Open Chronicles The Unlikely Pair

Discussion in 'The Chronicles' started by Uhfred, Apr 20, 2019.

  1. Uhfred

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    Uhfred Well-Known Member

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    Udalof went about a different schedule than he normally did. He donned his armour and weapons as usual, but he wasn't going anywhere. He was concerned about retribution from the bandits that remained. He spoke with passerbys in quick hello goodbye conversations. He was restocking some of his rations when he heard that they needed to go to The Knot. Once there he spied the headsman's block, he wondered who they were going to execute.
     
  2. Anima

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    More were coming, until the whole town had gathered round. A meager number, even when set against other towns in the Reach. It couldn't be more than a hundred people, men, women, and children, in total. It was likely that everyone knew the name of everyone else. A tiny gathering of families, huddling around a campfire of peace, cold chaos of night nipping at their backs.
    They knew not the monsters who Watched them, who waited outside their circle. They knew not the darkness which lay dormant in their own hearts. And both needed only their gaze, their permission by sight, to be invited in.

    This execution was but a small taste. The feast would come, brought on by Messer. And was it not an act of charity, of loving kindness, for Anima to show them that the death of the body was not the worst fate they could suffer? Like a mother smothering her baby, such that it would be spared the gnashing of the hungry wolves that had come for them both, crazed and salivating. A salvation of the spirit, at the expense of the body.

    As Anima scanned the crowd, she noticed Udalof among their number. Smiled at him. So he did decide to stay. It was good. Now her mercy could cut both ways. For the people of Iron Lake, and for the bandits themselves. For they, too, could be spared. Many, if not all of the bandits, were already dead. Their souls stained. Their eyes having seen. But Udalof and the hidden heroes of Iron Lake could put them to the sword. Save them from the horror of knowing the manner and number of terrible deeds of which they were capable. Of giving in to the beast, caged within. Crazed. And salivating.

    And the door to the Baron's manor opened again. Baron Regis Dorn, two-handed axe in hand, strode out and toward the block and the gathering. Behind him, the two miners who had carried the block escorted a man Anima had seen, briefly.

    "Theo," Peter said in a low voice. A quiet hmm, and he seemed to understand.

    Anima recognized Theo then. He was the baron's assistant. In the tavern when Michael had come. Looking worried but doing nothing when Michael set about on his quest.

    And Theo looked terrified now. Trying in vain to hold it in. To preserve some shred of dignity.

    The two miners escorted him all the way to the block. Stood grimly on either side of him as he stood before it. And Theo stared down at the block with shame and dread. His arms and legs shaking.

    "Hear me!" Regis called out, his voice booming. "I come to you this morning"--an orator's pause--"with good news and ill."

    Another pause, as he turned to survey his people. His manner of speaking, to pause frequently while addressing a large crowd, to let his words sink in.

    "My youngest son...Derrin Dorn...whom you all love so dearly...has been rescued!"

    Regis held his axe in his right hand and pointed sharply at Udalof. His voice bellowing, filled with admiration, as the crowd shifted to look. "The mercenary...named Udalof...is to be commended! For he has done Iron Lake a great and noble service! Give unto him your warmest wishes and your hospitality! For he has earned it!"

    A longer pause. A momentary dropping of his eyes to the ground. A deepening of his voice. "But my eldest son...Michael Ingstad Dorn...whom you all know so well...who stood ready to succeed me as Baron of Iron Lake...a young man...to which all might aspire...is dead."

    Gasps. Murmurs. Children asking their parents hushed questions. A couple women, openly weeping.

    And Regis turned his attention to his assistant. "Theodore Smithfield...you have failed in your duty." A rising anger. "And you have betrayed my trust! For seventeen years, you have known Michael...you watched as he was born and you watched as he grew to become a man. You were given but one charge regarding Michael...to watch after him, in my stead, as required...to keep him safe! And yet! In his hour of greatest need...when the foolishness of youth had peaked...when he could not contain the love he had for his kidnapped brother...You! Failed! Him!"

    Regis took a few breaths, and shouted, "What say you in your defense?"

    Theo swallowed. But he couldn't lift his eyes from the block and look at the Baron, his Lord. "I've no excuses, my Lord. I should have stopped him, but I did not. And my lapse in judgment has brought tragedy. My only solace...that I may guide Michael in the afterlife."

    And Theo slowly lowered himself to his knees.

    Laid his head to rest upon the block.

    Anima, and the whole of Iron Lake, watched in silence.

    Regis Dorn gripped his axe with both hands. And walked toward the block.
     
  3. Uhfred

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    Uhfred felt as though he should interject, he didn't believe that the man there was deserving of the headsman's block. The man himself failed yes, but he should not die as well. That man was nothing but a man, and so was Michael. A second death never filled the void left by the first, it only made it wider. But he couldn't do anything, the baron made his decision, and in that town, his word was law. So he stood by and watched.

    (Sorry about the slow replies, got a lot of work to do and it takes most of my time."
     
  4. Anima

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    "Those faint of heart. You may turn away now," Regis said.

    And some did. A few women. Most of the younger children. Some of the men. All those who couldn't bear to watch. Friends of the man. Or those who found the sight of blood sickening. An act of preserving, in looking away. An admirable thing. If futile.

    Anima watched as Regis raised the axe. The light of the morning sun glinting off of the polished metal. A momentary sheen of it, running down the curve of the blade, as if it were blessed.

    And Regis' face softened. Sorrow, clawing at the edges of his eyes. A trembling of his arms. The weight of the axe and its purpose heavy, bearing down upon him. But it was a fleeting thing, for Regis steeled himself. Pursing his lips and narrowing his eyes. Tightening his grip and steadying his stance.

    He swung the axe down and decapitated Theo in a single stroke.

    And as Regis lifted the axe, immediate horror washed over Anima's face, the very breath from her chest stolen, and her hand shot up to cover her mouth. Her eyes wide.

    No blood spurted forth from Theo's neck once the axe was lifted. In its stead, a black tide spilled forth. A viscous sludge, gushing from Theo's neck and running down the headsman's block and pooling at the base of it and around the man's severed head. Crows. The abhorrent sludge was compromised of nothing but the slick and rotting bodies of crows. Their heads and their eyes and their beaks and their wings and their talons. All still moving. Eyes rolling about in their sockets and broken wings squirming and frayed talons grasping at nothing. Shrill and dying caws as the beaks of the black sludge opened and closed meekly.

    And the black tide kept spewing forth.

    "The Crow bears witness to the ruin of men," Anima whispered into her hand, terror tightening her throat. She couldn't stop the words from escaping. She had to say them. Give them life. She was compelled. "And feasts on their dark hearts."

    She felt Peter's hand on her shoulder. His voice, a far away thing. "Anima? Are you alright?"

    And the crows which compromised the sludge, the glistening tide of black filth and bodies, all stopped moving. Then, at once, turned their heads and their eyes toward Anima. The sound of necks snapping. Of wet and bulbous eyes twisting in their sockets.

    And she was seen.

    The crows called for her. Their caws rhythmic. Matching the pounding beat of her heart.

    Anima stumbled back and out of the crowd. She fell down to her hands and knees, her legs lacking the strength to keep her standing. The world seemed to be turning on its side. She heard Peter. Regis. Their voices muffled by the thundering pulse of blood in her ears. The edges of her vision collapsing. A tightness in her chest, gripping harder and harder, until she couldn't breathe.

    Her eyes rolled up into the back of her head. And she fainted. Face down in the dirt.

    * * * * *​

    Regis took a deep breath after the deed was done. Stared down at the last few spurts of blood shooting out from Theo's neck. His friend and loyal servant, dead. But Theo had sworn an oath. And his negligence had cost Regis his son. Only the axe could save Theo's honor. And so it had.

    He heard something. Peter. Talking to the woman who had helped him tend his tavern over the past few days. She looked to be having a visceral reaction to the execution. Stumbled out of the crowd and then down and out of sight.

    Perhaps she should have heeded his words.

    Regis handed his axe to one of the loyal miners standing beside Theo's body. Then turned and said to the crowd, "There will be no work in the mine today. Go to your homes. Be with your families. And cherish them."

    As the assembled people of Iron Lake began to disperse and the two miners began to deal with Theo's body and head, Regis laid eyes on Udalof and approached him, his hands folded behind his back. "I understand that you wish no reward for the deed you have done for me and my family. And yet, I would ask that you consider having dinner with us tonight. My wife Serena, and son Derrin, would be honored to have you. Please. Think it over. It is the least I could do to show my gratitude."

    * * * * *​

    "Hey. Hey!"

    Peter dropped down next to Anima, giving her shoulder a rough shake and saying her name a couple times. But she was out, at least for the moment.

    Yes, it was a gruesome thing, the execution. But it didn't seem like such a sight would have much effect on her, what with the way she carried herself. And yet, here she lay, having fainted like a mild-mannered housemaid from the mere witnessing of it.

    She'd said something too. But all he heard of it was ruin, feasts, and hearts.

    He didn't know what to think of it. So he didn't waste the effort.

    An odd woman, and no mistake.


    (((That's okay. Work takes precedence.)))
     
  5. Uhfred

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    Uhfred Well-Known Member

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    (Thanks)

    Udalof nodded to Regis, "I will be honoured to be present at your dining table. I will come, and with your permission, I would like to attend Michael's funeral."

    Udalof was not the best man around, but he was nothing like Anima. He had principals, morals he abided by, a sense of honour. He didn't enjoy killing, he just didn't flinch from it."
     
  6. Anima

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    Dusk.

    The time of spectacle at Iron Lake. The time of Michael's death.

    Anima stood near the shore. Her hands held behind her back. Watching the fiery spray of color engulf the lake as the sun lowered. A couple of families of Iron Lake to either side of her, their children playing, the men and women relaxing and chatting and enjoying the sunset.

    Anima had on her armor. Her sword hanging from the loop in her belt.

    She had woken up in her bed at the tavern, shortly after Peter had carried her up there. A touch of worry on his face, she saw when she opened her eyes. How sweet. And she liked him, despite his reluctance to invite her in. To allow her to bask in his life. To feel his presence. Such as it was with those of a quiet demeanor. Much like the mercenary, Udalof, though perhaps more pliable. Peter would answer some of her questions, albeit succinctly. Brief glimpses into the soul behind his words, his eyes. She knew a little of him. That he had not always been a tavernkeeper in the small mining town of Iron Lake, for instance. But he would not speak too much of his younger years.

    Perhaps Messer and his bandits might tease it out of him. Closeness to death brought in those around you. And Peter had no family Anima knew of, at least not in Iron Lake. And she could be close to him, at the right time. Close enough, perhaps.

    If she were so lucky.

    What if Messer never came? If he and the remaining bandits cut their losses and ran, cowardice winning out over conviction? She couldn't wait long, no. She felt uneasy. The vision she had...though it was like the one she experienced in the Eretejva tundra, and in Alliria, this time it felt different. The distinct feeling of being seen. Of being witnessed.

    By whom?

    Mother? Or It? The Thing which had seen her? The Thing which knew her? The Thing which wanted her?

    She wasn't sure. She didn't stay in the same place in the tundra and in the city after having the earlier visions. So she didn't know who or what, if anything, came looking.

    The water of Iron Lake gently lapped at her boots.

    No. She couldn't stay. Not for long.

    * * * * *​

    Regis sat at the head of the table. His wife Serena to his left, Derrin to his right. The servants of his manor had prepared a roasted pig. Garnished with various fruits and vegetables. A small feast. But it was a special occasion.

    And the servants of the manor were instructed to grant Udalof passage inside, and to show him to the dining room, and to sit him at the seat of honor across the table from Regis.

    The dining room illuminated by candles in their sconces. Sunset light from the large window behind Regis. A view of the distant waters of the lake on offer through the glass, the yellows and reds and oranges of the waning sun dancing magnificently across the surface.

    And once Udalof had been seated, Regis said as he ate, "The funeral for Michael shall be tomorrow. I've sent word south to the neighboring town of Talebholme just this morning, and they shall be sending their undertaker up to us to aid in preparation. They've no priest to spare, but I shall deliver the eulogy myself, if the gods would so permit it. In accordance with your request and in recognition of the honorable deed you have done for me and my son, you are invited to the funeral, and I would be honored to have you there."

    Serena set down her cutlery on her plate and dabbed at either side of her mouth with a napkin. Gestured to Udalof. Smiled politely and said, "Please, tell us about yourself, Udalof. I would like to know the man who risked his life to save my dear Derrin. You must be a generous soul, to turn down the reward as you did."
     
  7. Uhfred

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    Uhfred Well-Known Member

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    "I'm not the kindest of men by any means. I've done more than my fair share of wrong. I didn't wish to take the reward, because you had already lost something, or rather someone. I didn't wish to burden you with anything else. Thank you for letting me attend. As for me, well, there's not much to tell, I haven't done much more than fight and hunt ever since I can remember. Really, there's not as much to know as you may think."
     
  8. Anima

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    A light breeze. Her hair swaying along with it. She listened to the children. Playing. Laughing. Chasing one another. Tag, you're it! Oh no, Ramon's the monster. Run! Run! Ha, ha! Look out, Jamie! He's coming for you! Ah! Tag, you're it!

    The water. Licking her boots. Warm. And red.

    Birds. Flying out from the trees across the lake. A dozen of them. A hawk. Diving from far above. Catching one in its talons. The prey struggled. But it stood no chance.

    The setting sun. Even farther beyond the lake and the trees. Like an eye. Whose light was fading. Succumbing.

    A scream. From back in town. And then, suddenly, many more.

    Anima turned around. The children stopped playing. Their mothers and fathers standing up and looking on with rising worry and mounting fear.

    Flickers of orange. Of fire.

    Anima drew her sword and sprinted up the beaten path. Running as fast as she could for half a minute to reach the town proper. And she emerged onto the singular dirt road from between two houses. Skidded to a stop. Eyes scanning.

    They had come, their total number uncertain. And they came into town from all sides, torches and swords and bows in hand. They had silently and carefully gotten into position to surround and invade the town in unison without being detected until it was too late. As if they knew well the terrain around Iron Lake.

    Anima knew what she would do. Where she would go. Who she would bask in now.

    The door to Anima's left burst open. A woman, collapsing out of it. Reaching for her. "Please! Help me!" she said. Before a bandit approached from behind and ran his sword through her back out her chest. The woman's husband, limping and with blood coating his shirt, stumbled from behind the bandit and punched him. They fell. And fought.

    Anima walked. She knew where to go.

    A torch sailed overhead. Tumbling end over end in the air. Landing on another house. Setting flame to the thatched roof. The family inside ran out. A man, a woman, two sons. Staying low and running behind and past Anima. The children whimpering with fear.

    Anima walked. She knew where to go.

    A miner ran up toward her from up the road. Gestured wildly. Said, "For the love of the gods, lass, run! Run! R--" And an arrow hit him in the neck. He fell down. Convulsing. She stepped over his body. His hand gracing the back of her boot. Fingers sliding away.

    Anima walked. She knew where to go.

    Arrows streaked past her. Close. Very close. Tails of furious air in their wake. Deadly whistling. Shrill. As each missed only just. One brushed her hair. Flapping the lot of it violently backward.

    Anima walked. She knew where to go.

    A growl of rage. To her right. A slight glance. A bandit, drawing his sword, brandishing a deep scowl. "You're mine, you bitch," he said. Taking a few steps toward her. But a burly miner tackled him from the side. Landed on top of him as they hit the ground. Punched down hard into the bandit's face.

    Anima walked. She knew where to go.

    Some of the fires were small. Others raged. A man, bursting out of his house, to her right. The door and the roof and the man, all on fire. He shrieked in agony as the flames consumed him. Waving his arms around in panic. He dropped to his knees. And then flat on his face in the dirt road. Fire rising from the back of his shirt.

    Anima walked. She knew where to go.

    And she saw him then. Peter. Coming into her field of vision and hurrying up the steps to his tavern. He burst into the tavern and threw the door shut behind him, but it bounced and was left ajar. She hurried. Her walk becoming a jog becoming a run. Closed the rest of the distance to his tavern fast. And she hopped up the steps and stood by the door, the sound of voices from the inside arresting her. Her ear to small opening of the ajar door, her eyes out on the road.

    Messer. His voice inside. Saying, "...of a bitch, don't act so surprised."

    Peter: "This isn't justice. This is murder."

    Messer: "You were our friend! My friend! And you sold us out! You betrayed every man who worked in Kessel Mine!"

    Peter: "I did no such thing."

    Messer: "How much did the Baron pay you? Hmm?"

    Peter: "How much were you all demanding for the life of an innocent boy? Hmm?"

    A laugh. The sound of spitting. And Messer said: "Here's what I know. Your time's come, old friend. Yours and the Baron's. This is for Christoff, for Yorick, and for all the rest of the lads. You may've betrayed them, but now...now I'm here to avenge them."

    * * * * *​

    And they ate.

    The mercenary Udalof didn't have much to say, and he had even said so himself. So Regis, as he usually did, filled the time with talk of his dealings with other towns in the Reach and with the merchants and ironworkers and steelmakers of Alliria. Serena would nod and give her input and advice here and there, as she was want to do. Derrin, usually much more active and curious and questioning, was silent as he ate. The poor boy. If only Theo hadn't faltered in his duty to Michael. A single lapse, and now, Derrin would have to live the rest of his life deprived of his brother. A tragedy, all around.

    And something happened as Regis began to feel full and satisfied.

    A scream. From outside the manor. And then, suddenly, many more.

    Regis narrowed his brow. Derrin froze in mid-bite of his meat. Serena glanced about.

    And she said, "What do you--?"

    The glass behind Regis shattered and came crashing into the dining room as a man, rough-looking and with his wooden round shield in front of him, leaped through the huge window and inside. He charged the Baron's seat. Shield raised.

    Another two bandits came into view outside the window. Bows in hand. Arrows nocked and drawn. Taking aim on the fear-frozen Derrin and the shrieking Serena. The one aiming at Derrin noticed Udalof, and quickly readjusted his aim to the mercenary.

    The smell of smoke from outside, now that the glass had been broken.

    The attack on the manor one part of the abrupt bedlam erupting in Iron Lake.
     
  9. Uhfred

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    Udalof reacted quickly. Upon seeing the archers he noticed the one aiming at him and he dropped. Under the table he rolled and then leapt forward and essentially tackled Serena, the arrow missing them by the smallest of margins. Then he rolled to his feet and threw the chair at the approaching swordsman. The chair shattered upon impact, it's heavy frame knocking the man back a ways. Then he took advantage of this and cut into the man's neck as he was off balance.

    Ripping the shield from his grasp he threw it like a frisbee to one of the archers. "All of you, under the table, now!"

    He said this to the baron and his family. When he did this he charged the second archer, regardless of the arrow he was busy knocking.
     
  10. Anima

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    An arrow hit the door beside Anima's body. And she pushed the door open. Swung it shut behind her. For all the time it might buy.

    She stood behind Peter. His back was to her. He was unarmed. Messer, some few paces away, had a sword in one hand and a lit torch in the other. The counter of the tavern was already aflame. Smoke rising up and creeping along the ceiling above. No one else in the tavern. Just the three of them.

    Messer started when he saw her. But regained his rage and stance quickly. "You again, skin-changer? What do you want? Huh? My thanks? Ha. Let's see how tough you are when a man actually has a weapon, eh?

    Peter glanced back at her while Messer talked. And she met his eyes. A mild surprise in them, from Peter. But when she swung her sword around and handed it to him hilt first, he nodded. And accepted it.

    "Yeah," said Messer, "there you go. Take that weapon, Peter. Let's settle this like men."

    Anima drew her underwrist knife from her bracer, but stepped backward. Her back to the tavern door. Hands crossed and down in front of her. Eyes intent and intense. Watching the two men size one another up. Shift their footing. Steel themselves.

    "Just you and me, Peter." Messer grinned savagely. "And I been waitin' a long time for this."

    * * * * *​

    It all seemed to happen so quickly. And he was no longer a young man. Not like Udalof.

    To Regis, it was as if he had blinked away the peace and calm of a normal evening's dinner, and in the next instance, had conjured a living nightmare.

    His wife. Down on the ground. The arrow which would have killed her sticking out from the wall. The chair she had been seated in flying past Regis and crashing into a battle-frenzied man. Udalof blurring around him. Slicing the man's throat.

    And the mercenary's shouted command snapped Regis back into the present. Hammered the reality of the situation home.

    Regis grabbed Derrin and quickly went under the table. Serena frantically crawled under with them.

    The man with his throat slit fell down. The clatter of his sword. Blood leaking out onto the floor. Derrin couldn't take his horrified eyes off of the sight of the man dying.

    The first archer, bewildered at how swiftly his fellow had been dispatched, only noticed the thrown shield a split-second before it smashed into his face. His head snapped back, body arched, and he tumbled down to the ground, his bow flying from his grip and twirling through the air.

    The second archer muttered, "Shit. Shit! Shit!" as he drew another arrow and nocked it and pulled it back and, with shaky and nervous hands, took unsteady aim on Udalof and let it fly.
     
  11. Uhfred

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    His unsteady and frightened aim sent the arrow wide, Udalof never flinched as the arrow sailed past him harmlessly. He rushed the terrified archer and drove the tip of his sword into the man's gut. The archer fell lifeless.

    Udalof sheathed his sword and drew his bow, he knocked an arrow but didn't pull back on the bowstring. "Get to safety. I'll make sure that the villagers are safe."

    Udalof didn't wait for a response. He ran from the baron's home and to the village, hate in his eyes.
     
  12. Anima

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    Anima watched.

    Messer jabbed the torch at Peter. Peter stepped back. They continued to circle each other. Peter, his back slowly coming round to the fire on the counter. Messer, kicking away tables and chairs as needed, wary of presenting his back to Anima.

    Peter moved forward. A clashing of swords. Peter's skilled and practiced. Messer's wild and brutal. A slash across Messer's left bicep. He growled and kicked Peter back. He had to steady himself, lest he stumble into the fire.

    Messer waved the torch around. Testing his arm. "They teach you that in the Allirian Guard? Huh?"

    Peter kept his stance. The fire raging behind him. "Lay down your sword. It doesn't have to end like this."

    "Bullshit."

    Messer charged. A wide and vicious swing of his sword. Peter ducked under and stepped forward. Grabbing the back of Messer's head and slamming his face down onto the burning counter. A shriek of pain from him. A mad elbow driven into Peter's gut, doubling him over. Messer dropped his torch and pulled back from the fire and slashed down with his sword and patted at his face and hair with his free hand. The slash caught Peter in the leg, and he grunted and stumbled back toward the tables and chairs of the tavern.

    Messer put out the small fire in his hair. One side of his face sickeningly red and pink where it had touched the counter and the flames.

    And they faced off again. Both men gritting their teeth in pain.

    * * * * *​

    An all-out burning and pillaging in Iron Lake.

    Bandits moved from house to house, torches in hand, setting fire to each and every one. Others walked up and down the dirt road with bows, casually shooting at the men, women, and children who tried to escape being burned alive in their homes. And still others, swords or axes in hand, gave chase to the innocents.

    Some of the miners took up with their pickaxes and shovels and whatever tools they had to fight and protect their families and their homes. Small melees dotted the dirt road of the town. But the miners had not even the ramshackle armors the bandits had, and there may have only been one or two among their number who had ever seen combat before. Some of the bandits toyed with their miner opponents. Others wasted no time in cutting them down. In searching for their wives, their daughters, if they had them.

    One bandit stood in the dirt road and near Peter's tavern. Clad in better armor than all the rest, pristine--and recently stolen--chainmail. A ragged hat on his head. A waraxe and shield in hand.

    Erland. The leader of the band. And he surveyed his works, the burning and looting of Iron Lake, with a sadistic pride.

    His band had been small time. Just not enough men. But then, there was that accident in Kessel Mine. A revolt in Iron Lake, one of the towns just south of the more lucrative territory he frequented for raids and robbery. The Baron Regis made an example of someone. Then banished half the town's miners. His loss, and his mistake. Erland took in the miners. Swelled the numbers of his band of bandits and raiders. And he started to become big time over the years.

    And he wasn't going to let that son of a bitch Baron ruin that. To make his band look weak by foiling his abduction of the boy with no repercussions. Granted, the old Kessel miners wanted to burn the town anyway. Revenge, and a long time coming. Heh. It was always going to end like this, wasn't it? Suited Erland just fine. If the Baron didn't want to deliver the ransom money, he'd just take it from his damn manor. Man ought to be dead by now anyway.

    Three of bandits marched up to Erland with three young women captive. They threw them down at his feet. And the women cowered there, afraid to attempt any resistance or escape.

    "Keep 'em coming," Erland said with a grin. "Gonna have a proper celebration tonight, boys."

    Maybe he'd get Messer to watch the whores once he finished his business in the tavern.
     
  13. Uhfred

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    Indeed charged into town. Seeing the state of things, he transitioned to his sword. He charged in, roaring like a beast and slaughtering any bandit he came across. His mind was blank, unburdened by thought. His eyes saw only red, and he lost it.

    He went into a state of indefinite rage, a thirst for blood that could only be sated by combat. And so he fed his sword, and watered the ground with the blood of the invaders. He took some blows, none major, and none that he noticed, he was too enraptured in his endless hate.

    He swept through town, butchering bandits without hesitation, mercy or remorse. Many of the miners gathered behind him, following his momentum, it cost several of them their lives, but they took a few in turn. The surviving women and children who remained uncaptured fled to the baron's home.

    He drew near the inn.
     
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  14. Anima

    Member
    Anima A Shadow

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2019
    Messages:
    71
    Character Biography:
    Bio
    #39 Anima, May 16, 2019 at 5:19 PM
    Last edited: May 17, 2019 at 1:54 AM
    Embers flew off from the burning counter. Touched the wall behind it and the casks assembled in their racks there and reached up to the ceiling above. Flames spread from the fallen torch. The smoke and the fire inside the tavern worsening.

    "Come on, then!" Messer shouted.

    "Just drop your weapon," Peter said.

    "Come on!"

    "Yield. Let it be over."

    "And face the block? Like Christoff? Never."

    Messer lunged. Thrust his sword. Peter deflected the strike and stepped off to Messer's injured side, where the burns on his face hampered his vision. Peter grunted from the pain in his leg. Messer yelled in rage--

    And the yell was cut short as Peter drove his sword in one side of Messer's body and it burst out the other. A gasp from the bandit. A hollow, tortured sound. Peter wrenched the sword out and Messer dropped down to his knees, mouth hanging open and eyes wide, staring at the walls and floor. And Messer teetered backward. The sound of his skull hitting and bouncing on the wood of the floor.

    The crackling of the spreading fire.

    And the sword slipped from Peter's grip. A clatter on the ground. He slowly glanced back at Anima. Guilt and horror and shame and sorrow.

    A confession to her. "I...I never had to kill a man before."

    His body jerked violently. Doubling over. He vomited. Collapsed down to his hands and knees. And vomited more. Arms trembling.

    Anima sheathed her underwrist knife. Went to him. Crouched down and then sat on her heels next to him. The pain of the first sin, alive in Peter as it was alive in her, years ago. Yes. You could discover that you had it within you all along. For it lurked there, in darkness. Awaiting your permission to creep forth. To crawl up from the cage in which you once it had locked. And, once seen, it would linger forever, never to be undone, always watching you.

    Peter had the hands of a killer. As did Anima.

    And they could embrace their darkness together. The swan song of the innocent lives they once knew. Falling down further and further into the maw and throat of the abyss. Hands held. Cherishing what was. Eyes gazing longingly at each other. What they had each become, a reflection in the eye of their beloved.

    Yes. She had come to love Peter. As she had with others. Luna, Rollo, Lydia, Erik, Mikos. Admiration for those who yet stood in the light, but love, love, for those who joined her in the dark. For it was cold and lonely. Deep down.

    Anima wrapped her hands around his head and brought him to her breast. Cradled him there as the sickness and the tears ravaged and shook his body, his arms wrapped around her as well. She rested her cheek on the top of his head. Ran her fingers through his hair.

    "You will be remembered, Peter," she said. An honor, and a delight, to carry on the memory of the man Peter used to be. A quiet, kind man, who had never once taken a soul. Evil or good.

    "It's alright," she said. And she whispered, "You are not alone. You have company. You are held in familiar arms and loving hands. And you are not judged. You are embraced, are you not? You have seen, and been seen. You have known, and are known. You are here. Deep in darkness."

    And she smiled.

    "With me."

    * * * * *​

    Erland watched him come. The mercenary. The one Messer spoke about. Had to be. Erland almost didn't believe him at first. Hell, didn't really, all up until now and having actually seen the merc himself coming. Messer had a goddamned tall tale about what happened in Kessel Mine. A single merc and a--what?--a skin-changer? Whatever that was. Erland merely thought it to be excuses for being overrun. Fallin' asleep on watch or some such. Didn't much matter now. Here he came.

    Funny, how he didn't split and run soon as had that reward money in his pockets. Also didn't matter. He was carving up the louts and the weak among Erland's own number. Heh. Let him. Once he killed this damn merc and burned this town and word got out about what Erland's band had done, recruitment wouldn't be a problem. Their reputation would precede them. Outlaws of all stripes would come runnin'.

    "Boys! Gather 'round!" Erland shouted as he took a few steps forward and away from the three captive women. At the call of their boss, the remaining fifteen bandits in town stopped their pillaging and came running up to Erland's side. Puzzled, at first, but then they each saw the merc and his little party of nine ragtag miners.

    "Looks like we got a contender!" Erland said with a big grin. He gestured openly toward the merc, in a gladiatorial invitation. "Feel good yet, Udalof? That is your name, right? Udalof? Feel like a hero yet?"

    Erland snickered and added, "Who's gonna pay ya if everybody in this fuckin' town is dead, huh? Hmm. Won't matter, will it? You'll be among them."

    Erland and his fifteen remaining bandits. Udalof and the nine miners he led.

    Facing one another.
     

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