Fergus Balad

Human Male Cleric, 24 years old (during this story; 26 when he begins the campaign). Member of the Vory Brotherhood. Bratok in Bulgruf One-Eye’s fiercest Bratva. Grew up in The Vile with Mikka. Friends with Father Foley, Abbot of the Southern Ward Sanctuary.

Currently an Acolyte int eh War Wolves. Part of the ECHO Team.

<1>

The seagull glided high above the harbor of Ravensport, its sharp eyes scanning the water below for a snack; a small fish perhaps, or a hunk of bread tossed aside by a dock worker eating his lunch. She idly hovered on the warm sea air, turning lazy circles in the sky, surrounded by dozens of her brethren each doing the same. Ships of varying sizes lined the piers and hundreds of men were hard at work both in the riggings of the ships, and loading and unloading boxes upon boxes of cargo. Further out, silhouetted by the late afternoon sun, more ships slipped past each other, each heavy with precious cargo returning from or destined for distant lands. The harbor was loud; men yelling commands and curses at one another, cargo boxes slamming into each other, fishmongers and food vendors hawking their wares.

Just then, the gull noted some movement outside a warehouse. A group of dockworkers were walking out through the large opening in its side. She angled herself to take a closer look. Some of the men carried small sacks; food, she hoped. The men were loud and gregarious, shoving each other playfully as they made their way past the edge of the building where a small door with a post jutting out of the wall and a sign marked ‘Main Office’ gently swayed in the ocean breeze, under a much larger sign which read ‘Seversted Imports’.

There were several of these huge warehouses lining the harbor, each with a different shipping company name emblazoned on its exterior. Every warehouse was surrounded by a scaffold. These scaffolds were all attached to each other, allowing men to walk high above the bustle of the yards below on elevated platforms. Some of these catwalks even extended right up to the water’s edge. The whole scene was crisscrossed with a web of ropes and line, tackle blocks, and pulleys. All this was constructed to assist with the offload of freight and to maximizing the space available to store shipments in the yards between the warehouses. The gull alighted on the post supporting the office sign, greedily eyeing the men with their sacks, ready to dash in for a morsel of food.

Just then, there was a muffled crash from inside the office, a few indistinct shouts, and suddenly the gull let out a strangled cry and shot into the air as the door burst open and a figure half-flew, half-fell out, tripping over his own feet and spilled onto the ground. A small, wiry man popped up and took off running as he looked over his shoulder back at the open doorway, a worried look on his face. A moment later, two more figure sprinted through the open doorway; brows furrowed, their annoyed, determined looks indicating just how little either of them wanted to be here right now chasing after this man.

The noise attracted the attention of the men who had walked out of the warehouse a moment ago. Some started laughing, mocking the small man by yelling, “Better get a move on, Dram!”

Another man in the group grimaced and shouted, “Oi! Fergus! Mikka! Why doncha leave ‘em alone!?”

The smaller of the two trailing men brightened, and he flashed the group of bystanders an impish grin. “Don’t worry, Poe. You know Bulgruf won’t let us rough him up,” he paused to contemplate a second, “too much!”

The bigger man, Fergus, caught his companion’s eye and pointed to the left as Dram entered the maze of cargo boxed strewn about the yard of the warehouse. “Mikka, cut him off. Don’t let him get back into the city.”

Mikka veered off to the left and was lost in the sea of crates. Fergus returned his attention to Dram, determined not to lose him. Dram was not exactly making it hard for the big man, though. He constantly tripped over his own feet, slowing his pace, and knocked into boxes as he ran due to him throwing glances over his shoulder every few seconds.

“Dram, would you stop already,” Fergus pleaded, “you’re not helping anything. Bulgruf just wants his money. You’re five weeks late!”

Unfortunately, the mention of Bulgruf’s name seemed to have the opposite effect on Dram. He immediately quickened his pace in an attempt to put more distance between him and Fergus. Dram was frantic to get away now. He cut through the cargo yard, zigzagging down aisles, hoping to make his way onto the city streets where he could get lost in the crowd. He caught a glimpse of the crowded market square through the lanes of boxes on the other side of the fence that bordered the yard’s edge. But then Mikka bounded around a corner ten yards in front of him, his head snapping to Dram’s location as each skidded to a stop.

Dram let out a yelp and sprinted off back toward the piers and the harbor. Fergus and Mikka regrouped and followed. As Dram approached the harbor’s edge he came to one of the scaffold’s many ladders that granted access to the catwalk above. He looked left and right and saw boxes swinging in cargo nets and men heaving lines, both avenues blocked. Giving one more backward glance at the approaching men, Dram began to climb.

By the time Fergus and Mikka reached the ladder, Dram was at the top and running south along the edge of the harbor. Mikka, always the more agile of the two, took the rungs two at a time, vaulted the security rail at the top and was at a sprint as soon as his feet hit the platform. Fergus was a little slower in his climb, pulling himself onto the floor of the catwalk then using the rail to pull himself back up before taking off after Dram, muttering a curse under his breath.

“If I could just get past all this chaos,” Dram thought as he looked down at the workers below him, “I could get away from these fools. Let them explain to Bulgruf how they let me get away… might shift some of his anger onto them, give me some breathing room so I can find a place to lay low for a while.”

A smile played across Dram’s face as the reality of his escape, the fact he would avoid having his knees broken today, began to materialize. He glanced back and saw Fergus and Mikka at least 20 yards back. “Fools,” he thought.

The smile vanished from his face and was instantly replaced by a look of bewilderment and surprise. Dram’s field of view seemed to slow and rotate 360 degrees. Time elongated and he became aware of a large form that had stepped from behind a pile of boxes set to one side of the platform. He felt his feet leave the ground and suddenly he was looking up at the seagulls turning their lazy circles high above. Dram lay there, heaving great mouthfuls of air, trying to regain his breath.

“Evenin’, Dram,” a hulking half-orc said lazily as he leaned over him in mock sympathy, “You alright? Didn’t see ya’ there; now, where ya’ off to?”

The two stared at each other for a long moment and then the half-orc reached down to grab Dram by his shirtfront just as Fergus and Mikka reached the pair. The two arrivals immediately doubled over, each trying to catch their breath as well, happy the chase was over. By this point Dram was able to croak, “Tolan… wait… I… I can explain.”

Tolan had turned his attention to the two. It looked as if he was about to admonish Fergus and Mikka for letting this go on for so long, for letting Dram traipse them about the harbor side. But Dram’s statement caught him as he was about to start his tirade and he turned back to him, mouth agape, and eyed Dram hard.

“Oh, you can explain,” Tolan mimicked, his anger rising. In one fluid motion Tolan had picked Dram up off the ground and stepped to the safety rail which ran the length of the scaffold. Dram’s back hit the rail hard and, with all of Tolan’s strength behind the shove, he tipped up and over the rail. Tolan held him there by the front of his shirt; his lower half within the safety of the catwalk, his upper half dangling over the abyss three stories above the yard below.

Dram’s eyes bulged with fear. “Tolan, you know who my father is! I’m good for the money. I just need a little more time to get it from my dad!” He glanced over his shoulder at the ground below then looked to Fergus and Mikka pleadingly.

Fergus already had both hands up, palms out, a look of surprise on his face. Mikka moved to the other side of Dram, at the rail, in an attempt to get Tolan’s attention and talk the big half-orc down from the edge, both literally and figuratively.

Fergus was saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” while Mikka beseeched,” Tolan, think this through. Bulgruf would not be happy if we turned Ian Seversted’s son into a red pasty blob on the floor of his very own shipping yard, even if the little weasely son of a bitch is into him for 35 large.”

Tolan looked from Mikka to Fergus and then back to Dram; he did not seem convinced. Dram was now desperately clutching at Tolan’s forearm, feeling his weight tip ever so slightly further over the edge. Just then something caught Fergus’ attention over Tolan shoulder and he flicked his fingers to get Mikka’s attention. Fergus motioned with his head and Mikka looked to where Fergus indicated. This caught Tolan’s attention, as well, and he glanced over.

These gestures and glances happened quickly, too quickly for Dram to catch their meaning. This level of understanding came from working with the same crew for years, and these men were Bulgruf’s best Bratva. This was the term used in the Vory Brotherhood for the groups of foot soldiers that carried out their Captain’s day to day jobs. Bulgruf was one such Captain, or Authoritet, as they were known in the Brotherhood.

“Well, I don’t really care,” Tolan spat, returning his attention to Dram, “I’m sick o’ this oily snake slipping through Bulgruf’s fingers week after week, just on account a who his da is. Dram, time for you to say g’night.”

The three men exchanged one last quick glance, Mikka gave a nod, and Tolan let Dram go. He balanced there on the rail edge for an impossibly long moment. It would have been comical, Fergus though, if Dram’s look of complete dread wasn’t so unsettling. Then the moment passed, and he was gone. Dram let out a bloodcurdling cry. Fergus sprang to the rail to join Tolan and Mikka and all three leaned over to look.

Dram’s scream was cut short as he landed in the large cargo net swinging about 15 feet below them. It was the net that had caught Fergus’ attention as it was slowly sliding past them, down a line, on its way to pick up another load from a ship tied up at the pier. Dram started screaming again, now entangled in the net as it continued on its path. Mikka smirked, and then commented nonchalantly, “You know, he probably just wet himself.” Fergus chuckled at this.

“One more week, Dram,” Tolan shouted out to him, “Next time, your fall will last just a wee bit longer.”

<2>

“Why do I always let you two pull me into your crazy schemes,” Tolan yelled over the din of the patrons in the Crow’s Nest, the tavern he and the crew used as their headquarters. He smiled and shook his head, lifting his mug to his lips. Realizing it was empty he stared into the bottom for a moment then raised it above his head to get the barmaid’s attention.

“Another round, Ankia,” he called out.

Mikka raised his hands in supplication. “Don’t look at me, it’s Fergus’ doing,” he said shyly, adding after a moment in a slightly lower tone, “most of the time.”

They both looked to Fergus, who was staring at Ankia’s approach over the rim of his mug. She deftly made her way through the crowd, swatting away a few of the drunken patrons’ fumbled gropes, carrying several mugs of ale on a serving tray high overhead.

Mikka rolled his eyed and snapped his fingers in front of Fergus’ face, dragging his attention back to the conversation. “You two have been making googly eyes at each other for months now. I wish you’d take her downstairs to the storeroom and just get it over with already,” he said, with mock exasperation.

Fergus shot Mikka a hard stare. Purposely ignoring Mikka’s previous comment, he said, “I can’t help when I see an opportunity arise. We needed to make a point with Dram, the net caught my attention, and I realized it would allow us to make a statement without actually causing him harm. Plus, it has the added benefit of saving face with Bulgruf and keeping Dram’s rich daddy from putting a contract out on us.”

“And you put all that together in the moment,” Tolan asked.

“Umm…,” Fergus paused to think, and then quickly said, “Yep.”

They all laughed and Tolan shook his head again. Just then, Ankia sauntered up to the table and smiled broadly. “Now, what are you three laughing about,” she asked as she set the tray down and looked around the table. Her smile brightened and her eyes softened as then came to rest on Fergus.

“I was just telling Fergus that he should take you…,” Mikka began, but was cut off by his friend.

“It’s work! Just work stuff,” Fergus interjected quickly, his face reddening slightly.

Ankia’s eyes narrowed, but her smile remained just as bright. “All right,” she said, “Well, you let me know if you want anything else.” Her eyes never left Fergus.

She placed three mugs down, picked up the tray, and walked back into the din of the tavern, gently brushing her hand across Fergus’ shoulders as she walked away. Tolan and Mikka could barely contain their laughter at Fergus’ obvious discomfort.

“By Neto, man,” Tolan began, “You are a Bratok in the Vory Brotherhood! You run in one a Bulgruf One-Eye’s fiercest Bratvas. I’ve seen you stare down a De Mechi Capo and bum-rush a group of Lockheart Gang bruisers without a second thought. Yet, whenever this pretty girl comes ‘round, you turn into a bumbling fool. You’re pitiful.”

By this point Mikka was laughing hysterically. Fergus knew their ribbing was all in jest, but he knew Tolan was right, as well. “How can I be so fearless sometimes,” he thought to himself, “but when it comes to Ankia I turn into a bowl of jelly?”

His friends were pulling themselves together, their laughter subsiding, when Fergus noticed two half-orcs enter the bar. He raised his hand to catch their attention. “Thok and Ovar are here,” he announced.

Tolan looked over his shoulder at their approach. As the two walked up to the table he asked, “Get your collections completed yet?”

“Yeah, no problems,” Ovar said. “Easy peasy,” added Thok, with a sinister grin.

“Alright; well, I guess Bulgruf will be wantin’ his report. I’m off, boys,” Tolan said. He tipped back his mug until the ale was gone, and then stood. “You two,” he pointed a finger at Fergus and Mikka, “stay outta trouble. See ya in the mornin’.” With that he turned and the three half-orcs departed.

“Those two,” Mikka declared, pointing at Thok and Ovar’s backs, “enjoy their jobs a little too much, if you ask me.”

“Yeah,” Fergus agreed. Then changing the subject, said, “So, what now?” He took a swig of ale.

“Now, my friend, we are going to walk across this room over to that bar. I convinced Ankia she should introduce me to the new girl. That cute, little one over there,” Mikka pointed, “Jade, I believe her name is. You and Ankia can continue to moon over each other like school children while Jade and I get better acquainted.”

“I’ll take a rain check, thanks,” Fergus responded, and stood, “There’s someplace I need to be.”

“Really? I think not. You should stay here with me. I promise you, you will have a much better time here with us than wherever you think you need to be,” Mikka said with an annoyed look on his face.

Fergus sighed and then said, “Really, Mikka. I need to go.”

“Fine, scuttle off to The Vile. I know your priests can’t stand to go a day without seeing you. They just love filling your head with stories of their god, and all the glorious exploits of their pasts they performed in his name. Too bad they’re all past their prime. I’d love to see them try to don some armor, and lift a sword and shield today.”

“All those men have served Neto proudly,” Fergus countered defensively, “As Warpriests and Clerics in their younger day; now as ombudsmen, counselors, and healers. They continue to serve, just in a different way. Mikka, they make a difference here. They’ve helped the needy of Ravensport since we were boys. They helped me and my mom after my father passed, they helped us all when Dark Blight ravaged the city. Hells, they helped both of us bury our folks after that damnable plague took them all.”

“I’m sorry, brother,” Mikka lowered his eyes as he spoke, “I don’t mean to provoke you. I know you love that old priest. He’s been good to you. Please, give Father Foley my regards.”

Fergus let out a breath at his friend’s apology. They clasped hands. Mikka started to make his way to the bar, and his smile returned. As Fergus reached the door to leave he could hear the new girl, Jade, giggle at something Mikka had said to her. Fergus looked back and saw Ankia standing behind the bar in the doorway leading to the kitchen. She smiled at him. He raised a hand and waved to her. She waved back. They both lingered for a moment, just staring at each other.

In that moment, the din of the tavern — the yells, the laughter, the singing, the cursing — it all faded away to nothing, and they were just two young people, alone across an empty space. Fergus smiled. The crash of mugs spilling to the floor pulled Fergus back from his reverie, and he was through the door and lost to the darkness beyond.

<3>

The priests of Neto maintain a sanctuary in the Southern Ward of the city, not far from the harbor. It’s a fairly sizable compound consisting of a well-staffed infirmary, several administrative buildings, a shrine to Neto, and living quarters for the priests who are stationed there. Of course, there is a large temple to Neto in the Northern Ward, but the people who live in this part of town are not welcome there.

This ward, otherwise known as The Vile, is home to the poorest citizen of Ravensport. It’s packed with ramshackle dwellings stacked one atop the other in a maze of streets and alleyways. The wide avenues and tree lined parks of the Northern Ward might as well be on another plane of existence, as far as residents of The Vile were concerned.

Fergus could navigate these streets blindfolded, if needed. He and Mikka grew up here. Naturally, as a Bratok in the Vory, one of the five major crime syndicates that ran Ravensport’s underbelly, Fergus was well compensated for his allegiance. But there was a time when he ran barefoot through these streets, begging for coins from the sailors entering the city from the harbor.

It was an hour or so past sunset but the compound was well lit, alive with activity. Some of the priests were assisting elderly parishioners down the front steps of the shrine, while mothers with sick children stood in line, waiting to enter the infirmary.

As Fergus entered the central courtyard of the compound, a couple of the priests called out joyfully, “Fergus, how have you been? Come, join us at supper. We’re headed there now.”

Fergus smiled and waved. “Thank you, Father Oppido, Father Cregan. But I’m here to see Father Foley. Do you know where I could find him?”

“In the infirmary, last I saw.”

Fergus looked to the building and nodded. “Thank you, gentlemen, enjoy your supper.”

They waved again and continued on their way. Fergus had to admit, he was not looking forward to getting roped into another meal with Father Cregan. Last time, the man could not stop talking about The Battle of Haggish Forest and Fergus found himself stuck at the table for over an hour before Father Foley found them. He was finally able to rescue Fergus with the excuse of an unfinished errand the old priest needed him to complete.

Fergus entered the infirmary through a side door to avoid the craziness of the main clinic. He passed several empty surgical theaters and then took a back staircase up to the second floor. It was much quieter here, Fergus walked down a long hallway until he came to a large open bay. He looked in and saw his old friend and mentor tending to a patient on the far side of the room.

As Fergus made his way across the bay he looked around and noted that most of the beds in the ward were filled. Foley was sitting at the bedside of a tiny, ancient halfling. He was wringing out a cloth in a water basin and used it to wash the face of the tiny man.

“Good Evening, my boy,” Foley said without looking up.

“Father.” The two were quiet for a few seconds.

“So, I heard there was some excitement down at the harbor this afternoon. Some hooligans threw Ian Seversted’s son off the catwalk; dreadful stuff. Luckily, there was a net below to break his fall,” Foley said. He half turned toward Fergus, a smile on his face and continued, “That young man should learn to curb his gambling habits. But, did you really need to make such a show of it?”

“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” Fergus shrugged.

“I’m sure he wet himself.”

They both laughed. Foley stood and walked to Fergus. They wrapped each other a quick bear hug and Foley said, “It really is good to see you. Go grab a water basin and help an old man with his rounds.”

The two spent the next couple of hours caring for the patients in the bay. They cleaned them, administered medicine, and spoke reassuring words to them. Foley took the time, as he had for the last several years, to show Fergus the basic techniques used in caring for the sick and dying. He even had Fergus kneel at the bedside of one feverish patient and pray while Foley incanted, begging Neto to bring comfort to the sick woman. Within moments her face relaxed and her breathing return to normal.

By the time they finished it was late. They had missed supper completely.

“I’m sure the kitchen is closed up for the night,” Foley said, “but one of the brothers would have brought food to my cottage. Walk with me and we can share a meal there.”

As Abbot of the Southern Ward Sanctuary, Foley had a small, private residence tucked away in a quiet corner of the compound. As he and Fergus exited the infirmary and walked across the courtyard, Foley commented, “You’ve been quiet this evening, my boy; something on your mind?”

Fergus looked up at the night sky then glanced around the courtyard before speaking, “I guess I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about what I’m doing, where I’m going with my life. I mean, the Vory have been good to me. I started running tickets for their bookies right after my pa passed, they’ve always provided for me and my mum. But chasing down mushes that welch on their bets is not what I want to do for the rest of my life, especially now that my mum is gone. There has to be more to it all…”

Fergus trailed off, and lowered his head as if in thought. Foley waited because he sensed Fergus had more to say. They continued to walk in silence.

Finally, Fergus continued, “…and now there’s this girl.” He shook his head again. “Tolan, and Mikka, and the rest; we all know what we’re getting ourselves into. But I don’t want to pull someone else into that world. What happens if we cross the wrong guy, and we wind up bringing some other crew down on our heads? I don’t want someone else hurt because of my obligation to make sure some Authoritet gets his scratch. It wouldn’t be fair to them. But where does that leave me? Waiting to die, alone, just so some bookie gets his vig, and makes sure he saves face with his Pakhan? What about me, and what I want?”

His words had spilled out faster and faster as he spoke. Fergus couldn’t have stopped the flow even if he wanted to. But eventually he did stop, and took a couple of deep breaths. He looked to Foley, sheepishly.

The Abbot was walking along beside him, looking down. He had a sad, sympathetic smile on his face.

“My boy, you are still so young,” he began. “Firstly, I’m quite sure I am not the best-suited person to give advice about dating, or courting, or whatever it is your generation does these days. So, I will not tell you what you should or shouldn’t do about this young woman. Secondly, know that you are neither the first nor the last to feel the way you do. At some point we all ask, ‘Is this all life has to offer me?’ I cannot answer that question for you, either. But I do know you, Fergus. I’ve seen you grow from lanky teen to the kind, compassionate young man you are today. Despite any negative influence inflicted upon you because of your involvement with the Vory Brotherhood, you care about those around you, the people of The Vile; the wellness of others, fairness, and justice. You are brave, and loyal. You have a heart filled with passion, and a need to protect those that can’t protect themselves.”

The two were past the courtyard now, walking along a path through the gardens of Father Oppido. They were approaching Father Foley’s cottage on the far side, close to the southern city wall.

“Fergus, I see the potential in you. I agree with you; being an Enforcer in Bulgruf One-Eye’s bookmaking enterprise is not what I envisioned for you. I believe you have a greater calling.”

Foley paused thoughtfully before continuing, “Therefore, I’ve taken it upon myself to contact an old friend of mine, a colleague, to ask a favor. I’ve explained who you are, where you came from, and where I see you headed, given the proper direction. I’ve requested you be admitted to the Northpoint Military Academy of Might, to train to become a cleric of Neto. I’ve received word that my request has been granted. Your place in the convening class has been confirmed. Your classmates are assembling now. Indoctrination is to commence in ten days’ time.”

Fergus stood there, dumbfounded. “What… how…,” he stammered, “Why would you do that?”

“Fergus, is this what you want? I believe this could be the opportunity you so desperately seek,” Foley said hopefully.

“I… I don’t know. I mean, yeah; I think I may, but I’ve never truly thought about it until now. I realize it would be a tremendous opportunity. I just don’t know,” Fergus trailed off, speechless.

“Well, let’s get inside, get something to eat, and we can discuss it some more.”

With that, Foley smacked Fergus on the shoulder and the two stepped up to the small, two-story cottage that stood before them. They could already smell the roasted chicken, fresh bread, and aromatic vegetables that awaited them. Foley opened the door and they entered into the light within.

<4>

Fergus started awake. He was aware that he was still sitting in a chair near the fireplace in Foley’s small study. He hazily recalled eating dinner, then he and Foley retiring to this room to continue their discussion. Now, the fire had burned itself low, just crackling embers at this point. The room was painted red from its glow of the cinders, the walls alive with elongated shadows flickering to and fro.

But something told Fergus not to move. The house was completely quiet, except for the occasional pop from the fireplace. Yet he found himself straining hard to listen; his ears seemed to buzz from the effort.

His mind raced. “What was it that awoke me,” he thought, “I’m sure I heard something a moment ago.” But now the house was completely silent. He was about to dismiss it as something from a dream when he heard it again; a muffled cry, a grunt, and a thud.

Fergus’ mind screamed and he was up and running out of the study and through the house, yelling, “Foley, where are you?” Fergus bounded up the stairs two at a time and burst through Foley’s bedroom door, taking in the situation in one quick scan.

Foley was on the floor, fighting. A man was on top of him, straddling him, his hands locked around the hilt of a dagger. He was bearing down on the old priest with all his might as Foley strained against him, trying to keep the dagger from piercing his breast.

Fergus acted without thinking. He raced across the room and delivered a kick to the assailant’s side that sent him skidding across the floor. The man rolled, and was up in an instant. He had assumed a defensive crouch and kept his dagger held low in front of him.

Fergus instantly recognized the foe hunkered before him. The man’s skin was pitch-black but his short-cropped hair was white as snow. Intricate, iridescent tattoos covered the backs of his hands and poked up from under the scarf loosely wrapped around his neck. This drow elf was obviously a member of the Kyokuri-Kai; a Hitokiri, one of their assassins, most likely. But the question was what was he doing here?

“You were not supposed to be here tonight, Vory scum,” the drow spat, his hatred evident, “The coin has been paid for this one, the Tenets have been followed. Your allegiance prohibits you from interfering with this contract.”

Just then the sound of Foley coughing caught Fergus’ attention. He looked to the priest for a moment, but that was all the opening the assassin needed. He leapt across the space separating them. Fergus looked back just in time and reacted. He caught the drow by his forearms to stop the dagger from being driven into his neck. But the force of the collision caused Fergus to stumble backwards, still locked together with the assassin.

The two crashed into a dresser located against the wall next to Foley’s open bedroom door. The articles atop the dresser clattered to the floor as the two violently thrashed against the dresser; one trying to kill, the other trying to stay alive. A paraffin oil lamp sitting on the dresser toppled over, as well; smashing to the floor, its fuel spread quickly and ignited.

As the two continued to struggle, Fergus realized the room was brightening with a yellow, flickering light. He heard the crash of the lamp but now realized the oil had reached the long, heavy curtains covering the windows and the flame was beginning to dance up their lengths.

Fergus locked eyes with his foe as he fought desperately to keep the man’s dagger from finding purchase. Suddenly, Fergus and the drow flew sideways as Foley slammed into the two of them, sending them all sprawling to the ground.

Fergus looked up and saw the flames were now licking the ceiling and spreading across the room. Smoke was beginning to cloud the upper parts of the space. Having landed near the open doorway of the bedroom, he began to push himself up off the floor. He looked up and saw Foley and the assassin facing each other, crouched in combat stances, circling each other. The elf had his dagger and Foley carried a heavy wooden club with a leather tether dangling from the handle. The old priest had lost any semblance of frailty. Fergus gaped in awe at the righteous might this Warpriest of Neto presented.

Before Fergus could finish getting to his feet, the two combatants clashed. The drow came in low, but Foley sidestepped and used the butt-end of his club to smash down on the exposed shoulder of the elf. The assassin let out a grunt but kept his feet. Foley allowed his follow-through to pivot his body and he cocked his club for a backhand swipe at the drow’s head. He swung with all his might but at the last moment the elf ducked. Foley’s club swished through air where just a split-second earlier the assassin’s head had been. The momentum of his savage swing caused Foley to overextend; he was now exposed to the elf’s attack.

As Fergus realized what was about to happen he cried out, but was unable to move. The assassin, recognizing his opportunity, stepped inside Foley’s swing and brought his dagger up, slammed it into the priest just below the protective curve of his ribcage. He violently forced the blade in and up, ensuring himself of a killing blow.

Foley’s look of surprise turned to one of sorrow as he fell backward, the knife still protruding from his chest. Fergus caught the priest and cushioned his fall, kneeling over this man who had given him so much. As Foley landed, the club clattered to the floor at Fergus’ knee. They looked at each other for a moment, the pain and anger building within Fergus’ body.

The assassin looked around the room, now engulfed in flames, and realized his only means of escape was through the door and down the stairs. He raced for the opening, hoping to slip past the two, but at the last moment Fergus’ arm shot out and he sent a stiff-arm into the assassin’s thigh. This knocked him off-center and his hip smashed into the door frame as his momentum carried him forward. The drow bounced off the frame and flew into a small table pressed up against the wall in the hallway outside the bedroom. The elf went down hard and the air whooshed from his lungs. He clawed at the floor in an attempt to continue his getaway, but he could already hear the footsteps coming up behind him.

He rolled over, blood trickling into his eye from a cut on his forehead, and saw the Vory Bratva striding down the hallway, club in hand. The young man was silhouetted by the flames which continued to consume more and more of the house with each passing second. The assassin raised his arms to ward off the inevitable blow, but knew his fate was already sealed.


Fergus found himself on his hands and knees. He was coughing uncontrollably, his eyes filled with tears. The last thing he remembered he was waking up in Foley’s study, running upstairs to find Foley locked in a struggle with another man; an assassin. He ran in to help, they struggled, a lamp fell and caught the curtains on fire. Foley knocked them over, put himself between the assassin and Fergus, and then…

Fergus wanted to scream out, but was racked with another fit of coughing. He heard voices now, screaming. He looked up and, through the haze of his tears, saw people running toward him; yelling, waving. He realized he was outside of Foley’s cottage. How he got out, he could not remember. He searched his memory and remembered catching Foley and looking into his eyes. The old man had tried to say something but the roar of the fire was growing and Fergus had to lean in close to hear.

“My service ends now, my boy. But yours… yours is about to begin. You will make me proud, I know.” And with that he was gone.

In that moment the anger and the rage became too much for him to bear. Fergus looked down and saw the club, and heard the assassin attempting to drag himself away.

He looked at the old priest one last time. Then he picked up the club, and stalked out of the room. The drow heard him and turned over, resignation registering on his face. Fergus did not slow, he did not falter. He walked up, raised the club and brought it down with a sickening crunch. He continued to rain blow after blow until the smoke and the heat threatened to overcome him. When he could stand it no longer, he dropped the club and staggered down the stairs. By this point he had to raise his hands to protect his face from the flames and he was coughing from breathing in the noxious smoke.

All of this registered in Fergus’ mind in an instant, and the pain and sadness returned two-fold. But now there were people pulling him to his feet, asking what had happened, where was the Abbot?

He was unable to answer. All he could do was point at the burning cottage as he doubled over once again. The priests were running up now with buckets of water, trying to douse the flames. But it was a fruitless effort. The cottage, and everything in it was gone.

Fergus was finally able to stand upright and breathe deeply. As he looked across the gardens toward the front gate of the sanctuary he saw two figures running toward him. It was Mikka and Tolan.

As the two pulled up short in front of Fergus, he could see by the looks on their faces that something was wrong. Before they could ask what happened, Fergus said, “Father Foley was in there, and a Hitokiri sent by the Kyokuri-Kai. He killed Foley. He almost killed me.”

“Damn,” Mikka spat, “Fergus, I’m sorry.”

As Fergus was turning to look at Mikka, Tolan spoke, “Bulgruf’s not happy. In fact, I’d say he looked downright worried. He received word tonight from the Obshack that you were to be brought to the Pakhan. This must all be related, somehow.”

Tolan looked around, then pulled Fergus close. Mikka stepped in, too. Tolan continued, conspiratorially, “Bulgruf said to find ya’. I went to the Crow’s Nest and Mikka told me you were here. We were on our way when we saw the smoke and the light from the fire. Bulgruf told me it might be better if we didn’t find you; and by that I think he meant that we should get you somewhere safe, somewhere you can lay low. Maybe get you outta town, even. Is there someplace you can go?”

Fergus nodded. He realized now his path was clear. “Yeah, I have somewhere I can get to. But I don’t want to leave you guys. I want to figure out who did this. Someone paid to have Father Foley killed, the assassin said so, and I want to know who, and why.”

Both Tolan and Mikka shot Fergus looks of stunned surprise at that revelation.

“No, it’s not safe here, “Mikka interjected, “Get out of town. Don’t even go back to your place. Just go. When you get to where you’re safe, send word so me and Tolan know. We won’t tell anyone else.”

The three all looked at each other and nodded. As much as Fergus hated leaving his friends at a time like this, he knew staying was a death sentence. He looked back at the house, then at each of his friends. He clasped hands with them, and then he began to run.

<epilogue>

{From the private journal of Fergus Balad, newly appointed Adapt of Neto The Mighty, The Golden, The Bringer of Light}

I’ve received my first assignment. I’m not sure what to make of it, though. For my first tour, I thought I would be dispatched to one of the regiments on the border of Charn, to conduct endless patrols like Barnes, and Williscroft, and the rest of my class. Instead, after the graduation ceremony I was told to report to Priestess Martoth Ren, of the War Wolves.

This was unexpected. But I have spent the last 24 months training and preparing. She provided me with my indoc and mission brief. This shall be my first of (hopefully) many opportunities to demonstrate my faith to Neto, to the Fortress of Might, and to my brothers-in-arms.

I am to travel to Farrow, a town besieged by an unknown menace. Mayor Gerrard of Farrow described undead rising from the ground and threatening the town. I am to join up with three members of The War Wolves: Killian Sharpe, Germy Tanko, and Feend Gurz. They were sent ahead to investigate the disappearance of Glank Stonehand (another War Wolf) and discover the mystery of this Undead threat.

I am anxious for tomorrow, but tonight I think of my friends, Mikka and Tolan. I think of the Vory Brotherhood. I think of the priests at the Sanctuary. I think of Ankia. My memories of them have kept me strong these two years at the Academy. Thoughts of them kept me warm during my Winter Trials, and brought light to the darkness during The Nightfall Ordeal.

But mostly I think of Father Foley. I want to make him proud, I will make him proud! His sacrifice will not be in vain! I shall spread Neto’s glory far and wide. This is my first day in the service of my god.

And I pray for the day when I may return to Ravensport, back to The Vile, back to those who would harm the ones I love, so I may rain righteous fury down upon their heads.

By His Almighty Will!

Has a Sending Stone that paired with one held by Martoth Ren.

Fergus Balad

Eons of War Beaumont__Sebos