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  • Rodelkeep



    The traveler was sore. Three weeks in the saddle was far too long a time for one who had hardly ridden mortal horses more than a few hundred paces through all his life. The only time he had ridden any distance was astride a Nihrain steed and he paid dearly for that crime.

    Now, necessity bade him climb the animal’s back and be borne through the rocky hills of Albion as any other man might for it had become too dangerous to travel the Ether, as he was accustomed. Yet he longed for the Ether, that lovely branch of reality that seemed devoid of all familiar thought and sensation, that place with neither true space nor time as the mortal man can perceive only an endless shifting of cloud and color shot through with the vibrant incandescence of moonbeams. Until he escaped his enemies, he was trapped on this plane, traveling the more mundane roads of earth and stone.

    He stopped now to confirm that his gear was properly stowed, and in some cases, hidden. In the twenty years he had spent seeking his lost love across the multiverse many, especially on his home plane, had come to know his reputation. His sword was famous for its origins and its use, but luckily, when home in its scabbard it could pass for most other cut-and-thrusts. Only if forced to draw it would the distinctive green alloy of the blade announce its wielder’s identity. No, his sword was safe; he worried over his flintlock long-gun. The slightest bit of its ashen stock or octagonal barrel would draw too much attention and those who have seen it before never forget the beautiful silver inlay and fittings. He removed the barrel-pin and unhooked the iron tube from the stock. Laying them side by side, he gingerly rolled them in his bedroll, securing that behind his saddle and making sure no part of his famous and innovative rifle showed.

    Oi, Kein! Want me to scout ahead? The telepathic shout from his friend al-Baأ¤in seemed perfectly natural to the traveler after the fifteen years they had traveled together. He watched the small figure approach, noting how the late afternoon glistened off his sanguine scales. The little drake looked like a trick played on a great wyrm by a vindictive god. Every feature was in perfect proportion as his much larger cousins, the dragons, but from nose to tip of tail al-Baأ¤in was shorter than one of Kein’s arms. They shared a strange bond, the little drake’s playfulness checked the planejumper’s obsession, yet they always understood each other perfectly. He could not even remember how they first came to travel together anymore and it hardly mattered to him. Al-Baأ¤in had saved his life on more than one occasion and he had returned the favor many times. Even so, he wondered if they were not just using one another’s unique abilities for their own ends: he using al-Baأ¤in for the natural power of the little drake and al-Baأ¤in using him for his ability to travel the roads between the worlds.

    No, al-Baأ¤in, I want’ yew to stay close and hidden. I may need your particula’ brand of protection. He felt the little drake’s claws digging through his clothing as al-Baأ¤in moved from his customary perch on Kein’s shoulder to curl up around his neck. He raised his hood over his head to help conceal the small flying lizard. Thinking about that, he pulled the hood a little over his face to try to hide his red eyes and the green tattoo swirling around his left eye that marked him as a soldier of chaos.

    He cast a glance at the little palomino that had so tortured him. Her slightly concave back gave him some small amount of comfort and her tawny coat was easy on his sensitive eyes. She seemed to have nearly boundless energy, riding fast and steady through the wilds with nary a complaint or lathering of her sides. The stable master in Thoracks assured him this was the best horse in the city. After the long ride, the traveler believed him. She whinnied now and gave her golden mane a flick.

    “Awrigh’, we’ll get’ movin’ again,� he said, patting the side of her neck as his threw his leg over her. He could see his temporary destination in the distance, only a few more hours ride. It was a small town he had been too once many years before. After a few days rest and re-supply, he would have two months further to reach his home of Esztasi.

    With a flick of the reins, the hot-blooded mare rolled up to a canter. The traveler gritted his teeth against the pains shooting through his stiff body as each rolling step made him bounce uncomfortably in the saddle.
    "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
    --Thomas a Kempis

  • #2
    Part 1: The Traveler

    Chapter 1

    The town of Rodelkeep had grown naturally over the course of the last century or so. Its white, thatch-roofed cottages spiraled their way lazily around Camrodel, a natural butte of compressed limestone and shale jutting from the surrounding hills like a puss-filled boil upon the face of the land. A curtain wall surrounded the town, reminding Kein of the “rosies� of the Black Death. Here and there the humus of the earth eroded away to reveal the slick grey stones beneath, cracked and crumbling from the harsh winters and wet summers of the region. Flanking its south wall was the gangrenous Marble River, a tributary of the Richesse, which made its sickening way through the rolling rills. Atop the hill stood the small castle that loaned its name to the town, hewn from the grey limestone of Camrodel it squatted wide and stout as though bore down under its own weight.

    Or perhaps, Kein mused as he rode through the open west-gate of the trading outpost, it is not bore down by its own weight, but the weight of its responsibility to the country.

    Kein felt that he was being unfair to the town. Rodelkeep was the only civilized settlement for a week or more in any direction. It maintained its trade and existence through sheer force of will and arms. The duchy to which it belonged had been trying to conquer the wild lands from the Richesse River to Blackmarch Forest for generations. The barbarians of the region, though, have successfully deterred all but the hardiest and greediest of colonists. The duchy would have long since abandoned Rodelkeep except for its access to the rich oak, ash, and linden of the Blackmarch as well as the marble mined from the Korama Mountains, three weeks upstream on the Marble River. The promise of rich resources drew many a merchant and it was Godwig, Duke of Richesshire, who was responsible for protecting those resources from the barbarians and ensure they make their way to market. Thus, Rodelkeep, that furthest outpost on the road to riches, sat atop its hill reaching out to the countryside with its trained soldiers and taming the wilderness as best it could. Rodelkeep, though base in appearance, was indeed the shining jewel of Albion’s eastern frontier.

    His first visit to Rodelkeep had indelibly tainted his vision of the town. His traveling companions of the time had begun a ruckus that resulted in a near riot spreading through the berg. The city guard held Kein accountable for their actions, even though he had tried to halt them.

    He rode through the town with his head down, watching the road directly in front of him for landmarks that would direct him to B&B’s Inn and Tavern, a favorite stop for adventurers passing through Rodelkeep. Al-Baأ¤in dozed peacefully around his shoulders, obviously thankful for the warmth of Kein’s body.

    A pair of muddy boots stepped into view.

    “Hold, traveler.�

    Kein reigned in the palomino. “How can I help you?� He kept his voice low trying to disguise its unearthly timbre.

    “Remove your hood.�

    Kein dare not risk a glance up at the speaker, but by the command in the voice, it was clearly a member of the Keep’s Garrison. He knew he could not remove his hood. His previous trip through Rodelkeep had ended poorly and any recognition might place him in the stocks or worse. It was not an unusual experience for the planejumper, he was treated with contempt, ill-respect, and a little fear nearly everywhere the roads took him. His twenty years of traveling, and the three years as a soldier in an army of chaos made him well known and easily recognizable. He hoped that as heavily cowled as he was no one would know him.

    “Wou’d a name be sufficient’?� He had no intention of giving the man his name.

    The guard hesitated, “No…by orders of Lord Ecgtheow,� his voice grew more confident, “all suspicious persons are to reveal and identify themselves on entering Rodelkeep.�

    “It’s alright, Asceferth, he’s known to me.�

    Kein looked up at the new arrival, for he knew the voice well from his last time in Rodelkeep. The man was dressed in the blue and white livery of Rodelkeep, the chevron of a captain emblazoned upon the enameled paldrons at his shoulders. A mail hauberk peeked from the edges of his surcoat. His middle-aged face had known far too much grief for a mortal man to bear; his eyes lined heavily with the sorrow of betrayal and the pain of death. His skin was sun-deprived and pale like all who called this part the continent their home. He was not a wearing a helm, but the flat greasiness of his sandy hair spoke of one. The Captain’s grey eyes regarded Kein with something between amusement and hatred even while his fingers, stroking the golden hilt of his sabre, implied the later. “Torwyn Haern.�

    “Hello, Kein.� Torwyn’s voice was cold. “How long has it been? Four years?�

    “Five by my cownt.�

    “Just so, what is a year more or less to a demon? I was afraid you may never return to finish our…conversation.�

    Kein did not address that issue. Their “conversation� was in reality a pointless fight brought upon by the idiocies of Kein’s former traveling companion. Instead, Kein addressed the more pressing matter. Pulling back his hood to reveal his weathered face he said, “Now ye’ know who I am. Can I go about’ my business?�

    The other guard, Asceferth, spoke up, fear plain in his young voice, “K-Kein? Kein of Esztasi?�

    “Yes, boy, the same.�

    “Don’t you worry, Asceferth, I can handle this one. Go about your duty.� Captain Haern sent the young man scurrying. Turning back to look at Kein, he smiled, “where’s your musket?�

    “Stow’d; so, yew need not’ worry about’ any mishaps from me.�

    “Is that so?� The man almost smiled, “and your lizard friend?�

    Al-Baأ¤in poked his head out from beneath Kein’s cloak and regarded Torwyn with his serpentine eyes. The Captain of the Rodelkeep guard flinched and shook his head slightly, trying to dispel some alien thought from his mind. Forcing down a chuckle, Kein plainly stated, “al-Baأ¤in does not’ take koindly to being called a â€?lizard.’â€?

    Torwyn recovered his composure nodding his head in mock-bow to the drake with a smile his lips said, “Forgive me, al-Baأ¤in.â€?

    Kein felt the drake crawl back to the cozy nest of his shoulders. Thankful for the drake’s intervention in lightening the mood he allowed himself to relax slightly but was cautious enough to maintain his guard. He dismounted and with reigns in hand motioned Torwyn to walk with him. The Captain obliged, but Kein noticed that the soldier stayed a step behind him on the left. We may be parleying on amiable terms, but �he’s being even more cautious than me.

    “Tell me, Kein, why come back here?�

    “Convenience,� he replied without looking back at his escort. “I’m �heading no’th an’ this is the last bit of civilization until I reach Esztasi.�

    “Ah. Going home. Are you giving up your search finally?�

    Kein stopped and looked at Torwyn.

    “No, Cap’ain, I am not’.� He wondered what risk there might be in telling this man the truth; that he dare not attempt to travel the Roads Between the Worlds. He had no choice but to take rest at his small villa until he learned the identity of those hunting him. Deciding against it, he continued on his way to B&B’s.

    They walked in silence for a few blocks. Kein noticed that several dozen soldiers where shadowing their movement, trying to look nonchalant when their Captain flashed them various hand signals. So, it has come to this. Cap’ain Haern will wait until I appear sufficiently relaxed and assuming he will not start anything; then, he’ll arrest me. A surprising attempt at tact from a man renowned for directness.

    He sent his mind reaching for al-Baأ¤in, friend, you best fly off somewhere. I may need you pick a lock or two before this done.


    The drake crawled to perch properly on the planejumper’s left shoulder. Kein felt the wind fanned by his bat-like wings as the drake took to air.

    “Where is he off to?� The question was only a shade shy of demand.

    “I wou’d love to teach you sub’lety.�


    “Nofhing. He’s off to hunt.�

    “Hunt?� Torwyn could not disguise the apprehension in his voice.

    “Don’t worry,� Kein chuckled, “he eats mostly insects…wifh the occasional rodent �ere and there and he’s terribly partial to raspberries for a snack.� He saw the man flash some signals out of the corner of his eye. Keeping an eye on my friend…or trying to, he assumed.

    A short while later they reached B&B’s. Kein walked directly to the stables, Captain Haern was one step behind him the entire way. He made arrangements for three days of care for the horse, passing an extra silver piece to the stable hand to be sure of it. He retrieved his gear, slinging his packs and bedroll—with its special cargo—over his shoulder. Grabbing his sheathed horse-pistol from his saddle he turned its muzzle toward Torwyn.

    “What!?� The man flinched.

    Kein turned the pistol in his hand, bringing the lock before his lips. Flipping the frizzen forward he exhaled onto the flash pan. A cloud of very fine black dust flew up from the gun, tickling his nose.

    “There!� He said, as he turned the butt toward the captain. “Now, we don’t have to worry about that one eivher. And you can arrest me in safety�

    Torwyn reached for the pistol, “and the sword?�

    “No, mate, that stays wifh me.�

    “Unacceptable,� he tucked the un-primed pistol in his belt, sheath and all, “prisoners must turn over their arms. That means all weapons.�

    “Captain, I understand your duty, and no matter how much I wish we could avoid any trouble, you know as well as I that I cannot turn my sword over.� His childhood accent faded as he carefully pronounced this.

    “I appreciate that fact, Kein. Yet, appreciation does not give me right disregard the laws of my master and the duty that binds me to uphold them.� His hand drifted to his own sword, fingers wrapping slowly around the gold filigree of the ornate grip. “Now, your sword.�

    Torwyn’s grey eyes carried a threat Kein knew all too well. His hatred of Kein for the near-defeat the planejumper served him was plain and painful to the peaceful man from Esztasi.

    Kein! It’s Ecgtheow! He’s coming down with his guard, he’ll be to B&B’s shortly.

    “Perhaps it is not your choice to make for me, Captain.�

    “What does that mean?�

    The sound of heavy boots echoed in the wood-floored stable.

    “Captain! Stand down.�

    Ecgtheow, Lord of Rodelkeep, spoke in a booming baritone commanding the attention of all who heard him. He was used to authority, and unlike many lords and barons of the land, he earned his authority through resolve of character and strength of arms. In his middle years, the man had a full beard, peppered with grey and the body of a man who in his prime would have resembled the most perfect statues of the human, but now has sagged a little with age. He ware fine clothes for this part of world, entirely in the blue and white of Rodelkeep. His shining cuirass and fine war-sword told any what manner of lord Ecgtheow was.

    Torwyn turned to his lord, lowering his head in a graceful bow, never taking his eyes fully off Kein. “My liege.�

    The Nobleman turned to regard Kein with deep brown eyes. “You are Yģyzأ¶kẻn of Esztasi?â€?

    “Yes, mi’Lord,� Kein replied, taken aback at the man’s perfect pronunciation.

    “The man whose deeds are carried in song by bard and skald? Excelent! Then, please, sir, accept my hospitality and dine with me tonight. All shall be provided for you.�

    Torwyn and Kein exchanged a glance of nervousness, neither certain where this change in attitude came from and neither trusting the other.

    “Please, sir! I insist. Captain, return his possesestions. Good! Now, come along!�
    "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
    --Thomas a Kempis


    • #3
      Part 1: The Traveler

      Chapter 2

      Kein was not given a luxurious chamber, but it was comfortable enough for a man used to sleeping on rocky ground. The bed was a simple straw filled bag on a wooden pallet raised off the stone floor by four rough hewn oak posts. An oak wardrobe stood in one corner with a small dressing table next to it. At the foot of the bed were two lightly padded chairs set facing each other in front of a small fireplace.

      At least they were kind enough to give us a fireplace! The cold blooded al-Baأ¤in said as he stiffly flew to curl up on the mantle before the already burning fire.

      “Don’t be so harsh, al-Baأ¤in,â€? Kein said aloud. “They are on the frontier and can’t provid’ as much as we may be used to in the larger cities or Esztasi.â€?

      Yeah yeah…now let me warm up. With that the little drake closed his eyes drifted off to dream whatever it is that intelligent reptiles dream.

      Kein was left to relax on his own. Striping off his wet cloak and coat, he draped them over the back of one chair. His sword he hung by the belt on one of the bed posts. He opened up his bedroll to reveal the sections of his rifle and slid his horse-pistol from its wet sheath. The iron used for the barrels of both firearms were extremely susceptible to moisture and to be certain they would always work for him, he liked to keep them clean and dry.

      He set about doing just that, letting his hands go through the familiar motions of striping, cleaning, and reassembling the guns while his mind wandered.

      He thought about his most pressing difficulty: who was hunting him? He mad made many enemies in his years of travel and even his fast mind needed time to retrace his steps and examine each potential adversary. To complicate matters the countless telepathic battles he had been in and the effects of jumping across space and time had left his mind a convoluted mess of disjointed half-memories and imaginings. Any recall of memory required careful mental preparation on his part. It was a simple principle, really. His former mistress, Jelenأ©s, taught him to create certain thought patterns within himself that can be activated by thinking a keyword. Anytime he thinks certain words in a certain tone, his mind automatically responds with the complex thought linked to that keyword. It allowed him to use minimum effort to get maximum results from his mind in virtually no time. And since it used so little of conscious thought, he could process five or six different problems at a time.

      Kein started with the first question to set his mind in motion, how old am I?. The question was not one that was easy to answer in any understandable terms. Jelenأ©s had taught him the first strings of logic he needed to sort through questions such as theses. It activated automatic memories of the number of times his brain had pulsed in his life and converted that into understandable time by using the set reference of when he first met her at age nineteen.

      His hands tested the lock on his long-gun while his mind set itself to work.

      >return: C1(41759080439501)
      >return: C2(1052887766400)

      Kein sighed. So much time had passed since he last saw his love, Jelenأ©s. It wasn’t the most reliable or accurate method of determining age; the five years his body had lived since his last visit to Rodelkeep was seventeen to his memory. His mind has lived over seven and quarter centuries since Jelenأ©s’s disappearance; less for his body, perhaps, but it was his mind that was left empty from her absence.

      She found him with his mind and soul twisted by chaos, a refugee from the wars that span the multiverse. She took him under her wing, a half-demon spawn of chaos, taught him to repress the demon’s blood and steady his mind with mathematics and telepathy. The sorcery he once practiced faded, the innate abilities of his blood became repressed, and he became aware of the Roads Between the Worlds. For four years he lived with her in Esztasi, finding peace for the first and only time in his life. She trained his mind and heart, then vanished.

      He has been looking for her ever since.

      Over the many roads and worlds he traveled he looked for her, never turning his attention from the search. No matter his traveling companions or their immediate purpose, for Kein it was all to find the key that would allow him to track down Jelenأ©s.

      But now he couldn’t do even that. The Ether was closed to him. Some enemy he made in his travels was barring him by force of arms from continuing his journey. He would not sit idly by, waiting for his enemies to find him. They were keeping him from Jelenأ©s.

      >return: C3(1258171926750)
      find.emotion: -1;--
      exclude.emotion: -*3,-*5
      >occurances: F1(39)
      set.Keywords(W1): multiverse, ether, vengeance, revenge, “kill you,� …
      find.dialogue: W1
      find.thought: W1
      if: find.*=1;++
      whenComplete: distract1

      Kein had run several variations of this same logic through his head on several occasions, each time he able to narrow down the field of potential enemies, and each time he was left with no distinct answer. Just so, he was determined to find solve the riddle and would continue to apply Jelenأ©s’s teachings to do so.

      A servant entered to fill the small stone basin on the dressing table with steaming water and hesitantly interrupted Kein’s work. “Mi’ Lord?�

      “Yes.� Kein did not stop his work.

      “The Captain Haern requests a parley, sir.�

      Kein knew this could be trouble, but trusted Haern’s respect for his Lord and Master to hold the man’s blade. Just the same, he would feel better with some assurance of safety. al-Baأ¤in, why don’ you put yo’self somewhere out’ of sight’? Turning to the servant he said, “Very well. Send him in.â€?

      The Servant expressed some concern for Kein’s health, apparently never witnessing telepathic communication before. After a few brief words of reassurance to the man, he withdrew from the room and Kein quickly fished his work, wrapping both re-assembled guns in dry cloth and stowing them beneath the straw mat he was expected to use as a bed. He rearranged the chairs so that they would be at a slight angle to eachother, facing away from the fire and hung his sword-belt from the back of the one he intended to sit on. Good. Haern will be to my right, and my sword with be on my left. He’ll have the opposite arrangement, that should provide him some pause. Waiting for his guest to arrive he pulled his current traveling journal from his pack and sat in his chair, writing a few updates on his most recent travels with an overused pencil.

      The wait was not too long. Only moments later he was standing to welcome Torwyn Haern to the room. After the customary cold introductions he invited Haern to sit and seated himself in the chair he had prepared.

      “Kein, I’m not here to chat and exchange pleasantries.�


      “I’m here to demand that you leave Rodelkeep at once.�

      “I intend to leave as soon as I can re-supply.�

      “Kein,� Torwyn betrayed a hint of anger, “I would slay you now, if not for the orders of my Lord. You have made certain to tie my hands in that regard.�

      This drew Kein’s attention, “me?�

      “O! Don’t play coy with me, demon! I know you pulled some mind-bending trick on Ecgtheow to get your little invitation!�

      “It may appear that way. Even I admit his in’ervention in my favour is mo’ than a bit suspicious.�

      “You admit it?�

      “Not to altering �his will or inva’ing �his mind, no. I admit that �his decision is suspec’.�

      “What are you saying?�

      “Only that I don’t trust �his mo’ives or even that they are �his mo’ives.�

      “You mean to say someone else controlled his mind?�

      “It’s possible.�

      “No, it isn’t.�

      “Why’s that? You fhink, I’m the only one that can invade the mind of another?�

      “I know there are others out there.� His lips parted in a sneering grin, “but, you are the only one here.�

      Are you cer’ain of that?

      Torwyn shook his head. “Do that again and I’ll call the entire house guard upon you.�

      “That doesn’t answer the question.� Kein leveled his most apathetic look upon his adversary, “are you cer’ain I am the only one?�

      “You and your…friend.�

      “I can assure you that neither myself, nor al-Baأ¤in was responsible.â€?

      “Assure all you want, I know the truth.�

      “Believe what you will. Now, if you don’ mind, I have work to attend to.�

      With that the meeting was at an end and the Captain left Kein with anger lighting his eyes.

      That could’ve gone better, Boss. Al-Baأ¤in flew from his hiding place landed on the chair Torwyn had recently vacated.

      “Not now, al-Baأ¤in.â€? He sighed. It seems I now â€?ave little choice excep’ to explore this prob’em as well as my own.

      Too bad, the drake’s comment seemed anything but sincere. With a growl of complaint he glided to the ground and wrapping his tail around one leg of the chair dragged the chair around until it was once again facing the fire. With a few quick glances from the fire to the chair he dragged it a little closer yet to the hearth. Finally satisfied with the chair’s position, he flew up to the padded seat and after some convincing worked the pad into a little nest for him to curl into. Hey, Big-Boy, why don’t you do us a favour and throw a few more logs into that barely passable fire?

      “Why do I put up with you?� Nonetheless, Kein obliged his friend and placed a few more pieces of wood into the small fire.

      I would wonder the same…but you’re so useful at times.


      Now, shut-up and let me sleep

      O, yes! Gods forbid you get less than twenty hours of sleep a day!

      The little drake opened one eye to peer at Kein with a semblance of threat, than closed it again with a content grin on his draconic lips, leaving Kein once again with no company save his own.

      Kein had been honest with Torwyn Haern about his misgivings concerning the Lord of Rodelkeep. He was suspicious of the man’s motives for the invitation. But there was more too it than that. Ecgtheow had spoken Kein’s full name, a name Kein himself never used; and moreover, the Lord had pronounced the demonic sounds with perfection. Kein had known only a handful of humans who could do so, and all of them sorcerers. The idea of a soldier-Duke from an isolated outpost in the wilderness doing so was all but impossible.

      The implication seemed obvious; Ecgtheow was being controlled by either a powerful mortal sorcerer, or a demon of some variety. In either case, the culprit could very well be connected to the very enemies Kein was trying to find. If that were so, than it was entirely possible that Kein had just walked directly into an overly elaborate trap.

      It seemed too cunning though, even for a demon. To find a way to close Kein off from the Ether, to predict Kein’s stop in Rodelkeep, to secretly gain control of the Ecgtheow, to…what? Kein wondered what the next phase of the trap may be, if indeed it were a trap.

      It seemed just as likely to be coincidence, having nothing to do with his presence here. Perhaps it just some sorcerer hoping to capitalize on the rich lumber and stone that is Rodelkeep’s lifeblood; a man who had heard of Kein and his travels and wished to test the mettle of his legends. Or maybe the man or demon is a simple opportunist, hoping to make a slave of Kein. Whatever the case may be, Kein knew the only course of action presently available to him was to wait and see how diner goes.
      "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
      --Thomas a Kempis