Unforgiving lands - Now in hiatus - Details at last post

Cerulean_Wings

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 :]


CHAPTER 7

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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Mahtave

First Post
CW,

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.
 

Cerulean_Wings

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.
 

Cerulean_Wings

First Post
CHAPTER 8

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?”.

“Tonight”.

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.

---oOo---

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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Cerulean_Wings

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


CHAPTER 9

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”.

"Agreed”.

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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Cerulean_Wings

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.

“Retreat!!!”.

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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Cerulean_Wings

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.
 

Cerulean_Wings

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!


CHAPTER 10

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.

“Foolishness”.

---oOo---

“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.

“What”.

“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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Cerulean_Wings

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.

---oOo---

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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Cerulean_Wings

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”.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

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