- "It's a simple proposition Mr. Locke."
- Tail Thrash
Frenzied by bloodlust, Spinereaver lashes out with its razor-edged tail, striking nearby enemies for significant damage. Gains a speed boost while attacking.
|Level 1||Level 2||Level 3|
Bloodlust and malice boil behind Spinereaver's eyes, building with each wound suffered, fueling its terrible strength. Also adds an acidic explosion upon death.
|Level 1||Level 2||Level 3|
"It's a simple proposition, Mr. Locke." Lord Sel shivered irritably in his monstrous fur coat. The Halvalas cold bothers him, I thought as I motioned the man to sit. He was from out of town, but even beneath the furs, I could see he was rich. He had an odd scent to him; I couldn't place it at first, but when he brought out his riotously-patterned silk bag, I realized he was Mephosian. A man from the other side of the world.
"I'm listening Lord Sel, but please do sit. You must have had a long journey from Mephos." His eyes started upward. It really wasn't that hard to figure out, I thought. I took my seat, sizing him up. Lord Maratine Sel, was a large man. His skin was dark and his face was broad and shallow. In an ink only a shade lighter than the man's skin, was an intricate series of tattoos and symbols. I didn't recognize them, but many Mephosians considered facial tattoos sacred. Perhaps the symbols marked the man as significant in his house.
"Very well. I want to hire you to find property that has been stolen from me. The Spinereaver." Sel dropped the bag onto the desk between us and I could hear the clink of coins inside. I was looking at a fortune. Ten thousand Halvalas silver, at least. If the metal was platinum, it could be a hundred times that. I forcibly broke my gaze, looking up at Lord Sel.
"You have my attention. What is the Spinereaver?"
"It is the oldest magical artifact in the Land's Below, Mr. Locke. Nothing short of that." I raised an eyebrow, but before I could ask, he continued, "You wouldn't know it to look at it. To anyone who has never seen otherstone before, It's just a black rock. I'm convinced whoever took it knew what it was, and that this is the only city in the world where they might find a buyer."
So that was the game. Otherstone is nothing to sneeze at, it's the literal substance of creation. Well, a creation anyway. That's the point - otherstone doesn't come from our world. That's what makes it powerful and that power makes it very valuable. That explained the money on the table, too. Anyone dealing in otherstone had to have resources. Mr. Sel was asking me to investigate a noble.
"Who do you suspect?" It wasn't so much a case as a repossession, I realized. He didn't need a detector, he needed someone who could take the fall if things went wrong, and ever since the Pilgrim's case, I'd been making my way on the fringe. No one would miss me. Great. It didn't get better when he told me who had the Spinereaver. "Lord Lucian."
"Lord of Temples? You can't be serious." But I knew he was; in a way it even made sense. Lord Lucian was Temple Liaison. See, Halvalas allows worship of all titans, as long as no harm is done, and it is Lucian's diplomacy that makes that possible. His position also meant he knew more about the magical and arcane than anyone in the city, save perhaps the Lord of Codices. It also meant he was the third most powerful man in Halvalas, never mind the official structure of power.
"You know more about him than I, don't you?"
I nodded slowly, "We've met." I began. It had been right after that damned Pilgrim case. She'd found a way to leave that staff in my office, as I discovered the next day when I opened the doors to find half the Halvalas guard inside, Lord Lucian at their head. They'd confiscated that staff and no one has seen it since.
Sel stood quickly, motioning to the pouch as he gathered himself, "I have no time to hear the story, I'm afraid. Twenty thousand silver rena, for expenses. You'll get ten times that if I get the Spinereaver before midnight tomorrow."
Two hundred-thousand rena was more money than I'd see in a lifetime.
"What happens at midnight?"
Lord Sel smiled coldly, "Ether storm."
I didn't know what happened when someone used otherstone in magic, but all magic is amplified in an ether storm. Lord Sel had been gone several minutes before I realized I'd never asked him to describe the Spinereaver. It didn't occur to me that it could be large enough to threaten Halvalas, but it wouldn't really take much otherstone to destroy a city. I had a day and half to get the Spinereaver back before that happened.
Lord Lucian's estate was above the thousand steps, in the heart of the aeries. It overlooked the golden domes of the temples to Hyperion and Astaroth. There was no way I could just walk in and ask for the Spinereaver back. I doubt I could even get past the gates of the estate, thousands of rena in my pockets or not. I needed a new plan. So, I got a coffee.
Coffee houses in Halvalas aren't just places to get a cup, they're also the hubs of business. Know your shops and you'll know where to go to get anything a man could want, even a team of thieves and sell-swords, which was exactly what I wanted.
The Queen of Thieves doesn't come cheap, but I had the rena to spare and I didn't have time to shop around for a deal. Alandrea was the best and her crew always came home with the goods, so that's who I went to first.
"Lucian, eh?" Alandrea looked at me over the brim of her mug.
"I wouldn't come to you for anything less, would I?" I took a sip from my own cup, savoring the bitter roast.
"When?" I could tell she was in, just from the tone of her question.
"Tomorrow. I need the goods in my hand before midnight." I reached into my pocket and put the small bundle of coins on the table, down payment. "But, there's one more thing."
"What is it?" Alandrea asked, quickly palming the sack of coin.
"You take me with you." I caught her eye and held it. "This thing is dangerous, I want to carry it."
Alandrea looked me over, scanning from head to toe and back again.
"You'll do what I tell you while we're in there; and the price just went up. Fifteen thousand."
"Small price to pay for our lives." I put my mug down on the table and stood. "Deal."
"Be here tomorrow, two bells past twelve. Be ready." I nodded and waved as she walked out. My life of crime had begun, it seemed. Now all I had to do was wait.
Thing is, I hated waiting. Too much was left to the whims of Jengu when you waited. Too much could go wrong. I suppose that's why I decided to walk the streets that night. I didn't really have a plan, I just walked up all one thousand steps. I was thinking I would take one more look at the estate, maybe get a sense of what we were in for. I never actually got that far though. I was just rounding the corner in front of Hyperion's temple when I heard her.
"Strange time for a walk, Mr. Locke."
I turned. I don't know what I expected, but this little slip of a girl, all braids and large-set amethyst eyes wasn't on the list. Something about her seemed familiar, but I couldn't place it. Maybe she worked in one of the coffee houses? It nagged at me.
"Oh," I said, struggling with a convenient lie, "Just, you know..." She waved off my excuses with a hand.
"I bet you're on a case!" She giggled and did a gleeful dance, "How marvelous! I bet you're after those men I saw in the alley earlier!" She stopped her capering to look me straight in the eye, now dead serious.
"The ones with the black orb."
My jaw fell open. I couldn't believe my luck!
"Where?" I sputtered looking around. The girl didn't seem to mind, and skipping away she pointed at a small lane winding between the temples. I made for the alley as fast as my feet would carry me, hoping I'd be close enough behind that I could find their entrance into the estate. As I darted into the alley, I again heard the girl's laugh, as well as the muffled voice of a man.
"That was rude," the man said, and as their voices faded behind me, I heard her respond, "I know."
I had no time to think about it. I followed the alley as it curved behind another temple. Ahead of me, shadows stretched in pale green light. The men in question, no doubt, I thought. I slowed to as quiet a walk as I could muster and continued to creep closer. The men had stopped ahead of me and within a few seconds their voices became clear. There were two of them from the sound of it.
"You sure this is the place?" The voice was deep, but unsure. The partner sounded smaller, but more confident.
"Course I am, aren't I?" There was the sound of something shuffling and then in the darkness, the loud bang of stone against stone. They'd dropped the Spinereaver.
"Hey now! Careful with the merchandise! Lucian says we can't crack it nor chip it if we's want to get paid!" The smaller man sounded angry now.
"B-but it moved!" came the startled reply.
Over their talk I could hear a faint crackling. The glow grew brighter, now illuminating the men clearly. I could see the light's source, too. It was the Spinereaver, it had to be. I swore under my breath.
It's an egg! That bastard Sel deals in dragon eggs! The light was growing brighter and more cracks began to show through the blackened surface.
"Run you idiots! It's hatching!" I yelled as I ran toward them. Their horrified faces broke away from the egg and onto me.
"It's Locke! Lay sail Valm, run!" The smaller man shouted and he fled down the alley. His taller companion, Valm, turned to follow. The Spinereaver egg began to shake and roll in the alley, the thing inside clearly struggling to be free. I watched, frozen, unable to decide between fleeing or attempting to deal with the dragon whelp that would soon present itself. But I never got a choice, as the foul thing burst open before me.
The monster that crawled from that egg was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was bathed in sickly light. A shining black carapace covered it from elongated head to tip of a jagged, bladed tail. It opened its mouth and hissed, ichor dripping from crystal fangs. Its eyeless head gleamed in the emerald glare. Somehow, it locked its focus on me and tensed to give chase. Astra as my witness, I ran.
It was truly alien, I realized. No dragon brood in the Lands Below was anything like this thing now running me down. Looking over my shoulder I saw the creature, still wet with birth-slime as it scrabbled up the wall of the temple to my left. It was as comfortable clinging to the wall as I was on the ground, and it was gaining on me. I knew then that I couldn't outrun it. If I wanted to live, I had to change my tactics.
I skidded to a stop and turned, planning to bellow at the thing as loudly as I could. That trick supposedly works on Hellfire whelps, but before I could try the Spinereaver launched itself toward me. It flipped head over heels to whip that bladed tail across the space where my neck would have been, had I not thrown myself to the ground. This monster, even newly born, was lethal to the extreme. I could feel the heat of its saliva as it splashed across my cloak.
Before it could recover, I sped back the way we'd come. The smell of burning wool filled my nose and I saw that where the monster's spittle fouled my cloak, it smoldered as if burning. I unclasped the cloak with a shout, letting it drop the ground behind me. I had to get out of there and it seemed that there was no way, that day was full of strange luck.
"Locke!" Alandrea called to me from above, keeping pace with my run on the rooftops, "There's a cistern at the alley's end!"
A fiery crackling sounded out behind me, followed by that hiss. Somehow, in that clicking and hissing, I could feel the beast's boiling rage. I had assumed the creature hunted me out of desperate newborn hunger, but now I realized it simply burned to see me dead. This was devastation incarnate and once again, it was gaining ground. My only salvation was that the narrow confines of the alley made it impossible for the thing to spread its wings and fly.
A twang of bowstrings rang out from above me. The Queen of Thieves had brought her men, who even now were taking pot shots. The creature screamed, its hissing voice rising as an arrow struck its head. It should have been grievously wounded, but still it came, gaining speed and strength even as life's blood poured from the wound.
The monster again took to the wall, crystalline claws gouging out stonework as it crested the roof. It took two of Alandrea's sell-swords with a single thrashing motion of that tail. The warning I shouted was inarticulate, but was enough to catch Alandrea's attention. She leapt from the roof just in time to escape the same fate as her men, to drop lithely to her feet at the cistern's cover.
She prized it open as I approached, and together we dropped into the water below and allowed the bronze cover to slam shut. Above us, we heard the howls of the creature, thrashing madly at the cover. We waited tensely for the beast to bleed out and die, and when it finally grew quiet, we cautiously climbed to the top and began to push the hatch aside.
With a flash and a hiss, a knife-like tail stabbed into the space between by hands, missing my torso by mere inches. The bastard had lain in wait! I struggled to pull the cover closed. The black tail withdrew and again the beast shifted above us, hissing and spitting. Suddenly, dozens of thumps rang out across the cistern's cover, like the sound of hail upon a rooftop, and all fell quiet. Alandrea and I looked nervously between us.
"It's quiet safe Mr. Locke. You can come out now." Came Lord Lucian's voice.
I'll spare you the conversation that followed, but suffice it to say, Lucian was not amused. He had never seen the Spinereaver egg and he certainly had never stolen it from Maratine Sel, whoever that was. In fact, it would turn out that Sel didn't exist, in Mephos or anywhere else. It was an invented identity. There was no ether storm coming, either. And Sel himself had hired the men to carry the egg into position beneath Lord Lucian's house. Left unmolested it would have hatched the following day, when my merry band were infiltrating the estate. We were patsies, the lot of us.
Funny thing is, Lucian had started to put all the pieces together after watching me case his estate from his window earlier that day. He was already expecting trouble when he saw me again that night, entering the alley. I guess my reputation as a monster hunter put me in the clear this time. Lucian didn't believe I'd planned to kill him and more importantly, it bothered him that he didn't know who wanted him dead. He was even less amused at the method. After examination, the best dragon breeders in the city concluded that it was a previously unknown breed, with a physiology they had never seen before. One of them lost a finger, testing the edge of the thing's tail.
Turns out that Lucian and I have a few things in common, too. Lucian isn't a man to let a mystery go unsolved, so now I have a new case and a new monster to hunt: Maratine Asel.
Let the hunt begin.
- Keep yourself safe-Spinereaver is a fragile hunter, not really meant to go toe-to-toe with its prey. Watch your health carefully and know when to retreat to stalk your prey anew.
- Use your friends as bait-Your ideal attack run will be against a crowd of enemies who are presently engaged. If they've forgotten you're hovering nearby, you are your most lethal. Rage at the fools, then strike in quickly with a Tail Thrash or four, but be ready to pull out the second they begin to resist your assault. Let your friends clean up the mess.
- Go all in-Considering how paper thin Spinereaver can seem at first, it's tempting to pair it with a purely defensive weapon. There is definitely some sound logic in that, but consider instead going all in on offense. If you're a good dragon rider you should be able to get in and get away without needing to rely on defensive shields, allowing you to focus on offensive weaponry that will maximize your damage when you rush in to strike.