The ball continued as planned after Peregrine’s incident in the kitchens. While he was detained, Albion continued his serving duties while Mersh, Moira and I proceeded to the ballroom for the dance. Machine had vanished, Peregrine was locked up, and my “date” was getting increasingly inebriated (again) while Mersh’s seemed content to brood in the corner. In short, tonight was not turning out as I had hoped. It certainly did not help when Largo Jankins, the priest who was to marry Penelope Oliander with the heir of the Albright family, died while dancing with Moira.
The room fell silent, and all eyes turned to the bard. The room immediately went into lockdown. As Moira was apprehended by a few guards, the exits were sealed off, trapping everyone in the ballroom… or so we thought.
Mersh and I immediately went to Moira’s aid, doing our best to convince Jeras and Electo Albright that she could was not responsible for Largo’s murder. With no stab wounds, it was clear that the priest was poisoned, and Moira was nowhere near him during the dinner. This was not enough to convince them, so we reluctantly filled them in on the plot to kill Alethea, and how we had come here to stop it.
With a little more convincing, Electo agreed to let me accompany Jeras and find Alethea, who had vanished in the chaos. Mersh, or Jean Felipe, and Moira had stayed behind to appease Electo and prevent a total riot. Albion was quick to join us as an “escort” to ensure that I wouldn’t try anything.
Meanwhile, Peregrine busied himself with bluffing his way out of the dungeons and into the rest of the mansion. As we ventured to the conservatory, Peregrine snuck and bluffed his way up to the upper floors of the mansion to search the bedrooms for any clues. After scrambling through most of the bedrooms, Peregrine found himself on the roof where he was met with a cloaked figure, sword pointed at Peregrine’s chest. Their brief encounter ended with Peregrine slipping in through the window to Electo’s room and calling for the guards. The guards apprehended the man, later revealed to be a member of the Black Hand, and Peregrine as well for intruding.
As Peregrine’s explorations unfolded, Albion, Jeras, and I made our way to the conservatory. Upon arrival, I immediately knew that everything had gone wrong. Largo Jankins’ murder may have been the work of the Black Hand, but ultimately served as the perfect distraction.
Alethea was nowhere to be seen. One of the windows was open, curtains fluttering in the breeze. Fortunately, I stationed Emrys outside to circle above the mansion. He reported that he saw a figure in the dead of the night sneak into a shed down in the gardens.
Before we could attempt to pursue Alethea, Jeras’ suspicion of us led to his sword pointed at our throats. It took some time to convince him that despite what he may have thought, our only intentions were to save Alethea and to capture the assassin. Hesitantly, he lowered his sword and left us to pursue Alethea and save her from her fate. However, first we needed to work our way through the barracks to equip an unarmed Albion. It was necessary, but another stall nonetheless.
As Albion and I worked our way to the gardens, Mersh did his very best to stall for time in the ballroom. Under the guise of Jean Felipe and through his name of the Prince Slayer, he confused Electo and the guards long enough for us to pursue Alethea and Machine with as few hindrances as possible. While he was eventually apprehended and taken to the estate dungeons, Moira and Peregrine slipped out and made way to join us at the gardens.
Albion and I arrived at the gardens shortly after. The gardens were empty, but a trail of footprints could be seen entering the nearby shed Emrys had pointed out to me. Only one set of footprints, suggesting that Alethea or Machine had entered the shed but had not left. I could sense Machine’s presence as I approached the shed. He was here, and he knew I was here.
Was this a trap? Most likely.
Did I have a choice in the matter? No.
Would I have left if I could? No, this game of cat-and-mouse had gone on for far too long. It was time to end this.
Steeling my resolve, I stepped forward to enter the shed. As the door swung open and as I stepped inside, a tripwire went off, setting off all of the lanterns and lights in the garden, bringing the previously shadowed scenery to life.
It only took a second to see that the shed was empty. Like I had guessed, a trap. And I had walked into it willingly. A dark laugh from behind drew my attention. I turned, and there, perched on a small tower, was Alexis Machine, crossbow drawn.
I was surprised he hadn’t already killed me, but after assurances that Alethea was still unharmed, we exchanged a few words. Apparently he too had looked through Kaldoran’s Mirror in the Tomb of Gregory Fox, tracing my movements. He had seen his demise at my hand, much like how I saw my own demise at his. Yet this was not some dark, dank basement and I was not tied to a chair at his mercy. The future had changed, I had made it change. The promise of premonition is a fickle being. People become so obsessed with their future when it is told to them, so obsessed with prophecies, that they fail to see what is right in front of them.
Divination, while it may be accurate in some cases, blinds those subjected to it from the truth. I refuse to be subjected the fate’s whims. This encounter was proof that the future can be changed. We are the masters of our own fate.
We agreed to a duel, one confrontation to end all of this. Albion waited reluctantly at the shed while I met Machine at the bridge. His rapier drawn and my spells ready, a calm silence fell over the garden as we waited for the other to make the first move. I looked into his eyes, and saw nothing but the murderous glee twinkling in the depths of darkness that I had seen before in my visions. I honestly doubted my odds of defeating him in single combat. A highly trained, experienced assassin that had never failed in his mission against a young wizard like myself?
I had something he didn’t though, an ace in the hole.
The duel began, and the first move was mine. I unleashed a torrent of flame at my foe, and was left shocked when he emerged without so much as a scratch. Then, in a flourish, he darted forwards, feinting me out and leaving me off-guard. Of course, a rogue like Machine would be near impossible to attack with my regular spells.
Taking a few steps back, I prepared my next spell. I wasn’t completely unprepared to deal with one of Machine’s calibur. I sent forth a ray of magic, atrophying his muscles and weakening his strength. It proved to be not as effective as I had hoped, as he lunged forward, slitting my throat with his rapier.
Had it not been for Albion’s charge while Machine was preoccupied with me or for the timely arrival of Moira and Peregrine, I would have died. I still carry the scar across my throat to this day, a grim reminder of my recklessness and my duel with fate.
With Moira’s healing magic, my wound healed before Machine’s eyes. Peregrine and Albion were quick to join in on the attack, and soon enough, Machine was at last defeated. Bound in iron rope, he sat on his knees before us.
One thing Machine failed to realize was his downfall. The Tiki Company is a family, and when one member is threatened, you threaten the entire company. We fight as one, we act as one, and through this we have overcome every obstacle set before us time and time again.
Albion, Moira, Peregrine, and Mersh. Though the Company may change from time to time, it remains thus. My ace in the hole, my final gambit: The Tiki Company.