Once more I find myself tired by life in general and exhausted by the shenanigans of
the vainglorious shitheads in charge our alleged leaders. So rather than go on another cheese-fueled rant about everything going wrong in my days, I thought I’d give us all a breather and share some more of the story that’s now running my life. For those keeping track with both versions of this thing, this is not the version that publishers will see. This is the “fanficcy” version based on my need for closure from a game that never got to finish.
The actual BOOK I’m writing is a lot more complicated and involves more worldbuilding, some of the same names, and a lot more flashbacks.
I might share the first three chapters of the “professional” version at a much later date.
Meanwhile, you can read part eight HERE.
Whatever this light was, it had rules. Spitebane was still figuring out how it worked. He could activate it once per long rest. It stayed within five feet of him, hovering at heart-height and always indicating the shortest path to reach Kormwind. It was ephemeral, and could not interact in any other way with the world.
It did not indicate whether or not Kormwind was alive.
It might be indicating that Kormwind was moving, but Spitebane couldn’t be sure. He had a terrible sense of relative direction.
It did not assist in detecting traps, warning of ambushes, or contributing to their stealth.
Something like a floating orb of light drifting five feet in front of his chest was bound to give their presence away.
This time, the orb was leading them all in a weird direction. As in, a completely different direction to that which they were going the day before.
Circumstances had to have changed somehow.
The adventuring associates of Kormwind were keeping him in the rear. Just so that he and his orb of directions didn’t betray them to anything else in the warrens of the Undercity. When they cleared an area with a junction, they would usher him forth for the next branching of the ways.
Spitebane chafed at the rear. He was far more used to charging in to the thick of battle and letting his men take care of everything else. One of the Adventurers had actually clipped him on the back of his head with their hand about that.
“Idiot,” said the Adventurer. “That sort of horseshit gets everyone killed! Including you!”
It was a revelation. It had always been about him and his glory, before. Any soldiers in his command who fell were remembered via pensions to their widows and orphans.
He had never learned those soldiers’ names.
Here and now? He knew all these Adventurer’s names. Mr Black, Miss Ulla, Mr Celsium, Ms Ruvudz… and the Druid known only as Calzifer. They were people now. They were real.
Before? When his men had fallen, he had had to read their names from a provided scroll. He had learned not to do so awkwardly, but it hadn’t gained him any love all the same.
This lot didn’t owe Kormwind a damned thing, and yet… they were determined to prove his self-deprecating predictions thoroughly wrong via their actions.
It was something to think about.
Spitebane had eased off talking throughout their shared dungeon crawl. He had a lot of responsibility to ponder and now this. A brother he hadn’t known he had until just a few short days ago. A devil-spawned dirty Tiefling… who was more oathbound, truthful, and honourable than anyone Spitebane truly knew. Who held himself fast to the words and the heart of the Oath of the Keep better than even his father did. Better than their father did.
That a walking devil could exhibit more virtue than those with the appearance of virtue was chafing his soul. It had evidently been chafing Kormwind, given his bitter outlook on the world. Or, what he’d seen of it.
He had known his brother for a total of hours that could be counted upon one hand.
And now he might be gone.
The light lead them on. Upwards, through a winding tunnel running with foul water. Spitebane kept his words to himself. The words he had used to use were overloaded with bravado and vainglory.
You would have us pay our lives for your vainglory? Kormwind had said it as a challenge. As an opening barrage in a conflict.
The point finally hit him. Before these recent days… he had paid others’ lives for his vainglory. He had fuelled his ego with the souls of those who were loyal to his realm. With -before he knew of Kormwind’s existence- the subjects of tomorrow. He was not just robbing his realm of defenders. He was robbing homes of breadwinners. He was stealing fathers from children. He was spending the wealth of the Earldom on nothing more than his own reputation for himself.
A painful truth, and one that would change the rest of his days. He could not return those men to life – not with his budget. He could not repair those broken homes. He could only go forth with a great deal more care.
An unfamiliar light burned his eyes. Matching the burning of his nostrils from the noissome path they had taken.
A seagull sailed down to his feet and investigated the food value of his left boot. Disappointed, it left a deposit on his right one and launched off.
He found it oddly funny.
No more shining armour for him.
“Is it me, or is he getting weirder?” asked Mr Celsium.
“Something must’a knocked him in the head,” said Mr Black.
“One two three not it,” the lot of them chorused.
They didn’t want to deal with him. Understandable. Vast swathes of people hadn’t wanted to deal with him, including the woman who should have been his wife. He had never seen it before because none had been so crass or so obvious as these Adventurers. Or his brother.
The light, still somehow visible in front of him, lead him to one side where there was something of a boardwalk up to the current street level of Waterdeep.
“Take heart, good adventurers,” he announced as he lead the way. “If he’s in the city, there’s a good chance he’s alive.”
“Great,” one of them muttered without much enthusiasm. “More chances to get into a fight as we follow this dumb shiny orb…”
“We’re only using him to find Kosh. Remember that.”
“And if he threatens our boy? We kill him.”
Only Adventurers could be that stupid, that brave, and that honest all at once. Spitebane ignored the threat to his life and gestured the party in the direction the orb indicated. “I bow to the wisdom of my native guides,” he smoothed.
Papa had better send along some gemstones to help soothe their ruffled feathers. Or he was going to be in a lot of trouble. Trouble that neither Whitekeep nor Kormwind could otherwise save him from.
He got himself into this mess. If it all went to shit, then he would have to get himself out of it.
He might even have to get a job.
Spitebane took a deep breath as he continued indicating the way. He had a plan. He had a better plan than he generally had. He had also gained something of a dizzying perspective of his brother’s world view.
This was how he thought all the time. Come up with several plans and always be prepared for the worst possible outcome. Someone like him was bound to see all of the worst possible outcomes, running around as Kochis Shaydden.
It should have been so easy for him to send word to the Earl, but he was apparently stuck in Waterdeep and adventuring for his keep.
If Kormwind was still alive when they found him, he would have to ask why he didn’t simply ask their father for help.
The trail took them through some of the worst areas of Waterdeep, but kept out of the more interesting areas. Many of the denizens within took one look at the Adventurers bristling with weaponry and decided they had better things to do.
“Waitasecond, I know these streets,” said Ms Ulla. “Are we seriously headed for the fucking Trollhead?”
“Are we?” said Spitebane.
“We fucking are,” said Black. “Bet’cha five gold he’s godsdamn sweeping.”
It was only when they were halfway into storming into the tavern portion of the building that Spitebane noticed his light. “Uh. It says he’s upstairs.”
“He can’t be taking a nap, he doesn’t sleep,” said Ruvudz.
Okay, the more he heard about his brother, the weirder Kormwind got.
The entire group charged up the stairs and burst into the apartment. There, in the common room, Kormwind was using one of his rapiers to point at a series of maps spread out on the table. There was a rough band of rogues and fighters who had been paying attention to Kormwind’s command up until the group burst in.
The entire group of Adventurers, including Spitebane, were still all over filth from the Undercity and some of the more noissome drainage tunnels. Yet somehow, Kormwind had found the time to bathe and launder his hakama and gi.
There was a moment of pure crogglement amongst everyone present.
“The fuck are you doing here?”
“Setting out to look for you. The fuck are you doing here?”
“Looking for you!”
Both brothers said together, “You had me worried halfway sick that you were dead!”
One of the random fighters around the map table raised a scarred hand. “Does this mean the expedition’s off?”
Kormwind sighed and wiped the emotions off his face. “Ja, ja, ja. It’s over. Dankeschoen for your time. Keep the deposits…” He rounded on Spitebane, “If I wasn’t fucking oathsworn to your protection…”
“If I wasn’t obligated to see to your safety…” returned Spitebane.
The adventurers unanimously decided to retire and let the two of them sort it out. Kormwind snagged Spitebane’s arm and marched them both to a covert part of Waterdeep. Where any secrets would not be overheard.
In the fields of the dead, nobody else was listening.
“I was terrified you’d died,” said Spitebane.
“I thought you were on your way out with the others. What the hell were you doing?”
“Trying to prevent the damn curse, of course. If I could get you back, bring you back, then maybe the realm would be fine. Not that you seem to care about any of that.”
“Ach, gekommen sie, we both know our father’s been hoping for an unpreventable accident to clear your path to the Blood Throne ever since he shipped me off to Zemnia.”
“I didn’t,” said Spitebane. “I didn’t even know I had a brother until you introduced yourself. Why would father hide you?”
Kormwind tapped one of his horns. “Why do you think?”
“Okay. Yes. That was dumb of me.”
Kormwind startled, but he gained his usual grin of a mask back with reasonable swiftness. “That’s a change,” he noticed. “You see the light when you were down in the dark?”
There was no shame in it. Or if there was, he refused to let himself feel it. “Your fall and the subsequent attempt to find you gave me many awarenesses about how I had gone wrong in life. Starting with the idea that I could have activated the curse of Whitekeep.”
“I am the curse of Whitekeep,” said Kormwind.
“You know damn well there’s worse than you that could happen to the Earldom. Ruin to the people and so forth.”
“What?” said Kormwind.
“The kids’ skipping rhyme. You know. Demon on the mountain, devil carved the keep?”
“I never heard any skipping rhymes. I was kept away from social activities until I got shipped off. Even after that.”
His heart fell. “I should tell you a few things about the curse. It’s not just the occasional Tiefling in the bloodline…” Spitebane explained the legend as it was explained to him, leaving out his past belief that it was all a story. He had learned better since his spoiled childhood and arrogant adulthood. “…that’s why you were never hurt as a child. Well, not by any adult. The terms of the ancient deal meant that Whitekeep was safe so long as any Tiefling born to the reigning family was protected.”
“Except for unpreventable accidents,” said his brother. “Which includes my fall.”
“I could have prevented it. The fact that you were down there was because of your oath to me. If I hadn’t gone chasing after some skirt, if I hadn’t been focussed on my vainglory… If I hadn’t acted like an ass…”
“If you hadn’t been your sweet, charming self?” suggested Kormwind.
“I’ve… begun learning to be a better person,” said Spitebane. “Stage one is an intense regret of everything I now know to have been ill behaviour.”
“A gentle way of putting it. You insulted your arranged bride to the point where she ran into death to get away with you.” Kormwind was glaring him down. “She’s lost to you forever, now.”
“She is lost to you,” repeated Kormwind. “She ran into the darkness, into danger, and the threat of death… and now she is lost to you for the rest of time. All because you didn’t find her pretty enough.”
Lost to him. What a delicate way of saying that he’d killed a woman with his ill-thought words. The simple uttering of, “I’m sorry,” would not mend it. It tumbled out of his mouth anyway.
“Oh, that makes it so much better,” said Kormwind, heavily sarcastic. “Do you have any way to pass that message along? Or to guarantee that you’re genuine?”
“There’s no need to drive it home with a hammer,” Spitebane could not look up from the grass of the graveyard. “I can’t even use the excuse that I was drunk. I would have said all those horrible things as a sober man. Even if she were not lost to me… She would never forget it.”
“No. She wouldn’t,” Kormwind paced around some of the gravestones, perhaps reading some of them. “And there’s no taking any of it back anyway. The question is now… what are you doing moving forward? How do you climb up from the pit?”
Now he could look up. Meet his brother face to blue face. It was strange, like looking into a funhouse mirror, but this one turned the features he was used to shaving… blue. Given the sneer Kormwind used when he said ‘father’, he would not like being told that he resembled the man. “I… don’t understand.”
Kormwind leaned on some memorial statuary and said, “Once upon a time, a Tiefling grew tired of accepting his master’s abuse. He grew weary of working his heart out for no reward. So he decided that attention was better than nothing. The master had less patience than the Tiefling, so it came to a duel very quickly. Ah, but how to make it a fair fight when the Master knew it all and the Tiefling was but a student? Of course. A duel to the slight. To truly insult someone to the point of defeat had to take some skill, to be enough of a challenge to the both of them. Balanced atop high poles, they traded barbs, and displayed their skills. Until the Tiefling found a raw nerve, and trapped the master close to him. In the end, the winning insult was no more than a gentle kiss. It was enough to send the Master falling… badly.”
Stormwind knew that regret in Kormwind’s glowing eyes. He didn’t understand the why of it. “But… You won.”
“I’d have rather died than win like that.” Kormwind winced, his usual smile had become a grimace of pain. “I love… loved… my Master. For all that he hated my guts. Have you ever seen a full-blood Sun Elf? They would fit your every standard of beauty and blow them out of the water at the same time. They’re heart-stopping, tongue-clotting, too perfectly beautiful. I was lost from the first day… and even though I love him still, I hate that man for his prejudice. I wanted to win his praise, to earn worth… Yet even when I won. I lost.”
“Did he live?” Spitebane decided not to ask after his brother’s preferences in the bedchamber. Elves were the exception. They had to be.
“Ja. He lived. He barely changed, even so. The point is, I could have killed him with an insult. With a kiss. And you… you have a better knack for insults, to kill love in a handful of minutes with a bouquet of words.”
Not just love. An alliance. Oh, they would find other ways, but there would always be that chafing point between the two families. That he, Spitebane Whitekeep, had driven his destined bride to her death because he found her unappealing. Butterface or no, she hadn’t deserved that fate.
“I can’t fix what I did,” Spitebane acknowledged. “I can’t take back cruel words or a moment of indiscretion that was yet another link in a chain of indescretions. I was an ass and I can’t change any of my past. I can only move forward and mend my ways. Stop acting like the world revolves around my legend.”
This earned him a stiff nod and a, “Sehr gut. You’re learning. That’s something.” He eased off from his former angry posture. “In a way, I’m jealous of you.”
“What?” Spitebane boggled at him. “How could you possibly be jealous?”
“You met her. You learned her name. For a moment… she was even smiling for you. All I know about my destined bride is that she exists. And that she has spent years dreaming of anything else but a fucking monster.” He gestured towards himself. “She won’t smile when we meet. She’s more than likely to scream.”
Oh. Oh, of course. He hadn’t thought. A mistake of his past that was still haunting him to this very moment, it seemed. He hadn’t considered the womens’ side of things at all. He had held the belief that any woman would be pleased to earn his evaluation. He had held the belief that all men knew this. Until now.
It was truly dizzying to realise that his way of looking at the world was not a globally unanimous decision.
“I… would not know how to combat that,” he said. “Or how to help you. The only thing I am certain of is that I have to get you to Whitekeep.”
“I have to get you to Whitekeep,” said Kormwind. “And I don’t have the funds to go anywhere.”
With that thought in mind, “You didn’t send a letter to our father to ask for a purse?”
“He cut my purse years ago. The day you turned six and were out of danger from infant mortality. I’ve been making my way to Whitekeep with sweat equity since the poisoning.”
He said it so casually. As if facing death was a common thing for him. “Do you know who did it?”
“I suspect. And those I suspect are those I don’t want to expect. Honestly? You not knowing I existed helps your case.”
“If I knew you existed, I couldn’t have poisoned you. The curse and all…”
“Ja. Ja. That alters things too.” He let out a sigh. “I have loose ends to tie up. You petition father for a purse and finally… finally I can go home. Or what passes for a home.”
“We’ll keep each other safe on the road. Two brothers, forming a team.”
“We might have to be careful. My team of idiots might want to come along.”
“Secrets all the way to Whitekeep? Really?”
“One assassin is plenty. Trust me.”
Given the way things had turned out, Spitebane was inclined to do so.