Chapter 76: Kingdom 18
https://www.patreon.com/skullysln - Advance chapters and other material on Patreon
It, or he, was seven foot tall, nearly eight if you counted his horns. His horns were black, segmented and curled from two protrusions from the top of his skull. The devil had black hair and pointy ears, similar to an elf, but his were more elongated. His skin was pale red, and he wore tight-fitting black leather armour from his ankles to his neck.
His features were sharp, almost feminine, with his narrow face, high cheekbones, and dark colouring surrounding his eyes. He looked almost like an elf, except for his skin colouring, horns and his feet. He had hooves instead of feet, and his knees bent backwards instead of forwards.
A long rapier-like sword hung at his hip, and he held a spear in his hand. His fingers were extremely long and thin, which could be seen when he gripped his spear although hands were gloved in black leather. The only skin showing was one shoulder and upper chest, his neck, and face. His hooves were black and his ankles a much darker red than his pale red skin on his shoulder.
He walked confidently towards the Vanguard, smiling, spinning his spear playfully. Benzhi viewed him with qi sight. Unsurprisingly his core was impressive with its size and concentration, and his circulation was consummate.
He halted fifty paces from the Vanguard, they watched him warily and spread themselves apart with Benzhi on point, Gisael to his left, Reyas to his right. Anastasia behind, and retreating slowly, one step at a time.
“Greetings,” he said, “my name is Prince Glamour D’freet, of the house D’freet,” Glamour smiled widely, this time slightly less predatory,” but you can call me Glamour. I dislike all the formalities.”
The Vanguard stood transfixed, they were expecting a fight, not discourse.
“Forgive me,” Glamour continued, “there was supposed to be a Jin coming through the portal, I tried to stop it, but it would not obey, so I had to kill it.” He threw a large kernel onto the ground in front of Benzhi.
It rolled and stopped at his feet. As it stopped rolling the portal crumpled in on itself, as they all did when the third wave was defeated.
Benzhi found his voice, “Uh thanks…and ah, why?”
“I am not sure why,” Glamour answered, “normally Jinn will do as I ask or at least ask for payment. But this one was quite determined to fulfil its role, to come through the portal and fight you.”
Benzhi shook his head, Glamour misunderstood the question, “Excuse me, why did you want to meet us?”
“Oh, well, that portal,” Glamour pointed back towards the portal, “was set up by our sometimes allies, the Qizhu, and it was linked back to my lands. I think they asked my father, but no one told me anything. Anyway, I was watching you fight the hellhounds and the nightmares. I was very impressed, that ones so young and so few were so accomplished.”
“And then there was this dinner, at my father's castle, we had a Qizhu delegation visiting, and they described someone who hampered the Myrkalfar by helping bring down a Myrkalfar domain. They asked if anyone knew of the whereabouts of this half-elf, Benzhi and they described someone who looked like you.” He said pointing at Benzhi. “Also I did hear your name being called, so that did decide the matter. How many beings are there called Benzhi who look like you?”
“Well someone who looked like you before your hair was burnt off,” Glamour finished smiling, “so I decided to come and talk with you.”
Conflicting messages crowded the link, ‘he talks a lot..be wary!...he is very nice looking…do not trust it!’
“The portal has closed, do you have a way back home?” Benzhi asked.
Glamour shrugged, “it is not a problem.”
Benzhi decided on caution, “this kernel belongs to you, you killed the jinn, not us,” Benzhi picked up the kernel and threw it back to Glamour.
Glamour caught it with his free hand, “ah, but I denied you the honour, you had earned the right to fight it, and I am sure you would have been victorious,” he said with a smile and threw the kernel back to Benzhi.
Benzhi let it lie on the ground.
“What did you want to discuss?” Benzhi asked indicating they sit on the grass.
Benzhi took twenty paces forward and sat. His companions stayed in position and on alert.
Glamour walked forward twenty paces and sat across from Benzhi. He smiled disarmingly, he looked at the Vanguard members and shrugged, unconcerned.
“Let’s start by getting to know each other,” Glamour said.
‘Be careful,’ Gisael sent, ‘say little. Have him talk first. Watch for aura.’ She sent short, concise messages, just like her, they sounded like orders.
Benzhi smiled disarmingly as well, watching Glamour with qi sight, ensuring there was no aura. Just to be sure, Benzhi clothed himself in the aurashield that he had learned from the Myrkalfar warrior.
“I am uncertain,” Benzhi started, “could you go first and then I will tell you about the Vanguard.”
Glamour nodded, ‘of course, and I like the name you have for yourselves. The Vanguard. It has a ring to it.” Glamour was such a charmer, it was hard to believe he was a devil of some sort.
“My people are the Mogui, we live and rule many planes of existence. My father is but one of many Kings of the Mogui, and I am one of his many sons. I may be called a prince, but that is nothing special, my father has thirty-two sons just like me, “ Glamour started. “We are of the House D’freet, which is one of the more prominent houses, we do well with trade, and in the games, we have prevailed many times in the last hundred years. Our domains are strong, and while we do not lack enemies, none dare attack us directly.”
“Who are your enemies?” Benzhi asked.
Glamour looked thoughtful, “It is complicated, one day they could be an ally, the next they are ambivalent and then one day we are enemies. It can be a vicious cycle. Amongst the ones who can threaten us are the Celestial, the Myrkalfar, the Qizhu and of course others from our own people, rival Houses of the Mogui.”
“Are you not threatened by beings such as elves, dwarves and men?” Benzhi asked.
Glamour laughed and then looked at Benzhi, studying him, “the Myrkalfar and Celestial are elves, Benzhi. The dwarves? They tend to stick to their mountains, they do make good trading partners and crafters, but if you do not bother them, they do not bother you. And men, they do not tend to be talented in large numbers. There are some wanderers, rogues and minor talents. On the whole, men are mundane. There are many beasts and other races, too many to list. The three I have mentioned are the races with the most talented and skilled qi masters.”
It was Benzhi’s turn to share, “as you know I am Benzhi, and we four make up the Vanguard. We are clearing a path from Vaugend, a city to the north, to Loctris a kingdom to the south. We have traded with Dwarves, purchasing these qi weapons, they live in the mountains to the north. We have no masters or land, the dwarves have paid us to forge this trade route. We are almost like those rogues you mentioned.”
“Originally I am from a place called Earth, which is a place of men and so is my disciple Anastasia. There is a group called the Qi Worlds Project or QWP, which we were former members of. They, like the Qizhu and the Myrkalfar hunt for us. Of those three, I believe the Qizhu wish us no harm, but we are unsure of their interest.”
Glamour nodded, smiling, “interesting, interesting. I will not let anyone know I have seen you Benzhi, rest assured. Do you want me to try and find out why the Qizhu search for you?”
“Ah, sure, why would you do that…and how would you contact us once you did?” Benzhi asked.
“Oh, never fear,” Glamour said, “I will help you with a small favour, then you could help me with one in return. This is how we become allies. And an ally is what I would like you to be. You never know, one day you could fight for us in the great games, as our exotic entrant. Or, you just offer us a trade deal, ahead of others. Who knows.” Glamour smiled and nodded while talking.
“Let us form a bond so I can send you a message, and you can send one to me,” Glamour smiled and nodded.
‘Do not trust him!’ Gisael warned.
“I am unsure what you mean, form a bond?” Benzhi asked.
“It is when we exchange a small amount of qi, then I will be able to send you a qi message, across the planes and it will find you,” Glamour demonstrated. He created a bubble exactly the same way Kebo showed Benzhi. But the pattern was his signature, this bubble would find its way to Glamour.
Benzhi did the same, floating a bubble across to Glamour, he could not see how this was risky, and he was ready for any repercussions.
“Very good,” Glamour said and sighed. “Now the portal is closed I will not be able to watch you anymore. But I must be getting back. Good luck with the rest of your clearing of the trade route.”
With that Glamour stood and performed a fancy bow. He opened a portal and strode through.
“Well, that was..” Benzhi said to his companions, “unexpected.”
Anastasia nodded, eyes wide with wonder, “was that supposed to be a devil?”
“I think so, but, he was certainly different than our lore, no tail for a start. Certainly silver-tongued though,” Benzhi summarised.
“You did well,” Gisael said, “not telling about the Alpine Forest, the Mogui will sell you for any gain. They have no loyalty.”
“I had to say something though,” Benzhi replied, “he has been watching us for the last couple of days and apparently could hear us through the open portal. We had to have a reason for being here and trading with dwarves was the best I could think of on short notice.”
Reyas smiled, patting him on the back, “you lie very well. Makes me wonder….” She laughed at her own joke. There was no lying through the link they shared day and night.
The support party had their work cut out for them. There were almost a thousand hellhounds and over a hundred nightmares to harvest and skin. The Vanguard had cleared all the way to the mountain pass, and they would move the camp to its base.
“Fond memories,” Reyas announced as they ran, “I remember when you ran up the cliff face with the yetis following. It was hilarious, them all falling to their deaths.”
“I recall it being a close thing,” Benzhi said, “you could not tree-run at the time.”
“Oh, don’t remind me, I hated being left behind all the time. No longer! I have mastered the wood elf art of tree-running.”
Gisael laughed at that, “mastered,” she chortled, disdaining Reyas actual ability.
She received a mock glare from Reyas, and they both laughed. It was a nice change from being burnt to a crisp by nightmares, and the much anticipated third wave was taken care of by an outsider.
As they approached the base of the mountain, they saw something strange, there were tents and wagons strewn about.
“What is this?” Anastasia asked.
“I don’t know,” Benzhi answered, “let's find out.”
The support crew would follow in the afternoon, at the moment it was just the Vanguard running into the mysterious grouping of tents.
“Hello,” Benzhi called.
There was movement, a warrior come out, brandishing a spear and wearing a red cloak.
“Who goes there?” the warrior demanded.
Benzhi laughed at him. Ignoring the warrior he turned to his companions, “it’s the red cloaks from Vaugend!”
“Is your master here?” Benzhi asked, “let him know it is Benzhi from the Alpine Forest.”
The warrior looked worried and confused, finally, a glimmer of hope crossed his features, and he ran to another larger tent in the centre of the camp.
After a commotion inside the tent, Master Gilford, the noble who ruled the red cloaks exited the tent.
“I’ll be…,” he said amazed.
Benzhi walked up to him, looking around at the camp which was in disarray. “I take it your exodus has not gone to plan. Shouldn’t you be in Loctris by now?” He asked.
Gilford looked solemn, he answered sadly, “we could not make the pass. The beasts are too numerous and the pass too narrow.”
“How did you get this far?” Benzhi asked.
“We were able to skirt wide of the beasts, we did lose a lot of people making it this far,” Gilford’s eyes were sunken, he looked like he had been to hell and back. His people had been stranded here for over a month. Not wanting to go back and unable to go forward.
“Why did you not go around, to the west?” Benzhi asked, the pass was the shortest way to Loctris, but not the only way.
Gilford shook his head, “Danzig and his green cloaks did go that way, they perished before making it past the next portal.”
“How do you know? Did you trail them?” Benzhi asked.
Gilford nodded shamefully, “we sent scouts to follow, one returned with the news. How did you get here?”
“We have been clearing the way from the Alpine Forest, we want to set up a trade route to Loctris,” Benzhi stated.
The red cloaks and servants who had started to gather, listening to the conversation gasped.
“You….you killed all the portal spawn?” Master Gilford asked.
“Yes, it is a damn pain. You have to kill three waves of spawn in order to close a portal. Some of them are quite nasty,” Benzhi answered.
A woman, from Gilford’s house, fainted.
“That is unbelievable,” Master Gilford said, “but it is you, so I do believe.”
“Is the way clear back to Vaugend?” another member of Gilford’s retinue asked.
“It is, but there is nothing left in Vaugend,” Benzhi stated, “I will insist that you and your people continue to Loctris, Master Gilford.”
“But…” he began.
Benzhi waved his hand, “do not worry, you can follow in our wake. We will clear the path.”
“Thank you, thank you,” Master Gilford dropped to his knees, he was long past his endurance, “how can we ever repay you.”
Benzhi smiled, “Well I did say we wanted to start trading with Loctris, you can assist with this.”
Master Gilford nodded, life coming back to his eyes, “this is easy to do. You will need an agent, a good one, they make all the difference.”
“Can you not be our agent?” Benzhi asked.
“I cannot, the agent needs to be recognised by the Merchants Guild and the Crown. I will help you find one that will do you right,” Gilford stated.
Benzhi nodded, “we will set camp here, our support party will be along this afternoon. Until then we will head into the mountain pass and begin clearing. I expect when our support party arrives you make them feel welcome, assign them a tent and one for us next to them.”
“How many in your support party?” Gilford asked.
“Four,” Benzhi answered.
Master Gilford looked perplexed, “how…oh nevermind. We will do as you ask lord Benzhi.”
Benzhi waved his hand, “just Benzhi, Master Gilford, just Benzhi.”
Master Gilford shook his head. “You will need to insist on a title in Loctris, they will want to deal with the leader of the Alpine Forest.”
“In this, I will take your advice,” Benzhi said, “but until then, just Benzhi.”
With a wave, the Vanguard raced up the pass and began to decimate yetis.