Kurka Movagashviya failed.
Even Nezzar failed.
The man in the stone room stood over the rotting oaken table, listening to the sound of the wind through the bars of the window ten feet over his head. His peace was gone. This place, his place, of calm was uncalm and the wrongness of that made him mad. The smells of rotted food and human waste choked away any actual vermin. The dirty rushes covered most of the tiny cell, and the man looked as though he had slept in his filth for days. The only well-cared for thing in sight was the iron-banded door and its very well kept lock.
The papers on the table told small stories, often in only a few words, but led to a larger picture. The cave is lost. The adventurers are alive. And his servants, both those who knew of their patron and those far removed from him, were dead or scattered. He was close, he’d been so very close.
The man in the stone room crumpled the latest note, sent from a diligent young Kargi scout who obeyed his orders and stayed out of the fighting: the two subjects were on the move with their two companions, the human was nowhere to be found. Malleus. The man in the stone room had met him, before, when Malleus had been somewhat younger and full of promise for the Emperor’s Own. The man in the stone room did not know him, and their meeting was brief—the passing nod and smile of an important man greeting a rolling ocean of less important men ceremoniously. Like a baker acknowledges a hoard of customers, like an officer acknowledges new conscripts.
The man in the stone room did not know Malleus. But he knew his type. No doubt, the officer would return to his party—his type always did. It was important that he do so, as well, as none of the others were suitable to his plans. Certainly not the two he’d carefully selected for his great plan.
Lightening flashed and the wind picked up—the howling of the storm outside was music of a fierce era. The man in the stone room began crumpling papers on the table one by one—giving them a last look.
“The cursed one and the woman still live, despite our ambush—precautions should be taken, we are fairly sure she does not sleep”… hardly a revelation, elves don’t sleep, but he wouldn’t rob the ignorant their little discoveries (certainly not if they’re a highly trained company of soldiers from the Young Kingdoms—and hobgoblins to boot). They failed, and they’ll likely see their commander murdered for the failure—the man in the stone room made a mental note to ask politely about new leadership in the coming weeks.
“Grash’s son leads them, he fights without honor, his blood is tainted by his lowly birth though we have witnessed him having little love for his people”… the orc. Or sil-orc, or whatever they’re called. The man in the stone room had never liked orcs, rare as they are they hardly ever came down from their hills and mountains and those that did were unwashed brutish deviants. Worthless. Despite Captain Kalgesh’s warnings, he was of little consequence. Orcs. They can’t even read.
“The dragon nearly had me, master. I dispatched the thief and the Nezzar played his part well as the Spider, but things turned too dangerous. I had to run to tell you, you are my most important task—but the dragon was fast. I believe he is suspecting of what I am. I escaped, finally, but only through guile. He is dangerous. I will go to Bet Seder, I have heard they will be going there soon. I will watch, but not engage unless you wish it”… ah, V. The man in the stone room loved her. Was repulsed by her, but loved her. She was his most able agent, and yet one he feared the most. The day she revealed herself to him, to help him with his grand design, she was a miracle from the Gods themselves. Timely. Just what was needed. But, he never forgot… she appeared. She wasn’t found. What she knew? He often worried about where her true motives were.
The last notes were from his agents or their assets in Phandelver. The Red Cloaks were all dead—good riddance, they’d not the wit to work for him when offered anyway and he wanted them gone for phase two of the plan. The dwarf, Gunderen or Goodren and Sildar were hard at work restoring the cave and the mine—a suitable turn of events, but nobody had anticipated the Forge of Spells would have been so broken and weak. It was a long shot, taking that cave, but now with so many eyes on it—restoring it to its former glory would help but it would all take too much time.
And time was growing short.
The man in the stone room crumpled the last paper and breathed deeply of the stink and the rot. His eyes fluttered and he was lost in thought—time was short. Time was short.
The orc primitive. The elf bitch. The fallen noble. The cursed. The dragon.
He needed two of them, if his studies had been right, if V’s book was right and his sage’s own research wrong then he needed only one of them. The other was insurance. The rest… he couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t be useful. Death later, but profit now.
The man in the stone room began pacing. The cold slap of his naked feet on dry stone… then the wet splatter of his naked feet in a pool of excrement. Over and over. Around and around the tiny room.
They murdered a dragon. No small feat. V’s book says he only needs the one. His viziers tell him that the tales of the Conqueror insist on two. But, his own caution thought it necessary to bring all of them to bear. How else does one kill a king, if not by overdoing the gods-loving shit out of it?
Lightening crashed and he stopped his march. His head felt clearer, his path made more sense. Watch. Wait. Give them a reason.
They were small, ungodly people. And he could use that.
The man in the stone room moved to the great door and banged twice. A hatch opened level with his own face and a meaty, pink-faced man stared back through it from the outside.
“I am done”, said the man in the stone room.
“Uh-yah… yess’msir… yess’msir yer grace”, said the pink-faced man as he quickly unlocked the door and collapsed to his knees, head bowed and ratty cap in his hands.
“Have them clean everything, Yawl. How long has it been this time?”
“Uh-ym… not as long as it all, yer grace. I did check you sleepin’ last week, mebbe. So…”, the pink-faced man scrunched his face tight in sums, “ten or so days?”
“Thank you, Yawl”, the man from the stone room said as he walked away up through the tunnels and past the empty cells into the light of torches and out of the dungeons.
A half-retinue of castle guards escorted the naked, dirty man to a suite of rooms—common but clean—and there a handful of girls no older than seven or eight helped him bath and oiled his hair and filed his nails and gave him sweet oils and light sandals and a resplendent doublet and breeches and hose.
At last, an old man arrived and brought a golden crown out of a velvet bag—as though the weight of the world was in his hands—and shakily placed it on the man from the stone room’s brow.
“Your council awaits you, your highness”, said the old man with a hint of concern.
“Thank you, Bert. Well, let’s off then”, he sparkled a smile as he stood, “…we’ve a war to win.”