The party tails the creature for hours in the woods, taking care to stay out of sight. Eventually, it arrives near the bottom of a cliff face. The party takes care to stealthily approach it…
Ben checks his foot. It seems he stepped on a stray branch…
The creature begins casting a spell—and in a flash, the area is drowned in blinding light and deafening sound. As their vision clears and their ears stop ringing, they find that the creature is nowhere to be found…
Ben scowls, punching a nearby tree. “Let’s just fucking find that creature. It can’t have gone far. I’m still ROARING TO FIGHT!”
“Uh…” Willington looks around. “Maybe we should check around the cliff walls. There should be a reason why it came here.”
After some careful investigation, the party finds a subtle pressure plate against the cliff’s stone face. Upon pressing it, the cliff face opens, revealing a flight of stairs downwards. Continuing to follow the creature’s trail, they follow the tracks it made—leading down a hall towards some sort of gatehouse. A solid iron gate blocks their path.
Willington looks the gate up and down. “Locked?”
“Seems so,” Valse comments.
Norixus’s scales begin to tingle. He gets a strange feeling…
“Ben…” Norixus whispers, “…we have eyes on us.”
“Oh?” Ben takes a deep breath. “COME OUT! YOU FUCKING PUSSIES! ALL YOU CAN DO IS RUN! SHOW YOUR FACE SO I CAN GORGE MY FISTS ON YOUR BLOOD!!!”
The gate slowly opens…
“Uh…” Norixus raises an eyebrow. “Not what I was expecting…”
“Hahahahaha… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!” Ben begins laughing maniacally. “Let’s go, and be ready for a fight.”
The party proceeds through the gate cautiously, checking for traps—though there appear to be none.
“Hm. I’m surprised,” Ben says. “I’d expect them to have some sort of lame trick up their sleev—"
Something sharp whizzes past Ben’s ear, embedding itself into Valse. Two more clang off her shield as she quickly raises it to defend herself. Ben’s eyes dart around—two humanoid figures cloaked in dark assassin’s robes drop from hidden perches near the ceiling.
“HAHAHAHA! COME ON THEN!” Ben puts up his fists, grinning in euphoric bloodlust.
James unholsters his greatsword. “This party’s getting crazy!”
Norixus motions to Ben. “We should probably knock them out instead… we can question them.”
“Yea yea,” Ben stretches his arms. “I’ll try to control my strength. Don’t blame me if they end up with a few broken bones.”
The assassins dart out of view once more. Valse scrambles to spot them. She feels three more knives puncture her body as she staggers to the ground.
“I’d ask if you’re doing okay but… you’re clearly not.” Ben tenses his posture on the defensive.
Another blade digs into James. Rognalad fires violet at the assailant, singing it.
Valse coughs up blood, pulling out a piece of parchment. It sets alight in white fire. Holy energy shimmers around her in a glimmering spherical shield.
“Come on…” Willington takes careful aim of his crossbow, firing a flurry at one of the assassins.
The bolt falls from her temple as she collapses unconscious. The other jumps out of view and slices down at him with her sword, tearing into him. He staggers but keeps his flesh together.
More violet energy crackles at the assassin. As she falls to the ground, Criollo brings his warhammer down as Ben delivers a blow to her gut. Crossbow bolts whizz by. Smoke explodes into the party’s faces, and the assassin is nowhere to be found.
“Where is it, where is it…” Ben’s brow furrows. A spot of movement in the corner of his eye…
“Got you!” Two punches to the solar plexus. Blood splatters on his shirt—not his own. He throws another, hitting only air—hidden again.
A blade pierces Norixus’s back. The smoke clears out—five weapons are trained at the assassin.
“Drop your weapon.” Rognalad says, his palm crackling violet.
She lets go of the blade, raising her hands.
Ben sighs and stretches his muscles. “You two were the real deal, heh. I didn’t get to fight much, though…”
Willington’s palms glow with white runes as he begins to heal Norixus. “C’mon, pal.”
“Urgh…” Norixus slowly removes the blade from his torso. “From the brink I rise again.”
Valse wheezes. “I’m… on my last legs at this point… we should take a rest.”
“Not without tying those two up,” Ben responds.”
The party spends a few hours resting, with Norixus and Willington attending to wounds with their healing magic. They keep watch over the two assassins all the while.
“So…” Valse says, eyeing the assassins. “Do we continue, or do we interrogate them first?”
“Interrogate them,” Ben says, popping his joints. “Hell, I’ll even do the interrogating if you want me to!”
“Calm down,” Norixus says. “They still are injured from the fight, after all.”
The assassins remain silent with blank expressions.
“Hmm… they seem trained.”
“Seem?” Ben scoffs. “I hit that one with two gut punches and she practically tanked them! These people aren’t a joke.”
They continue to remain silent.
“You know, I do like a woman who can hold her own,” Ben winks at the first assassin, before chuckling to himself.
The assassins seem somewhat bored…
Ben sighs. “Good lord, you guys are lame.” Ben leans down and gets in both of their faces. “Oi! You either start speaking, or I start breaking fingers.”
A couple beads of sweat run down their foreheads, but their expressions remain stony.
“Did you not understand what I said?” he repeats the sentence in Elvish, grasping the left elf’s index finger. “I’ll give you… to the count of five.”
She closes her eyes, her breaths becoming measured, clearly bracing for something…
“Ben, she’s trained. I doubt she’ll talk,” Norixus comments.
“You may be right… I’ll play nice then.”
“Hm,” Criollo hefts his warhammer. “Mind if I try something? I’ve seen this while I was in my… cult. It’s quite simple, really.” He walks up to the healthier-looking assassin and smacks her in the chest with his warhammer.
James winces. “You’re attacking our guests? What’s your fucking problem, why are you acting like this?”
Rognalad rolls his eyes. “They’re captives, you nonce.”
James feels something grow colder in his backpack. He deadpans at the group. “You guys suck.”
“What happened?” Norixus asks.
James rolls his eyes. “Remember what was on the chest we found the book in? ‘Blessed are those who walk the path of the good and lawful. His grace, Firmaren, bestows them with these gifts.’”
“Oh… right.” Norixus nudges Criollo.
The party continues to try to interrogate them, to no avail.
Willington sighs. “…Fine.” He moves up to the assassin Criollo whacked, and mutters something beneath his breath. Wispy arcane runes emanate from her wounds as they seal shut.
“Can you please talk now?”
The assassin coughs lightly. “…Your mercy will change nothing… but it is appreciated.”
James feels the book grow warmer.
“Hey, you did it guys, you followed instructions for once!” James claps slowly.
“Forget it,” Ben says, throwing his hands in the air. “Let’s just take them with us, I want to ask them some questions when they finally decide to speak.”
The party moves deeper into the bunker. They arrive in what seems to be some sort of central foyer. In the middle against the far wall is a large banner, with the face of a strange elf on it, adorned with elvish writing. More flags with the symbol from the basement hang from the walls. A corridor leads to the left, as well as another to the right.
Ben inspects the banner. The elf in the banner is adorned in dark green robes with silver filigree and wears a black mask with a single silver V across it. The points of the V line up with the ears of the elf. He recites the elvish on the banner…
“A new dawn springs forth at amber’s fall.”
Valse ponders. “Amber’s fall… what could that mean…”
“The sun?” Willington suggests.
Criollo rubs his chin. “Comes off as more revolutionary to me.”
“Hey…” Norixus begins. “What was that big town called again? The one we wanted to go to?”
Valse turns. “Ambst—” She lights up with an epiphany. “Oh, right! Ambstalt is also known as the Amber City.”
Criollo scoffs. “Tch, and that alchemist tells me elves weren’t conspiring against the city. What a joke.”
Ben chuckles grimly. “You know… considering the hell I went through; I wouldn’t mind seeing that shithole burn down.”
“What, the city we were heading to in the first place?”
Valse faces Ben with raised eyebrows. “That city has been standing for thousands of years… it would be an untold loss of history and culture.”
Ben turns to the assassins and shrugs. “That’s what this is about, right? Getting back at those dirty humans for their high and mighty behavior, pushing down and discriminating against non-humans?”
Ben rubs his eyes and chuckles. “So you can speak!”
“…but it’s also much more than that.”
Norixus approaches the assassins. “Tell us what you know about the history of the City of Amber.”
“Ambstalt was the ancestral city of the humans. It played a pivotal role in the Millennium War between the dwarves and the elves. But… as your friend Ben here can attest to, its history is not so clean and proud as you may think.”
The elf pauses briefly. “I’m surprised you lot don’t know about it. Certainly, for a party that would go so far as to raid this outpost… we figured we’d at least give you a history lesson, so you know something about what we fight for. But you’ll get nothing more than that.”
Ben’s expression softens. “That place is a gilded fucking cage. One step in the slums and you’ll see that—it’s where they would force so many of us to rot.” He points to his ears, chuckling grimly. “Digging through all those hellish memories, I rarely remember seeing a human in those slums. I don’t know much about the history of Ambstalt; all everyone was focused on was trying to survive.”
The elves give Ben a look of sorrowful understanding.
“We came in search of missing people from a nearby village, that’s why we fought so fiercely,” Ben explains. “I can ensure that none of us are here to kill anyone—not anymore.” He bows respectfully. “I apologize for my previous behavior, and my violent nature.”
The book grows warmer…
The elves give each other a brief glance. “Then… I suppose we will do you the mercy of telling you that the children aren’t in any harm at all. They willingly joined us—we instructed them to fake their own kidnappings and frame it on a monster, to get people off our trail.”
“But…” Valse responds. “Won’t there still be more ‘kidnappings’?”
Ben rises from his bow. “I’m glad to hear the children are safe, but… I don’t know if I can just leave it like that. Their parents are distraught and in despair, wondering what happened to their children.”
“…So be it,” the assassins respond. “They’re with us, or against us.”
Rognalad deadpans. “That’s an absolutely horrendous line of thought.”
“It’s the only one that works at this point.”
“…Alright, I understand.” Willington comments, shaking his head. “I think we’re done here, fellas. Untie them.”
Memories flash through Ben’s mind. Rallies in the pouring rain of the slums. Storm drains dripping with crimson. Ben’s fists clench, but he remains silent.
“Is there anything we can do to stop you guys from recruiting child soldiers?” Norixus asks.
The elves pause briefly. “We will do no such thing to stop children from freely choosing to follow our cause. You have a choice as well.”
They turn to Ben. “…Ben, we know you have a vendetta against that city of amber. You could help us right the wrongs.”
The familiar stench of a fresh corpse. Bayonets trained at his back. His fists clench harder still. Tears burn in his eyes—he remains yet silent.
“Hmm…” Criollo ponders. “Is this our battle to fight in though…? What do you guys think?”
“…I’ll help,” Willington says. “As long as it doesn’t involve too much violence.”
“…Well…” Norixus begins, “…will it stop the whole child soldiers thing?”
“…The children righteously fighting for a cause they believe in is nothing compared to the evils you’ll stop by helping us raze that city to the ground.”
“…Wait…” Norixus pauses. “Did you just say raze an entire city to the ground?”
“…The details of the plan are not to be divulged. You can interpret it however you wish. What matters is if you’re willing to make the sacrifices necessary in the name of justice.”
Ben shuts out the memories, taking a deep breath. “Every day I spent in those slums, I wish I could’ve just torn it all down, and leave nothing but rubble standing. But once you step outside those foreboding walls, you finally get a grand scale of things.” His voice cracks and he chuckles slightly. “You’re leading those children to their fucking deaths. I don’t know what kind of firepower you have, but I can tell you that it won’t be enough.”
“You underestimate us. A snake needs only one bite to cripple an elephant. What matters is who you trust more: the humans in their amber towers, or us—the downtrodden.”
“I don’t underestimate SHIT!” he shouts, taking a step forward. “I spent every god damn day fighting for my fucking life in those slums—I know what it’s like to topple something bigger than you. And I know when something CAN’T be toppled.”
“…We will not divulge any details of the plan.”
Norixus gazes at them. “How many people died for your cause?”
“…We will not divulge any details of the plan.”
“…I’m gonna take a minute outside…”
Ben’s clenched fists trickle blood. “I’ll never trust the bastards who casted me into that pit. But I can’t find myself being able to trust a group who will throw away the lives of children. Because at that point, you’re no different from the ones who tread on you.”
“They joined on their own accord,” the elves respond. “Who are you to take away the sacrifice they willingly chose to make?”
Ben looks at them in shock, laughing as his fists unclench from his torn palms. “Do any ONE of those kids have a clue about the odds? Did you ever tell them the impossibility of the job? Have they ever stepped a FOOT within those walls and seen the forces that call that city home?”
“We… will not divulge any details of the plan.”
“Hah! The kids barely have a clue what they’re getting into,” Criollo comments. “All they know is that they think they’re fighting for peace and justice, without realizing the great and potentially fatal sacrifice they’ll need to make.”
“You recruited one last night, a young elf girl,” Ben continues. “She couldn’t even hurt a KOBOLD with her magic. If that’s the average power of your army, it won’t even be a battle. Those kids will be fucking slaughtered, over the plans of a delusional few.”
“You know nothing of the plan,” the elves shout. “If these delusions are how you cope with your inner demons, then delude yourself all you want.”
“The plan, the plan, the plan! That’s all you ever talk about, yet you never want to explain it!” His muscles tense up in anger. “The only people who are deluding themselves are you—I’ve come to accept reality how it is. And the reality is: if you go through with this plan, you’ll only be leading those kids to their deaths.”
“The plan must be known only by those who are trusted to follow it through. To tell you would be to compromise it. A single leap of faith is all you need…”
Norixus re-enters the room. “…And if you fail that leap?”
“Darkness,” Criollo interjects.
“The only way to fail is to not jump at all,” they answer.
Norixus closes his eyes. “You… fools… do you know what you see on a battlefield? Do you know what goes through a person’s head as they heal injuries?”
“…Of course. We’re assassins.”
“Do you know the horrors my elders have seen when they have to help heal their allies on the battlefield? I have chosen this path to help the ones who fight the damned and assist the righteous. So what use is sending people out to die for your cause?”
Ben lets out a broken chuckle and shakes his head. “You have got to be the stupidest pieces of shit I have ever met on this planet. Those kids don’t know a god damn thing about war, about death, what it’s like to put your life on the line for a cause you aren’t sure will succeed. They’ve never experienced that hell, and the moment they do? They’ll freeze up; they’ll hesitate and stop. But you know who won’t freeze up? The enemy. By going through with this plan, you sacrifice the lives of countless children for no reason at all.”
“Yet you aid those foul humans in that rotten city and claim to be on the side of righteousness, when we die in the dark, planting seeds for a better future that we will never come to see ourselves!” They shout back.
“…So you send the innocent to die out for your cause?” Norixus comments.
“We don’t send anyone. It takes a special conviction for a child to be willing enough to join us.”
“Valse, how long ago was the Millennium War?”
“…About 700 years ago,” Valse responds.
“700 years… and what was the result of the war?”
“A mutual truce.”
“Tell me, assassins, what are your thoughts on humans?”
The assassins glance at Norixus. “You should know them already.”
“And you think you’re better than them with the same thought process? You think the humans are filth as the humans thought of you?”
“Yes. Our kind’s transgressions are but a tiny speck compared to theirs.”
“…I see. Valse, Criollo, Ben. I’m going to wait outside.” He steps away. An audible slam of fist against crumbling stone echoes…
Ben glances in Norixus’s direction, pausing, before turning back to the assassins. “Have these kids ever taken a life before? Ben stares the assassins with fiery eyes. “Have they ever put their life at risk, and stood their ground?”
“Their faith and dedication is strong,” they reply. “It will not waver, just as ours have not.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.” He takes another step forward, anger burning in his eyes. “Have they ever killed another person? Watched as the light went out in their eyes, heard them utter their last words before succumbing to their wounds? Have they ever known what it’s like to be on the brink of death; that uncertainty of if this will really be your last breath?”
“…Better they face it on their feet with the hope for a better future, than to face it on their knees in despair.”
“So they haven’t. Bring one of those kids out, right now.”
“We will do no such thing.”
“What? You said it yourself, better they face it on their feet, right? Why are you afraid now? Why can’t I fight one of them? If these kids are truly as loyal as you say, I want to see it.”
“It would be a shameful waste of youthful talent.”
“Ah… so you think they can’t defeat me, yet you think they can take on a city of trained soldiers?”
“A dagger may not easily pierce plate armor, but if aimed at the right angle, at the right moment—it can be enough. This we know better than anyone.”
Ben looks as if he’s one wrong word away from punching them. “All I hear from your mouth is complete and utter bullshit. I don’t give a damn about how your logic works, or what you know. I’m testing this the way we tested one another in the slums. Bring one of those kids out, right now.”
The elves’ expressions remain cold and steel eyed. “You lack the patience and cunning necessary for us. You still believe that this can be solved by other means. That belief will be shattered, soon enough…”
“When you fought me, how easy was it to get a read on my attacks? How many openings did you see that you could exploit?”
Before he could finish, the assassins turn, jumping up the walls into some hidden trapdoors, vanishing.
Ben’s vision fills with red.
“I’ll be out. Just give me one moment.”
“First comes rock…” Ben’s fist begins to glow with concentrated Ki.
“Rock, paper… ROCK!” He throws his fist at the nearest wall. It cracks and buckles like a meteor impact, debris dribbling down. One of the banners falls off its hooks and lands before him.
Criollo gazes at him. “…Got that out of your system? Let’s go. I don’t wanna be in this creepy outpost anymore.”
Ben gazes down at his bloodied fist, the blowback setting in. “Yeah… let’s fuck off before I bring this entire place down.”