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Thread: Chapter Eight

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    Chapter Eight


    After hearing from the rivermaster that the city was on high alert due to the trade official being murdered and that they’d be delayed an extra day as a result, Tranan headed back into the city. On his way back to the Delirious Sailboat Inn, he noticed that his distinctive Mages Guild robes seemed to make him stand out, and he was getting more than a few looks of contempt. Tranan was well aware that relations between Triln and Gellantara had been tense these last few years, but he didn’t think it had spread to the average citizens as well.

    Two years ago, the underground organization Teir attempted to assassinate Lord Davben. The lord’s wife was the only victim of the attempt, and Teir’s hideout was subsequently found and raided by Triln’s forces. Afterward, a search for those that funded and hired the assassins ensued, and the primary suspect was Mark Anders, a Gellantaran official that had been in the city for some negotiations at the time, and who fled the city shortly after of the assassination attempt. Gellantara has vehemently refused to hand him over for interrogations, and as a result all negotiations broke down, and the two years since have been filled with discontent.

    This had been compounded by the fact that Trannyth, another port city downriver from Triln, had been growing rapidly and Gellantara no longer dominated sea trade in the region. Considering this, Tranan was only mildly surprised at the looks he was getting, but he just hoped it wouldn’t escalate into actual conflict. While the two cities have long been at odds with each other, they have not had any open hostilities before. Tranan wasn’t happy about being stuck here for an extra day.

    He also wasn’t happy with being on the streets and receiving the looks he was getting. However, he wanted to find out a little information first, especially information about the assassination that occurred the previous day. He stopped at a nearby tavern to inquire about this. The barkeep looked him up and down a few times, giving him a similarly contemptuous look as those on the street, but when Tranan ordered a drink the man relaxed a bit. The barkeep sparked up the conversation, “Must say, I haven’t seen a mage in person before. Do you want to pay in coin or are you going to entertain us with magic tricks?”

    Tranan couldn’t help but crack a smile at this. “Coin, actually, but perhaps some magic tricks later on. I just came into town earlier, and it seems the City Guard are at every street corner. Did something happen?”

    “Aye, Mark Anders got assassinated last night. In his own home, too. From what I figure, he pissed off the wrong people, and boy did it cost him. I guess being the master of all sea trade and practically owning half the harbor came back to bite him… Some say he was gaining too much influence in the city and the duke decided to oust him forcibly.” Tranan perked up a bit at this. Mark Anders, killed the very night before they arrived in the city. Was this random coincidence, or was something else going on? He needed to inform the others of the delay and of this relevant news.

    Getting up and leaving immediately might draw suspicion, which would be even worse. If Gellantara is going to choose a scapegoat for this, someone from Triln would be the perfect choice… He swallowed hard, but kept his outward composure and slowly finished his drink before leaving the bar. He hurried back toward the inn, but it was already late afternoon before he arrived. The common room was mostly empty, but there were a few people around. The only ones Tranan took notice of, though, were Darvyn and Belkas, two of the knights tasked with escorting himself and his students during their field research. As he approached them, Belkas called out, “Welcome back. You missed the party.”

    Tranan’s confused look must have been enough of a response, as Darvyn promptly explained, “While you were gone, a few of us looked around the town a bit. On the way back, however, we were followed by someone who at first seemed to be simply curious, but then decided he’d stick around and spy on us. After a while, he attacked Holland in his room upstairs, and while fleeing, jumped out of the third story window. Somehow he then escaped the guards while running through the streets.”

    The archmage raised an eyebrow at this. All of these developments were beginning to worry him. “Was this just a boy doing something stupid, or do you think this was something planned against us?”

    Darvyn answers, “When we were looking around the town, we heard a few more details about the assassination last night. A witness described the assassin as having dark hair and green eyes, and wearing blackened leather with a cloak covering much of his face. The man that followed us was dressed differently, but his hair was dark and I think he had green eyes, although I never got a close look at him. The man was also rather skilled in unarmed combat, according to Holland. On top of that, he was able to land safely from three stories and then escape the guards while running through the streets. They might be the same person.”

    Tranan frowned at this. Not only did the assassination happen so close to their arrival, but after a few hours of arriving the assassin attempts something in broad daylight? Something strange was definitely going on, and being stuck here an extra day is just making matters worse. Something that confused him about this entire situation, though, was how their arrival could have been noted or predicted. They told almost no one about their departure and left Triln as soon as the gate rose. Gellantara should not have heard anything at all about their approach.

    He looked toward the two knights, “You may very well be right about that. Whatever is going on, they’re trying to have us be involved in some way. Also as a part of the investigation going on, the riverboat is grounded. We’re going to be stuck here for an extra day. Take some precautions and let’s have someone on watch throughout the night. I’m going to go inform the others about the extra day.” The two knights nodded and agreed that a watch is best, and Tranan spent the next several minutes letting everyone in their inn rooms know about the situation, and he then retired to his own room. Sitting on the edge of his bed, he pondered about what to do…

    The following morning, most of the knights and mages are eating the first real breakfast they’ve had in a week. The only ones absent are Shalak and Odran, the two knights that were on watch for much of the night. A few of them were talking about the incident from the previous day where a strange man followed and spied on them, and then proceeded to attack one of the knights before escaping.

    Darvyn was speaking, “Overnight, I think I realized something. Two years ago, when the assassination attempt on Lord Davben occurred, the organization behind it, Teir, was destroyed and nearly all of its members executed. However, a few managed to escape and fled the city, and I think the man yesterday not only assassinated the trade official, but was also a member of Teir. It explains why he had such an interest in knights from Triln, and he did say he had come to Gellantara from Triln when we met him on the street…”

    Tranan had been staying out of the conversation, instead trying to think of the best way to stay uninvolved with whatever plot was happening, but he started to pay attention after hearing Darvyn say this. Tranan had decided not to mention Mark Anders or tell them he was the victim of that assassination, but apparently there were more details and Darvyn’s guess that the assassin is a surviving member of Teir was a bit disconcerting.

    Belkas responded, “But why would he risk so much just to find out about why we were here? He barely managed to escape. I didn't get the impression he was some master assassin or anything, although I must say his escape through the window was impressive.”

    Darvyn spoke again, “Well, he did manage to escape, so I don't think we can underestimate him. We're stuck here for a day and he knows where we are. I don't think it's safe for anyone to go alone, especially any of the mages." He turned to where a few of the robed mage students were eating, "Hear that? Don't go anywhere without someone able to watch your back, got it?” They nodded, some of their eyes widened.

    The conversation took a more light-hearted turn, and two of the knights ended up leaving the inn after a few minutes, though Tranan was paying little attention. After a bit, he turned toward the remaining two knights, making him realize that the two who just walked out were Cypha and Holland, since Darvyn and Belkas are the only ones left. He spoke, “I need to check on something in the city, and I’d like one of you two to accompany me.”

    They hesitated a moment, but Belkas turned to Darvyn, “I’ll hold down the fort. Shalak shouldn’t be asleep too much longer anyway.” Darvyn nodded and stood, and a few moments later they were walking down the street northward.

    Darvyn spoke, “Might if I ask what this is about?”

    Tranan stayed silent for a few seconds, but eventually explained, “The person that got assassinated was Mark Anders.” Darvyn took a moment to recognize the name, and his face grew serious as Tranan continued, “If your assumption is right and the assassin is from Teir, it might mean that the group isn’t as dead as we thought. They might have known we were coming to Gellantara and Anders might have been a liability that they needed removed to cover their tracks.”

    Darvyn considered this for a bit while they turned down a side street. “If that’s true, could they now be targeting us? Shouldn’t we warn the others?”

    Tranan shakes his head a few times, “No, I don’t think so. From what you and Belkas said it sounded like the assassin simply wanted information about our intentions here. They likely knew we were approaching the city, but had no idea why. They played it safe to kill off Anders and after failing to get information from us they’re probably still playing it safe. We likely won’t be seeing any signs again, they’ll be laying low for a while, I think.”

    “Makes sense, but that doesn’t explain why we shouldn’t let the others know about this…”

    “Teir is trying to hide. If we go out of our way to hunt them down, they will retaliate like any cornered animal would. My students are not fighters, and anyway we have a more important mission to take care of. Lord Davben himself is waiting for our research findings, if you’ll recall, and these new developments are sure to pique his interests as well.” Darvyn just nodded at this, and after a few more seconds Tranan stops walking. “Ah, here we are.”

    They were standing in front of a small mansion. A massive, two story structure complete with trimmed shrubbery and decorative balconies. Darvyn raised an eyebrow toward Tranan, but the archmage simply walked forward to where several guards were stationed at the main entrance. Once within a dozen yards or so, one of the guards called out harshly, “Halt! This area is off-limits to passersby. Be on your way.”

    Tranan responded, his voice sounding formal, “I am here to meet with Burnett, the new master of the house, though through absolutely tragic circumstances.”

    The guard appeared unswayed, “Master Burnett is not taking visitors today.”

    Tranan takes another step forward, “I believe he is expecting me. Please, inform him that Archmage Tranan of the Mages Guild is here to meet him.” The guard’s brow furrows, and it takes a few moments for the man to make the connection between Tranan’s robes and the position he just claimed to have. After a few moments of uncertainty, the guard nodded for one of the others to head inside and deliver the message.

    It took several minutes before the guard returned, but eventually he stepped into the doorway, “Master Burnett will see you now.” Tranan quickly told Darvyn to wait for him here and then began striding inside confidently.

    The bowshot broke the silence between Alithana and the elf Aimar. He tried to react and quickly turned his head, but an instant later the arrow planted itself firmly in his left shoulder. A cry of mixed pain and surprise accompanied Aimar staggering back a step, and Alithana did not let him regain his composure. She had already covered half of the 20 yards between them, and was preparing to thrust forward with her staff. She knew that any opening, any opportunity, was something she needed to take advantage of.

    Aimar was an elf much older than her, and was a combat veteran. While he wasn’t able to avoid the arrow, he knew what would be coming next, and Alithana found her thrust parried with his sword and Aimar’s attention back on her. Even for an elf, his recovery and movement was quick and obviously those of an expert, but while he managed to block the attack he had not yet regained his full balance. She pressed forward, maintaining a flurry of strikes to keep him on the defensive. Even though his shoulder was injured he was still able to wield his sword with both hands firmly. While his focus seemed to be on her, she knew that part of his attention was on watching and listening for any other surprises that might come from the woods. Catching him off-guard with a bowshot would be much less likely now, so she would have to force an opportunity.

    As every second passed, Aimar began taking more and more advantage over the fight, and Alithana was seeing fewer openings for strikes. She had not been able to land a single blow, and now she was forced more and more to parry and block. Aimar seemed to alternate between two-handed slashes and one-handed jabs, and Alithana was quickly becoming exhausted fending them all off. He brought his sword far to one side and began an arching horizontal slash as he took a step forward. She ducked low, her small stature allowing her to easily stay beneath the blade, and she kicked out sharply toward Aimar’s exposed calf. The kick was to distract him and stop his advance, and as it met its mark his sword was passing overhead.

    She was holding her staff down low, near the ground, and as his arm continued from the sword’s momentum, she brought it up rapidly, smashing it into his sword hand. She was left off-balance as a result, but the hit was strong enough to certainly break a few of the carpal bones in his right hand and ended up dislodging the blade from his grasp. Continuing the motion from the end of the staff toward the hilt of the sword, she was able to knock it out of reach. He was an experienced fighter, and she knew he would already be reacting. Being unarmed, he would need to stay close and prevent her from using the staff at a distance while he would attempt to wrest control of the staff. In an attempt to avoid this, Alithana jumped back rapidly, landing several feet away at the same time as the sword clattered to the ground near the edge of the road.

    Aimar had indeed made a grab for the end of her staff using his left arm, but the arrow still in that shoulder slowed him enough that he was not able to get the staff before she fled back. However, he did not do what she had expected next. Instead of chasing her to maintain a close distance for unarmed fighting, he simply relaxed and stood straight up, remaining in the same spot as he massaged his now-injured hand. His face showed no consternation or frustration at what had happened. The fact that he did not rush forward to continue the brawl unnerved her slightly, and his calmness amplified this. She swallowed hard as she tried to catch her breath. She remained ready to strike if he made a move to retrieve his sword, and she took the lull in the action to try to figure out what he was thinking. Aimar wasn’t fighting seriously, and Alithana could only guess at his reasons. The opening that allowed her to disarm him seemed a little too obvious, as if he had allowed it to happen… She chose to be optimistic, and after catching her breath she spoke to him, “Surrender, Aimar! I have no desire to kill you, just go and tell the Elders you were unable to find me.”

    A faint smile showed briefly at his lips after hearing this. She wanted to hope that he wasn’t fighting seriously because he might be a possible ally, and might help her to stop the Elders. Her hope began to fade, however, when he started laughing. It wasn’t loud or boisterous, but it was thick with contempt and arrogance. She tensed up, and a moment later another sound of a bowshot reached her ears. The next moment, she realized that Aimar had stood so calmly and arrogantly in order to bait the shot, to find out the location of the archer Jothal. A lot happened in that moment for her to come to this realization, however, and time seemed to slow down upon hearing the bowshot.

    The first thing that happened was the sword leaping up from the ground straight toward Aimar’s outstretched hand, landing firmly in his grasp despite what should have been a thoroughly broken palm. This was a feat Alithana had not known was possible, and it happened in an instant. Aimar was already turning toward Jothal’s direction, bringing the sword up to knock the arrow away, snapping it like a twig as he did so. As the moment ended, he continued looking in that direction, staring directly toward where the arrow had flown from, and he spoke hoarsely, "Stay out of this, human, if you value your life. I have no business with you, but continue to be in my way and you will regret it."

    Every advantage she had worked to obtain had seemingly vanished in that moment. Aimar had regained his sword, his injured hand is seemingly healed, and Jothal’s position was now exposed and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to even distract Aimar enough to make any more of a difference. Aimar started to turn toward her once more, and in his eyes she saw bloodlust. The earlier fighting had only been him toying with her, and now he would be fighting seriously. This was not a fight she would be able to win.

    He didn’t waste any time, charging forward at a sprint and bringing his sword overhead, preparing to jump into a slash she would have no hope of blocking. Alithana knew that her staff had been taking a beating. Blocking and getting parried by such a sharp sword had marred and cut into the surface of the staff; it wouldn’t last much longer. As Aimar lept into the air, she positioned the staff to block it. Her mind was not even considering that she could win, but she was focused on the hope of a draw, a stalemate.

    Her mind had already formed the spell, weaving the magic around her into the illusion she envisioned. Aimar would not be seeing reality, instead he would witness her jumped back, several steps out of reach from the blade, and in her place a body of shadow remaining, an unearthly shade seemingly eating the light that landed upon it. A ghastly, unnatural figure. Aimar would sense the spell being cast, but he was not familiar with illusion magic. Alithana hoped he would not realize the true reality.

    Aimar brought the sword down, holding it tightly with both hands to slice the shade clear in two. Instead of jumping out of reach as he was seeing, she was drawing back toward the side. Using her thigh as fulcrum and all the strength she could muster to hold down the bottom end of the staff, Aimar’s broadsword connected with the far end. Aimar would be witnessing the shade being rended in twine, but for her the immense downward momentum of the blade began bending the staff sharply. She released her hold on the magic, and Aimar quickly realized what he had just done. It was too late for him to react, and the next instant the staff shattered completely in half.

    The last thing she saw was Aimar’s face and the look of dread upon it. He was a famed weapon enchanter, and knew what occurred when the magical energies imbued in such weapons was suddenly released. The resulting blast drowned out all of her senses, a merciless force assaulting her from all directions. Pure white filled her vision, rapidly replaced by darkness as she lost consciousness.

    Last edited by Mythonian; 03-19-2015 at 03:05 AM.
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    Re: Chapter Eight

    Player Characters mentioned/seen in Chapter Seven: Jothal Wayland, Holland Novak, Cypha Capulet.

    Player Perspective: Artorias
    Nalvo is the largest city north of the Klesk Mountains that is neither on the sea nor along a river. The only larger city that also has no major water source is Fridyth, which is situated between the massive port of Aciadon and the Klesk Mountains themselves. Fridyth is a huge trading hub for the entire peninsula; Nalvo doesn't have that benefit due to Triln's domination on trade, and instead relies heavily on the plentiful resources of the area surrounding it.

    The soil is fertile, lending bountiful harvests for farmers. The wildlife is plentiful and makes hunting for furs and meat a simple task. Despite most of the terrain being lightly forested with gentle hills, a number of exposed stone-faces were turned into quarries and have provided the city with a vast supply of stone for construction on a scale rivalling Triln.

    A large portion of the population is able to survive rather comfortably. Although not as bad as in Triln, there is also a minority of homeless and poor, for whom even survival is a constant struggle. Food, despite bountiful harvests and plentiful meat, is hard to come by. Shelter, despite wide-scale and high-quality construction, is a dream for them. Widows, disabled or injured men, orphans, and more make up this portion of the population. Often overlooked and ignored, turned away from jobs due to their appearances and stench, turned away from the military of Nalvo due to their feebleness and weak stature, most of them resort to theft in order to survive.

    The city's administration and political elite have considered it a non-issue and made no attempts to alleviate the suffering of the poor. While nothing was done on the large scale, charity was relatively common by the middle-class. Innkeepers would frequently open their common rooms and allow anyone to rest on the floor instead of in a damp and cold alleyway, and small groups of kind individuals would freely give food to anyone that seemed in need. While such opportunities existed, it was not quite enough to be relied upon by the beggars.

    Most of those who end up among the poor stay that way for much of their lives. There is little chance to improve ones livelihood, and life expectancy is low, especially for young children and the elderly. In order to survive you need to be strong enough to defend yourself, quick enough to steal food, and smart enough to escape the guards.

    One crucial difference between Triln and Nalvo is that the poor did not congregate into slums, and as such gangs were almost nonexistent, and any that did form were small and rather insignificant. This was due to the populace being smaller and much more manageable for the city. The vast majority of the poor acted alone or in small groups of less than five.

    Artorias grew up in exactly those conditions, though he did not initially have that name. He had never known his parents, not even so much as to know whether they were alive or dead. For all he knew, he was a bastard son of a noble and was abandoned out of shame, but he never had enough time to relax and daydream about possibilities. He was constantly vigilant, watching for opportunities to eat and on the lookout for someone approaching to fight over a few morsels of food. He kept to himself, staying away from any large groups and relying only on his own capabilities to get by.

    He was larger than most kids his age. The harsh life on the streets gave him a rough childhood where he had to mentally mature very quickly if he wanted to survive. When he was small, charity kept him alive, and in time he learned to steal. He grew stronger and his larger stature gave him some key advantages in street brawls, many of which he started himself. It was survival of the fittest and was the only way of life he knew. In the fierce battles for survival, compassion had no place, and he felt no remorse whether he stole food from the market or from the hands of those around him.

    The acts of charity that he relied on when young was the only compassion and kindness he knew of, but it didn't rub off on him. He passed it off as something that only those who never have to worry about going hungry would do. If he was hungry and someone had food, he wouldn't hesitate to start that fight. This went on for quite a while, but he rarely paid any attention to the passage of time. He had no knowledge of how old he was, as age mattered little to survival. There were plenty of others larger than him, but he was smart enough not to start a fight he didn't think he could win.

    Life varied little from day to day, it was the same struggle constantly. The guards manned similar positions, the market was organized the same way each day, and the alleyways never got any warmer or drier. However, this changed when a large force suddenly showed up in the city. Riding horses, fully armored, and brandishing expensive-looking weaponry. Rumors spread quickly through the city about why they were here. Apparently they were organizing a massive joint operation between Nalvo's cavalry and Triln's knights to deal with bandits along the road between the two cities.

    It had nothing to do with the poor, except for the sudden increase in troops on the streets. They were only to be in the city for a few days, but in that time it was all but impossible to escape with stolen food. He had thought the street was clear and moved forward like every time before, blending in with the crowd before grabbing a handful and turning to run. The cry of the vendor, usually met with silence or an ineffectual chase, was now met with the immediate sound of horse hooves, and the next moment his escape into the alleyways was blocked. Giving up would be as good as dying, so he turned and ran, his desperation fuelling his legs.

    He had outran guards many times in the past, but outrunning a horse was totally different. Within moments a hand was upon his collar, and he was lifted from his feet as if he were as light as a feather. Suddenly, his face was shoved into the side of the horse, he was being held there by a level of strength he had never encountered before. His writhed and reached out with panicked punches trying to get free, but his fists met nothing but unyielding armor. His feet kicked, but found no purchase. He screamed, but the hand holding him was not phased. He had been caught, and a sense of dread filled his mind.

    After what was realistically only thirty seconds, but which felt like an eternity, other hands equally as strong as the first gripped his arms, and he was forced to his knees as his head was brought back from the side of the horse. He looked up at the man still on horseback who began speaking, "What's your name, boy?" He said nothing in reply, his face full of defiance. After several seconds of silence, the knight continued, "How old are you, 15?" Still no reply. "No matter. We'll turn him over to the City Guards, he's not our responsibility."

    He was thrown into the cell roughly. The guard walked away chuckling slightly, and he was left alone for the next several hours to lament his situation. Eventually, the cell door opened once more, and a large man stepped inside. "Name? Age?" He had no idea the answer to either question, and gave no response, just staring back at the man. "Do you know what we do to those we catch? Usually we throw you out of the city to fend for yourself in the wilderness. Most end up dying out there, you know..." The man paused for a long moment to let this sink in before continuing. "However, for the strong ones that don't seem totally hopeless, we offer an alternative. Sir Artorias said you might be worthwhile, so you're in that category. Serve in the military and we'll provide good meals, warm clothes, and a place to sleep."

    This spurred a reply, "That's not much of a choice." He had no interest in dying out in the wilderness. "What do I need to do?"

    "Well, for starters I need your name and age."

    "I... I don't have one."

    The man was caught off-guard for a few seconds, but stood up straight. "Come on, you must have something that people call you, right?"

    "Sir Artorias... You mentioned that name. Who is that?"

    "What? Oh, that's the knight that caught you. He said you were quite a feisty one and nearly got out of his grasp. He's apparently some big-shot knight from Triln leading their half of the joint operation. Anyway, you've at least got to have a nickname, right?"

    "Artorias..." He'd remember that name, and maybe eventually see him again, though he had mixed emotions about whether it would be for revenge or to thank the knight.

    "Wait, you mean to take his name, now? This isn't some game, kid!" The guy seemed to get a bit angry suddenly.

    "Call me whatever you want, it's all the same to me." He shrugged and started staring at the wall of the cell, away from the man who made his impatience obvious.

    "Whatever, we'll figure it out later. Age?"

    He didn't answer for a few seconds, but eventually said what the knight had guessed at previously: "15." The man didn't get angry or even bat an eye at this, obviously unaware that it likely wasn't his true age. He himself didn't know, either.

    Basic training began after a few weeks and lasted several months. He ended up sticking with the name Artorias, partially as a constant reminder of how his life as a beggar had ended. Basic training was physically gruelling, but compared to how he had previously lived it was a welcome change. The food was better and more plentiful than he had ever had and with the bed and clothing also being provided he came to realize that what was once a constant struggle for him was now a non-issue. He had no worries anymore, and a bit of physical workout was a welcome change from constantly fighting to survive.

    He quickly found that his hard life on the streets left him as a very good fighter, at least compared to the other untrained recruits. When it came to weaponry, however, he was just as inexperienced as the rest. He took to it quite well, and since the fighting was no longer about life or death he began to relish it. Without worries about food and shelter, he was able to have fun, and everything, even the harshest training, was enjoyable to Artorias. He began to seek out duels with anyone from recruits to long-time guards. He lost his fair share at first, but as time went on he got better and better and losing became rarer.

    If he was bored, he'd head out to a nearby tavern. Unlike most, however, he didn't go to get drunk but instead to start random fistfights. This caused some ire from his superiors, but since he hadn't been causing any other issues it never became a serious problem. Once he became an official City Guard, he found his post extremely boring. Standing around for hours on end just in case something happened, which was almost never, was infuriating to him.

    He went to his superiors, practically begging for a change of post. Eventually, they allowed him on patrols out of the city. His first time beyond the walls was a bit intimidating, but over a few months he became quite comfortable with the area and he was even involved in a few bandit hunts to rout out groups near the city. He heard that the joint operation had ended with some big successes on the bandits between Nalvo and Triln, so most of his patrols and hunts had been on other sides of the city. He continued as such for the next three years, during which he grew significantly to be about six feet tall and broad shouldered, larger than nearly any of the others in the City Guards.

    During these three years, he progressed several times up the ranks and became a distinguished fighter. However, fighting bandits was starting to lose it's luster, so he went again to his superiors. This time he ranted at length about the quality of the other guards, focusing on the training aspect. "Our training teaches them to hold a sword and use it, but it does nothing about the mentality that they need to have. We've gotten by against pathetic, haphazard groups of bandits just fine, but against an organized and experienced force we'd stand no chance."

    Over the next several months, he became involved in training the troops. Over the last few years he had seen many times that they relied heavily on intimidation to fight the bandits, and frequently hesitated on delivering blows. If they had been facing a real opponent, that hesitation would have cost the lives of many of the men around him.

    If he was going to fix their mindset, he first had to make them realize how serious fighting was. The first thing he did was strip them of all their armor and weapons and put them in pairs. "Outside these walls, fighting is a matter of life and death. Hesitation means death, weakness means death, slowness means death, foolishness, brashness, eagerness; all death. Fighting is serious, and training needs to be serious as well. Fight like it means something. First to stay down goes without supper! If someone doesn't win in 5 minutes, you both go hungry tonight. Begin!" The looks he was receiving made it clear they were more than reluctant, so he took off his own armor and cracked his knuckles. "Anyone who has a problem with that, your new opponent is me."

    It only escalated from there. When they began using weapons again, he once again paired them up. "Disarming an opponent is victory, but the fight doesn't end until your blade is sticking through their chest. Don't get disarmed and you'll be fine. If you get disarmed, be thankful if you just end up with a scar or two." He proceeded to personally duel several, and sure enough left them with some nasty gashes. The next week, they added armors to the mix. "Don't waste your time on the plates, thrust for the joints and gaps in the armor. No hesitation and no pulling blows." After crippling several men, he ended up facing his superior officers once more.

    "What the hell are you doing, Sergeant? You call that training? Eight of those men will never hold a blade again!" There were a half-dozen officers in front of him, the looks on their faces were plain: disgust.

    "If training isn't serious, sir, they won't take an actual battle seriously either. If those men were outside the walls, we'd have eight dead men."

    "With you doing the training, any enemies outside don't even need to lift a finger. Do you know how many injured we have right this moment? We've never had such a small active force before!"

    "Sir, I've been charged with training our forces. While the active force is small, they are better fighters than any we've had before. Those men left standing are capable and strong. I have merely weeded out the weak."

    "Your methods are cruel and harsh to an obscene degree. Make up whatever excuses you wish, but you're being discharged from your post and demoted two ranks. Dismissed." Artorias was stunned and speechless. He simply stood there, a stupefied expression on his face. It must have continued for awhile, as the officer spoke again, "Dismissed!"

    He left, his facing hiding none of the anger he felt. His head slowly connected thoughts to one another and eventually he came to a decision. "If they want to welcome the weak, so be it. I have no place here anymore, then." That night, he packed his things. By first light, he was gone from the city through the nearest gate. At the age of 19, at least judging from the guess Sir Artorias had made at his age four years before, he left Nalvo. He wouldn't return for 12 years.

    Artorias wandered from city to city, mostly aimlessly. After leaving Nalvo, he first went south, to the small settlement of Foabur. He kept his full-plate armor and longsword he had from Nalvo, but had left in a hurry and brought little food, so was quite hungry when he arrived at the town. Thankfully he had enough money to buy a meal and stay at the inn. The town was quiet and pleasant, and the townspeople seemed kind. He didn't stay long, only a few weeks, before signing on as a mercenary on a caravan headed to Chorster. The pay wasn't great, but he had no other ideas for things to do.

    Chorster was significantly larger than Foabur, but not quite at the scale of Nalvo. The area, while fertile thanks to the Stohz river which continues past to Triln and eventually Trannyth on the ocean, had few other resources. The city had no walls and it was more spread out and less organized, moreso a haphazard collection of homes and structures.

    However, Artorias was distracted by something else: Triln. Chorster was one step away from it, and the caravan he had arrived with was headed there next. He had never been to the massive city before, but had heard plenty of stories about it while in Nalvo, and even more since arriving here in Chorster, which was apparently very reliant on Triln for resources and used the river for quick transportation of goods to and from the city. Chorster helped provide food for the city and received high-quality tools and other goods in exchange.

    After a month in Chorster, the caravan moved on. Before long, the walls of Triln loomed overhead. Artorias cut ties with the caravan in the city, as he had no idea how long he'd be staying. He wasn't even sure what he wanted to accomplish there, and spent much of the first few months just wandering around and seeing what the city had to offer. However, his coinpurse was getting light. He didn't want to sign on with another caravan yet, and had no other skills that he could use to earn some coin, but the massive city offered another way: tournament fighting.

    He had turned 20 by this point, or at least was close enough that he'd start saying it if anyone asked. Tournament fighting was different from what he was accustomed to, there were clear rules and breaking them meant disqualification and forfeiting any prizes. For the most part, fights were completed as soon as one of the contestants was disarmed. Doing actual harm to your opponent was considered bad form and distasteful, and if done blatantly could get you kicked out. There were a few smaller tournaments that allowed or even encouraged drawing blood, but these were less popular and had lower rewards, which caught Artorias as strange.

    He tried to sign up for the next big tournament, but was turned away. "Look, kid, go sign up for some smaller tournaments. If you win a few, come back and we'll reconsider."

    He didn't like being underestimated, and got a bit angry at this. "Excuse me? I'd beat any of these guys you've got standing around here like they were nothing. Just give me a chance to prove it."

    "That's not how we do things around here. You win smaller tournaments, you get qualified for large ones like this. Come back after you've made a name for yourself." Artorias narrowed his eyes, but reluctantly turned and walked away. Over the next few weeks, he entered a number of small tournaments. Occasionally his opponent would be capable, but he managed to secure a few victories, only breaking a few fingers of his opponents in the process, though one time he nearly took a guy's hand off before realizing he lose the prize if he did; he redirected the blow into the man's sword at the last minute.

    It still took a few minutes of convincing, but he was allowed to enter the upcoming major tournament. To his chagrin, however, he was still considered young and inexperienced, so was one of several unseeded participants. Once the seeding was done and his spot decided, the tournament manager seemed to shake his head a bit. "Not sure if your luck was good or bad. You've got a fine first-round opponent, but that'll probably be your only realistic win."

    "What do you mean?" His stay so far in Triln seemed to be day after day of being underestimated and looked down upon so far, so he was getting a bit irritated with it all.

    "Well, you're facing The Archadian in your second match. He's the top seed."

    "So? It's all the same to me. I'll win, just wait."

    "Oh? If you manage that you'll be the first one to do so. He suddenly showed up last year and has been undefeated since."

    Artorias shrugged and dismissed this, saying confidently, "Until now." These large tournaments were scheduled in advance, so he had a few days before the fights. He also noticed that they were advertised across the city and were heavily bet upon. Much of it was centered on this Archadian fellow, such as "So-and-so has returned again to try his hand at taking down The Archadian!" and "Can anyone dethrone The Archadian?" His own name was completely vacant from all of this, but he wasn't vain enough to be surprised at that. However, when he heard that his betting odds were so low, he became anxious to prove them wrong.

    His first opponent was another unseeded participant. Their fight and several others were used as starter matches before the main exciting ones that had fan-favorites. Nonetheless, Artorias strode boldly into the arena. Since the tournament was only until a disarm or yield, he forwent his armor and just wore some thin leather armor to avoid stray blows causing any damage. It was much easier to move around in than his full armor, and he was anxious to get started. His opponent was wearing similar armor, and also wielded a longsword like he himself did. Artorias grinned a bit, he was towering head-and-shoulders over his opponent. He had fought larger men in the small tournaments. This wouldn't last long.

    However, the man was quick on his feet, dodging side to side and rarely letting their swords meet. Artorias had fought other like this man before while he was in Nalvo, but this one was quicker and his face showed confidence. The man dodged forward and matched swords solidly, trying to force Artorias to take a step back, during which he would try to trip him to the ground. However, Artorias never fought with only his sword. While they matched blades, his free hand grasped the man's shoulder like a vice, locking him in place. Adjusting his sword, he lifted the man several feet above the ground and tossed him with all the strength he could muster. The man landed in a heap about ten feet away. Before he could get back to his feet, Artorias was standing above him, his foot keeping the man from lifting his sword while Artorias's own blade was pointed toward the man's throat. The opponent, realizing his situation, yielded and the fight was concluded.

    Artorias's blood was boiling after his first victory, but he had a few hours until the next round would begin. He watched several matches, and before too long he got to see the famed champion, "The Archadian," in action. The man was neither small nor large, but his physique showed that he could hold his own in any situation. He stood out like a sore thumb, his sleeveless cuirass was of a style Artorias had never seen before and it had obviously seen action many times. For someone who seemed only slightly older than Artorias himself, he had an air of confidence and experience around him. His brown hair was cut short and he wielded a shortsword as strange as his armor. It was forged wider and the steel was thicker than a normal shortsword while keeping the length at about two feet. Artorias assumed the blade must be slightly heavier than similarly sized swords, but still noticeably lighter than his own longsword. He'd have to use his advantage in reach and avoid letting this guy get in close.

    His thoughts were interrupted by the clashing of swords, and the fight before him started in earnest. Artorias could tell that the challenger was vastly outmatched, as The Archadian's footwork and swordsmanship were impeccable. After a mere handful of seconds, the fight ended with the challenger being disarmed, and he was now shrugging as if he hadn't had any illusions about winning in the first place. The crowd was still thin for the early fights, but they seemed unusually excited despite the match ending so suddenly. Artorias had been hoping to learn a bit more about his next opponent, but wasn't being given the luxury it seemed. He paid little attention to the subsequent fights and instead was growing more and more anxious about his own pending match. Finally, it was time and he stepped forward to the ring. The crowd had grown much larger by this time, and as the announcer called out the fighters the noise was deafening. "--the undefeated champion, returning again to extend his streak here today! The Archadian! And his opponent, the upstart challenger making his major tournament debut, Artorias!"

    He drew his blade and licked his lips in anticipation. Artorias had never felt such an intense atmosphere before now; if he was going to make a name for himself, now was the time. The man that stood across from him, though, seemed perfectly calm, as if this was an everyday occurrence for him. "Begin!" yelled the announcer, and Artorias rushed forward with a wide slash. He wasn't expecting to end it quickly, but wanted to pressure the champion and start to get used to how he moved.

    However, his opponent wasn't merely a champion in name only. Artorias found that the tables were turned almost instantly. What he had thought were strong, staggering attacks that would force his opponent to take a step back were instead warded off easily and he himself was leaving openings. If it had been a real fight, he'd have been stabbed after the second swing; the fact that it was only disarms was the only reason he didn't instantly lose. The man's athletic build seemed to imply he was of average strength, but with how easily he was deflecting blows, he must actually be quite strong. Artorias wanted to keep his distance, but in order to do so he was constantly stepping further back out of the center.

    The man left no openings that Artorias could spot. In the next moment there was a sudden flourish, and he looked down to see his sword clattering to the ground, and he realized he was breathing usually hard for it being such a short fight. He stood there in a daze for a few seconds. The announcer was speaking and the crowd was cheering, but he couldn't make out any words. He had never felt outmatched before, even in fights he handily lost. Even after leaving the arena, his mind was still trying to process what had just occurred. The only thing he was sure of was that The Archadian wasn't normal.

    Artorias remained in Triln for another few months before leaving. During that time, he fought in a few small tournaments and tried his hand again at the subsequent major one. He made it to the third round, but lost to one of the other fighters well before he would have fought the champion again. He found that unless you were able to consistently make it much further, it wasn't enough to keep a coinpurse full. He learned a few things about Sir Artorias, who was now apparently a commander within the knights and oversaw all major operations. He ended up signing on with another caravan and moving on.

    He stuck with caravans for the next year, moving from city to city and periodically fending off bandit attacks. However, one attack wasn't able to be fended off. They were vastly outnumbered, and while Artorias could hold his own the rest were getting slaughtered, and in only a few minutes his employers were dead and he was starting to get surrounded. As a mercenary, he no longer had any reason to fight and risk his own life, and the bandits seemed to recognize this as well. It was relatively common to have mercenaries as caravan guards, and their loyalty was usually only as long as the man paying them was still lived, which bandits frequently tried to take advantage of. "Surrender and we won't gut you like we did the rest," one of them spit out as they steadily surrounded him.

    "I'd be a fool to trust your word. However, I have no more reason to fight, and I'm sure you don't care to have a few more casualties of your own, yes? We can just go about our separate ways."

    "If you don't trust our word, trust our coin." The voice was rough and harsh-sounding, and came from somewhere closer to the wagons. As Artorias glanced in that direction, something was flying towards him, which he recognized to be a coinpurse. He caught it with his free hand, and those that had been surrounding him relaxed significantly and the tension in the air all but vanished. Sure enough, it was far from empty inside and was easily twice the pay he had been promised for the job of guarding the caravan.

    He glanced again in the direction the voice had come from, and there was now a large man about equal to Artorias in size, walking toward him. Still holding the bag of gold and silver coins, he replied, "The coin is good."

    The man smiled, "The name is Cade. I lost a number of good men today, and you seem to know your way around a sword. You'll earn a fair share like any of my men."

    Artorias nodded. "I've been looking to try something new, consider it a deal." It was the first time he had worked with bandits before, and he wasn't sure how he actually felt about it. He used to hunt them down when he was back in Nalvo, and recently had been defending caravans from them, but he figured he might as well give it a chance and see how it works out. He got his first taste of how different this was from his previous jobs almost immediately, though.

    A few of Cade's men went around and ensured that the merchants were all dead, which didn't surprise Artorias all that much, but what did surprise him was what happened after they finished looting the wagons and were moving on toward wherever the group had made camp. One of the others had a deep gash in their arm and couldn't end up keeping up with the rest of the group. When he finally collapsed from exhaustion, Cade ordered the rest to take anything of value off of him and then slice his throat. It was said dry and without emotion, and his men seemed to follow the order almost without hesitation. Artorias was appalled, but kept that to himself. He'd have to be extra careful around this group so as not to end up in a similar situation.

    The entire group was about 30 strong, which was well above the average size of a bandit pack. They were just west of Gellantara and had been preying on the road between it and Tarmikos. That night he noticed that they seemed to have someone watching him at all times, which was sort of to be expected considering the circumstances around which he joined up. He'd have to prove himself to the group before they gave him any sort of trust. After talking with a few of the other bandits, he learned that they had been in the area for most of the last year, but more and more of the people and merchants travelling between the two cities, which hadn't been all that much to begin with, was going via the riverboats. They had been preparing to leave the area for weeks, and the ambush on the caravan that Artorias had been with is likely going to be the last one they partake in before moving on.

    Whenever he tried asking about what the plan was or where they were going to be headed to, though, they didn't say anything except telling him to ask Cade himself. Eventually, the next morning, Artorias did, and Cade answered simply, "We've got one more target, and after that we're headed north for awhile." He narrowed his eyes. "Is that going to be a problem?"

    "As long as the pay is good, I've got no complaints." Cade seemed satisfied with this. For the rest of the day and the next, they went southeast, even passing across the road from Triln to Gellantara and continuing for awhile before making camp. Artorias had no idea why they'd want to be several hours south of Gellantara like this. Was Cade expecting a caravan from Triln or something? They were usually heavily guarded and even this group would take heavy losses to even have a chance at it.

    Their target wasn't anything on the road, however. The next morning, well before sunrise when the sky was still dark, they woke, gathered, and started marching northeast. Within less than an hour, buildings came within sight. Artorias didn't even know that there was a settlement here, hidden within the woods. The sun was just rising and was illuminating the buildings ahead of them. They only stopped for a few moments, though, before Cade broke the early morning's silence and yelled for a charge.

    The bandits didn't hesitate, and Artorias noticed more than a few licking their lips as they rushed forward. He followed suit, though much less enthusiastically. The small settlement was wholly unprepared for such a raid. Artorias had never seen such a slaughter, and he noticed that there seemed to be an abnormally high number of children, as if only half of the settlement was adults. Buildings were lit aflame, their thatch roofs and dry wooden walls burning rapidly. Screams filled the air and few made it more than a handful of steps outside before being cut down.

    Men and children were killed, with the only exception being the women and girls that were being dragged by their hair, destined for slavery or worse. Cade was in the midst of it all, and after he thrust his sword clear through a man's chest, he turned his sights to a boy who had just ran outside. The boy noticed this and turned to flee, running right into Artorias, who looked toward Cade and saw the look in his eyes. If Artorias didn't do what Cade wanted, he'd not be leaving this place alive either. He grabbed the boy strongly, lifting him from his feet. The boy screamed and writhed to try to get free, but Artorias threw him against the wall of the building he had just came out of.

    As he drew his sword, he forced out a menacing laugh and then slashed diagonally across the boy's chest, sword ripping easily through the skin. The ensuing scream was blood-curdling, but the boy quickly lost consciousness. It hadn't been a fatal wound, but Artorias hoped that the laugh had put on enough of a show that Cade would assume the kid dead and move on. He didn't stay around to find out, though, and marched off around the settlement, realizing even more that this group was brutal to an obscene degree. He wouldn't be sticking around to find out what they do up north.

    The looting of the settlement continued for at least an hour before they moved on, returning toward the camp which they immediately broke down and moved, heading further away to avoid being found easily if someone stumbled across those smoking ruins. The remainder of the day and half of the night was celebrating the success of the raid, and Cade proclaimed to the group that starting in the morning, they were headed north. Artorias managed to get assigned a watch, and before dawn he was able to sneak away without being noticed. He headed north, for Gellantara as that was the nearest city. He gave a wide berth to where the settlement had been.

    It took the entire day of walking to reach the city. While there, he decided to board a ship headed south down the coast, to Proit. He spent several years in the area, not going any further north than Trannyth and going as far south as the small town of Breley. He even spent a few months at the Jodon Mine within the Klesk Mountains, and passing through Brego, a prosperous but rather small lumbering town, several times when going to and from Chorster.

    As time went on, he became more and more aimless. He had no idea what he really cared about or wanted to do, and he had just turned 30 years old now. He looked back over his past, trying to find a goal or anything to guide him. He wanted to at least meet Sir Artorias again, if not give him a solid punch to the face. He wanted to teach the top brass of Nalvo what it means to actually fight an organized force. He'd like to face The Archadian one last time, and maybe speak with the man a bit. If he ever met Cade again, he also wanted to give him a taste of his own brutality.

    The place he was closest to was Triln, so he headed there to try to see if he could find The Archadian or Sir Artorias. He learned that during his absence there had been an assassination attempt on the lord of the city. The subsequent investigation found the hideout of the assassins and took no prisoners during the raid on it. The hunt to find who had hired the assassins led to some dignitaries from Gellantara, and the tournament champion himself protected them and helped them flee the city. Now, the dignitaries are presumed to be hiding in their own city and no one knows the whereabouts of The Archadian.

    With that goal dashed now, he tried to find a way to meet with Sir Artorias, assuming that he was still a commander among the knights. The state of near-chaos that had enveloped the city before he had arrived was already gone, but it was still nigh impossible to convince one of the knights standing watch outside their compound to even pass a message along. Eventually the message was sent, though when he received a response it was not what he had hoped for. The knight commander refused to meet with him. No reason or explanation was given, but the messenger implied that Artorias was a nobody that had merely stolen the commander's name to sound important.

    He was angry at the fact that he couldn't rebuke the messenger and even angrier that both his reasons for coming to Triln were out of reach. The Archadian was gone, Sir Artorias refused to meet him, and he still had no idea how to deal with either Nalvo or Cade. He vented this anger during a few tournaments, though any victories felt hollow with the former champion nowhere to be found.

    Eventually, he decided once again to leave Triln. He headed to Nalvo again, returning for the first time since he had been discharged a dozen years before. The fields beyond the city, the city walls, the multitude of buildings and structures within the walls. All of it felt small to him after being in Triln for awhile. During the caravan ride to the city, he had asked the merchants about Nalvo, and one of the few things they kept bringing up was the excellent training of the guards which was rumored to be on par with the knights of Triln. This irked him more than he was proud to admit and fueled his determination to teach them how wrong they were.

    Speaking with innkeepers and various people in the markets let him catch up quickly with recent events. It seemed that most of the small bandit packs in the area near the city have been routed out. The main group that was frequently talked about was Horeak's bandits, a larger group that had been terrorizing caravans headed to and from Triln and periodically on the road to Tarmikos as well. A plan began to form inside his head; he could use this group of bandits to try getting back at the guard commanders. Their camp had so far evaded discovery, but even if he couldn't find them he'd just ensure that they find him.

    He started signing on to caravans, trying to find smaller ones that would make easier targets, and went repeatedly from Nalvo to Triln. There were few small caravans, however, so it took numerous attempts before it finally happened. The ambush was well-executed, and before any warning was had the entire caravan was obviously surrounded. They even had a few men with polearms down the road a bit in case the caravan tried to rush past. The bandits didn't rush in to take advantage of the surprise, however, they just made their menacing presence obvious and stood there, waiting. "Surrender now and all you'll lose is your cargo. Resist and lose your life. Take your pick." The voice was calm and was spoken by one of the bandits in front of the caravan, though not one holding a polearm. The man didn't seem particularly noteworthy, though he spoke confidently as if he hadn't a worry in the world.

    After a few moments of hesitation as they looked around at the surrounding bandits, the caravanners surrendered. Artorias landed on the ground and walked up alongside the wagons toward the front, calling out to the man that had spoke, "Are you Horeak?"

    The man he assumed was Horeak turned his gaze to Artorias. "Surrender if you want to live. This is not a time for talk."

    Artorias continued, beginning to draw his sword. "I'm a mercenary that was hired to protect this caravan which you are about to loot. My pay is dependent upon the cargo arriving safely." Holding his sword in his hand, he tossed it away. It landed loudly on the edge of the road. "You're going to be taking ownership of that cargo, so I'm offering my loyalty for a share." The man's face didn't show any emotion in it, and he calmly motioned for a few bandits to move forward. They approached Artorias and restrained him, binding his hands. With that done, Horeak had the others raid the caravan, and the other merchants were bound and corralled off to a side of the road.

    Artorias was being completely ignored. They stuck him with the rest of the caravanners and stationed a handful of armed bandits to watch them while the rest were grabbing anything of value on the wagons. Artorias called to one of the bandits on watch, "Does Horeak always ignore potential allies?"

    The bandit seemed to scoff at this. "He'd be a fool to trust a mercenary who would so readily betray his employers."

    Artorias narrowed his eyes. Perhaps he had gone about things the wrong way, but he couldn't stop now. "I had no interest in working for cowards who surrender before a fight could even start. Horeak doesn't seem like that kind of man to me. I'd be the fool if I didn't use the opportunity to align myself with the better leader and group."

    The bandit shrugged. "I'm not the one you need to convince, sellsword."

    "Just tell Horeak I'm serious." The bandit eyed him, and Artorias returned his gaze and did not waver. The bandit eventually shrugged once again and began walking away. Artorias noticed that the wagons were mostly empty now, and the cargo was being carried off into the woods. The same bandit that had went off, presumably to speak with Horeak, was returning now, alone.

    As he got close, he spoke to Artorias, "Get up and turn around." Artorias took this to mean that his bindings were going to be cut, and did so. Instead there came a hefty whack to the side of his head. He was unconscious before he hit the ground.
    Last edited by Mythonian; 04-15-2015 at 05:15 PM.
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