbreakers anymore"
    I nodded in disappointment, feeling a familiar sinking sensation in my chest, any thoughts of romance having been soundly beaten into dust. "I won't forget you, Urist," I whispered quietly. But he didn't hear, and we continued towards the stairs.

    A loud drumming began, a rythymic rum-pum-pum-BOOM-pum. Urist halted his movement, and I almost slammed into him. "Damn it!" he cursed, scowling. "How did they know?"
    I didn't understand. "What?"
    "The drums - it's the call for all military units to station themselves at the caravan. They know we're coming. We are going to have to go down instead."
    "What??" I exclaimed again, this time in surprise. "I can't go down there!" I was fine in the upper layers, but the mines?? So deep underground? "I can't see in the dark like a dwarf, you know..."
    He sighed ruefully. "We have no choice. We must go."
    I nodded slowly, biting my lip. Urist grabbed my hand and took me with him, and for a moment, his touch was the only thing on my mind, and it strengthened my resolve.

    We passed several soldiers on the way towards the stairs, none of whom paused to look at us. Anyone would've mistaken us for a blacksmith and his wife - a thought I took an odd sort of pleasure in. But it wasn't long until we were on our way down. However, several flights below I could see soldiers checking the ears of passing dwarves. "The stairways aren't safe," I told Urist, pulling at his arm to slow his descent. "There's only one stairwell in Spearbreakers, and they'll be watching for me."
    "Do you have a better idea?" he asked doubtfully with a raised eyebrow.
    I nodded. "I'm basement class..." I admitted. "I know of hidden passageways most people wouldn't dream of."
    For a moment, I actually thought I saw him smile. "Lead the way," he said, stepping back to follow.

    I led Urist back up the stairs to the living quarters. Past the Spawn Research Center there was an old mine with numerous tunnels branching off from it, leading underground. Most of them were small, dark, and tight... but being terrified of small spaces is better than being terrified of how the Hammerer is about to smash your skull.
    We turned the corner and smashed into a giant of a dwarf, wearing full armor and carrying a massive warhammer. I fell backwards in surprise.
    The giant furrowed his brow threateningly and spoke, rumbling in a deep voice. "I'll ask ya to not touch me without permission, thank - " His glance fell on me as I got to my feet behind Urist. Recognition slowly spread over his face, and he looked at me in suspicion. "Wait, is that a futigi... fugiti..." he stumbled over the word, pointing at me. "A runner?"
    Urist stepped forwards, his muscles bulging as he threw a powerful right hook that caught the giant square in the nose, sending him several steps backwards and his warhammer clanging to the floor.
    I hadn't expected Urist to hit him; it came as a complete surprise. I heard myself yell in astonishment.
    Urist heard me yell, too, and looked in my direction. My eyes widened in fear as I saw the giant pull back for a punch. "Urist!" I screamed, trying desperately to warn him.
    He turned back, barely in time to dodge the punch. He threw a counterswing, but the giant stopped it in midair, catching the punch in his huge palm as easily as if it had been all in play. With Urist's right hand caught firmly in his grip, he pounded a fist into Urist's side, knocking the wind out of him.
    I looked around to see if anyone had noticed and would come to help, but no one had. Turning back, I saw the giant toss Urist onto the ground like a ragdoll, towering over him and pummeling his face with punches that surely would've knocked me unconscious. I felt as though I could feel every blow Urist received, my eyes tearing up at his pain. It had all been to protect me...
    "Stop! Please, stop!" I cried out, rushing forwards and grabbing the giant's arm, throwing myself in the way.
    He looked at me in surprise, and his face seemed to go blank as he processed what was going on, his arm hovering in midair. Finally, he callmed, letting Urist go. "I... I'm sorry, missus," he said slowly, an ashamed look on his face. "I din't mean to be upsettin' a ladyfolk like yourself... I just... He hit me first... I din't... I'm sorry." He was honest, and he seemed to be gentle at heart. But I was still mad at him.
    I offered Urist my hand, pulling him to his feet. "I thought you were going to arrest us," Urist said, feeling his nose tenderly.
    The giant looked at Urist as if he was retarded. "Arrest you? I jus' wanted t'ask why she was runnin' away. I'll tell ya I don't think I've ever heard of anybody stealing anything or anything... I just figurt you made Splint angry - he gets angry a lot; goes through so many mugs."
    Urist shook his head. "What she did isn't important. We have to hide; someone will have heard our little scuffle."
    The giant nodded. "Let's go into my room, right here. I'll keep watch."

    We were ushered into the big soldier's tiny room, which seemed much too small for him. He took position outside, watching the hallways.
    I ripped a small, tattered piece of cloth from the sleeve of my blouse and began to wipe the blood from Urist's face. "I'm so sorry," I whispered. "That was all my fault."
    Urist took my hand gently in his and moved it away, looking at me curiously. "How was it your fault?"
    "If I hadn't yelled, you wouldn't have looked towards me, and you would've won."
    He let go of my arm, smiling and shaking his head. "He outmatched me anyway."
    I didn't believe it for a second. "But you're so brave. Fighting spawn, rescuing me from prison, attacking an armored soldier with your bare hands..." I paused, glancing away in embarrassment. "I wish I wasn't always so afraid."
    He chuckled and gave me a little crooked smile. "Oh, I was very afraid. I thought that spawn was going to eat me, and that big fellow was going to demolish me."
    I never could have expected him to say that. "You were afraid??" I asked incredulously. "But you never act like it!"
    Urist shook his head. "Fear doesn't make you weak. Courage is doing something brave, even when you're scared. Being afraid keeps you sharp - it keeps you alive."
    His words seemed wise, and I puzzled over them for a moment, looking at him in wonder. A soldier with a sharp mind is a rarity, especially in these parts... I began to wonder just who he'd been before he came here.

    Unannounced, the giant-dwarf burst into the room, and I could hear soldiers yelling in the distance. "They're a'comin'!" he said. "Come on, let's get ya'll outta here all quicklike!"
    Startled out of my thoughts, I did something I still can't believe I did - I leaned forwards and gave Urist a brief kiss on the lips. As he leaned away in surprise, I pulled my hood down tightly over my head, terribly embarrassed. I'd never felt my face so hot before.
    Urist recovered and grabbed my hand, pulling me behind him. It was all I could do to follow. I was half in a blissful dreamworld of my own making, reliving the brief kiss in my mind as we rushed back towards the stairwell. Giant-dwarf led the way, bowling over soldiers like kittens as we descended into darkness. Down, down, down we went, far past the deepest I'd ever been, and yet still on we continued.
    Without warning, he stopped, looking at us with a grim determination. "I want you two to go down until you see a fresh-carved hallway. Run through as fast as you can, I'll stay here. Meet up with me in the old malachite vein."
    Urist didn't move. "Who are you? And why are you helping us?"
    Giant-dwarf smiled. "I'm Hans. You seem like nice folk, and no nice lady deserves to be killed." He waved us away. "Now go on, scoot! Run on ahead, fast as you can, and don't stop! I'll pull a lever that'll collapse the tunnel, and it'll help you escape."

    Soldiers poured down the stairwell, far behind us. I could hear their steel and adamantine boots clanging against the cold, hard stone as they ran.
    Urist turned and led me forwards at top speed, following Hans' instructions, between a huge number of pillars that lined the walls of a tall, narrow hallway.
    I looked behind us. The soldiers were running towards us, past where Hans had stood only a moment before. I prayed he was all right.

    Seconds later it was my own life I was praying for, as behind us, pillars began collapsing. For every pillar that shattered, a huge section of the ceiling far above caved in, flinging boulders and debris in all directions. The collapsing of the pillars increased in tempo, getting faster and faster, and sending up a huge cloud of dust that threatened to swallow us whole.
    I screamed in terror, but my voice was lost in the incredible cacaphony of falling rock.
    "Run, Vanya!" Urist shouted, spurring me on as we sped past pillar after pillar. "Don't look back!"
    I did as he ordered, feeling the shockwaves pounding into my back; feeling the earth shake as the ceiling collapsed closer and closer to our heels, the falling stone threatening to crush us alive. The rushing dust crept forwards until it enveloped us even as we ran, and I tripped, pitching us forwards in a heap just past the last pillars as they, too, shattered and fell.
    A gust of air and choking dust rushed past us as the end of the hallway crashed shut with all the finality uncountable tons of earth could muster, the rocks piling themselves only feet from where we lay panting, at the edge of a deep chasm.

    We were safe, separated from the army of Spearbreakers by a mighty wall of rock.

    As we got to our feet, coughing on the dust, we heard several more crashes as a few remaining pillars collapsed, somewhere deep within the shifting rubble.
    At our feet was an invisible ledge, and what seemed like miles below where we stood, I could faintly make out the scattered, flickering fires of the forgotten beasts that lurked beneath the fortress. But neither the light nor the heat reached upwards to us from the depths, and everything around me was the blackest of black.
    "Urist," I whispered, "I can't see..." The last of the torches had been crushed within the hallway that Hans had collapsed behind us, and unlike a dwarf, I couldn't see in the dark.
    I felt a strong hand take mine. "I'll lead you," Urist said, and we continued onwards into the thick blackness.


    "What now?" I asked him finally. "There's no way I can leave, they'll be watching for me."
    "They're after me, too, now... I guess we could stay down here," he suggested, though I could tell his heart wasn't in it.
    I shook my head. Even with Urist with me, walking among deep chasms in total darkness wasn't my idea of romantic, even after having been a resident of Spearbreakers for several years. "No," I said. "I don't like it down here."
    There was silence for a while between us, before he finally spoke. "You kissed me."
    With all the excitement that comes with almost getting crushed to death, I'd forgotten. I blushed deeply. "I... I'm sorry," I began. "I didn't -"
    He chuckled, seemingly amused. "It's okay, I'm not upset."
    I bit my lip pensively. "But I'm an elf... No dwarf could ever love an elf."

    Urist stopped walking, and I felt his hand rest gently on my shoulder. "If you matter to someone, they won't mind that you're an elf. I don't mind. I can't get involved for other reasons, but you being an elf has nothing to do with it."
    I didn't believe him, really. "You can't get involved," I repeated quietly to myself, a saddened sigh of disbelief escaping my lips as I tried to take it in.
    "I'm married," he explained softly.

    I was in love with a married man. My foolish heart had chosen for its first love someone I could never have. I couldn't help the tear that rolled down my cheek as I spoke. "That... would explain things..." I mumbled, stumbling through my words.
    "Not entirely," he responded quietly, sighing. "She left me before I came here, and took my child with her. She said I wasn't the same person anymore, after all the terrible things I'd done. And... I think she was right."
    I wiped the tear from my cheek. I'd had no idea he'd been through so much... He seemed so depressed - I wanted to comfort him. "Well, if you're a hero now... you must've been at least inspiring before."
    His hand left my shoulder as he replied, "I'm not really that much of a hero. I get lucky sometimes, I guess, and I try to do the right thing... I've known heroes, and they all have something... something special about them." his voice trailed off.
    "I think you do have something special about you. You seem to have a purpose..." I paused in thought. "I wish I had a purpose..." I let my sentence hang in the air unfinished, as thoughts raced through my mind. "My bracelet!" I gasped. I couldn't believe I'd forgotten about it. Suddenly, I knew what had to be done.
    "What?" Urist asked quizzically.
    "I have to destroy it! Mr Frog has it. If we can destroy it, I can get you pardoned."
    "Why?" he asked, sounding confused. "What's so important about a bracelet?"
    I hesitated, unwilling to explain everything. Being an elf was bad enough, but my being an elf who'd had her mind rewritten was something he'd be unlikely to believe. I shook my head. "I... I can't tell you," I said reluctantly. "It's the key to a puzzle Mr Frog's been trying to figure out. We have to destroy it."
    "All right," he sighed resignedly, "we'll destroy it. But how do we accomplish that? We're at least a mile underground, far from any help, alone, and being hunted by soldiers of Spearbreakers caliber. We have no supplies, no weapons, and you can't even see in the dark."
    "We're not alone," I reminded him. "Hans told us to meet him at 'the old malachite vein'."
    "Vanya, I don't even know where that is," Urist said gently, deflating my hopes.

    Then something strange happened. Out of the blackness, a strange green-white light shone, so bright I could just make out Urist's face. It appeared to be coming from something attached to his belt, and he took it out, looking at it in fearful awe. It was a broken jade spearpoint, and the whole thing was glowing with a ghostly light, tiny runes engraved in its surface glowing the brighest of all, as if a great power shone through them. As he rotated it in his hands, the glow seemed to dim and brighten, depending on where he pointed it.
    Urist laughed nervously, his chiseled features dimly outlined by the spearhead. "This is insane. I've lost my mind, haven't I? Please tell me you see this too."
    "I think it's pointing the way," I said hesitantly, brushing the surface of it delicately with my fingertips in wonder.
    The nervous smile left his face. "I'm not crazy, then... This is... This is too much, Vanya."
    I looked up at his face and beamed at him in delight. "I told you there was something special about you." It was surely a gift from the gods; one of them was showing us the way, and our mission could not fail. Well, unless it was Armok... then we'd likely die gruesomely in a sadistically hilarious manner, but I tried not to think about that possibility. Somewhere up there, someone was looking out for us.
    Nodding slowly, Urist spoke. "We... We'd better go, then. Vanya... I think you have a purpose now."
    We set off swiftly in the direction the spearhead pointed us. This time, we weren't fugitives fleeing blindly. No, this time... we were on a mission from the gods.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2014, 08:43:19 pm by Talvieno »
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Re: Vanya's Journals (Story)
« Reply #13 on: November 27, 2012, 08:32:27 am »


Hans, the miner/soldier. Art by Splint

Chapter 13: A Confrontation
Co-written with Hanslanda
You flip through the pages of the stolen journal, searching for another entry, but this next appears to be the final one in the series. It, as all the others are, is undated and unsigned, save for a tiny five-pointed star at the end, which you've come to believe is Vanya's self-chosen symbol.

    When you're in the undesirable basement class, people are always looking to hunt you out like a common rat. In most fortresses there are small rewards for bringing us in, and during hard times, even other skulkers might turn against you for a bit of currency. As a result, if you trust everyone you meet, you invariably wind up as zombie food. When you're an elf on top of that, in a culture with racism so ingrained in them that they find elves unacceptable, it's hard to make yourself trust anyone at all.

    That's all it really is, in the end. It's racism. Most dwarves are prejudiced against elves to such extremes that they believe themselves to be better in every way. But what if you're an elf raised in a dwarven culture? What if you're brought up to believe that your own kind are horrible, heartless, tree-hugging, flesh-eating monsters? I have the added problem of not even knowing anymore what parts of my memory are real.
    It's hard enough when you can't trust or love anyone else, but I can't even love or trust myself... just because of who I am.

~~~

    Urist and I continued onwards through the darkness, following the guiding light of Urist's magical spearhead. I'd heard of things like this happening in stories, but to see it happening firsthand was almost too much to believe, and with my crush by my side, I felt as if I was traveling in a dream.
    Urist broke the silence hesitantly as we walked, his voice echoing through the caverns. "You know, Vanya... it is possible that Hans is only a trap."
    I shook my head and brushed my hair out of my eyes, tucking it into my hood. "No, I know people. Hans is too honest and simple-minded to do something like that."
    He looked at me curiously. "How are you so sure?"
    "I'm a skulker... eventually you gain a sense of who can be trusted."
    He nodded slowly, thinking. "All right. I will trust your judgment."

    We soon reached the old malachite vein, and the spearpoint's glow faded to nothingness, leaving me once more in utter blackness as I felt about for Urist's sturdy form. He noticed and took my hand, and together we continued onwards.
    Suddenly I heard the soft stomp of shoed feet, and someone rumbled, "I'll ask ya kindly to say who you are, and don't ya take another step.
    "Hans, it's only us," Urist replied in a low voice.
    Hans breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, good, I was worried there. Well, I've got an idea to get you out of here. I've got my pick with me, and we could dig a -"
    I interrupted him softly. "We're not leaving, Hans."
    "We need to get to Mr Frog's quarters," my companion added.
    Our benefactor sounded suspicious. "Now, I don't mind helpin' you folks, but I can't be havin' you hurt Mr Frog - that's goin' too far."
    I shook my head, hoping he could see the gesture in the dark. "I don't want to hurt anyone," I assured him. "I just need to get to my bracelet. It's important."
    "Well..." Hans said, thinking it through, "so long as you mean it. I'll help you get to the bracelet, but it's going to be really hard. There's soldiers everywhere upstairs. They're watching all the main hallways like hawks. Everyone is being searched, and there's a few squads down here searching for you, too."
    "They will be sorry if they catch us," I heard Urist say grimly beside me. "I won't kill anyone, but I will not pull my punches, either, if it comes to violence."
    Hans seemed to agree. "It's true a broken nose heals. Come on, now, let's get you two back up there - follow me right quick."
    "Wait, Hans," Urist said, pulling me after him. "You said a moment ago that we could dig our way to freedom... Could you dig into one of the unused hallways around Mr Frog's room, or perhaps a ventilation shaft?"
    "That'd be easy - I could get us real close like. But ya'll need to know, mining is noisy work once you get going - they'll know we're comin'." I could almost imagine Hans grimacing as he added, "And I'm sorry, missus, but it'd be terribly messy."
    I laughed softly and replied, "A little mess is the least of my worries."


    Urist and I sat down in the darkness and waited for Hans to finish, talking occasionally to ease the monotony and break the silence. Urist seemed unwilling to relate many of his past adventures to me yet, nor did he seem overly eager to pry into my life, but he did make for good conversation, if you didn't mind doing a lot of the talking - and I didn't. It had been longer than I could remember since I had someone who would actually listen to me, and it wasn't too too long before I found myself relating much of my past to him, scooting closer to where he sat until we almost touched. Occasionally he would ask a question or respond to one of mine, but mostly, he just listened and let me talk. I like that about him - he's a true gentleman, and there are far, far too few of those remaining in the world these days.

    It was several hours later before Hans returned, saying he'd finished the shaft. "Just follow close to me, now, hear?" he said, as Urist took my hand to lead me. When we reached the tiny tunnel, Hans continued on ahead, but Urist put me in the middle, saying he would be rearguard, just in case.
    We started forwards, ducking to avoid the low ceiling, and I felt my old fears return: the walls were so close around me... almost as if they wanted to crush me between them, like the collapsing hallway we'd escaped earlier that night. I tried my best not to, but I began to hyperventilate, the sound of my breath joining the sounds of our shuffling feet echoing through the tunnel.

    Hans seemed to guess at my fear and started talking. "Yep, this here gabbro is very stable. Hardly ever shifts on its own. We aren't in an earthquake area. No sir, this stuff ain't movin' any time soon. The way I dug it, this tunnel is perfectly safe in an earthquake anyways. I know a couple things about tunnels. I'm a good miner, don't worry."
    Though I felt bad about how he thought I didn't trust his work, I was too scared to worry about it overmuch, trying not to whimper in fright.

    Finally, finally, we made it to the end, leaving the freshly mined passage and entering a wide, open area.
    "See?" Hans said, patting me roughly on the back. "We made it just fine. Perfectly safe, as I told ya."
    I nodded shakily, shivering gently, my eyes closed tightly. "Mmm-hmm... I'm fine, I just... I just need some light."
    I felt around frantically for my friends, and felt Urist's careful grip as he took my hand in his. "What is it?" he asked quietly, his voice seemingly amplified by the rock walls around us. "Are you all right?"
    I swallowed and tried to calm myself as best I could, but it didn't help enough. "I'm fine," I managed after a moment. "I usually don't mind the dark, but I can't stand small spaces, and the dark makes it so much worse." They were quiet, and suddenly I realized they were likely staring at me curiously, and I blushed. "I'm fine, really," I attempted to reassure them, opening my eyes, though everything was still black as pitch. "Let's just go."
    "I ain't never met a dwarf what got scared of the dark before," Hans intoned deeply. "Why cain't you see in the dark?"
    I grimaced slightly and pulled down my hood, tucking my hair behind my pointed elven ears.
    Hans whistled softly, and said, "I ain't never met no elf before... I thought you was a dwarfgirl this whole time. No wonder you don't like the dark none - you lot are used to moonlight and forests, ain't ya?"
    He was stereotyping me, but at least he hadn't said something along the lines of "you'd better not think of eating me". Dwarves are generally taught that elves need to eat sentient creatures to survive... and that wouldn't have made for a very comfortable conversation. Still, he hadn't said it scornfully, and most dwarves would have.
    "I was raised as a dwarf," I explained hesitantly, "so I don't care for moonlight much more than you do... but I still can't see in the dark."
    Hans chuckled. "I think your ears are pretty. I wish mine were pointy-like." I giggled in spite of myself, and he continued in a whisper, "Wait, do you hear better than us? Was I talkin' really loud to you, like I was shouting? I'm so sorry!"
    I actually laughed a little; in a way, his concern was cute. "No, you're fine," I said with a friendly smile. "I don't think I really hear much better than you do... but we really should get going, though."

    So we set off again, Urist leading me. After a short while, we began to enter the torch-lit hallways of the fortress proper, and I began to recognize my surroundings again. I gave a sigh of relief. We were walking through the apartment level of the fortress, and Mr Frog's room was just around the corner ahead. But as we turned that final corner, I realized we'd made a serious mistake.

    Standing idly outside his door was none other than Mr Frog himself, and standing behind him was a squad of the best Spearbreakers soldiers: Draignean, Fischer, Feb, Jack Magnus, and Awl. As he saw us, a sly grin tugged at the corners of his lips. I seemed to notice before my newfound friends did, and I grabbed their hands, frantically trying to pull them back.
    Mr Frog spoke to those behind him with a satisfied smile. "And here she is now. As I told you, Fischer, she's very predictable." Then he frowned, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. "Those two with her - aren't they your soldiers?"
    "Not anymore," Fischer growled in her deep voice, pulling her pike from behind her and sending it into a rapid spin with the flick of her wrist. "Boys, let's fuck 'em up." The others in her squad readied their weapons, and she led the charge against us.

    "Let's go - back to the tunnel," Urist commanded, turning and leading us back the way we came at a run. I'd had a good night's sleep, and though the sprinting came easy now, I was sure my legs would be sore the next morning.
    As we turned the second corner, we almost smashed into a couple macedwarves, their weapons already drawn.
    "I was hoping we could skip this part," Urist sighed.
    Hans laughed jovially, a great grin on his face. "Aw, I love me a good scrap!" he roared, charging forwards almost joyfully. Urist followed him closely behind.
    Hans threw his full weight against the macedwarf on the left, bowling him over and sending him sliding over the smoothed floor, his armor clinking. Urist's charge only knocked the other back a step, but he followed it up with a punch to the nose. His opponent heavily swung his mace, but Urist ducked to avoid it and rammed his shoulder into the macedwarf's stomach, picking him up by the arm and slamming him roughly on his back. At the same time, Hans punched the other in the head, knocking him out. The second macedwarf kicked Urist in the stomach as Hans rushed over and grabbed his leg, swinging him in a circle as if it was an Armokian Hammer-toss, and sending the poor soldier spinning into a wall, unconscious.
    I watched in horror. What they were doing was considered traitorous, and it was all to protect me. Fischer would have them killed if she caught them.

    Suddenly Urist caught my hand and almost pulled me over as he led the three of us out of the trap. "Faster!" he called out as we ran for our very lives, but it was useless: several large squads of soldiers emerged from a hallway far ahead of us and began to approach at a jog. With Fischer somewhere behind, and no side hallways in between, we were trapped.

    Urist turned to me and grabbed my arms gently, looking into my eyes with a grim determination. "Vanya, you have to go now. You'll only get one chance."
    I shook my head, tears pooling in my eyes as I looked into his. "I can't leave you," I whispered. "They'll kill you; I'll never see you again, and I only just found you!"
    Urist shook me gently. "Vanya, you said I had a purpose, do you remember? This is my purpose - to buy you some time to do what you have to do. I owe you my life, and now I'm repaying the debt by saving yours."
    I started to cry. "But you'll die!" I cried out in anguish. "You can't die!"
    His jaw set. "You said wanted a purpose. This is it. Destroy your bracelet so Mr Frog will pardon you as you said he would, but be quick. Don't cry for me, Vanya. You gave me an extra year to my life, and without you I would already be dead."
    I sniffed, trying to control my weeping. "I'll never forget you, Urist..." I whispered, as he and Hans turned from me and began to run towards the far corner.
    "Follow closely!" Urist called out over his shoulder.
    I ran forwards, blinking back the tears to keep my eyes from blurring. Ahead of us, Fischer's squad rounded the corner.
    Hans roared and charged forwards, met with battlecries from the approaching dwarves.
    "For Sarvesh!" Urist yelled, lowering his head like a bull and hurling himself courageously into the fray as soldiers stumbled backwards, stunned. Hans raised his huge fists and sent first one, then another legendary fighter sprawling on the floor.
    My eyes blurred with tears I was unable to keep back as I passed them, helplessly watching as Fischer pounded her mighty fist into Urist's side.

    I turned the corner as the rest of the Spearbreakers army closed in, surrounding my two friends. I knew in my heart that they had no chance, and I swore I'd never forget Urist's bravery and unselfishness. If I ever bore a child... I'd name it after him.


    I didn't have long to reflect, however. As I turned onto Mr Frog's hallway, I found myself toe to toe with five armored swordsdwarves, and I'd forgotten to cover my ears after showing them to Hans. "It's the elf!" one exclaimed with a growl, and they pulled their weapons.

    I'm not sure how to explain what happened next. It all happened so quickly I didn't have time to think, or even understand what had saved my life.

    As the first swung his blade out towards me, I found myself leaping forwards over their heads, springing off the leader's shoulders and landing a solid kick on the back of his head. They watched me in surprise as I flew through the air, landing firmly on my feet. They whirled to face me and struck out with their weapons, which glinted evilly in the torchlight.
    It was all as though it was reflex - not a thought was going through my mind. I felt paralyzed with fright, but my arms seemed to move by themselves, parrying two of their weapons with my hands on the flats of their blades; positioning one of them to block the third. Time seemed to crawl, and I leaned backwards horizontally to dodge the fourth's wide arc, which whistled over my face as I caught another soldier beneath the jaw with my outstretched foot and sent him tumbling slowly away, cracking his head against a wall.
    As I righted myself, a blade stabbed towards my chest like lightning. I leapt lightly into the air to avoid it, landing barefoot on its flat side and springing upwards over their heads again in a flip. They yelled in anger as they noticed their fallen comrade, but I, upside down and vertical above them, grabbed two of their heads with my hands and smacked them together with a strength I hadn't known I had.
    I landed on my hands and one knee, and my eyes seemed to clear, everything returning to normal. I looked upwards in time to see two unconscious soldiers crumple to the ground.
    The last soldier dropped his sword in shock at the sight of all his squad mates lying listless at his feet. He seemed about my age, somewhere around twenty, with a short beard and a handsome face. He looked at me as if I was an alien from another world, and held up his hands as if to ward me off as he began to slowly back away. "Who... what are you?!?" he gasped, terror in his eyes.
    Getting painfully to my feet, I took in what I'd done, my eyes widening in astonishment. "I'm... I'm sorry, I have no idea... I didn't mean to -"
    "Stay away from me!" he yelled, retrieving his fallen sword and stumbling backwards. "Just stay away!"
    I bit my lip, wanting desperately to apologize. I hadn't meant to hurt anyone. "I'm sorry!" I said again, taking a step closer. "Please, you have to understand, I don't know how I..." My efforts were useless - the young swordsdwarf turned and sprinted down the hallway, his boots clanging against the floor, jabbering almost madly about monsters in the fortress.

    I brushed my hair out of my face, replacing my hood sadly as I knelt and checked for the pulses of the fallen soldiers.
    But I was a monster - I knew that now. How else had I defeated five swordsmen in under a minute? How much else had I forgotten, how much else had Parasol erased from my mind?
    I was relieved to find that I hadn't killed anyone, but I wasn’t safe yet: behind me, I could hear the familiar stomp of metal boots as the entire Spearbreakers army approached where I sat. Standing quickly, I ran forwards towards my goal: Mr Frog's room.

    I threw open the door in a haste, rushing inside and closing it fast and hoping that Fischer hadn't seen where I was.
    "It's unusual for someone to put themselves into a trap they know exists," a deep, all-too-familiar voice spoke. It was Mr Frog, putting away some equipment and stepping out of the shadows. "...but it’s even more unusual for someone without military training to take down five adept soldiers. How did you accomplish that?" he asked curiously, removing his sawpike from a wall.
    "You know I'm not a spy," I reminded him, trying to reassure him and buy myself some time. My eyes darted about the room, looking for my bracelet, but I didn't see it anywhere.
    He switched his sawpike on, and the buzzing sound sounded newer, even sharper somehow. "But do I really know that, now? Perhaps my potion didn't work at all, and all you told me were lies." Mr Frog advanced slowly, cautiously, holding the spinning blade out far ahead of him. I began to back away to avoid what would be certain death at his hands.
    "I didn't lie," I told him quietly. "I found out things after you left - things I hadn't known before. But where's my bracelet?"
    Suddenly he leapt forwards with a mighty swing. I fell backwards and scooted away from him - once, twice, thrice he struck the spinning blade downwards towards me, and I only just barely managed to roll away from each stroke as it clanged against the floor, throwing sparks onto my arms and shredding the cloak Urist had given me. Finally I managed to get away, leaping to my feet and running to the other side of the room.
    "Come, I know about your apparently extensive combat training now," Mr Frog said soothingly, trying to tempt me into attacking him. "You need not hide your abilities anymore. Strike me down - I have no training, no experience... only a weapon." He walked between the many tables, spinning his sawpike idly in his hands as he approached.
    I prayed for something like the miracle of Urist’s spearhead, or what had happened with the swordsdwarves outside Mr Frog’s room, but nothing happened. "Mr Frog, I need you to listen to me - I need to tell you something important!"
    "Then say it," he said simply, stabbing towards me with his blade.
    I leapt backwards and smashed my back painfully into a table, barely ducking in time as the screaming weapon swung around a second time for my head. I crawled beneath the table and clambered to my feet on the other side. "I need my bracelet! I can't explain until I have it!" It was close, and I could tell - I could feel the old longing to keep it safe beginning to return. Suddenly, I didn't want to destroy it - I just wanted to take it and run far, far away. The gears in my mind seemed to shift, and I decided that that’s what I’d do: I’d take my bracelet and run.
    Mr Frog stopped, looking at me curiously as if I was on display under a magnifying glass. "Why did you always want your bracelet so...?” he asked, half to himself.  "You seem almost obsessed with it even now - what does it do that's so important? Does it open a portal to Ballpoint? Is that it?" As he spoke, he brought his weapon down towards my head so quickly that it grazed the back of my cloak and blouse as I leapt away, ripping apart the cloth. I started to hyperventilate again in fear, and tried my very best not to cry. I didn't answer him, but followed the strange, obsessive feeling my bracelet seemed to produce towards the other side of the room. Then I saw it - a familiar golden glint.
    As I ran towards it, I heard Mr Frog's mocking voice behind me. "So you found it, did you? I’m sorry, but you’re too late," he said loudly, pulling a lever on the wall.

    The room began to fill with a purplish gas, pouring in through the ceiling everywhere as if it didn’t exist. I tried to take a deep breath and hold it, but I wasn’t fast enough - my throat began to burn, followed by my eyes and lungs. I choked, my chest convulsing sporadically, and as I tried to make my way to my little golden keepsake, pain seared my skin like magma.
    "I designed this just for you, Vanya," Mr Frog said with a deep, overdramatic breath as he willingly filled his lungs with the poisoned air. "Ahhhh... To me, it smells like the best merlot from my private stocks, but to you... Well, at the moment, I doubt you even care."
    The room began to swim, and I grew dizzy, stumbling forwards almost blindly towards the tiny glint of gold, my eyes beginning to twitch. I couldn't even force myself to breathe. "Mr Frog, stop!" I tried to bring myself to say, but my lips felt immobile and numb, my tongue swollen in my mouth. Suddenly I pitched forwards onto the ground as my legs seemed to turn to jelly.
    "Shhhh, it will all be over soon," the scientist said as he approached, but in my ears, it sounded like the echo of the dead. Then I remembered Urist's sacrifice.
    With a last, desperate effort, I reached the table, shakily pulling myself up the leg and grasping at my bracelet as the blackness began to encroach upon me, colors swirling in my mind. The last thing I remember was falling to the side, my bracelet shattering unnaturally against the floor, and the surprised yell of Mr Frog, sounding so, so distant. As everything dimmed, I remember thinking that if this was death, it was far more painful than I'd ever been told.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2014, 09:01:44 pm by Talvieno »
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Talvieno

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Re: Vanya's Journals (Story)
« Reply #14 on: November 27, 2012, 04:20:07 pm »

Chapter 14: A Deal with the Devil
The entry ends, and the pages afterwards are clean except for the jagged gash created by Mr Frog's mysterious weapon. The tale seems… unfinished, somehow. You reason, logically, that if Vanya had managed to write down the previous entry in her journal, she must've still been alive at the time of the writing, and therefore, Mr Frog's poison didn't kill her... though it certainly seemed like it could have from her description.
    Setting the old journal aside, you sift through some of the other paperwork on the table - diagrams, schematics, blueprints, recipes for various drugs - and you finally find what you'd hoped to uncover. It's a dark-bound journal with a golden star emblazoned on the cover... a star with five points. Lifting it gently from the shifting parchments, you open it and begin to read.


    When you're a little child, you see everything in black and white: there are the good guys, and then there are the bad guys; there are the knights in shining armor, and then there are the evil dragons that only eat dwarven maidens. As you grow older, you begin to understand that the world is more complex than you'd ever realized... that there are gray areas that can't be called "good" or "evil", and deeds that cannot be called "right" or "wrong", but are somewhere in between. The complexity makes things more interesting, but it makes things more difficult as well. Still, eventually you lose sight of this grayscale perspective of the world, and you learn that amidst all this black, white, and gray, there are other areas... and you learn to see the world in true color. But it doesn't make things more beautiful... instead, it makes the world uglier and even more confusing. It's like when you don't want to hurt or anger someone by telling them you won't do something, but you don't want to do it, either: it's not right, and it's not wrong, but neither is it neutral. You have only the best intentions, but no matter what you do, you end up causing harm; you try to be good, but you cause evil all the same. Life is like that sometimes.

    I'd always thought of Mr Frog as pure evil... like the old dragons in the fairy tales. But if you think about it… the stories never showed the dragons from their own perspective: the last remnants of a dying race, alone in the world and trying desperately to survive, living far from civilization in an attempt to give themselves a chance. The knights always hunted them down, slaying every one of them, all because their weak stomachs couldn't handle anything but the softer flesh of a ruling-class female dwarf. The dragons weren't necessarily being intentionally cruel and wicked... it's more than possible they loathed what they were forced to do to survive. They just wanted to live... just as the princesses the knights in adamantine armor swore to protect did.

    It occurs to me now that Mr Frog might not be evil at all, but neutral, and doing only what he believes he must. There might be ways to do things that would cause less damage, but he doesn't see them, or maybe doesn’t care: he always takes the quickest path.
    When I came to him, doing only what I believed I must to save my own life, I felt as though I was making a deal with the Devil. Unfortunately, it ended prematurely, with my lying limp and lifeless on the floor as I lost consciousness...

~~~

    Later, I awoke, choking uselessly as it dawned on me that I was breathing - I was alive. Curiously, I opened my eyes and looked around.

    I was lying on Mr Frog's bed, and he was sitting on a chair next to me, mixing something in a glass with a strange utensil. A cluster of empty syringes lay discarded on the lampstand next to him, and my left arm felt oddly sore.
    "Good, you're awake." Mr Frog said, handing me the glass he’d been stirring. "Drink this - you'll feel better."
    With an effort, I sat upright and took it carefully in my hands. As I sipped at the liquid, I almost gagged. "It's so bitter!"
    "That's irrelevant. Drink it," he ordered again, insensitively.
    I did. Though I shuddered at the terrible taste and started to cough violently, I soon felt strength beginning to return to my sore muscles.
    Mr Frog took the empty glass from my grasp and set it aside. "You weren't supposed to survive that gas poisoning. During the past few hours, I went out of my way to create several impromptu potion recipes just to keep you alive. You should be thankful."
    "Thankful?!" I said in disbelief, still choking. "You almost killed me!" Finally I managed to stop coughing, slowing my breath to keep it from happening again.
    "And I would have, too, had you not managed to reach your bracelet." His gaze drifted away, and he shook his head slowly as if disappointed with himself. "A whole year, and I never thought to look inside it - my tests showed the composition to be gold, and it weighed as much as I would have expected."
    "Where is it now?" I asked, hoping he would show me. As much as I'd liked my bracelet, I wanted to see what had happened to it.
    "Come and see."

    Mr Frog had moved it to a table and arranged the pieces in a circular fashion, almost like a puzzle. The shiny gold I remembered always having seen lay at the outside, scratched and shattered - but it was hardly more than a thin plating. Inside was another, darker metal, and nested within that was a strange green ring, etched with golden lines.
    "What is it?" I asked in surprise, touching the otherworldly pieces. "Magic?"
    "Of course not," Mr Frog scoffed. "The design doesn't even remotely resemble that of a magic-based system. Barring an extremely-clever disguise, this device is technological in nature. It's a circuit board, powered by electricity. The heat from your arm kept it charged and running, and the star-shaped charm contains a powerful compact transmitter. I haven't often seen work of this quality."
    "Do you know what it does?"
    "I have a few hypotheses...” Mr Frog said slowly, turning towards me with a raised eyebrow, “but somehow I feel that you already know."
    I nodded cautiously. "I do... I'm pretty sure I do, anyway..."
    I stepped away and watched him apprehensively, but he only nodded, turning his attention back to the shattered bracelet. "You'd best tell me, then." He leaned over and began tracing the golden lines on the circuit board with a hovering fingertip, muttering to himself.
    I knew what I had to do, but I was terrified. I'd seen it firsthand when the room had filled with gas earlier. Then, suddenly, I remembered what Urist had said to me as we'd hid in Hans' room, hours before: "Fear doesn't make you weak. Courage is doing something brave, even when you're scared. Being afraid keeps you sharp - it keeps you alive." I needed to be courageous.

    "No."
    A thick silence filled the room after I spoke. After a minute, Mr Frog turned his head towards me, an expression of disdainful surprise on his face. "No? What do you mean, 'no'?" It clearly wasn't something he'd expected from me.
    I swallowed uncomfortably, but pressed onwards, my voice quavering. "I mean 'no'. I won't tell you unless you promise to do a few things for me in return."
    He rolled his eyes, turning back to the shattered device on the table. "You don't exactly have anything to ensure my cooperation, foolish girl."
    "I have knowledge," I pointed out, stepping closer. "I know things you don't, and you want to know them."
    Shaking his head, still focused on his work, Mr Frog replied, "Every scrap of knowledge your feeble mind contains could be revealed to me with a simple biochemical cocktail like the one you drank in the Spawn Research Center half a year ago. I only desired a quicker alternative, and that is asking you directly."
    I had a hard time believing it had really been half a year, but said, "I could refuse to drink it..."
    He chuckled and turned to me. "Really? You? Tell me, Vanya, when was the last time you had a decent meal?"
    My stomach seemed to twist as he reminded me of its emptiness. I didn't know what to say.
    "I thought so,” Mr Frog said smugly. "It's not always out of a lack of hospitality that we don't fatten up our occasional prisoner of war. Hunger is often a man's greatest weakness if he’s not expecting any foul intent. But I'm curious - what is it you're wanting?"
    "I want you to promise not to kill me, and to make Fischer let Hans and Urist go free..." I said carefully, though my hopes were already shattered. Then it hit me: I had no idea how long I'd been unconscious in Mr Frog's bedroom. "If they're still alive..." I added, biting my lip.
    His response eased my mind in some ways. "They're still alive, but likely not for long. Their execution by the Hammerer is scheduled for today, but that's in about an hour. You have until then to convince me that you have something you can offer me. You still know too much, you know, but I wanted to understand what task your bracelet was designed to accomplish. My questions were poorly worded when I spoke to you in your cell, I see now - what if you believed you weren't a spy, but a permanent fixture, for example, or an agent? You would be able to deny my accusations without as much as the slightest hesitation."
    "But what if I can't manage to convince you?" I asked quietly. I feared I already knew the answer.
    His response was what I'd expected. "I'm going to learn your bracelet's secrets one way or another, but, as you know things that can endanger my livelihood, and by extension, the fortress, I'm still bound by duty to terminate you... unless you can prove your value to me. The fate of your fellow conspirators is also at stake. So which will it be? Will you assist me, Vanya?" he asked, sitting down in his bedside chair and crossing his arms.


    With a heavy sigh, I began to explain all I knew about how my bracelet came to be, relating my newfound memories of Wari and my trip to Parasol. He listened with interest, occasionally asking an inconsiderate question or suspiciously pointing out a possible inconsistency, but overall he remained silent. Talking to him tends to make you feel on edge... even when he isn't trying to kill you.

    Finally, I reached the end of my tale and searched his face for any signs of expression, but he kept his thoughts well-guarded as he pondered his newly gained knowledge, sitting motionless in his chair as I stood before him.
    After several minutes of silence, I decided to interrupt his thinking. "Is that enough?" I whispered, praying the answer would be "yes".
    Unfortunately, the answer was a lot more long-winded than that. "What you've told me meshes with what I know very closely..." he said slowly. Then he stood, straightening and facing me. "I'm going to allow you into my confidence, Vanya, as it appears beneficial for us to work together in the foreseeable future."
    "What?!" I burst out in surprise, louder than I'd intended. "Work together?! Why??" The last thing I'd wanted was to spend any more time with Mr Frog than I already had. I just wanted to be me again, the little skulker girl nobody noticed, and nobody knew was an elf. It had been over a year since I'd been "invisible", and I hated how everyone was always looking for me now. I just wanted to live my life in peace.
    "Cease your interruptions and I'll explain," Mr Frog said in an annoyed tone. "I already knew about Wari's Parasol employment. She and I trade favors, and I allow her to remain in the Spearbreakers hospital so that we actually have a real doctor around, instead of a typical dwarven maniac. However, she’d neglected to tell me she’d ever captured you... Though I can't be certain your involvement was unwilling," here he narrowed his eyes at me, "she apparently had intended you as a fallback agent. I assume she discovered you in the hallways of the fortress and took you to Parasol directly, realizing your potential as a spy.
    He stood and began pacing slowly back and forth, his brow furrowed in thought, speaking quickly as he fired out the information streaming through his mind. “Logic dictates that she couldn't have transported you to Parasol in plain sight, and nor could she have knocked you unconscious and carried you there, as it would've created a spectacle. I've often wondered where her transdimensional portal is... and she would've been forced to take you to its location while fully conscious, and erase the memory afterwards. Therefore, it's possible that I can retrieve the memory from your mind, and not only can we then uncover the location of her hidden portal, but also know the exact coordinates of Parasol... which is again, how you can assist me. If you were actually a fallback agent, then you are officially an employee of Parasol, which means you can enter their base of operations unhindered. In addition, and intriguingly, the picture of Vanya Carena in Ballpoint's file closely matches your appearance at first glance. Though your last name is different, I might be able to pass you off as her and get you back into Ballpoint. Among other things... well, I have some data I need retrieved relating to my experiments, and this would be the perfect opportunity."
    "My last name is Carena, but she's not me," I said quietly.
    "Is that so? The design of your bracelet's circuit board imitates that often used by Ballpoint... I wonder if perhaps Wari cloned you to create a duplicate 'spy' in Ballpoint… and therefore Ballpoint’s Carena is actually a mole for Parasol."
    I shook my head. "No, she’s actually working for Joseph."
    Mr Frog stopped pacing abruptly. "Who?" He seemed confused.
    "Joseph," I answered. "The one who helped you create an amnesiac for Talvi...?"
    "I created Talvi's amnesiac..." he stated slowly, recalling the events. "As you already know, Talvi knew too much, and rather than kill her outright I decided to create a chemical mixture to reset certain memories in her mind."
    "But it didn't work," I pointed out. Then the idea struck me: maybe, somehow, Mr Frog didn't remember Joseph at all. "Do you really think the second amnesiac you made would've worked any differently? Or would you have her killed inconspicuously... like in a cave in?" I asked him, recalling the conversation I'd overheard between Splint and Mr Frog in the dining hall.
    He did a double take and looked at me, wide-eyed in bewildered surprise as he whispered, "Holy pitchblende... you're right." I smiled impishly, pleased with the abnormal reaction I'd gotten out of Mr Frog, as he continued, "I couldn't have created the second amnesiac... because..."
    "...Because you didn't have the appropriate equipment," I finished for him, quoting what he’d told me before.
    "Yes..." he agreed slowly, shaking his head to clear it and resuming his normal, calm expression. "Someone has altered my memories... Joseph, you say?"
    I nodded in response.
    "Who is this 'Joseph'?" he queried.
    Mr Frog was looking at me curiously in a new light, and it seemed almost as if all of a sudden, he felt I was his equal. Though it felt admittedly good, I regretfully didn't have the time for it. "I will tell you," I promised him, "but first I need to save my friends. How much longer do I have before it's too late?"
    "Right, right," he said absentmindedly, glancing at a small device on his wrist. "You have about five minutes left... You're going to need to hurry." Then he stood, walking over to a cabinet and removing a hooded cloak from a stack. "This is mine," he explained as he brought it over, "but you're going to need it to get through the hallways with the security presence as high as it is... It's possibly a bit long for you, but it will have to suffice. Put it on while I write out a letter of pardoning."

    I put on the heavy cloak, pulling the oversized hood carefully over my ears and trying to adjust the rest so it wasn't so baggy. When I finished, Mr Frog handed me a sheet of parchment crossed with runes. "Go quickly to the barracks," he advised. "Come directly back to me when you're done, and do not stray! If you do, I will know," he added gravely, tapping his temple. "I have eyes everywhere."
    I nodded in response and hurried to the door, rushing into the hallway. I was on a mission again, but this time, it wasn't for the gods. No, this time... it was for Urist.


    I sprinted through the corridors of the fortress as fast as I could, mindful of the huge cloak flapping behind me. Dwarves turned to look at me in surprise as I passed, muttering to themselves, but I kept my hood clutched tightly over my head with a free hand, and no one stopped me or took a second glance. I sprinted up the stairs, past the farms, and finally burst unceremoniously into the barracks, panting with exertion.
    Urist and Hans were bound tightly in the center of the room, kneeling with their heads resting on a rough block of stone. What scared my heart into my throat was the fact that the black-hooded executioner, or Hammerer, as dwarves call it, had his weapon raised for the killing strike.

    "Stop!" I yelled with as much force as I could, just as the Hammerer's swing came downwards towards Urist's head. My voice rung out through the huge, earth-walled room, and to my great relief, the Hammerer halted to see who’d given the order.
    A small crowd of dwarves sitting on hastily constructed chairs turned their heads in surprise, and Fischer stalked towards me from where she'd been overseeing the execution. "Explain yourself!" she said roughly, but then paused briefly as she realized who I was. "You again..." she growled with all the intimidation of a honey badger as she began to storm towards me, drawing her pike from where it hung behind her back. "This will be the last time."
    I pulled out the little parchment Mr Frog had given me, waving it frantically in the air as she reached me. "Wait!" I cried out. "Mr Frog wanted me to bring this to you!"
    Scowling, Fischer lowered her weapon, snatched the paper out of my hand, and read it. She seemed rather unhappy about what it said, crumpling it up into a ball. "I hope you know what you're getting into, runt," she spat at me with an ill-intended smirk as she turned away. "Show's over, people, Mr Frog pardoned them. Weaver, release them!"
    I breathed a sigh of relief as the crowd got up from their chairs and began to mill about, slowly working their way out of the room. Weaver, the executioner, slit the bonds of my two friends, and I rushed over to them, smiling brightly. It was the first thing that had ended well since Urist had rescued me.

    "Urist! I'm so glad you're alive!" I exclaimed happily, as I threw my arms around him. But my feelings were mixed - on one hand, he was still alive... but on the other, he appeared to be in a lot worse of shape than when I'd first seen him.
    "Be careful," he almost gasped in pain, loosening my arms. "Be a little gentler. I'm glad to see you, too."
    Hans came up beside him, a head taller at least when they stood side by side. "Good ta see ya, missus," he said with a smile. "I thought we weren't comin' back from that scrape."
    "I'm sorry, I came as fast as I could," I told them. "Are you both all right?"
    "We are fine, Vanya," Urist assured me.
    "V... call me 'V' when we're not alone," I whispered. I didn't want anyone else to know my name.
    "All right. But why did Mr Frog order our release?"
    I bit my lip. "I promised Mr Frog I would work for him if he let you go..." Neither of them responded, only staring at me in openmouthed surprise. It made me feel uncomfortable. "I didn't have any choice," I explained. "I couldn't let them kill either one of you."
    Hans looked at me in pity. "When are you supposed start workin' for the dwarf, d'you know?"
    My gaze dropped to the floor. "Right now..." I admitted quietly. Then I looked back at Urist. "But I wanted to spend some time with you, first..."
    "Mr Frog ain't one to cross," Hans said, pursing his lips. "You need to get back there quick. Anyhow, I’ll say it’s been a wild time, but I gotta get back home. And thank you again, missus." With a respectful (but clumsy) nod, he turned and left. My heart sank at his words. The joy of knowing they were still alive was beginning to fade away, replaced with the sadness of not knowing when I’d see them next.
    But Urist only looked me over silently, an unfamiliar glint in his eyes... I wanted so badly to know what he was thinking, to know if he approved, but he kept his thoughts hidden from view. "Hans is right, V..." he said slowly, stroking his beard. "Mr Frog can be a dangerous dwarf when he feels like it, if the rumors can be believed... and we'd expected to die as we tried to save your life."
    With a sad smile tugging at my lips, I pushed him gently. "I had to rescue you, Urist. I couldn't let you die."
    "But to force yourself into Mr Frog's employment... why would you do that? You must have heard the stories too."

    I looked up into his eyes. "Urist," I began, and stopped, his name lingering on my tongue.
    Right then I wanted to tell him everything: how I cared about him, how my heart always leapt for joy within me whenever I felt his touch, how I loved talking to him and how his eyes were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen... but all I could manage was the faintest whisper. "I had to."
    He looked down at me, watching my face carefully. Finally, he slowly nodded. I wondered if somehow, he understood what I couldn’t put into words. "Thank you, Vanya," he said quietly. "You've saved my life twice, and I won't ever forget that."
    "But what if I never see you again?" I asked, praying that I wouldn't cry in front of him. I felt my mouth twisting into a frown.
    He shook his head. "Armok willing, you will," he said softly. "But thank you. You've given me new hope. My best wishes to you, V." Saying this, he kissed me lightly on the forehead and turned away, leaving me alone in the barracks as the scattered remnant of the crowd milled about the edges of the room. As I watched him go, stray tears trickled down my cheeks. Saying goodbye forever to the person I cared about, twice in one day, was far too much for me to handle gracefully.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2012, 11:04:02 am by Talvieno »
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Quote from: Mr Frog
Talvieno ... seems to be able to smash out novella-length tales on demand
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