Into Odie's Palace

Part 1 - A Better Plan

Eternity, endless plummeting, and then light and pain. Having located the shaft back to Wysoom I leapt in without a thought. Now I knew why few people went to Crypt in the first place, for leaving the planet was much worse than actually living there.
I hit the stone floor of the Adventurer's Guild of Sauronan face-first, winding myself and adding to an already considerable streak of misery barely a day long.
Groaning, I pushed myself up onto my knees and no longer felt the reassuring weight of my swords in my hands nor my equipment pack on my shoulder. I glanced up at the ceiling, but no trace of the other end of the shaft from Crypt or my errant blades was to found.
"I berieve I had some weapons?" I mumbled aloud. No sooner had the words left my mouth, my two long swords appeared out of nowhere and landed, point-first, into the ground where no fewer than seven seconds ago I had been lying prone. Following was the remainder of my equipment including a sentinel-issue crossbow and bardiche, which I never used, and a battering ram that had been of some use. "Thank you." I growled as I stood, making no effort to straighten my long, baggy, sentinel's coat.
The idea of taking pride in my appearance was an alien one to me, having spent most of my life living as a slave. When I stumbled across the sentinel guild more by chance than judgement, I had been issued a uniform and some basic equipment with no instruction on dress code or the like. So basically I rolled out of bed every morning, threw on my clothes and walked out of the bunkroom of the Adventurer's Guild that I had the fortune of spending the night in without even casting a glance towards the mirror in the corner.
The badge, however was different. It was a symbol, proof that I was what I was and nothing else. Anyone could don a green coat similar to mine, and no one would spare them a second look. Circlets similar to those worn by sentinels were dozen a piece all over the universe. The badge was unique, no other type of people wore them but sentinels, though those who wore forgeries did so with impunity and, it must be said, briefly. To wear the badge was to be a sentinel; and the badge I wore, always straight, always shining, was proof that I was no longer a slave child with dubious ancestry.
But all this was put aside as I quietly growled at the planet I had left behind some twenty-eight seconds ago.
I gripped the hilts of my swords and pulled them free. By more luck than anything they had stuck between the flagstones rather than dulling their points on the stones themselves. I waved the swords above my head in defiance. My journey to Crypt had been an explorative one, to check up on the sentinel station in Utopia. While there, I took on a seemingly minor duty.
"Damn kobords!" I yelled in defiance. "Damn gnomes! Damn swords and damn rocked doors!" I sheathed my swords and gathered the remainder of my gear, stopping only to munch on the unsatisfying cookie that somehow was either replaced or renewed possibly by the maids in the Adventurer's Guild every morning. As I brushed the final crumbs from my whiskers my voice descended into a growl that was natural to those of lupin races. "Damn Crypt... Damn it to purgatory."
I was about no fewer than ten paces away from the teleportation room in the guild that would have sent me back to the sentinel guild, but I walked the distance along the Path of the Sun Dragon, idly slashing at lamp posts and imagining them to be fat kobold heads.
I picked through the case notes, one by one. There were a million-and-one things a young sentinel could do, most of them involving serious risk to one's life and the remainder often involving certain death. The cases seemed to be piling up, which either meant that sentinels weren't accepting them or the workload was increasing.
Leaning against the Pillar of Law, surrounded by yellowing scraps of paper, I read my fifteenth or sixteenth case
"Fires at..." I shuddered, reading no further and slipping the sheet back into a leather folder. As I had learned during my first firefight, flames and fur simply did not mix especially when one had a trailing extremity. I whimpered and automatically brushed the tips of my fingers against the patch of fur that wasn't the same length as the rest on my tail. Next case.
And again I discarded the case in disgust. Sosel was not my type of planet, especially when it came to leaving there. If Crypt's shafts were the pits, then Sosel's pods were worse, only opening during daylight harsh enough to blind me and I still hadn't managed to get the smell of the disgusting goop within the pod out of my fur. Pass.
The next case was more promising; Seaspray, an island village, had been overrun. Sentinel priority had been given to the rescue the civilians, though the deaths of the invaders would be a welcome solution. Despite my training under Aldar, I wasn't much of a fighter but I could still do some good. I almost folded up the case note and slipped it into my pack when I noticed the crude map scrawled at the bottom giving Seaspray's approximate location, some several miles out in the open ocean, and I'm a worse swimmer than I am a fighter. Needy or not, I could do those people no good as a bloated corpse on the seabed.
Continuing on, "Gnome..." Damn gnomes to hell. Next, "Wemic Shaman..."
Wait, aren't the Wemic a tribe of catpersons? I'd rather not find out.
The next sheet was a fairly new one: Slaves, Raji, Suthnas... I read on, noticing a name obscured in the scrawl.
"King Odie..." I mumbled to myself. "Odie... Jinn." I remembered something about a Jinn Odie, long ago. Aldar had sold him some slaves.
I grinned to myself. So now Odie was in the slaving business for himself now, and declared himself sultan of Suthnas at least. Well that was interesting. I read on, initial reports had been grim, with Odie's guards attacking anyone on sight, but rumours had filtered out of his palace indicating that Odie was willing to talk to anyone daring or just plain stupid enough to meet him in person.
I folded the paper and slipped it into a pocket before gathering my stuff. I would go to Raji, to Suthnas, and to Odie's palace. I would speak to Odie, ask him a few questions, and if some of his, how Aldar the slaver would say, property got mislaid then all the better.
I tightened the straps holding my swords and to my back and checked the notices for the ship schedules out from Wysoom. Yes, Raji seemed to be a nice change of pace.
It had to be better than setting my tail alight again.

Part 2 - The Sights of Suthnas

I pulled myself up onto the lakeside, managing to force myself onto my knees as I coughed up several litres of water. I am vulpin. I do not swim.
I let the sun dry me off as I checked my equipment, grumbling to myself as I did so. Crypt had its shafts, Sosel had its pods, and Wysoom had its ancient archways with the automatically operated ships that dumped you knee-high to a titan in water. Great, if you could swim; but not if you were hydrophobic.
At least I hadn't been parted from my gear this time; lance, bardiche, crossbow, bolts, battering ram, a pair of long swords and a whip. There was also what appeared to be the soggy remains of a raisin cookie, which I discarded while wondering when during my five-minute catnap someone had snuck it into my pack.
I checked my pockets and purse; some money and a few trinkets and gems that I had gathered a while ago but forgot to sell. In one pocket was a set of small telling stones which a crazy lady had forced into my palm outside Sun Gate. Nearly everyone knew how to use this common method of divination, few actually believed in the tellings, I for one had a different philosophy regarding such things; they simply couldn't tell me anything I didn't already know.
Only in my pocket were three stones, the set should have included four. The one stone that was instrumental in divining the best possible outcomes must have slipped out of my pocket during the trip to the archway, or more likely was wallowing at the bottom of Suthnas lake. Still, the three stones would be sufficient, so I rattled them in my hand and cast them down like die.
"'You are having a really bad day'." I mumbled in the much more familiar lupin tongue. I stood up, straightened myself, and looked up at the low clouds in the sky. "It's not as if I needed fortune stones to know that..."
Odie's palace was between here and Suthnas city, but I would head there first. Soaking, despondent, and weary, the last thing I needed was to just blunder into Odie's palace and have my head lopped off. Leaving the stones to blend in with the others on the pebbly lakeside, still dripping from my forceful eviction into Suthnas lake, I trudged off for Suthnas city.

I warily eyed the catfolk bartender in the Ugly Troll Pub. Part of me, a deep and internal racial impulse, wanted to dive across the bar with my blades in my paws and cut the feline fellow down on the spot, a violent and bloody meeting to the backdrop of pure alcoholic apocalypse. Instead, I grudgingly ordered another beer.
The bartender grudgingly filled a tanker with the worst of his cheap beer and passed it towards, doing his damndest to spill as much of it as possible. As he kept the change, I sipped the weak beer, happy at least that the bartender's vehemence actually served my purposes well. At least now I could leave this place and head towards Odie's with a fairly clear head.
The barman moved along the bar, treating the other customers with a little more respect and striking up several conversations. So what do you do? Having a good time? A biomancer, eh? Could've done with one of you folk during my adventuring days. Leg's been giving me gip where that werewolf cut it.
I briefly wondered if the contempt I somehow deserved was due to me being a sentinel or vulpin. I didn't really care.
About halfway down my pint, I became aware of an unusual phenomenon. Either a highly localised solar eclipse had settled over the pub or... I cast a sideways glance.
Yes, a particularly large human fellow had entered the bar, blocking out the light. Dressed in furred clothing, wielding an axe, I accurately pegged the human as a Jomsviking.
He sat next to me, the bar stool creaking beneath the bulk of him and his equipment. We made a frankly ridiculous pairing, me a four-foot tall vulpin and he a seven-foot tall human wearing more than my bodyweight in furred pelts. I felt his eyes settle on my tail, as if he was wondering where best to wear it on his costume.
I took a long pull from my drink, wishing for the first time that it was a stronger brew. The catfolk bartender slid up the bar against his own personal desires and timidly asked the Jomsviking what he would like to order.
The human set the catfolk in another year-long fashion designer's stare before finally asking for "whatever fluffy next to me is drinking."
Inwardly, I grinned. Would the barman proffer the weak ale he had been serving me, or would he do the sensible thing and give him something stronger.
He did so, finely pouring out a pint mug of their best ale. Stuff so strong as to strip the bark off a treant. The Jomsviking grinned, lifted the mug, and downed the pint on one pull before ordering another.
The Ugly Troll was a pub where you paid for your drink or meal in advance, reason being that you may not want to pay for it afterwards, but the barman wasn't taking any money from the Jomsviking. Instead, he kept supplying the human with beer until the Jomsviking's unearthly strong constitution began to wane. Eight pints later, and I was still on my second of weak beer, another eight and the human began to slump against the bar.
"So what brrrrings you Rrrraji?" the nervous bartender eventually asked of the Jomsviking.
"Gunna... Kill... Odie... An'..." The Jomsviking never finished his sentence. He didn't need to.
Quickly, I downed the rest of my pint and stood with my weapons clattering as they settled. Had anybody been heading to Odie's palace, then I would have accompanied them. The Jomsviking and I had incompatible goals though, I wanted to free the slaves and meet with the master of the castle and he wanted to kill everything. This I could not have.
I almost made it to the door when the Jomsviking called out to me; "Where y'goin'?"
I half-turned, not entirely sure what my answer would be, but the Jomsviking was already asleep on the bar, having consumed enough alcohol that would have killed a less able person.
Muttering to myself, I stepped out into the street and broke into a sprint towards the east gate. I didn't know for how long the human would sleep, but with my luck being as it is it wouldn't be so long as for me to complete my task.

Part 3 - The Theft of Property

The doors to Odie's palace swung open magically to accommodate my charge. How polite, given that I was rushing across the stone bridge that led to Odie's island with my swords drawn I had expected to be boiled alive courtesy of the guards up in the murder holes above the door.
Through the hallways, past numerous trophies. I spared one sidewards glance at them before rigidly snapping my head forward. No, keep going, really. You don't want to know what I saw.
Through halls and doors, and it became clear that from the sounds of distant training drills Odie maintained a private army on premises. Well, that hadn't been mentioned on the case slip; if most of me got back to Wysoom then I'd plead with the sentinel elders to better pay the informers that gleaned the information for the sheets as encouragement to not miss tiny little insignificant points such as, oh, a crack team of trained warriors being housed on the mainway through the location. Every little helps.
Past luscious furniture and hanging portraits, each detailing a segment of Odie's fabricated and glorious history. Oh, he was going to pay for that, at least he would do if there were any historical accuracies laws.
Beyond doors and rugs, right into the chest of a butler jinn.
Oh hell.
Exactly the last person I wanted to see. I gripped my swords tightly and backed away from the impassive-looking jinn, floating a foot above the ground. Yep, no better way to screw up an infiltration mission than to slam nose to breast with the butler, who was undoubtedly preparing to call for the guards.
"Welcome to sultan Odie's palace!" The jinn boomed, each word cutting through the tension like a red-hot fellblade. "How may I help you?"
I blinked slowly once or twice, but that did not change what was plainly there in front of my muzzle. A jinn in a smart butler's uniform, stand- Floating a few feet ahead, grinning as if a Suthnian village had lost its idiot.
What the hell, I've got nothing else to lose. "Where are the sraves?" I demanded. "Where's Odie?"
The butler grinned and pointed towards a door. "The slaves are being held down there, and Odie is currently in his dungeon throneroom beyond the dining hall. May I aid sir in any other way?"
"No." I replied, frankly bewildered. "Thanks."
"My will is to serve." The butler beamed. "Enjoy your stay at the palace."

I slammed the door shut behind me and slammed the deadbolts into place. Something thumped against the heavy wood.
"Brast!" I yelled to the occupants of the room as the pounding continued. I glanced along the side wall and confirmed my suspicions that there was another way out of the room. The wings of Odie's palace were essentially circular in nature, so if I was willing to take the long way out, I could leave.
My first thought was that the combat trainees of Odie's personal army weren't concerned with actual pursuit. Instead, they preferred to lop the heads off anyone that chose to pass through their rooms.
My second thought was that, considering this room was used to house slaves, why in hell were there deadbolts on this side of the door?
My third thought was that I actually found the slaves in the typical Sentinel style - Far more luck than judgement or skill. And with more than a few cuts and bruises.
I never bothered to attempt to adjust my disarrayed coat as I stepped towards the four slaves, but I did straighten my badge as I smiled warmly. "Greetings." I said, "Schrau Cadnos, Sentiner guird."
"Gora, involuntary labour guild." A gnome slave brightly said with a wide grin. "Praise Sikkar that you're here!"
I sagged, partly with relief, and studied the slaves with a little more professional interest. A sullen vampire, a perpetually impassionate hephastian, and - how my heart leapt - A young vulpin boy. The boy was somewhat too young to have been raised in the same group as I, but possibly a descendant of one of the earlier sales. The four slaves were free to roam the room, but no further as they were loosely manacled to a central restraining bar that speared the room from floor to the impressively high ceiling.
The idiot's way to free them would be hack at the thin and rusty chains with a sword until one or the other gave in. Fortunately, the Sentinel guild had trained me for such incidents. I produced a slim cloth roll from one of my coat's many pockets and removed a small set of lock picks - Nowhere near the grade of pick required to open a simple door, or even a box; but as any guard, gaoler, or Sentinel knew there were only so many different types of shackles and manacles in the universe, and even less different types of locks.
Most of which could be picked with relative ease, and if not there was always the brute force method. I crouched before Gora and set to work at the shackles around his ankles. "So," I said, "Why wourd the deadborts for these doors be on this side?"
"Now, young vulpin, you've been in this palace for some time already. You tell me."
I considered this as I worked the primitive locking system holding the gnome in place. The doors, the butler, the lax guards. Odie. "He's crazy."
Gora nodded, understandingly. "Batshit, pardon my Welstarian. Yes, Odie is rather deranged, so not much of this palace actually does make any sense. Rumour has it that he has one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse imprisoned in one of the towers here."
"Who knows?" Gora shrugged. "But if I were you, I'd leave this place post haste."
"I have some business to attend to first." I said, and with a triumphant smirk the lock snapped open and the shackles came loose.
"Hurry up," The vampire said with more disgust than one would feasibly expect from a slave, "It's not as if we have all night."
I sighed and stood up, I could have made a point of releasing the vampire last or even taking my bardiche and sharpening the haft with one of my blades. The thought of driving the stake through the vampire's shrivelled heart warmed mine for a brief moment, but then I decided to free the hephastian next.
"So what is this business you speak of, Cadnos?" Gora quietly said, orbiting the periphery of the room obviously waiting for his colleagues to be released before making his escape. "Or would you rather not discuss it?"
"It's nothing grand or gracious," I said as the shackles fell open with more ease than Gora's, though the hinge stuck solid. "It's just that... He's assisting with my enquiries."
"Ah, I've heard that one before." The gnome rubbed his bulbous nose. "Well, be careful. There's more to this palace than meets the eye."
"It's best to be out of sight as soon as you can manage, Gora." I said, "There's a rather massive Jomsviking on the way here, and his methods are far more... Aggressive than mine."
"A Reaver? Oh my." Gora muttered. "Well, if that's the case then we'd better make haste."
I finally pried the shackles open and nodded to the hephastian. I straightened and decided against letting the vampire dangle.
"Unbelievable." The vampire muttered darkly. "I once owned fifty slaves myself, y'know? Oh, Odie will pay for this..."
Of course I heard the rumours. Odie had rose to power by enslaving the slavers, and using the slavers slaves for his own needs, of course the former slaves were actually grateful for their newfound sense of employment, and Odie actually looked after them better than they had been throughout their lives. Once again, I considered cutting the former slaver down on the spot. Instead, I rolled back on my heels and looked up impassively at the vampire. "I suppose the irony is... Werr, rost on you, right?"
"Listen to me, you impudent pup, I could snap your neck like a twig if I so wanted to."
"And you don't." I responded. "Not unress you want to get out of here."
The vampire sputtered something, but the hephastian decided to make his first contribution to the proceedings by clamping a massive metal hand onto his shoulder and squeezing. "Don't." The mechanical being muttered.
I grinned and snapped the shackles open, before stepping back with a sweeping bow. "There, your grace, you may murder me at your reisure."
"Insolent..." The vampire muttered before turning towards the door and leaving with exaggerated fury.
And that left the vulpin. Curled up in the corner shivering, undoubtedly wondering why I had left him until last. I had reasons.
"I'm afraid he doesn't speak a word of the common tongue." Gora said, almost apologetically. "But, well, I suppose you're uniquely suited to freeing him."
"Hello." I said in the lupin tongue. "I'm Schrau Cadnos. You?"
"Torra." The vulpin replied. "You've come to save us, haven't you?"
I nodded. "Of course." I started to work on the shackles. "But first, I'd like to ask you a few questions. Does the name Aldar mean anything to you?"
The child shook his head, not responding in any other way.
"Well maybe your parents-" I stopped short when I saw the flash of pain cross his face. There was no doubt in my mind that story didn't have a happy ending. My own thoughts returned to the one cell in that place that was once home, that one cell that I couldn't bring myself to open. "No, I'm sorry."
"What do we do now?" Torra asked as I released the shackles around his ankles.
"I'll lead you to the hallway, you'll be safe there. Then, you must leave this place. Head to Wysoom, head to the Sentinel guild in Sauronan, and wait for me. They will help you while I'm away. Tell them that Schrau Cadnos sent you."

I watched the figures retreat in the distance. The path to the hall was not an easy one, and several times I had to act as a rather brief decoy to allow the former slaves chance to escape from the room.
The butler didn't mind that several pieces of his master's property had been freed and were heading towards the door. In fact, I stood beside him as the three figures dashed towards the moonlight beyond. I glanced towards him. "How's your job security? Good? It must be." I sighed, not expecting the jinn to answer.
So I turned in the direction that the butler had earlier pointed out to me. To the dungeons, where there would be more to do. I hoped it wouldn't take long.

Part 4 - The Fear of Sultan Odie

The doors creaked open majestically and, it must be said, annoyingly. The last thing anyone wants to see is a sentinel breaking down a stronghold door, and at the very least it meant that the grand sultan Odie was prepared to see me.
With a grunt, I swung my battering ram on its laniard across my shoulder and drew my crossbow. I wasn't much of a shot, but it at least removed the unnecessary evil of running halfway across the long room only to be cut down by some spell or even a guard.
Odie sat on, or hovered a few inches above to be more accurate, his throne. Grinning, he waved a dismissive hand at the two guards I hadn't seen standing either side of the door. Retrospectively, I realised it must have been they that opened the chamber door for me. Both jinn drifted out of the room, and the door swung shut behind them.
"Ah, sergeant." Odie greeted me with a brief bow. "I've been monitoring your progress ever since you stepped foot into my humble palace. So, what is it that brings you here?"
I raised the crossbow and sighted along the bolt, into Odie's heart, aiming for a spot on the throne. "You terr me."
"Well, there is plenty to interest a young adventurer such as yourself. The Headless Horseman, perhaps?"
"Guess again."
"The Hidden Harem of a Thousand and Twenty-Eight Delights?"
"Maybe some other time."
Odie leaned back. "Oh, but of course. How silly of me. What else could interest a sentinel but the freedom of slaves? But usually they leave as soon as the duty is done, so what brings you here?" He intoned the last word of the question, creating an aural slab of granite to slam down on my subconscious head.
"This is something different." I said. "I remember an jinn, an Odie, a pathetic one-time customer for some... Some produce."
"Produce. Oh, an old slaver's term, yes." Odie chuckled.
"Remember Ardar?"
"Ardar?" Odie repeated, but before I found the time to be infuriated he mentally corrected himself. "Oh, Aldar. Bald human, scar across his right cheek." I nodded. "Yes, I do remember buying some of your kind from him, fighters." The jinn studied me, tapping his throat in an obvious gesture to the black mark on my own neck. "I remember a boy with the same mark. Cadnos, right?"
Again, I nodded. "Sergeant Schrau Cadnos, sentiner."
"I remember rejecting you. Too weak, not a fighter."
I smiled, more to myself in the solitary sharing of a joke than for Odie's benefit. "I bet you wish you hadn't, now."
"Actually, no." Odie sighed. "I don't exactly think so, Cadnos. You see, this doesn't change anything." He raised an eyebrow. "Come, now, you think that you are the first person to come here and free my slaves? You must be mistaken. Why, each of your peers in the sentinel guild have made a pilgrimage to this place to take what is mine. Everything I lose, I find more. It's people like you that keep people like Aldar in business. How is he, by the way? I heard he was dead."
I nodded and began, "I-"
"-Killed him, yes, I guessed as much." The sultan heaved another ethereal sigh and continued, "On hearing that his operation had ceased business, I sent a group in to check the warrens where he kept his stock. They expected to find nothing, instead they found something... Something else. Ghastly business."
"Shut up!" I snarled, once again returning my interest in the crossbow. "I know you bought some of my own! Where are they?"
Odie shrugged. "And I'm absolutely honest when I say this, but I don't know. Of the stock I bought, several died, others escaped, and the rest were rescued by your own kind." Odie blessed me with a particularly sadistic grin. "Maybe if you had bothered to ask your superiors first rather than rushing to this place you would have known better. Still, capital work with the slaves, Cadnos."
I sagged, totally unsure whether to trust the abomination that stood before or take my chances and try to run him through. The odds seemed long, and my luck at gambling was less than stellar.
Odie 'stood' up and began a slow and lazy drift towards me. "Of course..." His voice oozed, filling the cracks of my brain with the slick sensations of doubt and fear, "If you do wish to discuss this with your fellow sentinels, it would require your egress from this place in less than two pieces. And I can't have that. I-"
The halls reverberated with a fierce, but human, warcry. For one brief moment I had assumed that one of Odie's hired hands was practicing his vocal exercises, but the pathos of terror across the sultan's face jarred the memory of an inebriated Jomsviking back in the Ugly Troll pub of Suthnas.
"What was-" Odie began in a slow tone that allowed me to interrupt.
"That? Oh, I do remember meeting a chap in the pub." I lowered the crossbow and squeezed the trigger. The bowline snapped straight and the bolt sank inch-deep into the stone. With a grin often described as 'endearing' just a few times less than 'annoying' I continued. "Rather big human," raising a hand to try and encompass the whole height of the Jomsviking. "Covered in furs. He did say he was on his way here to gut everything that moved for fun. And when one with an axe that big makes such an outrageous craim, one tends to berieve everything that is said."
Odie knew that the two guards beyond the door had rushed off to investigate the hoarse cry, and now he was very suddenly alone with a crazed sentinel. A crazed sentinel that was now wielding a pair of long swords.
I raised one of the blades in a salute. "If I were you - not that I envy your gracious position of course - but if I were hovering in your position right now, I'd hide. I'd hide and pray that the Jomsviking doesn't find you, so then you can... You can recruit a few more fighters and buy a few more servants, keep someone like Ardar in business." I grinned ever wider. "Of course, it's those rike you that keep those rike me in business, so we got a neat circre of dependency going on here. I'm not you, though. I'm not a huge, ethereal jinn with a brue grow. I'm a short vurpin to whom finding shadows is easier than finding air." I turned around, pushing the door open. "I have no reason to fear a Jomsviking. Don't do something stupid, king Odie."
And I ran, ran through the dungeons and barred doors. Towards the stairs up and hoping that I wouldn't meet a large and angry fellow on the way.
On my way up and out, I suppressed the urge to laugh. Coming here with the intention of finding my kith and kin, I would leave empty-handed. However, the very memory of the rictus of horror across the proud sultan's face would keep me warm on cold Welstarian nights for months to come.
Things could have been a lot better, but there were many ways in which they could have been a whole lot worse.