Nix tied up Flash outside the stables and walked in. The Ever Flame stables was an elongated structure big enough to house three dozen horses. There was a row of stalls on each wall, with a third group of stalls that ran down the middle. The pungent smell of horse manure put a smile on his face; briefly, he wondered how his own horses were doing.
A dark-skinned older man leaning on a pitchfork waved a greeting at him. "That's quite the horse you have there."
"He's fierce and runs like the wind." Nix sized up the stable master. "Got mares in heat?"
The older man's face turned pensive. "I do, but before we talk, I would want to test him."
"Go ahead." Nix smiled pleasantly when the older man motioned for one of his assistants.
The old man's voice held a slight accent, one of the first Nix heard in Colonial. "Take him around the perimeter of the town; see what he can do."
The assistant was a rail-thin girl dressed in brown leather. She had lively green eyes that darted everywhere. "Will he come at me if I try to mount him?"
Nix nodded and walked out the door. After untieing Flash from the hitching post, he waited until she was mounted before handing her the bridle. "Hope you can ride."
The skinny girl's face was smudged with dirt, and her crazy light brown hair was sticking in multiple directions. "Don't worry about me; I can ride."
Nix watched as she put heels to Flash and accelerated down the road like she was shot from a cannon. After watching for a moment, he went back inside.
"You're kinda trusting." The older man hadn't moved from his pitchfork; Nix decided it was actually a prop and not something he was about to use.
"Am I?" Nix gazed at the man, his face expressionless. "If she doesn't come back, I'll take all of these horses and then burn this stable to the ground with you inside."
The old man suppressed a shudder, suddenly wishing he hadn't said anything. "Her name is Randa; she's been helping me for quite a few years."
Nix's quick eye had already found three horses he was interested in. They were smaller horses, with longer fur and rugged-looking bodies. Exactly the kind he would need in when they went through the pass. "I want those three horses, the mountain ponies."
The two made small talk for a few minutes while Randa was riding Flash. The old man's name was Thitz, and he inherited the stable from his grandfather. He had two assistants who were both orphans in their late teens.
Randa was smiling from ear to ear when she rode Flash in through the double-doors a few minutes later. "He's fast Thitz, I've never ridden better."
Thitz nodded; it was evident that he trusted her judgment when it came to horses. "Those horses you mentioned, normally it would be 25k for the three of them. Let me keep your stud for three days, and you can have them for 5k."
Nix shook his head. "That's too long, I'll be in Free Trade City in three days, two days and we have a deal."
The older man nodded, and they sealed the deal with a handshake.
Nix exited town a few minutes later; he rode one of the horses he had bargained for and led the other two. Rumors in town said that half of the Spire Chaser guild was locked in the stocks while the other half had gone into hiding, somewhere in the mountains.
A quick glance at his hud told Nix he was early for his meeting when rode into the gully that hid Zane's forge. His three partners had already arrived and were standing in a circle talking. He created a group channel and then invited all three of them.
/Spire: Nix: Heya guys.
/Spire: Mollie: Hi.
/Spire: Circa: Hey, Nix.
/Spire: Lu Ban: Afternoon.
Nix could see that Lu Ban was wearing some high-end armor, but he didn't ask to see it. "We ready to go?"
According to Nix's hud, the Oracle was located far to the east, close to the coastal mountain range that blocked off Neva's access to the sea. Nightmare led the procession, and the three mountain ponies fell in step behind her.
/Spire: Mollie: You're the guild leader of Inferno, right Nix?
/Spire: Nix: Yes.
/Spire: Lu Ban: Is Inferno big?
/Spire: Nix: Most of Inferno is made up of NPCs and Lifestyle players, our raid force is around fifty people.
The foothills they were riding in quickly became a series of low peaks and valleys, after a few hours of riding they entered a heavily forested valley bordered by steep rock walls. When they stopped by a fast-flowing river to water the horses, Nix slipped off Nightmare's kit and let her walk around.
Lu Ban stopped suddenly, letting the water he had cupped in his hands fall back into the stream.
Nix: 3m. N
Circa: 3m. N
Mollie: 3m. N
Shado Benz: 10m. W
Rendel: 448m. W
Bone Cracker: 448m. W
Hyatt: 449m. W
Krensi: 449m. W
Yathiz: 449m. W
Orman: 450m. W
Delia the Beautiful: 450m. W
Captain Faex: 451m. W
Lu Ban laughed loudly and slapped his leg. "Nix! Come see this message that Zane sent us.
"Hmm?" Nix stepped closer and looked at the tracking screen the ranger had brought up on his hud. "Damn that Zane, he wants his armor back?"
Ducky glanced around the area, her blue eyes taking in everything.
[Whisper: Nix to Ducky] Someone is close, bring them in.
Ducky nodded and strolled casually toward a dense stand of trees and disappeared from sight.
/Spire: Lu Ban: Who was that?
/Spire: Nix: One of my Spirit Companions.
/Spire: Mollie: I like the blue hair, what is she?
/Spire: Nix: Water Witch, she specializes in crowd control.
A few minutes later, Ducky returned arm in arm with a small man dressed in black. He wore his hair cut short, and his face had been darkened with mud or paint.
Ducky patted his arm. "Nix, this is Shado. He is a member of the group that is waiting for you."
Nix frowned at the small man who barely came up to his shoulder. "What do you want?"
Ducky answered for him. "They are after you. Word is spreading among the bandit camps; they want you out of the way."
Nix turned to the valley entrance; only trees were visible. "For what? Zed and his guild are barely worth it."
Ducky shook her head. "He doesn't know, but you've become their highest priority. The mountain pass has been sealed in case you try to escape to Free Trade City."
Nix shrugged and turned back to the river to collect Nightmare. "Could be worse. Anything else?"
Ducky nodded, her blue eyes following Nix while he saddled his mount. "There is an Intrepid with them."
Nix cursed. "That's worse."
Lu finally stopped staring at Ducky long enough to speak. "What's an Intrepid?"
Ducky pursed her lips together as she considered the best way to describe it. "They create a dead zone. A large area where no magic of any kind can be used. That includes artifacts and enhancements. Intrepids are very rare."
Nix nodded in agreement. "Forget about any bonus or ability your equipment adds also, nothing will work around her."
Mollie muttered a swear word under her breath. "How's that fair? Isn't such an existence against the rules of nature?"
Ducky's pretty face saddened slightly. "Intrepids are peaceful beings; once they activate their dead zones, they die within a few hours."
"They are on the move again, closing on our position." Lu Ban stared at his hud while pulling out his bow. "Damn...my tracking just shut off."
"The Intrepid is active." Nix walked away from the river to stand on the edge of a small grove of saplings. "Take care of Shado, but have him give his weapons to Circa first."
Ducky nodded and whispered something to the small rogue. Shado handed both of his daggers to Circa and then picked up the largest boulder he could manage.
Nix waited until Shado walked into the river and disappeared from sight. "Ready yourself, non-magic attacks first."
/Spire: Mollie: Where'd he go?
/Spire: Lu Ban: Forget him.