Open Chronicles Shattered Retreat

Casmir Król

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Shattered Retreat


The Army was in an absolutely miserable state. It was barely even an army anymore to be fair. The trip to the Blightlands took over a year in total. The army was ready to get there, but shortly after arriving, the army was attacked and slaughtered by the biggest mercenary force that Casmir had ever seen, and king Ateus was missing. He was cut off during the retreat and what was left of Casmir's band of original 150 was about 8 men, 4 horses, and a broken wagon that had long been abandoned.

The troops had been hiking for months, and troops were deserting every week. 3 months ago they had about 80 men. Of the ones who hadn't left or died, 2 of the remaining had trench foot and were starving, 1 was riding an exhausted horse and hadn't eaten in about three days, and the rest were praying for a miracle.

It was cool outside as a few drips of rain fell onto Casmir's shoulder-piece. It hadn't rained in weeks, and this would be the first bit of water in over a day. As the rain began to come down, the men slowed and stopped at a dip in the field and filled their damaged canteens with the fresh water. If the map was correct, the men were getting close to Bhathairk, almost a continent away from Molthal and the bandits that tried to slaughter them.

The horses huddled up as the knap-sacks they carried were unrolled and pieces of a large tent were pulled along with a few wet logs. The group was setting up camp on the edge of a prairie, on a long deserted trail, near some trees.

"Krol, Umieram z głodu. Please, let us hunt." The man was wearing barely rags with a fur cloak sat above the ripped tunic and warped steel of what was once functional armor. He held his dried hands together begging, his stomach audibly growling.

Casmir held his hand on his head, rubbing his temple. He and his sergeant were in the best shape. They were still filthy and unbathed, and yes they were starving, but their blades weren't completely dull and their armor, though dirty, was still in fair condition. "I know you are hungry, I myself forfeit my last bit of meat to Ricci," he glanced up, lightly blessing the name of his deceased friend. "We are near Deer territory. Do we have any rope left?"

The man pondered for a second, "I believe I have some strands in my horse's satchel. And I know Philip has a good strand in his."

The entrance to the tent lifted as another man in hussar armor stepped in, hair soaked and armor covered in water droplets. "Krol, the other tent is up and the rolls are prepared. It is flimsy, but it will hold for the night."

Casmir nodded and the turned to the man. "Get your blade, and grab the rope from Philip's bags, we are going to get some food." The man nodded as Casmir turned to the other who had just plead with him, "Aleksy, you will eat tonight, but you need to gather the others. Start a fire and collect some water."

"Of Course Krol, thank the gods for your mercy."

Casmir nodded at the man and then motioned for him to leave as he stood from his seat. He walked to a thin wooden crate that sat on the ground, laying on a pelt to keep it from the mud. Casmir opened approached it and reached down, twisting a key and popping open the trunk and pulling out a sword. He ran his finger along the side of the blade, clearing what appeared to be some dried blood from it. The blade was beaten to hell, but she still shined. Casmir slowly stood and sheathed the sword before exiting the tent.

As he stepped out into the rain, it pelted his face. There was a dim lantern glowing near the horses. As Casmir approached his horse, he quickly hopped up, swinging over his leg. He looked around and spotted the other hussar walking towards his horse.

"Julek, daj spokój!"

The man hurried, hoping upon his horse and rode off after Casmir into the darkness.

After about an hour the two returned with two does and cooked for the men, drinking and eating before falling asleep.

First thing the next day, the group gathered their two tents and began their march, reaching the city by mid day.

Casmir stood outside the gates, men behind him. This was it, this was the end of their long trail. As the gate lifted, the men marched through, horses on lead behind. The city was alive with the hustle and bustle of beings going about their daily routines. The men quickly made their way to the bathhouse, cleaned, and then dropped their horses at the stables. They would stay for a few days before gathering some coin and hopefully having enough money and food to hire some ment.
 

Korak Benthai

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Soldiers, that much was certain. Humans were not uncommon, the city was of course open to all tribes, unless they had committed offense. But this lot, they were beaten, but not broken. Korak had observed them for himself. These were veterans, clearly able to find their way round many troubles. Perhaps they might take him to where they sought to go? He could only hope. He bode his time, and found the perfect opportunity. The band had gathered in an inn and were discussing their plans, Korak scaled to the rafters above and took a seat above them.

"Look no further, good sir! You require professional aid, some great battle to be fought. I am the greatest warrior to come from the Drandak’il tribe. Korak Benthai, Slayer of Roagac, and master of the blade!" He stood and flourished his blade. "I will not require much. And as a bonus, I can act as your guide during your stay."
 
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It seemed a lifetime ago that she had left the shadowed walls of Vel Anir, when War, horror of mothers, drew her into its welcoming embrace. Those days of fire, blood, and ash were all she had known for such a very long time, carving her way across the continent in the service of uncounted lords and ladies, some pedigreed and others usurping those positions. It had never mattered. Her wrath, hunger for carnage, and her need for coin were more than enough reason to take up any banner, no matter how hateful.

They called her many things in those days. The Lady of Sighs, the Thornheart, the Weaver of Woe, the Winter Queen were all favorites. More commonly, it was just the name that she had taken for her own, of course: Frostborn.

That was long ago. Well, technically it had only been three years since she had turned her back on that life, that self, but those three years felt so different that it had very much been starting over. For her past, atonement would not be easy.

Tugs on her hands reminded her that she was still very much at the mercy of Vira and her little brother. For only being ten and eight, they could exert a surprising amount of strength. “See, Aless? He’s pretty!” Vira announced, dropping the amused half-elf’s hands.

Smiling still wasn’t much in her nature, but she made an effort as she studied the horse in question. He wasn’t a plowhorse, but neither was he a powerful destrier bred for battle. He looked to be a quarterhorse, plenty suited for travel and trails...or potentially being a playground for two children, if he was gentle enough. “A very fine horse, but I suggest you speak with your mother if you wish to acquire him,” she said, voice precise to carry through her native accent. It was the one thing that had somehow never faded, no matter how far she roamed.

She tensed slightly at the sight of soldiers, these ragged and desperate looking. Without thinking, she moved Vira and Dmitri out of their way, conscious of every movement these men made. She was always aware of her sword, but the awareness became supernatural at times like these. It had never failed her and was named simply for what it had brought her enemies: Woe.

Dmitri started to squirm. “Aless!” he whined.

She realized that she’d been gripping their arms too tightly, if not enough to bruise. “I did not mean,” she said, relaxing her hands as the soldiers passed. She let go and adjusted the longsword across her back. It wouldn’t be quickly drawn, but for that she had Solace worn at her side. The wicked-edged shortsword had been an end to many, ushering the fallen wounded into the next life.

Aless loathed the idea of using it, but she knew she needed to be wary when walking the long road between the outlying village and the city. There were plenty of misfortunes that could befall the people she was escorting if left without a defender.

“There you are!” a relieved Juliana said, though she did give her children a stern look. “I was worried they’d made off with you.”

“Nothing to worry of,” Aless promised. She smiled faintly. “Though they may wish to have you purchase a noble equine soon.” She looked over at Juliana’s husband and changed mental gears, falling into her best Orcish since Juliana and her children didn’t speak it. <<Nagar, take them home. I have a bad feeling.>>

Nagar was a more recently acquired comrade, but one who had followed her into hell and back, one who understood why she was doing what she was doing, because he wanted the same thing. For all the bloodlust and warrior culture flowing through an orc of his pedigree, he was ready to be a defender instead of a raider and invader. That the pretty thing beside him and her two children had found him worthy of love was apparently still often a shock to him. The big orc squared his shoulders. <<Trouble? I saw the warriors pass by...though they looked more like raiders, ill-fed and watered, and few at that.>>

She shrugged. <<I do not know. I aim to find out, but if they are trouble, your family should be safe at home with you.>>

His yellow eyes seemed to measure her with an intelligence few outsiders would ascribe to an orc. “Remember what you promised yourself,” he rumbled.

“I will,” Aless said sincerely, hoping no one would force her hand if she started asking questions. “Keep everyone safe while I am absent.” She looked over to see Juliana’s worried expression and offered another faint smile. “Everything is fine, though Nagar should see you home before Vira and Dmitri wheedle themselves a horse. I have something to attend to.” She knew Juliana wouldn’t argue, only fret.

She couldn’t explain as she followed their trail why these men, lean and hungry, were different, maybe dangerous, but she had been alive long enough to know when Fate was looking her way.
 
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Casmir Król

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The tiny bag that Casmir slung under his belt lightly swung and chinged as he moved. They had to sell off two of the horses, but they made off with around 60 pounds, 18 crowns, and 24 shillings. They were pretty set after that, they could definitely stay fed and sheltered for a few months if they pleased, it would be easy with that kind of money. The best part of this all is, they only had to slightly haggle to get their. Poor dumb bastard didn't know a thing about horse breeds and believed everything they said.

"Krol, what do we do now? We don't really have clothes or food, or anything for that matter."

Casmir unbuckled his bag and pulled out about 12 crowns and counted, he reached out his hand to Aleksy, "Get yourself and the men some clothes. That's more than enough for some cheap outfits from the tailor. Tip them well." He dropped the coin into his hand and closed Aleksy's fist. He then reached for his sheathed sword and a pulled a folded paper from his bag, handing both to the man, "On your way back, drop off 5 crowns with the sword and note at the local smith."

Aleksy lightly bowed ceremoniously as he and some of the men broke off and began to walk away. Casmir stopped and looked at them. "Philip! Tell Aleksy and the others to meet me at the Inn, there is fine wine and women. I'm getting us some rooms."

The man nodded and jogged up to the group. Casmir smirked, the closest thing to a smile that had reached his face in some time. He ran his hand through his hair, feeling the moisture from being recently washed. He smelt like lavender but felt like shit. His feet were blistered, his hair and clothes were wet, and he hadn't had a clear mind in months.

Casmir walked to the Inn and opened the door, letting himself in. It was quite the sight. Dancing women, drunken fools, orcs kissing in the corner, and the whole place smelt like alcohol, warm food, and piss. He approached the counter to the older woman. She was wiping clean a mug as he approached and cleared his throat.

"Hi, how can I help you?"

Casmir smiled, fake of course, but it felt close enough. "Hi, I'd like some rooms please. 8 if you can, but 4 would work."

The woman looked up, "Not often people come in from out of town in such," She glanced up and down, "Unique... Armor." She looked down and wiped a spot of the glass and put it down before looking back up, "It'll be 12 Shillings, and best we can do is 6 rooms."

"That is fine, we have been sleeping on the ground for months, a cot is a nice change." He opened his bag and grabbed the coin, plus a crown. "And a drink please."

The woman took the coins and counted before nodding. She picked up the glass she just polished brought it to a barrel on the far wall, reaching for a plug and pulling it to fill the mug. A little spilt on the floor and she plugged it again. Casmir took the drink and thanked the woman before retreating to a dimly lit corner or the main room.

He drank for some time before the others trickled in and joined him, some had even collected their own coin. The men were all sitting about, well.. Almost all of them.

"Anybody know where Konstantyn is?"

"I don't know Feliks, I ain't seen 'im since the tailor, 'bout you Kondrat?"

"Naw, I saw 'em at the fount'n talk'n to some lassies." He made a gesture with his hands, "Masywne Piersi." He chuckled a bit and some of the men joined him.

"Yeah, that good? Let's not have a repeat of the last in boy, remember the Inn-keeper." Casmir brought the glass to his mouth and swigged.

Just then Konstantyn slid open the door on the far side and sped-walked to the table and quickly sat. There was dead silence. Konstantyn looked up to all the guys smirking.

Casmir looked at him, "Have fun?" The table erupted into laughter, "Damn fool," he chuckled lightly, "Wherever there are fine women you're not too far behind."

Konstantyn turned beat red, "Aww, Shut up guys, when's the last time y'all shook the sheets?"

The men all continued talking, joking, and drinking. As the conversation shifted to that of a more, 'professional' matter, a goblin approached. Casmir hardly let his guard down, so he saw the little bugger coming.

"Look no further, good sir! You require professional aid, some great battle to be fought. I am the greatest warrior to come from the Drandak’il tribe. Korak Benthai, Slayer of Roagac, and master of the blade!"

The men all stopped talking and looked at the little creature. It shut them up real quick.

"I will not require much. And as a bonus, I can act as your guide during your stay."

Casmir looked the thing up and down. "Friend, are you aware of the concept of a private conversation?" He shook his head lightly then looked back at the little guy. "We could definitely use the help. What could you offer?"
 
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Korak Benthai

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"Friend, are you aware of the concept of a private conversation? We could definitely use the help. What could you offer?"

Pleased that he had made at least a neutral impression on the new Humans, Korak returned to his seated position on the rafter and crossed his legs. "I bring to the table all kinds of things! If you want stuff, people, places, I'm your man. Hard to do well here without connections, though nice fleecing on that guy! Could've only gotten ya slightly higher myself! Why, there was one time Feldag bought a piece of cow skull from me for a fistful of Crowns and a small hog. He thought it was a piece of the skull of the great Mintotaur lord Xeciun. It wasn't of course, but I ate well that night! Mmnmm...hooog." Korak was salivating and licked his lips, then snapped back to attention after he realized the looks of irritation and amusement coming from below.

He straightened his posture and continued. "As I was getting to, good fleece. Anyway, I can acquire anything you need here, and I can get you passage where most cannot go. I have the right title round these parts, and I know the right people. I'm officially an ambassador, see?" He pulled out a crudely carved bone pin and tossed it to one of the soldiers. In its head was carved a picture of a Goblin and a wolf; though to describe either as such was a mercy. "That, means I get to talk to big wigs round here. Long bits of road can be walked with no trouble for someone like me!"

"But no doubt you want more than my charm and my position, despite their obvious value."
He rolled forward and dropped himself from the rafters, landing feet first on the table, all without trampling food or spilling drink, and then darted off the table as at least one of the men tried to grab him. He ended the display on a bench opposite the offended member and flourished his blade. "I might not be the stealthiest of my kind, but I am the swiftest! And my blade has bested many an Orc warrior."

He kicked back on the bench and strained to grab an ale from the passing wench. He took a swig, undeterred by the implacable face of his perspective employer. "My advice comes as a free forward on what I hope to be a long and successful partnership. First: there are no private conversations here. This city has enough nooks to allow for a good listening, and there's good money to be made doing just that." Letting that flurry of information sink, he took another swig before offering his hand. "So, will I do?"
 
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Aless ducked into the inn, brushing by a short human man red-cheeked from his drinking. The hand she knew was coming made the obligatory attempt to grab, she caught him and twisted his wrist enough to hurt without damaging before she gave him a push away. “Not interested,” she said firmly, tone neither weak nor aggressive. She didn’t want to start a fight, but she knew not to look soft.

She unslung Woe as she stepped in, both out of courtesy and because it would be a faster draw. It paid to be careful. The blade was as much a product of Vel Anir as she was, unadorned and dull in color even when polished, bright where it bore its own scars of war. It had been with her in every battle since the first. The rayskin wrap on the grip needed to be replaced again, worn almost smooth, but she hadn’t wanted to take it to a smith yet, not since Olaust died of age. She missed that dwarf sometimes. His son didn’t have the same precision yet.

Daily life seemed well in swing as she moved through. The drunken antics would reach their heights after dark, but there were plenty of intoxicated people here. She took a seat at the bar, gathering her thoughts as she slid a few coins over to Gerdr. Out came another mug, this one filled with mead. It was an alcohol she’d learned she far preferred to beer, not that she couldn’t settle. A glance at the periphery of her vision told her that her newcomers were here.

It was the sound of a different voice, a familiar voice, that caught her attention. She smiled a little despite herself as she listened. The ankle-biter was a braggart, but he wasn’t wrong. Certainly a quick blade and a lot of energy. Though last time she’d seen Korak, it was a hand he’d bitten: Nagar’s. As friendly a bar-fight as she’d ever seen, almost cordial enough for her to let Nagar punch his way out. She’d intervened anyway, just to be safe, because her friend’s blood-rage was bad enough that he would go until he died or was rendered so mangled that he couldn’t move. She’d barely managed to subdue him the last time, aided by—

Aless shook her head, bitter anger cutting through at that brief fragment of memory. Do not go there, she told herself.

Some things were better left dead.

“One of those nights?” Gerdr asked. The woman, older to many, was still young to Aless. She had enough maturity that it felt comfortable to talk with her.

Aless shrugged. She knew a fair number of bars in the city pretty well, so seeing a familiar face behind the counter was pretty normal. “I am just enjoying the show.” She turned to view the group, her hand resting comfortably on Woe’s pommel, debating for a moment. The easiest way to get a read on someone was, in her experience, confronting them with force. However, numbers were a thing that mattered and so she wasn’t inclined to get in a fight with them.

Besides, fighting was her past, not her present or hopefully future.

She sipped her mead thoughtfully. They weren’t far away, so she could just call out to the goblin. What is there to lose? “Careful, Korak,” she said, just loudly enough to be heard clearly through the inn noise. “Such words are easy to trip over and falling so never ends well.”
 
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Casmir Król

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The men all looked amongst themselves and to Casmir as this little goblin paraded around, bragging and gloating about his title and experiences. The men were getting pissed, but Casmir the calm would never let such a trivial thing bother him.

"So, will I do?" The goblin had just finished his whole act, and though the party wasn't convinced, Casmir could see the potential.

"Well." Casmir paused for a moment in thought and then turned to his left. "Aleksy, kiedy moje ostrze będzie gotowe?"

"Soon Krol. Co myślisz o tym małym dziwaku?" Aleksy glanced up at the goblin who was now drinking and waiting.

Casmir nodded and looked back to Korak Benthai. "My little friend, we'd appreciate any help. And we'll pa-"

"Careful Korak," shouted a woman sitting at the bar. Casmir looked over to her, and the men followed. There was a nudge in the group as one of the men whispered something leud to Konstantyn and he elbowed in retaliation. Casmir quickly turned his head. shushed the lot, then turned his attention back. "Such words are easy to trip over, and falling so never ends well."

Casmir looked back for the creatures response before engaging with her. "What did he do to you, madame?" Casmir signaled her over, "Please, let's talk this through," he thought of his coin in his pouch, "I offer a drink on me if you wish." Some of the men's eyes began drifting, and so did Casmir's, but not to where the other men were looking. He noticed the long sword strapped upon her. He discretely felt for his dagger attached at his left hip should it be needed.
 
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Korak Benthai

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“Careful, Korak. Such words are easy to trip over and falling so never ends well.”
Korak stopped mid-drink and set his beverage down, wiping his mouth before turning to face the speaker. He knew that voice, and the strength of the arm that backed it up. "Well, if it isn't our very own Lady Frostborn! Might I say you're looking as deadly as ever." He stood up in his chair and bowed low with a wide sweeping gesture, wide as the seat permitted, anyway.

"What did he do to you, madame?"
The Goblin's face quickly took on an expression of mock innocence as he interrupted, "Me? Do to her? My good sir, I may be the best blade in my clan, but I wouldn't get away with doing anything to her." He pointed to the Half-Elf for emphasis. Then in a half hushed voice, "Speaking of...how's Nagar?" After this brief lapse he went on, "Good sirs, I have the privilege of introducing you Lady Frostborn, Slayer of S'cerick, and Bringer of Woe! She is the best sword this side of the Spine, and a fine drinking companion. Truly you're lucky to have both of us here at the same time."
 
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Aless sighed inside. While she carried her weapons still, she wasn’t keen on being referred to as Lady or deadly. Either could start a fight, when people felt inclined to test those skills of hers, and she didn’t much care for killing anymore. Not that she was always given a choice.

That said, she could feel the black beast curled around her heart stirring, ever so slightly digging in its spurs. It happened in places like this around warriors and talk of fighting. Part of her still found almost endless delight in breaking things, in breaking people. It was the ugliest part about her.

She approached, moving with easy elven grace. A longer lifespan and combat training gave her the benefits of good balance and swiftness. Footwork was everything to a warrior, almost as much as blade-work, and so she practiced with a zeal worthy of a true devotee. She wasn’t wearing her blade in its scabbard on a belt at her waist, which people generally found less threatening even though it wasn’t. Instead, she held Woe, still in its scabbard, in her right hand with the belt wrapped around her arm. It tended to disarm people, since she stood at rest as though she was right-handed. It was old habit to keep herself switched until attacking.

“You would be better served keeping your boasts for yourself, my goblin friend. I do not care for them,” Aless said, stopping close enough to have a normal conversation. She didn’t take a seat, at least not yet. She was aware of the eyes, but she had never objected to those. It was when hands followed that she became far less polite. Granted, when she was at her worst, even the wrong few words could bring out that wicked monster. People did not long endure what it brought if they were fortunate. “Nagar is in good health and retains all of his fingers despite your most commendable attempt.” Bites were always ugly wounds, particularly from goblins.

She looked to Casmir. It wasn’t hard to identify him as the commander in the group, by mannerisms alone. He was also the one paying attention to the weapon, a sign of experience and competence rolled into one. “Welcome to Bhathairk, strangers. May you find it well and lay to rest any misfortunes that befell you on the road,” she said, though her accent was thick enough to mark her far from her own home. It was probably pride that sank Vel Anir so deeply into her voice...or stubbornness, anyway. “As one who once traveled greatly, I know what it is to find good lodging and food after a long road.”
 
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Casmir Król

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"Thank you. I too have traveled. Everywhere I could, and fighting beast after beast, from black-bears of the mountains to the brown-wolves of the north. I appreciate a talk with experienced adventures such as myself." He held out his hand to introduce his men, "These are Philip, Aleksy, Julek, Feliks, Hubert, Kondrat, and, my friend the womanizer, Konstantyn." He looked around at the men as they nodded upon each name being called, quickly focusing himself back forward, glancing at the blade discretely, just to be sure.

Casmir looked her up and down, again, trying to be discrete. Something about the intensity about this elf was familiar. Not her specifically. but in all his travels, he knew the type. Trying to escape or something, but the way she held the blade, he knew it wasn't for show. His hand had slowly come away from his dagger throughout the course of the conversation.

He turned to Julek as he finished speaking, "Julek, proszę, krzesło."

"Yes Krol." Julek jumped up and fetched a chair from next to a lifeless looking drunk who had passed out at a near table.

"I am Casmir, what may I call you?"

A chair was quickly brought up as Casmir held out his hand to shake.

Meanwhile, Feliks looked over at the little goblin. He whispered to it in a low voice, trying not to be heard. "Hey my little green friend, you want a pint on me?" Feliks smirked, hoping that this goblin and he could make true friends.
 

Korak Benthai

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"Hey my little green friend, you want a pint on me?"

Korak raised an eyebrow and grinned, a terrifying sight with a mouth that wide. "Aye, I can take you up on that offer, friend." He leaned up, dangerously close to Feliks' ear, and whispered back, "But you'll be green before I ever will." Then, seizing the ale he had acquired before, he quaffed its contents in one swig, and wiped his face. "So you're Feliks. A pleasure! Best get to the next, and I'll get yours." Waving over one of the serving staff, he whispered in their ear and then sent them to fetch the pair's drinks.

Korak resumed his attention to the Casmir and Aless, who seemed to be sizing each other up, though not escalating. A rare sight in Bhathairk, what with so many of these mercenaries and self-proclaimed warlords. But he knew Aless to be a cool head, as apparently this Casmir was shaping out to be. There was a reason they call her Frostborn, whether or not it was her cool head was anyone's guess. But for now, Korak though better of interrupting them.

At that time, the two drinks arrived, and Korak snatched his deftly from the tray, leaving a sizable tip in its wake. The drink for Feliks was placed carefully upon the table, contained only barely by a vast stein bursting with foam. The liquid within was a burnt umber in color and smelled of nutmeg and cinnamon. When Felik scooted the beverage closer, Korak produced a tiny bundle of herbs and offered it to him. "My own blend of pipeweed. I find it complements this one nicely, if you care to try." Korak smirked, "And remember, don't turn green just yet."
 
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The half-elf offered a barely-there smile when she shook Casmir’s hand with a firm but not hard grip. “Well met, Casmir. My name is Aless. I wish that I possessed proper adventuring tales to compare to your own, but I am not much of a storyteller.” Her exploits left a sour taste in her mouth where once she had felt such pride, reminders of how far she would go if she was pushed or goaded.

She sat comfortably, weight in the chair balanced so that she could go in any direction. It was more habit than concern at this point. Her enemies were few, given her past attitude towards clemency and mercy. Random strangers were usually the greatest risk of danger, but Casmir seemed well-mannered enough not to attack so long as she gave him no reason.

“Your company seems well off,” she observed, though she was more attending to skills than wealth. She wouldn’t know for certain until the hammer met the anvil, of course. A troop could look as skilled as could be, but that was no guarantee they wouldn’t break rank and run when facing a superior, frightening force. “I imagine you will do well in Bhathairk, should you choose to stay. Many people come and go, particularly mercenary companies. There is always another war to be fought.”

Her outfit had split up without her, but occasionally she heard news of a black surcoat emblazoned with a stylized weeping eye in red. It stirred her old self every time.

She waited until half her drink was gone before asking, “If I may, what brings you our way? I do not know how much I could assist, but I know a few people around here—though I cannot compete with the vocabulary and connections of Korak.”
 

Casmir Król

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Casmir looked around as she said "your company seems well off." he had to hold back a faint smirk. There was no way of her knowing that 8 guys, 5 of which wore what could barely be considered armor, had just retreated for almost a year under constant harassment from bandits and warlords, starving most their trip and having men dessert in the dozens, but he kept his mouth shut.

"If I may, what brings you our way? I do not know how much I could assist, but I know a few people around here-though I cannot compete with the vocabulary and connections of Korak."

Casmir shifted in his chair, it was a question that only opened the door to more questions. He was comfortable around Aless, but as a stranger still lacked the trust to tell her about everything. She would have to prove herself fully trustworthy to hear of Slavingrad, the throne in his chest, or any of the interesting details about him.

Casmir looked down at the plated armor he wore and reached his hands back, he grabbed and adjusted the lion pelt worn atop of his armor. Looking up after a moment of thought and just mechanical movement, Camir looked to Aless and started, "Well, we are firstly looking to muster a small force. As you can see, only myself, Julek and Aleksy have the armor of the Huzar, it is the proper wear of the grandest warriors to ever live. My set is around 300 years old, Aleksy's is about 140, An Jukek's is around 250. These were made by our forefathers, realistically though, plate will do for our men." He looked around again, the tunics they had recently purchased were the only parts of their wear that weren't falling apart.

"If you know where I can find men, and someone to forge armor, then I will be in your debt." Casmir though, wagons would be cheap, he'd just have to balance his expenses. Hopefully, they would be able to get moving soon.

As Aless and Casmir went back and forth, speaking about expenses and armor and the such, Feliks was pissing away his nightly coin. He was about four drinks in and his new friend was egging him on.

The drink was strong, exotic, and it tasted like crap. Feliks struggled to bring it up to his lip, lightly coughing and recoiling as though to get sick, but he held it in. He pushed the foaming liquid to his mouth and tilted his head back before pounding the empty glass down an hollering for another. As a server walked over, she took his glass and the goblins to go refill.

Feliks turnt to Korak and nudged on him, "No wonder your green lad, your always drinking that shit." He chuckled lightly, "It's vile and foamy... I love it."

Feliks looked across to Konstantyn, "Aye, you want a glass man?"

"No, I want to get going, I'm tired." He rolled his eyes and turnt back to his conversation with some of the other men.

Feliks stood up, not willing to be ignored, and reached over, tapping the cheek of Konstantyn who quickly whirred around and went to slap back, only to have his hand caught by Feliks who was barely capable of standing, more or less defending. "Ay man, you'll whore yourself to an early grave, but ya won't have a drink with your pal?"

Feliks pulled his hand away and glared at him. "I said no." He lowered back into his seat and started talking.

"Awww... whatever," Feliks gracelessly crashed back onto the bench just in time to have another round come up, "To a new friendship." Feliks shakingly grabbed the mug and lowered it to a toast with Korak, he pushed out to clink.
 

Korak Benthai

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Korak reciprocated the gesture, meeting him halfway, their mugs making an audible connection.

"Now you claim it's vile, but that is some of the finest dark ale to taste my lips! Don't you waste a drop...either. You lose if you do."
Korak dropped himself to a loud whisper and leaned in close, "And then, I win!" He took another gulp with his gaping mouth, leaving his ears drenched. This time, there was no wipe. He punched Feliks lightly in the shoulder. "It's not vile! You're vile! Frost! Lady! Tell this guy how wrong he is." Then, quite unsurprisingly, Korak collapsed into his ale.
 
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“I do know a somewhat newly established armorsmith in town whose work would put some masters to shame,” Aless said. “He has taken over since his father died last year. A dwarf named Vaar Thuldaryn. Good sort, dependable as a rock, and reasonably priced. Just do not try to bargain him down to pittances. He works better for people who value his work.”

Casmir’s mention of raising a small company made her sigh. “You will be hard pressed to find recruits worth their salt here. Most of them are untrained, if talented amateurs and even those who are trained consider themselves warriors. All death and glory, but they have not the faintest notion of how to even move in formation. Speaking from experience, it requires serious training and crucible time to get such people into the right mindset for a soldier, to teach them about unity and the courage that is acting for the good of the whole. I spent a great deal of time in such pursuit. There are things that should not be delegated.” She shrugged. “Coin will buy you mercenaries, maybe even good ones for enough of it, but pursuit of wealth is not a cause that long bonds people together, particularly when the campaign is a difficult one.”

She spoke with the calm, simple air of someone presenting only facts, without pretenses. She had no intention of bragging or misleading, but it was worth Casmir knowing what he would get. She didn’t have any ill will towards him and a collapsing flank had killed innumerable commanders, something that was a risk in such situations. Aless was also trying to ignore the spurs digging into her heart. He might appreciate the help.

That is not my life anymore, she told herself. I have sheep and geese and green growing things that depend on me. I am at peace and happy.

But was she?

Korak face-planting into his drink was enough to pull her from rumination. She fished the goblin out, letting him snore at the table sopping wet but no longer in peril of drowning. His smell would be abominable by the time he woke up.
 
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Casmir Król

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Casmir scoffed. Typical of these parts, no one ever wanted to join up and fight professionally. He'd wait on that issue though. There was no way that he couldn't find a couple young lads looking to go off and make something of themselves.

He looked Aless into the eyes, "I can mold fighting men from muddy. Where there are young lads looking for adventure, someone such as myself can make soldiers." He shook his head lightly though. It would be tough. 8 in total meant that there were barely enough to train, let alone hold a line.

There was a splash into this disgusting looking foamy liquid. In all their talks on warfare, armorsmiths, troops and such, Camir hadn't realized the goblin and his man start drinking. The little goblin smelt dreadful as Casmir wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"M'lady, with that I am going to set off for the night. My party needs rest." He held out his hand to be shook again, "it was a pleasure. I will check out that armorsmith, and if you don't mind, meet me by the fountain tomorrow and you could help me get acquainted?"

Camir shook he hand and thanked Aless before he and his party stood and grudgingly began to March off to their rooms. Each pair split off and Camir and Julek split off to their room. They spent sometime conversing before falling asleep.

Early the next morning, rising with the sun, Casmir crept from his room in only his tunic, pants, and boots. The early morning sun hit the silk-like red cloth that draped from him, and the leather pantaloons shined fully with early glare. He quickly made his way to a blacksmith and began talking about prices for armor.
 

Korak Benthai

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Korak awoke with a persistent pulse in his ears and a horrid stench in his mouth. Tasty and expensive as it was, all ales end up the same way come the morning. He flowed off the table and made his way to the door. Outside, the etchings of dawn were just beginning to highlight the hills and mountains of the Spine. Through the dim streets he carried himself, through back ways, and through under passages, until he reached a small alcove in a tower. Both hard to get to, and long forgotten, he had chosen his home with care. But perhaps most poignant for him was the small ledge overlooking the confluence of the rivers. It served well both for scouting out new work, and as a fairly private place to partake of his pipeweed.

But now wasn't the time to linger. He had to wash, and he had to find Casmir again. Heaving a small but cumbersome sack over his shoulders, he left. Or, almost left. A sidelong mournful glance across the room left him gazing at his pipe. He knew that he should leave it behind. If anyone knew he enjoyed it, he would never live down the shame other Goblins would throw. Then again, if he didn't give himself the option, he might regret it for months. Almost of its own volition, his hand tucked the pipe into the pouch as he turned out the passage.

Another of Korak's oddities was, he needed to bathe, and not just in the confluence. He knew just how horrid these waters could get. So instead, sack drooping heavily over his shoulder, he found his way out of the city proper, due south out of town. There, in a small stream connected the river, he stripped and scrubbed. Then, taking a bone comb, began to tend to his hair. First his head, then his cheeks, arms, and finally, legs. He loved his hair. the fiery color, the fact that no other Goblin could ever boast such glorious locks. If his bathing were for any one reason, it was his hair. His morning rituals completed, he made his way to the lane of crafts. Casmir had mentioned the need of armor, so that was where to look.

Arriving in the lane, it did not take long to find the man. He was busy negotiating with the shopkeep, so Korak waited. No point in ruining a good deal by his untimely arrival.
 
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Aless picked her way through the market with care, avoiding crowds wherever she could despite her ability to generate space around her when forced into them. She disliked them mostly because anything could happen, anything could change in a few seconds, and that anything could be incredibly dangerous. Battle and heartbreak were both case-studies in that truth of the cosmos. As she made her way to the Thuldaryn shop, she kept her eyes out for the more normal inconveniences of the city: cut-purses and thieves, mercenary louts throwing their weight around, belligerently haggling merchants, adventurers hunting for every scrap of coin they could find, and so on. She was grateful she actually lived out away from the city proper, given how much she enjoyed her personal space and quiet.

Quiet gave room to contemplate, though, and that was a double-edged sword if she had ever known one.

She ducked into the smithy where Vaar Thuldaryn was stoking the fires of his forge to life. There was an incredible art to stirring the coals, shaping them in different ways to control the precise amount of air fed the flames and where it created hot spots and cooler zones. Currently he was working a bellows with one hand, of a size that would have taken a human warrior two hands and a lot of grunting. Vaar made it look easy. His workshop itself was grimy from smoke, but his polished, finished pieces were displayed out front, where his nephew sold individual pieces, and they were gorgeous. No thief was inclined to make off with a piece without paying, both because Vaar's hammer-throwing arm was legendary despite his youth and because he had many powerful friends off creating excellent commissions for reasonable prices.

"Mornin' Aless," the dwarf said gruffly without looking over. He was a barrel-chested creature with hands that could crush melons, legs like tree-trunks, arms bound in muscle that far surpassed what most humans could accomplish. His hair was so short it was almost stubble, but his beard was considerable, braided to keep it more controllable near the fire. "Didn't reckon ye'd be 'round again so soon."

"I may have drummed up some business for you," she said, leaning against one of the support posts. "A group of mercenaries."

Vaar turned, raising a bushy eyebrow. "Thought ye didn't like them types no more."

Aless sighed. He wasn't wrong. "They were in poor straits when they arrived and have happened into some coin."

"Ye bein' neighborly or fixin' to git back to business?" Vaar asked. His father had taught him to respect her as a warrior since the time he was young, and explained what the idea of atonement was to a woman like her. Through the gruffness, she knew he was worried about her going down a dark path, particularly given that the elder Thuldaryn had been so set on pulling her into the light.

"Just doing someone a good turn," Aless said. She offered the worried dwarf a small smile. "I do not plan to ever return to those ways."

Vaar nodded before looking back at the coals. "Well, if they're here, they're probably talking with the twit. Half a head for business, not an ounce of brain for steel."

"Then I will leave you be," Aless said. In Dwarvish, she said, "May your hammer always sing, master of metals. Perhaps I will return soon." She stepped out the way she had come and moved around the side of the building towards where Thovil would be selling his uncle's pieces, charging more than Vaar would have liked. People who knew how things worked came to talk to the smith himself, but the average mercenary company or adventurers ended up paying substantially more. Nagar called it once the 'idiot tax' and a surprising number of people paid it.

She approached without apparent stealth, meaning Thovil saw her and the price that he had in his head dropped substantially so he wouldn't have Aless's disapproving frown freezing his blood in his veins, not that she usually cared. Still, better safe than sorry for a dwarf youth.
 

Casmir Król

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The Smith's workshop was scolding and the air day stuck to Casmir's brow. He wiped his sweat, trying focus on the conversation at hand was difficult over the overbearing smell of oil and iron in the air.

"The price isn't bad, but I know you can do better." Casmir paused and scanned the Smith's work. There was no way this was the Smith Aless had recommend. This guy wasn't bad, but he was stubborn as hell and his work didn't reflect a master of the blade.

"This is Genuine, handcrafted steel. You can't find it for a lower price. 75 is more than reasonble."The older man lifted his arm, letting out a wretched stench as he wiped his balding head. "I can go to 50."

"You can do lower, I know you can do 45." Casmir tilted his head at the man, an innocent enough motion, but one that would appeal if this man had a better nature.

"Fine, but not a coin less." The man pulled his hand down from his head and wiped his sweat off onto his trousers before shaking Casmir's hand.

Casmir grabbed his sword, completely finished, and the receipt for 3 sets of are as he turned around. He froze for a moment, a little shocked to see Koram just behind him. He was surprised he hadn't heard him come in, had he really let his guard down that bad?

"Hello little friend, you reay seem to get around," he smirked lightly at the goblin, "How's the hangover?"

As he asked, Casmir, looking down at his sword, inspected it and the brought it to his hip and sheathed it before making solid eye contact.
 

Korak Benthai

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Climbing atop a sign in the market, the red-haired Goblin looked rather spry, especially given his deep drinks the previous evening. But Korak was washed and cleaned, his mane and chops well-groomed. He leaned in over Casmir, and took a bite from some greasy meat stick.

"Of course, sir! Bhathairk is my adopted home! Should you desire it for whatever reason, I could show you places in this city that have been lost to even the memory of the Shamans. Many ins and outs to be found. Though maybe not for you and yours...you are rather big people. No offense!"

He finished his breakfast and hopped down to the ground, wiping his hands on a passerby's cloak without their noting, though Casmir had clear view. "As for my hangover, I find myself in excellent health! How's your man, Feliks?" Korak let himself grin widely at the stab.
 
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Casmir was not difficult to find, though that was more his goblin associate than anything else. She knew of only one well-groomed creature of that type and she’d seen him with Casmir last night. She had gone to the fountain, but that was just down the street and in plain view of the smithy, which she considered subpar, though her standards were probably unreasonable given the quality she had become accustomed to. The benefit of blood money, stored away for hard times and supporting her little village. None of them except Nagar knew what lay buried in her cellar, which was for the best. She’d seen people kill each other over far, far less. The orc she trusted with her life and ber belongings, so she felt secure in him, and Nagar kept secrets like the dead.

Aless approached, making no effort to hide herself. She still wore plain clothes with Woe slung across her back, generating clear space on all sides through the crowd without needing to throw an elbow or two. She’d kept her identity under wraps as much as she could, but there were still whispers about her background and a healthy respect for her skill. Besides, warriors only jostled each other when they wanted a fight.

“I see you made it to a smith,” Aless said. Before she could continue, a solid shove against her back cut her off. She turned and found herself looking up at a muscular human man. His dark eyes had a hawkish intensity. He was well groomed, well armored, and carried himself well. If she had to guess by the presence of several friends of his, a mercenary commander. “Do we have a problem?”

We do, half-breed,” he said in her native tongue, accent unmistakable. Another from Vel Anir. “They say you are the Frostborn, but I see only a peasant not worth the sword you carry. Perhaps I’ll take it from you after I clip the points from your ears.

Aless seemed relaxed, but she was already planning. “
Walk away. This is not a fight anyone wants.

As soon as his hand reached for his sword. Aless lunged at him, throwing an elbow into his throat as they both hit the ground. He couldn’t draw his sword with how she had him pinned, a knee grinding his elbow into the dirt. She split her blows between his head and his throat, battering is nose flat and his trachea slowly closed. For him, it was getting harder and harder to breathe.

A crossbow bolt hit her from the side in her shoulder, mostly a flesh wound, but a reminder of the others. She ripped the bolt out.

There was no snarl, no scream, no howl of pain. Her face was still calm and composed, eerily frozen as if in quiet contemplation. She dropped her entire bodyweight down on his throat, forearm turned to apply maximum pressure on a narrow surface. There was a sickening crack and he started to suffocate.

“You should have walked away,” she muttered.

Three more mercenaries to go.

The black beast curled around her heart dug in its spurs and roared.
 
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Casmir Król

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Casmir turned to greet Aless.

"Hi, frie-" He was cut off by a large dark man, muscular build and, if Casmir's intuition was on point, itching for a fight. Casmir slid the smith some coin and laid his hand on his sword.

There was the awful noise of what sounded like explosions as a brawl broke out, Aless' fists impacting the man before taking him to the ground and pinning him. Casmir drew his sword as the three other mercenaries closed in. Quickly he swung at one of the mercs, a swing to distract. The sword was caught by the Merc's as he swung his to parry. The merc aggressively growled as he went in for a stab, only to be knocked off balance and bashed between the eyes by Casmir's pommel.

As the man fell unconscious, hitting the ground like a sack of potatoes onto the dusty walkway, Casmir stepped to the right, narrowly dodging the swing of elven sword. He quickly shot his hand up, cutting off the hand of this one with a swing, and then kicking him back, blood squirting from the wound.

"Korak, restraints!" With those words, Casmir simply slapped away the third's sword. He tried to turn and run but was tackled by an angered Korak. This poor young blood nearly shit himself as Casmir tried to collect himself from the adrenaline rush. Taking a flap of leather to wipe the blood from his blade before turning to Korak. "Are you okay, friend?"
 

Korak Benthai

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Korak was swift to act the moment there was a fight. A fight he was invited to? Even better. By the time Casmir had asked for his aid, Korak had launched himself at full speed to impact the back of the fleeing mercenary. He made a very satisfying thump when he impacted, and began laying into him.

By the time Casmir managed to ask about his status, the poor lad beneath him had a whole new shredded wardrobe, and several new bruise families. He looked up happily from his work. Not every day they ran and did his job for him. But that's when he caught sight of Aless, rising from the dirt. Korak was self-admittedly not the best judge of character, but the look in her eyes told him that maybe he should've let her chase this one down. He took a few steps back, kicking the moaning body at his feet as he did.

"Lady Frostborn, hehe...nice takedown. Pity about the bowman, but I'm sure it'll heal." He was ready. If something were to happen, he was more than ready to jump up or to either direction.
 
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Aless shook her hand out, scarred knuckles still split and bleeding in places. She moved differently as she approached their survivor, predatory grace brought out by the taste, no matter how brief, of combat.

She took a deep breath, trying to bring herself under control. When she looked at the truly miserable man on the ground, everything in her screamed for blood. There were an innumerable ways for him to die a long, suffering death and her mind ran through them almost endlessly.

You’re not that woman, she tried to remind herself. A lifetime’s worth of cruelty made that waver of light a candle-flame against the backdrop of a moonless night.

Her gaze was midwinter, freezing the man’s blood in his veins. There was no anger on Aless’s face, just that same chilling calm. “Do you know what the name Frostborn means?” she said.

He twitched like he wanted to run, but couldn’t. “They tell stories.”

Aless felt her weapons shift against her body, pleading to be drawn. “I am not a story. I am not the woman your commanding officer was referring to. I am, however, not to be bothered by braggarts threatening to clip the points from my ears. I suggest you return to Vel Anir or whatever hellhole away from here you prefer.”

His face was so pale he seemed drained of all blood. “The others—”

Aless’s fragmentary patience slipped infinitesimally. Her tone was ice-cold. “I suggest you impress upon them how little I like repeating myself.”

She stepped back and looked to Casmir and Korak. “Thank you for the assistance. I would have probably taken another bolt before dealing with the situation alone. Do with that one as you wish, but I would advise turning him loose. A fight getting out of hand is understandable, and the instigator is...” She glanced back at the leader. His clawing and fighting for air had turned to twitching and then to the stillness that meant only one thing. “...dead.”
 

Casmir Król

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Casmir looked around at the others who were bleeding and dying. He tried to be non-lethal, but what could he do? If a man died from a pommel to the forehead, then that was his misfortune.

Casmir looked at Aless as she rose from dealing with one of the survivors, personally, he hadn't noticed it until now, but something was different. It appeared that Aless was suffering from some sort of blood-lust. He shook his head as she finished speaking before walking to one of his defeated foes. He reached down and grunted as he helped raise him to his feet, "C'mon ya poor bastard, you're not dying here. If your lucky, your fighting days are over." The man grunted as he raised. Casmir's nose wrinkled as a horrid odor protruded from the mail of this young guy. Poor son of a bitch shit himself.

The man waddled forwards as Casmir got him to his feet. He tipped forward and stumbled a couple of steps before crashing to the ground and throwing up. It was no pretty sight. After a moment, the kid struggled to his feet again and began slowly limping away from his dying friends. Casmir approached the one who's hand was cut clean.

"Well friend, be lucky that you still have your right hand." Casmir let out a light chuckle, "C'mon, let's get you up. I'm sure some fair wench may appreciate a lad with a strong hand such as yourself, now let's get you up." Casmir reached his hand out, he helped the man to his feet. "Now, go to the fire and stick your left arm in, it'll hurt like hell, take this." Casmir pulled a rag and a flask of hard liquor. He poured a bit onto the rag and held it out. He poured some of the drink onto his nub and turned as the man screamed, "Cauterize it. You won't die so long as your not dumb with it."

The other man walked off and Casmir turned and jogged to catch up with Aless and Korak who had started to walk away. Casmir caught up and slowed.

"Alright, we need some dumb young lads who can swing a sword. I'm not looking for mercenaries, only lads who are young enough to be trained yet, and dumb enough to want to leave the walls." He took a swig of his drink and passed it to Korak. It was early, and the whiskey was too strong, it was just instinctual after a fight to loosen him up and calm him.