Home > Fiction, Story Hour > The More Things Change… (Story Hour Part 1)

The More Things Change… (Story Hour Part 1)

Dramatis personæ:

Pax Gladius (Formerly: Vulgus Maximus): Vulgus is a tiefling templar of Tyr who supported the status quo and Kalak’s regime but was too unimportant for Tythian to order executed post-coup. Formerly a slave pit guard, Vulgus was bereft of a leader, an order, and a purpose. He shortly shook himself of his ennui, and forged for himself a new purpose. He is a templar after all, and what is a templar’s primary obligation? To uphold the law and order of the city-state. So what if by tradition, templars hadn’t truly done that for hundreds of years. It was time for someone to start. This new purpose firmly in his mind, he changed his name to Pax Gladius. He would fight for the law and see it upheld.

Quinon of the Forest Ridge: A halfling raised in captivity by templars, Quinon was freed by decree of Tythian and the Council. That did not mean he knew what to do. People had told him where to go and what to do his whole life. He looked for the answers to his life questions at the bottom of every cup he could find. Pax found him in this state, and gave him those answers. He would continue to support the templars, at least this templar; it’s what he knows. Besides, the tiefling doesn’t seem to get too bent when Quinon calls him ugly.

Gaea of Tarentus: The middle child, and only daughter, of a minor Tyrian noble family, Gaea was sent to Urik’s King’s Academy for psionic training. The training was rigorous, but the knowledge valuable. After Kalak’s assassination, she left the Academy and returned to Tyr. She has spent much of her time since her return in a state of questioning. Is freedom really what’s best for the former slaves? How should former slaves be compensated for doing the same duties they’ve always done? A small flicker of hope beats in her heart that she can make a difference; through fanning that flicker, she gains her strength. But fear threatens her hope. She fears not only Tyr’s innumerable internal troubles, but also as a student of Urik, she knows firsthand of the military might poised to crush Tyr at a sign of weakness.

Selene: A half-elven minstrel, Selene was born to indiscretion. The Tarentus family raised her as not quite a slave not quite a child of its own. Selene has a healthy dose of hero-worship for Gaea, and merrily travels with her to catalogue her exploits. The time in Urik was tough on Selene, as foreign minstrels are often eyed with suspicion, and she is happy to return to Tyr, even with the current unrest. Her sworn duty is to protect Gaea. She upholds this duty zealously, though the current troubles in Tyr are beyond the scope of her training with courts and courtesans.

A Beginning

Pax and Quinon strode briskly down the street. Pax sought broken laws in need of mending. A cry rose up in a small square a block away, and they hurried over to see the cause. Before them lay a troubling, but increasingly common, scene. A crowd of people had gathered in the square. Based on the body language and shouts, another mob was in the making. Pax noticed a familiar looking noble rush up from another direction.

In the center of this crowd, stood the defiled remains of a palm tree; its life force completely drained. Pax knew this to be the signs of immense magical expenditure, though nothing else looked demolished. Sobs echoed across the sandstone square, punctuated by cries of ‘defiler!’ and ‘desert-spawn’.

“Move aside.” Pax needed to put a stop to this. Now.

A few of the crowd turned to him. Their faces twisted with rage, they were taken aback by the sudden appearance of a tiefling templar.

“We aren’t afraid of you and your kind. The world has changed now, and there are more of us.” One shouted from the back. Pax didn’t catch his face.

“Don’t make me eat your liver,” Quinon growled. Having a halfling companion was useful at times. Pax had very rarely seen Quinon actually eat someone’s liver, but people were cowed by this threat.

“We don’t mean you harm; we want to help,” the female noble said calmly. Her family crest marked her as Tarentus.

“Great, a noble and a templar are here to save us.” That comment got a few chuckles. Still, chuckles were better than curses. Or stones.

“She defiled, and we won’t let her continue,” someone shouted.

“My duty is to uphold the law. I will do this; you will let me.” Pax laid a hand on his sword, casually; he was trying to be nice. “Besides, whoever you think defiled, could have killed you all with the power drained from that tree. As you are all still alive, you likely have the wrong person.”

The crowd began to give way, and Lady Tarentus and her minstrel companion met Pac and Quinon at the foot of the ashen tree. Slumped at the foot of the tree was a tiefling female wearing the torn and bloody remains of a templar’s uniform. Pax recognized her. There were not many of their kind in the service of Tyr. Her face bleed profusely, and she made a half-hearted effort to cover herself with the scraps of her clothing.

“Thank you,” she wheezed. She looked at each of them in turn through swollen eyes.

Lady Tarentus seemed stunned by the brutality of what she saw. Pax shook his head. Nobles would have to get used to this now. Welcome to freedom. He knelt and rendered what first aid he could, which seemed to jolt Tarentus into action.

She removed her well-embroidered clock and wrapped it around the beaten and bloody woman. “My name is Gaea of Tarentus, what happened?”

“Viatrix.” The tiefling replied by way of introduction as she adjusted the cloak. Likely, it was the finest thing she’d every worn, and it was already ruined with her blood. “I was,” she paused, “on patrol, when I was surrounded by a nimbus of light. Someone defiled and turned the tree to ash, but I saw no other effect. People saw the light and the tree; they must’ve assumed I defiled, so they mobbed me. Thank the Dragon you got here when you did. That they would mob a templar is… unthinkable.”

“The world has changed, Viatrix.” Pax looked from the tree back down to her. “Things are not as they used to be.”

“Indeed,” she took a moment to assess those who had saved her, “I have reflected upon the recent changes. I-I was seeking the V-”.

“Not here.” Pax interrupted. This square was far too public for such an admission. “Let us move to the shade of the alley for a bit of privacy.”

Once they had repositioned themselves, Tarentus’ minstrel sat a bit off and began to strum her lute. She looked not at all like she had assumed the role of lookout; Pax approved.

“Who do you seek?”

“The Veiled Alliance.” Viatrix said it quickly; she wanted it out in the open. “As you say, Vulgus, the world has changed.” Pax did not correct her. His name change was recent, and now was not the time.

“Are you renouncing your templar duties then?”

“If I must, I am tired of taking part in the destruction of the world. I am tired of the guilt. This mob just now; I didn’t defile here and now, no, but I have. Gleefully.” She glanced at Pax as if to judge his reaction.

He hoped he kept his face unreadable, because his thoughts warred with each other. To leave the templars and join the Veiled Alliance was a clear flaunting of the law, but it was possibly the right thing to do. And no one really knew the current legal status of the Alliance in Tyr, either. They had been an enemy of the state since the state’s inception, but the assassination of Kalak had changed that. Or had it? No new orders had been handed down, but new standing orders could take months or years to propagate the bureaucracy, while Kalak was still fresh in his grave.

“I will help you find the Alliance.” He made every effort to remove an implication of what he may do once he found the Alliance from his voice. This could also be a trap.

Lady Tarentus had gotten progressively pale and not from the destruction of her fine cloak. “I, um, I think I know someone we could speak to.” Both of the templars turned to face her. “But, I would want to go alone.”

First a templar seeking the Veiled Alliance, and now a noble woman who was coincidently on the scene knew a member. Pax looked around. Surely, this was a setup. Other templars must be about to storm the square and arrest them all as traitors. They did not.

Viatrix nodded. “I must go change and recover. Thank you for your help. I understand your lack of trust.” She looked at Pax. “I’ll be in the barracks if you need me. She stood and left.

Pax turned to judge Tarentus. She carried a sword well. She knew how to use it. She was attractive, for a human, and did not sneer or flinch every time she looked upon his red skinned visage. A spy would have training in concealing such responses.

“Vulgus?” He nodded. “I will seek you out after I have discussed things with my friend. I could have misjudged things.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to lead a templar to your friend at the first mention of the Veil.” Pax smirked. “Unless you didn’t like your friend much. Come, Quinon.” Pax left Tarentus and her companion in the square.

After the templars, two of them!, left, Gaea settled herself. Her emotions swirled about her as they always did. She focused on being the eye of the storm.

She remembered days long ago when a young Tibeon had sought to impress her with tales of his prowess. Laced in those stories were hints and innuendo. She had not understood then, but that was years ago; before Urik and the fall of Kalak. The King’s Academy had trained her, often harshly, to trust any nudging of her intuition. Her intuition now told her Tibeon was a member of the Veiled Alliance and a mage.

“You have yourself in a bit of mess this time, Gaea.” Selene often poked fun at her. Frustration was just another emotion to add to the storm.

“It’s only two templars, Selene, one of whom is giving a pitch perfect explanation for why she should be led to a childhood friend who is, presumably, guilty of treason. That’s all.”

Gaea and Selene made their way across town, to the Sweetwater Inn. Its luxurious sitting rooms were a favorite for all of the nobles, especially during the heat of the day. The Novius family, like any noble family worth its water, had a private sitting room there.

There were a few paintings on the wall, mostly depicting former heads of house fighting gloriously against implacable Urikite armies. The room was supernaturally maintained at a pleasant temperature. Tibeon reclined on an overstuffed inix leather chair sipping a dark red wine. His face was drawn and haggard. Gone was the easy smile of his youth.

“Gaea? Greetings,” he rose and greeted her somewhat warmly, “It has been awhile. Weren’t you at the King’s?” He offered her a glass of the red he was drinking and motioned her to another of the soft chairs.

“I was, but recent events bade me to return.” She hated small talk. Everything in her wanted to scream her questions at him. “How is your family handling the new freedoms?” Why had her mother trained her so thoroughly on pleasantries and small talk? Dragon take that woman.

Gaea and Tibeon spent the next hour catching up and remembering what, for them, were simpler days. Selene passed the time by playing a calming tune in the corner. Gaea did her best to be the eye of the storm.

“What really brings you by?” Tibeon smiled. Had he know all of this time that she had not just wanted small talk? And she had let him chitchat away an hour. She feed the storm raging in her anew.

“Well,” she thought she sounded quite calm, considering, “I remembered some conversations of our youth and thought you might know some interesting people. People who can help in times like these.”

“Really? What kind of people?” He sipped his wine, and looked at her over the glass; his eyes suddenly wary.

“The Veiled Alliance perhaps?” She blurted. Selene coughed at this and played a discordant note. Subtly was her game, not Gaea’s.

Tibeon nodded. He did not seem surprised. “Did you pick up some of the Art at the King’s? That seems unlikely.”

Gaea shook her head. “No, I only know the Way.”

Tibeon frowned, puzzled. “The Veil is only for practitioners of the Art. Why would you seek them?”

Gaea had wanted to avoid this part. “I met some people who might be practitioners. People who might be interested in finding them.”

“People?”

“Well, they’re templars actually.” Gaea cringed internally.

“Templars seeking the Veil? Either times truly have changed, or they are exactly as they’ve always been. Tell me, is one of your templar friends good at glowering and accompanied by an unruly looking halfling?”

Befuddled, Gaea whipped her head around to the doorway. There stood Vulgus and his halfling companion. Quinon, was it?

Gaea nodded.

“Come in, sirs. May I offer you a drink?” Tibeon’s politeness did not seem strained.

Quinon snatched a glass of wine and guzzled it before anyone could tell him otherwise. Vulgus was more staid in acceptance of hospitality, though he introduced himself as Pax Gladius. She thought it an odd thing for him to try a false moniker, when she clearly knew who he was.

“Did you follow me?” Gaea seethed at the thought that she may have betrayed her friend. She glanced at Selene who shook her head, seemingly in response to a missed note.

Pax, if that’s what he wanted to be called, looked up from his wine. “My kind has been hunting his kind,” he indicated Tibeon, “for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. We have our methods. And they work.”

Tibeon took a moment to assess the situation, then sighed. “So be it.” Gaea sensed a fondness in his glance at her. “I will make the arrangements. Tomorrow morning, expect a summons. If you are not earnest in your seeking of the Veil, we will all pay a price.”

Pax sat silent.

“We will be ready.” Gaea felt a surge of uncertainty. It joined the storm.

“Oh, and you mentioned ‘templars’. Plural. Where is the other?”

“She’s… recuperating.”

“She will need to be there as well.”

Gaea frowned. “I’m not sure I trust…” Her voice trailed off as she glanced at Pax.

He smiled and inclined his head. “I would not trust a templar seeking the Alliance, either.”

Tibeon shook his head. “Whether you trust her or not, now is the time. Bring her tomorrow.” He stared into Pax’s eyes. “My kind has been concealing ourselves from your kind for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. We have our methods. And they work.” He turned to Gaea. “May you find clear water, Gaea.” He then bowed, and left.

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