The Decision

Terra Immortalis Story 002

Dorimor stared out the window, lost in thought. He looked at the peace that reigned in the squalor of his city -- the peace during daylight hours at least. He was the leader of this community. He held the title of Baron, though in Riepirth that didn’t amount to much: enough of an income to keep himself in food through the year, and entertain any nobility that might happen to get stranded in the area, and the responsibility for several dozen villagers and farmers in addition to those hundreds huddled together in the town.

“How many were killed last night?” he asked the deputy at his side.

The Baron returned his attention to his office. It sat in the lone tower of the keep overlooking Ptolem, a small rural community in Riepirth. His town was as poor as any in the country, but he honestly strived to improve the quality of life for his townspeople. The fact that people were being killed was extremely distressing to him.

“Four, milord,” the deputy said. “Four were killed.”

Dorimor sighed wearily and sat in his oaken chair. The chair was the only luxury he afforded himself. He had heard of other Barons who used their people’s taxes to buy themselves riches, but he had not the conscience for it. His keep was minimally staffed, the walls bare though sound, and all his coffers were used for only the most essential necessities.

He dared not turn to the Carpathian moneybrokers for aid. Riepirth hadn’t fought for its independence only to buy back their servitude. The community could get by, the crops they harvested and the livestock they raised would eventually earn them enough to make them financially stable again.

If they lived that long.

The deputy continued, “There were reported sightings of Shadow Grifters, milord. Within the city walls. One of our guards was killed trying to defend a citizen.”

“Hitmur’s Whims,” Dorimor swore. They only had a garrison of six men to guard the town, and all of them were irreplaceable. But without the money to hire Seekers, there was little they could do. The only Seeker the town had been assigned, a kind man evidently at odds with his own order to have been assigned a town of such little consequence, had disappeared two nights past. Dorimor had appealed to the King, but help would not be soon in coming. Ptolem was not of strategic importance in the realm.

“The Peddler, he is still here?” Dorimor asked.

The deputy grimaced distastefully. “Aye, milord.”

The Baron paused, not wanting to speak these next words but not seeing any alternative. “Send him in.”

The deputy made as if he would object, but bowed to his lord’s wishes. He left the room.

The Peddler. A bitter taste came to the Baron’s mouth. The Peddler, as the man called himself, had arrived in Ptolem about three weeks after the creatures first started plaguing the town. During the night, Grifters and other creatures Tainted by the Corruption had appeared within the walls, killing and abducting citizens. The guards had been powerless to combat them. For every creature they managed to kill, two or three more would take their place. But this Peddler... he claimed to have the solution to their problems.

The mysterious man entered the room, trailed by the suspicious deputy. Truthfully, the man did little to inspire confidence. His complexion was deathly pale, his body cadaverously thin. His eyes had dark circles beneath them and they bulged with a sort of maniac gleam. The sunlight glared off of his bald head, but the rest of the light seemed absorbed by his dark, raggedy clothing. The sleeves hung in tatters down to his wrists, a threadbare cloak obscured the bags and pouches about his body. He leered at the two men in the room, chuckling to himself and breathing heavily.

Dorimor reacted with a start. He detected the Corruption oozing off of this man. Before having assumed the rank of Baron, Dorimor had given a try at becoming a Seeker. He left the guild at the death of his father, when he had to assume the role of leadership for Ptolem. But he had learned some of the basic Seeker Manipulations and senses.

“Milord,” the Peddler greeted, his voice a wheeze of breath that seemed to slide around the ears.

“You claim you can rid us of these creatures attacking our town,” Dorimor said. Is was not a question.

“Of course, milord. I will free you from your fears of the night.”

Dorimor sat silently, regarding the figure before him. His senses were telling him that he should not, could not trust this man.

“Are you a Seeker?” the Baron asked, knowing the man was not.

“No, milord, nothing so noble as that. But my talents lie along similar lines. I can guarantee you protection from these things.”

Dorimor nodded. He glanced at some of the items about the Peddler’s waist, causing the man to pull his cloak tighter about him.

“What would you charge for your... services?”

“Ah, milord,” the Peddler whispered, bowing humbly. “If I wanted riches, I certainly would not have come here.”

Dorimor smiled indulgently.

“I came here out of your need. My only wish is to save the lives of your people. I wish only the cost of putting modest food on my table, and a roof over my head, for the duration of my stay.”

“A modest price,” murmured the Baron.

“I am a modest man, milord.”

“How long would you expect your services to take, sir?”

The Peddler shrugged, a calculated smile on his lips. “I cannot say for certain, milord. Services of this nature can be somewhat... complex.”

Dorimor nodded and rose. “I see. My deputy will see you to our commons, where you can receive a meal. I will get back to you this evening with my decision.”

The Peddler bowed and followed the deputy out of the room. The deputy looked back at his lord, urging caution with his gaze.

The Baron settled back into his chair and turned his gaze once again out the window. The sun would set again, in a handful of hours. And with its setting, death would once again stalk his town. But could he trust this man, this Peddler? The object that had caught his gaze, the item at the Peddler’s waist had been a dagger. A simple dagger, but a blade Dorimor knew had belonged to the missing Seeker. What was the Peddler’s connection to the Seeker’s disappearance? Was he connected even to the appearance of the creatures?

He doubted he could trust the fellow, but as the sun continued its course to night, what choice did he really have?