Shadows of the Evergreen - Part 15
King Shindig was poised and ready.
He stood unwavering, staring hard at his crown which he had upended and rested on his work desk.
Elsewhere in the room was Art, in a padded chair, suffering the tense silence along with his ruler.
And standing a little behind the padded chairs in the king’s study was Alfred, who wore a purely decorative helm of bright orange, constructed from hardened materials. It was out of place on a man who was wearing a three piece suit, but he insisted on wearing it whenever he used his particular magic item. One that was made through painstaking research, painful peril to his own body, and particular outlays of shmuckers to obtain the series of prototypes that led to his masterful creation that was yet another one of the secrets of Everclear. And it was primed and ready to be used again that turn.
Just as soon as-
The crown rumbled, having received a message. King Shindig instantly shouted the command word of “Merlin” while tapping the rim of his crown with a wand. Inside, there materialized several red feathers and a piece of paper with one giant word scrawled on it. It said, NOW.
King Shindig looked up at Alfred, and was mentally giving the order even as his mouth was forming the word, “NOW.”
Alfred put his full weight into his arms, and pressed down on the plunger of his magic tool. A red box with a two handled pole coming out of the top. As the plunger was fully pressed, the magic that Alfred inserted into the tool glimmered as it went through the wiring to the specially treated spell scrolls that were hooked together. The length of the wires added a delayed reaction to their activation. And as each of the Shockamancy scroll were activated, the text on the paper lit up brightly with activation, and then dissipated into the air. But no Shockamancy was released inside that room.
It was a different story for the twin copies of those scrolls, however, that were also specially treated. Treated with Carnymancy.
Emma didn’t hear the command word that the warlord uttered when he dipped the wand in his hand. She was too busy aiming with her finger, to busy longing to see Warlord Shades blasted to chunks, to pay it any mind. He was a warlord, not a Hatamancer. A wand was no threat.
A clap of thunder drowned out Emma’s spell incantation, but the sound did not come from the sky. It came from directly beneath her. The water of the pool she was crossing at that moment exploded, jets of blue erupted around her. Emma’s line of sight was interrupted, and the shock of the water connecting with her body threw her off balance. Emma’s sense of direction was momentarily jarred, but despite that, she was an archon. Which was why she was able to make the spot check to see that in the midst of the pillars of water, there was a large stone that had the remnants of paper on one side, of a scroll. It was in freefall as well, and it tumbled in the air slightly. It revolved enough for Emma to spot a scroll attached to the other side of the stone as well with visible writing in bold upon it.
It said, “FACE TOWARDS ENEMY”
There was a sparkle of magical energy upon the scroll that Emma instinctively knew was a really bad sign. Even in her maddening rage, Emma’s survival instincts reacted and she tried to cross her arms in front of her face, change flight course, run the flip away! But there wasn’t even enough time for Emma to say ,”Oh, no.”
Blue light exploded out of the scroll as it was activated. Electricity shot out of the scroll, into the water, from droplet to droplet, in a torrent that could never have been accomplished without the modified terrain event of the airborne liquid. The electricity raced through the area, chaining between the pillars of water, down into the pool and up again. The electricity also ran through Emma, again and again, piercing her innate defenses since she herself was already drenched to the bone.
Not once, but repeatedly; as though her voice was oscillating to the rhythm of the bolts of lightning that were tearing through her body. The magical attack felt like an eternity as it cooked her entire body with it’s effect. One of the multitasking parts of Emma’s mind noticed that she was still flying while she was being tormented by the effects of the scroll, and vaguely wondered if it was another of the scroll's effects, if she was maintaining her flight herself and that she wasn’t as badly injured as her body was telling her she was, or if the bolts of electricity striking her had slowed her perception of time.
Finally, the torment ended, and the water all around Emma seemed to speed up in its movements. Caught by the rules of gravity, the droplets began to fall downwards, back to the pool they had come from. Emma, too, found herself falling downward, and that multitasking part of her mind told her that the second of the three options she’d thought of before was definitely off the table. Emma knew she was badly wounded, possibly incapacitated. Because no matter how much her mind was protesting, her body was now incapable of flight.
Emma couldn’t see the water rushing towards her, her freefall tumble had left her looking mostly upwards. But she felt her body break the surface tension hard as she plummeted shoulder first into the watery terrain feature. As Emma founder herself submerging, she realized to her horror that she still couldn’t move. The water closed around her body, around her head and face. Emma couldn’t breathe. The shock of the realization caused her to accidentally sputter out some of the precious air within her lungs before her minute command of her body allowed her to clamp down the muscles of her throat to prevent any more air loss.
Emma lamented that she hadn’t had the time or presence of mind to fill her lungs with air, so that she could hold onto a few more seconds of her life. But she almost immediately realized that such a regret meant nothing, that Emma would quickly drown regardless of such a paltry thing as a little more air in her lungs. Emma had lost her entire Tri, no one was going to save her. “Except maybe Charlie,” the faint hope glowed. But only for a moment, before reality surged back in. Emma didn’t have enough time to connect a Thinkamancy link back to CharlesComm to let them know her situation. Even Charlie couldn’t help her if he didn’t know she needed him.
But… it would have been nice to feel Charlie’s presence, just one more time.
The ripple of the water over Emma’s head as it undulated from the impact of so many forces in so short a time made the meagre amount of light in the hex sparkle. It was as if the Titans were welcoming her home on Charlie’s behalf. And Emma felt herself gently slipping away.
A glimmering hand came into view, reaching down to pluck her from her mortal coil, to be taken before judgement, and perhaps the City of Heroes to reunite with some of her sisters on the other side, that possessed no sides. Emma’s dim senses felt the corners of her mouth lift slightly, in her final moment.
The hand roughly took hold of Emma’s hair, and yanked her about. The resistance of the water ended up placing even more stress on Emma’s hair, the pain of it shocking her back into partial lucidity. Emma had no idea what was happening, but she knew she didn’t like it. She flailed the tiny bit that she could, her body still unable to answer her urgent needs for motion. And then, her eyes closed from the pain, Emma felt her head break through the surface of the water. Various liquids streamed out from Emma’s nose and mouth, some of them too sticky to be water. But they were replaced by air.
Every other thought in Emma’s mind came to an abrupt end. There were no thoughts for regret, for the City of Heroes, or even, Charlie help her, for Charlie himself. Just the air that Emma was choking and gasping on to try and force as much of it into her body as possible. As Emma felt nearly Man-Type again, her eyes opened and she began to look around with her eyeballs, all while panting through her mouth which was opened as wide an possible. Her awareness expanded enough to realize that someone was holding her up by the hair.
Emma very nearly was able to emit a shriek of some kind of emotion before her face was plunged into the water again. Not her head, just her face, which was being held in place by the Everclear warlord’s hand that was entangled into her red hair. Emma now found herself facing down, staring at the dark, muddy bottom of the pool of water. There was no peaceful drifting as her lungs protested against her. This time Emma was in the violent grip of her enemy, actively being croaked by rough and uncaring hands. Every fiber of Emma’s being was screaming to try and fight back against this unnatural act! And as Emma’s consciousness began to waver, there was no enclosing of peace, no thoughts of the City of Heroes, no comfort. Just the sensation of being held under by her enemy.
Emma’s face once again broke the surface of the pool, liquids draining from the nostrils and mouth, replaced by fresh air. But there was no moment of glorious realization that she was alive this time. Only a menacing dread and the sensation of the warlord’s hand gripping her hair from behind and a feeling of complete helplessness. A second sensation soon followed, the feeling of cold steel pressed against her throat hard enough to split the flesh, and then the growl of steamy words in her ear that said, “You are hereby captured.”
It was equal parts statement and ultimatum, that carried the effect of an order loud and clear even across the gap of opposing sides. The order was, “Try to resist in any way, and I will croak you. Painfully.”
Emma knew he could, and her instincts told her he would. Through the gasps, chokes, and the torrent of liquids running down her face, with a few drops falling from her eyes, Emma sputtered out, “I *coff-coff* I hereby *coff-hack* surrender.”
Emma felt her remaining Juice, not a very large quantity now, she realized, as it drained from her body and heavy manacles appeared on her wrists and ankles. Emma’s legs which had been floating gently before suddenly dropped to the bottom of the pool. Embarrassingly, it was no great distance to the bottom. A fact that was further exemplified once the warlord of Everclear bodily pulled her upright and dragged her out of the pool with the water never reaching higher than his waist.
The warlord roughly placed Emma face down on the dirty ground, further ruining her uniform for the day, and resecured Emma’s wrist shackles so her arms would be bound behind her back. Then he securely tied a length of rope around her ankles, making sure that she couldn’t walk under her own power. Emma would still be able to fly once she had the ability back. She’s have to pretend to be helpless until she had that opening to escape.
...No hard act to pull off, though, Emma thought to herself.
Then the warlord tied a strip of fabric around her eyes as a blindfold. Emma tried to buck a little, trying to make sure the blindfold was tied on crooked, but the warlord simply laid his knee on Emma’s neck to stop her admittedly feeble movement, and then tied the blindfold into place hard, making sure a lock of Emma’s hair was in the knot to keep it more solidly in place. Emma was exasperated. After all, how could a mere scout warlord know so much about binding a prisoner!?
Emma was expecting a gag next, but instead Emma felt the warlord looming close to her to whisper into her ear, “Just so you know, there is a stack of goldthwait cats in this hex I found when I first scouted. They’re not big fans of combat, but they’d love an easy meal like you. I went to a lot of trouble capturing you, so I’d prefer you not struggle or make any noises that would attract their attention. I’d hate to have to abandon you to be their rations just to save myself.”
The warlord’s voice was low, held a note of urgency that demanded Emma’s attention and a touch of gentleness that suggested the threat was being made for Emma’s benefit. The words the warlord spoke could easily have been a lie, but the way he said them seemed wholly believable. But even so, Emma refuted them.
“You’re bluffing,” Emma unintentionally whispered, when she had intended to use her normal voice.
There was a hint of amused fatalism in the warlord’s voice as he replied, “You’re free to believe whatever you wish. After all, if the goldthwaits find us, it won’t be any skin off my hide.”
Emma had no idea what to believe, but found herself biting her lower lip in frustration. It wasn’t a risk that was worth taking, and Charles Comm was not about taking risks. Emma finally nodded her head to signify her compliance. After that, the warlord lifted Emma up to carry her, over his shoulder it felt like. It was uncomfortable and embarrassing, but at least the warlord had the decency to have his hands wrapped around her thighs to keep her in place instead of copping a feel on her backside. But on the downside… the chances of seduction working had just plummeted.
Emma was bumped and jostled for a while until she was dropped onto her back without warning in some other location. Not too roughly, but hard enough for her to squeak in alarm. “Shhh,” came the warlord’s voice in Emma’s ear. “The ‘cats are close by. Try not to move. Here, this should help.”
There was a bit of jostling as it felt like another rope was bound to the one already around Emma’s ankles, and she raised her voice in an indignant hiss that still didn’t go above a whisper, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Shhhh! Do you hear that?”
Emma strained her ears. She strained them hard. And she heard something. Emma had no idea what it could be, but she heard something. “It-it’s-what-where?”
There was a gentle pressure on Emma’s shoulder as the warlord’s whisper reached her ears again. “Just. Don’t. Move.”
The commanding urgency in those words were intense. Emma clamped down on herself to make sure she did as she was told. Minutes passed as Emma concentrated on not moving, not uttering a sound. She even forcefully slowed and quieted her breathing. Emma concentrated her whole being on making sure that she just. Didn’t. Move.
At around the time Emma started feeling the accumulated sweat from her fervent concentration, and the beginnings of tension hysteria, she heard the warlord quietly say, but louder than anything he’d said to her yet today, “Alright, I led the ‘cats away, and picked up what was left of my equipment while I was gone. We should be fine for a while.”
“You what,” asked Emma exasperated.
“I led the ‘cats-”
“You’re telling me you left me here!”
The warlord’s hand clamped down on Emma’s mouth as he hissed a “Shhhh,” into her ear. He slowly removed his hand from her mouth while asking, “Quietly now. What are you angry about?”
“You ran off, warlord, and left me to the mercies of a stack of animals. And you want to know why I’m angry?”
“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“But I left you behind to have a better chance of leading the ‘cats off. If possible, I’d rather take care of the rest of our business here.”
“And why’s that, warlord?”
The blindfold on Emma’s head was yanked up to rest on her forehead instead of her eyes, as the warlord said, “Various reasons.”
Emma had her sight back, and the light that went with it was slightly jarring to her eyes at first. She adjusted quickly enough and looked around her, voraciously taking in the details. Emma saw that the second binding of her ankles was the attachment of an anchoring rope to secure her to the trunk of a tree, making sure she couldn’t float away the moment she could see where she was going. Emma looked at the warlord, not concealing her distaste for him now that she had her eyesight back and was no longer completely reliant on him. And behind him, lying on the ground was, “Elle!”
Emma uttered the word intently as little more than a gasp. Emma had been so caught up in the warlord’s pace that she’d completely forgotten everything else. But now that she could see Elle, immobile on the ground with heavy prisoner's manacles on her, Emma’s worries for the day had increased. “Is she okay?”
“That’s what I’m about to find out. Wait a bit and I’ll tell you.”
The warlord flipped Elle from lying face down to flat on her back. He checked Elle’s throat, lifted an eyelid to peer into her eye, which wasn’t exed over so it must have been a good sign. Gently felt around Elle’s ribs and her limbs. Finally, the warlord stood up and walked closer to Elle.
“Well,” asked Elle, instead of demanding or commanding. “How is she?”
“Heavy incapacitation. She’ll remain unconscious until cleansing. But she’ll definitely croak without attention. With attention, well, I’ve seen units with worse wounds survive past start of turn. I’ve been that unit before.”
“So she’ll live?”
“Good chance of it.”
Emma breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Emma had had no idea how important it was that she was not alone anymore. Especially with this warlord creeping around her.
“Don’t go relaxing on me, Em,” said the warlord. “All this really means is that you’re expendable.”
Emma stiffened in realization of her position. Sometimes being alone is actually more comforting, Emma reflected.
“Now,” said the warlord as he walked around Emma, and then started closing on her, to have both Emma and Elle in his line of sight at all times. “It’s time to get down to business. I want the information you and your team gathered on Humperdink and his army.”
“What makes you think we have any,” replied Emma with automatic pleasantness. She was far more comfortable pretending she was at a business meeting than an interrogation in a feral ridden hex. No, he might have been bluffing about the ferals. Okay, Emma was feeling even more comforted.
“Because you’re archons,” stated the warlord in the sardonic seriousness of pointing out the obvious. “Humperdink was bedding you every chance he got, so you were in his private chambers, and you sure as hellabad looked through every document and letter in his possession. Then there’s whatever images you sent back to Charlie of Humperdink’s battle plans and maps. I want that information. All of it.”
Emma smiled her business smile, white teeth and falsified sincerity. “I’m sorry, but my team is currently under contract to Humperdink, and I cannot share any details that might-”
“Your contract ended the moment you were captured, archon. My side has a Signamancer, so I know about termination clauses.”
Emma’s business smile took a hit, not just from the warlord’s knowledge, but from the cold eyes and voice in which he’d revealed it. “Any potential information pertaining to the side of Floorin’ is Charles Comm property, and as such I am not at liberty to disclose it without proper remuneration.”
“In other words, you’re saying you want to sell me the info,” said the warlord as he slowly moved closer to Emma. The movement was extremely purposeful, even as it was slow. Emma felt like she was being stalked like prey, and started shuffling backward on her bound hands and pushing with her tied feet to try and open distance between the two.
“That- That is what I am saying, warlord. You will need to contact Charles Comm for nego-” Emma came to an abrupt halt as the length of rope anchoring her to the tree was pulled taught. “Negotiations,” she finished with a renewed smile.
“How much is a repatriated archon worth to Charlie right now?”
Despite the fact that the warlord knelt down even closer to Emma as he asked his question, it was leading in a better direction. The warlord wanted to trade them! “Just a little over seven thousand shmuckers each, warlord.”
“Then I want all of Charles Comm’s pertinent and non-pertinent information on Floorin’ to be sent directly to my King for just over seven thousand shmuckers.” The warlord brought the naked blade of one of his daggers close to Emma’s eye, and rested the edge upon her cheek. “That is my offer to Charles Comm. And you’d better make sure Charlie accepts it.”
Emma began trembling slightly as she looked from the dagger’s edge to the warlord’s eyes. His cold, feral eyes. “Ch-Charles Comm has a strict policy of- of not negotiating under duress. Please reframe your business propos-”
“If you don’t call Charlie and make this deal happen, Emma, I’m going to force you to do it.”
“A-And how will you do that? Hmm” asked Emma, putting on a brave front.
“While last night was the first time I’d been on the receiving end, I’ve learned a lot about torture in my life. And in my time, I’ve learned what is really the truest form of torment. So, as a special lesson, Em, I’m going to tell you exactly what I’ll do to you if you don’t play ball. ...Ask me what I’ll do.”
Emma stayed silent for a few moments, then, without removing his gaze from Emma’s eyes, the warlord inserted the tip of his dagger into one of Emma’s nostrils and put some light pressure against the tip of her nose from the inside. “Wh-what will you do?”
Without any preamble, the warlord began his description in a cold, flat tone.
“First, I will cut off your nose, as slowly and jaggedly as possible. Then I will cut off your ears. I will scalp you, but not the entire head. I will remove pieces here and there until the top of your head looks like a rotted piece of swiss cheese. I will slice your cheeks hollow, and remove your lips until I can see all of the inside of your mouth through the holes in your skin. Then I will shatter your teeth, one at a time, until your mouth is nothing more than jagged bits of bone. I will then slit your tongue down the middle. I will cut your eyelids from your face then. And after that, well…”
“You’ll cut my eyes out next, I suppose,” replied Emma, working hard to suppress her shivering.
“No. Your eyes you keep, and I’ll tell you why. Because after I have destroyed your face to the point that you are monstrous to look upon, I will then begin the real torture. Pain without any actual injury, agonizing you through your bones, turn upon turn, unceasing for as long as it takes for me to force you to contact Charlie directly. And once you are in contact with him, I will force you to look at your own reflection, so that Charlie can have the image of your ruined face sent to him through your own eyes. So that when Charlie sees your face he will reflexively say, ‘Tolerant Titans, what is that thing.’ Your butchered form will be so hideous, that it will remain in Charlie’s memory for the rest of his turns, and every time you come in contact with him, the only image he will be able to see of your face will be the ruined, hideous, ugly, monstrous form I forced you to show him. Or.”
The warlord bent forward, looming menacingly over Emma who could no longer keep her shivering in check.
“You can convince Charlie to make a deal.”
Emma sniffled loudly once, and lamented the fact that she could not brush a fresh tear away from her cheek before shakily saying, “I will need your permission...”
“I hereby give you permission to open Thinkagrams with Charles Comm.”
Emma nodded convulsively and closed her eyes. Then she began feverishly thinking about Charlie, hoping to get his attention sooner instead of later. As an automatic reflex, Emma said, “Please wait patiently for the other party to be contacted. Your business is important to us,” with a nose clogged with tears.
Artwork by ElvenAvariel. Gallery and Shmuckers Jar located here. EA has been experimenting with penciless art recently, so please giver her some feedback if you would like to.
I don't usually counter-comment, typically I quietly internalize the words of the readers. But the charge of Mary Sue-ness, that is something I must address.
The thing about Grey Shades is, he's probably been doing this one job for 20 odd years. And his level is still in the single digits. He is not the front line invincible hack and slasher, building his level to make him more deadly. His job is to be crafty and invisible, avoiding combat as much as possible. Whenever he's able to bring cunning and trickery to the table, he is fighting in his element. Just imagine if a Delta Force member could continually see action for 20 years without having any of his wounds turn into debilitating injuries, even upon the loss of a limb. Imagine that man, who with every battle, and every mission, just becomes better and better at what he does. That's Grey Shades. He's not omnipotent, he's just got a LOT of experience under his belt. Which was how he knew he was completely screwed when he was facing three Archons.
The Archons were doing a Fox Hunt style tactic on Grey. Two harrying from the sides, keeping Grey moving and taking shots to disable him and wear him down, while the third got into position to ambush Grey as the harrying units drove him past the ambush. Grey wasn't aware of the tactic they were using on him, but he knew that he couldn't evade the eyes of three Archons at once in order to hide and spring an ambush. He also had no traps set up in order to turn combat in his favor. And in a stand up fight, one warlord against a stack of three Archons, it would have been over in an instant.
In the fight with Mr. Wyatt, Grey didn't win by the value of his combat rolls, he used the special rules for his makeshift weapon and strangulation rules, including Painful Stun tactics, to overpower Mr. Wyatt. If Grey had been facing Wyatt head on in a Piker vs Stabber fight, Wyatt would have won, because his rolls would have been greater. So, once again, craftiness and trickery were used in Grey's favor, even in direct combat.
And while Grey is well regarded by the people who know him... the Farstriders as a whole are a shady and distrusted group. Yeah, the King likes Grey, but that's because the King molded Grey from his first turns into exactly what Shindig wanted him to be. The other characters, too, have personal connections to Grey. The other Farstriders were trained by Grey, he's a father and brother figure to them at the same time, so they love him like family, just as he loves them. But those are all people that Grey knows, trusts, and are comfortable around.
Grey has an inferiority complex. He is convinced he's promoted above his station. A part of that is survivors guilt, a part is having had his formative turns spent getting his ass handed to him by the King in training. A part of that is a social awkwardness and discomfort. This may be telling a secret I shouldn't, but the dream Grey had where he was a picture on the wall? That was a subliminal manifestation of his feeling that he's just a flat, two dimensional piece of nothing that hugs the wall during social events. An inner feeling of worthlessness compared to his royal betters. If Grey was ever ordered to go back to being a grunt without the Captain or Warlord title, he'd accept the decision with relief. Because like some people that really do exist in the world, he feels the most comfortable when he's sleeping in nature, away from all other people and civilization. Grey can't cope with being civilized for long periods of time.
And, in case anyone says "Everybody Loves Greymond," Lady Maple doesn't. For a very good and potentially enlightening reason that will be shared in the future.
Grey is, in essence, a specialist. He was molded by the tactics of Everclear, and molded them further in return. Can Grey win in every situation? Hell no. But if Grey has the chance to twist the circumstance of his situation, well, he stands a much better chance of success. I believe that such a character does not fall under the category of a Mary Sue. Powerful? Yes. But only when he can utilize his strengths.
Vary, very, sorry. Your right that marry sue was the wrong word to use. Like I said before, I am a huge fan of this story so far. Also, I thank you for you for defending your creation without feeling the need to attack me personally as some might do. I am very sorry for my accusations, I was merely worried of such a good story going down hill. Once, again, very, very sorry. I hope you can forgive me.
Completely forgiven. I know you were speaking somewhat in jest, and I highly appreciate your reading and voicing your opinion. And I try not to ever attack someone personally unless they've actually done something to deserve it. (I have actually made people cry because of the words I've typed over the internet, and it was delicious.)
You did not and do not deserve a dressing down, thundershield, and in fact I believe you've done a service. With you bringing up those two dreadful words, as dreadful as "Interpretive Dancing," I was able to clear the air concerning the character and avoid any lasting stains upon the series. So hold your head up high as someone who has done SotE a meritorious service.
Thank you for the interesting insight into a fascinating character.
The idea of gaining experience without levelling up mirrors Parson's early tactic of taking out the enemy siege capacity without having his (uncroaked) warlords level up. Levelling up is a usual consequence of gaining experience but not a necessary one, and while it's a "nice to have" it's better to achieve one's goals and not level up than to focus on levelling up at the expense of achieving goals, in the same way that one can achieve one's military goals without winning a single battle.
Can't wait for the next instalment! (Well, I can -- better to get a good update than a rushed one, no matter how impatient I am -- but this is by far my fave Erf fanfic.)