Home > Fiction, Story Hour > Beneath the Veil (Story Hour Part 2)

Beneath the Veil (Story Hour Part 2)

Pax and Gaea stepped out of the Sweetwater Inn into the cool night air. Quinon and Selene walked just behind them. Both moons had risen and shone down on the empty street. An occasional dry breeze shifted the bit of sand on the stone.  Gaea shivered.

Gaea began to make her parting gestures, but she and Pax both noticed a large group of thugs standing in a nearby square. One thick hewn man, in particular, berated the others. He stood flanked by two men in well worn armor, each with long barbed spears.  Those he berated cowered in front of him in little more than shackles and loin cloths.  He then turned to greet the newcomers.

“Word on the street is you lot is lookin’ to get yourselves sold in Urik”. The large man sneered as he hefted his obsidian axe. “We can help with that.”

Gaea paused, puzzled, then glanced from Pax’s uniform to his face.  “Being a templar isn’t what it used to be, isn’t?”

“Change comes whether we like it or not,” his voice and face stone.  He drew his bone blade and stepped forward.

“Get them!” the slaver yelled.  His men surged forward.

Quickly, the slavers surrounded them.  One of the men impaled Selene upon his spear, drew her close, and ripped a wicked curved dagger into her stomach. Blood flowed onto the thirsty street stones.

Gaea drew her sword and sliced into the ruffian impaling Selene.  Then, she reached into the swirl of emotions surrounding her.  She plucked enthusiasm and vigor from the storm and laid them atop the eddy of fear in Selene’s mind.  Selene seemed to draw strength from this and lashed out at her foe.  A red line appeared on his throat, and he fell.

Pax did something and the group of slave about them wavered and crumpled.  It looked like no psionic technique Gaea had seen, which brought new questions about the tiefling’s search for the Alliance.

The lead slaver leaped at Gaea with his heavy stone axe forcing her to focus again on the matter at hand.  He slammed his axe into her shoulder into her and growled. She fought back viciously, drawing on his anger and focusing it on the tip of her sword.  Her blade, thus fortified, sliced through his armor and added his blood to the churn beneath their feet.  He did not slow his assault.  He had the technique of a rampaging mekillot; what he lacked in finesse he more than accounted for in brutal strength.  Gaea’s arms began to numb from deflecting the assault.

Through the sweat and pain, she did not fully comprehend what happened next.  Fire exploded on the street immolating the slaver.  He shrieked in agony and collapsed to the ground.

Over her breathing, Gaea heard only silence.  Then, a club rattled to the paving stones behind her.  The remaining slave dropped his club in surrender; the bone chains on his arms rattled.  Quinon growled at the man, but Pax waved him away.  He seemed non the worse for the encounter, and not at all concerned about the explosion just moments before.  Curious.

“Why did you attack?” Pax’s blade stayed at the ready.

“He told me to.” The man jerked his head in the direction of the dead slaver.

“Why?”

“Am I free?” The scared covered man looked into Pax’s face.

“Slavery is illegal here,” Pax stated.  “Why?”

The man shrugged.  “He was hired.  He met a man.  He was told to kidnap a noble woman and a desert-spawn templar.” The man bit his lip. “No offense.”

“What did he look like? This man?”

“He wore robes and was far away.  I didn’t see.”

Gaea had her breathing under control, now.  Her pain, she had simply added to the storm of emotions which constantly flowed around her.  As her often vicious master had trained her, pain become a resource.

She examined the captured man. He was tall, muscular, and bronzed from days under the red sun.

Pax nodded to himself.

“What is your name?” Pax asked.

“Nothon.”

“Nothon, would you like a job?” Pax sheathed his blade.

“I…” Nothon looked from his shackled hands to the templar’s angular face.  He nodded.

“Good.  Collect what you can from these corpses, then we shall go to the Templar District.”

Gaea watched all of this silently.  She believed slavery to be wrong, but result of freedom in Tyr did not seem demonstrably better.  Yet, here stood a horned desert-spawn templar offering employment to a man who a minute before had attempted to cave in his skull.  She plucked confusion and uncertainty from her mind; they were tools as well.  She followed along wrapped in thought.

After gathering a few ceramic pieces and what looked like healing fruits from the bodies, they travelled across town.  The wall separating the templar district from the rest of the city was tall, thick, and impenetrable. Pax spoke with the guards and got them through the gates.

Pax took them to his supervisor. Vibios was a lean, balding man Gaea had seen before at state functions.  She remembered him as being horrible at small-talk.  He had decorated his office simply; no trophies or commendations adorned his walls or his stone desk.  It was clean, and two lamps kept it well lit.

Vibios stood to greet them.

“Pax, I see you are travelling with,” his pause was brief;his voice sure, “Gaea of Tarentus.  What brings you and your companions here at this hour?” 

Gaea thought he couldn’t have missed the loincloth clad man attempting to hide behind the halfling, but he waited for Pax’s explanation.

“There are slavers in town.  Apparently, stealing people to Urik,” Pax said.

Vibios frowned.

“Some assaulted us.  After their death, this one surrendered, and I believe we can find him suitable employment.”

“Don’t you think it is a dangerous precedent to hire strays?” Vibios asked, while he examined the man in question.

Gaea stepped forward.

“Templar, this is a question all of Tyr wonders.  The nobles perhaps more so than anyone.  However, if you have the need for a man, will not hiring this one take one more potential rioter from the streets?”

Vibios turned to her.  She remember now why she thought he was bad at small talk.  It wasn’t that he was unable to carry a conversation.  Rather, his black eyes bore through the chaff and silt of a speaker and quickly exposed the raw ore beneath.  Gaea was grateful her emotional buffer held, and her face, hopefully, remained calm.

“So we are to be the test bed for this new world, then? Vibios asked.

"Tyr needs order. Who better than us to provide it,” Pax said.  “Do you have something?”

“Can you read, man?” Vibios asked Nothon.

“Um… no, sir.” Nothon stuttered.

“Good.  We have a need for a messenger.  You will stay in the barracks for now.  We’ll need to find you clothes, as well.”

Nothon nodded and smiled; his eyes down at the floor.


The next morning Pax, Viatrix, and Quinon met Gaea and Selene outside of the Iron District.  A few workers nearby unloaded a meager shipment of iron ore from a caravan.  People still told tales of the days none alive knew when the district burst at the seams when a caravan arrived.  Now, a handful of workers on the side of a plaza handled everything.

“I believe he is attempting to get our attention.” Gaea pointed surreptitiously across the square to one of the laborers.  A bare chested mul who, as far as Pax could tell, was hard at work moving ore.

“Perhaps,” Pax said. He then shrugged and stepped into the nearby iron master’s office.  He heard the others follow him. 

A dwarf greeted him from behind a sagging counter.  He was bald, as was traditional for his kind, had multiple stone earrings, and wore a  simple silk gown.

“Greetings, templar.  May I help?” He asked.  He laid the clay tablet he held to the side.

“Are you receiving your shipments as you should?” Pax asked.  The iron trade was Tyr’s strength.

“You mean, with, hmmph, everything that’s happened?” The iron master asked.

Pax nodded.

“We, hmmph, missed a few shipments right after… everything.  Thing’s are better now, though.”

“The mines still run, then?” Pax asked.  Others had the duty of ensuring the mines ran well.  Others had had the duty of guarding Kalak’s life, as well.

“Yes.  I believe the, hmmph, templars at the mines quelled the unrest up there.”  The iron master’s voice lowered. “I hear freedom in the mines looks much like slavery in the mines.”

“Thank you for your time, Master.  If the ore stops flowing, seek me out.”  Pax turned and stepped back out into the streets.

The mul Gaea had pointed out earlier now stacked boxes immediately outside of the iron master’s offices.  As they exited her paused, and passed his hand across the lower part of his face.

Gaea returned the gesture. Pax looked from one to the other and then rubbed his face in puzzlement.  Viatrix seemed similarly confused.

The broad shouldered dwarf-human mix breed looked at him and laughed a wide mouthed and silent laugh.  The laugh of a man with no tongue.  Pax saw Gaea smirking out of the corner of his eye.  He ignored this.

“It’s the sign of those who wear the veil.” Gaea whispered to him.

“Ah.” Pax replied.

The laborer, still silently chuckling, turned and lead them away.  They followed him for a ways, and he lead them into the Warrens.  Pax paid close attention to his surroundings.  The slums of the Warrens were not a safe place. 

As they moved deeper into the Warrens, Pax saw how desperate things had become.  In the past, surveys of the Warrens had revealed that the homeless and destitute used only a third of the buildings here.  Now, it appeared every building burst with freed slaves wallowing in filth, sweat, and hunger.  Hiring one as a messenger had been a symbolic act at best.

Deeper in, almost to the city walls, the buildings emptied again.  Quinon grew pale and tugged at Pax’s sleeve.

“This area is haunted.  It is not safe.” Quinon voice shook a bit as he spoke.

The mul leading them turned, smiled his tongueless smile, and gestured them onward.  They followed.

The soon arrived at a block of buildings where each building seemed to be held upright by its neighbors.  Pax thought he could bring the whole block down with a shove.  The mul motioned for them to enter one of the doors here.

“Great, “ Pax said.  “No one sneeze.”

The dimness of the building’s interior blinded Pax as he and his companions entered.  He could just make out an old man sitting on a haphazard pile of boxes.  The bald man had pendulous earlobes, a face as wrinkled as an inix’s ass, and an incongruous look of wisdom.  He wore little more than a sack cloth masquerading as a toga.  He blinked against the brightness of the outside.

“Who are you?” he croaked.

Pax introduced himself, as did his companions.

“I am Matthias.  Why are you here?”

“We seek those who wear the veil,” Pax said.

“The Alliance, eh? What do you know of magic, boy?” Matthias’s eyes sparkled as he spoke the insult.

“I know it is drawn from the life around us, that the clever make use of it, and the reckless abuse it for petty gains.”  Pax stomach churned at the thought of the numerous times he had been just that reckless person.  No more.

“’Petty’ and ‘reckless’ are ex post facto labels.  Maybe they believe their destruction is necessary.” Old men in the Warrens did not typically use ancient forms of common.  Or talk down to templars. “Regardless, skill matters not if one betrays at the first sign of trouble.”

“We are no cowards,” said Gaea.  “These here have stood against a mob and slavers in just the last two days.”

Matthias lowered his head in thought.  Then asked, “Bravery and recklessness are matters of perspective.  Subtly is what matters.   Therein lies power.  Can you hide your strength from your foes?”

His answer was coughing and  the shuffling of feet.

“Duplicity is not in the nature of nobles or templars?” Matthias’s chuckle was dry, humorless.  “How do I know you are not here to burn the Veil?”

“As you say, we are earnest in our seeking.  The Veil is no enemy of Tyr,” said Gaea.

“Perhaps, perhaps not. Only those who wear it know.  What have you lot done to earn the Veil?”  Now he examined each of them carefully.

“Nothing,” said Pax.  He couldn’t stop the images of the mages, criminals all in the old world, he had tortured to find this place where he now stood.  How much death was in his wake? Too much, surely.

Matthias smiled at this.  “Earnest, indeed.  Let us see what we can do about that, at least.”  He stood and gestured.  The pile of boxes moved to the side, revealing marble stairs descending into the ground.

Pax noticed Matthias’s toga had shaken off its sackcloth appearance and now looked like a toga befitting a minor noble.  Matthias turned and walked down the steps, motioning them to follow.

At the end of a long hallway filled with doors and with at least one fork, they reached a solid stone door.  Matthias turned to them.

“Behind this door is the Green Test,” Matthias intoned.  “Those who enter are unknown to us.  Those who exit are brethren.  When you are ready.  Open the door. Blessings of the Green upon you.”

Pax took a deep breath, looked to his companions for consent, and opened the door.

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