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Chapter 6-13

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 8 years, 5 months ago

     “Read it and weep!” Bellowed the square faced man as he slapped a pair of playing cards onto the table.


Three other men around the table leaned forward and peered through the poorly lit room and then quickly erupted into laughter. A fifth man, sitting diagonally from the first, didn't even bother to lean forward. He kept a sullen expression on an otherwise youthful face, his stringy body deflated after having puffed it out like a prize roster one minute ago. Now he watched with bitter eyes as the guffawing and burly man hooked his arms around the pile of silver and copper coins and reeled it in.


     “That'll teach ya your place, ya little shit,” the man laughed again in a chorus with the others.


     “One more show like that and you'll be helping Harold with the count real early like,” chuckled a portly man at the head of the table.


Deep below the surface where the Brightkeep rose up into the sky, the dungeons drove into the earth. Adjacent to one of its many storerooms, a meeting of fellow mercenaries took place. Instead of doing their job as ordered, they stood guard around a table and gambled. The losers would get to work taking inventory, the winner would also count, but only the winnings collected from the others.


The fat man seized the deck and the discarded cards, rolled up the sleeves of his padded gambeson and began to shuffle them in his pudgy fingers. Everyone else around the table began to toss in their next buy-in, the previous loser following suit, albeit resentfully.


     “Hey, how about we speed this up and double the buy-in?” The burly man said with a grin.


The young and gangly man's eyes shot open wide and he watched all the other players' eyes become like wolves. He had put more than half of what he had left from his advance pay into that last hand. The captain wasn't going to give him an advance on the next one either. A clubbing over the head with a mailed fist is the best he'd must for sure.


     “Hold on now—“ He tried to protest.


     “Shut ya mouth, Jerry. You're gonna learn a lesson tonight, one way or another.


     “Hey, Herald!'” A bald man with a long black van dyck shouted out. “Jerry'll be with ya in the loser's corner real quick!”


     “Screw you!” Herald shouted back from the darkness of the store room.


The venom in his voice was met with uproarious laughter from the four mercenaries. They followed up by doubling the buy-in and bullying the younger one to buy in as well. The pot in the middle of the table was almost as large as the last one at the very end of the round.


     “Still, of all things, this job is a cinch,” the fat man sighed while dealing out the next hand to each of the players.


     “Can't argue there,” the last man said, breaking his silence while running his hand through his ginger colored Mohawk. “So much for the great and brave knights of Yaleria putting up a fight.”


     “That's because they let us in, ya idiot. That's how those types work,” The burly man grinned while rubbing the black stubble on his chin. “You would have wanted to be there for it. The look on the commander's face when everyone drew their blades.”


     “I heard they stood around shocked for a five whole seconds before they were forced to drop their blades,” the fat man's stomach rolled while holding back another laugh. “Pretty ballsy move from that Count fellow.”


     “That's what I meant, ya idiots,” The red haired man protested. “We didn't even have to dish out a fight. Just march those losers into their cells and squat around. I pity those idiots having to storm the actual castle.”


     “I'll agree on that,” the bearded man nodded. “They're fighting knights, soldiers and the like out there... Like the commander always says, the merc has a double edged sword for a reason. One to the enemy, the other for other professionals.”


Everyone around the table shared another chuckle. He of course spoke about the practice that many mercenary companies engaged in when fighting amongst one another. Striking to kill or injure was frowned upon. The objective was to get paid, not die for a cause or your client. There was therefore a shared professional courtesy to treat warfare like sparring when it came to mercenary companies battling it out on the field. Nobleman would see the spectacle as a poor show of skill and general incompetence, but that would just be them looking out on the world through completely different lens of reality.


But when it came to outsiders a sellsword's blade took the lives of others with ease just as easily as any zealous true believer or duty-bound knight.


     “I could do without those Bannermen skulking about,” the young man finally spoke up.


     “Just stay out of their way, kid,” the square faced man grunted as he caught his first card flying from the fat man's hands.


     “I heard there were a few cuties mixed in with em though,” The fat man grinned lecherously as the last card of the final pair left his pudgy fingers.


     “Still wouldn't try it,” the kid warned the pig-man.


     “And that's one of the reasons why you're losing now.” The van dyke sporting man replied. “No backbone with this kid... Put up or shut up.”


     “No, I'm serious,” he snapped back. “I talked with another guy in the other company. He heard about a guy from another from the Fellow Fields outfit who tried coming onto the littlest one among em.”


     “The one no taller than fifteen hands?” The mohawk man asked. “She got a pretty face alright. Far eastern like, the slut showing her thighs off with that weird dress, right?”


     “I'd deep fry my pork with her, if ya catch my drift,” The fat man joked. “Finish it off with my special sweet sauce.”


Another chuckle was shared around the table accompanied with the smacking of lips. The men around the table checked their cards and began to raise. Mohawk crossed his arms across his chest, leaned back on his chair's back legs and continued to listen. The fat man didn't stop laughing as he dealt and revealed the first river card.


     “Like I was saying,” the kid continued. “He tried making a move, and she clear snapped his jaw in two pieces, at the chin, and with one punch at that too. And this is a big guy too. On the way to twenty hands and fifteen stones.”


A malaise of silence descended onto the table for a little less than ten seconds.


     “Yeah, right,” the fat man boasted. “She can't weigh more than seven stone. No little girl could crack a man's jaw like that. And that's if she had a hammer, let alone with bare hands.”


Another river card was revealed and everyone raised and no one folded.


     “That's the thing, Hans,” the kid leaned in with his arrogant and boisterous nature having returned to him.


He recanted the tale like any other campfire ghost story.


     “They said there was a flash of blue light on impact. It ain't natural.”


     “Oh!” The bearded man raised his voice. “I heard of that before. That's that chi thing, right?”


     “That's a type of tea, you bloody idiot!” Herald's voice echoed in from the storeroom.


     “Shut up, ya sore loser and keep counting!” The bearded man screamed back as he violently stood up and nearly sent his chair flying backward.


The final river card was revealed and everyone glared intently at one another. They continued their story, and their back and forth, but their eyes scanned for any weakness in the others.


     “A-anyway,” The square faced man spoke and cleared his throat a little. “Leave those types alone... Sometimes it's hard to tell em apart from the monsters... Let'em continue skulk around the joint and find whatever it is they're looking for. Getting into pointless scraps with em is meaningless.”


     “But Ronald, the one in the fancy dress with the big black drills in her hair—” Hans said with a creepy smile spreading across his face. “I want her to sit on my face. She can spank me with that staff too, if that gets her going.” The laugh coming out of his triple chins sounded more like oinking.


     “You still owe me an ounce of silver from the last game,” Ronald sighed, “I'm not about to let ya end up roasting on an open fire when she lights your ass up. Now, I raise ya'll four silver pieces.”


     “Forget that,” the bearded man said and tossed his cards aside.


The ground suddenly rumbled. The flagons of nearly forgotten mead rattled against the table as the minor earthquake shook the whole room. The Mohawk man lost his balance and fell over backward. Everyone would have laughed at him, had they not been taken off guard and terrified as well. And as suddenly as it began, it ended.


A hanging oil lantern kept swinging back and forth above them, the sole reminder of what just happened. There had been little knocked over despite the quaking ground.


     “Hans—“ Ronald whispered. “I know you get nervous, but that was a bit extreme, even for you.”


     “Sod off!” Hans oinked back. “You know how sensitive I am about that... And besides, that wasn't me.”


A clatter, bang and a smash echoed in from the storeroom after the brief silence. Then that silence returned once more.


     “H-herald?” The kid's squeaky voice cracked as he called out to their unseen companion.


     “Herald! You lazy bastard, you speak when spoken to!” Ronald bellowed.


But there was no reply.


     “Jerry, get your ass in there and see if he's okay.”


     “Screw that! You're in chard, so you go!” Jerry, the kid, fired back.


     “Aw, shad up,” The bearded man groaned. “I'll go check on him.”


And without further fanfare, the man pushed his chair out at the end of the table and nonchalantly made his way into the other room. He grabbed a spare lantern, cranked on the oil and turned the idle flame to a portable torch. No one went back to the game, they opted to listen closely. And so they heard the second crash and bang followed by more silence. What struck them most of all was the total lack of a scream or even a yelp.


     “Hey! What's going on in there!” Hans shouted into the darkness.


     “We got a game to finish here. If you're not dead, you better get your sorry asses in here before I have to kill you myself!” Ronald shouted afterward.


But there was not response.


     “Oh, boy. And do you ever suck at this,” came a girly voice from an unexpected angle.


The eyes of the four men snapped back to the end of the table. Someone had taken the van dyke's chair. She was child size and not nearly tall enough to sit in it properly. Rather, she sat on it knees first while leaning forward to spy on Jerry's cards. Sparse lantern light illuminated a pair of inhuman green eyes and locks of silver and brown hair tied up in a pair of twintails. What struck them most of all were the horns and goat skulls adorning her head. The hooves and paws came a close second. Her scanty choice of dress came last, despite their horn dogging a couple minutes ago.


     “Wha—“ Ronald sprung into action first, but didn't get further than a grunt and getting out of his chair.


The little monster girl fell back down into her seat, and with barely any effort, kicked the table. But with that seemingly insignificant exertion of force, the heavy oaken table was sent flying end over end and slammed into the burly squared faced man. Not even his muscular bulk was enough to stop its momentum as they were both sent crashing into the wall —near the door— behind him.


Cards, alcohol and coins went flying in every direction. The other three fell back in their chairs and either lay there shocked or tried to scatter. Ronald ended up on the wrong side of the table and wall, but never got a chance to pull himself from under it before another great force crushed him underneath. With a quick and bombastic motion a monster appeared from the doorway as opposed to out of thin air. A giant green wyvern with pinkish hair that dug her talons into the table and pinned the man behind it. She pressed so hard the man could hardly breath and so he quickly passed out a few moments later.


Hans and the Mohawked one scrambled to flee for the exit, but a third girl materialized from the shadows. They caught a gist of an afterimage before the girl with insect qualities and shoulder length brown hair shot out from behind and blocked their hasty retreat. That didn't or rather couldn't stop Hans and he moved as if to use his bulk and momentum to barrel on through. But he was met with an axe-kick which moved so swiftly, that when it slammed into the underside of his chin, it lifted the portly man off his feet. Hans was sent reeling back and flipping backward. Inertia kept him going, the girl deftly stepped out of the way as the man's girth made a full one and a half rotation before collapsing unconscious in the doorway, effectively sealing half the door frame.


Mohawk skidded to a stop, but before he could change directions, a paw grabbed hold of the well groomed and gelled hairs sticking out the back of his head. There was nothing he could do as the improbable strength of the little girl yanked him back and then tossed him to the side into a nearby cabinet. The wooden furniture, housing a vast collection of beer-steins, folded in half and the two collapsed into a heap on the floor. The little demon shook and brushed the loose strands of ginger hair that were ripped free from his scalp.


That left Jerry the Kid. All three of the monsters turned their eyes toward him and so he ran. Not toward the storeroom, that would be suicide. Not toward the exit, Hans was blocking it with his girth and there was the insect standing guard. He made a break for the annex which his thin frame could squeeze through all the cluttered mess of boxes and sacks of grain to freedom. Yet he could not take more than three strides before his legs gave way. His adrenaline surged muscles turned to jelly. There was no apparent reason; it merely happened. His face hit the stone floor and his body skidded to a halt. An acute sensation of suffocation overtook him as well. Not only were his legs numb, he couldn't expand his chest enough to fill his lungs with air. He lay on the ground, writhing and panicking for air. The best he could do was roll over onto his side and gasp for air.

He was rewarded with the sight of three more figures emerging from the shadows of the storeroom. The first was heralded by jingling chains and the clank of a metal staff against stone. An ornate and foreign looking symbol and apparatus at its head glowed with a silver light and looking into it directly sapped even more of his strength. His whole body felt as though it lost its skeleton and he'd disperse into a puddle on the ground. What the boy would never fathom, is the hex placed upon him by the priestess with the extraordinarily long black hair, canine ears and paws.


After her came what he recognized as a lizardman. Even he had heard of the type. They were more oft than not traveling sellswords like himself. But this one was different. Her scales were a crimson red, as was the long flowing pony tail trailing behind her. Her scaly tail was wreathed in a living fire, the particulars of which baffled the poor boy. But all that was of little consequence, she was dragging two grown men by the back of their collars into the room. She tossed them together into a pile as though they were sacks filled with rubbish and rubbed her hands clean of the dirt and grime with an eager and child-like smile on her face.


Lastly, the sound of steel toes and heel marched into the room. Amongst the women, was a man. With scruffy and unwashed brown hair and glittering dark blue eyes. A rather tall man that the others all quickly looked back to as if waiting for both praise, or their next order. The man's eyes scanned the room and spotted Jerry. He tried to slink away, but the man mercilessly strode forward, the clink of his boots ringing in his ears as one half of his head remained virtually glued to the floor. The man stood over him, while he himself was helpless, and watched as he squat down in front of him.


     “I got a couple questions for you.”

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