The Let's Play Archive


by Seorin

Part 53

Chapter the Fifty Second: Shadows of the Past, Part One

Bloody Dark Elves...! Now that I've got the location of your precious T'sen-Ang I will not ignore you any longer... you'd better be bloody ready for me. After reading through the book I stuffed it into my purse and began storming northward. "Any of you are welcome to stay behind if you would like. I have to do this, but I won't blame you if you'd rather not risk your lives."

Vollinger patted the stock of his rifle, "I've been with you this long, and I don't plan on abandoning you now."

Sebastian grinned and pet Terry on the head. Terry gave a solid woof. "What's my alternative? Going back to work for Willoughsby? No thanks... no way. I'm with you."

I looked over at Virgil, but his stare was distant. "...Virgil?"

He seemed startled. "Oh, uh... sure. Yes, of course I'm coming along."

Dammit, Virgil...! Snap out of it! I sighed. I've no right to be upset with him... he and I are the same, if only he'd realize it... "Well, I... I don't really know what else to say besides thank you... thank you all for sticking by me."'re all I have left... "Come on, there's no time to lose." We traveled to the north along the western edge of the Stonewall mountains encroaching upon the Iron Clan caverns as we traveled. We were so close that I actually spied the entrance as I passed it and stopped for a short while to examine it.

There was a rusted, iron gate buried in the ground and the smoothly shaped iron pedestal next to it looked to be the lock. I traced the outline of the pedestal inset with my finger, forming a mental image of the key in my mind. Whatever key was used to open the damned thing was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was huge, for a key, and looked like it would have to be shaped like some kind of a diamond. I committed the shape to my memory and made a note to look out for it. The key of glass...? Hmm.

We continued our travels northward towards the river, where the Lethe Wyvern roamed. I patted the camera in my purse gently, anticipating the sight of the beast. Travel was slow, and we all searched for various activities to occupy our minds while we walked. Sebastian found the skull of some kind of small animal, picked clean by vultures. He picked it up with a chuckle and tossed it ahead of us, yelling, "Hey, Terry! Fetch!"

Terry woofed and took off after it. Surprisingly, Sebastian was able to toss the damned thing a pretty good distance. I was sure I could do better, even if I couldn't aim for the life of me. Terry leapt up at the skull as it neared the ground, grabbing it out of the air with his teeth. He ran back up to Sebastian and held the skull up to him proudly, a muffled woof emanating from around the skull. Sebastian started laughing and laughing, then he took the skull from Terry and threw it again. I was glad Terry seemed to expanding his mental catalogue of people not to maul.

Eventually we did arrive at the river, although travel near the western shores seemed to take twice as long as traveling anywhere else. Perhaps it just seemed that way due to the intense boredom. The river stretched all the way from the mountains to the ocean, so wide that I couldn't even see either end of it from the middle position I'd walked to. I gazed up and down the river, my eyes searching for the so-called bridge that was supposed to get me to the Glimmering Forest.

I didn't see a bridge, but on my second pass along the river I did see a great, big beast with scales the color of midnight and teeth the size of my axe. I pulled the camera out of my purse and aimed it at the creature carefully, waiting for the exact moment at which it looked most menacing. The more horrible it looked the more gossip it would stir up, even though nobody else in Tarant was likely to ever set eyes on it after the story Trevor would print.

I pressed the shutter button on the top of the camera and the bulb flashed brightly. An ear-piercing screech issued forth and the creature turned with an angry look in its eyes. Uh... hi. It flapped its massive wings and dove at me with the speed of a passing train, narrowly missing as I tumbled out of its way. I pulled my axe off of my belt and prepared for its next dive, but instead it landed on the ground with a menacing glare.

The battle was on, and running wasn't an option. Even if I'd wanted to, it would be impossible to outrun the blasted thing when it could fly so bloody fast. Given its incredible speed, waiting seemed like suicide. I charged the beast, hoping to catch it off guard, but I wasn't nearly so lucky. It whipped its tail around at me with incredible agility. I reflexively brought my axe up to parry its strike and the barb at the end of its tail glanced off of the edge of my axe, a small wisp of smoke rising up in its wake. As soon as I could take another step its tail lashed out again angrily, but I was more prepared. I swung my axe, hoping to sever the wyvern's primary weapon and make its backside safe for a brutal assault.

Somehow, I was too slow. Its tail swiped past my axe and made for my shoulder. I winced, not nearly fast enough to dodge out of its way, and then with a sudden bang the end of its tail severed and dropped to the ground, a spray of blood squirting just past my shoulder. I opened my eyes, shocked to see it thrashing about in pain while it emitted another horrible screech. Thanks, Vollinger. The wyvern howled in pain and rage, swiping a claw at me clumsily. I sidestepped its ill prepared attack and dug my axe into its wrist, lopping off yet another of its weapons.

If it hadn't been fully enraged before, it was truly in a frenzy now. It flapped its wings and I was knocked prone by the unexpected force of the air blowing past me. It flew forward, one of its massive horns grazing me in the side. I was momentarily worried, but thankfully its poison seemed to be limited to its now-severed tail. I was hurt, but the wyvern had made a grave mistake in exposing its back to me.

Although it was certainly the toughest dragon like creature I'd ever faced, the wyvern was most assuredly not the first. I knew exactly where and how to strike it, which parts of it would make it squeal the loudest. Terry leapt into the air in my defense, diving for the wyvern's neck. He latched on brutally, although even his teeth had a difficult time piercing the protective scales on the creature's throat. Bloody hell, that dog can bite through metal and yet the Lethe's scales remain unbroken. Even if he was outmatched, Terry was a wonderful distraction, leaving me ample opportunity to strike.

First my axe slid past the scales on its lower back, cutting into a particularly vital organ and causing it to drop down onto one knee. My next blow was aimed to kill, and my aim was rarely off. Blood fountained forth from the gaping slash that cut nearly completely through the creature's chest. Its spine had been neatly severed, and the beast would hunt no more. Terry dropped to the ground with a whine, but the rest of us were silent. I placed the camera back into my purse and began once again searching for the bridge.

Good to know it's not just a rumor, then. I have to wonder who put this here...? As the river was quite wide, it was because of that bridge alone we were able to cross. I was sincerely thankful for the shortcut, not wanting to waste any more time than I had to in reaching T'sen-Ang. Wasting time was a relative term, however, as the northern reaches of the Glimmering Forest were certainly not near by any stretch of the imagination.

We traveled for so long and battled so many creatures in the forest that I lost all track of the days. The sun rose and set and then rose again, yet for the life of me I could not say how many times it had done so since I'd left Caladon. I shouldn't have been overly surprised at the length of my journey given that I was crossing from one end of the bloody continent to the other, but that thought did little to ease the sheer amount of time it took.

When we were about halfway through the forest, I rummaged around my purse for a spare bag and I began collecting the essences of all the wisps I killed during the journey. Those buggers were the most aggressive of the whole lot, and hardly a day passed when I didn't find myself having to put another one down. I've no bloody clue what kind of wisps any of these are, but one of them is bound to be a Vol'ars Wisp. I thought briefly of stopping in Qintarra to drop the essence off, but from the look of the map it seemed like it would be almost a week out of my way. I could always return after T'sen-Ang was... taken care of.

Just as the book had described, the woods grew dark and twisted as we approached T'sen-Ang. The days seemed shorter, what little of them could even be seen beneath the dense cover of the forest. Even the trees themselves seemed somehow darkened, almost sickly. Their leaves were pale and dark, and the wood took on an almost purple hue. The air itself seemed to grow thick, though the strong presence of magick was no doubt a part of that. When it seemed like my nerves could hold out no longer I found it at last.

It was situated in the trees, much like Qintarra, only it was different... twisted, and horrible. The trees were bent and broken to serve the needs of the Dark Elves. Theirs was a life of subjugation instead of harmony. Qintarra felt at peace with nature, but T'sen-Ang was the exact opposite... it didn't feel at peace with anything. The guard in front of the stairway leading upward was wearing dark, oiled chainmail and he glared at me hatefully as I drew near. I held my hand near the oaken handle on my axe and watched the elven guard carefully, prepared to do whatever I must.

Although he continued to glare as I drew closer, he didn't make any motions to draw his weapon, nor could I feel any strong magicks emanating from him. If he's not already figured out who I am, perhaps I can talk my way through this... I must be patient, I can't annihilate them nearly as easily as I annihilated the gangs in the Boil. A couple gangs of thugs are quite the far cry from an ancient order of violent elves.... I coughed nervously as I approached, trying to rein in my fears and uncertainties. "I'm here to see M'in Gorad." Thankfully, my voice was firm and even, almost threatening. I was beginning to impress myself with my mastery of the persuasive arts. Even Vollinger may not have been able to tell just how nervous I was. Then again, he always was a rather perceptive bastard.

The guard looked me over grudgingly, his look of baleful hatred fading to one of almost boredom. I'd changed in his eyes somehow, no longer a stranger with a group of unfamiliar faces. I was still strange, yet also familiar enough to become mundane. "You are aware of the procedure. Where is your amulet, Molochean?" So that's it... of course, the Molocheans are working for the Dark Elves! Why didn't I realize it sooner?

I pulled out of my purse one of the amulets I'd pilfered off of the dozens of Molocheans I'd killed, showing it to him. His eyes drifted over the lightly bronzed metal it was made out of, glancing at the eye in the hexagram. "You may enter." I barely acknowledged him, simply turning and heading up the stairway. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when he was out of sight, unable to maintain my cold and careful facade any longer. It seemed rather ironic to be posing as a member of the organization contracted to kill me, but that was the real beauty of that particular deception.

I shuddered uncontrollably as I reached the top of the stairs. Who would WANT to live in a ghastly hellhole like this?! The skulls of massive beasts were placed on posts near the entrance, and that was one of the less horrifying things about the awful place. The wood was half rotted and utterly filthy, yet only through the callous misuse of magick did it manage to hold together as solid platforms and walkways. Blood stained several surfaces and the only trees that could be seen when looking out from the platform were pale, withered, and half-dead.

Ugh. I've got to get the hell out of here, but not before meeting with M'in Gorad and putting a stop to all of this. No more innocents have to die... I looked around for anything that seemed significant and I saw a rough shape that I recognized. At the end of a bridge there was a large, hollowed-out tree clearly crafted out of mimicry of the chamber I'd met the Silver Lady in. I knew in my heart that M'in Gorad would be staying in such a place. I walked over the bridge and I strode into the chamber bearing the illusion of confidence, although I was so afraid that I felt like I might vomit any second. My knees were weak and wanted desperately to tremble, but I concentrated all of my efforts into my external appearance. I controlled every single motion I made, from the cocky tilt in my stare to the slow, relaxed confidance of my breathing. I was supposed to be a confident assassin, and if I didn't look the part I wouldn't get any second chances.

Her voice was haughty and nasal, clearly annoyed at the presence of non-elves. Her contempt was clear and it made me wonder why she bothered dealing with the Molochean Hand at all, if their membership policies were so unfortunately lax. Because she can control them, of course... the 'lesser' races are tolerable as long as they know their place... The more I studied her the greater the advantage I could gain. So long as I remained humble and fluffed her ego in the right ways I stood a good chance of escaping alive, without her ever realizing just who she'd been talking to. "I've come to talk about your banishment of the dwarves." At last, I'm finally here... I've been searching for so many years, I've seen and experienced so much, and I've lost much as well. It all comes down to this. I breathed in and out deeply, calmly... I was an assassin, just checking in for additional information.

She frowned at me impatiently, her expression bordering on a sneer. "What concern are a bunch of inbred dwarves to you? You should be out hunting down that blimp survivor instead of wasting my time, assassin." Yes, that's it... even you can't see through my deception... The character of the assassin began to take shape in my mind, and I pushed down the feelings of Samantha Colburn, becoming the persona I had only just begun to imagine. I was a member of the Hand, I had been there dozens of times... I had even spoken with her before, though she didn't remember my face...

"The Black Mountain Clan directly relates to our search for the blimp survivor." I glared at her confidently, curiously. My confidence in myself grew as I skillfully acted the part borne of my own knowledge of how the Hand worked. I had her fooled and, as long as I remained careful to not slip, I would eventually get what I wanted. There was no need to be impatient, I just had to act like a subservient fool and she'd spill everything in no time at all.

She crossed her arms, leveling her eyes at me along with her accusations, "I think you are searching for anything to excuse the Hand's inability to locate the survivor." So that's the report? They can't find me? Hmph. The agents of the Hand have located me just fine, many times over. They just haven't lived the experience.

I pushed my personal thoughts out of my mind, focusing more on how I was supposed to be acting. I was not Samantha Colburn, I was a nameless assassin of the Hand. I may have had a name once, now lost to time and servitude. My loyalty to the Hand was all that mattered, and if I didn't find out about the Black Mountain Clan I would be unable to serve appropriately. I tilted my head in the other direction and shifted the way I stood, carefully considering the expression on M'in Gorad's face. "We're more effective when we are given all necessary information."

The Hand had been left in the dark... they were mere servants to this woman, only told what she deemed necessary and nothing more. As servants, they never dared question, they only acted. As a member of the Hand, there was much I didn't know, but my desire to serve was strong. I alone dared to question, so that I might succeed where my brothers had failed. What was it I needed to know? What would lead to finding the blimp crash survivor? "We need to know where the Black Mountain Clan were banished to."

She spat at me openly, obviously angry at my persistence. Wasting her time with a pathetic human was beginning to annoy her, and she didn't like the questions I was asking. "The Molochean Hand should have no concern for the whereabouts of a few measly dwarves."

I was starting to lose my control over the character of the assassin in my head. M'in Gorad's sheer arrogance roused the anger deep within me, and the more I chatted with her the more I wanted to strangle her scrawny, elven neck. "We think the survivor was attempting to contact them." Well, it's true... 'she' is.

A smug grin spread across her face. "That would be an impossible task for someone of her... limited resources." I'll show YOU limited bloody resources, wench! She paused briefly, almost as if she saw the anger briefly flare in my eyes. I breathed deeply, confidantly, I calmed myself despite my burning hatred. As my expression returned to one of servitude, she nodded satisfactorily and continued. "You will learn nothing from this line of inquiry."

I was but her servant, a lowly assassin doing her bidding to the best of my ability. She was tired of dealing with my petty questions, tired of the intrusion of the disgusting and inferior humans into her city. She would tell me nothing that wasn't obviously related to my search... how, then, did the Black Mountain Clan relate to the survivor? "What do you think the dwarf told the survivor?" Aside from bloody nothing...

By the gods! The Void?! Stennar ESCAPED FROM THE VOID?! That's impossible... that's... how can...? I swallowed hard, trying desperately to calm the litany of thoughts suddenly racing through my mind. I was hanging on the precipice of truth, and if I could avoid toppling over the edge for just a moment longer M'in Gorad would unwittingly reveal everything I needed to know. She was so close, I just needed to urge her further without her realizing I was fishing for information. What would a servant say? How would he show his appreciation for the shred of information she'd just revealed? He would praise her, yes... he would flatter her. She desired it, she demanded it, she needed to feel superior. Arrogance was her weakness. "Using Bates in your scheme was a stroke of genius."

She laughed, then, smugly pleased at my subserviant attitude. As long as I knew my place, came to her crawling on my belly instead of as her equal, she would continue to humor me. Only good dogs deserved treats. "After all those years of trying to concoct a plausible excuse to banish a group of dwarves, that young fool stumbles in there and walks away with their cherished technology! Arronax himself couldn't have dreamed up a better scenario."

Arronax?! Son of a bitch, that's what this is all about?! What does Arronax need with a bunch of dwarves...? It all made sense, suddenly... Bates was just a scapegoat. That's why they'd gone to such great lengths to silence him... the warnings from robed figures, the demand for secrecy, and the deaths of all his investigators. These were desperate actions for a dark purpose, but still I needed to know more. "Arronax must have been furious that Stennar escaped." Yes, that's right... you slipped up, you failed... something went wrong with your grand plan, and Master isn't happy about it at all, is he? How can one so superior as yourself come to terms with that?

Her laughter died down only slightly at the mention of her failure. She shrugged it off casually, as if it barely concerned her, "What did he expect? He has them constructing a technological gate to weaken the wards so he can re-enter this realm, and he's surprised when one of them escapes through it?"

It's true, then... Arronax really is returning. This is... horrible. This can't be allowed to happen, but what can I possibly do to stop it? No, I alone can't answer that question... I need to get out of here, I need to tell Raven and the Silver Lady. Not just them, but Loghaire, and Bates... the whole world! No... I can't do that, either. I'd cause a panic, or at best be written off as crazy. There will be time to think about all this later, for now I have to get out of here. Gods, how much time do we have left...? "Why hasn't Arronax returned? Stennar made it through."

At last, it seemed I knew everything. I swallowed hard, losing the grip on the character in my mind as soon as my will weakened. That's the best I'm going to get, it seems. If I push my luck here, I'm dead. "I think I have enough information to proceed, now. Good day." I hoped she didn't hear the uncertainty in my voice, or see the trembling in my lips. I gave her but a brief glance, wary of my emotions betraying my hidden truth, and then I departed the chamber.

I didn't hear any footsteps following me out, nor did I feel any magicks being invoked. I'd done it... I'd probed M'in Gorad for the information I needed and escaped without revealing myself. I turned and looked at my companions, taking in their worried and outright angry looks... none of them were any happier about what we'd just learned than I was. As we crossed the bridge off of M'in Gorad's solitary platform I was quite unexpectedly approached by a tall man wearing black, leather armor. "I know who you are," was all he said. He was thin and wiry, his eyes grey and wolfish. He gently fingered a dagger on his belt, obviously impatient.

I was nervous, still off balance from the horrors I'd just learned of, mentally exhausted from trying so desperately hard to fool everyone despite the growing unease in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to be rid of the man in front of me, and in my haste I decided that ignorance was the best course. "I'm sorry? What are you talking about?"

He laughed, gently pulling the dagger off of his belt. "You wear the amulet of the Molochean Hand and yet you show no respect to your master?"

Damnation! I'm caught! I lapsed for only a second! No, it may not be too late just yet... "Yes, of course, sir. So sorry, sir." It sounded shallow and forced... the persona of the assassin was beyond my grasp... I was too tired to continue my charade.

I'm not going down without a fight, but I don't want to have to kill every bastard elf on my way out of here. I have a message to deliver and I'll be damned if I'm going to let you stand in my way. "So. You do know who I am. Who are you?" I straightened my back, pulling my own axe off of my belt and staring at the man levelly. If he knew I wasn't his bloody servant than he'd best know I wasn't going to lie down and let him kill me.

He seemed unaffected by my bravado, bowing slightly, keeping his eyes on me as he did so. "I am Gideon Laier, First Blade of the Molochean Hand. I have sought you for a long time. And here you are, having walked into my very arms. Interesting, indeed..."

The initials on all of the orders to kill me had been signed G.L. - Gideon Laier. This was the man that had been seeking my death for many years. Why?! Why me?! What the bloody hell did I ever do to you? Do you have any idea what you've put me through... what you've cost me? I kept my voice level, only subtly betraying the anger I felt deeply within my heart. I was a time bomb, slowly ticking, and Gideon had best be careful how he handled me lest I explode.... "Yes, indeed. I'm curious... why do the Molochean Hand want to kill me?"

With the same kind of indifference one might have when choosing what kind of suit to wear to the table for dinner, he answered. "Why else? We are assassins, my friend. We have been contracted to kill you. Is there anything else that need be said?" His attitude was so casual it made me sick. I could never understand how anybody would take the life of another for such a trivial reason. It essentially boiled down to 'because M'in Gorad said to'.

"But why? What did I do?" I doubted he would've accepted such a simple answer if our positions had been reversed. It was so easy to shift the blame off onto others. One never had to take any responsibility or suffer any guilt if they were just following orders. If I was going to die on that bridge, Gideon would know what he'd done... he would know that our battle had nothing to do with M'in Gorad, and everything to do with his casual rejection of morality.

Funny how that works... if you hadn't been trying to kill me, I never would've gone through all this in the first place... I might've just gone home... but I didn't, and oh how I have paid... all because of you... I let my rage seethe beneath the surface, letting the barest edges of it flicker in my voice and my body language. "Why did the Dark Elves want to kill Stennar Rock Cutter...?" It didn't make any sense. What could a single dwarf do? ...I came back to warn... Bates was wealthy, and respected... if Stennar could convince Bates that Arronax was returning, everybody would believe him.... Gideon spoke, breaking me out of my line of thought.

His voice was firm, hard, and uncaring. He certainly had no sympathy, though that was only natural considering his chosen profession. "That is not important to me. The Hand are assassins. We provide a service which we perform very well, and we are paid for that service upon completion of our contract. Nothing else is important, my friend. The Hand has no conscience or morality. We are death. That death has now come to you...."

I glared at him icily. His words were hollow, though I could not tell as much from merely hearing them. "The Hand hasn't always been this way..." I studied his reaction carefully, hatefully. Yes, that's right... I know about you... and I know you're betraying your original purpose. The Hand has refused to serve evil in the past, so why now...?

He glared back at me, suddenly off balance. "What could you possibly know of the Hand, stranger? We have been assassins for more than 1,000 years. Our record is immaculate, our techniques those of the oldest masters. You don't know us at all..." That's where you're wrong, Gideon... I DO know you.

The uncertainty in his voice was becoming more plain; I'd expressed a doubt that had crossed his mind before... quite possibly his one weakness. "I know of the Derian-Ka, Gideon. I know why the Hand left them..."

Looks like I owe you one, Joachim... that book came in handy after all. I do so love books. "Yes, Gideon. I do. First Assassin Trellian wrote it all down. The Hand separated from the Derian-Ka when Trellian discovered how truly evil the men were that they served. There was a great battle on the plains of Vooriden, and both sides lost."

He was silent, then, utterly unsure of himself. At last he spoke, the shame evident in his voice, "So, you do know of your history. You may very well be the only living person, outside of the Hand, who knows these things. That we once served such evil ends is a shame to us..."

Are you saying Joachim is a member of the Hand? Or that he's dead? Either would make sense, but neither seem quite right. Perhaps Joachim is just Joachim. "Why was the Hand so shamed?" I couldn't figure out how working for Kerghan was so much worse than working for Arronax. Destroying the world wasn't exactly prim and proper.

I nodded, following along with what I'd already mostly understood. I had with me the very journal that Trellian had uncovered. Frederick would have loved to see such an amazing artifact... "And then your leader, Trellian, found something..."

His face was dark and he stared at the wooden bridge beneath my feet. "Yes... it is said that he found the writings of Kerghan, which described in detail the experiments he used to perform on his victims. It made Trellian sick with revulsion and despair. He vowed to destroy the Derian-Ka, no matter what the cost..."

Finally, it hit me... the shame in Gideon's voice, then, the true revulsion to the amoral acts his order had committed in the past... it all made sense. By the Gods, he doesn't know! M'in Gorad told me what she's told no hand so far... they've no idea Arronax is involved! "And yet here you are, making the same mistakes all over again..." I was smug, confident. I very nearly let my axe rest back on my belt, but I wasn't that careless.

Horror shone in Gideon's eyes. He seemed to respect me, perhaps even fear me. "What? What do you mean?" He truly didn't know, and worse yet he knew that he did not know... that he continued with his task anyway was his shame and his alone.

I stared him straight in the eyes, speaking my words carefully and confidently. I wanted him to look back at me and to know, to be absolutely and utterly certain that what I was saying was the ungilded truth. "If you thought Kerghan was bad, how about Arronax?"

I gestured towards the chamber I'd just come from, insinuating where I got the information from. "He's returning. The Dark Elves are involved... in fact, they've been planning it all along. They had the Black Mountain Clan banished so they could build a machine to weaken the wards on the Void, allowing Arronax to return. Stennar escaped, due to his technological aptitude, and... you know the rest."

I could see his fists clenching... he finally knew the true story, and it filled him with shame. "I see... we have been lied to, once again." Anger flared in Gideon's eyes, raw and unbridled hatred. He cast a dark glance in the direction of M'in Gorad's chamber before looking back at me. "Someone... will answer for this, in due time. And as for you... I am deeply sorry. The Hand will bother you no more."

Can it really be that simple? Just like that... I'm no longer being chased by assassins? "Thank you, Gideon." Although it was only natural for me to be skeptical, I could hear the sincerity in Gideon's voice, see it in the way he looked at me. His order would be given, and his subordinates had no choice but to follow.

"What? Vollinger!" As soon as the words escaped Gideon's mouth the truth hit me like a sucker punch from an ogre. No... I don't want it to be true. Why, Vollinger... how could you do this to me? "You're of the Molochean Hand?" It was a pointless question at that point. Virgil warned be about you right from the beginning, and oh how I should have listened....

His gaze shifted away from me and he nodded. "Yes. I am an assassin of the Hand." He spoke slowly and quietly, as though this fact now shamed him as well. I couldn't tell if he was ashamed because of what Gideon just said or because of genuine guilt, but no matter how he felt I still felt like I'd been betrayed.

"I don't understand... why didn't you kill me..." ...all the conversations and laughs that we shared... were those just lies? Were you just pretending to be my friend and waiting for the order to finish me off? I felt so alienated in that moment that I wanted to cry. My small group of friends were the only people left that mattered to me, and it turned out they might not be the people I thought they were. Virgil wouldn't talk to me, Vollinger was an assassin hired to kill me, and who exactly was Sebastian anyway? Accompanying me to T'sen-Ang just because I killed a couple gangs in the Boil? That hardly seemed like a fair trade.

Vollinger sighed, trying to be forward with me instead of lying even more. At the very least I appreciated his honesty. "Gideon is no fool. The Hand has no conscience, it is true, but its leader is wise. From the beginning, we distrusted the Dark Elves. My job was to observe and decide on the best course of action. Our other assassins were unaware of my presence..."

That's it? That's all you have to say about it? I've considered you a friend for years, and all this time you've just been a spy...? No, the Hand wouldn't squander an opportunity like that. If you'd received the order, you would've killed me. I swallowed uncomfortably, "And if I had not told Gideon of the Dark Elves involvement?" I had to know for sure, no matter how badly the truth hurt, I simply had to know. Even I didn't have anything on Vollinger when it came to stabbing people in the back.

Hmph... personal opinions... so that means you're fond of me, but that wouldn't have stopped you from killing me anyway? "I'll take that as a compliment." How can you think like that, how can you live like that? Gods, I wish I could so easily ignore my conscience... Frederick, Nathaniel... I sighed deeply, putting my memories aside for the time being. I was still in the middle of the nest of my enemies, and betrayal or not I had to keep my wits about me. Vollinger, why...? "Thanks for your help, Vollinger..." Acting came naturally to me at that point, and if I could act the part of an assassin I could surely act resolute even when feelings of doubt nearly overwhelmed me.

Vollinger looked up at me with a faint smile, and just a hint of sadness in his eyes. "Of course." Then he turned to address Gideon, "Sir, I was wondering... if I don't have a new assignment, do you think there might be a possibility...?" You've got to be kidding me... you really expect me to-?

Gideon finished Vollinger's thought for him. "...if you might be permitted to journey on with our friend, here? I was thinking that very thing myself. Yes... you may stay with her as long as she deems necessary. It is the least the Hand can do for the trouble it has caused."

Tears burned behind my eyes, but I held them back. How can you ask that of me?! How can you demand to stay with me even after concealing this lie from me for all these years?! Dammit, Vollinger, why?! Why did you have to be an assassin?! I sighed again, breathing calmly in hopes that it would calm the rest of me. I'd only just found out about the Black Mountain Clan, and Arronax... and Frederick's death still seemed like yesterday to me. Now Vollinger besides? I couldn't take it. It was too much for me in too short a period of time. I can always think on this later... I don't have to turn Vollinger loose right here in the middle of T'sen-Ang. He can help me escape, and then after that... I looked at Gideon to say my goodbye, "Thank you. I suppose I'd better be on my way."

My mind still raced with dozens of thoughts, but I once again started to calm, started to focus on my purpose for remaining. You don't have to tell me twice. "Good bye, Gideon." He turned around and walked back off of the bridge, disappearing down the nearby staircase leading to the ground. I had only one remaining thing to take care of before I, too, could leave... I'd made myself a promise and I fully intended to keep it. No more threats, no more fear, no more death... you will pay for your crimes, all of you.... I looked around T'sen-Ang carefully, intent on finding something I could use against the elves to throw the city into disarray and destruction. I found half ogres.