Gene had a headache. Today’s session had degraded into the equivalent of a shouting match yet again. This time it didn’t initially involve Gene, it was between Rohaln and another smaller house over unauthorized changes on trade duties or something, Gene didn’t really care. The point was, the big guys were ragging on these small guys who were just trying to stay alive, and nobody else was standing up for them, he got involved on principle. Gene didn’t have the authority to actually do anything to the guy from Rohaln other than yell at him, but Gene’s words were enough to make him feel like he would come off as a greedy, selfish asshole over what was essentially loose change for them, especially given that many other houses viewed Gene somewhat favorably. (His “actually get things done” policy and extensive cuteness helped out a lot.) Once everyone was clamoring for things that were actually important to be addressed, he had to save face and prove his point somehow, and the easiest way was by being as obnoxious as possible to Gene as politely as possible. All in all, it was a fairly typical day, as far as they had been going recently.
But all of that didn’t matter. It was Gene’s last official day as the Ambassador from Rasir, the problems brewing back there demanded his special talents and expertise. Food wasn’t an issue, but the slight overcrowding had led to quick spread of Dark Drain, and several people he knew were infected. He was glad to get back and help out, though. As good as Gene was at getting people to like him, he was even better at the sorcerer thing. He felt like he might have gotten a bit rusty, but filling up several arcane batteries every day was a half-decent workout. It wasn’t as good as he’d been able to get when he was working with his friends to help found Rasir, but it was a lot better than letting the magic inside him stagnate and make him do something he knew he would regret as soon as he found out what it was. Still, he always felt like he had a little magic left over every day, no matter how hard he pushed himself. It wasn’t really a problem, since it could get him out of a sticky situation with any goons Lekaral might send his way (he was pretty sure she wanted to “deal” with him personally, or at least he hoped so), but it gave him this nagging feeling all day that whenever he was frustrated, he could just blow up the problem and not have to deal with it. He knew it wasn’t true, at least for most of the problems he had (blowing up other ambassadors is a big no-no), but he still had the thoughts.
Gene did a last check to make sure his mailbox was empty – oddly enough, he’d received a small note from the ambassador from Rohaln. Seems as though he wants to have a dinner with Gene in honor of his accomplishments during his time as ambassador. Other ambassadors had been invited, including the one from Tirlae whom had helped him out with the food situation, it was going to be a nice little shindig. Gene thought about it briefly. He was supposed to meet with his replacement, Liz, tonight, but she wasn’t supposed to get in until later. He probably had enough time to stop in for a guest appearance, grab some food, and then duck out in time to meet Liz and brief her on the situation, maybe get to know her a little. The letter helpfully provided very specific directions, and indicated that the party would start as soon as possible. Gene headed out.
Gene was sure he’d followed the directions correctly. He’d read them several times, seen every landmark, even tried to walk at a constant speed to make sure the timing was correct. But he didn’t see any restaurants around here. In fact, this didn’t even look like the kind of place a diplomat like him should be. It was a dark alleyway, with several boarded-up doors but nothing that looked inviting. The only light came from a street to the left, the right led to more tight corridors. Things like this were why Gene was never in charge of navigation when he was with his friends.
Gene turned to the rude voice interrupting his thoughts. It came from a figure on the left. Silhouetted against the light, Gene couldn’t make out any features, but it was big, and Gene was pretty sure it had whiskers.
“Hi there! Hey, maybe you can help me with these directions here, I think I might have taken a wrong turn or -“
“No, you followed ‘em alright, fluffball.”
Gene wasn’t fazed by the name-calling. It was annoying, but he’d heard worse. “Are you sure? I’m looking for a party here.”
“There’s a party here, alright, fluffball. It’s gonna be a regular ball.” The figure moved towards Gene. He could see it more clearly now, he could tell it was an otter. It looked like it was holding a dagger, and it was grinning. “And you’re gonna be the guest of honor.”
Gene turned around to look for an escape. There were more otters there, holding various large, heavy objects, moving casually towards him. He turned back to the first otter.
“A ball? Really? Gee, I think I’m a bit under-dressed, honestly. I’d better go change.” Gene smiled, in a vain attempt to defuse the situation. What the hell is these guy’s problem? he thought.
“Nah, it’s alright, fluffball. You’re just fine.”
“Actually, I have a prior engagement anyway, really important. I can’t stay long.”
“You ain’t goin’ nowhere, fluffball.” This came from an otter behind Gene. ”’Sides, this won’t take long. It’s just what you get when you keep stickin’ that cute li’l nose of yours into other peoples business.”
“We’re just gonna help you remember to let everyone deal wit’ their own problems,” the first otter continued. He was about five feet away from Gene, and was waiting for the others to finish encircling Gene.
“Hey, are you guys with Rohaln? Tell the guy who sent you he’s an asshole,” Gene said, without the slightest trace of concern. “And really, I hate to split, but I have more important things than whatever a bunch of big muscley guys can come up with in a dark alley. See ya!”
With that, Gene forced all of the magic he could feel inside him out at the same time. It exploded out of his hands into the ground in a flash of lightning, sending Gene flying high into the air toward the street and the thugs around him onto the ground. Gene rolled as he landed and came up running in the general direction of the Diplomat’s Den, where he was staying. He had to leave tonight, there’s no telling what kind of crap Rohaln’d pull while he was asleep, now that they were pissed. Today must’ve finally been the last straw, or maybe they figured they could get away with attacking him since he wouldn’t be around anymore. Either way, Gene didn’t need to know.
Gene made sure to stick to well-lit, well-traveled streets on his way back. He knew he was supposed to be meeting with Liz right now, but she was going to get his old room and he’d leave his notes there, she’d already been evaluated for the position by Alice and could figure out whatever she needed to know from the notes he’d leave behind. Gene had to leave now, whatever those thugs were planning on doing wouldn’t have been helpful for Gene to do any of the things he wanted to. He couldn’t help his friends with broken bones or shaved skin or missing kidneys or whatever. Gene entered the Diplomat’s Den and walked to his room as calmly as possible, no need to let anyone think he was leaving tonight.
He entered his room and quickly took off his clothes, before finding his leather armor. He donned it for the first time in… he wasn’t exactly sure how long it’d been, but he’d missed the armor’s magical warmth, and he could swear the armor was hugging him, as if it had missed him. That’s ridiculous, Gene thought, armor doesn’t have feelings. He rooted around in the room a bit more, picking up his Hedge Wizard’s gloves and a magical amulet. Then he turned to the desk in the room, with the sending stones lying on top of it. He used his Mage Hand to pick up the one marked “Alice” from across the room, held it up to his head, and focused what little magic he could still feel inside of him into it until it turned on.
“Hey Alice, um, change of plans. Rohlan wanted to throw a going away party for me, and it involved breaking all of my bones. I get the feeling they really wanna make sure I attend it, so I need to split right now. I haven’t met with Liz yet, but don’t sweat it. If what you’ve said is true, she’s smart enough to figure this out on her own. Besides, you can just tell her yourself, right? Alright, I gotta finish packing. You know how to reach me.”
He deactivated the stone quickly, feeling a strong recoil from it. He tossed it back onto the desk and looked for his backpack. Still in a corner, still packed with stuff he was pretty sure he was going to need. Money, water, Rules Cyclopedia. Gene took it over to the desk, wrapped the paper each stone was resting on around its respective stone, then placed the stones in his backpack. He looked around at the clothes scattered throughout the room. Too many to take them all with him. He sighed and started stuffing the cleanest ones into his backpack until it was full. Content with his packing job, he hefted it onto his shoulders and looked for his dagger. Lying on the bed. Gene picked it up and placed it in a sheath on his armor. He grabbed a gnarled staff with one end lightly charred lying against the wall near the door. He paused. It wasn’t very good for beating people with, it was too thin and light, but when he held it, he felt like he could blow up the entire building without even trying. It’s a good feeling, he mused.
Gene noticed the arcane batteries that were next to where the staff had been. He picked one up, one he’d charged that morning. Olivia had said to never try to draw energy back out of them, only to put it into it. But he was feeling somewhat depressed right now, the fur that was peeking out from under the armor was nowhere near as fluffy as it could have been. What’s the worst that could happen? Gene thought. He tried drawing energy from the battery, in the same way he turned off the sending stones. A little came at first, then far more than Gene was expecting, far more than he remembered putting into it. He could feel the magic flowing through him, swirling randomly around his insides, bouncing around his brain. The room spun, his vision swam, and colors danced around in front of his eyes, intensely bright colors brighter than anything Gene had thought were possible before. He closed his eyes, but he could still see the colors, burning into his eyes, driving their way into his head.
Then Gene opened his eyes and he was fine.
In fact, he was better than fine. He was fantastic. He felt like he could take on whatever the world was going to throw at him. And his fur was extra-fluffy again. He dropped the useless battery and opened the door, and almost ran straight into Liz.
When Gene didn’t show up for their meeting, Liz assumed he had forgotten and went back to his room at the Diplomat’s Den. Liz had talked to the front desk and learned that Gene had just arrived and headed for his room. She was about to knock on the door when an extremely perky Gene opened it.
“Gene?” Liz asked, startled.
Gene stopped in his tracks, took a look at Liz, and then leaned against the doorway. Liz was kinda cute – a canid, like Gene, slightly taller than him (not like that was rare or anything), with short, white fur, light brown eyes, and small ears. She was wearing stylish orange and white clothing, and she definitely did not have Dark Drain. Whatever Gene was doing, she was more important at the moment. “Yeah. You must be Liz,” he said, smiling and offering a hand.
Liz smiled in return and shook it. “Normally I’d insist on ‘Elizabeth’, but from you, it’s fine.” Then she noticed Gene’s equipment. “Um, going somewhere?”
Gene looked down at himself. “Oh yeah, uh, it’s kind of complicated. I need to leave Aegryndoun tonight.”
“Maybe you can tell me what’s going on first?” Liz suggested.
“Real quick. There are people who literally want to kill me somewhere in this city and I don’t think they’re going to take no for an answer.”
“You should start with why they want to kill you.”
“Yeah. Um, Rohlan is kinda upset with me because I keep stopping them from being dicks. I don’t think I’ve actually hurt them much, but they’re pissed off and they’d like it better if I stopped it. Which I won’t, but they wanted to make sure I do. And probably you.”
“They can do that?” Liz asked, shocked.
“Well, technically, no, not really, but they’ve tried it before. It’s actually how I got on their bad side to begin with. It’s also how I got on the good side of Tirlae, but I can tell you that some other time. Right now, I’d say don’t go out of your way to make ‘em mad, but don’t let ‘em push you around either. Just make friends, y’know?”
“That was a good place to start. Now, who are our friends here right now? What are you in the middle of working on?”
Gene sighed. “I don’t have time to tell you that, just go through my notes. They’ll explain everything, it’s how I kept everyone straight.”
Liz peered around Gene into the room. “Are you planning on leaving all that junk lying around?”
“Not really, but like I said, I really gotta go. Um, pack up all the clothes and ship ‘em back to Rasir, same with the batteries and anything else you don’t want. I’ll pay for it when it gets there.”
“What’s that smell?”
Gene turned back into the room and sniffed. It was faint, but there was the odor of burnt fut. “Oh that. I was shedding a while ago, okay? You still have your own room for a few more nights if that’s a problem.”
Liz inhaled deeply. “Not at all. I actually think it smells… sexy.”
Gene grinned. “If you like that, you should smell me right when I wake up in the morning. If cuteness had a smell, it’d be that.” Then he suddenly remembered what he was supposed to be doing. “Maybe you can find out later. Like I said, I really need to leave tonight.”
Liz frowned. “I was really hoping you’d be able to fully brief me on this. Diplomacy is a delicate thing, especially considering how much we need food, building supplies, medical aid…”
Gene placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, you’ll do fine. It’s not all that hard, really. Just do your best and keep in touch with Alice, alright? No sweat.”
Liz took a step to the side. “I suppose I’ll be hearing about what you and the rest of the Agents of Radiance are up to eventually.”
Gene was about to leave, but stopped. ”’Agents of Radiance’? That’s what we’re called? Seriously?”
“It’s what Alice said you were called,” Liz responded.
Gene shrugged. “I suppose it’s better than anything coon-dawg would’ve come up with. Well, I’m off. Later!”
“Safe travels,” Liz said as Gene headed out.
“Not likely!” Gene called back over his shoulder.
Gene had learned that a caravan had left for the general direction of Rasir last morning, and he was itching to get on the road and catch up with them. That arcane battery he’d absorbed made him feel wide awake, and he still didn’t want to fall asleep in this city, not while those otter goons were after him. His fingers twitched slightly, he felt a little jittery. Why’d Olivia say to not suck energy back in from the batteries? He felt the best he’d felt all day. Nothing could stop him. He almost wished he could meet back up with the otters, just because it would be awesome. Too bad he had to stick to the main streets, as awesome as midnight explosions would be, he didn’t want to attract any more attention than he had to. Right now the only person who knew he was leaving was Liz, and he wanted to keep it that way. Nope, just walking along well-lit, wide streets, with almost nobody in sight. Hey, are those otters? Gene realized that yes, those were otters. In fact, they were the same otters he’d danced with earlier that night. Maybe they hadn’t seen him yet… no, one of them just made eye contact.
“Hey fluffball!” the otter called out to him. The group quickly moved towards Gene.
“Fellas! What a pleasant surprise. I trust you kept yourselves amused without me?” Gene said, once again totally unconcerned.
“Nah. You left just when it was gettin’ good.”
“Well, I should let you know that I’m not really in the mood for you clowns,” Gene said. “I think it might be better for all of us if we just went our ways and forgot this ever happened.”
“Not happenin’, fluffball. You ain’t getting away so easy this time,” the otter said, brandishing a dagger as the others circled around Gene.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” Gene said, feigning disappointment. “I guess I’ll just have to kick your asses. Who’s first?”
The otter with the dagger snorted. “Like a little fluffball like you could take the four of us. I’d like to see you try.” His free hand suddenly darted out and grabbed Gene’s staff. “Hold still, it’ll make things easier on ya.”
In a flash Gene drew his dagger and slammed it into the belly of the otter. He gasped, and a ball of intensely flashing colors flew out of his mouth, hitting another otter in the face and bouncing off to hit the other two. Once all four had been struck, Gene pulled his dagger out of the otter and wrenched his staff out of his hand.
The otter with the dagger clutched at his wound and stared at Gene. “What the hell was that?”
Gene cricked his neck. “Warm-up. Come on, don’t act all surprised. You guys have to know I’m a sorcerer.”
“Yeah, but… not like the stabbing bouncing lights kind. What the hell?”
Gene grinned. “Like I said, warm-up. Now it gets fun.”
Gene spun around to slash at the otter behind him, who had recovered from the lights hitting his face and was about to strike. As Gene slashed across his chest, lightning arced out from the cut, hitting the same otter and everyone around him, including Gene, who just seemed to enjoy it. Before anyone could react, Gene swiftly rolled out from between the otters, sheathed his dagger, and started walking away as if nothing had happened.
“If you guys still just wanna call it even,” Gene said, “I’m fine with it. You’ve even got some nice burns to show your boss.”
“Don’t think you can just walk away!” one of the otters Gene hadn’t stabbed called out.
Gene raised his staff onto his shoulder, pointing it backwards at the otters. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah!” the other relatively unscathed otter shouted.
With his free hand, Gene snapped his fingers. Something fell from the sky and exploded in the middle of the thugs. When the explosion cleared two of them were unconscious, the other two severely injured and more interested in getting out of sight before any guards showed up. Gene moved the tip of the staff to his his mouth and blew imaginary smoke off of it before returning it to a natural position. I love doing that, he thought.
Gene still felt plenty of magic flowing through him, this had only stirred it up more. He broke into a light jog and continued for the gates, he was sure he could catch up with the caravan before sunrise. They’d probably let him crash on a cart or something while they moved, besides, he was cute when he was asleep. No way they’d wake him up. This trip back was going to be no problem at all.