Fiction Archive | 4/24/2009
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Black Crusade: Chapter 14
By Ari Marmell

The following continues the new serialized tale from Ari Marmell—author of Agents of Artifice. Be sure to check back each week for the next chapter in this ongoing tale of Ravenloft!


Author’s Note

While the majority of the details portrayed over the course of Chapters One through Three are purely fictionalized, the background circumstances are, alas, entirely factual.

On July 15, 1099, the "pilgrims" of the First Crusade—led by, among others, the Duke Godefroy de Bouillon of France—collapsed portions of the defensive walls of Jerusalem, putting an end to the siege of the city. The next twenty-four hours were among the bloodiest in the history of the Crusades, as seemingly-maddened knights and soldiers slaughtered an enormous portion of the Holy City’s population: Muslims, Jews, and even some Christians; men, women, and children. Nobody was spared the violence and anger of the crusaders; and while historical accounts claiming the soldiers waded in blood up to their ankles are almost certainly exaggerations, they still represent a chilling view of what happened that day.

This is not fiction, much as we might wish it were. This is history.

And if there are Dark Powers, scouring the many worlds for those "worthy" of their embrace, surely such horrors committed in the name of God would be exactly what they sought.

Chapter Fourteen

The noise of the common room was not actually deafening. Not really.

But magnified through the lens of Diederic's growing impatience and clinging frustration, the clattering of dishes, the clinking of mugs, the stomping of feet, the incessant buzz of conversation punctuated by the sharp braying of drunken laughter, all intertwined to form an inharmonious din of maddening proportions. And so he hunched over an isolated table, the smell of sodden sawdust clogging his nose. He nursed the finest ale his meager pouch could afford—coincidentally, also the cheapest swill the establishment had to offer—and gritted his teeth against the urge to rise up and strike down everyone around him until the afternoon descended into blessed silence.

Whatever the roadside inn's name, Diederic didn't know it. The old wooden shingle outside boasted the faded image of shattering pottery. "The Broken Pot," maybe? "The Drunken Potter"? "The Place Where the Guests Drink the Remnants of a Shattered Chamber Pot and Pay for the Privilege?" He'd not bothered to ask. But then, neither did he know the name of the town, and he cared about that even less. They all looked so much alike that they'd blended together in his mind until he felt trapped in a waking nightmare of endless repetition, a play put on for his benefit in which each scene made use of the same characters on the same stage.

Here he had sat, day after monotonous day, in a roadside inn whose name he could not be bothered to learn, in a town whose only claim to importance was its position along one of Malosia's major highways. He sat, and he waited for fate—or God, or the Scions, or whomever else—to throw him the one bit of luck he needed.

And that someone, whomever it was be praised, finally did.

Diederic had lost track of how long he had waited. He knew it to be longer than a week, and to be only a few days shy of costing him his final coin. But on that day, as afternoon reluctantly gave way to evening, over a dozen men tromped through the door of the tavern, the dirt and dust of the road shaking from their boots to merge with the sawdust scattered across the floor.

The common room held its collective breath; the patrons did not cease talking so much as the words snagged roughly against their tongues. Wine and ale sloshed across tables and chairs as shaking hands made clumsy attempts to set down their mugs. Every eye in the room focused on the bright scarlet mantles in which the newcomers were clad.

And Diederic, who had suffered long in the chambers of Perdition Hill, who had ended many a Redbreast's life, and who was now doubtless considered a fugitive to be apprehended on sight, could not have been happier. Indeed, he nearly shed tears of relief as the soldiers filed in, so grateful was he that the waiting was over.

He hung his head low over his mug and tried to look as nervous, but otherwise inconspicuous, as everyone else. The odds that these men knew his description well enough to recognize him by sight, unarmored and enjoying an ale in some roadside inn, were slim indeed, but best not to draw attention. He watched nonchalantly as a single man, doubtless the column's commanding officer, stepped from the crowd and approached the obsequious innkeep. In a matter of moments, coins and keys exchanged hands, and the Redbreasts annexed the largest tables for their own use. The officer himself, however, and one of his men, moved not to join the others, but instead disappeared back into the gently falling night.

Diederic felt the urge to cheer, so excited had he become. Could he believe, after all that had happened, that he might be so lucky now? He had been certain that a division of Redbreasts would pass through this town at some point. But he'd anticipated that his greatest difficulty would come in luring one or two of them from the others. Now? Now they had given themselves to him!

Nodding in casual greeting, a nod that one or two soldiers returned and the others dismissively ignored, Diederic rose—slowly, calmly, though his heart beat fast within his chest—and stepped through the front door.

The evening had yet to develop that growing quiet that is, as much as failing light, the true mark of night's arrival. The street outside was filled with horseflesh, stomping hooves, and whickering voices as the overworked stable boy fought to manage a dozen chargers at once. The sudden smell of horsehair and manure was overpowering, a sharp contrast to the sawdust and alcohol Diederic had inhaled for days on end. Farther from the inn, the streets were filled with vendors hawking one more sale before closing up shop, and workmen hurrying home for a well-earned meal and a cool mug of relaxation. And among them, vanishing into the din and the dark, a pair of Redbreasts whose plans were soon to take an unexpected turn.

Diederic panicked, afraid that he had lost them already. But no, they had merely stopped a moment to relieve the young man of a pair of horses. Diederic saw them mount up, sliding into sight above the milling beasts. Utterly unaware of Diederic's presence, dismissing him as some unimportant townsman if they noticed him at all, they rode toward the center of town, the second soldier several paces behind his officer.

Both wore a hauberk of chain beneath his crimson mantle, a shield slung over his shoulder, a sword or an axe at his belt. Diederic wore no armor, for he could not have passed unnoticed if he had, and carried only Leona's heavy dagger.

It would do.

Following them was a simple matter, despite his lack of a mount. Among the crowds of folks returning home for the night, or moving goods about in preparation for tomorrow's business, a mounted man could move little faster than one afoot. In fact, Diederic could think of no reason the two Redbreasts had bothered to go mounted on their errand, unless perhaps they wished to present as official and officious an image as possible. All it truly accomplished was to make them that much easier to spot amid the throng.

When they halted before a large estate, one of the oldest and most impressive in the village, Diederic's suspicions about their motives were confirmed. While the officer remained mounted, projecting an aura of regal authority, the other Redbreast slid from his saddle and approached the property's iron fence. At the gate, he tugged twice upon a hanging rope, and stepped back to wait.

A thin, balding fellow in black vest and trousers appeared from the house, a heavy candelabra in his hand. He strode toward the gate, formally but swiftly, a tousle-haired youth struggling to keep pace behind him.

From hiding, Diederic could not hear their precise words, but he recognized the same tone mastered by household servants in every land across every world. The gate squeaked as it opened, inspiring the older man to give the younger a swat across the back of the head and point angrily at the hinges. The officer dismounted and followed the manservant inside, while the soldier accompanied the boy and the horses, to the rear of the house.

As soon as all were out of sight, Diederic moved. The gate had latched behind the Redbreasts, but the fence was not all that imposing an obstacle. A running jump, a solid grip, and a faint grunt were all it took for Diederic to gain the other side.

The grasses of the estate were thick, but even in the fading twilight Diederic could see patches of brown where they had begun to fail. It was the same for the garden alongside the main house, which consisted largely of soil and twisting stems and few blossoms of any note. It smelled of dirt rather than flowers.

It seemed the estate, if not the town as a whole, was suffering just as nearly every community Diederic had come across had begun to suffer.

And then he was behind the house and through the open door of the stables. Bits of straw crunched under his boots as he ran, and two figures on each side of a great brown charger—one in armor, the other wielding a large brush—began to turn.

Diederic slammed into the Redbreast without slowing, hurtling him into one of the stable's wooden columns. He felt the man's breath explode across his face, but even half-stunned, the soldier's hand dropped toward the axe at his side. Swiftly Diederic spun him about and smashed his face into the wood. The nose-guard on the helm took the brunt of the impact, but it was enough to immobilize the soldier for an instant. Diederic knocked the man's head forward, exposing the back of his neck beneath the helm, and shoved the dagger up into the Redbreast's skull. The horse whinnied faintly at the sudden scent of blood, but calmed down swiftly in such peaceful, homey environs.

The stable boy stood frozen, the brush clasped uselessly in his hand, and stared with jaws agape at the sudden violence. Diederic yanked the dagger free with a teeth-grinding screech, calmly walked around the horse, and floored the young man with a vicious uppercut. He'd hurt when he woke—a lot, possibly sporting a broken jaw—but at least he would awaken.

Diederic returned to study the corpse. Again he considered the shield with some amount of longing, and again the nigh-constant burn in his wrist convinced him against it. He bent low long enough to lift the soldier's coin purse, and to slide the fellow's axe from the loop at his belt. Even under the circumstances, he grinned in grim amusement as he hefted the weapon: just how many axes had he gone through this year, anyway? The smile faded rapidly, however, and Diederic was once again on the move.

He halted once, at the stable's entrance, glancing back over his shoulder. The posture of the fallen soldier, slumped forward, the wound in the back of his skull beneath the helm…. Something about it rang familiar, plucked and tickled at unpleasant memories.

When it failed to come to him after a moment, however, he shrugged and put it aside, to concentrate on more pressing matters.

He heard the manservant's footsteps well before the front door opened in response to his heavy knock. "Now, Timothy," the old man was saying, berating, even as the door crept open, "I told you to bring the good knight in by the back—"

Diederic kneed him in the stomach to silence him, brought a heavy fist down on the back of his head to finish the task, and the old servant joined the younger in unconsciousness. The knight listened intently for a moment, alert for any disturbance, then continued inside.

The house boasted the painted but peeling walls, the flattened carpeting, the polished brass fixtures, and the old paintings in newer frames that were all the hallmarks of a family accustomed to wealth and refusing to allow the neighbors to see that that wealth had begun to fade.

He found them in a sitting room which the family doubtless called a library, owing to the single shelf with perhaps half a dozen dusty tomes. A middle-aged man and his slightly younger wife—both carrying more weight than was good for them—sat in lushly upholstered chairs, while the Inquisition officer made a polite show of wandering about the room, commenting on this prize or that.

Pressed tight to the wall in the hall outside, Diederic peered through the open doorway and struck when the Redbreast drew near. Had his intent this time been to kill, the man would have died barely having seen his attacker. Instead, Diederic wielded the axe with the blade turned out, striking with the back of the heavy steel like a hammer. The officer fell with an agonized cry as his kneecap gave way.

Diederic kicked him once in the head for good measure—the man had removed his helm upon entering as a sign of respect—and then spun to face the terrified couple, pointing with his empty hand.

"You! In the corner, now, the both of you. And if I hear either of you so much as draw breath to scream for help, you both die."

They obeyed, pressing themselves tight into the corner as though hoping to escape through the very walls; a faint whimpering was their only sound.

Diederic knelt beside the fallen officer, placing the blade of his axe on the back of the man's neck.

"The practice of witchcraft in the region," he breathed. "Where is its heart?"

"No… no organized witchcraft here," the man coughed. "Merely a few isolated practitioners, vile men and women who—" His sentence ended in a gurgle as Diederic yanked his head up by the hair.

"I don't want to hear the Church-approved answer," he growled. "You're a soldier, and as a soldier assigned to this region, you've been there. You've felt it: the eyes of the enemy on you, the lurking danger that threatens your men. I want to know where!"

"Why… why do you—"

"Never you mind why. Just answer me."

Silence for a breath, two. Then, "Parsimol. Been there… five or six times, and we've never found a single witch. But still we hear tales, and… and there's something about that place that sets me, my men, even the horses on edge. That's where you want. Parsimol."

Diederic nodded, his expression hard. Grimly, he raised his axe.

"No!"

It had come from the woman in the corner. Her husband turned white, held out a shaking hand to beseech his wife to silence.

"Please," she begged, voice trembling. "He's answered your questions. We need him alive, please. We've got… we've got our own witch, you see." Tears rolled down her cheeks. "If you kill him, we've no one to turn to."

Diederic blinked once, twice, then shrugged. He brought the axe down, but again with the blade turned aside. The officer might not awaken for days—might not be the same for long after that—but he would live.

The couple he left tied back to back, lashed to a table so they could not crawl from the room. Eventually they would free themselves, or one of the servants would awaken, but either way he had the time he needed.

The hardest part was walking past the Redbreasts in the inn's common room as though nothing had happened. Thank Jesu he'd remembered to hide the axe in a tree outside, where he could retrieve it later! He didn't think any of them would have recognized it, but again, it was hardly a chance worth taking. He climbed the rickety wooden stairs and threw open the door to his rented room. He would need but a few moments to pack, and should be a good distance from town before the soldiers learned that anything was amiss.

The voice, when it came, sounded from the doorway behind him as he slid his hauberk, muffled by a layer of blanket, into his heavy pouch.

"I greet you again, Diederic de Wyndt."

His hands slowed, but Diederic neither ceased his packing nor turned to face the door. "When you claimed we would meet again," he said to the wall before him, "I rather assumed you meant it would be years."

"And yet."

She stepped through the door, allowing it to drift shut behind her, and seated herself in the room's only chair. Diederic finally deigned to look up at his guest. She had changed notably, for all that a mere half season had passed since he'd last laid eyes upon her. Her skin was healthier, darker after exposure to the sun, and her black hair hung in tight braids past her shoulders. She was clad in thick black trousers that disappeared into ankle-high boots, and a white tunic of a far more flattering fit than either her prison robes or stolen Inquisition garb. Diederic could also not help but note that she carried a walking staff, its head heavily gnarled and weighted, and wore at her waist a wicked dagger curved as the crescent moon.

"So what brings you here, Violca Hanza? I doubt very much this is a coincidence."

"There are none, where the Vistani are concerned, giorgio. Indeed, I was looking for you. There is much we must discuss."

"Is there, now? We'll have to do so on the road, then. In just a few more hours, this village is going to be a very dangerous place to be me. I'm heading to—"

"Parsimol."

Diederic hurled his pack to the floor with an angry clatter. "God damn it, woman! I've spent the better part of a month learning that name, and only finally heard it uttered an hour gone! The time I've lost… all because you had to run off in the night like someone's illicit lover!"

Violca slid to her feet, her voice frosty. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry, Lord Diederic. I'll try so very hard to keep your vendetta in the forefront of my mind, the very next time I'm tempted to ‘run off' and try to find family I haven't seen in half a year, and who have every reason to think me dead."

"I… well, obviously, you had to…. That is—"

"And your gods and mine must forgive my stupidity, in having forgotten that my Sight, a legacy of my people's most sacred beliefs, exists solely for the convenience of any giorgio to pass me by."

"Now that's not fair! I—"

"And of course, if I had given you the name a month ago, you'd have just accepted it on faith, without taking the time to hunt down someone who could confirm that information?"

"Maybe, but it wouldn't have taken me as long," Diederic grumbled. It was a feeble objection, and they both knew it.

"All right," he offered finally, choking on each syllable, "I apologize. It was an inappropriate outburst."

"Yes." Violca allowed some of the ice to thaw from her words. "And as it happens, also misplaced. It was no vision that told me of Parsimol, Diederic, but rather information gained by others of the Hanza during my imprisonment. Had I not gone to them first, I couldn't have provided it to you."

"I see." He remained silent a long moment, shamefacedly gathering the goods that had spilled from his pack when it struck the floor. Finally, he said, "If, ah, I may ask, Violca… since you obviously found your family, why are you here?"

"Because your lack of manners, Diederic, doesn't make you any less pivotal to what is happening in Malosia. And as I said, there is much we must discuss."

Diederic nodded, hefting his pack over his shoulder. "Then let's be off."

"Giorgio?" He was halfway out the door when her call drew him back. He turned his head, questioning.

"As it is apparently just the two of us this time, I feel compelled to warn you that I sleep with this blade in easy reach." She patted the crescent blade hanging at her belt. "And it is very, very sharp."

Diederic snorted. "I'm after a far more important prize on this journey than your virtue, Violca."

"To you, perhaps." And then she was past him, staff in hand, her footsteps sounding already on the rickety stairs.


Despite the darkness of a night sky obscured by clouds, with nary a moon or star to be seen, they traveled by torchlight for hours before stopping to make cold camp. Diederic leaned back against the trunk of a young tree bedecked with as many crows as it had leaves. Ignoring the occasional caw and call from above, he flicked a curious ant from his shoulder and offered his companion a strip of dried meat.

"And where did you come up with traveling monies, Diederic?" she asked teasingly, accepting the proffered morsel.

"Here and about. Scavenged, mostly."

"Stolen?"

"Only from those who wished me harm first."

Silence once more. Then, just as Diederic opened his mouth to demand some answers, "Tell me of the last month, Diederic. How did you learn you needed to travel to Parsimol?"

The knight sighed. "I traveled Malosia's roads for weeks after leaving Birne, visiting many towns. Only the smaller communities, mind. Nowhere large enough it might host its own Redbreast garrison. Most were equally grim. No matter that we're now in the midst of spring, I saw fields standing half empty, or sprouting only tufts of sickly crops, and scrawny cattle chewing on meager grasses. And of course, most placed the blame on the same source."

"Witches?"

"Just so. A very few others placed the blame instead—in frightened whispers, and only after I bought them many drinks—on the Inquisition itself, for taking too many of their young for them to adequately work the fields."

Violca frowned. "But surely if every village suffers the same way, the blame lies on drought, or a blight among the crops?"

"Maybe, but it's not every village. Thrice, I came across communities where the crops grew high, the grasses green, the cows and sheep fat. And I avoided them."

"Why?"

"Because I already know from whence their good fortune comes," Diederic hissed, thinking darkly of Birne, "and what sorts of payment they offer for it. I needed those who could tell me of witches, but were not witches themselves. So any village so obviously devoted to the black magics was off limits."

Violca nodded even as she wrapped her blanket more tightly around her, shutting out the chilly night air. "That was why you waited where I found you. You knew that a village on the main road, so near Caercaelum, would have to host a Redbreast patrol sooner or later."

"Exactly." Diederic sketched idly in the dust with a stick. "I needed to be able to confront one or two, away from their division, away from their home base.

"I knew I was close, Violca. In every village I visited, the folk were convinced they suffered worse than any other. But also in every village, rumors and travelers' tales suggested that certain other folk suffered almost as badly. I found enough overlap in those rumors to lead me to this general vicinity."

"Hardly an unqualified success, Diederic. There are over a dozen towns within a few days' travel."

"Precisely. Thus, I had to wait until I could question a Redbreast officer, find out where they focused their attentions. It was just tonight I found the opportunity."

He did not tell her that he knew where to focus his search not just from his weeks of investigation, but also due to Leona's parting words. So far she had not asked what had occurred in Birne, and he had no intention of raising the topic himself.

They slept the night undisturbed, though Diederic thought he heard a small group of horses galloping along the road around midnight. The riders must be about vital business to risk such speed in the dark, and he suspected the Inquisition officer and his dead lieutenant had been discovered. He took time the following morning to shave the wild growth of beard, trusting to the Vistana's hands those areas he could not shave by feel, for he lacked anything resembling a mirror. That and a change of clothes should protect him from discovery, at least by any casual inspection.

A quick breakfast—one bearing a strong similarity to dinner of the previous night—and they were off. Diederic set a punishing pace, but Violca showed no difficulty in keeping up. The morning grew warm, albeit not terribly so; the occasional drop of rain, too sporadic and light even to be called a shower, provided additional relief.

They were just passing someone's long-abandoned field, an old and ragged scarecrow the only sign it had ever been cultivated, when Violca drew to a halt. "Diederic…."

The knight followed her gaze to the glossy black bird perched atop the scarecrow's shoulder and chuckled softly. "Not very effective, is it?" he asked.

"No, you don't understand. That crow was in the tree above our camp last night. It's been following us."

Diederic turned a bemused smirk upon the Vistana. "Violca, really. I know this place has its quirks and its dangers, but I hardly think—"

"No, clearly you don't! Damn it, Diederic, either you trust my Sight or you do not, but make up your mind! It's not just the future that I See, or the world of the spirit. Sometimes it is merely the tiny details that escape everyone else. And I tell you, that crow was watching us last night, and it watches us now, and it is the same one!"

"If you say so." His expression skeptical, Diederic knelt and scooped up an apricot-sized stone from the side of the road. He hefted it once, twice, and then hurled it with bone-crushing force at the feathered creature.

With a furious squawk and a frantic flutter, the crow took to the air, letting the stone thump harmlessly from the scarecrow's burlap face—a puff of dust the only damage dealt. Diederic opened his mouth, preparing to comment on the bird's speed, when the sky went dark.

From all around they came, diving from the branches of every tree, arcing upward like arrows from the high grasses of the field. Their calls were deafening, and the thunder of a thousand wings buffeted the travelers as fiercely as any storm. The air grew thick and difficult to breathe, heavy with dander, loose feathers, and the stench of waste formed largely of carrion. Diederic and Violca fell back before them, their hands raised in feeble defense of exposed eyes and tender faces. Wings bludgeoned, beaks and talons tore, and around chain armor and heavy clothes, the pair bled from a score of tiny wounds.

Even as the knight and the Vistana collapsed to their knees, the darkness lifted and the sun shone down. The crows were gone as swiftly as they had appeared, leaving behind only a smattering of feathers and thick splotches of guano to prove they had ever been. And with them had vanished the bird that had first drawn Violca's attention.

"Perhaps one day," Violca croaked, "you might learn to trust my instincts."

She stood shakily and began to gather leaves and grass to clean her various wounds. She halted and turned as Diederic lunged out to grab her wrist tight. "I think," he said, wincing in pain as he spoke, "that I have been very patient up to now. But I feel the time has come for you to tell me what it is you came to tell me."

Violca yanked her arm from his grip. "The next time you touch me, giorgio, it will either be to pull me from harm's way, or to put you in it!" She looked down at her handful of leaves and sighed. "But you are right," she admitted. "Come."

They stepped from the road, and she began to point out which grasses and herbs he should pluck as they spoke. "Malosia is unique among the lands of the Mists," she began, her voice slipping into a storyteller's cadence. "Oh, yes, Diederic. There are other domains; Malosia is but one of many. But Diederic, it is empty."

The knight could only frown. "Empty? I've seen several thousands of—"

"Not empty of people, giorgio. Empty of soul.

"Every domain has one true lord, Diederic. Some hold titles as you understand them—king, duke, count—while others are as anonymous as you or I. But each is bound to the land in a way that even we Vistani do not truly comprehend. All are men and women of evil, cruelty, violence, or pride—or so our own experience tells us, though we have not dealt with some as frequently or as thoroughly as others. And all, we believe, are prisoners, for the Mists offer no boon without a heavy price. Powerful as they may be in their own domains, they are powerless to ever leave—and believe you me, many have tried."

Again, Diederic could not help but feel that it sounded a very great deal like some form of Purgatory, or perhaps an obscure layer of Hell. But he found the notion bothered him less than once it had. He had his own punishment, his own vengeance, to mete out. All other judges be damned!

"And who…." He winced at the sting of Violca's ministrations. "Who is Malosia's lord?"

"That's just it, Diederic. That is why Malosia stands as such a mystery to the Vistani, why it appears empty to our Sight. It has none." She shook her head. "Oh, Pontiff Cornelis might rule the Church, and potent witches command the cabals, but none boast the power of a true lord. Never before have any of us seen the like."

But Diederic felt the memory of Violca's vision in Perdition Hill like a hammer to his skull, and he knew. "Lambrecht!" His voice emerged as a serpent's hiss. "The land shapes itself to Lambrecht's vision! That's why the witches of Birne found their powers waning!"

Violca raised an eyebrow at the reference, but again refrained from asking.

"Malosia may have no lord yet," he continued, "but Lambrecht can only be steps away!"

The Vistana nodded. "That is… certainly possible. And it is why I've come to aid you."

"I appreciate that, of course, but I'm not certain I understand."

"The Laginate Cabal, Diederic. They draw their power from the same source as Lambrecht himself. They have the missing pages of the Grimoire."

Diederic's eyes grew wide. "But… the Grimoire was scribed in my own world!"

"Indeed. I've no idea how it could have happened, but it is that connection that may prove your salvation. If I can get my hands on their pages of the Grimoire, Diederic, my people can use its spiritual link to your world to find you a pathway back through the Mists.

"We can lead you home."

Home…. The notion had not so much as crossed his mind, never even occurred to him. Whether these "lands of the Mists" were a Purgatory or not, he had simply assumed himself dead, or as good as dead, where his home was concerned. The thought that all he knew might not be lost to him was as stunning as a thunderbolt.

He let none of this show upon his face, let Violca see no sign of his growing excitement. Home…. Yes, he would go home, now that he knew it to be possible. But he would not go home defeated, and he would not go home alone….


Next Week: Chapter Fifteen...

As Diederic had anticipated, Parsimol resembled a dozen other communities through which he'd traveled. Larger than Birne, it boasted primitive fortification: an old abatis of felled trees and sharpened branches circled most of the town. Portions of the wall had begun to rot or boasted large gaps where a trunk had gone missing, and nobody seemed in any rush to shore it up. Roofs of thatch and clay shingles peeked up over the wall, as though checking to see if it were safe. In the distance, some several hundred yards through the thick trees beyond the town, an old, decrepit tower emerged shyly from the foliage. Few details were visible from afar, but it was an angular, blocky sort of thing, very much unlike the cupolas and cylindrical towers of modern Church construction.

About the Author

Ari Marmell was born in New York, moved to Houston when he was a year old, moved to Austin when he was 27, but has spent most of his life living in other worlds through a combination of writing and roleplaying games. He has been writing more or less constantly for the last dozen years, though he has only been paid for it the past five. He is the author of multiple roleplaying game supplements including work on Dungeons & Dragons. Ari lives in Austin with his wife, George, and two cats.

Look for Agents of Artifice, the new novel from Ari Marmell -- out now!

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