The Spike
The Middle Realm
The God's Plane
The Bard's Corner
Richard Fenner
Gian Gero
Martin Laurie
Wesley Quadros
Herald's Cry
Cross Roads

Alkothi Tales
Deville's Tales
Krarn's Tale
Onslaught's Tales
Sheng Seleris' Tales

Settling In - Part 1

"Next!" Roared Trask Two-Swords as the fourteenth volunteer filed out.

Deville massaged his brow wearily. It had been a long day. The School of Red Mask's was a travesty. The reports on its progress that he'd read before his arrival in Pavis had been pure fabrication. Deville had been forced to ask Hrothmir to break all the fingers and toes of the Chief Magician in charge until he'd confessed to "confiscating" the funds allocated to the School. No training had been done either as he'd spending most if his time and all the stolen money on purchasing young boys to satiate his warped desires.

Deville had ordered him tortured for a week before allowing him the mercy of crucifixion. He'd only done it that quickly because the headquarters staff had complained about the endless screams.

Oh well, he thought, you can't win them all. He looked up and composed his face, ready for the next applicant. Deville was working overtime to make up for his predecessors failures. He'd been interviewing Red Mask applicants all day now and the results had been favourable to date.

The man who came in to Deville's office had to duck through the doorway. He was several inches taller than Hrothmir and though not as broadly built, he was still immense compared to most men. His skin was black and dry looking, he wore hard leathers that gave off a strong animal musk.

"Greetings Agimori, may your Hunt be hard and rewarding." Said Deville in accented but legible Praxian. He switched to Pavic. "Your name?"

The Agimori scanned the room slowly. "Buimfasa is my calling Red man." He said in good Pavic. His face looked like it was carved from basalt it was so hard and unmovable.

"What do you wish to achieve here Buimfasa?"

"I want to see Red Folk magic's and know how to use them and beat them. Then maybe I can kill you all to avenge my Koos who fell at Moonbroth." He said tonelessly.

Deville grinned widely. "Oh is that all? Well how marvellous! I like your nerve sir, but do you have the might to back it up?" Deville didn't wait for an answer he simply raised his hand and unleashed an amplified disruption at Buimfasa.

The Agimori endured the magical attack like a rock and resisted the spell successfully. His composure remained unaffected.

"Yes, you'll do. Give him a billet Trask, if he wants one, and sign him up. He'll get he chance to learn our magic alright!" Deville laughed a barking laugh.

Trask nodded and led the Agimori out of the room. The tall man neither bowed nor acknowledged the incident. His phlegmatism appealed to Deville in a emotive way. Stubborn, he thought. Just like me. He smiled.

"Idiot! I told you to wait!" The Blackfang hissed. Nolon bowed even lower. "We would have killed him but for the intervention of the Orlanthi my Lord. My plan worked."

The Blackfang glowered for a moment then struck Nolon hard across the face. "You will obey me in future, you will obey me utterly. Do you understand?"

Nolon ignored the pain of his loosened teeth. "Yes Lord." He muttered.

The Blackfang moved around the room, pacing like a trapped panther. He was known for such activity when lost in thought. Nolon kept silent, fearing a further outbreak of violence.

"This can be used to our advantage." He said finally.

"How so my Lord?"

"Deville is a man of honour. Its one of his more irritating qualities. Its also one of his greatest weaknesses. I know Deville, he will feel honour bound to repay his debt to Sharpsword."

"I do not see how this will help us sir." Said a puzzled Nolon.

"No, you wouldn't. Think, fool! Sharpsword is a known Free. If we can use him as a lure then Deville's fate will be sealed. If he helps a Free he implicates himself for treason, assuming he is not killed in the process of course."

"A masterful plan Lord, shall I call off the Jaw and his men?"

"No, they may well succeed and save us the trouble. They should be moving in soon. I'll have to put in an appearance in New Pavis. Carry on the training with the new group but increase the intensity of the practice combats."

"There will be a higher rate of fatalities my lord. Is that wise?" Nolon felt concerned, casualties among the new men were very high. The training was already very arduous and deadly, any more would strain them to the limits.

"Of course! We will weed out the weak. Only the strong can join the Brotherhood and the Elite's. I will not tolerate failure again Darkwalker, remember that."

Nolon bowed to cover the fear on his face as the Blackfang left to resume his other life. Nolon once bragged of being afraid of nothing but the Blackfang put a chill in his bones like no other man he'd ever met. He wouldn't fail again. He hated the feeling of fear and repeated failure would only bring a heavy payment in terror. I will not fail, I will not fail he repeated to himself, like a mantra to push back the darkness.

"What's you're problem Deville? You've killed half of the Empire's men in town yet you haven't killed a single Orlanthi? You afraid of them of something?" Radak goaded. He'd been standing in Deville's office presenting him with a report on current rebel activity and the Bison tribe raids against the Northern forts when he'd finally let his irritation get the better of him.

Deville looked up from his reading, a frown decorated his brow. "I haven't had cause to as yet Centurion." The stress he placed on Radaks rank caused the mans scowling face to go a shade redder. He's so easy, thought Deville. Pull the strings and he jerks like a puppet. "If they become a problem, then I shall act."

"Hmmph, sounds to me like you like the Wind-sucking bastards!'

"I do." Said Deville shortly.

"What!?" He glared angrily at Deville's smile. "They're the enemies of the Empire Deville. For our armies to conquer, we have to nail 'em all up. Its the only way. I _know_ Heartlander, believe me, I know. I was at Grizzley Peak in the phalanx, I was at Runegate and Boldhome. I've seen these hairy bastards fight and they won't give up. Ever! What greater threat is there to the Empire than that?" Radaks uncharacteristically long speech left him looking a bit surprised at himself.

"Radak, I was once like you, I loved simple action and the chance to fight the Emperor's foes but the long years of service have jaded my faith in the peoples of the Empire, though I still believe in the Empire itself, and the Goddess of course." Radak looked perplexed at the dichotomy so Deville continued. "You see only the military perspective Radak. I see that and all the other sides to our power. Frankly I'm often disgusted."

"What are you trying to say Deville?" Radak was surprised at the sudden weariness that came over a face he'd only ever seen wearing a sneering smile underneath reptilian eyes.

Deville collected himself visibly, throwing of his melancholy with a rabid grin. "Open you're eyes Radak and see for a change. Its all there for the viewing. Oh, nothing obvious but a quick mind can piece it together, recognise the pattern."

"Pattern?! What in the Hells are you on about Deville?" He's gone mad thought Radak.

"Everywhere I look our hierarchies are riddles with decadence and corruption. The soldiers like you don't notice while we keep winning but watch closely if we ever lose." Deville locked his eyes with Radak. He was clearly worried and must have had his own experiences. Maybe, just maybe, he could be an asset. Deville decided to make the effort.

Radak scowled at himself for allowing defeatist thoughts to enter his mind. "We won't lose. Every defeat just makes us stronger Deville. We wax and wane like the Moon herself but at every cycle the tide of our conquests lies further out than it did before. Why should that end?"

"You weren't there when Euglyptus ate himself to death. You weren't there when Jomes Wulf fought a war with peltasts when a Phalanx was fifteen Keymiles down the road but refused to move in support because its commander considered Jomes "common". I fought the Telmori too and I saw a lot of good men die because they lacked that aid." Deville said bitterly. He remembered well the men who had died hard on the shield wall, each in his place, holding back the terrifying attacks of the wolfmen and their brothers. The allied Orlanthi had died as well as any Lunar trooper and had earned his effusive praise, though after the campaign those brave men didn't even get paid fully. He'd used his own meagre funds to make up the difference.

"Aye, I've heard of that happening myself. At the Building Wall our right wing refused to aid the centre. Some whispered afterwards that the commanders had a private dispute over a young Tribune and his affections. I didn't believe that then and I don't believe it now. Nobody is that foolish!"

"Believe it Radak!" Snapped Deville. "That story is just one of hundreds I've heard from men much like yourself. Riddling the core of the Empire is an insanity that threatens to bring us down. Our Provincial army is starved of funds while Satraps in the Heartlands throw revels that light up the sky and last for seasons. They spend the value of small countries on gladiatorial contests or in paying for Dart Competitors like me, before I knew better, while all that protects what is good in the Empire is left to whither like a rotted tree branch. Young nobles hear about the wars as a distant amusement though nobody is interested because its "out of fashion". Instead they indulge in chaotic rituals which excite with their illicitness but they are ignorant of the deadly evils they foster. To be honest, I don't think they'd care, even if they weren't ignorant. This decay is what you and I struggle to protect Radak. Sometimes I ask myself: is it worth it?"

Radak looked slightly stunned at the lengthy, spite-filled outburst. "I didn't know it was that bad, what is to be done about it?"

"Done? I do all that can be done Radak. I root them out, I kill and I kill, I torture and I maim. I destroy the corrupt and the selfish wherever I go but is it enough? I am but one man and every year the enormity of my task grows more apparent." Deville sighed.

"You're hated already Deville. I cannot say I like you interfering in my jurisdiction but you have done more in a week than I've seen done in a year of working through the normal channels. You've got balls, I'll give you that!"

Deville laughed shortly. "Perhaps so. Sometimes I think its just plain stupidity making me brave. Hate me if you like Radak, I don't need your love, but understand that what I do, I do for the Empire and for what I believe is right. If you know that about me then we can get along I think."

Radak nodded slowly. "I believe you. I don't like you Deville but at least you are true to your vow of service, as I am, and that I can respect. Because of that, I'll give you a warning and some advice: Never be alone Deville, the word is that you are a marked man. I can't give you details but the feeling is there. Be careful, they may try again."

Deville chuckled. "If I had a Wheel for every time "they" had tried to kill me, I'd be sitting in Glamour eating sugared eels!"

"You're tough, real tough, but no-ones unkillable Deville. A man needs friends in this life and you don't seem to make them easily!" With that, Radak nodded a bow and left.

Deville pondered his words for a while then re-read the Overeers letter once more. Its time to set things in motion, he thought.

<< Meeting the Natives Part 5 | The Deville page | Part 2 >>

May 31, 2000

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