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 Beware the Quiet Ones

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Posts : 9
Join date : 2011-07-18

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PostSubject: Beware the Quiet Ones   Beware the Quiet Ones Icon_minitimeMon Aug 01, 2011 2:04 am

((I write ... a lot. And since I don't know where else to post this, I'm inflicting it on you all. If this isn't the right place, please let me know and I'll move it.))

Neferptah drew her heavy cloak of roughly more closely about her and shivered, grateful for its warmth despite the strong odor of sheep that rose from it. She set down her pen and blew upon her dark fingers. Just a few more lines and the letter she was copying for the fat Argossean merchant with the wandering hands would be completed. She was a child of the meadowlands of Shem mingled with the fierce desert blood of Stygia and these cold, wet hills were not to her liking. And this was summer! Ishtar only knew what winter was like. She shivered at the very thought. She would be long gone by then, if the goddess was kind.

Her father had been a Stygian sorcerer, exiled for some crime, and from him she had inherited an affinity for languages and a talent for the dark arts. Her Shemite mother had died when she was little more than a babe, giving her little more than the slight curl in her hair. After her father’s death she had honed her talents in Stygia’s academies of sorcery until she herself had fallen foul of the priesthood of Set. She had escaped Set’s coils and become a wanderer, seeking scraps of arcane lore until at last she had fetched up in this dreary northern land.

She hated it; the endless lines of barren hills that marched away to the grey horizon, the near constant rain, and the cold damp that seemed to seep into her very bones. It was the scroll that had brought her here. A scrap of an old tale in a Zingaran library, a traveler’s manuscript in Tarantia, a dusty papyrus found in Stygia, whispered rumors in half a dozen taverns, all of them pointing to this desolate northern land. Something had brought a Stygian sorcerer north over a century ago. What he had found was unknown, for he had died shortly thereafter, but not before setting it down on parchment. The manner of his death had been gruesome and his writings had been buried with him by the superstitious barbarians. That scroll, if it existed, would be worth much to the right parties - after she had made a copy for herself, of course.

She had been here for almost two months, eking out a living by translating and copying for the small community of traders that lived on the edge of Cimmeria. Carefully asking questions of the suspicious natives, and matching locations with her notes. Without family or clan, outsiders lived at the sufferance of the Cimmerians, a quarrelsome lot all too ready to end an argument by reaching for an axe. They thought her unthreatening, she possessed nothing worth taking, and the men, who preferred their women big boned and fair, paid their attentions elsewhere. She paid well for what she bought, was cheerful and ready with a bit of gossip, and the Cimmerians seemed to like her about as well as any foreigner.

There was a knock and the door opened before she could reply. The concept of privacy was a novel one to the Cimmerians who lived, ate, and loved in communal longhouses. A Cimmerian lass a head taller than herself grinned at her from the doorway. Neferptah smiled back and gestured to the foot of her bed. The girl, Aoife, set her wicker basket of laundry down with a grin.

“You write again?” Aoife, asked in poor Aquilonian, she leaned over the Shemite woman and frowned at the incomprehensible symbols. She was trading language lessons and a bit of coin for Aoife’s washing and mending, but writing was still a mystery.

Close up the girl smelled of wood smoke, unwashed wool and bear fat. She might be pretty, the scribe thought, if she were given a bath; not that anyone here bathed, they were too likely to freeze to death.

“Yes. A letter for Euthemines.” Neferptah answered in the same language.

The Cimmerian girl wrinkled her nose in distaste. “He is fat pig.”

“He is a fat pig.” Neferptah corrected, smiling in agreement; a fat pig with wandering hands. The Argossean had offered her coin for services other than writing. She had refused him disdainfully, she might be short of coin, but she’d bed a half dozen Cimmerians before she’d whore herself out to that greasy bastard.

She sanded the parchment, carefully blowing on it to make sure the ink was dry and set it aside while she spent a few minutes chatting with Aoife. The ink dry and her gossip finished, she took the parchment to Euthemines, receiving a few coins and an indecent proposition in exchange. She took the one and rejected the other with a forced laugh, swatting the merchant’s fat hand away from her bottom as she turned.

The newcomer was talking with another merchant when she saw him; tall and lean with a hooked nose and the dark skin of the south. He smiled thinly as he saw the mark set upon her brow and his eyes glinted with recognition. He nodded his shaven head politely, one practitioner of the dark arts to another. She returned the nod warily. There was a cold reek to him that she felt rather than smelled. A priest of Set; she knew the breed well from her days in Stygia.

She chewed her lip in indecision as he turned back to his conversation. Another Stygian, and a priest of Set at that, here? It might be a coincidence, but she thought not. She debated with herself as she walked back to her room. She thought she knew where the scroll was, but she was not sure. If she disturbed the wrong grave, the Cimmerians would be angry, and all her careful pretence would be wasted. There were rumors of guardians and wards as well. They might be false, or not; if not, they would have to be overcome. She would go, she decided, as she opened her door, she would not risk months of work to over-caution.

Horemhotep smiled thinly as he watched the half-breed woman leave the hall. His masters would be pleased when he returned with the scroll. It had been a long chase, but the Shemite harlot had been careless and left a trail a blind man could have followed. With luck, he had frightened her and she would act in haste. And he would be waiting.

Neferptah set out the next morning just as the sun was peeking over the eastern hills, carefully picking her way along a barely marked trail that wound its way into the bleak hills. She paused and looked behind her at a turning. Had there been a sound? The village below was ghostly through the morning mist, the sounds of morning chores drifting faintly upwards, but nothing moved on the trail. The shaggy hill pony she had borrowed from one of Aoife’s brothers whickered impatiently and she patted its neck.

The cairn was where the Cimmerians had said it was, not more than a league from the village, hidden away in tiny glen part way up the slopes of a hill. She closed her eyes and called upon her arts, sensing what the untrained could not. There were wards here, old and fading, but still potent, testament to the fear the Cimmerians had felt. She set to work breaking them, carefully unraveling the threads until the whole assemblage fell apart and blew away like cobwebs in a strong wind. She waited for a moment and reached out again. Nothing. Whatever power had been there was long gone. Neferptah smiled grimly and set about unstacking the cairn.

It was a good two hours work and she was sweating by the end of it despite the chill breeze and drizzle. A man’s flattened skeleton lay revealed where she had peeled away the layers of rock, clad only in a few tattered rags of cloth. And on the skeleton’s chest, still clutched in bony fingers was a leather scroll case.

She reached out, slowly passing her hands above the case in case of any final protections. Finding none, she prised it from the bony grip. It was intact, still sealed in a layer of wax, and she smiled.

A low laugh froze her to the marrow and she turned to see the priest standing close by. He had left his horse tethered at the entrance to the glen and made a silent approach over the soft grass.

“I suppose thanks are in order. We would never have heard about this, were it not for your meddling.” He held out his hand. “The scroll is Set’s.”

“Or what?” She raised her chin in defiance. “Did you bring friends, you sheep-buggering son of a goat?”

“Shemite whore!” He hissed, lunging for her. “Give that to me.”

Neferptah dodged to one side, scrambling over the pile of loose stone she had taken from the cairn. Horemhotep sneered and lifted his hand. His spell caught her off balance and flung her into a scraggly rowan tree that grew nearby. She slid limply to the ground and he smiled in triumph as he walked toward her.

“You should have known better than to defy Set’s priests.” He said as she raised her head. He stopped and began another spell, one that would end her defiance permanently.

Neferptah gestured and searing heat swept through her and manifested in a burst of hellfire that rolled from her fingertips. The priest shrieked as his clothes caught fire and he frantically sought to beat them out, his spell evaporating into nothingness. She raised her body and her hands moved in a complex series of passes, the fire building within her as she focused and then bursting forth in a searing blast that knocked the priest backwards. He gave one final, choked scream and crumpled to the ground.

She used the tree to lever herself back to her feet with a grimace. It hurt to breathe and her left wrist was swelling, but she carefully brushed the dirt from her face and managed a triumphant grin.

The sorceress waited until his clothes stopped burning, then with a nonchalance born of practice, she searched the charred corpse, ignoring the stench of burned flesh and the seared visage locked in a permanent scream. A small pouch of coin and a ring that might be gold made her smile. With luck, it would be weeks before he was found. Not that anyone was likely to care, he was a stranger, and a Stygian at that, and she would be long gone.

Neferptah tossed the pouch in her good hand and smiled, ignoring the pain in her wrist and side. She had the scroll, enough coin to keep her for a month, and she was warm. It wouldn’t last, but thanks be to Ishtar, she was finally warm!
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Join date : 2009-07-19
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PostSubject: Re: Beware the Quiet Ones   Beware the Quiet Ones Icon_minitimeThu Aug 04, 2011 6:11 pm

((Very Happy IF i wasn't so tired I'd respond more at length; great read!))
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