Post Tue Dec 13, 2005 7:32 pm

Savant's Blood: Hecate's Bounty -- Chapter 3

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Ever fall off a three story building?
That's what it feels like to get tackled
by Tal. Sometimes I ask myself is it really
worth it... is it actually fun getting
hurt that bad? Hades, yes!<BR>
<DIV ALIGN="RIGHT"><font style="font-size:12pt">—Arabella</DIV>
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<div align="center"><font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 18pt;">Chapter 3<BR>
<font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 16pt;">Savant in Motion</div>
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Hovering ten paces off the ground, surrounded by an unknown number of possible enemies, Wren could only stare at Dorian. She drew a shaky breath and sheathed her sword with a clack. Up here, she was totally at the woman’s mercy. A snap of her fingers and Dorian could send her toppling to the ground. She held her breath and concentrated on calming her thundering heart. She raised her chin and gazed into the mage’s intense green eyes.

“You’d kill me for a silly game? Are you that mad at me?”

“Actually, I’m not mad at you at all. I’m just extremely disappointed about being dumped.”

“Hey, Lady, who crossed who? If you only played straight with me, I’d be your biggest supporter. I don’t know about anyone else, but you’ve done great good for me. I trusted you and you knifed me. That hurt a lot.” She sniffed. “I thought we meant something to each other.”

The mage pursed her lips. Her cheeks colored and she looked away. Wren couldn’t be sure if she’d truly shamed the woman or if it was another act. The mage drew a breath and glanced around. “Well, the game is still on, and someone is bound to catch us.” She grabbed Wren around the waist and they started to move.

With the wind rushing in her hair she focused. She had to make Dorian understand. They were both in danger now. “Dorian, I don’t think you heard me. I’m in trouble—big trouble.”

“Those guys won’t bother you with me around.”

“Not them. Desiray called them Territaani Sen’Gen. They tried to get me. I only got away because some invisible guy slammed into them. I called the moderator and told her about it. She wouldn’t acknowledge anything I said about them!”

“Sen’Gen?” Dorian’s eyes widened and they ducked around the corner of a building and dropped into an alley. She reached up and touched something on her chest and a sparks spiraled around them. Wren’s skin tingled and a vibration hummed through her bones. As the light flickered around them, Wren realized the both of them were slowly growing pale and translucent. In a few heartbeats, she could see through her hand and all that remained visible was a faint outline. The woman pressed on Wren’s shoulders and the two of them knelt together. “Sen’Gen? How do you know?”

“Same bastards that blasted my room and broke my knee.”

“Cassandra said she hadn’t positively identified the attackers.”

“Desiray seemed pretty sure because of something dumb I said to Sindra and Drucilla.”

“The twins? Are they mad at you? Damn, Aarlen might in on it then.”

Aarlen? She’d heard that name before. Wren swallowed. Right now, trust or not, Dorian was the only person she could look to for help. “No, they’re not mad. They want the phoenix.”

“Phoenix?” Dorian’s voice cracked. “You know where the phoenix to their key is?”

“Actually, they think I know how to find the phoenix for any key.”

“What?” the mage’s voice turned shrill. Her grip tightened on Wren’s shoulders. “Is that true?”

A cold sensation twisted in her stomach. “Uh huh.”

Wren felt Dorian’s forehead hit her shoulder. Her voice sounded muffled. “Tell me you didn’t… lords.” She felt Dorian stiffen. “That’s why you went to Gabriella. That’s what got her so cranked up.”

“Right.”

She heard the normally unflappable mage sigh. “Girl—you are in trouble. I hope that body you had me make was some kind of secret weapon. You’re going to need it…”

“The secret weapon angle I worked out. The problem is I’m separated from both of them.”

“Good, I—” Dorian paused. Wren heard the woman sniff, her nose brushed Wren’s neck and she sniffed again. “How in Hades did you get rid of Gabriella’s bloodsong? Nobody can do that.”

“Secret weapon number two.”

Even though she couldn’t see Dorian’s face she could sense the woman’s thoughts whirling.

<Dorian?> A dark sounding female voice burst into their minds. It made both of them jerk. <Where in Hades are you? I need you!>

The mage gasped. “Damn that scared me.” She straightened and Wren heard the woman send a thought. <Acknowledged, Dominique. What’s your grid?>

<D-6,> the other woman answered. <Put some pepper on your tail I got Falor breathing on my neck, and a 100 points in my pocket.>

<Damn it. Coming!>

Wren felt her rise.

“Dorian, this is more important than some game. If they get a hold of me, they’re going to wring that knowledge out of me. I’ve seen what the First-ones can make and we don’t want them near it.”

The mage had taken Wren around the waist and had started to rise. She froze. “What do you mean? What have you seen?”

“Starholme prime. Hyperion. Gaea.”

“You opened one of the keys?!”

“Yes.”

“Frell. Frell. Frell. Wren, I can’t get you out of this game. If you leave the grid, Jolandrin will just fetch you back. If she can’t do it, Sindra and Drucilla do the honors. That’s probably what they want. Only you’ll get misplaced on the way back.”

<Dorian!> Dominique’s growling thought rang in their minds. <A little frelling help here!>

<Enroute, Dee. I’m in A-6, coming fast.> She blew out a breath. “Come on.” The blue radiance surrounded both of them and they rose into the air and shot south. Her voice was almost lost in the rush of wind. “At least if you stay with me, we can keep them off you. If we have to, we can team up like we did with the avatar. I’m a lot more heavily armed now than I was then.” They streaked low over the buildings at breath-stealing speed. Wren’s eyes watered in the rushing wind. They sliced down into the alleys, zig-zagging at easily four times the speed of a horse at a full gallop.

Though she felt certain Dorian knew what she was doing, it didn’t stop her from almost swallowing her tongue when passing within hairs of walls and overhangs as they shrieked down the narrow spaces.

<Hurry, blast it. In A-7 now, heading south. I’m on the run with both of them on me, and two vultures waiting in the frelling wings!>

<Coming to you, top speed.> Dorian assured. <I’m going to make a strafe run, so get ready to break into the open.>

<Understood.>

“Get the daggers off my belt,” Dorian instructed. “Since I’m baby-sitting, might as well put you to work.”

Wren grabbed the two weapons which hummed in her hands. She felt the magic sing all through her body. “Wow. Powerful! You want me to…”

“Eyelash deep, remember.”

“Oookay.” If she missed, somebody or something, enhanced or not, would get seriously injured.

<Dee, in range. Break in ten.>

Wren braced as they slalomed down a street full of carts and vendors, making canopies and clothing flutter with the shock of their passage. How did Dorian know where to go? It was a miracle in itself that they weren’t hitting anything.

Dominique’s voice echoed in their minds. <3—2—1!>

Dorian pulled up hard, accelerating so fast Wren’s eyes pressed into their sockets. The mage rolled them as they skimmed the roofs and shot into the sky. In heartbeats they were well over a thousand paces up. A sharp ache in her ears made her wince. The city, the ship filled harbor, and the glistening shoreline spread out like a patchwork beneath them. Directly below, a figure dressed in black shrieked out of the canyons of the buildings. The woman pulled into a vertical climb, sparks and smoke abruptly erupting in her wake.

For the first heartbeat Wren wondered why Dominique was announcing her presence, then saw it wasn’t intended to give away her location. The haze outlined the two figures roaring after her.

“Here we go!” Dorian angled down and their velocity increased even further. “Throw!”

Wren drew a breath, focusing her power on the two figures and what had to be their legs. In her sight, she saw threads connecting herself to the targets. She had never traveled this fast in her life, much less thrown while moving at such a speed.

She didn’t give herself time to doubt or question but let fly with both daggers. The weapons actually accelerated as they left her hands, lancing out like bolts of light, making a high pitched whine as they traveled.

Both weapons flashed past the figures. The two blades speared through the sails of a big Nomar tradeship, and splashed down into Ivaneth harbor.

Wren didn’t know whether she hit as planned, it had been such a close thing. They were moving so fast and she’d needed to lead by such a huge amount.

**Team clash, D-7—Team Idundaughter as proxy for Ariok defeats team Falor. Target Tal neutralized. Target Algernon neutralized. Scores updated. Move logged.**

Tal and another burly man shimmered into view, both of them looking at their slashed pant-legs. “What the hell?!” Tal yelled. “Moderator—clash judge!”

“Moderator,” Dorian called. “Team Ariok declines carry change-over.”

“We do!?” Dominique yelled from high above them.

**Team Ariok declines points exchange. Team Falor retains all carries. Carry scores remain unchanged. Scores revised. Transcript updated.**

Dorian snapped her fingers and both of the daggers that Wren threw reappeared in her hand in a flash.

“I still want the fraggin judge!” Tal snarled. His handsome face looked red. He and Algernon had obviously put a lot of effort into catching Dominique, and both of them looked angry at being denied when so close to their quarry.

Dorian dropped herself and Wren down so they were level with Tal and Algernon. Arms folded the two men hovered together. It still amazed Wren at the nonchalance of these people. They were well over a thousand paces up, and acting like they were standing on the ground.

Tal had his long hair tied back in a tail, and wore a patterned tunic and breeches that would make him hard to make out when near walls and in dark places. Algernon was considerably shorter than Tal, but built like a wall. He too wore a camouflage vest and trousers. Unlike his other clothes which looked new, his boots were old and worn, carefully crafted leather that had seen many a league of trekking. His face would have been handsome if not for fine lattice of scars down one cheek. His deep blue eyes, straight nose, chiseled chin and open expression gave the impression of a guileless straightforward man.

**Judge summoned. Transferring contact to judge Felspar for clash dispute.**

Dorian waved both hands at Dominique. “Go! Go! Take the points and run!” The dark woman didn’t question, but faded out and shot down into the cover of the buildings. Dorian handed the daggers back to Wren.

Wren looked around. She disliked the fact they weren’t doing anything about her problem. What had happened to Damay? At the moment, she felt fairly safe here high in the sky surrounded by these formidable adventurers. Those Sen’Gen weren’t likely to pop out of nowhere and attack with them around.

She looked up at Dorian, fingering the fine blades. “I think you know I want one of these. Their balance is perfect.”

“Get us that gem and you can have both.”

Damn, that was tempting. Getting help against Mishaka was more important though.

A shimmering surrounded Tal, Algernon, Dorian and Wren. The young man she had seen earlier, Farveth, faded into view. Here in the brighter light she got a better look at him with his short dark hair, dressed in a black vest and leggings. He held out his hands and the seeing globe solidified. He peered into it, studying the image.

“Hey Tal,” Wren said, leaning past Dorian. “I know what you’re going to say. I can prove I did it on purpose.”

The burly warrior frowned. “Girl, I heard Damrosil talking about the contest, so I know yer good.” He shook his head. “Just ain’t no way to be for real at that speed and range.”

Algernon elbowed his partner. “I dunno, Buddy. She did do it twice.”

Farveth, looked up from the globe rubbed the back of his neck. “The replay clearly shows her leading the shot. If she hadn’t hit both of you in the same spot I’d be inclined to call in your favor. I’ve already judged one clash on her. When it comes to throwing—lady Wren there—just isn’t human.”

Wren snorted. “Hey! That’s not a nice thing to say! Tal, I said I’d prove it. I meant it.”

Dorian grinned at Wren. <Keep going Dee. While these guys argue, you find a safe spot for our points.>

Wren felt the dark woman grin in their minds. <Ah ha! Gotcha! If we hadn’t declined, we would have had to stand our ground to do the exchange. Then they’d just be right back after us.>

<Exactly.>

Tal’s dark eyes flashed. “Okay, Babe, you’re on.” He pulled a dagger from his side. “When I say ‘go’, you hit this.”

Wren shrugged. “Done.”

Farveth shook his head. “This won’t change my decision, Tal.”

“Hear me arguing, Kid? I still want to see her do it.”

The young man put hands on hips and nodded. Apparently, he wanted to see it too.

“Nice.” Dorian whispered in her ear. “Keep them busy a few more moments.”

Wren weighed one of the mage’s daggers in her hand. The weapon reminded her of Corona. She loved the feel of the magic buzzed through her. Maybe Desiray was right, she was starting to become a magic addict. She spun the dagger on her fingertip, then flipped the handle to her palm. She could probably pin a flea to a wall from fifty paces with this thing.

Go!” Tal threw and his blade whirred from his hand as though launched from a ballista.

Ready for it, Wren let fly with both of Dorian’s weapons. The two shrieked out. A hundred paces up the first one deflected Tal’s weapon and the second blade scored again intersecting the whizzing dagger on its changed course.

Tal’s jaw dropped. “Well, frag me. I know who I want on my team next year.”

Algernon ran a hand through his hair. “Thanks, buddy.”

“Hey, you haven’t been kissed by this girl. She sure as hell is nicer to look at than your ugly pan.” He laughed and shoved on the ranger’s shoulder. He mumbled a word, and the dagger he had thrown reappeared in his hand.

Wren frowned. Did everyone have magic returning daggers except her?

Algernon chuckled. “Better keep it quiet or Terra will break your leg.”

“Yeah, guess I better keep you around then. You don’t make her jealous.”

“Satisfied?” Farveth asked.

“Yeah,” Tal answered. He pointed a finger at Wren. “I’m keeping my eye peeled for you, little lady. Those are the last free points you get off us.”

Farveth raised his hand.

“Wait!” Wren yelled. The young man stopped. “If the judge would forebear for just a moment more. I need to ask these two about an issue of clash interference earlier in the game.”

Farveth dropped his hand and narrowed his green eyes. “Clash interference?”

She looked to Algernon. “Sir, that was you chasing me in that alley, right?”

The ranger rubbed his face and glanced at Farveth. His voice sounded tentative. “Uh—yeah.”

“What happened to those three guys in armor you ran into?”

“Errr,” Algernon frowned. “I apologized to that creep and he rounded on me anyway. Drak head clipped me pretty good too. Left me no choice—I had to thump him.”

“Thump?” Dorian echoed.

“Okay, so there was a little property damage,” Tal growled. “Those three walls will mend—eventually. The moderator didn’t call a bystander penalty. If you ask me, the idiot deserved getting crunched. Alg apologized.”

“I thought for sure we’d get smacked with a level two,” Algernon mumbled. “Course it’s not like we don’t get at least two or three with you around.” He shoved Tal.

Tal cuffed the ranger across the shoulder. “Hey, I can’t help these sissy rules.”

**Clash judge, team Falor and Ariok are to return to play immediately. They will incite a level two penalty if they linger further.**

“Damn, what bug flew up her butt?” Algernon asked.

“The same one that overlooked you knocking that Sen’Gen through three walls,” Dorian muttered.

Algernon stiffened. “Sen’Gen?”

Farveth frowned. “Sorry, can’t help you with the mystery. I got a job to do. Team Falor,” he intoned. “Weapons sheathed, eyes to the sky. Moderator, judge to clash observance. Team Ariok you have a ten count to safety.” He faded out, and the translucent bubble around them vanished.

“Let’s blow,” Dorian said grabbing Wren around the waist.

The mage wasted no time. The wind hissed in Wren’s face as they hurtled toward the ground. Dorian reached up to her chest and pressed a finger to a jeweled amulet. Both of them wavered and turned transparent.

Wren realized that the invisibility served a number of purposes. Not only did it keep players from too easily identifying each other, but it kept the local citizenry from being scared to death as players blasted by at bowshot speed.

“Guess your theory about the moderator being in on it proved out. No way would she miss a clash like that. Not with a whole building being destroyed.” They whipped around a few tight corners, dodging awnings and narrowly avoiding a tall wagon.

Still forcing herself to maintain control, Wren struggled to stay focused on the conversation. “Tal didn’t say a building was destroyed.”

Dorian glanced back and slowed their speed. Eddies of dust spun out of their path as they turned down an alley. The dank smell of garbage made Wren’s nose wrinkle.

The mage nudged her shoulder. “Wren, how usable is a house with only one wall?”

She laughed. “He didn’t say they weren’t all the same house did he?”

The auburn-haired woman half-smiled. “Typical Tal Falor information omission.”

Wren swallowed. “So, what do we do now?”

“We?” The woman raised an eyebrow. “You called it quits with me. I’m not sticking my nose in an elder elite’s business. Aarlen Frielos thrashed your hero Damay, and if anything, Aarlen is meaner and more powerful now than she was then. With nothing at stake, I’d take on ten avatars before I’d butt heads with her. Your concern with her and First-one keys is merited. With things as they stand between us, I have way more to lose than I have to gain. I have a family to consider.”

A lump hardened in Wren’s throat. “So, the moderator is the Ice Falcon… the same one that…killed…Damay?”

“Same one,” Dorian said. They slowed at a stop and settled to the ground. “Wren, I like you a lot, but this kind of trouble is a little bigger than I’m prepared to deal with.”

“But—”

Dorian wore a serious and sad expression. “Hate to say this, but you’re on your own.”