Seventhmonth, 9995 DK
Callifay and I stood waiting to enter Hell. We were both dressed as the one-eyed, bandanna wearing Child of Volung, we looked enough alike to be almost twins in the disguises. Citizens of this strange country bore identification numbers on their bodies and each of the multitude attempting to enter Hell must be logged by the wardens and guards of the gate before they could be allowed into the city. I found the wait annoying, but I desired to enter the city by subtlety. I could not shed my disguise and mention my name to bypass the lines, my reavers could not know of my presence within the city till the last moment or they would surround me and foil my plans.
When our place in the line neared the wound in the wall that had been the gates I struggled to suppress a smile. I could see in my mind the bears we had dragged from The Beast Lands and clad in massive plates of barding. I could hear fifteen of them chained to the gates and snarling and roaring as arrows and bullets clattered against their armor. The gates had been bound in place by sorcery and forgework and it had taken both brute strength and arcane forces to remove them.
Once I could have just willed them away, or burst them apart with destructive forces, my Gifts had once been that potent. In this era I was forced to use my Gifts with finesse and care and had managed to achieve the same effect. The protections bound within the gates had taken the shape of a crystalline latticework of protective energy that made the metal and stone of the gate far more resilient than any mundane gate could ever be. With my Gifts I had acted as a chisel or lever and pried sorcerous struts away from the defensive forces and enabled the brute strength of the bears to defeat the gate when I could not. Even that minor effort had caused my ears and nose to bleed and I had almost collapsed in the midst of the battle surrounding the gates and the bears.
When the time came, Callifay and I gestured at our red-brown armbands and glared menacingly at the gate guards. They let us pass with little more than a casual glance. We were clearly reavers by our demeanor and our armbands, and they were free to enter and leave the city as they desired.
In the first district of the city we passed the monument to my victory quickly, not paying it much attention. The warped remains of the gate were not a medal of honor, they were a reminder to the inhabitants of Hell. With the broken gates forever hanging above their head they would never forget that this city was mine and I could do with it as I wish.
"Where will we go?" asked Callifay.
"I think we should walk the streets for a few days and gauge the state of the city before acting."
"What care you for Hell? Once Cenn dies, this place will no longer be yours."
"If the reavers do not claim this place as their own, or if someone as powerful as Cenn does not lay claim to it, The Bleak Tyrant will attempt to claim its power."
"If we are to fight the Nel, I do not wish to do so with a creature whose motives I do not know at my back. This city must remain ours or at least allied with us."
"Could I not kill the rulers of Hell? That would meet the letter or your decree that no nation take it with an army."
I shook my head, "We must be subtle. You are not well known enough to be respected as a tyrant and master of this place. It would take time for you to make a name for yourself and when you did show yourself to be in command of this place the Tyrant might be on our eastern wall and the Nel on our west."
"Then let us leave off this farce of your death and just claim the city as ours. You are known and feared, but you weave plots within plots and it is infuriatingly difficult to try and keep them all in mind while we speak."
"The Nel will come and we will war with them. They must find you here but not I, they will seek you and think you know my whereabouts. Perhaps they will even suppose I am Volung or the creature Cenn. Regardless, if they find you but not me they will be wary and think me somewhere within these lands and that will make them overly cautious in battle."
"I gathered all that, I am a general of long years as well, Cenn."
"Cast aside your pout brother, or you'll find me reluctant to share a bed with you this evening."
He chuckled and asked, "Why this fixation on Hell and its condition?"
"We are two warriors, Callifay. We wage war as veterans of countless conflicts, but there are still only two of us. If I die here and in the chaos rumors are born of my continued survival it will draw the Nel to one of the most fortified cities of this land. A city riddled with hundreds of miles of underground tunnels and chambers."
He laughed again, "We will lure the Nel here and entrap in a maze?"
"We destabilize the city with my death, you will garrison the reavers here to restore order and to investigate rumors of my survival. If the Nel reach this continent they will track you here and lay siege to the city. The reavers will fall and you will flee into the depths."
He smiled, "And they will be forced to infest the city and keep order or have it angry and at their back while they face other forces of this country. With Nel permanently camped here we can sally forth from the catacombs and make war at our leisure."
I smiled at him and nodded my head.
"What of the rebels already within these walls?"
I removed a rolled up sheaf of papers from my belt and handed to him, he looked it over while we spoke, "They care nothing for my reavers and what they did in Kusseth's employ. If you come to the gates of this city pledging to defend it with our reavers, they will accept your aid and the logic of you seeking rumors of my continued survival."
"You think them that close to taking the city?"
"No," I said as I gestured to the paper in his hands, "but I do know that Kusseth relies too heavily on our men to keep the peace and to act as a symbol of control. If reavers suddenly vanish from my city and those left make a mass exodus upon my death, the power structure of Hell will have large gaps that the rebels can exploit."
He nodded when he finished reading the papers and made to return them, I waved a a hand at him and he put them in his belt. We walked the city for a few hours making small conversation as we sought our destination. Eventually we found our way to the 302nd district and stood before the Jigging Jackass. It was quite truthfully the best lodging and bar in Hell, and also the place I was destined to die. I was also a key location in the rebel underground of Meroteth.
A cadre of hard looking soldiers, mostly greenskin Abraxens and Uncout, stood guarding the front door of the place. I flipped up my eye-patch and shifted my bandanna and was immediately recognized. They nodded and let us pass without comment and we entered through the wolf-iron bound door and entered the main room.
The Jackass was well appointed with padded leather furniture cut from prime lumber found in Vyanthnem. The chairs and tables and stools and even the bar were all expertly crafted and bore the marks of an artist's vision in the carvings encrusting them. The floor was hardwood and stained to a glossy dark finish where it wasn't covered by thick rugs. Lighting fixtures that provided steady, clean light hung from the ceiling and were shrouded in the thick tobacco smoke that filled the room.
Callifay and I looked to be brigands while those around us wore frock coats or suits. We received glances, but no glares or looks of derision for we'd made it through the front door without bloodshed and that showed us to belong here as much as the well dressed individuals around us did. We found a pair of chairs and dropped our gear to the floor between them. In a moment we had our pipes going and glasses of whiskey in hand.
"The Jigging Jackass has never failed to please," I said with a sigh.
"Indeed," said my lover.
We spent half an hour drinking and enjoying the comforts of padded leather chairs. Our endurance and vitality were near limitless, but the long trek to Hell had lacked certain comforts. When we finished our drinks we rented a suite for the next few days and stowed our gear there before heading down past the ground floor and into the first basement, the Jackass was three stories aboveground and had several basement levels.
The first basement was a game room, full of men and women playing cards or dice or lobbing knives and such at targets around the room while vendors circulated hawking cigars and pricey liquors. We seated ourselves and settled in to wait. Our presence was noted quickly and it didn't take long for the individual I sought to find us. Callifay and I were chatting and he cleared his throat when he approached us.
Nakmander, the last knight of Meroteth was as Fell Human as the breed could come. His skin was wine red and covered in fine scales almost too small to see. His hair was as jet black and straight as my own, his nose hooked like the beak of a hawk, and all three of his eyes were a jaundiced yellow color. The third one peered at Callifay from behind Nakmander's ear while the other two bored into my own.
I gave him a nod and the ram's horns sprouting from the sides of his head dipped a fraction of an inch in return. He wore the white apron of a cook or bartender and beneath that was common clothing, but at his hip was the symbol of his office. The serrated sickle was larger than any normal tool and was wrought of black iron that glowed intermittently with a putrid green light. Meroteth had been a place of virulent sorcery in its prime and Nakmander continued those traditions as best he could.
"What brings the reaver Cenn to my door?" he asked.
His voice was harsh and gravelly and his teeth were sharp and white.
"When one man comes to another's dwelling he does not begin rifling through his possession without first asking for permission."
He nodded and dragged a third chair over to us.
"What then does the reaver and his cohort ask for?"
"Information. How near are you to wresting control form Kusseth's grubby hands?"
"Four years at the most. We have found a means of shattering their power from the safety of our own dark dens. Soon we will be able to strike the capital itself."
"Oh?" murmured Callifay.
"Have you read papers recently? Or perhaps ridden the highway that runs south from Kusseth?"
"The craters south of the city of Tolon, the ones shattering the highway."
He nodded, "I must admit that Tolon itself was our target. There were interlopers though and they foiled our plans and cost the cause valuable assets," he paused and his eyes flashed brightly, "we will not fail again."
"Excellent," I said, "I believe I will be able to aid you in the taking of this city."
His hand stroked his chin and he said, "I am listening."
"I have come here to die."
His eyes widened and his lips parted as his jaws grew slack.
"Elaborate," he ordered.
"I have come to Hell, the Jigging Jackass specifically, to die and to do so violently. When I do fall I believe my reavers will leave Hell and return to the main encampment. We both know of the need Kusseth has for their presence in this city. With them gone you could easily take direct control of Meroteth."
He smiled as I spoke the city's true name and said, "Some will not go. Their loyalty to you is unquestionable, but they have families and organizations they have built here within our wals. This has become their home as much as it is mine."
Callifay nodded and presented the rolled up sheaf of papers I had given him to Nakmander.
"A list," he said quietly, "of those that have requested to stay in Hell or have requested excessive leave time here. Remove them from Hell prior to Cenn's death and you will hopefully find your city empty of reavers when the time to act comes."
Callifay made to add more but I cut him off and said, "Let me be clear, Nakmander. Those reavers, any reavers in your walls, are to be taken alive and unharmed. If a single reaver dies I will burn this city to the ground and stake you out before the shattered remnants of the gate in the first district. Is that understood?"
"If you truly plot your death and it can get the rest of your reavers out of Hell, sending those few dozen out alive and against their will be well worth the trouble. If events play out as you believe we may be able to accelerate our timetable and take back our heritage within two years, perhaps even one. I must ask, why do you do this? I do not count you as a true friend to the cause, but you have aided us in the long years since my uncle went mad with grief and began hunting you. Your death does not sit well with me"
I scowled at the thought of the Butcher but Nakmander was far saner than his uncle and a competent ally, "I tire of my reavers and I tire of Kusseth and I grow weary of leadership. Take your city and explore your sorcerous blood, if I grow bored of life out in some wilderness I'll simply return and take it back."
Now he scowled, "I understand the tiring burden and you have my respect, Cenn. Respect will not grant you mercy should you come to my home with violence in mind, though. Even if you are a dead man."
"I understand," I said.
"I must circulate this information and make plans accordingly."
"Go and set your plans in motion, Nakmander. When my reavers dissappear I will know my time has come."
Nakmander nodded and left us, Callifay and I soon retired to our suite. Once in our rooms, we took advantage of the massive bathtub and heated water in one room.
"Occassionally," I said as dirt and sweat slid free of my skin and warmth filled my bones, "occassionally it is permissible to indulge in comforts such as this."
"Perhaps," said Callifay with a smile, "there will soon be an opportunity for you to inform the rest of our people of that fact."
I slapped the water and splashed his face with soapy liquid saying, "I forget how impertinent you grow when the two of us are alone."
I nodded and we both smiled. Then he surged across the tub at me and quite literally threw me over his shoulder and carried me to the other room of our suite.
Through the noise of the splashing and dripping water and my own surprised bellow I could hear him say, "I'll show you impertinence."