Dec 072013

Killing a worthy opponent doesn’t usually bother me. By this time in my life I have realised how little it matters to keep score, but in my youth I would often take pride in such things. Strangely, even though the body at my feet had been skilled fighter and would have been a sore test of my skills had I been alone, I felt a little melancholic. Although Daggerbills are said to posses a keen animal intelligence, they still do what they are trained to do, and that makes them – like all pets – little more than slaves. There’s nothing to be gained from killing such a creature, and I wish – even to this day – that we had acted differently.

There were other concerns at the time though, and finding out why we had to kill the Daggerbill was one of them.  Laying dead a few paces back was our answer. The man looked to be a scout, and after going through his things, there was little doubt he was either that or a smuggler. He had a tent designed to kept hidden throughout the year, and in various locales, and carried on him clothing that would allow him to pass for either a Dummonii or a Pelosian. It looked like he had failed to convince at least one side though, as he had died slowly from several wounds. It was hard to say for sure if they were caused by the dirks of the Partisans, or the sword shorts favoured by the Pelosian Legions, but he had died slowly from a wound that had cut deep.

It looked like he had lain there dying for some time, and had finally passed a day or so before we came across him. His pet was obviously loyal, and had stayed to defend its master even when there was no saving him. I don’t know if the Gods look kindly on animals and birds, but I would like to think that they would make a special case for this one. We found a name tag on it as we were searching for anything of value, and finding out it was named “Daffy” didn’t help my mood at all, but at least I had a name for it if ever I had the chance to offer up a prayer.

Valerius was quick to take everything he could see of use or that would be worth more than a copper or two. I don’t know if he was also a book keeper in his real life, or if it was just in Pelosian nature to organise and record everything, but he was always the first to take on such a role, writing stick in hand, cataloging what we were taking while the rest of us packed it away. Most of it would be worth a little bit, adding maybe a few coins each to our share if we could find a buyer, but he did have one item of significant value on him. A leather bracer with an engraved coin fitted in place so it would sit over the inner wrist.

I had seen such items before, and was impressed that the scout had been able to afford one. At first I thought it was worth little though, as the wax seal that protects the rune was already broken. In the fight for his life he must have been desperate, and summoned forth the rune engraved there; Faranol’s Most Excellent Testudo as I remembered. It would have brought forth a magical shield centered on the bracer to help him defend himself. It had obviously been either too little or too late, and I was ready to throw it into the pile of assorted goods. I’m glad I took the time to pay a bit more attention though. There was still wax around the coin, and turning it over I saw that the clever little man had made sure both sides were engrave with the same rune.

Having one use left made it worth at least a couple of hundred coins, if we could find someone to pay for it, so I drew Valerius’ attention to the item, explaining what it was and how it was used. I don’t know if I expected him to impressed by the object, but he barely raised his head from his book keeping as I spoke.

With the fog still hanging heavy in the air, it seemed like night was almost upon us already. We were still some hours from the river crossing though, so made what ground we could before night fully enveloped us. The road we were on was clearly well used, and as we made our way through the early dusk, the signs of other travelers became more obvious. Littering the ground on either side of the road were discarded water skins and food waste. The path was rutted and muddy, with boot prints still in evidence all around us. If you’re reading this from the comfort of your family home, a home you have little reason to leave, you might wonder why this set my nerves so on edge.

That far away from civilisation, there’s no one you should trust. At any point we could have come across a detachment of Pelosian soldiers, and we’d be almost as likely to have our lives threatened as we did by the Partisans the day before. Only Skuza and Valerius would have a chance of keeping our skins safe if that happened, and it was far from certain they’d be able to do so easily. Even without the soldiers on either side, there would still be bandits to deal with on the roads. With the war wrapping up for the winter, they would be out in force, preying on anyone left behind, taking what they could by force or deceit.

Eventually the light vanished from the world though, and with no other option we made camp just off the road, and had to hope for the best. Caderyn was still suffering after his wrestle with the Corbie and was in no fit state to bring down fresh game for our evening meal. Daffy had one last purpose though, and we ate well from his flesh. Hard to imagine that I had lamented his passing only hours previous, and there I was licking the grease from my fingers as I tore the skin from his thighs with my teeth. A good bird to the end.

*     *     *

We slept well that night, and I had taken the time remind everyone not familiar with the activities of the New Raphelian people what would happen at dawn. I was once again awake after my watch and was amazed how Brand was able to know when the sun rose, as the mist was even thicker today. It seemed like people were finally getting used to the hollering and waling from him, as even Skuza had little to say about it over breakfast. “Really Valerius, every morning?” was all he had to say as the doctor nodded his head resignedly.

His resolve was obviously shaken though, as his desire to “rough it” with the men had vanished that morning, replaced with an overwhelming desire to have a warm bath. I knew how long it would take his poor manservant to drag the bloody thing into place, fill it with water and heat it all too, and was ready to convince him against such foolishness. Brand was quicker than I that morning though, and was able to talk him round. “My lord”, I seem to recall him saying, “You should wait until we have completed the day’s travel. You will be hot and dirty after our journey, and will only need to bathe again, so why not wait”? he looked doubtful, but the forlorn expression on his man’s face seemed to have done the job.

“Very well, for this morning just a thorough wash should suffice”, he says, looking slightly crestfallen. “And a shave mind you, must maintain a certain standard, no matter where one lays one’s head.” I did feel sorry for his man, and I had helped carry that gods forsaken bath myself, but I felt the need for a little flourish, and since I had a couple of the runes prepared, I used the Wash-maiden to freshen myself and my clothes up while the water was heated for Skuza. As the old man set about sharpening Skuza’s pearl handled straight razor, I noticed the edge on my own wasn’t up to the task. Rather than spend the time, or ask the old fellow to do it for me – I’m sure Skuza would have insisted had I asked – I set about it with another rune.

Over kill for certain; the rune used was designed for combat, to put a murderous edge or point on a blade so that it cuts through armour and skin like they were butter. Still, a clean shaved cheek was in order, and I’m sure I wouldn’t regret showing off later.

The mist again was our constant companion as we trudged through the grey light of the morning, seeing all around us the detritus of passing traffic and soon enough the signs of a recent and bloody battle. Bodies were littering the ground around us and as we moved further into their still and silent ranks, living people could be spied amongst them. Scavengers and ghouls, looking thin and wan as they scurried around, pulling scraps of clothes from remained of the bodies. It looked like anything of value had long since been claimed, perhaps by stronger more able bodied sorts than this sorry lot. They were determined though, and as we passed through them, their ranks began to thicken.

We must have looked like rich pickings indeed, when the best they could have hoped for until now was a set of teeth without too much rot, and maybe a ring ripped from the gut of a man who had swallowed it to keep it safe. The bloody and ragged masses were eyeing us hungrily as we made our way through the open air charnel house that the war had left behind. I was loath to advertise our wealth any more than I had to, but they also needed to know what would happen if they were foolish enough to try and rush us, so I drew my Basaedo as I walked forward. In no time at all, there were dozens, with dozens more in reserve, and they knew they had us outnumbered. I was eyeing the crowd looking out for ringleaders and bravos, but for now they seemed content to keep enough distance from us so they couldn’t feel the sting of a weapon.

I was feeling nervous, but doing my best to stay calm, or at least look it. If the horde thought they had us spooked, they could just about muster the courage to swamp us. I glanced to my left to see how Caderyn was fairing, and if I looked anything like as spooked as him, we were sure to be overrun in moments. Spitting onto the ground near one of the vagrants, I did my best to look imposing, hoping my not inconsiderable height might make up for the nerves that were almost certainly showing all over my face by now.

Valerius must have been aware of our predicament too, as the next time I glanced to our rear he had climbed onto the top of his wagon, and was stringing his bow. “Don’t worry about them, they’re just scavengers. They’re weak”, came Caderyn’s voice as we walked, and I just wished he looked as confident as he sounded. We were approaching a large ruck of them, and they edged closer as we moved forwards. I strengthened my grip on my steel as the Dummonii brought his shield up, looking ready to smash it into the face of anyone who came too close. “Stay away from this caravan”, he shouted, “you don’t want to end up like these poor bastards, yer innards getting picked through at the side of the road”!

A high pitched voice, screeching almost to the point of breaking came back at us, “Many have made such threats, Partisan, and they lay around you still. You’re not the ones to stop us”! In the midst of all the blood and ichor, it took a moment to work out where the call had come from, but twenty or so yards away a woman was on her knees, bloody up to her shoulders, one hand deep up the guts of a fallen warrior. Her other hand was dripping blackened blood from an organ she had torn from the man, and as she finished her cry she threw it towards us. With a dull wet noise it struck the side of Skuza’s carriage, and left a dark trail as it slid quickly into the dirt.

“Then try my words, hag! Step forward and find see if you have the stomach for killing, rather than harvesting from those already dead”, came his reply. The woman held her ground, but refused to drop her gaze. Any second now – I think – and the crowd will lose control. But they held back as we moved onward, Valerius an imposing figure from his perch, and Brand’s cold eyes keeping them back when our words weren’t enough. Ahead of us and a way off the road, even more scavengers could be seen.

These weren’t random people looking for a few hard earned coins though, but more likely the stronger of them that had claimed their prizes early, and were now sharing in the pleasure of having money to spend and gamble. Once again it seemed like the night was coming down early due to the damnable mist, and they had already lit fires to dance and fuck around. More of them were playing games, either of sport or to gamble on, with cat calls and jeers, accusations of cheating joining in the sound of dice rolling and the turn of a card. Children ran amongst them, playing games their own, and if you didn’t look too closely at what they were using as ‘balls’ in their games, it could almost be jolly.

Skuza seemed like he had something to prove after getting his home pelted with human organs, and the fact that they were some distance away did wonders for his courage. He was out of his carriage and drawing his sword as we went past them, insisting that something be done to put a stop to the ungodly way they were desecrating the dead. I didn’t want to draw too much attention to the fact they were treating the corpses of both sides with the same lack of respect, but it was unnecessary anyway. His health was a constant vexation for him, but once again had saved us from his caterwauling as he struggled for both breath and balance before losing to both and falling silently down. Thankfully the scavengers were more concerned with their own merriment than claiming us as an extra prize, and as the minutes passed we left them behind.

The bodies laying all around became fewer as we moved away from the worst of the fighting that this nameless field had seen, and that meant less vagrants to threaten our safety. Without knowing exactly when, it seemed like we had made our way into what was once a village of some kind. The buildings were even less complete than the ones we had passed through recently, but I was still on edge. Luckily the lack of walls gave us plenty on opportunity to check them out for ambushes before we got too close. Eventually we came to a fork in the road, and Vitus was quick to call us to a halt so we could choose our best course.

Caderyn was keen on heading left towards Maiden’s Play and the river crossing he knew of, but Vitus wasn’t happy about attempting a crossing at night with so many animals and so few trained handlers. I voiced my agreement, and when Vitus offered another option I was even more vocal. Down the right hand path there was a hostel, a place of healing where anyone was welcome, be they Partisan or Pelosian, Or neither, as I so happened to be. We could have a night sleeping indoors, although they may have been left open all night, as was the way of these nuns. We could eat while sat around a table, and Skuza could bugger off to a Numare only private room for his bath so none of the rest of us would have to worry about his vanity shield falling over in a stiff breeze. I think Caderyn would have been prepared to try for the crossing rather than hang out with a bunch of Pelosian holy women, but everyone else was in agreement, and so we turned the hormorn right and set of to the hostel.

*     *     *

It was a couple of hours later that we saw the lights ahead of us, and I remember smiling to myself in anticipation. It was a large building, with huge lumber logs driven into the ground to create a hell of wall. The outer doors were, as we expected, open to all who would seek refuge. Closing in though, the smile dropped from all of our faces.

There were figures in the doorway, six of them. One was stood, ready to welcome us into the hostel, but the others hung from the wooden beams that crossed the top of the entrance way. From the clothes that were stuck to their slight frames with drying blood, I suspected they were the nuns. Our gracious host had kept the torches burning, so even from a fair distance we could see that they had been subjected to many wounds before being hanged. “Greetings”, he yelled, his voice sounding strange coming from within a large and ornate metal helm. “Welcome to this place of safety”!

His entire body was encased in metal. It was the first time in my life I had seen anyone wearing a full set of Pelo’s Plate, and to this day it still inspires a certain kind of awe. He was a short man, and stockily built, and as we drew closer I could see several ribbons of parchment hanging from his armour. At the time I had no idea what was the point of this ornamentation, but I have since discovered they were prayers and blessings, each commemorating a battle or engagement the soldier had fought in. The amount he had draped about his frame meant he was certainly a champion of high regard, but his voice didn’t seem to match his appearance.

True enough, his voice was certainly affected by the full helm he wore, but even so, it sounded too young for one so highly decorated. I know that most armies are happy to recruit from the young and impressionable, but they must have grabbed this one from his mother’s teat if he had been campaigning long enough to have so many laurels and still sound like a boy dressed in his father’s best. The voice notwithstanding, we had all slowed down as we approached. Hanging nuns are enough to give even paid killers a moments pause, especially when the bugger that almost certainly strung them up is welcoming you in, seemingly unaware of their presence.

With one hand on the grip of an eight flanged mace, easily big enough to give the Hutzlunr something to think about, he gestured again for us to come in, “please weary travelers, enter and enjoy what little hospitality we have to spare. All are welcome here, except those who practice dark and forbidden rituals that shame Pelo’s grace.” He was obviously crazy, but he just as obviously had a pretty fatal case of religion too. Over the few days of the journey so far, I had thought Skuza a little too pious for comfort, but he was nothing compared to the holy warriors of the Mazarantiom.

Those forbidden rituals he talked of could be the only reason he had strung the nuns up by the necks after torturing them. I very much wanted to not enter the place he had made his own, but to back away now would have looked suspicious to him, and at the time I had no reason to think he wasn’t alone. Behind him I could see several bodies on the floor of the courtyard, and for all I knew he could have dispatched them all, or had a dozen friends tending to the wounded, all armoured like himself. “My friends, there is no reason to be afraid to enter. Only those traitorous to the way of Pelo would turn away from his light which is offered within. You are not such traitors are you?” The voice, while still sounding younger than it should, now had an edge of steel to it. Iron can be hardened to steel in many ways, but craziness does a damned fine job.

What option did I have? I sheathed my steel and stepped forward with a smile. Caderyn looked worried, and ready to kill. “What the hell’s going on here”, he asked in Dummonii, hoping the crazy bastard hadn’t learned his tongue. With only a couple of dozen strides until we would be face to face with the man in the shiny armour, I had to keep my voice down.

“I think that the bastard in the metal has some damned strange ideas about what constitutes a sin, and has acted against these women in the manner you see before you. He should give us passage as long as we act like Skuza’s men , so for now play the good little slave, and we might see the morning”. He looked at me askance, and I realised I had used the Raphelian word for slave. I had no idea how to get across to him what I meant, so just nodded towards Brand and hoped he could figure it out. By then we were a few paces away so I bowed deeply to the man in charge. “Good evening my lord”, said I, “We were unsure if you had room for us, I can see behind you that many injured are currently in residence within these illustrious walls”.

“Worry not weary travelers, these doors remain always open, and welcoming to any who need aid. Please, enter and take your rest”. I walked past him with Caderyn and was glad to put as many paces as possible between me and him. How he could see so happy, with blood from his victims dripping inches from his shiny plate; it just made me want to punch him, and never stop. Behind me I could hear Valerius question the knight, asking about officers and detachments, but it seemed that no one was in charge here but the crazy bastard. At least he had introduced himself, now that he was talking to another Pelosian. His name was Ser Castus Fedenzo, and there was only him and his squire who were better off than the nearly dead bodies of soldiers that littered the hostel courtyard.

We saw his squire shortly after that, walking amongst the bodies, administering aid where he could. Slattero was his name, and he looked tired to the point of falling over, but still managed to smile when he saw us. “Welcome travelers, I wish I had more to offer you, but I have many patients, and scant resources as it is”. Looking about I realised that my estimates on the number of casualties was well short of the truth, dozens upon dozens of men laid about, and I wouldn’t want to bet more than a copper or two that any two of them would live to see the sunrise. The squire was quick to walk from us to see to a wounded man who had just begun screaming in agony, giving me the chance to speak to those of us still with the caravans.

“If we sleep here tonight, sleep with a weapon close to hand, and try and stay close to each other”, I begun in Pelo-Margo, “This bastard is crazy, and I have no idea what he’ll do. I do know that while he’s in that armour he could kill any one of us easy as breathing, and I’m not sure if all of us together could take him down without him taking one of us with him.” Caderyn didn’t look convinced though and was looking towards the exit.

“I don’t want to be here for a night, not with that prick. I could get out of here, stay somewhere safer until morning”. I’m sure he thought he was making a sensible move, but when dealing with crazy, sensible doesn’t always make sense.

“He’ll take that as an insult at the very least, and at worst he’ll imagine you have something to hide of an heretic nature. He will ask us what that is, and torture us to find out. Right now, with the way Skuza has been about Pelo’s way, I’m not sure if he would even put up much of a fuss about one of us being at the mercy of that prick. You’ll put us all at danger if you leave, just try and stay out of his way, this is a big enough place and we can sleep with the wagons.” I put on my most earnest face as I spoke, and thankfully my words got through to him. He nodded to me before checking again that his axe and shield were ready to be used if needed and walked back into the shadows of the wagons that were being arranged in a crescent formation. Fjorlief looked just as doubtful, and I tried my best to reassure her. “Just play nice, and when in doubt, smile and bow. It seems he doesn’t speak anything other than Pelosian, so he might not even bother trying to convert you. Me on the other hand…” I smiled and turned away to make sure everyone else was prepared for the worst.

From the large central building I could hear the high pitched tones of our far from gracious host inviting us all in for a meal. I wandered over to see the Pelosians stood near the doorway. Said doorway was surrounded by symbols daubed onto the wood in white paint, as were all the windows. My training in the complex arts of Daemonology was nonexistent and still is, but the Pelosian’s anti-Daemonic fervour left me in no doubt that Fedenzo had painted them there to keep out any sign of Daemonic taint. At the time I had no idea just how much this would be a problem for some of our party, but I had my suspicions about Drazar that would soon be confirmed.

I had no such problems, and was very happy to play nice with the crazy murdering fucker, so walked towards him with a smile all over my face, and dropped into my best Pelosian, “Why thank you kind host. I know these ladies and gentlemen would be happy to join you, but some of our party have other duties”. Drazar was staying clear for one, and Caderyn looked like he was happy to stay with the wagons. “Once they have finished they will probably just eat some rations and sleep under the stars, as is their way”. He looked happy to have myself and Fjorlief join them, but was insistent that the others also sit together and eat; some kind of Pelosian matter about treating your guests well, but at the time I just put it down to all the crazy.

Skuza was in his element, offering food to his man before he had anything himself, and then talking to Fedenzo about Pelo and all that is holy. Fjorlief caught none of it, but the knight was looking towards her and asked if we had yet to take our rightful place on the path of Pelo’s way. I had to translate for her, but did my best to deflect the question, “We are all in the process of being educated by our noble employer, my lord Skuza”. Of course he was quick to take the praise, but Fedenzo was just as quick to question his training in such matters.

“Ah, of course. One does one’s humble best, ah, but I think I’m making some substantial headway, in matters of the, ah, spiritual”, he mumbled away, obviously nervous in the face of such religious fervour. By now the knight had taken his helmet off, and his face looked just as young as the voice that issued from it. Playing nice seemed to have worked though as he did seem to be at his ease with us. After we had all eaten, Skuza was quick to take his leave and go and enjoy a bath, but our host offered the facilities to our female companions first. Once again I had to translate, but made sure to include a warning, and that if there was any trouble that Fjorlief was to stamp hard onto the floor three times to let us know. As they walked through the door to the upper floor, Fedenzo placed his prodigious mace against the door to keep the men folk from disturbing them and went out to see if the rest of our group was yet ready to join us for an evening meal.

*     *     *

For several years prior to this venture I allowed myself to get into all manner of trouble by acting before I thought about the consequences. Watching the Knight stride purposefully towards the doorway I began thinking about what could go wrong if I was correct in any way about Drazar’s true nature. I couldn’t follow the conversation, but I saw over his shoulder that Drazar was at least engaging with him. The masked man was walking towards the door, but slowly. Fedenzo’s back was to me, but I imagined his eyes fixed on Drazar, following his every pace as they slowed down the closer he got to the door and its painted sigils. My breathing had all but stopped as he came to a halt a pace or two from the door, then reversed his course, stepping backwards away from the knight. Shit.

I exhaled slowly as Fedenzo turned to face back into the building and began walking with a purpose towards the large mace he had left blocking access to the upper floor. All my thoughts about what could go wrong, what could go right, who would get hurt, who could die; they vanished and I found myself striding towards him, aiming to stop him before he had a chance to grab his weapon. He had taken his helmet off, which gave me a small chance, but my dagger would be next to useless in parrying the eight flanged mace he had his eyes set on. As I closed the distance, I knew I wouldn’t have long to put a stop to this, “Please, you don’t want to do this”, I said, with quiet resolve.

“He refuses to pass the wards. Either he’s barred from entering because of them, or he fears to try. It is my duty to question him, and I intend to do that very thing”. He had stopped short at my approach, and given me an opportunity; I could either leave him to his delusion that would give him cause to torture and kill poor Drazar, or I could try and stop him. Words weren’t going to be enough though, it is often impossible to reason with those who have eschewed it in favour of religion. Violence was my only option, but I had a few other tricks up my sleeve before we would have to exchange blows. With a swift movement that he clearly wasn’t expecting I had inscribed Lisanna’s Sudden Squall onto the air in font of me while drawing my Baseado with my right hand.

Even behind the rune hanging in the air in front of me I could feel the draft of air being sucked forward to blow away from me with the force of a gale. Fedenzo looked ready to resist, but the weight of his armour threw him off balance and he toppled to the ground in front of my, sliding a few yards away as the wind increased. I had the advantage, but couldn’t press it just yet. Walking forward even a pace would take me passed the rune I had traced in the air, and would see me caught in the squall as well. That would be a neophyte error, and one I wasn’t about to make. Caderyn it seemed wasn’t aware that the air was still moving with the speed and force of small hurricane, and with a cry of “For Branoc!” he charged towards the fallen knight with his axe held high. I knew it was going to happen, but there was no way I could have warned him in time, and he fell forward, slipping over the ground too, joining Fedenzo in a heap on the floor. Whoever this Branoc was, he obviously didn’t favour those who charger headlong into magical gales.

With only a few seconds left before he would try and regain his footing I had to keep my advantage. Remembering that two more of our party were upstairs I first called for reinforcements. I had told Fjorlief what to do if she needed help, and hoped she would understand that I was in need myself as I shouted “Three!”, and lifted my left hand towards the blade of my steel, preparing to put a wicked edge on it with a rune reserved for this very kind of situation.

Damnation! I had cast that rune earlier in the day just to sharpen a razor and impress Skuza!

I wasn’t out of tricks yet though, and the wind would take a few more seconds to die down. Pelanore’s Bumbling Befuddlement would have to do. It was a subtle rune, and there was no real way of knowing it had worked, unless the victim just flat out fell on his arse, but I had to try it. Helmet or not, I needed every edge I could get. Encased in his armour as he was I thought back to my schooling as i prepared to strike him, the rune glowing faintly as it was cast. “Aim for armpits, the throat or the belly. All armour has weak points, and if the wearer needs to move a limb that’s where you can slide a blade. Unless the bastard’s wearing Pelo’s plate though, then you’re fucked young ser”. All wise words indeed.

And here I was, stood in front of a man who was getting back to his feet wearing a well decorated set of Pelo’s bastarding plate. Caderyn was regaining his footing too, as the air whipped past them both, and I could hear from behind me the crashing of large and hurried footsteps coming down the stairs. “Cease this foolishness, NOW!”, came a cry from behind me. Valerius, I had guessed, without turning my back on my opponent for even for a second. At least he seemed on our side, hoping his voice would calm down Fedenzo where mine had failed.

Sadly it didn’t seem to have worked as he was striding confidently towards me, probably hoping to brush me aside as he went for his mace. I struck out quickly, hoping to convince him otherwise, but if the rune had taken affect, he was still in possession of his fighter’s instincts, and managed to turn his head away at the last second. The Dummonii had more luck than me though. Striking from behind, his axe glanced off the knight’s head, opening a bright red wound that barely seemed to slow him down. Rushing past me and into the fray at that point was a tall, wet and naked Hutzlunr women, screaming bloody murder and armed with the two handed sword she had reclaimed for a fallen enemy. Damn, thinks I, somewhat inappropriately, that’s a fine looking woman, and built to my kind of scale.

She charged towards Fedenzo and swung at him, the impact so solid I could feel it through my feet, but the plate did its job. Brand was also in my eye line as this was going on, moving past us and out of the door. All I could assume was that he was hoping to find Drazar and defend him if we failed to bring Fedenzo down. It seemed that the knight had similar thoughts, and had realised he wasn’t getting through us to reclaim his mace. With few better choices available to him, he turned his back and ran through the melee towards the door.

I was flatfooted by this, no doubt. My pride was also a little wounded if I’m honest. It’s not often someone I’m in a sword fight with regards me as so little a threat that they turn and walk away from me. I made him regret it though, and stabbed into his face as he turned, his own momentum and a flick of my wrist opening up a bright red smile across his cheek. The point of my steel had bitten deep, and as the blood dropped onto the floor I heard the rattle of teeth hitting wood accompanying it.

Once again though, it seemed like Pelo was providing the impetus for him though, and he was away and running, leaving a trail of claret coloured drops in his wake. He had barged between us all, but some if us were quick on his heels, naked or otherwise. I admit to being a tiny bit distracted by all of the fine female flesh on show, and I was slower than I should have been in keeping up with Fedenzo, especially considering he was wearing heavy plate and bleeding from several wounds to the head. By the time I had closed the distance he had come across Drazar, and the Yerwian had already suffered a wound, his arm looking ragged and behind the rags that remained of his sleeve, also slightly scaled.

Blows quickly rained down on Fedenzo and it was only a matter of time before he fell. In the ruck I lost track of who had inflicted what wounds, but I remember with some pride that he finally fell from a bite of my own steel. I had thrust forward towards his face again, knowing that the armour would protect him everywhere else, and the point had pierced his eye, pushing back several inches. He was still upright as the blade withdrew, and I was thinking he may in fact be favoured by his God, but then his other eye went dark and he fell forward into the dirt.

Looking around, everyone of us seemed alive, but with a few wounds dotted about. Drazar looked me in the eye, and with a slight nod began walking amongst us, working his skills, and using magic to heal the damage that the knight had wrought. I checked everyone was okay, and could see Caderyn looking at the armour. I’m sure it would need beating out in a few places if it was going to fit him, but either way it was worth a small fortune. Looking him in the eye I said, “Don’t show disrespect to the body, but take the armour if you think it’s worth the effort”.

Fjorlief only just seemed to remember her sky clad appearance, and made to head back towards the communal area. I was heading that way too, so tagged along for the short walk. I don’t know what I was thinking, if there was any chance she would be interested in me, but I had to take the shot. “You fought well”, I say, with a cheeky smile playing across my lips, “and looked damned good while doing so, if I might add!” She looked across at me – I thanked the gods for being so tall, as if she had looked down on me after I had said that, I may very well have burst into flames – and smiled back, but hers looked a little more confused than I would have liked. What the hell, she was a fine looking woman, and could handle herself with a weapon, but maybe now wasn’t the time. I wasn’t going to let it go that easily though, just hang back for a spell.

As we came upon the doorway, Valerius was walking out of it, grim faced and would likely have charged us down if we had stayed in his path. Inside was something unexpected though; one more dead body than I had accounted for. The corpse of Slattero was laying face down on a table, where previously he had eaten after his master had prepared a bowl for him. The dark puddle around his head was all the information I needed about how he had died, but the why confused me somewhat. I turned to Vitus, who had stayed put throughout the fight, probably unsure what the hell to do, and who was on the right side. “What happened here”, I asked, pointing to the boy’s body.

“Valerius”, was the reply, delivered with a voice as cold as ice. At first I thought he was angry at the Numare, but the more we talked, the more I realised he was angry at me for striking down our host. “The boy had seen what happened, he could have talked, and Valerius wasn’t happy about that”.

“Who could the boy have spoken to? We were to be gone in the morning, and we could have destroyed any paperwork that Skuza handed over that could have placed us here”! I have never minded killing, and don’t want anyone to think that I was a saint that never struck an unfair blow on an undeserving enemy, but this still angered me. The lad was just trying to help the injured, and I doubt he had enjoyed what his master had perpetrated upon the nuns, and he certainly didn’t deserve to have died at the hand of someone he would have expected to protect him. “Sod it, lets get the body outside and bury them both”.

“So you killed Fedenzo then? And what the hell were you playing at attacking him like that? How do you expect me – expect us – to trust you if you’re going to behave like a fucking savage”! Vitus was on his feet, and heading towards me, not quite fast enough for it to be considered an attack, but I’m sure the thought of striking me down had occurred to him.

“I killed the man who slaughtered the nuns. I killed the man who was going after one of our traveling companions. And I have already killed others who have threatened this caravan’s safety. It was what I was hired to do, and I will do it just as vigorously defending anyone in it, yourself included. It’s why Skuza picked me, and if he picked Drazar as well, I don’t ask why, I just keep him alive. That’s my job, never doubt I will do it to the best of my ability.” I think that calmed him down, as his shoulders slumped and he nodded slowly in either agreement or resignation.

Skuza and Catranasia were around by now, and both had looked a mixture of angry and confused as I had walked in, but placated by my words. I meant every bit of it too. I had tried to get it across to Drazar, that even from a totally selfish viewpoint, my best chance of surviving until we reached the city was if everyone else was still alive and willing to fight to make sure I got there in one piece. Take that out of the equation, and I was trying to build a reputation. If every person in this group walked away from the endeavour knowing I was a man to be trusted when I was on a contract, and told their associates, I would be in good stead for my career.

That was a thought for the future though, and at the present, I wanted words with Valerius. I was killer, no doubt, but he was a murderer. As I walked back into the darkness, dead and dying bodies ranged all around me, I saw him on his knees. What makes one man pray for another who was so clearly deranged is beyond me, but I saw that my initial assumption was incorrect. He was digging a grave for the knight with his own hands. I realised at that point that I still had my sword in my hand, and that the knight’s blood still covered the point. I wiped it off onto the wet grass and watched. Whatever his reasons for doing what he had done, approaching him about them now was more likely to cause more trouble than resolve anything.

Anyway, Drazar was heading over, and he looked like he wanted to talk.

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