Open Chronicles Eye In The Sky

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It was not Geoff's fault that his lot in life was as it is, but Anfisa, as the same pang of pain which caused Torin to shake his head coursed through her chest, couldn't help but recall a saying from her elder clan members: a fool's tongue is never stilled.

Her attempts to smooth over the blunder felt poor to her own ears. "What's it to you if a sailor calls the ship upon which he works his ship?"

"Because it ain't his," said Tarl. "It's the captain's."

"It is just a turn of phrase."

"I'm a straightforward kind of man." Well, as much as Anfisa disapproved of Tarl and what his aim happened to be, they had that much in common. Tarl did, however, tarnish that by following it up with an oh-so-innocuous shrug. "Just sounded to me like our resident big bruiser Geoff here has a well-to-do father. Can't a man be curious?"

Anfisa could tangibly feel Geoff getting ready to make another remark; even in knowing him for less than a hour already she was developing the sense without needing to even see his face that his tongue was about to go for an unwise walk. She intervened, saying quickly, "We're all equals here, hired as hands and guards for this caravan; so what difference does it make?"

Torin had the patience of a saint, Anfisa had her wariness and caution, but Tarl's persistence could crack open solid rock like a pickaxe. And already some of Tarl's fellows, with little innocuous and inconspicuous motions, were coming to stand here, now there, repositioning; brushing at their trousers, placing their hands on their hips, fingers close to hilts of weapons. The tension threatened to burst from its disguise at any moment.

Torin Gemheart
  • Dwarf
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Anfisa’s words did make Torin grin. There was wit that dripped from her tongue in regards to whether a sailor calls a ship his. The Blackheart appreciated this. Tarl? That was entirely a whole other matter, and the dwarves were ready for it amid this argument.

Can’t a man be curious? Tarl Kanner’s words repeated in Torin’s head. Oh, the latter was curious, make no mistake. As to which way my blade might slice your head from your neck in one movement, you pile of shit.

Instead of interjecting, indeed interrupting Anfisa, Torin stood in silence, hand on haft of axe at hip, motionless, letting his companion do the talking. She impressed him, already on a role, as if confidence had been impressed upon her from the situation with Geoff. A dwarf at heart, of iron and stone, and no less.

“Equals?” Tarl cackled as Torin caught the advance of his boyfriends and girlfriends repositioning as if to dance. Oh, the dwarf could dance, with or without his hammer strapped to his back, and he had two good hands to fit the occasion.

“There is no equality between people like me and the fookin’ nobility,” he spat, anger burned on his countenance. “And only a man with an amulet like that has it if he stole it or it was owned by his father’s fookin’ skull!”

Then, like that, the group advanced, attacked, just as Torin lifted his axe.

Anfisa Ironhammer
  • Dwarf
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The charade was over.

With Tarl's declaration came the preamble, and with the aggressive motions of himself and his comrades the confirmation. Weapons were drawn or revealed, faces were contorted with hostility, and all rushed as one. These madmen! Possessed of a bandit's derangement! They would put at hazard their very lives over an amulet!

In the initial moment, it came as no particular comfort that she, Torin, and Geoff were not the only caravan hands, not the only armed people charged with keeping the peace among the caravan and ensuring the safety of its members and its cargo. Indeed, Tarl and his comrades, if fortune favored their boldness, could use speed and unremitting violence to achieve their goal before help arrived, each and all then taking off into the Spine, perhaps even toward the cover of the oncoming storm, to elude other vengeful hands.

In this most crucial of moments, the very start of the confrontation, all Anfisa, Torin, and Geoff had were each other.

Anfisa whipped up her crossbow. Took quick aim. Loosed a bolt. And a devil's luck intervened for her target's benefit! The eyepatch-wearing man had her focus, but her shot in its haste proved too low, the eyepatch man's gait shifting just at the right time, and his overly large belt buckle saved him. Her bolt bounced off of it, went spiraling around chaotically in the air, and though the man winced as though he'd been punched in the stomach his run slowed only just slightly.

"Geoff, back! Back!" Anfisa cried as she at once backpedaled to behind the blacksmith's wagon and cranked her crossbow's lever.

But Geoff stood affixed to his spot; confused, by the look on his face, as to what was even going on.

Torin Gemheart
  • Dwarf
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The moment that weapons were drawn was the moment that Torin Gemheart exploded into action. This was instinct to him. Battle was his mettle as he withdrew metal. Axe in hand, bearded, other hand free, giving him balance, as he sought his first target.

Five figures there were, and two defenders of three were of the same mind: their enemy intended to take that amulet and spring deeper into the Spine. Unfortunately, the smaller party had a third mind not so bright.

Torin would not hold it against him except in the thick of it. For the moment, that dwarf’s attention was on his attacker coming forward. He ran at him, sword in hand, raised in a desperate attempt as if to behead. So Torin sidestepped, shifted his neck, and swung.

The head of his axe buried into his opponent’s ribcage. Torin ripped it out that instant. While Tarl recovered from the bolt to his buckle, Anfisa shouted for Geoff to get out of trouble.

“Crossbow behind the wagon!” Torin shouted at him. “Go get it!”

“I’ll find it!” Geoff leapt. “Oh I do like a good old crossbow, I reckon!”

“AYE!” The Blackheart cried just as a dagger was thrown at him. It scraped his plate and his opponent closed in. A knife stabbed at Torin’s throat. He crashed his haft into the attack, deflecting it, then swung the wooden handle into his enemy’s chin.

His foe cried just as Torin’s axe broke into his skull, taking his life.

From the corner of his eye, the dwarf caught Tarl lunging toward the other dwarf; knife in one hand, sword in the other. The man attacked Anfisa like an assassin as much as an expert swordsman.

Anfisa Ironhammer
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Torin's shouts proved the spur necessary to prompt Geoff into action. The big man had a surprising deftness to him, whipping about and leaping into motion, getting around the (now frightened) blacksmith's wagon from the other side and snatching up the crossbow so mentioned by Torin—yet still he had to cock it and load it.

Anfisa, meanwhile, had to improvise as Tarl came right at her, assailing her with weapons clenched in both hands. His sword she had to block with the stock of her crossbow, and against his dagger, viciously thrust right over the length of his arm after his sword stroke was foiled, she had no other recourse but to lean her head and her spine awkwardly back (at least she didn't fall onto her rear). The point of the dagger fell short of her sole eye; what an awful fate it would have been, blindness not even being the worst of it, but more so the functional loss of her Praetor power!

"That amulet—"

Anfisa disengaged, getting her crossbow free from the bind, and shot Tarl straight through his teeth. The end of the bolt stuck out of his mouth, and he'd time, wits, and strength enough to drop his weapons and numbly paw at the bolt's shaft before he dropped down to his knees. In his eyes the final question: how in the hell did this happen to me? This shouldn't be possible.

He slumped back as Anfisa again cranked the reloading lever of her crossbow. Two thieves down.

Torin Gemheart
  • Dwarf
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Having taken two thieves out himself already, Torin caught Tarl drop down from the corner of his eye, courtesy of the other dwarf. Nice. That made three and what happened next was already expected. Five there were, with a leader, now only two left? No need for Torin to swing again.

The remaining thieves looked right, looked left, and suddenly fled. Torin might have offered pursuit. Dwarves were natural sprinters, very dangerous over short distances. Yet, he didn’t expect this caravan would ever see the likes of them again. They wouldn’t return for revenge. Their attempt at theft was at an end.

“Well struck,” he congratulated Anfisa, wiping blood from the edge of his axe before sheathing the weapon back at his belt. “Humph.” The dwarf looked down at Tarl’s corpse. “Between the teeth. Out the mouth. You can shoot.”

From a distance, up close, quick aim or slow, a shot was a shot and that crossbow bolt had taken its toll. “Wait,” Torin looked left, looked right. “Where’s Geoff?”

Anfisa Ironhammer
Anfisa had her crossbow ready to loose, pointed around from the corner cover of the wagon, but all she saw was the brief glimpse of the two thieves' fleeing backs, they who were too cowardly, too shrewd, or both, ditching their attempt of robbery and rushing away from the caravan grounds and out into the wilderness beyond.

She pulled back from the corner, still keeping her crossbow held high and ready. She glanced down to Tarl just for the sake of certainty, and yes, he lay as he had fallen, all the motion of life having departed from him. Just as easily as it had been him, it could have been her; these words of caution always seemed to haunt Anfisa after any fight.

The blacksmith, with a shrill voice which suggested that his heart was pounding in his throat, cried out against the two dwarves, "What in the hell did you do!?"

Anfisa ignored him. Let him cower and shake underneath his wagon, where he had gone scurrying once the fight had begun. The blacksmith, unsurprisingly, was unaccustomed to violence of any sort, and displayed all the shock and horror associated with it. Like the ripples produced in the stillness of a lake after a rock had been thrown in, time was the only thing which could truly settle such perturbance.

From behind came Torin's voice, and she faced about. The praise, as it usually did, made Anfisa blush, yet it wouldn't last for long.

Wait. Where's Geoff?

Anfisa's eye widened. "What? Where—"

She glanced back to where she last saw him, at the other end of the wagon. The crossbow he'd taken up was gone. He was gone. How could a man so large and conspicuous just disappear like that? Yet the fight had demanded the narrow and focused attention of both Anfisa and Torin, each with their separate struggles. In that blindness brought about by so harrowing an encounter, it was far easier for Geoff to have...done something...rash...

"He didn't go off after the last two thieves, did he?" Anfisa mused aloud. Oh no. Oh no, no, no. This day was quickly spiraling into disaster.

Torin Gemheart
  • Dwarf
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Like his companion, Torin ignored the blacksmith for the moment, along with any other onlookers at a distance. Violence was often misinterpreted; and take it from a dwarf of Kazarek to know this.

In time, the denizens of this caravan would find that both dwarves were innocent in this business; rather, protectors who had stood in out of protection against the miscreants who had elected to butcher a blacksmith’s business.

Granted, that argument was for another time. In the present, the dwarves had to find their newfound friend: Geoff.

At Anfisa’s suggestion and question of whether the prince had gone after the thieves who had since retreated into the distance…Torin just stroked his bearded chin, his countenance otherwise vacant of expression.

“I don’t know,” he honestly admitted. Lying or sugarcoating, as the saying went, was not the dwarf’s talent when in the thick of it. “We need to find him.” Not least on account of his amulet.

“Split up. Check around the caravan. Meet back at this blacksmith if you find anything or nothing.” Torin did not so much command this other dwarf as beckon under the circumstances. “Failing any sign of this guy’s location, we take to the mountainside…” Beneath the eye in the sky.

Anfisa Ironhammer
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Torin's admission of I don't know served to further fuel Anfisa's disbelief. One moment Geoff had been there, maybe not within arm's reach, but close enough, and then, in the next moment, he was gone. Gods! Had she not been drilled against this in the War College, this perilous narrowing of focus? Ruslan would shake his head (though perhaps smiling as he did so) and thwap her on the arm if he heard about this.

But enough with the chastising of herself. Torin was right, they did need to find Geoff; it wasn't as though she thought so little of the dimwitted man to think he needed keepers—he'd apparently managed on his own all up until this point—but it was in a spirit of camaraderie, however impromptu it may be, that they ensure he was alright. All three of them had just come out the other end of an abrupt and vicious predicament; this tied them all together in perhaps the most ancient of all bonds.

Anfisa nodded to Torin. "So it is then. Meet back here. Gods willing, one of us will return with Geoff in tow."

She barely managed to take two steps, heading out for just that very purpose Torin had suggested, when, quite late to the scene, other armed caravan hands came jogging up, a small group of four of them. They surveyed the scene, the bodies. One of their number asked warily, "What happened here?"

Anfisa was quite ready to explain everything in calm, rational detail...if not for the sudden intrusion of the blacksmith, newly risen from his under-the-wagon hiding spot. Completely beset by his shock, gesticulating wildly for a moment before pointing right at Anfisa, he declared, "She shot first! I saw the whole thing happen! She shot at these men first!"

Anfisa's jaw dropped. She looked over to Torin, her eye containing all the indignation and alarm of having been stabbed in the back.

Then back to the well-meaning, but now well-misinformed caravan hands, ", that's not how it happened, not at all...I..."

Torin Gemheart
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And, sure enough, there it was. Here they come. An audience. Onlookers. Interrogators. Sometimes it didn’t matter if there was a genuine, sincere witness amid a crowd who looked around and saw only sensationalism.

An angered blacksmith who might have very well lost some business present or future? That was a whole other story, the least of which any others would find boring as he pointed and raised his voice at the dwarven woman.

There was no outright police in the midst of this caravan. There were travelers, merchants, mercenaries, guards, but no centralized authority. That worked for and against the pair of dwarves.

“Aye,” Torin spoke during Anfisa’s hesitant tone. “She shot first,” he promptly admitted of her crossbow, realizing he was speaking just as much in self-defense. “But they attacked first.”

Three corpses on the mountain’s floor and Torin gestured toward the one called Tarl Kanner. “Any of you know this man? Or his friends?” There was no answer, as expected.

“You,” Torin beckoned. “What did I write on that parchment for this party?”

No caravan foreman, but a man who would pay the wage of a hand who had signed on to protect said caravan. “Torin Gemheart. Armed escort.”

“Right. And can anyone vouch for the name of Tarl Kanner?”

If anyone could, Torin would wait to listen. If no answer came, then the answer was obvious: some nameless person, a proven miscreant, who had tagged along for better or worse, along with the others.

Anfisa Ironhammer
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Anfisa bit her bottom lip as the other caravan hands looked amongst each other as the question of vouching for Tarl Kanner was put forth into the air. Was it visible, her lip biting? She hoped it wasn't too conspicuous. Her uncle Ordin would've told her to "chin up and make like granite" if he saw it. But Anfisa couldn't help it; sometimes, she feared, she had trouble living up to the Ironhammer name.

At last, though, came some relief, as the four hands put to summarized voice what thoughts on the matter they had.

"Not I."

"Not me either."

"Was he with us when we set off?"

"Hell if I know, I wasn't anybody's keeper, you know."

The blacksmith, the grip of shock loosening up on him (and probably also because the tide of opinion was starting to flow in the other direction), sheepishly spoke up, saying, "Well...m-maybe that dwarf Torin there is right. Yeah. Maybe he's got the right of it. It was, gods, it was fast."

Anfisa looked back over her shoulder and gave the blacksmith a foul look—make sure you know what you're talking about next time!—but held her tongue. She looked back to the other caravan hands and said, "It's true, every bit of what Torin said. I raised my crossbow only because this man Tarl and his ne'er-do-well comrades left both myself and Torin with no other choice."

The paymaster among the hands shook his head and remarked, "What a mess."

In the small moment that followed, with the hands busy talking among one another and surveying the bodies, Anfisa looked to Torin and gave an appreciative smile and said to him, "Thank you, Torin. Truly."

Torin Gemheart
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Just as expected, none who were present could vouch for the name ‘Tarl Kanner’ as the latter had yet so boasted. It was a common name, not that it mattered. What mattered was that any name, common or noble, would be known to at least some folk of a traveling caravan.

That blacksmith? Oh, he wasn’t suspected by Torin Gemheart, the Blackheart, as having a black heart so much as being a frustrated merchant who had lost some profit. Not really, just that nothing was bought, but that’s how he saw it.

Trust a dwarf to understand the anger of a merchant. In the Halls of Kazarek, many merchants there were, trading hands between customers as much as each other, for trade was the name of business.

Facing the blacksmith, Torin waved a hand as if to say ‘Don’t worry’ from a distance, in silence, amid the conversations of the audience. A woman’s voice came to him next. Another dwarf. Anifsa. In thanks.

“Don’t mention it,” he beckoned. Not in dry discontent, but with a smile, as if to suggest this was the name of his game; this was everyday business for Torin.

“Mercenaries, sellswords and more, freeriders, dwarven bodyguards like myself,” the dwarf offered the crowd. “No uncommon sight anyhow.” He gestured toward the corpse of Tarl Kanner. “Thieves? They stick to a caravan like this as if they were cockroaches.” There wasn’t much of a difference. “Then they get crushed.”

That uttered a chuckle from someone at least. “They will trouble us no further…however…” Torin looked around the crowd. "Someone has gone missing from this altercation…a man…” A prince with an amulet. He neglected to mention. “With a crossbow of his own. We need to find him.” He commanded as much as beckoned.

Anfisa Ironhammer
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Not all of the caravan hands on the scene were keen on Geoff's well-being.

"Like I said, I'm not anybody's keeper."

"If he wants to get paid, he'll turn up."

"Maybe he had to go 'fertilize the field' after a fight like this." This one came with a few snorts of laughter.

Even the paymaster wasn't particularly concerned, shrugging impassively. "Less coin to dole out, and we're already close to our destination."

With the excitement having died down, the caravan hands and the paymaster started to disperse. The curiosity of other onlookers further away in the caravan's rest site waned, and they looked elsewhere. Even the blacksmith, grumbling, set about inspecting his wagon for spots of blood to clean up.

One among the caravan hands, however, decided to stay. He was a shorter man, though still sturdily built, and he'd a small crop of bright blond hair and a face weathered by a good many years of hard travel and perhaps even harder living. He stepped forward, approaching Anfisa and Torin, and said, "I'll help you look for your lost man."

Anfisa brightened some. After the departure of the rest of the hands and the paymaster, it was good to see that not everyone was completely given over to a wholly mercenary mindset, even if she and Torin were, of course, among the company of sellswords and freelancers in this caravan business. "Good." And she said it again, "Good, good. Thank you. An extra pair of eyes will be most helpful."

"Who was it?"

"Geoff. Are you familiar with him?"

"Big fella, right?"

"He is quite the...immense figure, yes."

"Has this vacant look in his eyes most times?"

Unfortunately, that was spot on. Anfisa herself would've been more charitable to poor Geoff, adding something like warm or earnest to the description of the look in his eyes, but, yes, the blond man was on the right track. "Yes, that's him."

Wondering aloud, the blond man said, "How does a man like that get himself missing?"

Sheepishly, Anfisa confessed after a little glance Torin's way, "I...pondered the same thing." There were other questions one could ask of Geoff, like how he got as far as he did without being swindled out of his priceless amulet sooner, but perhaps the tides of fortune overfilled his cup with luck. Hopefully said luck held, and Geoff didn't get himself in over his head pursuing those two runaway thieves.

Torin Gemheart
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In retrospect, Torin had expected no less of a reaction. There was ever as much of a risk to proving both dwarves’ innocence as there was to finding someone interested enough to help said dwarves find Geoff.

There they go… Torin sighed. Show’s over, folks. His main concern for the short-term, however, was put to rest rather than thwarted: Nobody wanted to immediately imprison Torin or Anfisa. They just didn’t want to help either of them in the long-term, either.

“It happens,” Torin confessed to his partner as he turned away from the crowd, looking around the caravan site. It was about time to move on anyhow. “Blacksmith’s wagon is one thing but our long lost friend—”

Before Torin could say ‘Geoff’ another man spoke before him. He was short, about the size and height of Torin, if not as stocky in comparison. A human, not a dwarf, but more importantly he had offered to actually help.

“Well…” Torin stroked his bearded chin amid the conversation of Geoff’s physique and his being a bit of an idiot. It wasn’t incorrect to disagree but, again, the dwarf never held intelligence (or lack thereof) against Geoff.

Braver lad than most who had gone after a crossbow at the back of a blacksmith’s wagon who had hidden like a scaredy-cat.

Could dwarves read minds? They did in that moment. “Geoff might not be the brightest candlestick regarding intelligence, but his sense of justice is like a roaring fire.” Trust a dwarf to know the difference.

He twisted his lips. Perhaps I am the idiot for letting them go scot-free. “My money is on our quarry going after those thieves.” Torin admitted.

“And how far do you think they will get amid Geoff’s justice?” The volunteer questioned.

“Ehhhh…” Torin shrugged. “I’ll give his catching up to them a six out of twenty with their headstart.” He pointed down a steep cliff that few might brave and a few hundred might think twice about. "If we pursue, we take no wagon. Only our very own bodies. Agreed?"

Anfisa Ironhammer
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"Agreed," Anfisa said, and she was in turn echoed by the Volunteer agreeing to the same.

How difficult could it be? Right? What headstart Geoff and the two fleeing thieves had could be measured on the scale of minutes only. And the terrain of the Spine was nothing if not treacherous, hardly given to the swift flight one might achieve on an open plain, and this quality was only to a small degree assuaged by the well-trodden paths through its otherwise untamed mountainous wilds. They could catch up to him...hopefully before Geoff got into a scuffle with the thieves.

And, stretching hope all the more, hopefully before that carpet of stormclouds coming their way unleashed the full torrent of their fury. Already could be seen in the far distance the sheets of rain coming down—that would soon enough be upon them all.

"Let us make haste then," Anfisa said. "If the coming storm reaches us before we reach Geoff..."

Her grimace spoke to her doubts, if such would become the case.

Torin Gemheart