Oathbreaker (short story)
Through closed eyes, Yardie squirmed. His face twitched from an assault of moisture across his flaring nose and dry lips.
“No...stop wetting me,” he murmured in his sleep through his clenched jaw. “Not...soggy rogue.”
When the lapping continued, Yardie’s eyes slid open and formed small slits. His brow wrinkled from the thumping in his skull, blurring the face before him. A clumsy sweep of his arm clattered against another empty bottle, rousing him from his drunken slumber. The combination of bodily aches, nauseous stomach, and fuzzy vision introduced him to a hangover that had waited for him with open arms. He imagined a serrated dagger stabbing the top of his head, sawing his brains with each movement. A ghastly moan rumbled from his throat. With an outstretched hand, Yardie reached for the source of the stickiness brushing against his cheeks. He found the samoyed, Iskandr’s companion, sitting inches from his face.
Yardie chuckled, and the sudden jerk of his body rattled his brain, forcing him to wince. “Okay, Floof. Okay, I’m awake.” He sat up, the world swirling as he did so. Despite his post-inebriated state, the Faendryl rogue recalled the events that led him to his fight with the bottle.
Yardie told Iskandr and Draelor, his ranger friends, everything. Draelor’s expression gave away to nothing; he probably saw it as elves being elves. The concern was always with Iskandr. As a former Squire Legionnaire, he had a responsibility to inform the Legion of any possible threats. As common as these daemon incidents occurred among the Faendryl, it did take the lives of natives from the walls and, thus, Iskandr had an obligation to report those findings. If he did so, Yardie faced Vaalor justice. Through a flared nose, Yardie exhaled, and he ran a hand against the animal’s soft fur. If the samoyed was here, then so was Iskandr. The rogue took that as a good sign.
Yardie stumbled to his feet and then took a seat on a stool. It wobbled, but Yardie used his aching core to balance himself without falling. He hooked his feet against the stool’s legs for stability, his eyes observing the cold, empty room. The circular dartboard hung on the wall captured his focus, its orderly array of numbers, triangular patterns, tiny rectangles, and swirling combination of red, white, black, and green pulled his attention.
Killer darts, a game often played by the Faendryl Enclave, came to mind. Its objective consisted of individuals being assigned a random number by throwing a dart at the board, then hitting their own number to become a killer, and subsequently eliminating the competition before another competitor did the same thing. Yes, the game required skill, but there lay a deep, intricate strategy of knowing who to strike when your turn arrived, and attacking before someone perceived you as an equal threat. Instinctively, Yardie reached for his darts, his fingers pinching against the dart’s neck. Lost in thought, he spliced together his worrisome predicament of exposure with the Faendryl game that slowly morphed into a bit of an obsession.
“Okay,” he mused, cracking his knuckles. “I’ll play.”
Days later, Yardie sat on that same stool in House Paupers, the same darts in his hand. This time, Iskandr and Draelor flanked him on either side, their companions sitting obediently at their feet. The two eyed their Faendryl friend, their silence magnified by a lack of follow-up to Yardie’s confession that occurred almost a week prior.
Placing the darts on the counter, Yardie steepled his fingers and began. “As I consider you both my brothers, it is my hope that, despite the information you learned from me, you will consider me in the same regard. If there is any personal issue with my crimes and you wish to-ah-turn me in, please extend me the courtesy of telling me now. In addition, I need assurances that you’ll either help me or leave me to my work undisturbed.”
Yardie studied Draelor’s face. As usual, his visage was one of indifference. Without criticism, without condemnation. The Aelotoi nodded. “As long as we’re not joining a cult, I’m in.”
Yardie smirked, then turned his attention to Iskandr, the creases on his face smoothing into a more serious look. “This puts you in quite a situation, Iskandr,” Yardie said sincerely, “If you abstain or oppose, I understand.”
Iskandr strummed his fingers on the strings of his biwa. The melodic sound hung in the air, as did the anticipation of Iskandr Tamarack’s answer. “I doubt the Legion would approve of my involvement with a wanted individual, a Dark Elf at that, but helping you may kill several birds with one stone. I’m in.”
“I thank you.” Taking in a long pull from his cherry-fragrant cigar, he let the soothing smoke fill his lungs and rush tobacco through his bloodstream with the rich sensation of tranquility. Satisfied, he blew a stream of smoke from puckered lips before he expelled the rest through his nose. “As you two know, I joined the Faendryl Enclave.” Placing a finger to his lips, Yardie reconsidered his phrasing. “Rather, I would say they accepted me as one of their own, without judgment or criticism.” Yardie swallowed, pursing his quivering lips. The weight of the gesture crashed upon him, and he felt emotions flood him. “It’s something I’ve yearned for since New Ta’Faendryl. Acceptance. To matter. To be considered brethren by my own kind. It’s a title that I hold with great value and responsibility.” Taking another pull from his cigar, he tapped a clump of ash onto the ground. “What I set to accomplish violates laws and values held by the group and Faendryl law as a whole. If I am caught, I will have broken the oath that I took with the Enclave. I fear the consequences to come will be most severe. Of course, if my pursuers inform the Enclave of my past involvement and the extent of said conspiracy while the other unknown faces continue to hide, I will suffer those same consequences and perhaps worse. They may communicate these crimes to New Ta’Faendryl. There are already several Palestra and some future Palestra prospects that would use my apprehension to expedite their Palestra trial date, and I dare not imagine what fate awaits me if discovered. Therefore, I have no choice but to destroy whatever power they have by reaching them before they reach me. Exposing them and, if needed, eliminating them before this house of cards comes tumbling down. Understand, you two. We operate without suspicion. Consider this a glimpse as to how certain Faendryl conduct business without detection. I hope you can keep up.”
Yardie pointed at the dartboard with his chin.
“It’s a dartboard,” Iskandr said.
“Killer Darts,” Yardie answered.
Iskandr shook his head, his annoyance on full display. “You’re taking your last loss way too seriously.”
“You understand the premise, yes?” Yardie asked, ignoring Iskandr’s joke. “Each person throws a dart at the board, claiming a number. I’ve already done number roles for everyone. Then, when the game commences, the objective is to hit a double or triple of your number on your turn, thus making you a “killer.” Once you become a ‘killer,’ you eliminate your opponents by hitting a double or triple of their number. In turn, they will do the same and try to ‘kill’ you. The last one remaining wins.”
Draelor shook his head, his wings fanning behind him. “Elves. You take a simple game of darts and turn it into killing sport.”
Yardie removed a parchment from his cloak and held it out for the two to see. Draelor’s mountain wolf canted its head to the side as the samoyed scratched its back with its hind legs. On the parchment was a list of four names scribbled in black ink. “I am number one. The three names, Wrendiel, Yerlande, and Firdwin are three, eleven, and fourteen respectively.”
Draelor tapped a finger to his lips. “You could simply just tell us the targets and we move accordingly. It’s just as effective, if not clearer.”
Yardie snorted. “I was feeling dramatic. I suppose being a part of the Enclave made so deep of an impression that I needed to use the dart game as an extended metaphor.”
“Do you think those among the Spire suspect anything?”
Yardie frowned. He removed his asymmetrical hat and placed it on the counter. His blue-black, white-streaked hair draped shabbily to his shoulders. “I fear they suspect more than they let on. He began ticking off individuals with his fingers. “Ma…” he coughed into his hand, correcting the terrible habit adopted by his tenure with Niadriel and her unit. “Ysharra, off our few conversations, is quite observant; perhaps it’s a ranger trait to see through what is hidden.” Upon thinking of the second individual, Yardie shivered. “The elder one, Giliad, caught me by surprise. He said something about my nervous mein being a means to conceal the dangers I pose. Never has someone read through me so simply through a few minutes of observation.” Sucking his teeth, he nervously gripped his palms together in a grappler’s grip. “And then, there’s Zolis.”
“Why him?” Iskandr asked. “He seems indifferent to just about everything, as least from my observations.”
Yardie flicked a spark of ash from his cigar in the air and glanced at Iskandr with confusion. “Do you not recall that night with Edanthiel? Moonshine Manor? Zolis mentioned affiliations with the Armata. That group resolves troubles dangerously akin to my own and can easily alert the Palestra or resolve matters themselves.” From the very few encounters with Zolis, it was quite clear that the warlord was a force to be reckoned with, a juggernaut of an elf with a lighthearted demeanor that concealed something far more menacing. “The other day, he arrived at Town Square while dragging two dead bodies. When I asked if he was responsible for their demise, he smiled.”
“Sounds like a joke to me,” Draelor commented.
Yardie dismissively waved away the comment. “I’d rather not find out.”
Iskandr tuned his biwa, the dulcet tones rising above them. “What about your lady friends?”
Yardie coughed. “What of them?”
“What about your lady friends?” Iskandr repeated, his right hand now reaching for his own smoke. He gave a smug grin, one he often shared amongst peers. “What about the lady who hates me?”
“Marijka,” Yardie answered immediately. He considered the possibility of what she could bring, her skillset. “No. Out of the question. Not that she wouldn’t be quite the aid. In fact, she probably would. But I need for this to operate with a more delicate touch. I need to be in control of what I’m doing.”
“What about your lady,” Draelor inquired.
“Meliyara.” Yardie sighed wistfully, thinking of her auburn hair, her sapphire blue eyes. He closed his eyes and let out a content sigh. “She’s great.”
“No, Yardie,” Draelor said, raising his voice and snapping Yardie out of his daydreaming spell. “You two are together quite often. Chances are this crusade will occupy your attention. She is going to notice.” Draelor eyed Yardie dubiously. “What are you going to tell her?”
Yardie stared at Draelor, his eyes fluttering in disbelief. Squinting at the Aelotoi, his brow scrunched into several folds on his forehead. “What am I going to tell her?” he scoffed, a panicked laugh escaping his throat. “What am I going to tell her? She’s not going to know, that’s what I’m going to tell her!”
“You better be ready for a credible alibi,” Iskandr chimed. “She won’t take kindly to her exclusion.”
“She knows I have my own affairs,” Yardie insisted, putting the cigar back in his mouth. True, Meliyara wielded formidable power. But if she sustained injury or worse, it would be his fault. After losing his last family member, Yardie refused to take that risk. “I’m trusting my instincts here. If I’m to be with her in the way I hope, then I need to do this my way. I won’t be able to move forward if I’m constantly looking over my shoulder.” He snuffed out his cigar, then placed it on the table, and retrieved one of his darts. “I have to confront this with my own methods. I can’t risk involving her in this mess.”
Draelor shook his head, disapproving. Yardie could already picture the scrutiny to come from his paramour, the humiliation at Town Square in Wehnimer’s Landing, and the thousand apologies to follow. “Yardie, she’s going to find out.”
“That’s possible,” Yardie agreed.
“She’s going to get mad.”
“That’s definite,” Yardie agreed once again. With his right hand, he threw a dart at the board. It sailed wide, clattering to the ground.
“Woof!” The samoyed wagged its tail.
“The first step is to get the edge, and take control of the situation.” Yardie readied another dart and, with careful aim, flicked his wrist. The dart landed on a double one, making Yardie a ‘killer.’ “That way, we can proceed.”
“You know, you’re talking to the dog,” Iskandr commented.
Yardie disregarded Iskandr’s quip. “And the second is to lure the target out. And with Caligos Isle open to the public, I have the best means to dangle the carrot. It’s bait. Someone is bound to make themselves seen.” Yardie took the last dart and exhaled, then flicked it at the board. He was aiming for the double fourteen. Instead he hit the smallest row to the bottom left of his intended target: double 11. “Yerlande.” He walked to the board and collected his darts. His mind darted to one of the hooded figures that loomed over him on that day of discovery, a faceless entity staring upon him with disgust. “I became well versed with how she operates.” Scratching his own head pensively, Yardie’s eyes swept between Iskandr and Draelor. “I’ll give you descriptions, her field of study, her tendencies. Her mannerisms. Everything.”
“I hope you’re ready,” Iskandr commented.
Yardie nodded. “For once, I actually am. I’ll fill you in on the rest once I scout ahead.”
Iskandr studied the face of his younger Faendryl friend. “Are you scared?”
Yardie’s face blanched. “I’m terrified.”
Draelor let out a loud whistle as he stared at the board and the list. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but the game consists of multiple players. That means the others are out to get you. They also get a crack at your head.”
Draelor added, “Then, that would mean that after your move, it’s their turn to become a killer, and eliminate you.”
Yardie’s mouth trembled, but his violet eyes shone with a newfound vigor. “Well, then they’d best not miss.”