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Chapter 84

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 4 years, 10 months ago

     “Do you know how I got this scar?”


The gnarled and muscular husk of a man said tipsily. He also spoke with a slur due to an old oaken pipe grit securely between his teeth; the putrid smoke of which billowed out and mixed with the scent of leftover meed. The way he swiveled in a massive nearly empty stein told the tale of the man's long lost sobriety.


He was a man who carried many scars, all from a life dedicated to combat and petty brawls. His light brown hair grew in patches, the result of innumerable burns and gashes which had ruined his scalp. Scars and pox marks likewise ravaged what could have once been a handsome face. With broad shoulders, gnarled sinew and knotted muscle, the man carried a hundred memories: A mercenary veteran of many battlefields.


A pair of dark brown eyes brimmed with violent intent and glared unflinchingly at the man seated across from him. And there was a man half his size; a squeamish lout dressed in finery befitting of his status. That did not fluster the drunken lunk, however. When his dining partner voiced no interest, or disinterest, he decided to show the scar anyways. With a free hand he pulled his slovenly disheveled undertunic aside to reveal a hideous mound of white scar tissue on his right breast. The mere sight of it could induce phantom pain in all who looked upon it. And so the younger man seated opposite of him looked away in disgust. Yet he could not help but bring his eyes back, the pull of curiosity demanded it.


That man with an ever present slick of sweat that oozed off his bald head, was his employer. The sphere of a head glistened like a beacon in the torch light of the dining room; it made it so he could not slink away nor make himself small enough to disappear. Oh, and how the man wished he could. The clothes he wore were also so pristine and unstained that he stuck out like a sore thumb. He had yet to even touch his stein and was already trying to slump back far enough to vanish underneath the table. He appeared like a baby compared to his guest, but the bald head, sunken brown eyes and wrinkles from years of being a neurotic mess made him appear twice his age. The man bore the mark of privilege which was made ever more apparent through comparison to the others gathered in the hall past the midnight hour.


More than three dozen other mercenaries crowded the main floor below them. It was a collection of men and women from all backgrounds, but sharing a similar set of mannerisms that made the whole floor undulate with low class and base tavern banter. Gathered around was a band of disgraced soldiers, would be heroes, expelled students of arcane academies and ambitious former brigands. The only thing that brought them all together was a single banner: A silver banner. They were the Redeemer Company. A not so aptly named group of people composed of those seeking a second chance. All gathered under the promise and sponsorship from one of the largest and most powerful exploration outfits in the world.


     “Well? Do you have an idea, Aaron?”


The mercenary was drunk, casual and ultimately obstinate. He refused to address the man by his proper title: Count Aaron of Shivering Bluffs, a vassal within the Duchy of Yaleria. But the Count could not bring himself to protest. He hid his shaking nerves by nodding his head unceasingly.


     “I read your dossier—” the Count spoke carefully, remaining in control enough to not stutter or babble. “It's no doubt from the Battle of Eldgwine.”

The mountain of mangled muscle smiled eerily. Count Aaron swallowed hard and did his best to weather the pressure bearing down on him.


     “I-I would not have paid such hefty premiums for your services if I didn't know your background, Nerick.”


     “Yeah... Yeah..” The mercenary captain Nerick nodded. “That's right. It was Eldgwine. But Aaron, did I ever tell you why I got this scar?”


Nerick's inflection caught Aaron by surprise. The thought of word games crossed his mind, but did not expect the hired muscle to play games like that. He would have never guessed the man was capable of it either. To ask why seemed inconsequential compared to the question of how. But that one simple word brought the dining hall to a grinding halt. The dozens which had been eating, drinking and making merry went dead silent. They were afraid and that fear seeped into the Count. He too went silent and his heart sunk into his gut.


That was once again taken as an invitation for the drunk to speak.


     “Fifteen years ago,” Nerick said and exhaled deeply from his nostrils. “It wasn't too long before that I was just a little punk. And before that I was just a kid who couldn't stand pushing a plow like father did til the day I also died. So I ran off, got into fights and did grunt work around the Empire. I won some money with my fists and lost some the same way. Eventually got my chance when everything started going tits up. Good money too. Lot of limp useless pricks like you who needed heads pounded in... All so you line your pockets even more.”


Nerick took another long swig and emptied the rest of his stein. Had Aaron wished to lash back at the slight against him, he soon lost that chance. The mercenary slammed the empty mug onto the table with a crash. His captive audience flinched. Both table and stein sounded as though they were near shattering. The way his soldiers averted their eyes as they listened showed they had heard some version of this story before. Every one of them wanted to make their escape, but no one was brave enough to stand up and risk being singled out. Aaron had it worst of all, the fierce eyes from the captain which were once drunk were now brimming with hatred. The presence the man gave off kept the Count nailed to his seat.


     “So for eight years or so I worked hard. Took my fair share of beatings and the occasional stabbing for my pay. Survived my first real battle. It was outside Listbern, just a small place down by the southwest coast. I had just gotten paid, and the booze kept coming—” He looked briefly at Aaron with a wry grin, “And the baker's daughter was mighty friendly like. Liked a man who was good with his hands eheheheee~.”


He wiggled his calloused hands, but just as suddenly the man's playfulness evaporated.


     “So it was late. Almost dawn, but still dark out... When I take off out the back door of the bakery before her pappy comes home... I run into some—thing.”


The count's brow furrows. Certain words rolling of Nedrick's tongue rubbed the Count in the most uncomfortable manner. By now his heart was thumping, and not just from the smouldering pile of bile and anger seated just a meter away from him.


     “I thought it was just some little kid. Just some street urchin. Except this was just a small little town, so that made no sense. Anyway, huddled by the refuse, feasting away at stale old bread after chasing off the rats was this kid. Hungry too. Starved. Dirty, but not sickly. A browner shade of skin. Short red hair. Bright red. A black bandana wrapped around its head. Small too. Couldn't have been old enough for Rest Day classes at the Church.”


Nerick leaned over, far enough to force Aaron to lean back. The putrid mix of beer and burnt herb assaulted the man's delicate senses made him wretch. At least he would have, if not for his body which was aware what would happen if he did.


     “But when my buzz wore off a bit and my eyes got used to the dark... Looking right back at me were these eyes. Yellow. Bestial. I remembered something like it when I was a kid. You see, a travelling circus was passing through and I snuck in.”


Nerick's face softened for a moment as it became filled with nostalgia.


     “Thought I could stow away with em and get away from that damn farm. Crawled right up to this cage. In it was this big old lizard. A real long lizard. It was just laying there, waiting. Had its mouth open which was a long snout that had dozens of these razor sharp teeth. And its eyes, sick yellowy greens, had these black narrow slits... They were staring right at me. Hungry. Mad... Well, it jumped at me and banged its nose right up against the bars in front of my face. So I screamed, got caught, thrown back to my pappy and he beat the shit out of my behind... So here I am now, starting at this girl, eyes— Just— Like— That.”


At last Nerick pulled back and sat back down in his chair. The count breathed easily, but not for long. When the mercenary reached for his empty stein, he grew angry and hurled it across the room. Now his tone shifted and his smouldering anger returned.


     “Now, when I got a better look I see it's some girl. Almighty forgive me, but she was a cute little kid. Bit of a tomboy, but had the kind of face you see picking flowers puts it puts a smile on a face. But no. That don't last long. It had these scaly fin ears. And just like that lizard in a cage, she had these red scaled hands and feet. More like claws and talons rather. Thick boney scales, like armor. With sharp white boney points on em. And growing out from behind her was this tail. Wrapped in muddy old bandages, glowing bright red, like paper kindling in a fire. But I could see it well enough after a bit. IT was just like that beast's tail, boney, armored, red. And then I saw it, griped tight in her claw: A broken half of a sword. A big one at that too, half an arming sword that must have been taller than she was, if it weren't broken that is”


The anger faded from Nerick's voice yet again, but Aaron nor the other mercenary were fooled into a false sense of security. The captain's anger was just coiling, like a spring, like a snake preparing to strike.


     “... Now, what did I do?” He asked.


No one dared speak.


     “That's right. Nothing. I was too drunk— too merry to care. Just got myself a good wetting of my dick in some stupid plump cunt and boozed out of my mind. Didn't think nothing of it at the time. A helpless monster kid, right in front of me. And I didn't do anything. I just gave her a dumb smile... And she actually smiled back. Two rows of sharp teeth, but I still thought nothing of it when I stumbled on my way.”


Against his better judgement, Aaron finally spoke out. His curiosity once again got the best of him.


     “A-and this has to do with the scar how?”


Nerick glared long and hard at Aaron. He wasn't upset at his speaking out of turn, nor interrupting him. Rather, another wry smile crossed his face. Perhaps he was just pleased that the bald headed man was paying attention. Just like a snake, the rat had been hypnotized within striking distance.


     “Eleven or so years later... Eldgwine. By now I had gotten second in command in the Haldoe brother's company. This was the biggest payout of my whole career so far. Two big shots, two Dukes, slugging it out over who owned what after two broads they had married to eachother's families centuries ago. Hilarious, really. I didn't care though. It was time to get paid. Except I hear one family had gotten desperate. Lost a lot of men and knights because of some really generals. They started hiring on a certain type of mercenary. Monstrous ones. I didn't think much of it. They bleed just like anyone else. Some men were scared they're gonna get eaten, others were more afraid of their souls getting sullied to eternal damnation if they weren't killed and were taken alive... Still, I didn't care. Slapped some of the men upside the head and we set off. On that first day, the only day, we were ordered to do some recon. All that dirty work those nobles didn't want so they could ride into one another in glorious and honourable combat. The front line ran through 3 villages and a bunch of farmer's fields... There was one village on the far left flank. A creek went through it, a deep one. Had a bridge over it... But no one had heard anything of it for a while. So the men and I go. Just about thirty of us. See what's going on. If we can hold it for the main force, we'd do that too. Get paid more for it too. Couldn't pass that up that chance.”


Aaron noticed a sudden change. Nerick's eyes looked far past him. A dead expression lingered on the captains face.


     “When we got there, the whole place was burning. Now, we'd seen some smoke rising in the distance on the march over, but we didn't expect what we saw... Bodies everywhere. A lot of them burned. A lot of weapons just dropped, the ones using em had turned and fled. Tracks running in every direction. We weren't so easily spooked, so we kept going. And we saw the one thing that wasn't burned yet: The bridge. Standing on it was someone. Some girl. Some teenaged looking girl... Fire— Hot air rising all around. Long red hair tied up in the back with a ratty old black ribbon. Was like watching a whip in the wind. She had a tail. From it was the very fires of hell that burned all around us. Red scaled claws and talons. Tan skin with shadows from the flames billowing over her... I wasn't sure at first where the scales began and ended. There was a blood, a lot of blood. A lot of it wasn't hers. And I counted a javelin sticking out of her the of her thigh, four arrows in her back and a broken spear head in her shoulder. None of em seemed to bother her. She just stood there on the bridge. In a trance. I watched steam rise from her. Blood boiling. The wounds she had closing; cauterizing before my eyes. It was unnatural. Inhuman... Then she spotted us. We didn't stop until she turned to face us, and we got quite close. We were ready for a fight, but as hot as it were, our collective blood ran cold. I saw that pair of yellow bestial eyes turn on me. Dull, lifeless. I hadn't thought of it for all those years, but I knew those eyes. That's when it looked at me, and smiled back. I remembered those sharp teeth too. The girl was outnumbered thirty to one, but ran right at us. A lot of guys must have thought we were fighting a demon... A demon like you used to hear about a long time ago. A living fireball came crashing down on us. Years of fighting, it kept me steady, all my training kept me calm, feeling calm, but... But I remember that beast in the cage. Bad old memories came bubbling up from deep down inside. I felt like a little kid and that thing was leaping at me again. But there wasn't a cage this time, and there was hellfire all around. Those eyes and those teeth got closer. She was just too fast and.. I panicked. Fell back on my heels.”


Nerick gently tapped the white scar on his chest. He winced uncomfortably when he did, something he sought to cure with another few deep puffs from his pipe. After letting a huge plume of smoke turn the room a deeper shade of blue, his anger began to rise again as his thousand-yard stare finally began to break apart.


     “Missed my heart, just barely... Missed my spine... Just barely. But I felt the guard of her sword right up against my chest. It wasn't the icy touch of iron I'm used to. It was hot. Burning hot. Searing my entire body. For the first time, in a long, long time, I screamed. I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. My vision started flickering. I could hear the men all around me fighting, screaming, running dying. I couldn't do a thing. My body just lay there. 'So bleeding out like this is how I die' is what I thought. But I got lucky, the heat of the blade must have cauterized the wound when she pulled it out... But it wasn't the same after that. It was an entire day before I could pick myself up off the ground. The battle had already been lost. I wasn't getting paid. My chest felt as though it were on fire and it never got better. I spent two years wandering about, like a homeless bum. I couldn't bring myself to the Church. I'd never sit around and pray all day. That'd be worse than going back home and ploughing that field all day every day forever. No. I'd never admit defeat like that... But what work can a broken mercenary like me?... Nothing till the Grand Master came along.”


The anger began to swirl and mix with an air of vengeance while courage bounded in his wounded chest.


     “A big shot like him. Founder and head of the Silver Bannerman. He heard my story and sympathized with a man like me. Gave me a job. Showed me a herb his crew had found adventuring in the South-East continent years ago. It helps the pain go away. Makes it so even I can go on...”


Aaron had been listening the whole time, glued to his seat through fear and under the weight of the captain's voice. But now that anger was finally exploding. Nerick stood up suddenly and threw the whole table aside. It flew off the platform and onto the gather below. His men scattered to flee its path of destruction while the Count nearly soiled himself as the Mercenary Captain bore down on him. Nerick only had enough sense left to stop him from grabbing or hitting his employer. His face was right up to his, spitting, swearing and assaulting it with his putrid breath.


     “So now you tell Me, when that very same creature, when that very same creature moseys in on your little ball, dressed all pretty like, with a big old smile on her face like all that never happened... That I need to STAY CALM?


Nerick's black eyes shot wide open and his teeth flared with primal anger. The Count cowered in fear. After dodging the flying table, his men thought they'd need to restrain him, lest he strikes the Count down. But they were petrified. With enough of that smoke running through his veins, his strength would be too much for them. The man's muscles were now capable of going above and far beyond their limits. Someone was bound to get hurt, or maybe killed.


     “Perhaps he simply wishes that his investment not go waste, hmm?” A dull voice dared call out from the entrance to the dining hall.


Emerging from the dark was a tall and gangly man. His face was just as dull and expressionless as his tone and features were plainer still. A white lab coat fluttered behind him as the man walked with a peculiar gait. It was filled to the brim with confidence, which was an odd sight since he also walked with a slouch. His head was also completely bald, but clean and sterile. Otherwise, the man was utterly forgettable. People who had known him for some time would have difficulty in describing him.


Nerick turned away from the count and toward the lanky intruder, the full fury of his anger washed over the man with limbs like sticks.


     Yes, I figured as much,” the man said monotonously under the mercenary's fierce gaze, “But I figured since the mood had already been damaged to such a degree, and that I was feeling rather peckish, my intrusion couldn't possibility make the situation worse.”


Either the man could not feel fear, or his confidence was so astronomical, so secure something hidden, that he did not fear the man who could snap his neck like a twig. None of Nerick's men stopped the man either, not even when he pinched an apple from one of the tables as he walked past. Ever since the two first met they hated one another. Anyone would be hard pressed to find two men so opposite of one another. Vee refused to bend to the mercenary's violent demands for respect and authority. Nerick despised Vee's work and everything he stood for. The proffessor was a man who sought answers and cared nothing for a blasphemy he committed to do so.


     “Vee,” Nerick seethed.


The professor did not even acknowledge him and continued.


     “So you lament your failure to act, in hindsight, that has led to your current sorry state?”


Nerick left the Count behind him, leaped off the raised platform and his weight creaked the floorboards below. He rolled the pipe grit between his teeth from one edge of the mouth to the other while glaring daggers at the slouched man. Vee did not stop until he was well within arm's length of the man. He took one bite out of the apple and spoke as he chewed.


     “And you believe you have recently been robbed the chance for vengeance by our dear patron, Count Aaron?”


Vee never even looked Nerick in the eye which made the mercenary visibly angry. Even more furious than before.


     “Aaron may be many things which are not flattering, but he is smart enough to understand the balance of risk versus reward. So too is he ambitious. Greedy enough to undertake quite the risk in order to capitalize on a claim to title 'Duke of Yaleria' from its current rightful head. I am no expert in such matters, but it was due to a distant relation with Duke Malco, no? He was to be wed to your sister before she passed away so tragically, no? Anyways, starting the fight you desire at this moment in time would most certainly be a detriment to his endeavors.”


     “While that monstrous hell bitch is sleeping soundly somewhere above this very castle?” Nerick roared. “And you expect I remain calm? I have more than enough men and women here now— well equipped enough to deal with—“


     “Have you ever thought of it another way, Mr. Nerick?” Vee interrupted.


The mercenary captain was shocked into silence, rarely had he ever met someone who wouldn't think twice who would speak to him like that. It through him off and his anger was slow to return, giving Vee the time he needed.


     “You were very fortunate to have survived Eldgwine. Against the Thorn Knight no less. She had accumulated quite the reputation in the few short years she was active. But have you ever thought that you are fortunate to have escaped death twice?”


     “What?” Nerick growled in furious disbelief.


     “A salamander, even a child, armed with a broken sword versus a drunkard who is stumbling over his own feet... I would wager it to be a fair fight.”


The veins in Nerick's neck bulged and in a rage he smashed his hand down onto a nearby table which splintered it upon impact. The people standing and seated nearby fled, Count Aaron flinched, but Vee did not budge at all. Professor finally look the man right in the eyes.


     “Now you've survived possible death three times now. If you include Count Aaron restraining you during the party earlier tonight. However, the more you insist on this, the probability of your imminent demise quickly reaches one. I personally would not advise you to court death a forth time. She may well finally acknowledge your clumsy advances.”


Nerick's hand grabbed hold of his sword's hilt, and he had it half drawn before Count Aaron's voice finally cried out.


     “Cease! Cease this, right now!”


No matter how much raged surged through him, Nerick was still a professional. When his employer actually gave and order as loud and clear as that, he had no choice but to obey. Meanwhile, Vee had still not so much as flinched. That is because Count Aaron knew first hand what might happen if any harm were to befall the professor. His homunculus could come running and cause a swath of destruction. In fact, one of the reasons for Nerick's hire was to keep Vee in check, and as it turns out, Vee is a check and balance for the Silver Bannermen. Within the steady and secure environment, the Count felt safe enough to stick his neck out and deploy his power which existed not in strength or knowledge, but money and status.


     “For you see,” Vee calmly lectured, ignoring Count Aaron entirely, “Lizardmen are born to fight. It is in their blood, engraved in their very psyches. Swordplay, or any manner of weaponplay for that matter, is not something they need to learn. Their lives are merely refining what instincts they are born with. Building upon an innate set of skills. And a salamander is quite the intriguing case study of the known and unknown energies involved in monster physiology. Even if she were so young, it is not unthinkable she could muster the strength of an adult man, even if only for a brief moment using that flame of theirs.”


For the first time in a long time a smile spread across Vee's face. It was one of genuine wonder and joy over the celebration of knowledge and the pursuit of it. Nerick could not bear to look at it any longer, so he turned his gaze back to the Count. The nobleman's confidence had risen and was now starting to flaunt the actual power he did have: Money and status. He now recalled some choice words he had shared some time ago.


If you harm him, then you will pay the damages. And unless you also complete his job for me, you will reimburse me for his future pay.


Common sense was now starting to usher out the malaise of intoxication from his mind. Although he was still on the cusp of being enraged, the mercenary regained control.


     “Then why did you let that monster in here at all?” Nerick spat.


     “Quite ingenious actually,” Vee said. “Yaleria has since antiquity guarded the Brightwall separating this place, and the Empire, from a perpetual land of twilight ruled by the undead. Disaster would follow if those legions could pour forth onto Humanity. Even with the rise and incorporation within the Empire, it refused to pull any soldiers from those walls, all so such an event would never happen. That is why there is a plethora of legal avenues for the lords and ladies of the land to supply the Empire with its tithe of military service. By wxpending its wealth on foreign fighters, Yaleria can maintain its obligations, both present and in the distant past. It appears the Thorn Knight knew of such a technicality. Her affiliation to the Guilds of the Free Ports allows her to attend this event. She has just as much a right to be here as you do, Mr. Nerick.”


The mercenary breathed deeply. He almost exploded again just by hearing Vee's choice of words.


     “Instead of coming to blows... I would rather suggest that you hire them, Mr. Aaron,” Vee said.


     “Over my dead body!” Nerick screamed.


     Vee ignored Nerick's protests and continued, “Our previous encounter was unfortunate, bound by professionalism and business. Besides, those two are not alone. Preemptively seeking to eliminate them without knowing their full strength potential would be foolish... But if the Thorn Knight and her companions are in need of currency in exchange for their services... Then I think we would best we benefit from it. Otherwise we may encounter them as an obstacle instead.”


     “All the better!” Nerick declared.


     “Perhaps you have heard of their movements in the North? Everywhere they go, disaster and upheaval are not far behind. And Mr. Nerick, how many weeks has it been now? Have you not yet made even the tiniest progress in your mission? Perhaps some compeition would be in order? If not, maybe someone is more suited to-”


     “Enough of this,” Count Aaron declared. “Enough of this tonight. All of you, go back to your quarters. Professor Vee, continue your work, or your research. Whatever it is, just provide me the soldiers you promised... And Captain Nerick... Unless the Thorn Knight is ever in our way, you are to leave her alone. I wont stand for you, while you are under contract with me, to instigate anything that would complicate or undermine this operation. Her presense here is legal. I will not flaggrantly violate the law of this land for your sake. That goes for all of you."


The Count waved his finger all about the room, but at Vee and Nerick in particular.


     "Get out... Dismissed!”"


The mercenary Captain stepped around the professor and the other soldiers followed closely behind him. One of Nerick's Lieutenants quickly set off, trying to catch up with the fuming man as the rest of his soldiers dispersed into their barracks. In the dining hall, Vee had once again completely ignored Count Aaron's demands.


     “No doubt you are aware the roads outside Yaleria are in a sorry state. To move from the northern forests to the southern coasts would require a substantial investment. By taking great risk in attending your open invitation ball, they have exposed their desperation. No doubt the sustenance needed to feed a wyvern of such size and salamander would be-”


     “Professor Vee, I told you to leave,” Count Aaron said.


Vee sighed and looked up at the Count with his disappointed baggy light brown eyes.


     “They could be bought for but a song. With someone clever enough to dissect byzantine Yalerian law included within the deal.”


     “One more reason not to become involved,” Count Aaron said, becoming more irritated.


     “So be it. But I would so wish to study those... those flames. Possibly a mutation. At the very least some mastery of her flames to use them as she does... And that man... To have single-handedly destroyed a commander class... There is much from him I want to-”


     “Vee. If you are half the man of knowledge you say you are, why not tell me something of value."


     A slight smile warped Vee's straight lipped expression, "Only for a price, my dear Count. But I'm afraid you'll have to be quite specific. Your bluffs may tower toward the skies and their silver veins reach deep into the ground, but you have far from wealthy enough pay with silver and gold a mere fraction of the world's secrets I possess."


The count was not sure if the alchemist was lying or not. The man did not appear to be someone who was capable of lying. That expressionless look upon his face was not a guise, it was who the man was. Very little interested him. Only the unknown stood a chance to elicit so much as a grin out of the gangly man. There were times that the Count regretted consorting with the member of Ouroboros, but the wonders he had shown and promised were too much for the nobleman to turn down. But the man's patience had been worn thin tonight. He grew angrier with each passing moment now that the presence of the mercenary had left. The past humiliations of letting Nerick intimidate and walk all over him. The man was a necessary evil. He would need his services and those of his men to fulfill his plot to overthrow Duke Malco. What he needed at this moment, however, was solitude so that he might center himself.


     "That's enough. Get back to work,” the Count said, mustering enough pleasantly to ask somewhat nicely.


Seeing his musing were not gathering interest, he eventually relented and skulked off and back into the shadows. That left the Count to stand there and let the whole night wash back over him. The man's knees went weak and he plopped back down onto a chair behind him.


Meanwhile, as Nerick stomped his way back to his quarters, one of his concerned lieutenants finally caught up with him. A novice bannerwoman who carried a curved wooden staff with her, scraps and pieces of armor and magic trinkets jingled as they clung to her flowing robes. Her medium length curly black hair bobbing to and fro as she jogged to catch up with her captain.


     “Captain. Wait,” She begged as the man's long footsteps far outpaced her walking pace.


     “There's no time to wait,” Nerick growled. “We need to finish what we paid to do and be done. I refuse to let this chance slip by. The Almighty has given me this chance.”


     "Captain Nerick, you do remember what the Grand Master ordered you to do?"


     "Do not test my patience, Breena. I know full well why he sent me and what we are to get our hands on. We'll get it done with the same breath we comb this entire forsaken place for that cowardly cunt of a Count. Just make sure everyone knows to keep playing their roles as starry eyed and short sighted treasure hunters. If the Count knew of it instead, he wouldn't have hired the likes of us to find it. The keys we need to roam freely would be torn from our hands faster than you can blink."


Breena was not entirely convinced. She saw the odd tics had scattered the captain thoughts like smashed glass. His eyes were fixated on something far away while he spoke of their mission.


     “You- You don't plan on fighting the Thorn Knight, do you?”


Nerick stopped and turned toward the woman. He studied the uneasy look on her face. Obviously she had heard the rumors. Even after all this time, and ever since her disappearance, they had yet to vanish completely.


     The concern on her face worsened the more she spoke, “And what about what the professor said? Does the Grand Master not teach we must never engage with monsters without insufficient reconnaissance? If it were only the Thorn Knight we might... But Vee said there was-”


     “No need.” Nerick said, eerily calm now. “It's obvious now. I don't know why it only came to me sooner. We need not seek out the Thorn Knight. No. Not when there is now another path to take. To hurt her far worse than when she pushed that burning sword through my chest. We will hammer and break the weakest link. No. We will not hire them... I will not allow it. But so long as they are here in Yaleria, I hope someone else does.”


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