The gathering struggled to keep up with, their leader striding as he took them through yet another long corridor. It felt like hours since they had left the light of the world above, trading the city streets of Wroat for the uncertainty of these dark tunnels beneath it.
“None of us are doubting you, sir. This really is not necessary.”
The man in the lead glanced back, eyes narrowed in irritation. “Oh but it is,” he said coolly. “Were you not all discussing how little faith you had in our plans when I walked in on that little meeting of yours?”
A nervous exchange of looks quieted the group of people behind him. They had been discussing the recent discovery of a Table complex underwater near Stormreach and the loss of its valuable resources. Their gathering had been kept a secret and yet somehow, despite their efforts, Guiver’lan had discovered their intent and joined them unannounced. Now they were here, following at his insistence.
His insistence and that of the armed contingent of guards he had brought with him to the meeting.
“We were just trying to decide how best to deal with recent setbacks,” the one of them brave enough to speak offered as an explanation. “We still support Endgame.”
“That is good,” Guiver’lan said calmly. His thin countenance was set, almost cold. Only his eyes still showed any emotion. Everyone present knew that look, knew the calculating anger that lay behind it. Many of them had been witnesses to what happened to those who invoked this mood in their de facto leader. Now, as they trailed him into the darkness, even the staunchest of them worried that they were walking to their deaths.
“We just worry that with the traitor still alive and one of our twelve bases discovered, the city of Storms may have advanced warning of our plans.” When he was not immediately silenced by another glare from Guiver’lan, the speaker continued. “So much depends on our being able to strike from surprise.”
They walked on in silence after that, Guiver’lan not offering any kind of response. He did not speak again until they reached a solid steel door blocking further passage. Shielded with enough magic to make the metal glow like starlight, the doorway looked almost as old and impenetrable as the stone around it. After unlocking the portal with a glimmering key carved from blood glass, Guiver’lan said simply, “Surprise is still on our side.”
The others stepped past the magical door after him, ascending a wide set of ancient stairs. “How can you say that? Surely the forces of Stormreach know of our conspiracy by now.”
“Do not be too sure,” their hawk-nosed leader said quietly. “I have already ensured that anyone with knowledge of our fraternity has been silenced. Those without absolute loyalty to the Table and to the completion of Endgame do not long draw breath.”
The threat was an open one, obvious enough to keep the gathering quiet for several minutes thereafter. They were walking down another tunnel now, this one slightly larger than the ones before. The air was different here, tinged with the scent of salt, echoing with the sounds of running water. Even the lone female of the group, a halfling woman obvious chafing at the word ‘fraternity’, kept her peace and followed along.
The twenty soldiers in full armor walking in formation behind them had a great deal to do with her discretion.
Eventually, it was the previous speaker who found his tongue again. “But sir, the lost of one of our supply stations and our allies running it have many of us concerned. Some in the city may take warning at these events. They may erect some kind of defense against our attack, even if they do not know when it will come.”
“Aye,” said another of the procession, a broad-chested man with red hair and a beard as thick as his clenched fists. “There’s even words that some of our own slaves, skrags no less, have turned against us and are leading a revolt among the other resupply points. We could lose the whole dozen at this rate!”
Guiver’lan looked back again, his pace not slowing. “Slaves are meaningless, even if they are trolls, and the twelve stations are now just as expendable. We will not be fighting a staged war, nor will we need fall back points.”
That sent a murmur through the gathering. Endgame had been planned as a full siege, an operation that would begin with a single surprise offensive against the city and then followed up by days of heavy assault and blockade until Stormreach was forced to surrender. That plan required way stations, the reason for the twelve underwater bases and their aquatic troll crews. Without a way to fall back and supply its troops, how could the Table support their offensive?
Before any of them could ask, Guiver’lan brought them to another door identical to the last. Unlocking this one with the same key as before, he led them into a short antechamber with a sliding iron screen on the far wall. “Things have changed. Endgame will proceed but on a far shorter timetable.” He turned and looked at them all. “We will not be taking the city through a week long siege.”
The others looked between themselves, obviously worried and concerned at this unplanned change. The red maned man was the first to speak up. “Just how long will we be attacking Stormreach then?”
Guiver’lan smiled and held up a single finger. “One night.”
The group disintegrated for a moment into muttering and shock, voices of disagreement and disbelief. Some stammered that such a thing was impossible, that the city would be too well defended even if it was not forewarned. Others argued the cost in ships and lives would be too great. The red haired man, towering over the others by at least half a foot, stayed oddly silent, just staring at their leader intently, as if waiting to hear the rest.
He did not have to wait long. Once the cacophony died down and all eyes were on him again, he turned his upraised hand into a beckoning gesture, calling to the shadows of the room. A cowled woman familiar to them all stepped out of the darkness, moving swiftly to stand at his side. “Is it ready?” he asked her confidently.
Veleste answered with a nod, saying nothing. As she did, the more paranoid members of the gathering began to back away, fearful that ‘it’ might be referring to the unit of guards behind them and ‘ready’ might be a reference to something very violent and very final for them all.
Inwardly, this reaction amused Guiver’lan, but outwardly he showed no reaction. These fools had not been brought down here to die. They had been assembled here to bear witness to the last piece of the Endgame puzzle finally being put into place. In a few moments, they would see that victory was not only possible but entirely assured.
“Fellow members of the Table, you may be concerned that we do not have the ships needed to take Stormreach in a single attack.”
There were a few nods of assent.
“You are right. As impressive as my fleet is, it is not up to a task of that magnitude.”
After a hushed moment, the big red haired man stared to ask, “But then, how…?”
Guiver’lan gestured again and the lithe woman beside him moved to the screen, her black silk cloak trailing and billowing behind her. As she slowly opened it, he interrupted Baron ir’Korsht’s halting question with its answer.
“The fleet will not be leading the assault.” He stepped out of the way, motioning for the group to step forward and look through the grating behind the screen. There, in the depths of the underground sea cavern beyond, the last step in their dominion over the emerald continent waited for them to behold. “That will.”
Once they saw it, no one present dared question him again.
Warning to Oceangoers
Stormreach Scryer News for Zarantyr, 21, 999
Boaters and dock workers are hereby urged to exercise extreme caution in their dealings near the coast as reported attacks from displaced marine life continue to rise in frequency. Ten Stormreach citizens have already been killed in what has become an epidemic of unprovoked acts of violence.
Mariners should be especially careful at this time as sahuagin raiders have been encountered boarding ships, killing their crews and then scuttling the vessels in shallow waters. Several approaches to Stormreach are currently blocked by these sunken ships and until magical means can be found to clear the waterways, alternate routes in and out of the docks should be used.
Travel priority for these alternate lanes will be given to vital merchant services on a first requested, first approved basis.