Unforgiving lands - Now in hiatus - Details at last post


First Post
It's good to be back to writing! It took me less than I expected, too, so double plus good! :D

This chapter is about switching a couple of wrongs into rights, more than anything, thus it's focused on character development. Don't worry, you won't get something like this for a long time again, which back to action! And by action, I mean bloodshed.

Just you wait :]


Expired contract

Gilliam walked through the densely populated streets of the Merchant's district, hands inside the pockets of his black tattered leather trousers, his cloak enveloping his athletic figure in order to prevent people from spotting his weapons. The last thing he wanted was to start up some trouble with the Honor Guard. He didn't look the part of someone intent in causing any, even with his short copper-colored hair all ruffled and messy from all the days on the road, with the added factor of no baths in a long while.

“Damn House Kashtar” he mumbled, kicking a rock that was on his way as he did. The stone flew high in the air and almost hit a merchant that was walking by. Gilliam ignored the curses directed at him and continued his walk. To where, not even Gilliam himself knew.

“Damn Vincent” This time, he bumped against a horse that was standing nearby, tethered to a tree. The animal protested the assault with a whiny, but did no more to make the mercenary pay for his carelessness.

The streets of the Merchant's district were very crowded, especially in the afternoon, when everyone rushes to the stalls and shops in order to obtain goods at the last minute. It's usually the time when the best deals are done, in a rather hurried way.

“And damn that imbecile of Master Ender!” Gilliam finished saying his last curse just as a man in orange robes bumped into him, crying something along the lines of “The end is near! All people must be ready for the twilight of the land!” in a desperate tone. No one seemed to be paying attention to the man's predictions of an incoming apocalypse, however.

“Damn you cultists of the Dying Sun, too” he added, shoving the robed person out of the way. The cultist kept proclaiming that “The end is near!”, ignoring the fact that he had been violently displaced from the middle of the street against a solid brick wall.

If there was one thing he didn't like of this city, it was the abundance of maniacs like that one, combined with the fact that, for some reason, the Honor Guard refused to prosecute them, and so they were allowed to run free, spreading their prophesies of catastrophe. So far, the cult of the Dying Sun had predicted that the world would go wrong every year, since thirty years ago, when it first started.

By Gilliam's estimation, they had been wrong for thirty years, so what guarantee was there that they would ever get the date for the apocalypse right?

He shook his head in order to displace the thoughts he had about the cult, and focused his mind on what had happened two hours ago. “Why can't he see he's being used by his own House? Vincent, ever the fool, he couldn't come to terms with it, and decided to pretend everything was alright...” he said to no one in particular. He stopped talking, then, when he realized that others might see him as a madman, talking to himself as he walked by.

His attention was directed to his left, as he heard a dog bark at him from an alleyway. Gilliam decided to stay there and looked to the side, spotting a haggard-looking street dog, which barked at him once again.

“Go away” he commanded with a wave of his hand, annoyed.

The mutt didn't seem the type that was easily convinced, and it barked again at the mercenary.

“What?” Gilliam asked, spreading his arms to the sides, palms open. “You want food? I don't have any food. Go away, already!”.

Since the animal kept barking at him, now more fiercely, for whatever reason, Gilliam felt in the mood for kicking it away. He took a step forward, brought one leg back to gain momentum with it...

but he froze in that position, balancing on one foot, as he noticed that the street dog only had one eye.

“You” he mouthed, stupefied by the sudden realization of the dog's identity. Subconsciously, he dropped the leg back into its original position as he stared at the one-eyed dog.

The animal barked for one last time before turning tail and trotting deep into the alleyway. He wasn't sure why, but Gilliam felt compelled to follow it, as much as he wanted nothing to do with the dog.

They moved through the darkened narrow streets for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, the dog stopped at a fork, looking to the sides, as if to check for anyone else spying on them. Satisfied that the place was devoid of other people, the dog barked happily and started to glow with an orange aura, which covered its body completely. The glowing form shape shifted, and within seconds it had obtained the silhouette of a humanoid.

“Kahleen, why did you make me follow you to this alleyway?”.

The shaman's face was inscrutable, as always. Her hands were folded in front of her, by her waist. “Why, to talk to you in private, Gilliam”.

The mercenary raked a hand through his messy hair, then sighed. “About, what? The whole fiasco with House Kasthar, the House of 'Nobility'?” he asked, pronouncing the word 'nobility' with great sarcasm.

“Indeed. It seems like you feel like your task as a bodyguard is over” she replied, unmolested by Gilliam's tone. “but Master Ender still needs your services, to look over Vincent”.

“Oh, does he?” the mercenary spun around slowly, arms extended horizontally. “That's too bad, for my contract is over. It's done, since no contract, no money, and no money...”.

“You did this for the money, then?” Kahleen inquired, sounding honestly confused.

Gilliam stopped spinning around senselessly and faced the shaman squarely. “I most certainly didn't do it for money, witch” his features clearly expressed his sentiments: anger.

“What's impeding you from helping Vincent with his next assignment, then?” the shaman prodded, again ignoring the mercenary's increasingly violent tone and use of words.

“Maybe it's because I don't like the idea of being used as a puppet by high ranking folk, or perhaps it has to do with House Kashtar deceiving me about a task that could've very well cost me my life”.

This didn't look like an impediment for Kahleen to keep trying to convince Gilliam. She remained there, standing on the dirty alleyway, bare feet and all, her face a mask of serenity. “Does it bother you that a general commands his soldiers to fight wars for him?”.

“What?” Gilliam practically spat, taken by surprise by the change of subject.

“Answer the question”.

Gilliam didn't know where she was going with this, but decided to play along. “No, it doesn't”.

Kahleen raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”.

“It's what generals and soldiers are supposed to-” he was about to explain, but he held himself back upon realizing what the shaman was trying to do.

“Very clever, lady, very cunning of you” he appraised with a smile, pointing at her with a finger. The smile evaporated quickly, though, as he said the next sentence. “Different scenario! The general doesn't deceive his troops of what they need to do or why; that's the underlying difference between House Kashtar and your example”.

Nodding, the shaman responded “You are right in that: both you and the squire have been tricked about the true purpose of the mission you performed”. She moved some of her brown hair to the side of her face, so that her one eye could see and the scar would be covered. “But the true task, forcing the predators out of the shadows, couldn't have been accomplished without the deceit in it”.

“Aah, so now the end justifies the means?” Gilliam pointed out accusingly. “I was expecting more from you, Kahleen” he added, disgusted.

“You make it sound like it's an intrinsically bad thing,” she retorted without missing a beat “and that you don't act that way”.

“Of course I don't!” he yelled, outraged. “My goals never justify whatever atrocities I commit to fulfill them!”.

Kahleen merely glanced at the mercenary's waist, where his belt held his twin swords in their respective scabbards, along with ten sharpened knives. “What about your weapons, then?”.

“I use them to protect myself and my clients. What about them?”.

“Tell me, Gilliam, what is your goal?” Kahleen inquired, apparently changing subjects once again, without warning.

Gilliam was taken aback by the question and had to spend a couple of seconds mustering a coherent response to it. “A world of peace” he responded at length. “That's my goal in this short life of mine”.

The shaman nodded. “And how will you reach this goal of yours, child?”.

Since he felt compelled, once again, to play along with the shaman's mind game, the mercenary sighed and responded “By maintaining the peace through my own efforts, that's how” he explained dryly.

“Would you be willing to hurt those who disrupt the peace?”.

“Yes” came the automatic response from Gilliam, and it was then that he realized how he had fell for the hermit's trick.

“I stand by my previous assessment of you, shaman” he admitted, smiling once again. “You're cunning”.

Kahleen smiled, or so it seemed to Gilliam, for it lasted less than a second, and the wizened woman walked slowly towards him. When she was up close to him, with barely an inch or two separating their bodies, Kahleen placed a hand on Gilliam's shoulder and looked at him in the eyes in a disconcerting manner. Her words came out as if originated from a rushing river, soothing, and yet powerful.

“You have now seen, Gilliam, how your own views match with what you denounce as immoral to others. Your own morality allows for actions that go against your goals, as long as they further them in the end. Yet you accuse others of doing the same”.

For the life of him, Gilliam couldn't avert his gaze from the hermit's one gray eye, nor could he shut his ears from the words that emerged from her mouth, like an unstoppable torrent intent in drowning him.

“Why? Why can't you see that everyone must make hard decisions at one point in life? You're not the only one that had moral dilemmas, nor will you be the last one. If you kill warmongers in the name of peace, why can't House Kashtar deceive its members in the name of honor, nobility, and many other virtues?”.

“It seems to me, Gilliam, that you have declared yourself judge of this land, its people, its inhabitants, after having to deal with a crushingly difficult moment of your existence”.

The mercenary swallowed hard, but he still couldn't as much as blink his eyes in response to Kahleen's words. He felt like his inner most thoughts had been torn inside-out and were now being examined by a divine entity.

“But the decision of remaining a judge, or stepping down and living like a mortal being, with your life, its complications, intricacies, and difficult choices, is yours”.

She didn't snap her fingers, but all of a sudden Gilliam felt like he could move (and think) once again. His eyes were wide, and he looked like he was about to collapse from the shaman's speech. Unsteadily, he backed away from the woman and crashed his back against a nearby wall, using it as a support.

“I will go now, back to Valor's Banner. I shall retrieve my equipment and go after Vincent, who is probably being briefed on his next assignment, as we speak”.

With that, the hermit turned her back and began to walk towards one of the alleyways, the one that lead back to the keep the fastest.

“Equipment?” was all that Gilliam was able to mumble. Since when did hermits have material possessions?

Kahleen didn't look over to give her last words to the perplexed man.

“The choice is yours, Gilliam”.

He was left in silence, listening to the shaman's barely audible footsteps as she left the area.
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First Post

Let me chime in as well; I am enjoying your story very much. This last chapter, I thought, really built some good character development. I like the interactions between all three main characters you have created; don't stop doing this.

I too am a avid lurker on these boards, only occasionally posting when something really catches my eye. When I do see something worth addressing I will drop a line or two and voice my thoughts.

Rest assured, if you write it, people will read it, especially on this board. If it keeps the readers attention, they will continue reading.

So far, so good! I look forward to your next installment.


First Post
Mahtave, your words, combined with all the encouragement I've received so far, give me the strength of will to keep this train rolling :D

Thank you very much for the reply, I appreciate it immensely.


First Post

Night hunt

“How many will accompany me into the building, sir?” Vincent asked politely, not really expecting anything. Any number greater than zero was enough, in his mind.

Master Ender revised his notes, all placed neatly on top of his elegant and sturdy desk, before replying. “Four regular soldiers from the Honor Guard, and a priest of Berethor to provide you with healing, as I'm afraid it will come to spilling blood once you make contact with the spies”.

The room was illuminated by a lantern that hung from the ceiling, with the assistance of the dying sunlight from the window. It was practically twilight, now.

“Kahleen, the shaman, will be assisting you as well, out of her own free will” he added.

Vincent nodded. “Understood”.

“Have you any questions about the task at hand, squire Vincent?”.

“Only one, Master Ender”.

There was a knock on the door, which sounded a bit insistent, but Draegen dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Speak, then”.

“Do we need to leave all of the spies alive, or will only one suffice?” Vincent asked. “They have information about the factions that are plotting against our House and House Dagoth, but I'm unsure on how much we value the knowledge each one of them has”.

The old man considered this for just an instant. “If possible, bring them all alive back to Valor's Banner, so that they can be properly interrogated” he commanded, standing up from his chair to flex his leg muscles and regain some circulation.

Someone knocked on the door from outside the room again, this time even more insistently, and rapping the wood more violently. There were also some words being said by the anxious visitor, but the wood dampened their sound and meaning.

“Who is knocking my door in such a manner?” harrumphed the veteran warrior as he moved towards the door. “It better not be one of the guards, or he will have to face my ire and his early departure from the Honor Guard!”.

Vincent just stood there, watching Master Ender reach the handle and open the door.

Gilliam was on the other side, slowly pacing away from the room entrance, his hands clenched in fists at his sides. He was breathing fast, as if he had been running recently.

“...I'm going to slaughter the whole keep if he doesn't open the god damned door...” he was saying to himself as he waited.

“Your plan of making a massacre out of the keep has been foiled by the highest ranking officer finding out about it before you could even start, mercenary” Master Ender commented dryly from the doorway.

The mercenary spun around, clearly caught by surprise, and stammered a response. “I-I didn't mean that” he said, pointing a finger at Draegen. “and you know it”.

“Even if you did, you would've been in no position to accomplish the promise, in any case”. The Master of the Honor Guard took a slow breath to calm his own ire. “What's this about, mercenary? Why are you back? We did give you your payment for protecting our squire”.

Gilliam settled down at that. “As a matter of fact, yes I do, Master Ender” he admitted.

Draegen merely awaited from the doorway, an eyebrow raised.

“I would like to renew the contract, and to continue acting as Vin-ahem, squire Vincent's bodyguard”.

From within the room, Vincent smiled to himself, but didn't say anything, with Master Ender being within earshot.

“An interesting change of opinion, in so little time” Draegen observed.

Gilliam shrugged. “There are some who have... very convincing words”.

Draegen nodded. “If that's the case, then I see no reason to not take you back as a bodyguard. We do need as many strong arms as possible” the man said, turning back into the room he was just in, and starting to walk towards his desk

“Squire Vincent, do explain the matter to your bodyguard, so that he may be well informed before the mission. We'll get the paperwork done in a minute, Gilliam”.

The mercenary, hired once again, walked into the room with some caution, trying not to make any sudden movements to upset the Master of the Honor Guard. Vincent was practically beaming at him as he entered.

“So tell me, squire Vincent” Gilliam begun with exaggerated politeness. “Where are we going this time, and when do we leave?”.

The elf walked closer to Gilliam so that he wouldn't have to speak too loud. “We must go to a warehouse in the Port district, accompanied by five others from the Honor Guard, one of them a priest, and capture the spies that will go there”.

“When will these spies reach the place?”.


Gilliam raised an eyebrow and had to resist the urge to make a comment about that.

A soft knock on the door drew the attention of the three men in the chamber. The door was open half-way, but Kahleen had opted to be polite and knock anyway.

If it wasn't for her missing eye and messy brown hair, no one would've recognized her: instead of dressing with her tattered leathers, she was wearing a fine suit of green, scaly leather, which covered her lean figure from top to bottom. It seemed to be made out of a lizard, rather than a deer, the typical resource for leather armor. Hanging from her shoulder was a longbow that looked quite old, but at the same time remained sturdy. It was made of wood dark as the night, and it appeared to have been carved flawlessly, leaving no imperfections on its figure.

“That's what you meant by 'equipment', back then” Gilliam noted in a low tone, so that Draegen wouldn't hear him.

“Ah, miss Kahleen, you have returned. Please, come in” Draegen observed as he looked up from his desk in the direction of the shaman. “You've found your things, I take it?”.

“Yes, everything was as I had left it” the shaman responded with a bow after entering the room. “Even Blood Moon remains in perfect condition, and this bow has lived its fair share of years”.

“Good. You arrived just in time: the squire, here, was just explaining to his bodyguard, Gilliam, about the place where they will go in a matter of hours”.

The shaman nodded. “Very well”. She then looked expectantly at the duo of Vincent and Gilliam.

“We'll tell you as we walk” suggested Gilliam, too tired to hear the explanation, no matter how short it had been.

“If you say so, Gil” Vincent agreed, but quickly caught himself and added “-liam”.

The three of them moved out into the corridor, united once again. Gilliam chuckled, once they had cleared a fair distance from Master Ender's chamber.

“You can call me Gil, if you prefer; no need to be formal”.

“Likewise. You may address me as Vince, unless you like my full name better”.

“You may not call me anything other than 'Kahleen'” the shaman declared, rather unexpectedly.

Both men stopped walking and looked at her with curiosity.

“Why not?” asked Vincent.

Kahleen smiled “Because I like my name” she responded simply, and kept walking, just like that, leaving squire and bodyguard by themselves in the corridor, no less confused than before.

“She's a weird one, I must say” Gilliam commented as he looked at the shaman walk away.

“Definitely not a common personality in these lands” Vincent concluded.

Then they looked at each other, smiled, and resumed their walk.


It was pitch dark outside the warehouse, save for a couple of lanterns that were kept alive by the guard at night, but they offered little illumination, as the nearest one was twenty feet away. The building wasn't close to any main structures of the Port district, and judging by its appearance, it had seen better days, probably years ago, if not decades. It had two levels, and the higher one was accessible by stairs that were inside the place. The front doors, made entirely out of wood, were locked by a crude metal mechanism that could collapse at any moment.

Eight figures stood outside the entrance, practically enshrouded in darkness.

“An abandoned warehouse, huh? Best place to find spies, if they're stupid enough to utilize it” one of them commented.

Four of them wore similar uniforms, which consisted of breastplates, along with short spears, a back up longsword, and a small steel shield. They dressed just like regular soldiers of the Honor Guard, each and every one of them.

The fifth one was clad in a chain shirt, for added mobility, and carried no weapons. Priest's of Berethor rarely if ever could be caught carrying instruments of war. The followers of the God of Clarity didn't believe in violence as the only answer, and thus offered their services as healers to the city guard. The man had his holy symbol with him, a silver medallion with the image of an open eye, glowing with power.

The other three were Vincent, Gilliam, and Kahleen. The shaman had stayed as she was before, with her lizard-hide armor and dark longbow. Vincent wore his full-plate, a symbol of status as a member of House Kashtar, along with his short spear and heavy steel shield. Against Gilliam's critics, the squire refused to carry a secondary weapon, in case his spear is lost during battle.

The mercenary resigned himself to worry about his own equipment, for the time being: his twin bastard blades were in their scabbards, his chain shirt was properly adjusted, and his knives were hanging loosely from his leather belt, in case he needed to grab one for melee or throwing. As always, he counted them, never being complacent that everything would go his way whenever he wanted.

“...seven, eight, nine...” he was whispering, but realizing that he couldn't finish the count to ten, he stopped abruptly and looked up to Vincent, who was eying him as he counted. “Number ten is gone”.

“Nothing we can do now, I'm afraid” the squire responded. “You'll be able to buy a new one tomorrow, there's plenty of smithies around”.

“How in the Hells did I lose one?” Gilliam wondered out loud, trying to think when was the last time he checked his weapons. He wasn't about to commit suicide for losing one knife, but at the same time he thought it troublesome that his weapons could go missing just like that.

“Maybe a thief took it” came a suggestion from the side, made by one of the four soldiers. The man's red hair could still be seen in the night, and his young face displayed a smile as he said the words. Gilliam felt something odd coming from the man, but Vincent couldn't say he agreed with the sentiment.

“I would've known, Gon” the bodyguard retorted with annoyance and a bit of anger. The man had this suave voice that Gilliam couldn't stand.

The soldier named Gon shrugged. “Maybe it was a really good thief, then”.

Gilliam could've sworn the man's smile got even bigger, but in the darkness it was hard to tell.

“What's the matter, sir?” one of the guards asked, approaching Gilliam as he did. The man had a concerned expression, partly covered by his long blond hair that almost passed his chin. It was practically a transgression, in terms of military rules for haircuts, but the city guard wasn't that strict in such matters.

With a sigh, trying to let his anger for Gon out, Gilliam faced the other man. “Nothing important. Don't worry about it, Darius, I can fight with nine knives” he said reassuringly to the soldier “Don't call me 'sir', though; I kill people who do that”.

“As you say, Gilliam” Darius smiled and nodded, happy to hear the words, and went back to his previous spot, right by the door.

Vincent couldn't help but feel like he could become fast friends with Darius, had the time and place been different for both of them. He observed the blond soldier for a brief moment before glancing at the priest, Lazarus, who was deep in prayer, communing with his deity, kneeling by the nearby wall.

The squire nodded to himself, and started to walk towards the four soldiers that House Kashtar had requested. Along with Gon and Darius, there were two more soldiers, both elves. It wasn't uncommon for elves to join the military, as the population of Seawall consisted of almost forty percent elves, the rest inhabited by humans and half-elves.

“How do you feel, comrades?” he asked the quartet, each of them doing something different, like sharpening their weapons or adjusting their armor straps.

Mathias looked up, as he was sitting on the ground. “Nothing at the time, squire” he replied calmly. “But then again, the anxiousness comes to me right before the clash of swords”.

His companion, Janir, was leaning against the wall, fidgeting with his belt. “Can't say I haven't been better, Vincent” was the soldier's response. “I hate having to risk my life, no matter the reason, the purpose”.

The elf's eyes met with the other one's in the dark of the night. “I can't help but feel terrified at picturing my wife deal with my death”.

Vincent nodded, understanding the man's fears. “You don't have to worry about such matters, Janir; we have Gilliam to guide us in battle” the squire turned half-way to gesture at the bodyguard, who was chatting quietly with the shaman a couple of feet away. “and we have both Kahleen, the shaman, and Lazarus, the priest of Berethor, to pull us free from Death's greedy hands” he reassured him.

Janir didn't say anything, but at least he didn't look any more troubled than before.

“Gil, when are we going inside?” Vincent asked the mercenary, a bit impatiently. “The soldiers grow uneasy with every second we spend out here in the dark”.

“Oh, that's just mister Broken Blade over here, but that's normal” Gon interrupted, signaling Darius with a hand “He's always fretting about his weapon breaking and all”

Darius didn't seem to appreciate the comment, judging by the dark look he directed at his comrade. “Shut your mouth, Gon. I'm tired of you humiliating me with everyone we meet” he said angrily. This only seemed to incite the merry soldier to go on with his act.

“Humiliating?” Gon asked, as if surprised. “I'm merely informing these new folk about your last name, and how crushingly difficult it must be for you to wield a sword without having your hand tremble-”.

“That's enough”.

Gilliam had taken the necessary amount of steps to stand right in front of Gon, blocking his field of view of Darius. Folding his muscled arms, the mercenary looked at the troublesome soldier with narrowed eyes. “We don't need this kind of talk right before a battle, soldier”.

“Why, my apologies, general” Gon responded, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “I'll be quiet from now on”.

The bodyguard grunted, ignoring the flippant comeback, annoyed by the fake apology, and moved to the spot where he was effectively the same distance to everyone.

“Attention, all of you” he bade, raising a hand to call their attention. The priest had finished his prayers and was standing up. Kahleen and Vincent faced Gilliam's direction, while the rest of the troops did likewise.

“We are going to enter the place and find a suitable position to watch the spies, then strike swiftly when their guard is down”.

Everyone seemed to be listening intently, and so he went on. He didn't need to speak in whispers, but neither did he see if wise to talk above hushed tones.

“As simple as that sounds, the plan might not go the way we intend. The spies might fight back, with weapons and whatever they have up their sleeves, and we will get injured by the end of the night”.

“You might be here for one reason, or maybe more than one. These reasons range from your duty” he glanced at the group of soldiers “to the demands of your patron deity” Gilliam turned to look at Lazarus, who nodded in return “or maybe even your desire to help House Kashtar triumph in these troubled times” he glanced over at Kahleen, and the woman didn't make any gesture in response.

Gilliam took a breath to steady himself before going on. He didn't get hired to act as a leader, but he knew that he had to remove the fear from the soldiers, at the very least, lest they betray themselves in battle by running away.

“But whatever your causes for being here, with us, at this time, it doesn't change the fact that you have to be here, that you are forced to remain here”.

“Save for Kahleen, you didn't choose to participate in this mission, and so it may seem to you like there is no choice left. That is where you err, fortunately for you” Gilliam spun and faced the quartet of soldiers with a determined look. “You can choose, anytime in life, no matter how limited your choices seem. For instance, you can choose how you will prepare for this battle: will you train your body as hard as you can, or will you practice maneuvers with your weapons?”

Gesturing towards the priest, Gilliam continued “Will you pray all day, or will you go out and spread the word of your religion?”.

He went back to the soldiers, arms spread to the sides, palms open. “You see, you can make choices, even if you didn't choose the situation. In this scenario, where you need to capture these spies, you still have decisions to make” Gilliam was now looking directly at Janir “Will you fight with fear in your heart, worried for your wife's future, or will you instead hack and slash your way through your enemies, hellbent on making it back alive, so that you may see your beloved once again?”.

Janir was captivated by the man's words, that much was obvious to all, but even Darius seemed moved, even inspired by Gilliam's speech. For that matter, the rest of the group looked no less empowered by his words. They all resembled a band of heroes, ready to meet the enemy with a cry for glory, sword in hand, no matter what happened next.

“Since we have the power to choose, I say we choose to fight like this is what will turn the tides of an entire war”. Gilliam drew one of his swords and hoisted it up in the air. “For...” he was about to say, but held himself back: in his mind, he was going to rally the group in the name of a knightly order he no longer belonged to.

Instead, he proclaimed “For House Kashtar”, as loudly as he dared.

Everyone else, even Kahleen, saluted at this, and they all drew their weapons, ready to commence the operation.

“I didn't know you could be so... inspiring, Gil” Vincent whispered in the mercenary's ear while the soldiers opened the gates.

“Neither did I” he admitted. “Or at least, I didn't remember that I was inspiring”.

Kahleen whispered something as well as she passed by him.

“You have chosen well, Gilliam”.

The mercenary nodded, and drew his other sword as well, walking into the warehouse with the rest.

Vincent took his spear from his back and followed suit. “I agree” he added, but in a voice so low that not even Gilliam could hear him.

Meanwhile, a pair of glowing red eyes observed the eight people move into the building. The silent being, which no one had been able to spot in the dark street, laughed, making an effort to remain as silent as possible.

“I beg to differ”.
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First Post
Writing ten pages of battle is painful. Why didn't anyone tell me it could be so painful for my neck, eyes and wrists? 'Kay, enough complaining...

It's the first massive battle in the story, so I hope you enojy it! :D


Warehouse blitz

The place was still, like a mountain when the wind doesn't blow. Moonlight streamed through the windows of the second floor, and that was the only source of light within the warehouse. Boxes of all sizes were placed haphazardly on the floor, and thus the eight used the ones near a wall to hide in wait.

“Hey, Gil” came a whisper.

Gilliam didn't turn his head to face the squire; he was busy squinting his eyes, trying to spot movement from the shadows.

“What is it?” he replied in an equally low tone.

Vincent was positioned right next to the mercenary, bending low on one knee like him. “I'm just glad you've come to terms with House Kashtar”.

The man glanced sideways for just an instant. “Likewise. Let's not talk anymore; the spies could come at any time. After this is over, we can talk all we want”.

Nodding, the elf went back to looking for movement as well.

No one was sure how much time had elapsed, but it was still dark when three humanoid shapes manifested themselves in the building, at the opposite side of where the eight were hiding. They wore dark robes that covered them almost completely, making it impossible to tell who or what they were. The figures were positioned thirty feet from the group, and was it not for the darkness of the place, they would've spotted them a long time ago.

The soldiers, priest, shaman, squire and mercenary all tensed at this appearance, and had to make an effort to keep their breathing steady.

“When will the others arrive?” asked one of the figures to the other two in a soft voice that the hidden observers were able to pick up.

“Soon” another one replied, shifting his footing on the spot.

If there was an ideal time to strike, it was then, when only three spies were on sight, less than half the number of people that House Kashtar had sent to capture them.

When Gilliam gave his silent signal, the four soldiers came from behind the boxes and threw their spears with all their might in the direction of the robed trio. The spies didn't seem to notice this, for they weren't even trying to dodge the weapons that were about to impale more than one.

The spears, all well aimed, passed through the spies as if they were no more than air.

Stares and comments of disbelief came from the soldiers and the rest of the eight as well.

“How in the Hells-”.

“This can't be...”.

Cursing under his breath, Gilliam realized what was happening all too well. “We've been set up on our own ambush” he said out loud. Stealth was a thing of the past, now that it was clear they had been expected.

Suddenly, the robed spies, or rather, the figments of magic that conformed them, started to shift their forms and combining into one humanoid, this one dressed in elegant robes with vibrant colors. The man had no head, but it had no problems talking to the group, however.

“So you have come out of your hiding place, you little sneaky rats of Kashtar!” the robed man without a head announced triumphantly, pointing at the direction where the group was located at. “Not precisely a thing that goes along with your ideals, but it is of no consequence: dead people are gone from this world, no matter what they did in life, good or bad, right or wrong”.

It almost sounded like he had practiced that speech before this night. No one in the group dared move a muscle as of yet. The illusory figure flamboyantly gestured behind him as he spoke. “My dear Reldo, would you please do me the favor of striking these fools down? You know how I abhor to get my hands all bloody”.

In response to this request, a small and wide figure stepped forward from the shadows.

“It would be my pleasure, Ignus!” the dwarf responded with glee, his gruff voice resounding within the warehouse. He had a short red beard, and a peculiar haircut that involved three long braids hanging on his back. Reldo was wearing heavy hides all over his muscular body, along with twin morning stars that were placed like an “x” on his back. Judging by the scars he had everywhere that his skin was visible, it was clear to everyone that he had seen quite a lot of battle, the face-to-face kind.

The dwarf adjusted his ragged-looking leather belt and bellowed “You will all pay for your plots against the other Houses, boyos! No mercy from us, no sir!”. Right after that, Reldo snapped the fingers of both hands fingers.

Apparently, that was the signal for his followers to shoot at them, for the eight heard five 'click's go at the same time, followed by a quintet of bolts flying in their direction.

“Take cover!!!” screamed Vincent as he performed the maneuver himself, running forward and diving somewhat clumsily behind a nearby box. The rest didn't need much convincing, and they were doing the same the best they could, running ahead, to get closer to their enemies, and staying behind a box.. Except for one, who didn't need to take any evasive movements, they had all managed to avoid getting hit by the projectiles.

Gilliam had managed to reach a box close to the one Vincent was behind. “Damnation, they have ranged weapons and we just threw ours away, literally!”.

“We can still force a melee if we keep finding more boxes to use as shields as we go” Vincent pointed out.

The mercenary wasn't paying attention to Vincent's words, though: he was counting the rest of the group around him, to make sure they had all made it to cover. He spotted Janir and Mathias, behind the same crate; Lazarus a couple of feet away from the two; Darius right behind the priest; Kahleen was leaning against a wooden column that was big enough to offer good cover for her, bow in hand; for the life of him, he couldn't spot Gon anywhere.

“Alright, we'll move ahead as one-” he began to say, but was interrupted by a cry of pain from one of the soldiers. Janir had been shot on the leg, somehow, even though he hadn't left the crate's protection.

“It-it went right through!” he was saying desperately as he pulled the bolt out of his limb.

“It's true, the box isn't real, although it looks real!” Mathias agreed, passing a hand through the wooden crate, as if the object was figment of their imagination.

“Another illusion” Kahleen observed, just as other bolts came flying through, each passing through the boxes they were intending to use as protection. Thankfully, none of the projectiles from the new volley managed to land a hit on them.

Gilliam got up from behind the crate he was hiding by and started running towards their assailants. “Charge ahead, ignore the boxes or go through them!” he yelled, going through a large crate that felt like nothing but air as he passed it.

The rest seemed reluctant, but only for a split second, and all got up from their fake cover to advance as swiftly as possible.

Kahleen didn't go as far as the rest, opting to stay behind. She held her ground and took aim with her dark wood bow at one of the figures placed behind Reldo, visible thanks to her low-light vision.

“Paint the ground red, Blood Moon” she bade to her weapon. In response, the longbow's color changed from black to crimson red in a moment's notice, and Kahleen shot the arrow she had knocked. The missile flew across the floor and struck the intended target on the shoulder, forcing a grunt from the man. The shaman winced, as if in pain, although no one had attacked her yet.

Vincent was chasing after Gilliam, feeling like he needed to protect his own bodyguard, and he had just gone through another illusory box, when he noticed a metallic reflection coming from inside one of the boxes Gilliam was heading for. It didn't make any sense, of course, but intuition demanded he did something.

“Gil, watch out!”.

The mercenary didn't know what he had to 'watch out' for until he was practically by the crate he intended to go through. A metal spike originated from the ground, placed so that he would get impaled by it, was concealed by the imaginary crate. Gilliam jumped over in the last second and felt the sharp edge rip through the fabric of his cloak, but no more.

“Avoid the crates, they're trapped!” Vincent cried out for his companion's to take heed. He was two seconds late with the warning, unfortunately, for Mathias had gone by one such box and got a hidden spear stuck on his chest. Lazarus, who was nearby, stopped by the man for just a moment, then shook his head sadly, seeing there was nothing to be done for him.

Janir couldn't believe his eyes, and he stood there, motionless, watching the corpse of his companion. He was awoken from his paralysis by three wounds that appeared on his body, as if he had been slashed three times simultaneously, leaving him very weakened, on the verge of collapse. Yet there was no one to be seen near the soldier.

“They have invisible allies?!” Gilliam said with desperation.

“Yes” informed Kahleen. “A wizard. He must be invisible, behind the others”.

The wounded soldier was about to give up and go down when he felt a soothing sensation run through his entire body, rejuvenating his energies and sealing most of his wounds. When he looked back, Janir saw Lazarus finishing a prayer, placing his hands on him. He nodded and thanked the priest before running ahead, sword in hand.

Darius, Gilliam, Vincent and the renewed Janir dashed forward, towards Reldo and his five allies, without counting the wizard, who was still unseen. The dwarf was standing there, arms folded, watching the four advance. He snapped his fingers, and another barrage of bolts flew at them, and each warrior had to improvise a defense against the ranged assault.

Darius aligned his shield with his opponent, and the missile got stuck on the shield instead of his chest.

Vincent did the same, receiving two bolts on his larger shield. Rolling down, without losing momentum, Gilliam narrowly avoided one intended for him.

The other two soldiers did a combination of the two defensive techniques, opting to roll and come up with their shields to protect their bodies. Neither were harmed by the flying bolts.

Seeing that the four warriors were fast approaching, the five shadowy assailants dropped their crossbows and drew forth slender swords with one hand.

Kahleen had prepared another shot, and this time the man in leather armor dodged the arrow just in time. The shaman didn't say anything about this, but she looked troubled.

“Let's get the dwarf, Vince”.


As one, squire and bodyguard each came from Reldo's side, attacking him with their respective weapons. The dwarf didn't appear preoccupied by the flanking, and he nimbly dodged the spear after the sword strikes without much trouble. He had drawn his morning stars in the process, somehow.

“Oh, boyos, you're so clever! But you'll need more than that to beat Reldo the Mighty!” he informed them. The morning stars moved in a quick blur to Vincent, but for Gilliam's trained eyes they had a pattern hidden within the incredibly fast attack. The mercenary didn't want to test his muscle against Reldo's, and rather than parrying with his blades he twirled around, getting clipped on the sides of his chest in the process, but receiving no real damage.

A word of power emerged from behind the group, followed by a feeling of wholeness and clarity that came to them. The priest had finished his prayer to Berethor, and his allies felt more able in the fight.

Meanwhile, Darius and Janir had reached the other five. Janir slashed wildly at one, putting all his might in the strike, seeking vengeance for the death of his comrade, and the other man raised his sword just in time to prevent his head from being severed.

Darius went for precision instead of a brutal all-or-nothing blow, and his quick jab managed to pierce through his opponent's defenses and subsequently through the leather armor. His foe clutched the area he had been hit on, his stomach, with his supposedly free hand. The eyes of Darius went wide as he spotted what he was carrying in the darkness.

“They've got nets!” he warned his companion.

And just in time, for the five assassins surrounded them in a semi-circle, three of them throwing their nets at the soldier duo. With a horizontal slash, Darius was able to cut it before it landed on him, and much to his relief he heard Janir do the same on his own, against two simultaneous nets. The blessing of Berethor had indeed given them the strength to avoid a certain death, so far.

Both soldiers could hear the unfolding of a scroll and strange chanting coming from behind the semicircle, but they couldn't spot the source.

The five were about to begin their assault on Janir and Darius when an arrow zoomed by and struck the one who had been shot before, this time between the eyes. The man collapsed, dead.

“Good shot, shaman!” praised Darius.

“Indeed” his companion added. Now it was two against four, instead of five.

From her position, forty feet behind them, Kahleen nodded and clasped her arm, trying to prevent blood to come out from a wound that had opened. No one had attacked her, however.

“Go high, I'll go low” Gilliam told Vincent as he bent his knees and performed a double thrust with his bastard swords. The squire reacted quickly enough to do as instructed, coming with his weapon from above, making the spear tip descend on Reldo.

The dwarf might as well have been fighting one opponent, rather than two at the same time. He jumped over Gilliam's swords and kicked the flat of the blades aside with each foot, effectively opening the mercenary's arms wide. While in mid-air, he smacked the rapidly moving spear shaft, moving it away from his body.

When he landed, Reldo had a completely different look on his face. He looked as if he had pushed everything in his mind that wasn't related to the battle away, and only survival instincts remained. Letting out a low growl, the fierce dwarf smacked Gilliam on the chest with one weapon, faster than the mercenary had expected, causing him to lose his balance and stumble one step backwards.

Reldo didn't waste a single instant and moved in for the kill, turning a complete circle on the spot with arms outstretched, crushing the man's upper torso with the two weapons at the same time when he completed the movement. Gilliam somehow managed to remain on his two feet after the double blow, but the harm it had done to him was clear, since he was breathing with more difficulty than before.

“How many ribs was that, boyo?” Reldo taunted with a grim look.

Gilliam couldn't respond; he was too busy trying to figure out how in damnation he was supposed to hit the dwarf, or even dodge his attacks.

Janir got cut on the side of his face, and it would've been much worse if he hadn't side-stepped. He retaliated with a sword slash of his own, wounding his foe on the forearm, and knew that he couldn't trade hits with them, since it was two-against-one.

Darius stabbed forward, his sword going for one of his foes chest. The man blocked it with his own blade, but he didn't see the incoming foot from the side, which got him on the stomach solidly, bending him forward. The soldier of the Honor Guard deftly switched his grip on the weapon and made it descend on the man, driving it through his neck, severing his spine and ending his existence.

The dead man's companion hadn't thrown his net, and he used the chance to capture Darius. The soldier had forgotten about the second opponent, focused as he was on the killing move, and the heavy ropes embraced him, forcing him to the ground. His sword left his grasp in the process, falling away nearby.

“Darius!” Janir called, seeing his friend in peril, and the distraction cost him a stab on the shoulder, since his opponent had taken the opportunity to attack when his guard was low.

If Darius didn't get free soon, the third assailant would either kill his friend, or join the other two to overpower him. Either way, he was dead.

“Damn it”.
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First Post
Continuation here!

Seeing that the soldiers were in trouble, Lazarus started to run in their direction, readying a prayer of healing for them. In his hurry, the priest didn't see the gray mist forming ahead, blocking his path. The mist started to take form quickly, and while the primal roar emerging from it was a heads-up for him, Lazarus couldn't dodge the large ape that had manifested out of thin air as it charged him. The primate punched him fiercely in the face, making him loose more than one tooth, stopping him dead on his tracks.

“By Berethor, who conjured this?” he asked to no one in particular.

Lazarus wisely retreated two steps away from the beast as he summoned the healing energies of his deity. A white glow enveloped the hand he was placing on his face when he finished the prayer, and the priest felt better, but not fully healed.

The ape hammered its own chest with its fists repeatedly, roaring in anger, right before jumping onto the cleric and bringing him down to the ground in a violent heap.

Darius was struggling to release himself from the net, but the thing had entangled his body quite well, and merely shaking around on the ground didn't offer an escape. His foe, towering over him, sword in hand, smiled and stabbed down at the prone soldier, aiming to end his life quickly. The soldier rolled to the side, net and all, avoiding an early demise.

“Priest, a little help here!” he called, desperate.

“I'm afraid that will have to wait” the cleric replied in a strained tone, struggling as he was to keep the ape's fists from crushing his neck.

Dodging a sword strike yet again, out of pure luck, Darius seized the moment to turn in Janir's direction. He saw the elven soldier with two blades running him through, one by his chest, the other one by his back, from behind. Janir glanced at the fallen Darius, his mouth open in pain, before being kicked down by one of his killers.

“Damn it, NO!” Darius screamed in rage. First Mathias, now Janir. And he was next on the waiting line for the ship sailing to the world of the dead.

Not far away, Vincent sighed. “We lost another one” he lamented.

“No time to mourn their deaths, Vince” Gilliam reminded him, dodging right below a swinging morning star, which missed him by an inch.

“Don't worry, I'll make sure someone mourns yours” Reldo offered coldly, pivoting quick like lightning and switching targets, using the momentum to swing at Vincent's leg horizontally. The squire took the hit, and his plate legging looked as effective as paper, judging by the way it was left after the impact.

Wincing in pain, Vincent moved in after the hit and completely lowered his defenses as he did, with a look of grim determination across his face. Reldo didn't hesitate, swinging his other weapon diagonally, colliding with the squire's groin with a disgusting cracking sound, as if the morning star had bent the armor and cracked a rib at the same time.

But Vincent wasn't slowing down after getting hurt twice. In fact, he accelerated his movement, gritting his teeth and bashing Reldo's face with his shield. The dwarf had no chance to avoid this, with Vincent being right next to him, and his head swayed to the side wildly, more stunned than hurt.

Which was what the elf had been aiming for. He moved his weapon arm backwards, putting all his rage and might behind the attack, striking the dwarf like lightning, piercing his protective hides by the ribs, driving the spear head more than one inch into his chest.

Reldo groaned in pain, just when Gilliam's first sword came down on his shoulder, slashing it deeply, and taking away a big chunk of the hide that protected the dwarf's arm. His second blade did the same on his other shoulder, and the hide there departed Reldo's body as well.

“Well done, Vincent” Gilliam congratulated, finally being able to find an opening in the dwarf's defenses. Vincent smiled back, proud of his efforts.

Their celebration was short lived, however. It took no more than a second for Reldo to recuperate, and the dwarf had a look of utter hatred that sent shivers down the spines of the two warriors.

Letting out a yell of unrestrained fury, Reldo banged Gilliam's chest with one morning star, and the sound of bone being crushed could be heard by anyone nearby. The mercenary spat blood, just as Reldo's other weapon did as the first one, smashing the man solidly on the same spot. The sound that came from this impact was even worse, and Gilliam honestly thought that the number of bones he had broken consisted of two digits.

“Gilliam!” the mercenary thought he heard through his haze. It was hard to tell which of the four Vincent's had said it, and he was sure that one of the five Reldo's would finish him with the next blow. The whole room was spinning rapidly, he no longer had his swords on his hands, and he wished that he could face his end with more dignity.

An orange glow was surrounding him as well, just when he thought the delusions would come to an end. However, the glow felt soothing and relaxing, forcing his vision to stop swimming around and focusing it back to reality. His bones began to mend at an alarming rate, and suddenly his breathing didn't come in ragged intakes.

“Don't worry, child, I'm here” a familiar feminine voice reassured him from behind. Her next words came in the form of a gasp, the source of her pain being three identical wounds across her chest.

“Wizard” Vincent uttered.

Helios, the wizard, had been well prepared. Ignus had provided him with the scroll to summon the ape, which was about to kill the priest at the time, along with the very useful wand he had been using to hurt his foes from a distance. The great mage had even taken the trouble of giving him a concealment spell to make him invisible! It was all too perfect.

He saw the woman with the deadly bow heal the man that was about to die, somehow, and thought it best to put her down with another use of his wand, which sent three unerring missiles of invisible force at her, but unfortunately didn't kill her. It would take more than one shot, he concluded, and so he raised the slender wand once more, to finish the job.

“Now now, let's end this little game of ours, shall we?” came a suave voice from behind. The wizard had no time to ask what game the man was referring to, for he had a throwing knife stuck in his throat, preventing him from speaking and breathing.

Gon came out from the darkest area of the warehouse, his sword ready in one hand, smiling as he walked towards the choking wizard.

“That was quick, I must say” he commented cheerfully as he reached the robed man, who didn't understand how he had been seen with his invisibility. “Usually the game lasts longer! But I suppose I must content myself with this”.

The wizard wanted to scream, but the knife prevented him from doing anything more than grunting and wheezing. Gon's longsword prevented him from staying alive any longer.

“The game is over for you” the merry man informed the corpse.

“He got Helios!” one of the two men who had killed Janir exclaimed, pointing at Gon.

“He's with them” the other confirmed, starting to run after Gon.

“And so the game goes on” Gon whispered as he took the knife he had stolen from Gilliam and readied himself with knife and sword for the two men.

“The wizard's dead?” asked the man who had been trying to kill Darius, unsuccessfully. He had cut the soldier on the arm twice, but he knew that he wasn't going to die from that. Looking over he saw the wizard's body materialize in death, now that the spell had left him.

“And so are you”.

The assassin reverted his gaze down to his prey, and understood why Darius had said those words: the soldier's sword was back in his grasp, even if his body was still trapped in the net, and he had taken a hold of his left leg with one hand.

Before the man could do anything other than scream in surprise, Darius pulled with all his might and yanked the killer off his feet, bringing him down to the ground as he stabbed with his longsword, effectively impaling him by the stomach.

Darius quickly retracted the blade and began to cut the annoying net once and for all. His attention got diverted by a shout from behind.


It was Gilliam's voice, and he was looking around to see how many were left alive. Darius stood up, tossing the broken net away as he did.

Reldo would've none of it, wounded or not. Reldo the Mighty pulled each arm to the side backwards, using all his strength for one powerful double-strike. The two morning stars were to collide on the sides of Gilliam's torso in unison, but got Vincent's full plate instead, since the squire had moved to act as a shield for his friend, pushing the mercenary away.

The collision was brutal, the sound of metal against metal clanging loudly along with the squire's rib cage making a disgusting cracking sound. Vincent almost collapsed after the impact, and had to lean on Gilliam to remain standing and regain his balance.

“Vince, you fool, I'm the bodyguard, remember?” Gilliam said to Vincent as he put the elf's arm around his shoulder for support and begun running away from Reldo.

Vincent only groaned in response as he accompanied Gilliam groggily.

Kahleen was following them, chanting strange words rapidly.

“What are you up to?” Gilliam inquired hastily, glancing at the shaman.

Without offering an explanation, the woman manifested an amber colored energy on her two hands, and she aimed it at the ape, which was currently beating the priest to a bloody pulp. The energy obtained the shape of chains, and they enveloped the gorilla, forcing it to stay in the spot, unable to move.

Lazarus had been dead a couple of seconds ago, and thus the ape's restraint made no difference for him.

“Where do you think you're going, boyos?!” Reldo bellowed from behind. “This isn't over!”.

Gilliam suddenly recalled that they still had the furious dwarf behind them, and he offered Vincent to Kahleen. “Hold him for one moment” he bade her.

While the shaman became Vincent's support momentarily, Gilliam spun around, drawing and throwing two knives in one movement. The weapons went for Reldo's feet, which were currently moving towards the group, and each struck its mark, making the dwarf trip and fall face down.

“Done” the mercenary informed, giving his support to the wounded squire once again. He could spy Darius running after them from the corner of his eye, fifteen feet to the side. Two men were chasing him, and Reldo was beginning to stand up once again.

“Not yet” Kahleen corrected, chanting in a strange tongue once again.

The shaman brought her arms upwards when she was done, and this time an ice-blue aura came forth, rapidly augmenting in size. Within moments, the air around was colder, and a gray cloud had formed from the energy right in between them and their pursuers. An ice storm began to fall, then, obscuring the visibility and hampering the movement of Reldo and his remaining followers.

Leaving a cursing dwarf behind in the storm, Gilliam, Vincent, Kahleen and Darius made it to the entrance of the warehouse and promptly left its premises. They didn't look back as they ran for their lives, each one of them hurt and tired.
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First Post
My body is revolting against me. I'm serious. First my wrists hurt, as always. Then my eyes. Both parts stop hurting as of late, and what happens? My neck hurts! It's a first, I must say. Apparently, too much PC use in uncomfortable positions will bring neck pain, so I need to take pills every now and then to put it down. Even then, I need to cut back on some computer use. Which means two day breaks between updates, 'cause my neck is hurting right now.

Still, I'm pretty satisfied with how things are going now: almost 20 views per updated! :)

Thank you all who continue reading this story hour.


First Post
I don't feel like my body is in pain all the time anymore! Jubilation! Let us achieve, and all those things. Like by, say, reading the newest chapter :)

Rogue's Gallery is going to be updated shortly; we've got a couple of level ups and equipment-updating to do!


The aftermath

“Alright, let's stay here, and see if we're still being pursued” Gilliam said to the rest, placing Vincent on the floor, using a wall as support for the weakened squire. The elf was semi-conscious, mumbling incoherences every now and then, and his chest was splattered with blood in different sections.

Gilliam's armor was full of holes, all thanks to Reldo, and Vincent's wasn't any better, with several plate layers missing around the torso. It was hard to believe one angry dwarf did this to the two of them.

Kahleen kneeled and pressed both hands on Vincent's chest, manifesting the tell-tale orange aura in a matter of seconds, which enveloped him and begun to close the injuries he had. The shaman didn't have much more spiritual energy left, and thus the job was far from done, but it would preserve the life of Vincent. Additionally, it made him regain full consciousness.

Meanwhile, Darius had his sword out, standing guard a few feet away from the three, ensuring that any pursuers would meet some resistance if it came to that.

“I don't hear anything” Darius informed. “Nor do I see any of the assassins coming”.

They were right next to a merchant's house, but they had opted to remain in the shadows, were the torchlight didn't give them away. The mad run from the warehouse they performed had seemed like an eternity, but the night sky wasn't clearing in the least, meaning it had probably lasted no more than half an hour.

“Doesn't mean anything, really” responded Gilliam, sitting right next to Vincent. The bodyguard had succeeded in his duty, but it had cost him greatly in the end. “Damnation, I lost my swords!” he swore, realizing he had left the twin blades back in the warehouse. After Reldo had hit him hard, he must have dropped them and forgotten all about them.

“Be thankful you didn't lose more than that, child” Kahleen wisely reminded him. The shaman was standing, bow in hand, acting as a sentry like Darius.

“Where's the rest?” came a weakened query from the groggy squire.

Darius looked over his shoulder. “Dead. Lazarus, Mathias, Janir... all dead” he informed, his voice filled with regret and sadness.

Vincent groaned, due to pain or the grim news, no one could tell. “What about the other soldier, Gon?”.

There was a second of silence before the soldier responded “I don't know. I think I saw him slaying the wizard, and I lost sight of him after we ran away”. He didn't sound like he cared, either way.

With some difficulty, Gilliam stood up, still using the wall to help himself. “We need to capture Reldo” he stated, all of a sudden.

Everyone else glanced in his direction, a bit startled.

“We're in no condition to do that, Gilliam” Darius reminded him wearily. He was the least wounded of the four, but he was dead tired from the battle and the escape.

“He's right” was the response from Vincent, still sounding weak and battered.

“Not today” the mercenary clarified. “Tomorrow night. Reldo said something about House Kashtar plotting against the other Houses, meaning he knows quite a bit from the other side of things”

Gilliam tried to take a step forwards and almost collapsed, losing his balance after separating from the wall.

“In that case, I'll escort you to Valor's Banner, so that you may find a secure resting place” Darius offered, moving around the perimeter of the building, still checking for hidden enemies. He could've sworn he saw a red sparkle somewhere in the darkness, but he realized it was probably his weariness making him see things.

Vincent looked up from his sitting position. “You're not coming with us?”.

Darius shook his head slowly. “I'm afraid I would be more of a burden than a blessing, going with you”.

“I disagree”.

The soldier turned around to face Gilliam, who was slowly walking towards him. The mercenary looked dead serious as he approached Darius.

“You fought well in the warehouse, Darius, and we could use another sword arm for our next battle”.

“I fought well, you say?” Darius replied with sarcasm. “Well, it wasn't good enough, for Janir and the others were slain there! They were my friends, Gilliam, and I failed them”.

It was Gilliam's turn to shake his head slowly. “I see things differently. You couldn't save them, that much is true. Don't you think you are truly failing your friends by not fulfilling what they started, by defeating Reldo, in their name?”.

Darius thought about this for a moment, in silence, and then looked back at the mercenary. “Maybe” he started, sounding angry “Maybe I could avenge their deaths, by joining you in an attempt to capture the dwarf. But what would come of off that? I almost died, in that last battle”.

Gilliam hadn't seen the soldier of the Honor Guard fight, since he had been focused in his own struggle, but he could tell that his words were accurate. “I almost died, too, and so did Vincent and Kahleen” he said to Darius. The other two were listening intently, and each nodded on their own.

“Is it fear that holds you back from another encounter with death, Darius?” Gilliam pressed.

“No” the soldier replied with some hesitation. “I just don't see how I can help you in the next encounter with Reldo”.

Gilliam shrugged, as if it was simple enough. “You survived, yes? That's proof of your value”.

Darius was shaking his head to the sides while the mercenary was saying the words. “Nay, that was luck, no more”.

“Luck is a factor in battles, but not the deciding one” Vincent called from the ground, his voice sounding distant. “I was lucky to not have died, but my instincts were the crucial aspect that decided if I survived or not”.

The bodyguard looked at the squire, and smiled. “Vincent speaks the truth: you were lucky, but your innate skills allowed you to come this far, alive”.

Gilliam went back to facing Darius. “Don't you remember what I said, back then, before the battle?” he asked him, making a fist in front of his face with one hand. “Choices. That's what life is about. Now choose, Darius, soldier of the Honor Guard: will you avenge your dead companions, or will you merely go away and mourn them?”.

The words seemed to have an effect on the tired soldier, for he didn't reject them. Darius remained there, silent, and eventually he looked at Gilliam in the eye, a different expression on his face. In the darkness, Gilliam wasn't sure, but there was something sparkling in the man's eyes as he spoke.

“I choose to make that dwarf pay for the wrongs he caused us this night, and I will not rest until that happens”.

Gilliam nodded, happy to hear this, and approached the soldier to place a hand on his shoulder. “You have survived, Darius, and that alone signifies you have what it takes to keep going through other battles. I sense from you that if you persevere, one day you'll become a grand warrior, renowned for his deeds in battle. A knight, even”.

While Gilliam sounded dead serious, Darius didn't look like he was about to take all of that in stride, at least not for the moment.

“In any case, we can't stay here any longer. Vince, can you walk?” Gilliam asked, pulling away from Darius, and then he saw the elf already up from the ground, although he was leaning on Kahleen to keep himself standing.

“Take it easy, Vincent, one step at a time” the shaman was instructing the squire. Looking up and eying Gilliam and Darius, she asked “Go ahead of us, so that you can protect Vincent, should trouble arise”.

Both soldier and mercenary nodded, and without saying a word, they clasped each other's forearms, right before moving ahead and scouting the area for Vincent and Kahleen.

The night was silent in this district, as people weren't allowed to cause disruptions after midnight. The other districts were there for that kind of thing. And Malakhati the Scorpion liked it quiet.

“They survived the ambush, and now they seek to battle the one that almost killed them?” he asked no one in particular. The invisible being sighed and flew through a building, coming out from the opposite wall, and then headed towards upwards, above the city.



“What do you need from House Kashtar and the Honor Guard, mercenary?” the captain of the Honor Guard inquired, a tired look on his face. It was a couple of hours after the middle of the night, after all, and the man couldn't be expected to look fresh and energetic.

Gilliam was pacing from one end of the room to the other as he talked. There wasn't much walking space in the captain's office, which was within Valor's Banner, but the mercenary used whatever was available to get his body moving, and thus energize his brain, dead tired as he was.

The other three decided to stay in one spot, watching the mercenary do the talking. Vincent would have the reputation to request things from either his House or the guard, but he knew that Gilliam would know exactly what to demand for.

“We need a decent suit of armor for Darius, your soldier” Gilliam started, putting a finger straight to help him count the things he was requesting. “We need a new chain shirt – magical - for me” he lifted another finger “And a pair of bastard swords, the best you've got, for me, too”.

The captain of the guard, Thomas Valen by name, merely raised an eyebrow at the frantic pacing of the mercenary. “You do realize that you'll have to pay for your own equipment, yes?”.

This caught Gilliam's attention and the man halted his pacing to face captain Thomas.


“The House or the Honor Guard can provide with arms and armor for their members, but not for mercenaries like yourself”.

Seeing Gilliam's expression of disbelief, the man added “Weapons are expensive, and neither House Kashtar or the city guard have spare ones, I'm afraid”.

Gilliam cursed under his breath and continued his pacing. “Fine. Where was I... ah, yes! Two bastard swords for me. Vincent needs a better spear, and some repairs on his armor” he continued, lifting a finger for each object he mentioned.

“Is that all?” captain Thomas asked, taking notes in a parchment that lay nearby.

“That will be all” Gilliam said with a nod.

“You're very efficient and quick thinking, Gilliam” came the appraisal from Kahleen, who seemed impressed.

“That's Gil for you” Vincent said to her while looking at the mercenary.

Darius couldn't help but smile. “And pretty generous, too: my armor is fine, I don't really need a new one” he added in a whisper.

“For what we're dealing with, yes, yes you do” the elven squire responded in a whisper.

The captain rose from his chair and looked at the four people standing there. “Very well. I will make sure the fellows at the armory know of this. You need the items for tomorrow night, yes?”.

Darius nodded. “Indeed. The... counter-attack we're carrying on will happen tomorrow night, at the Port district”.

“To capture the spies?”.

“Oh, we're looking for one spy in particular, not the whole group” Gilliam clarified with a grim smile. “And he's going to be sorry he ever ambushed us”.

“I'll make sure of that” Vincent added with conviction, clenching a fist by his chest. Darius did likewise and nodded.

Kahleen was the only one that looked devoid of vengeance or anger towards Reldo and his followers. “I will ensure they return alive, captain”.

“Please do” Thomas replied before he left the room and went outside. “I'll have to ask you to leave, since I can't afford to abandon my room with others in it”.

No one complained about this, not even Gilliam, and they left the chamber, together.

After the captain's figure was gone from sight, Darius looked at the mercenary. “What's the plan, Gilliam? How can we beat Reldo and company, just by ourselves?” he asked with his arms folded.

Gilliam smiled wickedly. “We'll use magic against him, Darius, so that he abandons his men, leaving us with him alone for some friendly banter”.

“Magic?” Darius asked sceptically with a raised eyebrow. “We don't have a wizard with us”.

“But we have shamanic magic” Kahleen informed the soldier with a wink of her one eye.

Darius didn't object; in fact, he smiled broadly at the prospect.

“Then we have all that we need”.
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First Post
Here we go, one more chapter done :)

I can't believe I finished it in 2 hours, editing and all. Don't take that as a sign of "rushness", but rather "swift writing" 8)

Enjoy thyselves, readers :D

Chapter 11

A dwarf at the pier

Reldo the Mighty snorted, a bit irritated by the news brought by his followers. “You're sure?” he asked the nearest man, whom like the others, was cloaked in a dark shroud, covering his face. “They wanted to meet with me by the pier?”.

The man nodded and pointed forward, in the direction of the pier itself, where several ships of different sizes and styles were docked at night. “That way, Reldo. Our informants double-checked the whole deal, and it matches the information they stole from Kashtar”.

Shaking his head left and right, not to deny the man's claim but simply to feel his three braids bounce on his back, Reldo moved ahead a couple of paces to get a better view of the place. Since the area was barely illuminated, with a lone lantern placed on a wooden post ever twenty feet or so, beings with normal sight would be hard pressed to spot anything outside the radius of illumination. Reldo, being a dwarf, didn't have such problems, with his innate darkvision allowing him to gaze upon the port as if it was broad daylight, or at least much more brighter than what it actually was.

Some things came into shape, mainly the bodies of his other fellows, each of them hiding around behind crates, benches, and even small houses. There wasn't anyone around at the time, but one never knew when the Honor Guard would come a'calling to ruin things for people like Reldo.

“I don't see anything save for you guys” the dwarf harrumphed, arms folded across his muscular chest covered in hides. “If we're at the right time and all, then why aren't they here?”.

From the shadows, another one of the men approached, silent like a snake. “We found them”.

Reldo looked at him, not looking very pleased. “Uh-huh” the dwarf grunted, expecting more.

The man hesitated for an instant before taking a step closer to his leader and whispering “Below the pier, by the beach that lays right under it”.

“How much water we talking about?”.

Shrugging, the sneak made a vague movement with one hand. “Enough to soak your heels, at times, but no more”.

Pondering this, Reldo looked in the direction of the pier, where the people that had arranged the meeting were laying on wait for him.

“How many?” he practically barked, impatient.

“Four” the man replied quickly. “The mercenary, the squire, a blond soldier, and the witch woman”.

“Uh-huh” Reldo grunted, sounding satisfied. “Just by themselves, huh? These boyos have some idiotic ideas up their sleeves, in my opinion”.

The two men that were stationed near him chuckled, wholly agreeing with the warrior's comment.

“We going for them, or what?” one of them dared ask.

Reldo abruptly turned his head to face him, a scowl formed on his rough dwarven features. “Not 'we', fool, but 'me'” he pointed at his own chest for emphasis. “Since there's four, I can talk to them, and you fellas come to me if I whistle”.

Nodding quickly, the two men moved ahead to pass the message amongst the other spies. They disappeared as quickly as they had come into view, even to the dwarf with his darkvision.

“Fools, all of them” Reldo complained rather loudly as he began his walk towards the end of the pier in search for a way down. He'd jump, if it came to that.

He had reached the edge of the wooden floor, which creaked every now and then rather ominously. The dwarf was confronted with the decision of simply plummeting down at least ten feet down to the beach, or finding another way to descend that didn't break his neck in the process.

His pondering was rudely interrupted by the barking of a dog, situated a mere five feet from him to his side. Reldo slowly turned to look down at the haggard-looking street dog with a mean expression on his face. “What do you want, doggie?” he asked.

The animal's response came in the form of another defiant bark directed at him, which only annoyed Reldo even more. “Graaah!” he growled fiercely. “Away with you, you stupid mutt, before I take a bite off your legs!”. This tactic seemed to have worked, for the dog whined lamely and turned tail, heading in the opposite direction of the pier.

“Heh, stupid doggie” Reldo said with satisfaction. As if to spite him, the dog turned around when it was quite a distance away to bark at him twice before finally running away. Grumbling curses regarding the dog's mother, the burly warrior starting heading down to the beach beneath the pier, one step at a time, half-sliding, half-jumping down the sandy slope that was next to where the pier ended.

All the spies were positioned above the pier, as planned, while Reldo took it upon himself to do the talking with the four pesky fellows. Or for that matter, breaking some bones, whichever came first or Reldo felt like doing.


It was dark beneath the pier's wooden floor, and what little could be seen by the beach was thanks to the moonlight. The water moved lazily, advancing and retreating on the sand in cycles, keeping the part nearest to the edge of the water constantly wet. Since the area under the pier was about fifteen feet wide, there wasn't much room for many people to stand there and not get their feet wet. In this case, it was Gilliam's boots that were soaked in seawater, but the hardened fighter didn't complain.

Gilliam was resting his hands on the hilt of his brand new bastard swords. They had been crafted out of a tough metal, adamantine, and were etched in magical runes that made the blades even sharper. His chain shirt was a completely different one altogether, since the smithy had deemed the old one too much trouble for very little gain. The new one sported not a single breach in its expensive mithral rings, the light but resistant metal allowing for more flexibility, while offering the same protection of steel or iron.

“What if he doesn't come?” came the serene voice of Kahleen from behind him. She was fifteen feet behind Gilliam, her dark wood bow hanging from her shoulder.

Vincent responded for him, positioned to the left of the mercenary. “He will. He'll want revenge for what we did to him and his men”.

What was done for Gilliam's armor was duplicated with Vincent's full plate, since the metal layers had been rendered useless thanks to Reldo's violent beating. The squire had gotten a new suit of armor, this one being dark blue steel, with the symbol of House Kashtar engraved on the entire chest plate, rather than a small area to the side. His spear's tip was changed to one made of adamantine, since the old one was beginning to dull after so many years of use.

“Indeed” Darius commented, leaning against the wall of sand to his left. The soldier was to the left of the other two men, but placed a couple of feet away, in between the shaman and them.

Thanks to the mercenary's insistence (and a bit of exaggeration), Darius had obtained a magically enhanced breastplate from the armory, and the gray steel had indigo lines running diagonally through it, forming intricate patterns. The rest of the equipment he had received wasn't as expensive, but the sword, spear and shield were all made with excellent craftsmanship, each bearing the symbol of the Honor Guard.

Kahleen didn't need anything else, as she was content with her bow and armor, and thus remained equipped the same. The shaman looked slightly tense, as if on edge, and the other three appeared no less stressed by the current situation. So many things could go wrong, and there was only so much they could do to prevent them. Making contingency plans for everything was sheer madness, if not outright impossible.

With only the sound of the waves to give them company, everyone was startled when they heard a noise from up ahead, something that resembled a boulder running down a mountain at full speed. The small seismic movement was accompanied by a “Ouch, god damned rock, son of a...” and a litany of curses that went on for almost half a minute.

“Our guest has received our invitation” Vincent observed, shifting in place, clearly nervous. His voice didn't betray his inner turmoil, however.

“Remember, I'll do the talking first” Gilliam reminded the rest, not even bothering to look at his companions for reassurance. He was tense as well, and had to flex his hands constantly to prevent them from twitching.

Although no one was looking in her direction, Kahleen nodded and assumed a ready position, although she didn't take out her bow.

Darius merely stood up straight and stretched his arm muscles. “Let's do this. For Mathias, Janir, and Lazarus” he said with conviction.

It wasn't more than five seconds after he had said those words when Reldo's figure appeared in front of them, almost fifteen feet away, right were the 'ceiling' of the pier started for him, and two wooden beams supported the planks. Two other such beams were placed behind Kahleen, complimenting the first pair.

“Well, boyos, I'm here” Reldo announced with glee. His twin morning stars were resting on his back, as always, but he didn't make a move for them, even though there were four armed people a few feet from him.

His expression changed to a frown in a blink, and so did his tone of voice. “We got your message, that you wanted information from me”. The dwarf folded his arms, assuming a challenging pose. “Here I am. What do you want, boyos?”.

“Your head on a pike” someone whispered, and everyone could be fairly certain it had to be Darius. Reldo merely snorted at this, and didn't seem to take offense.

“Who sent you to ambush us, Reldo?” Gilliam asked loud and clear. The dwarf took three steps forward, placing himself under the pier's floor, before responding.

“Someone worth following, boyo. Why? It makes a difference, his or her name?” the dwarf asked sardonically.

The mercenary resisted rolling his eyes for the time being. “Yes, yes it does” he answered. “Was it House Grugarch, or maybe House Ganellar?”.

Vincent's armor clanked as the squire moved on the spot, taking his foot out from a sand hole.

“Maybe” came the response from Reldo “Maybe not”. He shrugged, as if it didn't really matter.

“Are you going to tell us something, or not?” Darius burst out angrily. “We didn't arrange this meeting in the middle of the night, under the pier, to have a merry dwarf give us ambiguous and vague responses to our questions!”.

This seemed to amuse Reldo even further. “Ho ho! So the soldier of the Honor Guard thinks he can intimidate Reldo the Mighty into responding?” the dwarf laughed, taking more steps forward as he did. “Fat chance, boyo, not happening”.

Suddenly, Darius smiled. “On the contrary, I think it's very possible” he said.

Reldo raised an eyebrow. “Really, now? And how do you plan to make me tremble in panic?”.

Vincent bent down to the ground and picked up a wooden object. “With this” he proclaimed, holding it out for Reldo to see clearly.

The dwarf blinked: it was a piece of wood that had once been part of a structure of sorts, like a plank, or a crate, among other things. This one had a curved, even surface, and was two feet long.

“Y'know, even if you threaten me with a crossbow aimed at my throat, I wouldn't tell you a thing. But a piece of wood?” he chuckled, amused. “Not happening”.

“Guess where it came from” Gilliam insisted, a smile forming on his face as well.

“It's from an object close to you” the shaman hinted with a placid smile of her own.

Reldo was intrigued, and had to think about the matter for a brief moment, his eyebrows pressed down in a frown. “Let's see here, a curved piece of wood...” he mumbled, looking around for the item it had been part of. When he did, Reldo practically froze in place and his mouth fell open in a silent scream.

The piece of wood had the exact shape of the support beams of the pier, and they were all exactly underneath of it.

“Nah, you didn't” Reldo began to say in a weak tone, his face paling in the moonlight.

“Oh yes, with the four of them” Darius reassured him, still smiling like a madman. “Here's another chunk of a support beam” he added, throwing another curved piece at the dwarf, who merely stared at it in horror.

“You couldn't have!” he declared with a finger pointing at Darius. “If you had weakened the pillars, they would've collapsed long ago, before I came, and you certainly didn't when I was going to get here!”

Gilliam moved his arms to the sides of his chest. “You're smarter than you look, Reldo, I'll give you that much” he admitted. “But, we had a certain someone alert us of your presence, right before you came”.

Reldo looked perplexedly at Gilliam. “What” he said. “There was no one up there besides my men, me, and that bloody dog-”. The dwarf stopped his ranting when he realized who had alerted the four of his arrival.

“How did you train a bloody street dog to work for you?!” the dwarf, now angry, bellowed at them, turning his head to face each of them, looking for an answer.

“That was my doing” the shaman informed the dwarf in her serene voice. “But I didn't train the dog; I merely requested his help for the time being. His bark was the cue for us to weaken the beams”.

“You-you planned this? This whole thing?!” Reldo stuttered, flabbergasted beyond belief.

“Quite the plan, yes?” Gilliam responded with a shrug. “In any case, we really don't care for your life anymore, since you're not going to tell us what we want to know”.

“That's right: your life, Reldo, and the one of your men, they are all forfeit” Darius added triumphantly.

Vincent looked up from his position. “And they're all standing above us, I take it?” he inquired, observantly. “That's too bad, for they'll crash down to their deaths, or crippling wounds, with some luck, once we bash any one of these beams”.

Reldo seemed on the verge of desperation, like a cornered man with no escape, surrounded by crossbows and swords all pointing in his direction. Instead of screaming in terror, however, the wild dwarf gritted his teeth fiercely.

“You won't get anything out of me, boyos. The information is safe with me, and I'm willing to take it to the grave if need be” he stated in a cold, firm voice.

“BOYOS, RUN, THE PIER IS COLLAPSING!!!” the dwarf shouted at the top of his lungs, facing the wooden ceiling. It took a second for the men above to react and make a wild run away from the pier.

After the shout was done, silence embraced the beach where they were at. Reldo truly seemed ready to die for his cause.

“Thank you” Darius said to him, suddenly.

Reldo blinked twice, glancing over to the soldier, who had just thanked him.

“What for?”.

Darius put a face as if to say that it was fairly obvious. “For sending your men away. Now you don't have anyone to protect you”.

The dwarf spat on the nearby sand “We're going to be crushed by the pier, boyo, as soon as I knock over one of these beams! You should be worried about your protection!”

Not one of the four companions looked remotely troubled by this proclamation. In fact, they all appeared to be expecting such a reaction.

“The beams are fine, my dear dwarf” Kahleen reassured him. “The pieces of wood we showed you were merely planks we found laying around”.

“How in the Hells did you shape them like the beams, then?!” Reldo demanded, even more furious than before.

“Simple. With the help of the spirits, I changed the essence of the wood” she explained, undaunted.

Even someone like Reldo seemed to comprehend this, but the dwarf reacted in the most peculiar way: he laughed. And as abruptly as it had begun, he stopped, displaying a look of deadly intent as he drew a vial from his belt and downed its contents.

The effect of the potion was obvious within moments, for Reldo's body began to grow in size, until the dwarf towered over everyone else, reaching a height of almost nine feet. His equipment, weapons included, had increased in size as well. The four were confident seconds ago, but now this change had potentially affected the tide of the battle.

Reldo took his two morning stars out with each hand, and as he did, the light of reason faded from his eyes, leaving only survival and battle instincts within his mind.

With a primal roar of rage and defiance, Reldo the Mighty charged at the four companions, his every step thundering on the sand.
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First Post
Chapter 12 is here, sooner than we all expected. Heck, I really can't believe I had the energy to write it up today, but the more the merrier, I say :D. Turns out I don't have carpal tunnel syndrome, so I just need to take better care of my wrists, is all. Likewise for my neck, I just need to flex it more often, no big deal :cool:

For those of you who read this, do let me know if you've felt there are improvements in this chapter's battle scene, since I did take steps to try to make it more... smooth. For that matter, let me know what you think about each chapter, the characters, whatever, I'm all for constructive feedback or blatant praise ;)

Chapter 12

Blood in the water

It was remarkable, how a situation could change and make a descent to hell in the span of a second, generated by a frenzied dwarf advancing on the group, morning stars swinging, jaw set, and his eyes filled with cold rage. His heavy steps splashed the water underneath and dug large holes on the sand as he moved, but Reldo the Mighty didn't pay any heed to this. All he cared for was bringing down as many of the four opponents as he could.

As he approached, several things were occurring simultaneously. Kahleen was moving her arms and chanting in a monotone voice, generating a green aura around her in the process of summoning spiritual energies. Darius was drawing his spear and taking an ideal position for a throw. Both Gilliam and Vincent were assuming battle stances, drawing their weapons as fast as they could, in order to receive the incoming dwarf (who could be considered a giant, now).

Reldo screamed wildly as he pulled one arm back to strike Gilliam with his weapon, but his attack was interrupted by his feet getting stuck to the ground. The dwarf had to abort the maneuver and look down to a mass of seaweed entangling his legs. This distracted him, and it cost him, for Vincent took the chance to dash forward and jab him hard with his adamantine spear, causing the hides he pierced to start turning red.

Gilliam saw the window of opportunity as well, and the mercenary jumped at the dwarf, who was merely ten feet away, bringing down his two swords in unison. The target in question was easy to hit, since Reldo had augmented his size with the potion, but the wound caused by the spear brought his attention back to the battle, and the dwarf was no longer with his guard down. The twin swords were parried with ease by one sweep of a morning star, and the second one collided with Gilliam in mid-air, bringing him down to the wet sand in a heap.

“Gilliam!” Darius shouted, seeing his companion down on the ground, vulnerable. The soldier threw the spear with all his might, but the dwarf somehow managed to dodge the missile in the last moment. Cursing his own aim, Darius resorted to drawing his well-crafted sword as he ran towards the three combatants.

“Paint the ground red, Blood Moon” Kahleen was whispering to her bow as she nocked an arrow and took careful aim of the enlarged foe. Without hesitating for a second, she released the bow string, fully aware the arrow could hit her allies as well. But luck was with her that time, and Reldo got the arrow right on his shoulder, digging deeply into his body, causing more damage with the help of the longbow's enchantment.

No one was able to witness Kahleen's blood dripping from her arms, caused by Blood Moons double-edged magic. Gilliam was on the ground, rolling to the side, nearly avoiding a brutal hit from a morning star, which made the sand in the spot where it hit blow up in the air, like a comet had fallen there.

“Aim for Reldo, I'll cover Gilliam!” Vincent shouted at the approaching soldier, taking a step to the side to stand between the dwarf and the fallen human, shield raised and braced for the inevitable impact. The morning star collided against the steel shield from above, bending the upper section against Vincent, the metal edge bouncing off the elf's head, stunning him momentarily.

The squire couldn't focus his mind, and he knew another spiked assault was coming his way. He saw Reldo prepare to strike him with both weapons at once, as if to sandwich him between them. Darius came forward and brought up his sword in a rapid thrust, driving it into Reldo's unprotected leg. The dwarf grunted and changed his footing to prevent the blade from going in any deeper, and his stability seemed compromise, for the attack had gone deep enough to slice a muscle or two.

But Reldo didn't seem to be going down any time soon, and these wounds only angered him even more. Gritting his teeth, Reldo ignored the pain and assaulted Darius in the blink of an eye, his morning stars moving in a blur that the soldier found impossible to predict. Only instinct saved him, as Darius jumped back in time, getting clipped on the ribs by one weapon, and receiving the other one squarely on the center of his chest.

As Darius staggered back, severely wounded by the devastating hit, Reldo took a step forward to keep him in reach, raising an arm for the killing move. A flash to the side caught his attention, and rightly so, forcing Reldo to move his head to avoid a pair of knives from running into his throat.

“Damnation” Gilliam cursed from a standing position, having missed his shot. The mercenary bent down and retrieved his weapons rapidly, getting ready for another melee with the dwarf.

Another arrow flew by the air at Reldo, but the dwarf had seen it coming, somehow, blocking it with one of his weapons. Kahleen was moving after Darius, stopping next to the wounded man and beginning to summon healing energies for him. She had underestimated Reldo's reach, however, and the dwarf smacked her hard with one rapid swing of his spiked weapon. The shaman lost her focus and the spell was wasted, but the worst part was her injured arm, which bled profusely.

Seeing that her savior was as wounded as him, Darius took a step in front of her and assumed a defensive stance, aiming to block attacks rather than inflict further damage. This change in stance allowed him to deflect not one, but two more seize-augmented swings coming his way. Reldo growled like a fierce beast and backhanded him after the attack, hitting Darius on his sword arm and making him drop the longsword.

Gilliam went in a all-out offensive, seeing both shaman and soldier in dire straits, slashing at Reldo four times, each slash taking him no more than a second to execute. With his incredible reflexes, the dwarf parried half of them, taking the other two on the uninjured leg and the waist.

But Reldo ignored this, deciding to finish off the weakened Darius. He feinted low, forcing Darius to go back a step, and then performed the actual attack with the other morning star, smashing him hard on the head. Darius attempted to remain standing, but his balance failed him and he collapsed to the sandy ground, a line of blood running from his head.

Kahleen dropped as well, but out of her own choice, channeling amber-colored healing energies upon the dying man. Reldo was still close enough to hit her, though, and the dwarf didn't waste a second to strike her down once and for all.

His weapon fell upon Gilliam's swords, forming an “x” as they crossed by the middle, receiving the impact of the morning star and absorbing it. The mercenary grunted, as the hit had a great deal of power behind, but remained standing nonetheless.

“Wanna die first, boyo?” Reldo asked. “I can grant you that much”

Reldo performed a full attack on Gilliam, moving his arms in the same unpredictable maneuver that he had performed in the past, and the mercenary couldn't prevent the weapons from striking him three times, with a great deal of strength behind each hit. There was little blood coming out of his new wounds, but he heard the sounds of bones breaking, and he doubted he'd have anymore left if the dwarf assaulted him once again.

Vincent's spear tip ran through Reldo's already weakened leg, just then, going through he knee, and the dwarf had to drop on one knee to keep himself from outright collapsing. The elf squire retracted the spear, or at least tried to, when he found out it was stuck in the dwarf's kneecap. Reldo swung backwards blindly, and the morning star found its target sure enough, hitting Vincent on the stomach, making him bend down in agony.

Not all was lost for the four brave companions, however: Kahleen had finally healed Darius' grievous wounds, and the soldier had managed to regain his footing, if a bit unsteady at first, his face painted in red on one side. Darius was about to strike down Reldo, when he realized his sword wasn't even in his hand, nowhere to be seen in the darkness of the night.

Gilliam had brought an arm back, as if to slash at Reldo, but he chose to throw the sword at Darius instead. The other man caught it, a bit startled, looking confused.

“Why didn't you finish him off?!” he asked, seeing that the dwarf was not going to move anytime soon.

The mercenary's shoulders sagged, and only then did Darius see how weakened he was from the beating he had taken. Tossing him the bastard sword was probably the last effort he could put into the fight.

“You do it, Darius” Gilliam told him, his voice clearly expressing his exhaustion, but showing determination nonetheless “For us, for you, and for your friends”

Darius nodded, and he took the weapon's hilt with his two hands, solidifying his grip on the sword. Taking five steps forward, Darius got close enough to take a stab at Reldo, who merely looked up at him, his eyes showing no more than bestial instincts.

“Do you have what it takes, boyo?” the injured dwarf asked “If you miss, I'll kill you”

“He bluffs, Darius” Kahleen reassured him. “Ignore his words and end his life”

Darius looked back at the wise woman, who nodded at him, and he nodded back. Raising the sword with two hands and pouring all his energy, vengeance, and rage into the strike, Darius launched himself forward, aiming for Reldo's heart.

The night went still as the dwarf's heart was perforated by Gilliam's blade, wielded by Darius, and not a sound was heard from Reldo. Darius retracted the blade from his chest, having to apply force with his foot to take it out, and stood there, breathing hard, over the body of the dead warrior.

“It's over” Darius said.

“I'm afraid not” Vincent said to him, bending down to retrieve his spear from the dwarf's knee.

Darius looked at the squire with a questioning expression “How so? We killed the leader of the spies, now everything should be fine for House Kashtar and Seawall, yes?”. He turned around to face his companions one by one, but each of them shook their heads.

“Reldo was but one of our many enemies, Darius” Gilliam explained from the ground, as the mercenary's energies had all but left him, and he was clutching his ribcage as he talked. Kahleen didn't have to ask anything, and she bent down to heal Gilliam's wounds with her shamanic magic.

“But surely after having defeated him, we will send a clear message to the remaining spies, scaring them off?” the soldier insisted, trying to obtain a more satisfying victory from Reldo's death.

“You don't win a war by succeeding in one battle, Darius” came the response from Vincent, who was removing his chest piece to take a better look at his wound. “This was but one battle, and there are more to come”.

Darius slashed at the air, as if to put emphasis into his words “Then I'll battle with any others who threaten House Kashtar, or our fair city of Seawall!”.

His words echoed into the sea, making them sound hollow. The soldier of the Honor Guard looked no less convinced, and his resolution seemed as hard as iron.

“You've got spirit, that much we can see” Gilliam was saying from his seat on the beach's sand, his bones better off after Kahleen had healed them. The mercenary faced Darius with a challenging look “But have you got what's needed to win all battles, and subsequently the war?”

The soldier's resolve seemed to falter at this “Maybe” he admitted. “But I came this far, haven't I? And I believe I can make it farther still”.

Gilliam acknowledged this with a nod “Maybe”.

The shaman was busy analyzing Vincent's stomach wound, pressing at different areas to test its soreness, drawing a grunt from the squire every now and then “Hmm, no broken bones from the lower ribs, and the organs seem fine...” she was musing to herself. Straightening up, she placed a hand on Vincent's shoulder plate “You'll be fine, but try to avoid things from coming in contact with your stomach”

“Like people punching me?” Vincent inquired.

Kahleen smiled at this “No, more like eating. For two days, at least”

One of the other two would've laughed at this, had the circumstances been less dire.

Gilliam finally managed to stand up, all by himself, and went over Reldo's corpse. Without saying a word, he began to take Reldo's equipment, which had reverted to its original size along with the body after death, and placing it on his backpack.

“Taking his possessions?” Darius asked, a bit uneasy.

“We need all the resources we can get to finance our equipment” Gilliam responded as he got Reldo's morning stars and strapped them on his back. The mercenary looked more closely and realized there were runes etched on both weapons “Huh, the dwarf had them enchanted. That's why they hurt so bad”

Vincent didn't comment on that, as he was placing his chest piece back in place, and Darius merely nodded, looking at the bastard sword he had in his hands.

“Here, your weapon” he offered to Gilliam, who took it with one hand absentmindedly while he was searching Reldo's body for more items of value.

“Why exactly do we need to 'finance' our personal items, Gilliam?” Kahleen asked, sounding interested.

“We'll need as much as we can for our next trials. I spent all my gold in this armor, and my new swords, after all” was all he said in response. No one objected, and the other three tended to their wounds while Gilliam continued his search.

After ten minutes, the mercenary presented to them his findings. Apparently, Reldo had two magically enchanted rings on him, but no one could tell what they did at the time. Kahleen suggested having an enchanter at the city analyze them in order to assess their purpose and value. Aside from that, Reldo's armor proved to be mundane, devoid of magical runes, but his leather belt had magic of its own, according to the shaman's attentive sight (one eyed and all), and they decided to give it to examination as well as the rings.

“His boots are magical, too?” Vincent asked in disbelief. “What else has he got enchanted, his beard?”

“Seems like it” Gilliam said with a shrug, after having Kahleen analyze the dwarf's footwear.

“What should we do with the corpse?” Darius asked, sounding concerned.

Vincent turned his head to look at him “Leave it as it is. We don't need proof of his death, not with Kahleen as a witness”

“Your House trusts a shaman more than it trusts you, a squire?” Gilliam felt compelled to ask, a bit of sarcasm trailing on his words.

The squire nodded, but not in a sad way “They've known her longer than they've known me” he explained, settling the matter.

The four remained where they were, then, pondering on the situation at hand, and its potential future consequences.

“It's time to go back, and inform of our battle to Master Ender” Darius called at length, drawing each one of them from their thoughts. No one objected, and the four walked away from the beach, having gathered their possessions, the sand red with the blood that was spilled in the battle.

Long after they were gone, a robed figure approached the corpse of the dwarf, looking at it with distaste and pity.

“My my, our dear Reldo the Mighty has turned into Reldo the Fallen. What a waste” Ignus said, shaking his head slowly as he gazed upon Reldo's corpse.

“But what's done is done, I suppose, and there's no gain in reminiscing over the dead. Especially dead, useless dwarves”.

With that said, the magician continued walking by the beach, his attention focused on the moon in the sky “Truly, a beautiful sight, this silvery orb that offers us a no less enchanting light, at no cost at all” he was musing in a soft voice.

The illusionist was pondering how to take the next step, and how to ensure its success.

“Those four must be stopped”.


First Post
So! 20 views per update, ain't that sweet? It'd be even sweeter to have additional reader comments, but hey, I'm not complaining, just sayin' :)

Enjoy this chapter folks, or at least I hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it. Comments and criticism are always welcome :D

Chapter 13


Draegen Ender, Master of the Honor Guard, stared back at Gilliam, a grim look on his face. His hands were placed firmly on top of his heavy desk, acting as supports for his body, as he leaned forward.

“And so you killed the leader of the spies, Reldo the Mighty, our only viable source of information for the time being” he stated, rather than asked. “Am I missing something, mercenary?”

“It could be that, as I explained, he didn't feel like relinquishing any secrets he had, Master Ender” Gilliam replied wearily. He had explained the whole matter once, but he still didn't enjoy having to do so again.

Master Ender nodded gravely, and practically slumped back on his chair, letting go of his hands on the desk, where more than a dozen scrolls lay, all full of valuable words and numbers. It was all illuminated by the lanterns in the room, since the sun hadn't raised from the horizon, yet.

Vincent cleared his throat before taking a step forward and opening his mouth to speak, effectively standing right next to the mercenary “Master Ender, I'm afraid that Gilliam's words are true, from beginning to end; Reldo's sheer determination to keep his contractor's identity secret proved steadfast 'till the end of his life”.

“I'll grant him that much: he had a strong will” Darius was commenting to Kahleen, both standing a few steps behind.

“Giving praise to your enemies, soldier?” Draegen inquired with a raised eyebrow.

Darius dropped his conversation in a blink and straightened like the soldier he was, fixing his gaze on some invisible spot directly across from him “No, sir, just observing my enemy's traits, which I consider valuable”.

“Lapdog” Gilliam thought, but didn't say. “In any case” he began anew, drawing Draegen's attention to him once more “we know it's either House Grugarch or House Ganellar that have orchestrated this”.

Master Ender's expression remained still, like an eternal tombstone “Do you, now?” he replied at length. “And how is it that you know for a fact that it was either of those Houses, mercenary?”.

Gilliam tried to compose a coherent answer “Well, you see... the dwarf and his men...”, and Kahleen took a step forward to assist him, placing a hand on his shoulder to make him stop talking.

“We don't, Master Ender, that is the truth” she said calmly. “But the dwarf didn't reject the idea that it could be either House requesting his aid”.

“She speaks the truth, sir” Darius added, still hanging back from the rest of the group.

The room went silent as Draegen placed both elbows on the desk, resting his chin on his folded hands.

“Very well” the old warrior conceded at length. “I will take note of this, but know that such evidence won't lead to any direct action against either House. We need stronger proof than that before House Kashtar or House Dagoth make a move”.

The man's arms returned to their previous position, by his lap, as he regarded the four companions “Is that understood?”.

“Yes, Master Ender”.

“Yes, sir”.


“I do, Master Ender”.

“You are all dismissed, then” Draegen said. “I shall send a messenger for you when I have your next task available”.

Without saying anything else, the four left the room. Both Darius and Vincent saluted before passing through the door.


Hours later, it was still dark outside, but Seawall's buildings started to become more clear as dawn approached, heralded by the false dawn, which painted the horizon in blue and green tones. Merchants were beginning to set up their shops and establishments for a new day of work, and everyone else in the city who had some responsibility would attend to it in a matter of hours. For now, though, everything held an almost mystic silence, which permeated the entire city.

Darius Brokenblade was leaning on a railing, atop a balcony on the fourth floor of Valor's Banner, watching the spectacle of the incoming dawn. His features were serene, displaying no particular emotion, and he didn't flinch when he heard the metallic door behind him open.

“Ah, here you are, Darius”.

The soldier didn't have to turn to recognize the newcomer, for he recognized Vincent's voice pretty well. He didn't reply, however, and remained in his position, gazing at the city below.

Walking slowly towards the railing, Vincent stood next to Darius, appreciating what the other man was focused on. It truly was a spectacular sight.

“You can't sleep, I take it?” Vincent inquired, glancing at the soldier.

Darius responded with a slow shake of his head.

Nodding to himself, the squire turned his attention back to the vista ahead of them “Likewise. That battle occurred very recently, and I have trouble resting immediately after one”.

Neither man said anything, and so they each kept to their own thoughts for a while. It was Darius who broke the silence, after a minute.

“I almost died, back then, against Reldo”.

Vincent didn't know how to respond to that right away, and took his time to give an answer “I wasn't far away from that fate, either” the squire pointed out. “Has the experience shocked you?”.

It took some time for the soldier to come up with a reply of his own. Sighing deeply, he stood straight and stretched his arms upwards.

“You could say so” he admitted. Darius turned his head to face Vincent, for the first time in the conversation “But yet I'm here, alive, unlike others who were less fortunate”.

“You mean your friends” Vincent observed, looking intently at the man's pained eyes.

Darius averted his gaze from the squire's face, and went back to observing the sleeping city.

“This fear” the squire began “does it prevent you from fighting anymore, Darius?”.

“On the contrary” the soldier replied without hesitation.

Vincent was confused about this, and placed his hands on his hips as he contemplated Darius, who still gazed forwards.

“What is it, then? What do you feel, as of now?”

Darius turned half-way to face the squire, a smile forming on his fair features, and something powerful shining within his blue eyes.

“Since our last battles, Vincent, I have found that I have this burning desire... to be alive”.

The squire smiled back, and remained silent. Both men were looking at the horizon, then, just as the sun's upper edge rose by an inch, and shone its radiance upon the two of them.

No words could've described what they experienced, as they stood on the railing by themselves, staring at the golden orb's entrance to this world, to cast away the darkness, and commence a new day.


Gilliam stared into the depths of the woman's brown eyes, allowing himself to be drawn into them.

“Jillian” he called her, for that was her name. The woman's long black hair was a mess, and it covered half her face.

“Gilliam” she replied, staring back into his eyes in the same way, as if this link was all that kept them in this world, together. She reached out for him, extending a hand. Gilliam took it, and brought her to close to his body, embracing her with one arm.

“I will protect you, no matter what” he whispered into her ear, inhaling a breath of her aroma in the process, feeling lightheaded just by being close to her.

“You lie, Gilliam” Jillian replied, pushing him back to arm's length. The warrior didn't know what to make of this sudden change of emotions, and looked at her perplexedly.

“My love, why can't you trust my words?” he asked her, sounding pained.

The woman returned a blank expression “Why, isn't it obvious?” she asked him, her tone sarcastic.

Gilliam looked at her, and when he glanced down, he saw it: his own bastard sword, running through her chest, all covered in her blood. He paled, and tried to pull the sword out, desperate, but try as he might, he couldn't.

“Why, Gilliam?” she implored “Why have you done this to me? I thought you loved me”.

“I-no, I didn't do this, and I do love you, Jillian!” he responded, fear clogging his thoughts, making them run wildly, rendering him unable to come up with a way to save her. He tried with both his hands, but the blade wouldn't let go of her body, and the blood kept pouring out all the while.

“You said you would protect me, Gilliam” Jillian said, accusingly. “But in the end, it's the other way around”.

“No, this can't be happening!” Gilliam cried, still attempting to pry the sword out of Jillian's body, getting his hands bloody as he did.

“You killed me, Gilliam”.


Gilliam opened his eyes, and realized he was sitting upright on a bed, having shouted at the emptiness of the room he was in. Then he remembered: he had received accommodations at the keep, as a reward for his late night battle. Shuddering, due to the cold sweat that coated his naked body, the mercenary hugged his own torso, and remained in that position for a long while.

“I didn't kill you, my love” he whispered, as tears fell freely down his face.


Time was meaningless, and space was rendered unimportant and useless. In her trance, Kahleen didn't perceive things as anyone normally might, such as the passage of time, or other bodily sensations. There wasn't any depth to where she was, any echo to her thoughts or words. She simply was, focused in her meditative state, being one with the spirits of the Nether, the plane under the control of Deriner, Lady of Essence. In a way, Kahleen was communing with the deity herself, but at the same time, she wasn't, for her link with the Nether meant a connection with Deriner's domain, but not her essence.

In this place between the worlds, the Nether, words didn't come in the form of sound, but rather essence, spiritual energy. The essence fluctuated around the shaman, like smoke of a multitude of shifting colors, going into her own physical form, joining with her essence, and simultaneously drawing from it, taking it away.

It was through this exchange that she was able to renew her energies to summon shamanic magic in the world, when she needed it. Through years of repetition and practice, the hermit had been able to perfect this exchange of essence, allowing her to regain her energies faster. Entering the trance was easier, as well.

At the end, when she felt whole once again, Kahleen closed the connection between the Nether and her essence, making the rainbow mists slowly depart from her vicinity. Within moments, she was back where she had started the trance, on the roof of Valor's Banner. The sun was raising, now, and her lean figure was enveloped by its rays of light.

The shaman smiled, satisfied by her trance, and glad to be back in time to witness such a scene. Seawall was being bathed in the sunlight as well, and the golden light's advance on its buildings and streets was majestic, to say the least.

“Aah, life” she said, basking in the moment's beauty.


The four met in the morning, by the keep's entrance, each one of them dressed for battle, with their respective weapons and armor. It was cloudy, threatening to rain at any time, but otherwise the afternoon had been pleasant enough so far.

“Sheesh, Master Ender allowed us no more than a day of rest before this journey” Gilliam complained, scratching his head and looking around. A procession of guards were passing by, escorting a high ranking noble of House Kashtar. Not one of them paid the quartet any heed.

Vincent chuckled and slapped Gilliam on the back “Cheer up, Gil, at least we got a good night's sleep, right?”.

“Indeed! I'd say Master Ender is quite generous” Darius quipped in, sounding as optimistic as the squire, and slapping the mercenary on the back from the other side.

Gilliam groaned and shook his head “Are you two trying to form a duo, to further annoy me with your positive talk?”.

But it was all said with good intentions, and the three laughed together. Kahleen merely smiled at this.

“The items should have been identified by now” the shaman reminded them. “I say we pick them up at the arcanist's shop before we go to our briefing”.

Darius nodded and begun to walk away from Valor's Banner, with the strong wind moving his blond hair backwards, making him look dashing “Onwards, to the mage's building!” he declared, sounding heroic. Or, at least, making the endeavor sound heroic.

The other three had no reason to reject this, and so they followed suit. However, someone's voice was directed at them from the side of the stone bridge they were on, and made them stop to face the man who owned it.

It was a red haired human, with a cunning smile on his face, clad in leather armor, a longsword on his hip, accompanied by a short sword on the other one. His lean, yet muscular body was placed on top of the bridge's railing, sitting there comfortably, arms folded across his chest.

“Now now, let's finish this little game of ours, shall we?” offered Gon, leaping down from the railing to land a few feet away from the companions, arms extended, as if offering a hug.

Gilliam rolled his eyes, and Darius groaned. It had almost been a perfect start.
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First Post
Before you read the next chapter, I'd like to make one big announcement: first, thank you all who keep reading and adding to the view count, it's what keeps me going, besides the joy of writing this stuff out :D

Secondly, did this story hour get like 50 views in the last update?! I could've sworn to Pelor that the number was 590 or something, and now it's well over 600! In any case, thank you all again for your interest. To those new readers out there, come out and say hello! Don't be shy! I'd just like to know who's reading my tale, at least ;)

Without further comments, I give you, the next chapter. Fine, I lied, there's the thing with Gon's stat block, I'll update that when I have the chance in the Rogue's Gallery :p

Chapter 14

The Mermaid's Dream

Gon approached the four with a smile a father had when he reunited with his dear children “Come now! Why such expressions of distaste at my reappearance?” he asked them jovially. “Surely you have missed my departure?”.

Darius was about to tell him that it was the exact opposite, but Gilliam interjected “Where in the Hells were you, Gon? You disappeared after the massacre at the warehouse”.

If anything, Gon was amused at the mercenary's angry tone “Why, I was cornered against two of the remaining thugs, and had to force my escape through a tall window”.

“How come we didn't hear from you until now?” Kahleen inquired, sounding curious rather than suspicious, unlike the other men.

“I was wounded, greatly so, which didn't allow me to communicate my situation, not even to my superiors” the red-head explained calmly, with a cunning smile on his face. “I've recently informed Master Ender of my whereabouts, and he has accepted my explanation”.

Gon then pointed at the keep they had left with one finger “In there, I was given a very noble task” he stated humbly, proceeding to place a hand on his chest, where his heart was located. “I am to assist you in your dangerous mission, whatever it might be”.

His heroic claims were met with stares of resentfulness and annoyance from both mercenary and soldier. Vincent didn't look angered in the least, nor did the serene shaman. “You know that we must meet with a contact at a certain location, then?” the squire asked him.

“Of course” Gon answered happily. “I know the details, so you must not worry about my knowledge”.

Darius was looking elsewhere, so that he didn't have to face the man. “We need to stop by a mage's place, to retrieve certain items of use”.

This didn't seem to rub off of Gon in a negative way, either. “We'll make as many stops that are necessary, even if they number in the millions!” he announced with glee, throwing a fist up in the air. Gilliam dismissed this with a wave of his hand and begun to walk away, tired of the man's attitude.

Without a word, Kahleen followed, and Darius didn't need much encouragement to do the same. Only Vincent remained, who offered Gon an outstretched hand. “I hope we work well together” he said with a small grin.

The soldier kept smiling as he took the hand and shook it vigorously “Likewise, good squire!”.

Already walking at a faster pace, Gilliam sighed. “What's the jail time in Seawall for murdering a blabbering red-headed fool, Darius?”.

The soldier sighed as well before responding. “Not long enough to convince me to do otherwise”.


They had spare time to reach the contact in the Merchant district, since the appointed time of the meeting was for the late evening, and so the five went to a wizard's guild house in order to retrieve the identified items.

Gilliam had been forced to press the arcanist who gave him the items to be less cryptic with his explanations of what the rings, boots and belt did, and eventually the man yielded and told him in plain words what their function was.

“Mages and their need for drama when it comes to magic” the mercenary fumed as he left the guild house, carrying an additional leather pouch with him on his hand. He gestured for the waiting four to follow him towards a less crowded street, and they all complied wordlessly. It took almost a minute to reach a more secure area.

“What have we got, then?” Gon asked eagerly, rubbing his hands at the sight of the four magical items within the leather satchel. Needless to say, he was the only one who was so thrilled with these objects.

Suppressing a groan of annoyance, Gilliam took out one of the rings, which was made of dark jade, and held it in his open palm. “This ring will protect whoever wears it, much like a shield defends its wielder, through its magics”.

“Maybe Reldo wasn't that good himself, if he had that to assist him” Darius reflected while looking at the ring. Vincent nodded but didn't say anything. “What about the second ring?” Kahleen inquired, curious.

Gilliam took out the other one, which was made of onyx black as the night, with a teardrop shaped ruby attached to it. It seemed more valuable as jewelery rather than as a magical object. “And this other one defends the wearer from fire”.

No one said anything, and so Gilliam grabbed the remaining two objects, belt and boots, placing them in the center of the circle they were forming. There was nothing out of the ordinary with them, save for the runes engraved in each, barely visible unless one was very perceptive.

“Let me guess,” Gon said, “the belt can change your gender, and the boots allow you to move with stealth”. His guess was met with different degrees of stupefaction from the others, but this didn't seem to offend the merry soldier “I said I was guessing, didn't I?”.

“Anyway” Gilliam continued, tired of Gon's quips. “This belt gives enhanced physical might to the one wearing it” he was saying, making Vincent say “So much for the 'Mighty' Reldo”.

Lifting the boots with one hand, the mercenary told them of the last object's function. “And this pair grant you more agility to avoid attacks, and to increase your accuracy as well ” he said, glancing at Kahleen at the end. “All yours” he offered, extending the boots for her to grab. With a smile and a “Thank you”, the shaman took the boots and began to put them on, which looked rather strange, since she had been barefoot until now.

Before anyone (or more specifically, Gon) could say anything else, Gilliam delegated the belt to Darius with an offered hand. “Put it to good use, soldier” he said with exaggerated tones. Darius seemed surprised by the gift, and slowly begun to place it around his waist, securing it to his armor. “I don't feel stronger...” he was saying after he had strapped the belt on.

“Test it on Gon” Gilliam muttered.

Gon still had a look of a little boy who couldn't wait to open his presents in his birthday. “Say, who gets the rings?”.

Gilliam thrust his hand into the satchel, grasping for the two rings, and took them out at the same time, palm open upwards, in Vincent's direction. “Here you go, Vince”.

The elf blinked, clearly not having expected this. “Ah, well, I suppose I'll keep the jade ring, to increase my defensive capabilities...” he began to say awkwardly, moving his hand over Gilliam's. The mercenary shook his head “No, you take both, Vince”.

Even more surprised, Vincent stood there mutely for a moment before finally grasping both rings and placing each on of his hands. “Why both, Gil?”. Gon looked irritated and asked the same question, drawing a sigh from the mercenary.

“Because you need them the most. My job is to keep you alive, and the better equipped you are, the easier it is to accomplish that task” he explained.

Crossing his arms in front of his chest and making a pout, Gon harrumphed loudly “And why don't I get an item?”.

Gilliam scowled back at him. “Because you didn't fight Reldo with us, that's why”.

The shaman was looking at the sky, noticing the sun's position. “I say we start walking towards the tavern, so that we make it with time to spare” the shaman suggested to the rest. Gon was about to start an argument with Gilliam, but seeing that the other three were leaving, he quickly dropped the issue and decided to sing a song instead. He kept going non-stop, switching to a new one when he finished the first one.

That afternoon, the walk to the tavern was the longest and most nerve-bending journey that Gilliam had to endure in his entire life.


Even in the early evening, the Mermaid's Dream was packed full of people, each doing their own thing, but mostly drinking and enjoying a good time in the popular tavern. The patron was a halfling of considerable charisma, for his words were more often than not very convincing, despite his size. He was quite the exotic sight, since his race was a rarity in this section of the continent. The barmaids, however, weren't halflings, but elven and human. Every now and then, the patron had to intervene in order to prevent fights from occurring in his establishment, and it was rare indeed to have a brawl started in the Mermaid's Dream due to his way of swaying people's intentions.

The place had two floors, the main one for drinking, parlor games, and for the minstrels to play their music to liven up the building. The other floor was reserved for sleeping quarters, for those who wanted to stay a night or two. And since the place was kept tidy and clean (or at least relatively so, for a tavern), it wasn't uncommon for the sleeping rooms to be full of guests every night of the week.

It was in one corner, by the fireplace, that six people sat on a circular table, exchanging words in normal tones, since the noise of the entire place prevented them from whispering. The group of five, all dressed as usual, were joined by a sixth in a matter of minutes after they had sat down on the table. Their guest was a half-orc, another rare sight in Seawall, but this one dressed rather elegantly, instead of looking like the typical savage his race was seen as. His indigo robes had golden thread by the edges, and a richly adorned pendant hung from his wide neck, jingling whenever he moved his head.

“Your group is quite peculiar” the half-orc was commenting, observing the five sitting around him. No one save for him had ordered a drink, and the man took a sip of a pricey wine he had paid for. “But that doesn't change my disposition towards passing House Suran's wishes along, obviously”.

Vincent leaned forward, his heavy armor squeaking a bit in the process. “What does the House of Warlocks need from House Kashtar?” he asked, looking at the half-orc in the eye.

“More than you think, squire Vincent” the man retorted simply, grabbing his cup of wine and moving it in the air in circles, making its contents swirl. “As you should know, my name is Hertil Yovic, and my clan is one of the most influential ones of House Suran”.

“You haven't answered the question” Kahleen pointed out. She had to talk louder than usual, with all the noise around them, but her face kept calm nonetheless.

Hertil shifted his eyes in Kahleen's direction “True” he admitted, taking another sip of wine. “House Suran requires the aid of your House, squire, in order to deal with a problem of ours up north”.

Gilliam raised an eyebrow at this. “Barbarians?”.

“Your companion is very intelligent” Hertil appraised, nodding to Gilliam. The mercenary didn't seem to take the compliment well, as it sounded condescending to his ears. “Yes, Barbarians have been assaulting our settlements up north, at the Frostfell Mountains. Our... business in the area requires peaceful surroundings, and such violent attacks distract House Suran from its research”.

“Would you mind being a tad more specific, good sir?” Gon prodded with that cunning smile of his. “We would appreciate knowing more than that before we agree to help your House”. Surprisingly, Darius nodded in agreement, an event that heralded the end of the world, no doubt.

The half-orc leaned back on his chair, observing his wine-filled glass with intent, seeming lost in thought for an instant. Vincent seemed annoyed by this, and placed his arms on the table, leaning forward once more “As a member of House Kashtar and clan Ender, I demand to know what business it is that we are helping, Hertil Yovic”.

This seemed to have an effect on the noble, for he resumed his original posture at once, facing Vincent squarely, with serious expression on his face. “If this will make you aid House Suran, then I shall comply to your demands, squire Vincent” he stated, sounding like he had been pressed to do say he wasn't planning on revealing unless it was as a last resort.

Gilliam appeared impressed by this, as he had never seen Vincent command such force of will to get things done so quickly. “Go on, then” the mercenary bade him.

Taking a breath, Hertil began to look around at the five, speaking as he moved his head to face each of them individually. “My House has always been focused in the arcane, everything under the domain of Fahrassi, Goddess of the Elements, and thus our main research and investigations are related solely to those subjects”.

“In the late years, House Suran has found valuable relics and objects in several caverns along the Frostfell Mountains, and thus begun to explore the area more and more, with each new discovery fueling the desire to obtain the next ancient item that lay there, hidden”.

His words were easy to follow, and as Hertil talked the five almost forgot about the background noise that was constantly around the tavern. None of them made a move or a sound as they listened the half-orc's speech intently.

“Apparently, the Wind Spear tribe, one of the most powerful groups of Barbarians in the region, took offense in our investigation of the caves, and commenced to perform raids on our settlements without warning”. Hertil paused, sipping another inch of wine from his cup. “In order to continue the research, we must have more suitable conditions in which to do so”.

Kahleen shifted on her seat, a bit uneasy, and only Darius seemed to note this.

“I still don't see how House Kashtar is involved in this, noble Hertil” Vincent said to him, his expression serious. Next to him, Darius added “Indeed, you haven't drawn that connection, only the need for it”.

Nodding, the half-orc yielded the point. “Very true. Let us say that House Suran shall be... indebted to your House, if you help us with our issue” he explained, hands apart and open. This seemed to satisfy everyone else.

“Give us a map, and we'll give you our strength to deal with the Wind Spear Tribe” Gilliam said simply, offering a hand with the palm facing up to Hertil. The noble complied, and from his extravagant robes he took out a folded scroll, the seal of House Suran drawn on it.

Gon took a hold of the map before Gilliam reached out for it, and opened it on his own, scanning its contents. “What in the Hells are you doing?” the mercenary demanded, flustered. But the red-headed soldier didn't reply, focused as he was on the scroll. Darius was about to press him further to respond, but just then the man stopped abruptly, handing it over to Gilliam, a wide smile on his face.

Taking it away rather forcefully, Gilliam placed the scroll on the table in front of him. “I was merely checking the veracity of the map, Gilliam” Gon explained calmly. “And from what I gather, it's quite accurate”. Hertil contemplated Gon with narrowed eyes, but didn't say anything.

Gilliam didn't know that much about forgeries, but for some reason he trusted Gon's judgement. The map in question did look like the real deal, with many carefully drawn lines going everywhere, indicating the geography of the northwest section of the continent, and a clear path between Seawall and the Frostfell Mountains.

“Anything else we should know, noble of House Suran?” Darius inquired, sounding just a bit suspicious. The half-orc shook his head in response “That's all that I have to offer, gentlemen” he responded rather ambiguously, then glancing at Kahleen, “and lady”. The shaman's eye glinted for a moment, and it wasn't clear what message she was conveying with her one-eyed look.

“I take it that you need us to depart right away?” Vincent asked, as he began to stand up from his seat. Hertil nodded and proceeded to do the same, albeit in a more elegant fashion “You are correct, squire. Gather your resources and leave as soon as you can muster”.

With that, the half-orc left the tavern, leaving the five in their table, every one of them on their feet by then. Darius looked at Kahleen with concern “Everything alright, miss?”. The woman took a moment's respite before replying “I'll explain later. Let us go outside for now”.

The night wasn't that warm, even though it was summertime, but then again, Seawall was located by the ocean, which allowed for the winds to shape the weather. Closing the door behind them, the group abandoned the crowded establishment and walked by the main street of the district, heading to buy provisions.

“Interesting ordeals are happening at the time with House Suran, it seems” Gon commented off-handedly, catching everyone else by surprise. “What do you mean by that?” Gilliam asked the wily man, glancing at him sideways.

“Why, it seems like they fear a spy or an assassin, isn't that obvious?” he responded casually, gesturing back at the Mermaid's Dream as he did. “Why else would a noble of House Suran conduct such business in an undignified place like a tavern, rather than an actual upper-class house?”.

No one had an answer, not even Gilliam, who was usually very perceptive of hidden motives and deals. Darius abhorred talking to Gon, but the other soldier seemed to have been accurate in his observation. “How does that affect us, if at all?”.

Gon chuckled as he threw his arms up in the air “Heck if I know! I'm just pointing out the obvious: House Suran is being paranoid, and rightly so”.

“You think that other Houses are involved in this as well, just like with House Dagoth and House Ganellar?” Vincent inquired at length, sounding skeptical.

Gon merely shrugged in response. “Who knows? It's all a gigantic web of intrigue, and it's quite the task to follow its links, to see where they go”.

“Or more importantly” Darius said, “knowing who the spider is”.
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First Post
Boo-yah! :D

No, it's not another chapter, I'm afraid. It's Gon's stat block! Our beloved roguish soldier is now officially statted in the Rogue's Gallery. Go see him at the link in my signature, if you dare ;)


First Post
Uhm, signature?

And yes, I am still reading your story faithfully. Personally, I think Gilliam should have created a new sheath for one of his swords using Gom when he was making noise about getting a magic item, but that's just me.

Loving it CW, definitely loving it.


First Post
Boss said:
Uhm, signature?

And yes, I am still reading your story faithfully. Personally, I think Gilliam should have created a new sheath for one of his swords using Gom when he was making noise about getting a magic item, but that's just me.

Loving it CW, definitely loving it.

First of all, thank you for posting once again, I'm glad to have a reader give his thoughts on the story :)

And yes, Gilliam did have a scenario in mind as you suggest, but alas, making sheaths out of soldiers like Gon is llegal in Seawall! Maybe when they make it out of the city's boundaries... :]

The link for the Rogue's Gallery is here , it should be in my signature, which appears only in the first post of each page.


First Post
Cerulean_Wings said:
First of all, thank you for posting once again, I'm glad to have a reader give his thoughts on the story :)

And yes, Gilliam did have a scenario in mind as you suggest, but alas, making sheaths out of soldiers like Gon is llegal in Seawall! Maybe when they make it out of the city's boundaries... :]

The link for the Rogue's Gallery is here , it should be in my signature, which appears only in the first post of each page.

Yeah, that is why I put a question mark behind signature... I scrolled up to your first post on this thread and there is no sig there at the bottom, just thought you would want to know.


First Post
Ah, I see what you mean now! Thanks for bringing that up Boss, I just noticed that my first post in the thread didn't include my signature, for some reason. I'll edit the link into it, then :)

For those who are curious, I'm keeping an update schedule of Monday - Wednesday - Friday. Or at least 3 updates per week. I love writing chapters, but I have other things to do with my life during the day :eek:

This weekend, on the other hand, you're in for a treat: I have 48 hours of free time :]
Which, unless my math fails me, means 24 new chapters! Well, that's if I relinquish my dignity, hygiene, and nutrition. So, let's say you'll get at least 2 updates this weekend ;)


First Post
Here's the next installment, the first of a couple to come in this long weekend :)


Chapter 15

A long journey

By the dawn of the next the day, everyone had gathered traveling supplies for their long trek and felt ready to face the journey ahead of them. Each traveler carried an equal amount of gear, even though some of them, like Vincent and Darius, were already burdened with their heavy armor. The squire and soldier would get more sleeping time and less guard shifts, in return.

The day was sunny, a good augury, although the only one who counted this as such was Darius, who was pointed out to be “superstitious” by his peers. Gon used every opportunity to make jokes about the soldier's beliefs, now that had been given material with which to make fun of.

Initially, the land outside Seawall was lush and green, filled with pastures everywhere, making for a pleasant area to go by. As one moved east and north, however, the terrain started to turn into slightly barren hills, and the Gray Spears, the mountains to the north, begun to get closer in sight. The mountain range stretched far, from the very west, by the coast, to the east, where the peninsula started.

They had traveled for only two days from Seawall, when Darius finally lost his patience with the merry Gon. “Would it kill you to remain quiet, Gon?!” he yelled as his face turned red, although not from the sun shining on them from above. “We've got many days of walking, and I could use some solace, every now and then” he added in a more level tone.

“I so happen to be allergic to silence, my dear Brokenblade” Gon explained with feigned sadness. “You wouldn't want my face to go all puffy, because you dislike the sound of my voice, would you?”.

Before Darius could reply, Vincent spoke, seemingly oblivious to their heated exchange. “Say, Gon, how come you don't wear the usual Honor Guard armor, or even carry a spear?” he asked from behind the two soldiers.

Gon didn't mind aborting his pestering for the time being and slowed down to fall in line with the squire. “It so happens that I'm more comfortable with lighter protections, my good squire”. To demonstrate, he jumped up in the air and spun in a complete circle before landing gracefully on the ground, smoothly returning to the walking pace.

Vincent seemed impressed by this. “You've received different training than the regular soldier, then?”.

“I've received different training before I joined the Honor Guard” Gon replied with a smile and a wink. The squire didn't inquire further, understanding from his words that the matter was private.

“Kahleen, have you got magic to get rid of a massive headache?” Gilliam was asking the shaman, a couple of paces ahead of the rest. “I'm afraid that my power can only affect wounds, not annoyances” she responded with a shake of his head.

The mercenary looked back every now and then, mainly at Gon, but his casual glances didn't provide with any further insight of what the roguish soldier was up to. “What about silencing Gon?” he asked in a lower voice.

“I could, but I'm not going to” Kahleen replied, laughing lightly after she did. Gilliam noted this with a frown. How many times had he seen the shaman laugh, from the day he'd known her?

“To be honest, I see more wisdom in preserving our energies for the journey, rather than to fight amongst ourselves” she suggested serenely to the man. Sighing deeply, Gilliam yielded to that point. “I agree, but...” he said, his next words trailing off. Kahleen didn't say anything, and waited for him to continue his sentence. Gilliam kicked a nearby stone, expressing his feelings at the time. “There's something odd with him. I can't put my finger into what, exactly, but something about that soldier unnerves me”.

Just then, Vincent was laughing wildly at a comment Gon had made, and it was unlikely that anyone but them heard what they had said. “Tell me about it” Darius commented in a frustrated tone, hurrying his pace to place himself by Gilliam's side. The shaman didn't say anything herself, remaining silent for the time being.

“Did he always pester you, even in the quarters of the Honor Guard?” the mercenary asked Darius. Nodding, the blond soldier let out an angry breath. “Indeed. He always finds something to mock me about. Especially my last name”.

“I don't see anything remotely funny about your last name, Darius” Gilliam reassured him in a serious tone. This didn't seem to improve the man's mood, however. Darius mumbled a curse and started to walk faster, gaining distance from the rest of the group.

“Let me talk to him” Kahleen said, before Gilliam could stop the soldier from moving ahead. The shaman quickened her pace as well, catching up with the furious Darius in little time.

“I have a proposal” she said to him upon reaching his side. The soldier looked curious, but not overtly so. “Go ahead” he said in a tired way.

“I will tell you about my past with the Wind spear tribe, if you then tell me about yours”. This took Darius by surprise, and the man didn't know how to reply for several seconds.

“Alright, I don't mind telling you, miss” he said at length, sounding less angry than before. Almost subconsciously, he glanced back at the other three, and saw that Gilliam was looking at him intently. Apparently, the mercenary held some hope that the shaman could help him.

“You may call me Kahleen” she said, her tone still the same as it always had been. It was almost like a river, one that didn't bend or turn, always flowing smoothly in the same direction, without moving up or down in its course.

“My last name comes from a loss,” he began “when my grandfather, Argus Hial, fought in a civil war in Seawall. The whole conflict wasn't as big as I make it sound, but it took its fair amount of lives in the process”.

“Was your grandfather one of the unfortunate ones to die in the conflict?”.

Darius shook his head, bearing a grim expression. “No, he didn't die there. He was quite the seasoned fighter, changing the tides of each battle to his favor practically all the time. The only people who weren't proud of him were the ones of the opposing faction, and even some of them had to admit he was admirable in his efforts and tactics”. Nodding, Kahleen responded “I don't see any shame in this, but quite the opposite”.

“That's because I'm not done with the story” Darius said, if a bit too forcefully. “Argus fought countless times, his energies seemingly infinite, until he battled the leader of the opposing faction head to head, blade against blade. The ones who witnessed this confrontation claim that the whole war stopped just to watch the two collide”.

Seconds passed in silence, but Kahleen didn't demand a continuation of the story, nonetheless. For some reason, Darius felt compelled to finish his tale. “My grandfather's blade was sundered in two by the enemy leader. His reputation, pride, and his last name were sundered as well. Since his opponent took mercy on him, he was allowed to live, but in exchange of not participating in the clash of factions until one of them overcame the other”.

Darius took a moment to regain his breath and think ahead, in order to bring the rest of the tale together as one. “The civil war was won by my grandfather's side, but to him, it wasn't a victory he felt proud of. Days after the conflict settled down in Seawall, Argus Hial departed the city, never to seen again. His son, my father, kept the name as a reminder of the event”. He looked at Kahleen, feeling more relieved.

“Now it's your turn”. The shaman acknowledged this with a quick nod.

“The Wind spear tribe was, and according to the noble from House Suran, still is a very barbaric group. Even when I was a child and lived there, they had slaves in the tribe, using them for menial tasks”.

“Where did these slaves come from?” Darius dared to ask, sounding troubled by the concept of slavery. Kahleen gestured at the Gray Peaks, to the north. “Anywhere they raided. They attacked other smaller tribes, for the sake of maintaining their dominance over the land, making it clear they were the strongest”. Her words came out in a flat, monotone voice, making the recounting sound even more chilling than it was. A part of Darius wanted to ask the shaman to stop telling him these things, but he didn't interrupt her.

“Our previous shaman, a very wise and ancient man, was struck dead due to an incurable illness. It was a great loss, at least for me, since he was one of the few who voiced his concerns about slavery, and pillaging other tribes and small settlements. I didn't know this, but I was to become the tribe's shaman at the age of fifteen. The shaman's spirit contacted me in a vision, and so it dawned on me that I had to take his post and continue his efforts to pacify the tribe's blood lust”.

“At what age are shamans usually chosen?” Darius inquired, curious. Kahleen shrugged. “Whenever the spirit of the previous shaman contacts them” she explained. “In my case, I was very young, but I took my role seriously and determined to make a change. Things didn't turn out how I had hoped, back then, when I was near my thirties, and my connection to the Nether was greater than it was now”.

Kahleen paused and brushed away some of her brown hair in order to allow her one eye to see better, and cover the hideous scar she bore in place of the other one. “This... being, whatever it was, came and stole a great part of my essence, draining it away with a special dagger”.

In a very chilling way, Kahleen turned her head to face Darius with her eye. “It seemed like the dagger had to be inserted into one of my eye sockets in order to drain as much essence as possible”. The soldier paled, and his lower lip shook for a moment. “Good Gods...” he whispered, truly horrified.

The shaman's expression seemed the same as before, though, and she returned her gaze to the road ahead of them. “I didn't know who or what it was, and I still don't. In my weakened condition, I fled the tribe, fearful of the outspoken brutes taking advantage of me. Needless to say, I had made the right choice, and I stayed away, far away, in order to see things from the outside, trying to find a way to tame the wild Wind spears”.

“That's my story” she said simply. The day had been quite warm minutes ago, but to Darius it felt like winter had come early. The soldier shuddered, and tried to unsuccessfully suppress the reaction, clenching his fists at his sides.

“I-I'm sorry, Kahleen, I didn't know you had gone through something like that” he apologized weakly, but the woman didn't seem offended in the least.

“We are who we are, Darius Brokenblade, and denying that simple fact is denying our very existence. If we are to move forward with our lives, we must come to term with our past”.

She left Darius to ponder on this, and slowed down for Gilliam to catch up to her. Moments later, Darius did the same, still looking a bit shaken by Kahleen's tale. Gilliam glanced at the soldier, a bit concerned, but with a look from Kahleen he changed his mind and decided to keep silent on the matter.

“And then I said to the captain 'Listen here, sir, it's not my fault my companions decided to go naked while I was away from the room!'” Gon was telling Vincent, drawing impressed stares and laughs from the elven squire.

“Long road ahead of us” Gilliam commented absentmindedly, trying to break the awkward silence between them. The two flanking him didn't deny this, but Darius replied in a relaxed tone.

“That's life” the soldier said, rather poetically.


First Post
Hoo-hah! Another update, as promised ;)

From my assessment of the view count, I'd say there's an average of 30 people or so reading every chapter I dish out. Wouldn't it be nice if those 30 people came out and said hello? (hint hint, yes, I'm looking at you)

In any case, I should be able to write up the next update tomorrow, so this chapter's end will be a short cliffhanger :p

Chapter 16

Stone crusher

It took practically a week for them to reach the Gray Spears. Traveling to the Rainbow River, with its unique fish that shone multicolored light when the sun was upon them, had taken half that time, and crossing it had been a simple matter, for Kahleen knew of the exact location of a bridge. The shaman was a great asset for the journey, since they were effectively making the return trip to her tribe in the Frostfell Mountains.

Kahleen estimated it would take close to a month to reach the frozen lands to the north from where they were. Not surprisingly, the map they had was in accord with this and any other assessments she had made. While Gilliam admitted that he had once made a journey across the Gray Spears himself, he claimed to have little memory of the trip, and thus his knowledge was limited.

The weather in the Spears was less warm than the hills and grassland they had been through, but at the same time there was less wind, with the tall peaks guarding them from gale gusts. The initial ascent to the mountains had been treacherous, since they didn't have specialized equipment for the climb. Gilliam and Darius were expert climbers, and so they went up each ledge first, securing a rope at the top and helping the other three get up. Vincent had never received such training from House Kashtar, and his heavy armor made things even trickier for him, but he managed to climb time and again, through sheer force of will, slipping more than once, and falling flat on his back.

On the other hand, Kahleen had no such troubles, for the wizened shaman understood the land better, and her knowledge of nature made up for her lack of climbing talents. She also facilitated Vincent's climb with a shamanic spell she used every now and then, allowing the burdened elf to go up the walls like a spider. Gon had a moderately difficult time, and while his expertise didn't lay in traversing mountains, his agility complimented his efforts, and it was rare to see him slip off a mountain wall.

They were forced to take frequent breaks in order to regain their breath and assess what the best route would be to go on. At first, the four men saw this part of the trek like a daunting and epic area to overcome, but their anxiety was dissipated once Kahleen explained that they wouldn't have to climb constantly in order to reach the other side of the Gray Spears.

“There's a natural canyon that runs east, and we should be able to reach it in a day. Once we make it there, we won't have to climb anymore, and the town of Wellspring will be found in the middle of it, where we can restore our supplies” she explained to the others while they rested within a small indentation against the mountain wall. Wherever one looked from that vantage point, there were only tall peaks surrounding the place, and it was hard to believe that a canyon was actually somewhere ahead.

Vincent seemed relieved by this, for his full plate was wearing him down, slowly but surely. The squire spent most of the time drenched in sweat, even though it wasn't very hot, for all the effort he was putting into climbing. “That's good to hear, Kahleen” he said.

“Aah, Wellspring, quite the place!” Gon commented. “I've been there a couple of times” he said, and in response Gilliam's inquisitive stare, added “Before joining the Honor Guard, that is”.

The mercenary still had a look of suspicion, but didn't press the matter. “Unless we encounter any wild beasts on the way, we should be fine. Our worst enemy, aside from monsters and animals, is the land itself” he told the others, looking over to the edge afterwards. “Falling down would mean death, or with some luck, crippling your body in a painful way”.

“It'd be a shame if such an accident happened”.

Everyone turned to face the red-headed man after he said those words. He smiled and shrugged, disarming the tension. “I'm just saying! It would be a shame to lose any of us to the Gray Spears, yes?”.

Darius muttered something along the lines of “Not if it's you”, but Gon didn't seem to hear it. Shaking his head, Gilliam stood and took a closer look to the path that they were to take after the rest. It was a curved slope, which was hugging the mountain wall as it went up and to the right. It allowed for one person to go at a time, but even one climber would have to press himself hard against the wall in order to avoid falling back.

“I'm ready, we can continue” Vincent said, slowly getting up from his seat on the ground, dusting off his plate as he did. The action was unnecessary, for it would get dirty in a matter of seconds after resuming the ascent. The rest imitated him, and resumed the marching order they had decided, with Gilliam taking point, followed by Vincent, then Gon, Kahleen, and finally Darius. The best climbers were on each end of the line, so that they could assist a falling ally, if it came to that.

With their provisions withering slowly as the journey started, it became easier for the group to move through the mountain pass, but at the same time they knew that hunting for food in such a place would prove very difficult. And if they didn't make it to Wellspring before they ran out of provisions, it would have to come to that.

They traveled for the rest of the day, practically non-stop, putting an effort into making it to the canyon, so that they would rest once they got to the less treacherous part of the Spears. Only at night did the group decide to halt their journey, for it was deadly to move through the darkness. Luck was with them, for once, and they reached the top of the canyon by the morning of the next day, without encountering any hostile beings on their way.

Vincent was crouching by the edge, gazing at the valley in-between the canyon walls. There wasn't any water to be seen, and the ground appeared to be barren and deserted. In his eyes, there wasn't any path that lead to the valley floor that didn't involve crushing his bones in the process, but he had faith in Gilliam and Darius, as the two men worked together to find hand holds for the group to use. They had spent at least five minutes in the task, and it took another five before a suitable route was found.

“Are you sure this is safe?” Gon kept asking both soldier and mercenary, drawing scowls from them. The man tested the ropes he had tied around his waist, and while they did hold tight, this didn't seem to reassure him in the least. Or maybe he wanted to annoy them, for the fun of it, but with Gon no one ever knew what his intentions were.

“Yes, it is, Gon” Gilliam replied dryly, helping Vincent attach several ropes to his bulky shape, since they came to the conclusion that taking off the armor and carrying it on his back would prove harder than wearing it while climbing down.

Once they were all safely tied together with the long rope, the five began to descend by the canyon's wall, one step at a time. Vincent went last, for if he fell, the squire would drag everyone down in a heap. Gilliam, being the lightest of the two good climbers, went first, showing Gon were the hand holds and foot holds were, and the soldier remained quiet for once, using all his concentration in the task at hand. Kahleen imitated Gon the best she could, and Darius showed Vincent the way down just like Gilliam had done with Gon.

No one fell, thankfully, and in fifteen minutes they had traveled all the way down to the valley at the bottom. Two seconds after everyone had untied their ropes a slight tremor started, and everyone bent low to preserve their balance. It wasn't too powerful, making the loose rocks on the ground shake, and it ended sooner than everyone expected.

“Imagine if that happened back when we were going down the wall” Gon pointed out, sounding relieved. The others seemed to share his feelings, and each took a breath to relax their bodies.

“At least the worst part is over with” Gilliam noted, hands on his hips, looking at the rest. The tremor returned, just then, and suddenly intensified, threatening the five to bring them to the ground with the seismic movement.

“Why did you have to say that?!” Gon shouted, struggling to keep his feet on the shaking ground. Darius had managed to remain standing, Kahleen was pressed hard against the canyon's wall, but Vincent fell backwards and remained on the ground, like a turtle flipped upside-down.

The tremor increased its potency for an instant, just as a massive chunk of rocks exploded from the ground ahead of them, shooting rubble, dust, and small stones in every way. The seismic movement stopped just then, and when the dust cleared, there was a massive beast standing on top of the hole it had created.

It was a quadruped, with a big sharp claw at the end of each leg. Its body was covered by a hardened and incredibly durable hide that resembled solid rock, and it had a mouth that was bigger in proportion to the ten foot long body. At the time, the beast was busy chewing down the rocks it had eaten to make his way to the surface.

“A land shark?” Darius asked no one in particular, staring at the monster with fear. He didn't know it, but the thing was actually referred as that by scholars.

Vincent was slowly getting up from the ground, and had only now seen what lay in front of them. From the ground, the bulette looked like it was even more imposing than it was, towering Vincent by ten feet. His eyes wide, Vincent reconsidered standing up, as he didn't want to make any sudden movements.

“It's hurt” Kahleen said, pointing towards a big section of the shark's hide that was cracked open, showing its sandy skin below covered in blood. “We should avoid it, and it will do the same”. Gilliam heard her quite well, but he kept his hands on both sword hilts nonetheless.

Behind him, Darius was trying to shake off his fear of the mighty bulette, but remained unmoving for the time being. Gon had a hand on his longsword by his hip, next to him, and the soldier looked dead serious as he observed the land shark's movements.

Hurt as it was, the bulette let out a high-pitched savage scream, and performed a leap, getting quite high in the air with very little of a running start. “Vincent!” Darius yelled out, seeing the beast's target even before it landed on the squire, who was still kneeling on the ground. With a massive thump, the monster fell upon Vincent, shaking the nearby ground, piercing him with its four claws simultaneously. No one understood why initially, but both squire and bulette screamed in agony at the same time.

“He got his spear in time” Kahleen realized, seeing that the weapon's shaft was sticking out from beneath the huge hulk of the beast. The shaman unslung her bow and commanded its magic to come forth, drawing an arrow and letting go. The missile might as well had been aimed for a wall of solid stone, for it bounced off harmlessly of its hide.

Darius and Gilliam charged, their weapons ready in their hands, intent on rescuing the trapped squire. Gilliam moved faster, thanks to his chain shirt, but ten feet before he reached it, the bulette whirled around, remaining on top of Vincent's body, and opened its enormous maw, chomping down on Gilliam as he run towards it. The mercenary hadn't underestimated the thing's reach, dodging the attack by falling into a roll, going under its head. When he came up, Gilliam thrust his sword into the beast's hide, piercing it deeply with his adamantine blade.

Roaring in pain, the bulette reared its big head back to begin a full assault on Gilliam. This time, he couldn't avoid the thing's bite, and the pair of mandibles closed on his right arm, crunching with impossible strength, digging through skin, muscle and bone, effectively breaking the latter. Held as he was by the bulette's bite, Gilliam angled his body to avoid a slashing claw, and was forced to parry the second one with his only available blade.

Darius got there a second later, and as the monster was busy eating his ally, he was able to reach it without problems. The soldier grasped his sword with both hands, placing all his strength into the slashing uppercut he performed upon reaching the bulette. Brute force didn't seem to work, for the beast's tough hide had few weak spots, and the fine sword bounced back, nearly making Darius fall.

“Get Vincent, I'll distract it!” Gilliam shouted through gritted teeth, still feeling his destroyed right arm quite well, somehow keeping a grip on the sword it held. Through his daze, he heard a voice say “I'll stab him where it hurts, boss!”, and it had to be no other than Gon.

The wily man had kept away from the beast since the beginning, realizing that he stood no chance in a face-to-face confrontation. Only then, with the bulette distracted by Gilliam and Darius, did he dash forward, unsheathing his longsword on the way. He could've struck the land shark when he was right behind it, but the sneaky soldier had something else in mind. Gon jumped upon the bulette's back, somehow managing to keep standing on top while the beast moved, and raised his longsword high in the air, before bringing it down it right where the hide was cracked and weakened.

With several inches of steel driving through its back, the bulette screamed in pain, letting go of Gilliam's arm in the process. It started to move backwards , and Darius took the chance to strike again, this time skewing pure power and aiming with care. The blow connected solidly, taking a chunk of the bulette's hide off, and Darius truly felt strengthened by his magical belt then. Hurt, the bulette changed tactics and jumped backwards several feet.

Gon couldn't simply keep holding on to its back on the landing. The man rolled off its back, and fell merely ten feet away from the bulette, well within its reach. Gon yelped upon lifting his head from the ground, seeing the titanic monster opening its massive maw, readying for an attack.

“Vince, are you alright?” Gilliam asked the squire, now that the bulette's bulk had lifted from him. His plate armor had holes in four different areas, but the wounds from each weren't very grave. Darius gave Vincent a hand to get up quickly, and the squire took it with a grunt, hoisting himself upwards. "I'm fine" he said. "My ring protected me from its claws".

Just then, Kahleen had reached the three, chanting a spell, summoning an amber glow that she passed onto Vincent, at Gilliam's request. Most of his wounds closed in the blink of an eye, leaving only small scars and spots of blood.

“Thank you, Kahleen” Vincent said, getting himself ready to continue the fight. Gilliam tried to make it look like he was fine, but the shaman glanced his way. “I'll have to fix that arm when we rest, Gilliam”.

“I'm fine, we should worry about-” he began to say and stopped, realizing they had wasted precious seconds while Gon was left at the bulette's mercy. Gilliam turned to look in the bulette's direction, and saw it about to clamp its mandibles on Gon's head. “Damn it!” he swore, running at full speed after the prone soldier, broken arm or not. But in the back of his mind, he knew he wouldn't make it, and at the same time wondered why Kahleen hadn't done anything yet with her magic or her bow.

The mercenary stopped in mid-charge upon hearing two savage growls coming from the side. From nowhere, two wild wolverines had appeared, and the pair was charging at the bulette with abandon, their muscles bulging due to the berserk state they were in. They pounced upon the land shark in unison, tearing and biting like there was no tomorrow. Their combined attacks distracted the monster, more than anything, since not only were they three times smaller, but their claws and fangs weren't sufficient to pierce through its hide most of the time.

Gon breathed in absolute relief, beginning to crawl away, too shaken to consider standing up and running, while the pair of wolverines ravaged the bulette, clinging onto its head, making the massive beast shake around wildly in an effort to dislodge them.

“That's your doing, I take it” Darius said to Kahleen as he took out his short spear and aimed carefully. He didn't want to hurt the pair of wild animals with his throw.

The shaman responded with a nod. “Indeed. I used my spiritual magic to summon them in our moment of need”. She almost made it sound simple, but to the unexperienced soldier this matter was far away from his comprehension. Next to Darius, Vincent was taking aim with his spear as well. Gilliam stood there, breathing heavily, wincing in pain every now and then, guarding the rest in case the beast charged them.

By then, the two wolverines had scratched and bitten the very wounded bulette several times, but it dislodged them from its body, proceeding to chomp down on one, then the other. With one massive crunch, each wolverine went limp, and dissolved into a greenish energy in death. Confused by this, the beast turned its attention back to its enemies. The red-haired human was nowhere to be seen, regrettably, and so it had to face the other four, beginning a mad charge in the span of a second.

Gilliam, barely twenty feet away from it, braced himself for the incoming onslaught, assuming a defensive stance with his one working arm. He felt something zoom quickly past his right ear, and then realized it had been Darius' spear, which struck true and got stuck on the bulette's hide. But the thing kept coming, new injury and all, and so Darius took a stand next to Gilliam, his sword poised to strike it when it arrived.

It was ten feet away, flattening the earth wherever it pressed its huge claws, making the ground tremble ominously, like an incoming storm. Then there was a shout behind the soldier and mercenary, indicating to “Duck!”, which both men followed without hesitating.

A split second later, another missile crossed the air above them, and flew towards the charging bulette. Vincent's adamantine spear got it right in the eye, and the beast missed a step, crashing down to the ground, its momentum forcing it to slide forwards towards the duo.

It got to Darius' feet and stopped, unmoving. Vincent took a step forward and grasped his spear's shaft firmly, plucking it out with a sickening sound. “That's what you get in return for attacking us” the squire said to the bulette's corpse.

Both Darius and Gilliam exhaled a breath they had been holding since the bulette had begun its final charge. Kahleen approached Gilliam and healed some of his wounds with a less effective curative magic. His arm was still broken, but the skin had been mended, at least. “Thank you” he said in return, not willing to test his arm's strength for the time being.

Darius retrieved his short spear as well, and looked around after he got it back. “Where the Hells is he?” he asked, referring to the red-haired soldier. His question got answered by Gon tapping him on the shoulder, making him jump and yelp.

“Damn you!” he shouted infuriated to the man, who was now bending over his stomach, laughing hard, his face as red as his hair.

“You should have seen your face! Oh, my dear Broken blade, you're so easy to spook” he was saying in between spasms of laughter. For the rest, it was hard to believe Gon was back to playing pranks so short after the battle had ended. Then again, the soldier didn't have any injuries from the bulette's assault.

Gilliam didn't have a look that indicated any positive feelings towards Gon's humor. “This isn't time for jokes and laughs, soldier” he warned him with a scowl. “There could be other such beasts in the vicinity”.

This seemed to tame Gon a bit, and the soldier settled down. “Alright, point taken, boss, no more jokes for the time being...” he said, yielding to Gilliam's request, for once. Gon then proceeded to face one direction of the valley, the one leading to Wellspring, and begun to walk.

The rest didn't have anything else to do, and wearily begun to follow Gon.


Not a split second after they had started walking, a rock the size of a pony crashed and exploded right in front of Gon, who was ahead of the rest by ten feet. The soldier seemed unharmed, but clearly shaken by the sudden explosion of stones in front of him.

“Over there!” Darius shouted, signaling towards one of the canyon's walls, where a large humanoid was emerging from a tunnel they hadn't seen before. This being, who initially looked like a very tall and muscular human, turned out to be something more, as it emerged fully from the dark cave and came into sight. It had a massive war axe, the head placed comfortably on his shoulder as he grabbed the handle with one hand. Hides of all sorts of animals, brown and gray, covered its tough body, and its skin shone brown under the sun.

He was more than sixty feet away from them, ahead and to the left of their position, but it was fairly certain that the being was close to twelve feet tall.

“Giant” Gilliam said in a voice that only the others would hear. No one moved, seeing that the crater the rock left was quite deep, and the rock had been thrown from quite a distance, a good indication of the giant's might. “We don't want to anger him” Kahleen added in a quiet tone.

The giant took a couple long strides towards them, and they could've sworn they heard a fierce growl from behind, within the cave. “Stone crusher” it said, its voice booming and powerful, echoing through the valley.

Vincent dared to take a step forward and talk. He had no weapons in his hands, which he showed to the giant. “Are you Stone crusher?” he shouted, his voice seeming pitiful compared to the giant's. The large humanoid shook his head and pointed. No one had to turn in order to see where he was aiming: it was the bulette's corpse.

“My pet” the giant explained, his voice filled with contempt and anger, his visage now that of an angry scowl directed at the group. Vincent didn't back down, however. “It attacked us, we had no choice”.

But the giant shook his head and picked up a large rock with his free hand.

“No choice” he said flatly. With a sudden jerk of his arm, the rock he had held flew towards the five, almost hitting Vincent fully on the chest, had the squire not seen it coming and sidestepped in time. The missile passed past them and exploded behind, leaving another deep crater.

“No choice... but to die” the giant finished, growling out a command in his own tongue. It was responded by a terrifying growl that came from the cave, and its origin happened to be a bear two times larger than the usual specimen.

“Damnation” Gilliam cursed. The bulette had weakened them considerably, and it had been but a pet to this giant. “No choice... but to fight!” he corrected, looking at his companions for reassurance. Everyone nodded back, bracing their respective weapons and readying for the fight.

“I'm with you, Gilliam” Darius responded.

“I won't allow any of you to perish” Kahleen reassured them.

“We can't fail House Kashtar, not now” Vincent said with determination.

“I say we end this little game of ours, once and for all!” Gon finished with glee.

Both giant and bear started to move forwards, their ire equal, their means of destruction different, but their goal was the same: five weakened travelers. The ground trembled violently as both hulking monsters advanced, and it was soon to be coated in red with the blood of those standing upon it.


First Post
And here we are, the 2nd chapter of this weekend, just like I promised :)

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Chapter 17


The giant and the dire bear were at eighty feet from the group, and while the bear charged straight ahead, the giant opted to take his time in reaching them, since there really wasn't a place for the five to hide from him in the long run.

Gilliam held his awkward stance, with one arm hanging limp to the side, and the other one firmly gripping a bastard sword. He had sheathed the blade from the broken arm, since he wouldn't be using it for the time being. For all he knew, however, he'd probably end up not being able to use any part of his body if the giant scored a solid hit or two on him.

“If any of you have something particularly effective against a raging giant and its animal friend, this is a good time to let the rest know” he practically shouted, since the rumbling noise the two monsters created was almost deafening.

Kahleen responded by conjuring a spell, generating a blue aura around her figure. “I'll stop the giant, you'll have to stall the bear” she said after finishing the chant. Out of thin air a great amount of water appeared in front of them, pouring onto the dry ground and turning it into a muddy mess. How in the Hells that was going to stop the lumbering giant, only Kahleen seemed to know.

Holding his sword in two hands, Darius shifted uneasy on the spot. “Easier said than done” he mumbled, seeing that bear was twice as large as him, and probably that many times as strong. In a matter of seconds the enormous animal would reach them, and Darius couldn't help but wish he was someplace else, far away from the canyon they were currently in.

The soldier heard something click to the side, and saw Gon firing his crossbow at the bear. The bolt was aimed with great precision, and it stuck to its brown hide, but didn't seem to be more than a small annoyance for the charging beast. Gon placed the weapon back on his belt, and drew his longsword, looking troubled.

“I'll meet the bear with my shield” Vincent shouted, taking two steps forward in order to be ahead of the group, bracing his shield and spear for the onrushing bear. Gilliam, Darius and Gon stood right behind him, ready to pounce after the initial impact.

Kahleen was summoning yet more magic five feet behind the four warriors, and this time the aura she conjured was sand colored. Still, her magic would come into effect after the bear reached them, and barely in time for when the giant made it as well.

“I hope you know what you're doing, Kahleen” Gilliam said without moving his eyes from the incoming duo.

The dire bear, faster than the giant, reached Vincent first, and roared wildly as it swiped a large deadly claw at the squire. The resulting screeching noise from the claw ripping his shield was horrifying, but the shield had held, somehow, and the fierce attack hadn't managed to reach his armor. Still, another attack like that would probably mean the end of his shield.

Vincent held his ground after the bear was right in front of him, and taking a step forward he jabbed the adamantine spear. With his focus going into defense, the weapon didn't punch through the animal's hard hide.

Seeing that their chance to hurt it was upon them, the three other combatants leaped ahead and unleashed their combined attack against the dire beast. Darius rapidly switched from a defensive posture, attempting to drive his blade into the bear's chest. To his surprise, he was able to thrust several inches of the longsword into it, drawing a growl of pain from the animal, as well as a line of blood from the wound.

Gilliam, right next to him, executed two quick slashes, and would've performed two more, if it wasn't for his broken arm. His bastard sword cut the bear on one arm, but the second attempt was stopped short by the beast brushing it away with that same limb.

Finally, Gon emerged from the side, the sneaky soldier jumping over a sweeping slash from the bear as he approached, stabbing it in the leg, making it growl in agony once more. The rest hadn't noticed this before, but it seemed like Gon was trained to be an opportunist, rather than a regular face-to-face combatant. He had hit the animal right where it hurt the most, by the knee, and yet more blood spilled on the barren ground.

The giant's thundering steps were awfully close to them, just when they thought they had gained the upper hand with the dire bear. Looming over them, the large humanoid advanced to position itself right next to its pet, raising his enormous war axe for a devastating strike that no one hoped to survive.

He didn't get to make it, however, as the shaman finished her spell just in time, summoning spiritual energies right under the giant's feet, where the ground had been watered by her previous spell. This time, the wet earth transformed into a muddy mess that the giant fell into, and his long legs were swallowed by it almost to the knee. It was all he could do to avoid tripping on the muddy trap, shaking around in the process.

“Curse you!” the giant bellowed at Kahleen, trying to free himself from the unstable ground unsuccessfully. The woman held her calm visage, even in the face of such an adversary, and didn't reply. Instead, she drew Blood Moon, and began to aim for the dire bear without conjuring the longbow's magic.

The men all breathed out in relief, seeing the giant immobilized for the moment, and their guard dropped, which cost Gon dearly. Whirling to the side, the dire bear mauled the soldier brutally, ripping his leather armor into shreds, and out of pure luck did the man dodge the bear's sharp teeth. While alive, his body was oozing red from deep scars in vast amounts, and he was standing up through sheer willpower.

“Boss,” he said weakly “I need a rest”. Gilliam didn't disagree with his assessment, but he couldn't make it happen at the time, with the bear and the giant still in front of them. “Stand back, Gon, we'll handle it!” Gilliam shouted, assaulting the dire bear once again in order to distract it from the wounded man. His rapid movements struck true twice, generating two new wounds, and most definitely drawing the beast's attention.

Darius' sword attempted to assist in distracting the bear, but his intended power attack didn't hit the target, slashing only air. Vincent used the same tactic, using brute force rather than precision, and his spear did pierce the tough hide this time. By now, the dire bear was greatly wounded, bleeding from multiple cuts and holes in its body, but this didn't slow its movements down, and rather appeared to enrage it even more.

Kahleen was about to release a carefully aimed arrow when she saw the giant stepping out of the muddied hole and getting ready to strike her down. The shaman aborted her shot, and instead shouted “Run! The giant is free once more!”, followed by starting a desperate chant to bring forth another magic spell.

The dire bear was poised to attack Vincent, and went up in its hind legs to commence the onslaught. However, it landed back on the ground without doing a thing, looking rather perplexed, as if it couldn't see where his target was anymore. Just then, the rest noticed a greenish aura surrounding their bodies, all due to Kahleen's intervention, no doubt.

“The beast won't detect you unless you harm it” she explained quickly. “Now is our time to-”

Her next words turned into a sudden yelp of surprise, as the giant's axe came down from above and sliced a large wound from the beginning of her left shoulder to her right leg. A terrifying amount of blood spluttered forward, and the shaman collapsed, unmoving.

“KAHLEEN!!!” screamed three different voices at the same time, as Vincent, Darius and Gilliam saw what had happened to the hermit. In the sudden chaos, it was Vincent who brought order.

“Gilliam, get Kahleen, I'll hold the giant!” he shouted, moving as he did to place himself between the giant and the fallen shaman. “Darius, Gon, go after Gilliam, find a place to hide, I'll join you later!”

Darius wanted to object, but Gilliam grabbed him by the arm and pulled him towards Kahleen. “No time to argue, do as he says!” he commanded, bending down to hoist Kahleen's limp form over his shoulders. For all the mercenary knew, she was no longer with them, but he moved the dark thought away from his mind: they had to find a hideout, or they would all meet the same fate.

While the bear couldn't sense the companions in any way, the giant was still all too aware of their presence. It swung its large war axe in a sweeping arc, intending to chop Darius and Gilliam in one strike, and there was nothing they could do to prevent it from hitting them.

Vincent jumped in between the axe head and his allies, then, and turned his entire body into a living shield of steel, absorbing the blow squarely on the side of the chest. How in damnation did the squire remain standing was beyond Gilliam, but he didn't question his friend's vigor, and took flight with Kahleen's body, holding her with his one working arm. Darius followed suit, glancing over his shoulder to see Vincent favoring his uninjured side, the other one showing a huge dent in the armor.

Having retreated temporarily after being mauled by the bear, Gon joined the two in their escape, clutching his wounds with one arm as he ran, grimacing at every step. The rogue reached them in little time, and went at their speed.

They would get more tired soon, and with their wounds and Kahleen's body to carry, they wouldn't make it very far. If they didn't find a place to disappear from sight, the giant would catch up, and leave their mangled remains behind.

The squire didn't want to admit it, but that one blow he took made him feel like his ribcage would implode, if it hadn't done that already. He was breathing heavily, and doubted he could dodge the next attack. Looking amused, the giant decided to stay with the elf, rather than chase the rest, and lifted its weapon vertically over its head, in order to bring it downwards with great momentum.

A deity must have been watching over Vincent, right then, for he side stepped in the last possible moment, bashed the axe head to the side with his battered shield, so that instead of cleaving him in two it clipped his shoulder, bouncing him to the side. The force with which the axe collided against the solid earth was definitely inhuman, as the rocks split in two like they were butter being cut by a knife. A large scar on the ground formed mere inches from where Vincent was, allowing him to see what would've become of him had he been struck by the weapon.

The giant frowned, finding it hard to believe the elf avoided the attack. Frustrated, it commanded the bear to eat Vincent, but the animal didn't seem to be able to spot anything to eat nearby. Seizing this golden chance, Vincent turned and ran as fast as he could in his clunky plate mail, and the giant was too focused on yelling at the bear to notice right then.

Just when he thought he had left the giant for good, he heard a great furious roar right behind him, followed by heavy steps which pressed the earth down as they went. The giant was burdened by his own hides, but this didn't slow him down enough, getting closer and closer with each long stride.

Gon, Darius and Gilliam had covered a bit more than a hundred feet by then, but they heard the giant's bellow and his heavy footsteps without a problem. “Damn it, he's going to slaughter him!” Darius cursed, looking over his shoulder yet again. “We can't leave him there, Gilliam, he'll die for sure” he insisted.

But Gilliam wasn't agreeing to any of that. “Have more faith in Vincent, Darius, we gain nothing but our deaths if we go back to him” he said in between grunts of exertion. His earlier wound combined with Kahleen's body, light as it was, made it harder to run.

Darius didn't say anything, instead halting his momentum, and turned around, taking a hold of Kahleen's bow and quiver in one movement. Gilliam was almost dragged to a stop as well, and he looked at the soldier in disbelief. “What in the Hells are you doing?! Keep moving!”.

The man just nocked an arrow, took aim, and said the words of power to activate the longbow's magic.

“Paint the ground red, Blood Moon”. The bow's wood turned from dark to crimson red, and Darius felt the most strange feeling while drawing the arrow back in the string.

Shaking his head, Gilliam cursed loudly and kept running. “Darius, you brave fool” he said under his breath. Gon hadn't stopped for a moment, but somehow he had disappeared from sight in that short interval that Gilliam had looked away. Where could he have gone to?

Vincent had covered some of the distance between himself and the rest, and the giant was hot in his trail, keeping the axe's head back for an attack, once he got in reach. The giant's pursuit was temporarily halted, as an arrow shot into its shoulder, causing him a minor but painful wound. It couldn't understand how this had happened, for it was a tiny arrow that had struck him, and this hesitation allowed Vincent to get away from the giant.

The squire was surprised, since he didn't expect to see Darius holding Blood Moon in his hands. The soldier nodded to him, getting ready to shoot once again. By the time Vincent got close to him, the giant had started after him again, and Darius' next arrow got stuck in its massive hides, causing no damage. “Damn him” he cursed, starting to run side to side with Vincent, bow still in hand.

“Why did you stop running?!” Vincent asked desperate. The soldier shook his head as he moved. “I don't like leaving my companions behind” he explained. While he was still frustrated, Vincent couldn't help but smile a bit at this.

Both squire and soldier ran as fast as their armors allowed, and without warning the steps of the giant ceased. Before they could question why this happened, the answer came in the form of a flying rock as big as them, crashing on Darius' back with great momentum. One shot was enough to knock the wind out of his lungs, causing a massive injury on his shoulder blades.

If it hadn't been for Vincent taking a hold of him, Darius would've fallen face first to the ground. They kept running, Vincent hoisting the other upwards with one arm, and Darius realized he could no longer see properly.

“I can't see Gilliam or Gon” he said groggily.

“Me neither” Vincent replied, filling Darius with dread. Gon, he could understand, but how did the mercenary disappear as well?

Another rock came after them, and this time it crashed right by their heels, the explosion sending both men flying forwards to the ground. The landing wasn't painful compared to what they had endured so far, but Vincent's chest felt on fire since he landed on his injured side.

“Over here”.

All the pain he was enduring must have made Darius hallucinate, for he was hearing voices. Lifting his head from the hard ground, he looked around, confused and dazed. He had to blink several times, as he saw Gilliam's outstretched hand biding the two of them to join him inside a small opening in the canyon's wall.

The giant was approaching rapidly, and the ground began to shake once more. To Darius, everything was moving in slow-motion, as he and Vincent stood up, somehow, and made their way to the narrow opening, nearly breathless.

They heard another shout from the giant, and another large stone collided near them, but save for the exploding rubble they didn't get touched by it. Hearing the steps right behind them, both squire and soldier jumped with their remaining strength, and both made it within the opening just in time.

Gilliam helped them move in quickly, as the giant could still fit his arm through the entrance. Once he accomplished this, they could see and hear from the dark cave that the giant was punching the nearby wall and hacking at it with its axe, more furious than ever. Eventually, the sounds subsided, and the monster walked away, fuming.

The space they were confined to wasn't big, but it allowed for the five to have their own resting spot. And while they were safe for the moment, there didn't seem to be any other exits.

“That was fun”.

The three others glanced Gon's way. He wasn't smiling.

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