A lone man trudged through the countryside, hefting a large pack on his back. He dejectedly scanned the horizon for any trace of civilization, while traveling down a path which a signpost had directed him on. Nothing surrounded him but plains ahead, the Wildlands behind, and a large hill, over which the path went. With the high noon sun above, he was very hot, beads of sweat rolling down his forehead, falling amidst his feet.
Once he reached the bottom of the hill, he groaned in protest of the march he’d have to make to get to the top. At least he might see the town he hoped was in this direction.
“These people better be suckers for all this work I’m going through,” he muttered darkly to himself.
But he started walking anyways. If he positioned himself just right, his pack could give him some shade.
“Maybe I should… *gasp* carry less around… *pant* with me…”
Basil knew he couldn’t do that, though. With less to sell, the opportunities for making money appeared far less often. And money made the world go round. Or at least bend over backwards for you.
His ambitions, though, were much higher than money. He sought Boanerges. He only knew of its existence through a torn scrap of ancient scroll, but the temptation of power at that magnitude stirred his heart like nothing else did. He’d make himself a kingdom with that kind of power. No, an empire! Nothing could stop him! Not even the gods-
“Oomph!” he yelled out, tripping over a loose stone in the dirt path. He hadn’t been watching, and gotten his foot caught. Now he ate dirt.
“Crackers! You stupid rock! I’ll show you, you blithering excuse for a meat-brained mineral!”
He kicked the rock as hard as he could, sending it flying, but smashing his big toe in the process. He howled in pain, uttering more curses at the rock, and dancing on one foot, which was no small task with the pack.
Finally, in a much fouler mood, he reached the top of the hill. From here, he could see the plains reaching out for miles. Tall grass swayed with the wind, making a beautiful rippling effect across its surface. The sky was radiant in the bright sun, a few light, puffy clouds adding to the diorama of nature.
Unfortunately, all this natural beauty was lost on the peddler. For, not much farther off, a walled town lay! His eyes beheld nothing else but its pale grey stone and thatched roofs. To him, it was as if he was already conning foolish peasants out of their hard-earned money.
His foul mood *mostly* alleviated, he lifted his hands to the sky, shouting out, “At last!” and made for the town with all the haste he could muster. Making sure to avoid rocks.
Orion Colchester bent over the still form of Lath Venter as if searching for something.
Lath was Orion’s latest “chase”, or bounty.
The dead man lay on his back, glazed eyes staring into nothing, lips stretched into a kind of lifeless grin. His limp limbs were splayed in all directions. It could have been considered mildly humorous, but the man was still dead. Deceased people have an unpleasant tendency to smother laughter.
“Ah. There it is.”
The throwing knife Orion was looking for had buried itself deep in Venter’s back. The bounty hunter pulled it free, wiped it clean on the nearby grass, and returned it to its slot on his chest strap.
After that, he found the man’s wallet, took the money, and checked for anything else of worth.
He won’t be needing any of this where he went.
Venter was the selfish and cowardly leader of the Ricochet Gang. Orion had taken all of them down, except the leader, within the last four months. The boss had been the last lawless scum that Orion had to hunt before the whole gang was six feet under.
He was the only Ricochet left, and now he was finished too. Finally. Maybe there’s a town nearby where I can turn him in. I wish I could have let his escape horse live.
The bounty hunter stood up and surveyed the body.
“Kilter’s teeth,” Orion cursed through his beard. “Why did he have to be so fat?”
Orion shot the corpse a venomous glare and tried to figure out the best way to transport it. Finding no good way, he let out an irritated sigh. He walked around to Venter’s head and reached for the splayed, flabby arms. The bounty hunter hefted the overweight burden to his shoulders and muttered something about how he “should have let him run a little farther”.
Orion started walking forward, hoping he would find a town. Soon.
The sun glinted down sleepily over the edge of the mountains and seemed to laugh at the odd sight that traveled down the dusty path.
Orion had been trudging all morning and had come across nothing. Lots of nothing, to be more specific. It wasn't improving his attitude.
This bounty is only just worth it.
At noon, Colchester propped Venters up against a tree and glared at him while eating some dried meat and resting his back. The bandit lord still had that idiotic grin permanently fixed on his face. It had to be some kind of sick joke. Orion was not in the mood to see humor in anything just then.
I hate you, he thought.
He got up and refilled his canteen in a small stream nearby. Then he walked back to get his “lunch partner”, as Colchester had nicknamed Venter. Orion’s excellent company had toppled over in his absence. He walked over and picked up the gang leader, then resumed his march.
The sun had just set over the ridge and it was starting to get dark.
Great. Now I get to spend the night with you too. I always wanted to sleep next to a dead guy, Orion thought sarcastically. As soon as I get Tubby here to the top of the hill, I’m rolling him down the other side.
When Colchester reached the crest of the rise, he saw lights flickering through the trees down below. Orion let a shadow of a smile flicker across his face, but it faded equally as fast.
Just because there’s a town over there doesn’t mean you’re getting out of it.
Ampere laid his pack down in his hotel room. He had been too tired to do any scheming, reaching the town during late afternoon. It was enough to wipe anyone out. He took some dried fruit from his backpack, along with a well-cooked piece of meat he had just purchased. Unwrapping both and the required silverware, he noted how steaming hot the steak was.
"Mmmm..." he said, smelling its spiced savor.
Basil could not resist. His stomach growled with hunger, so he took a bite, and burnt his tongue.
"Aaah! Ah! Ah!" he cried, but he didn't spit it out, because it had been too expensive. Now he wouldn't enjoy any of it because most of his taste buds were fried. He skulked, taking the dried fruit while his mouth cooled off.
"Blasted shops ripping innocent travelers off. They ought to be arraigned for this sort of grand larceny."
Yet another traveler trudged across the plains that night. He did not come from the southern forests, but rather from the east, in the direction of deserts and Wind.
He was tired, perhaps more exhausted than any of the others that had come by today. He would have come riding a mount, but he had sent that mount off back into the desert to shake his pursuants. So he'd had to walk the whole way.
Rak had drunk the last of his water hours ago. His mouth was parched, and he could feel the difference dehydration made in his energy. The thing that kept him from bedding where he stood was the sight of a town nearby. It wasn't too large, being made mostly of wood, but it had a palisade wall, and some buildings were two stories tall. Undoubtedly it had a well, and there he could refresh himself to keep going.
As it turned out, the gates had closed for the night by the time he got near. Feeling disappointed, he continued getting closer, hoping some night watchman would take pity and let him in.
Rak came up to the gate, taking note of the guard tower next to it. A voice from the tower called out, "Who goes there?!"
Well this was a predicament. One Rak's tired mind was not ready to take. In response, he let out a hoarse, cracked sound, one of the very few things his tongueless voice could produce.
"What?! Speak up!"
Rak was getting quickly annoyed, but told himself the water would be worth it. So he swallowed his pride and croaked out another awful sound.
"Just a minute!" came the guard's voice.
A minute or two later, the gate came open slightly, and three men with lamps exited the town to see the source of the noise.
"Who are you, mister?" the one in the lead asked. He had on typical garb for a townsperson, a jerkin, undershirt, leggings, and poorly-made shoes. In fact, only one of the men looked anything like a proper guard, and he had only a helmet and what looked like a rusty rapier.
Rak opened his mouth for them to see. This was a common ritual he had to undergo when entering towns, and he was beginning to get used to it. As expected, they initially recoiled, but gathered their wits about them and resumed the air of authority.
"He's got no tongue!"
"Oi can see that, Braddock. Don't mean he's a troublemaker."
"But Witherson, look at his face, it's covered in scars! 'E looks right scary, 'e does."
"Stop judgin' books by their covers, soldier! The man's obviously an Edessan colonial, take a gander at those clothes, why dontcha? They're an honest lot."
The man in charge addressed the stranger, "Stranger, you can come in, despite the misplaced distrust of my subordinates."
Rak nodded, and followed them inside.
That went over about as well as it could have.
He left the gate, following what seemed to be a main street. These sorts of towns always had a well in their midst.
He did find a well at the town's central plaza, much to his relief. He lowered the bucket in and took it out again, ignoring thoughts of what filthy creatures may have puts their lips to its edge, and drank. Oh, it tasted so good! He lowered it down and back up again, feeling himself become hydrated once more as he drank the liquid of life. One never took water as seriously as when one didn't have it.
Once he had drunk his full, he decided to just sleep against the well itself. There was no reason to try and find some dark alley, filled with waste, rats, and who knew what else, so he put his back against its cobblestone wall, and let himself drift away to a hard-earned rest.
Orion turned in a rather dusty Venter to the town mayor and collected the reward. It was a large amount, and Colchester decided it was, in fact, worth lugging the fat worm around. But just barely.
The very tired, sore, and cranky bounty hunter was informed that the name of the town was Blackrod. The long-winded and pompous mayor seemed to feel that it was his duty to tell Orion every blithering detail about the place.
Great. More worthless information I'll never use again in my entire life. Stop talking. You're almost as annoying as the dead guy I spent the day with.
Escaping the mayor's office after a lecture beginning with the town population and ending with potatoes, Orion decided he would stay the night and resupply in the morning. He found the nearest inn and purchased a room.
"Room numbah wahn ohw foive, dawhlin!", the desk lady called after him.
As he walked up the stairs, he thought about the last time he had slept in a bed. That was around four months ago, when he had first started hunting the Ricochets. He reached his door, opened it, and walked in.
Orion removed his armor and boots and sat down on the bed. He dropped his satchel next to his boots and made as if to lay down. He didn't make it that far. Realizing he had forgotten to take off his pauldron and chest strap, he did so, while grumbling. He kept his hunting knife on out of habit. Bounty hunters make many enemies, and Colchester wanted to be sure that if he was attacked, he would have the means to fight back.
It pays to be paranoid. Haven't been stabbed in my sleep yet, he thought as he drifted off.
In the morning, he woke up early and decided to take a bath. Once he was clean, he washed his clothes. When they dried, he put them back on and also put on his armor. Orion clumped down the stairs and asked a small boy if they served breakfast where he was staying.
The boy replied that it was not served here, but the best grub spot around for miles was three doors down. Orion gave the lad a small coin as thanks and walked down the road towards food. He would buy everything he needed after he ate.
Rak awoke to a child poking his face with a stick.
"Mommy mommy look! Itsa dead guy!"
His mother, terrified at what the ragged-looking vagabond's reaction might be, tugged her boy by the arm and smacked him.
"I'm so sorry, mister," she said, hurrying away.
At least I slept peacefully, Rak thought, rubbing the particularly nasty scar the boy had been poking.
His stomach gurgled, and he realized he hadn't eaten yesterday. He had run out of money since Cinerem, and couldn't hunt very well. People were what he was good at tracking and killing, not animals.
He moseyed on over to the bar, an establishment that looked well-run but avoided by those with class or dignity. The perfect place to find an employer, or to capitalize on any barfights. A sober gladiator amongst drunk peasants wasn't really fair, but he didn't kill them, and he didn't really care about fair. Life had never been fair to him.
Rak entered the bar, and sat down in a corner, away from the rowdy bunches. He rested himself against the back of the chair and pretended to fall asleep; now all he had to do was wait.
A few minutes later, the morning bells rang out, startling a certain man asleep in his hotel room. He woke up angrily, ready to yell at whoever had caused so much racket, but then simmered down when he realized his complaining would do no good.
He got up and looked in the mirror, taking the next few minutes to clean up and look presentable. He adjusted his bowtie, combed his hair into a neat part, put on his backpack, and out the door he went. Arriving downstairs, he accosted the lad they had on duty.
"Where could I find the inn's breakfast chamber?" Basil asked.
The boy looked at him quizzically before replying, "You're the second person to ask me that today. Isn't it obvious we don't have room for a breakfast hall? Nearest restaurants are down the street to the right."
"Oh, that'll be fine, m'boy," Basil said, using a warm smile and shaking his hand. "You've been most helpful."
He wore the smile until he reached the street, where his face resumed an irritated look. "No breakfast, my posterior! What kind of a half-rate place is this?"
He found a decent-looking place a few doors down, entering and finding a seat. Within moments, a waiter came over with a menu.
"Thank you, sir," Basil said, his face all smiles.
Orion had ordered cheesy eggs, ham, and some toast. He made it into a sandwich and then ate it, relishing the flavors. As he was finishing, a short man with a huge pack came strutting in.
Well he looks ridiculous, the bounty hunter thought.
Orion stood up and found the waiter. He paid for his meal and walked out.
Now it was time to buy supplies. The first place he saw was the local saloon. He could hear slurred voices and raucous laughter coming from inside.
He needed to go in to buy some alcohol; Not because he drank, but for its medical purposes and uses.
I hate these places, and the first drunk that says something is going to have the imprint of my fist where his face used to be. Let's get this over with.
He crossed the street and stopped on the step in front of the saloon door. Orion took a deep breath and shouldered the sturdy wooden door open.
Basil wasn't sure what he had ordered, but the waiter assured him it was their most popular choice. He came back out a minute later with a steaming plate of three round tan cakes, which looked like burnt pudding if you asked him. But he took the plate with a warm smile, spreading the accompanying butter and brown sauce brought along all over. He hesitantly took the first bite, unsure of how it would taste.
That. Is. Delicious.
He hurriedly shoved another bite into his mouth.
"Mmmph. Vwat iss shis shtuff called, agenn?" he asked, with a mouth chock full of the bready breakfast food.
"Pancakes, sir," the waiter replied. It was a newer cooking invention their chef had made up, and it was rapidly making him and the restaurant famous.
Basil finished off the cakes with gusto, even eating past what he probably should have; but they were so good! He heartily thanked the waiter and the chef, and paid.
"Good day to you both," he said, walking out the door with a wave.
Once he was gone, the two looked at each other with smiles on their faces.
"He sure was a pleasant fellow."
"Sure was. Your pancakes are getting more and more famous by the day."
"Hehe. They sure are. Alright, five gold for you, five gold for me," the chef said, dividing up the money between them. "Hey, where's my coin purse?"
"Hmm. The chef makes a pretty good living, if this purse is anything to judge by."
Basil poured the coins back into his newly acquired coin purse, and put it into one of his many coat pockets, patting it before taking his hand out.
He worked his way into the busy town square, where several shopping stands were already set up, and a decent crowd had gathered about. Basil took off his pack and opened it up, spreading out a mat and placing down a few of his wares: fake potions, explosives, various small trinkets, a couple shiny but common stones. He arranged these nicely, then stood and called out loud enough for everyone to hear:
"Come one! Come all! Shop the wares of the magical and marvelous Basilikos!"
To accentuate this call, he threw up a small bomb into the air, where it exploded with a great deal of noise and a small fireball. It was a good noisemaker and flashy explosive, one Basil had aptly nicknamed his "flash-bangs". It attracted the attention of a small crowd, and they all hurried over to this charismatic salesman.
Basil smiled even bigger than he had been. With the way these people were already flocking, he'd make a killing.
Orion walked through the door and tried to make his way to the counter. He stepped over limbs and chairs as he slipped through the crowd of drunken people.
A few more steps got him to the counter safely. He let out a sigh of relief and made his purchases. He then thanked the bartender and turned around.
A long-beyond-sober man was standing in front of him.
"Mah name'sh Fergush Shpitsh! Sho, how long has yoo been arownd thish playsh buddy boy?" the drunk slurred with an mindless grin.
"Fergus Spitz, huh? Great. Go away before you throw up on me." said the bounty hunter, unimpressed.
Fergus laughed until he cried, but lost his balance doing so. He staggered and began to fall, but caught himself on Orion. The bottle of liquor the man was holding sloshed onto Colchester's face and jerkin.
Orion felt his temper rising. His eyes narrowed. The man was making a disturbance and attracting the attention of shady characters at the edge of the room.
Just what I needed. I have to get away from this guy be fore I kill him.
"Alright, well nice to meet you. I'm leaving now. See you around." Orion tried to move around him, but Spitz blocked the way out.
"You know whut choo need? A beer tree! Me too. I wanna beer tree too! Iz nod fair if yore the only guy whoo getsh one! Yoo hafta share buddy!"
"I don't have or want any type of beer, let alone a tree full of it. Get one from someone else and let me pass."
"If yer nod gonna share yer beer tree, then ah'm gonna take id frum yoo!" Fergus swung his left arm at Orion, attempting to hit him. He missed by a long shot, but kept coming. If sober, he could have actually been a good fighter.
Orion dodged, backed up, and tried to explain until there was nowhere left to go. He had his back against a wall, and a drunk trying to fight him for his "beer tree".
Fergus stopped wildly swinging and threw a straight punch, right for Orion's nose. The man's face was pasty, covered with sweat, and his eyes were glazed with the large amount of drink he had consumed.
Orion caught the punch and then his temper snapped. There was a part of him he had been holding back that was going to enjoy every second of this. Extremely.
"I didn't really want to hurt you, but you bought the ticket, and you're going to see the whole show."
There was a moment of silence as what Colchester said registered, and the drunk realized he had made a mistake. Orion's green eyes grew hard and burned with a strange fire; his mouth stretched into a dangerous smile.
Fergus had seen that look before and his eyes grew wide. He felt fear creep through the fog that covered his mind. He tried to wrench his hand away, but the newcomer was far too strong for him.
Orion did not release Spitz's fist. He grabbed the drunk's shirt, lifted him off the ground, and threw him across the room. He crashed into a gambling table and wisely stayed there.
"I DON'T HAVE A BEER TREE, AND I HATE DRUNKS, AND I HATE SALOONS, AND NOW I'M GOING TO TEAR THIS WRETCHED PLACE APART! TRY AND STOP ME!" Orion roared.
A few times during his life, Orion had become so angry that he had a red mist obscuring his vision. When it happened, he lost control of what he said or did, and became near unstoppable. This was one of those times. He started ripping people from their tables and throwing them into other intoxicated individuals.
Men from all over the room decide they wanted to be part of this fight too, and instantly, the room erupted into a noisy brawl. Men were tackling him from all sides, and someone tried breaking a chair on his head. It didn't work very well, and it had been a nice chair. Pity.
There were two people in the bar at present that Rak had singled out as his targets, should a fight break out. They were distinguished from the other inebriated fools mostly by their finer footwear, and conspicuously fatter coin purses.
His eyes, which looked closed in the dark corner of the bar, observed every interaction that took place. He saw two men get into a heated argument over what type of carriage was better suited for hauling. He watched two bums fight over which would receive a woman's questionable attention. There was a man rambling to himself incoherently in another corner, drinking repeatedly from a long-empty bottle. A group of four, probably underage, had managed to get their hands on a few bottles of whiskey, serenading everyone within earshot with raucous laughter and coarse tunes. It was a madhouse.
Into this scene walked a very sober man, fit, large, with an air of confidence. He bore scars on his cheek, evidently a relic from some sort of wild beast. The hunter, for his profession was obvious, purchased a bottle or two of liquor, no doubt for medical purposes. Rak's eyes opened in interest as a stone-drunk bum walked up behind him, and upon the hunter turning around, began to babble on nonsensically, laughing and spilling his alcohol right into the hunter's face and jerkin.
Rak sat up from his reclined position. His mouth eased into a smile, ever so slightly.
This might be what I've been waiting for.
The hunter, however, wanted no part of it, and did his best to ignore the bum and get out. But the drunk hadn't had enough. He moved to stop him, words were exchanged, and he backed up the formidable man against the wall. This was the moment of truth. The drunk fool started swinging; it would take a miracle for a fight not to break out now. With admirable skill, the hunter grabbed the punch, muttered something darkly, and his entire countenance changed from one of avoidance and peacefulness to an angry, violent demeanor. He had been ticked off.
"I DON'T HAVE A BEER TREE, AND I HATE DRUNKS, AND I HATE SALOONS, AND NOW I'M GOING TO TEAR THIS WRETCHED PLACE APART! TRY AND STOP ME!"
Rak had to laugh to himself, as the fool who had started all this was tossed into a table of other inebriated patrons. One couldn't have asked for a better instigation. The room erupted into a full-blown brawl in a matter of moments.
The ex-gladiator made straight for the wealthier men he'd targeted earlier. A swift punch to the jaw took down one. His purse was taken from his limp body. A quick scan of the scene showed the other, grabbing a chair and charging the hunter like a maniac.
What an idiot. Rak thought, watching the chair shatter against the hunter's back, and the man go flying a second later, hitting the wall, sliding to the floor, and staying there.
Rak sidestepped a wild haymaker and backhanded another assailant, clearing the way over to the wall. He rushed over, snatching this man's coin purse. Now all he had to do was get out.
Orion was really enjoying throwing the drunks around and breaking tables. His enjoyment was stifled somewhat by his rage at alcoholics and their foul liquid. He closed his eyes for a half second and the memories came flooding back.
He had hated drunks ever since he was a child. He had a friend named Morgan that he had grown up with, and her father had been a drunk. When Orion was fifteen, Morgan's father had gone out of control with his drinking. He beat his family, and seriously injured them on more than one occasion.
The townspeople warned him more than once, but he didn't stop. They only threatened to do something about it. They never did. It was a point of weakness that shouldn’t have been.
When Orion was seventeen, he went to see Morgan one day. He had fallen in love with her. She was the one, and he was on his way to propose to her today.
He had just reached the gate when she burst through the door of her cottage screaming and started running/stumbling towards him. She collapsed into his arms. He found that she was bleeding heavily from a laceration in her side, and there was a gash on her arm as well as bruises and other small cuts all over.
She looked at him and muttered his name, then spoke weakly, "Orion... Please help my family. Dad's been drinking again, and he's going to hurt them."
He laid her down gently on the grass and ran into the house, aware of the crashing coming from inside. He opened the door and stepped through.
Standing in the center of the room was Morgan's father. He was roaring expletives and throwing things. His wife and other children were huddled in a corner, sobbing. Orion lost it, and he saw red for the first time in his life.
Morgan's father hadn't seen Orion's entrance. He stomped over to his family with the piece of wood that he was holding, and raised it above his head.
Orion reached the man with two swift strides and whipped him around. Colchester ripped the piece of wood from the intoxicated man's hand and threw it across the room. Morgan's father's sweaty, red face contorted in anger and he yelled at Orion.
Orion barely heard him through the red haze. He proceeded to give the man a hard kick to the stomach and three rapid punches to the face. He got up and tried to walk back to where Orion was, but was stopped. He received an elbow to the nose and a shove. Morgan’s father landed hard on the ground and made as if to get up again. Orion took the piece of wood he had thrown and brought it down on the back of the man’s head. The now thoroughly unconscious man slumped to the floor, mouth and nose trickling blood.
Orion made sure that Morgan's family was taken care of and went back out into the yard to check on her. She hadn't moved. He ran over to where she was laying on the grass and knelt beside her. He carefully picked her up.
He cradled her against his chest, not caring about her blood on his clothes. They both knew that she was dying, and he wanted to hold her as long as he could.
"Thank you for keeping them safe." She whispered.
"You're welcome." A tear traced its way down his cheek and dropped gently onto her cheek. "This may be a bit sudden, and I didn't want to do it this way, but I don’t really seem to have a choice... I love you and I want you to be my wife. Will you marry me?"
"Yes... I love you too." Her voice was getting fainter.
Orion had tears running freely down his face. He could smell the sweet scent of her red hair, blown into his face by the gentle breeze of the afternoon. He leaned in close and looked deeply into her beautiful brown eyes.
Morgan returned his gaze and smiled. She whispered almost inaudibly, "I love you Orion Colchester. Please don't forget me."
She laid her head on his chest and sighed quietly. It was her last breath.
Orion's eyes shot open. He was in the bar, tearing things apart. The red haze was slowly wearing off. It wasn’t as hard to see now. He punched one man straight in the face and felt a satisfying yet sickening crunch. The jaw was definitely broken, and if that was all, he was lucky.
The bounty hunter had nearly forgotten the two men on his back. The only reason he remembered was because one was really heavy and the other one was trying to choke him. He looked at Orion and gave him a nasty smile.
"That is a very dangerous place to be, sir." Orion said. "I hope you don't mind having your ribs crushed." The nasty smile was returned by the hunter.
That being said, Orion stood up and then let the weight of the men on his back carry him backwards. They fell onto the floor in a pile. The two drunks were through fighting. They were through doing anything but moaning for now.
The one on the bottom had two broken legs and a shattered wrist. the other, who had tried to choke Orion, had at least three broken or cracked ribs, a few broken fingers, and a very crooked nose.
Three others tried to charge the bounty hunter, so he picked up a smaller-looking drunk and used him like a club. The inebriated man was picked up by his arms and then swung in a circle. Upon reaching the desired speed, he was released, and soared through the air.
"WHEEEEEE! GUYS, LOOKEE! I CAN FLY, I CAN - AUGH!" His exclamation was brought to and abrupt halt as he barreled into the three charging men. They tumbled and rolled to a stop next to Fergus Spitz, who had been knocked out at this point.
As Orion watched this, he didn't see a man creeping up on him. It was the man who had tried to kill him by breaking the chair on him. The chair man snuck up until he was right behind Orion and prepared to stab him with a knife. He was in position, just one last step...
CREEEAAAAAAK went the floor. The tall hunter turned around slowly and deliberately. The chair drunk's eyes flicked upward and widened. A look of panic quickly covered his face.
He dropped the knife and stepped back gingerly. He gave his best attempt to smile, but it came across looking like a suffocating frog.
Colchester threw him into the wall. The chair man lay still, and Orion watched as another man shot over to where he sprawled unconscious and snatched his coin purse. The man whipped around and made as if to get out.
The quick purse-snatching man and Orion were the only two in the center of the room, and Orion wasn't sure if the other was going to attack or not. Colchester was surrounded by the limp forms of all the drunken men he had tossed around. There were about ten others still fighting, but they weren’t any kind of threat. They were stone drunk. This man, however…
Better safe than sorry. He doesn't look very drunk. He actually doesn't look drunk at all. Nope. He's not drunk. I didn't think anyone would be sober in this place other than me and the bartender. I don't really want to fight someone sober. Let's check first though.
"Uh, hey! Are you sober?" Orion yelled above the din.
Rak saw an opening amidst the brawl to escape. Just as he took a step, though, he heard a a strange exclamation, and watched as the hunter threw a man into a few others, then turned around and tossed another like it was nothing. He had to admire the man's strength when he was angry. Unless the man looked at him, like he just did.
But instead of charging at him, the hunter stopped for a moment, then called out, "Uh, hey! Are you sober?"
What in the name of Mirphola? Does this guy realize we're in a bar fight?
A quizzical look written over his face, Rak nodded, then bolted for the door. He only had to crack one more drunk on the jaw before reaching the outside street.
He gave one last look back at the chaos inside, before grinning to himself, flipping the coin purses in the air and catching them again as he did so. Easier money could not be made. Now to find somewhere to eat.
Ha! I knew it. I love being right, Orion thought as he watched the small man give him a weird look and the race out the door.
Wonder what his problem is. Eh, who cares. I'll probably never see him again.
Realizing that now all the drunks were unconscious and the bar was thoroughly out of commission (at least for a little while), Orion walked out. He once again stepped over limbs and chairs as he made his way through to the door.
As he stepped over the threshold he remembered that he still had some shopping to do. What he didn't know was that he was bruised, sore, and had some blood on his face. The pain would show itself later, but right now, he felt fine. Because he didn't know that he was a mess, he went on his way like nothing had happened.
Orion walked down the street to find the general store. On his way, people gave him strange looks and herded their children along the sidewalk just a little faster. He found the shop after a short walk and many apprehensive glances. The young lady behind the counter was turned around and hadn't heard him enter. He coughed to get her attention.
She turned to face him and said, "How may I help you toda-Oh!" and promptly fainted.
At that point Orion decided that there must be something wrong. He went to rub is beard in confusion, and felt something wet and sticky.
Oops. Guess I forgot to clean my face. And I probably smell like liquor, to top it all off. Great. No wonder the girl passed out at the mere sight of me.
He quickly found the items he needed and placed them on the counter. Then, he walked around the desk to the limp girl. He sat her up against the wall and held the alcohol he had just purchased to her lips.
Orion poured a very small amount of it into her mouth, and that did the trick. The girl's eyes popped open and she commenced coughing as if she had swallowed fire. In a sense, she had.
Once she recovered herself, he bought the items he had placed on the counter and apologized for scaring her so badly. She accepted his apology gracefully, and then he left the store.
Orion's supplies were restocked and he still had far too much money on his hands. He decided to find the local blacksmith's shop and/or armory to see if anything there caught his eye. And to wash his face.
"Thank you, thank you, ladies and gentlemen, but I am fresh out of wares! If you come back tomorrow, I shall have new products in stock!"
The small crowd gathered around Basil sighed, the majority of them latecomers who hadn't had the chance to get close and buy something yet. They parted for the peddler, who picked up his mat, packed it back into the pack, and bowed as he made his way from the town square, quite pleased with himself. People watched him with fascination and awe; the mystical amulets and arcane potions he'd sold them and their friends seemed too good to be true.
Once he exited the marketplace and entered a side street, however, he was stopped by an armorclad figure taller than he. Some more similarly dressed men came from different directions and surrounded him, each with a hand on his sword or lance. They had the symbol of Marle on their armor, and their faces showed they meant business.
"What were you doing just then?" the first one, evidently the leader, asked. He looked young, around twenty-five or slightly older, but nevertheless had a confidant, leader-like disposition about him.
Basil stammered, not quite sure what the man was getting at, and wondering if he had been found out. "I-I was s-s-selling wares, sir knight. N-nothing more."
"Nothing more, huh? What do you call this then, peddler?" the knight held up a potion bottle, filled with murky green liquid. It appeared to have algae growing on the surface of the liquid. Basil recognized it as one he had sold earlier, as a "sight enhancer", for thirty pieces of gold.
"Uuuhh... A sight enhancer?" he said, a faint and worried smile forming itself on his lips. A bead of sweat fell from his forehead, and he desperately hoped it would be mistaken for the morning sun, rather than the nervousness eating away at him.
The knight leaned in, his face remaining as serious as ever. "Well now, that's real funny, mister. Because here I thought this was scummy pond water. Here, you drink it. If your sight gets "enhanced" by its magical properties, you tell us."
He thrust the bottle in Basil's sweaty palms, who nearly dropped it in his anxiety. The con man unscrewed the cap, looked at the scummy contents, at the knight, the contents, and back at the knight again.
"I... I can't drink this."
"Why not? You sold it to other people, didn't you? Must have been ok for them to drink, yes?" The knight's voice was becoming ever more sarcastic, as he knew he had the con man cornered.
Basil shifted his feet uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact.
"Listen you scum," he said, grabbing the smaller man by the collar, "Drink it, or I'll have you thrown into jail. He shoved Basil back, then crossed his arms, waiting for him to drink it, or arrest him on the spot.
The peddler had little choice. With a gulp, he plugged his nose and downed as much as he could, gasping for breath when he had chugged it all. It was awful. He felt his stomach wretch, and soon he had thrown up every last green drop of the pond water. He fell against the nearby wall, miserably breathing through a mouth that tasted of foul water and stomach acid. The knights laughed, turning away from him now. The leader came over to him, imposing in his well-made armor.
"I don't want to see you selling anything else in this town. I don't care if it's even quality goods, if you so much as accept coin for an item in your possession, I'm arresting you, and confiscating everything but the clothes you're wearing at the time. Is that clear, crook?"
Basil could only manage a half-hearted nod. The knight leader, satisfied, returned to his men, and the group made their way down the street. Basil sank to the ground, still feeling sick from the nastiness he'd been forced to drink.
He then noticed a man, about his height, clothed in a green robe and wearing funny circular things around his eyes, glancing at the knights and making his way over. Soon the man was bending over, helping him up.
"I saw what they did to you. Made you drink that poison! Such an uncivilized display from our own soldiers. Come back to my house, I'll give you a place to stay while you're passing through."
With the man's help, Basil stood up and walked, continuing to feel nauseated. At least this fool was dumb enough to think him in the right. That was a stroke of luck.
Rak found an equally ghetto restaurant a block away. The establishment wasn't much of an upgrade from a bar, but their choice of food was greater, though not improved for quality. He probably wouldn't be able to capitalize on any fights here.
Sitting down at a table, he was greeted by the overly-friendly waitress, who thankfully did not try anything flirtatious with him. That was one thing he could be grateful for about his numerous scars. Kept all the shallow people away.
With a plate of arguably edible material soon before him, he ate well for the first time in months. Mentally, he gave hearty thanks to the oafs who were drunk enough to "lend" him their wages.
As Orion made his way to find the blacksmith's, he saw the ridiculous man again. He was in the town square with a crowd around him.
Buffoon. I wouldn't be caught dead wearing that. If I was going to be buried in something that stupid looking, I would revive myself just to change my clothes.
Orion kept walking down the sidewalk, exploring the small town. It turned out that he did, in fact, go the right way. He found the blacksmith's shop and walked in.
The blacksmith was a big, muscular man with crazy, jet black hair. A lot of it. He was strong and sturdy, with a piercing gaze. His sharp blue eyes flickered like the fire in his forge. He measured the hunter in an instant, and judged his intent just as fast.
"Name's Jethro Pike. You look like the type who appreciates a good weapon, “ he boomed. "What can I do for you?"
Colchester decided that he liked the man. "Well, I wanted to see what you have, and maybe buy a few gifts or trinkets. After that, I'd like to see your weapons. You figured me right." Orion chuckled.
Pike showed him around and Orion got a few things for his family back home in Skaander. Then he bought a small dagger. It was about six inches long and very plain, but Orion liked it.
He stayed and talked with Jethro about weapons and armor for an hour, then bade him farewell. It was time for lunch! Lunch was Orion's favorite meal. It wasn't as groggy as breakfast or as worn-out as dinner.
When thinking of lunch, Orion's thought process was terribly profound. It went something like this:
"Ah. Here we are," the man in green said, stopping in front of a typical two-story wooden house. It was longer than it was wide, being joined to two other houses at the side. The bottom floor had a door and two windows, while the upstairs floor just had the windows. There really wasn't anything special about it, unless one counted the disrepair it was in. While run-down, it could be guessed that the place was once owned by a man of substance, considering its size.
Basil was close behind him, keeping his cynical thoughts to himself. The longer he kept up the pretense of being a victimized peddler, the more possibilities arose to take advantage of this man.
"Let's go in, shall we?" the man asked rhetorically, taking his key out and unlocking the door. Both men entered, and then he locked it behind them.
The room they entered was a foyer, bare and unfurnished. Polished wooden floorboards ran throughout the house, faded and scratched with age. Basil followed his host into a living room, barely more hospitable than the foyer, with a few chairs and an entertaining table. A kitchen could be seen through another doorway, and a staircase sat on the far end of the living room.
"Come, come. My upstairs is far more worthy of guests than this place," the scholarly man said, adjusting the strange contraption over his eyes.
"I should hope..." Basil muttered under his breath, the mask of congeniality donning his face again, now that he felt better.
The staircase ended after three short flights, filled with unease, as the steps creaked and groaned so horribly, that Basil nearly said something to voice his concern. His host's inapprehensiveness in mounting the stairs so quickly convinced him otherwise, though, and he managed to get up to the second floor, pack and all.
Here he was greeted by the unexpected sight of piles and piles upon books, stacked halfway to the ceiling in corners, most completely dusted over, or severely worn with age and use. Several brewing stations, where vials with multicolored liquids sat boiling, rested atop pedestals or desks, sharing the cluttered space with open tomes and manuscripts. Ancient-looking artifacts occupied one desk together, whilst another held precious metals and things Basil didn't even recognize.
The whole floor was one long room, with little specific lighting, but visible enough, thanks to strategically placed lamps, and the ubiquitous brewing stations. The light shining in through the windows at the far end seemed to belong to a completely different world than the one they currently inhabited.
"Who are you, mister?" he asked, taken aback by this incredible sight, in complete contrast to the bland first floor.
"Hmm, eh wot?" the man said, jerking his head up from a desk, where he was doing who knew what. "Oh, you mean me. Well sir, I am Bartholomew Descran, an Alchemist. And this," he said, waving a casual hand at his surroundings, "is my laboratory."
Orion walked back to the restaurant where he had eaten breakfast and bought lunch. Getting his meal took a while because it seemed that the cook and waiter had lost something.
"Where could it have gone? I just had it.... Did you see what happened to it or where it went?" The rotund chef had bent over and was holding up a corner of a tablecloth.
"No, I told you three times already. You don't let me look at your money pouch, let alone touch it." the waiter said in exasperation.
Orion looked at the two men searching in vain for the lost pouch.
Can I just have my food please?
The portly chef got up from under the table and looked suspiciously at the waiter. The waiter returned the glance with equal mistrust.
“How do I know that you didn’t hide it somewhere, blame me for it, and try to make me ‘repay what I stole’?” The waiter asked, a hint of venom in his voice.
“How could you possibly think I would ever do such a horrendous thing like that? I can’t believe you. And I called you my…” At this, the chef could not seem to think of a good end to his analogy. “Waiter!” he ended lamely.
Orion watched the two erupt into bickering like little kids. He rolled his eyes, got up out of his chair, and walked over to the two. They didn’t even notice. He looked from one to the other and let out a sigh.
“Can I please have my food now?” Orion got no response, as the two were still arguing.
“Can you just get me my food?” Nothing. Again.
“HEY!!” Orion shouted, right in the quarrelling twosome’s faces. They jumped and looked at Orion, thoroughly startled.
“I just want my food. Just give me my food. Stop fighting and do your jobs. Go now.” Orion hadn’t wanted to get in their faces like that, but seriously? Could they not even perform the simplest of tasks?
The argumentative pair scurried off as fast as their legs could carry them. The waiter came out about five seconds later with the hunter’s meal.
Alchemy, the science that included magic in its field of study. Cast off by typical scientists and magicians alike, it attempted to reconcile the two. The goal of Alchemy was generally to discover the secrets behind the mystical aspects of magic, its connection to the physical world, and how it could be reliably and practically employed for everyday use, not to mention the Philospher's Stone.
Most Alchemists deviated from this philosophy in one way or another. Some tried to use what they learned to further their own power, or even fully turned their attention to studying magic, while others devoted their lives to one particular aspect of alchemy, such as creating matter, or converting it from one substance into another. Whether the individual practitioner used his knowledge for his own or others’ benefit varied just as much as the possibilities for study. Not that there were that many. In fact, finding an Alchemist was rare in itself; there were often only a few per continent, mostly less.
This one, Bartholemew, seemed to be one who leaned in the direction of magical study and chemistry. Basil had been introduced to a smidgeon of chemistry from his adoptive father, but it had been very basic information. He couldn’t begin to imagine how much work this man must have gone through to acquire this much knowledge and skill, probably on his own too.
It’s a known fact that most self-taught Alchemists are, for all intents and purposes, complete and utter geniuses, probable insanity aside, Basil thought, entering a little farther into the dark domain filled with dusty books and glowing vials.
The Alchemist dug his nose back out of a tome and mixed a brewing pot’s contents vigorously, constantly referencing the material between glances at his other projects, which didn’t appear to need his immediate attention. After a short bit, he set the book down, grabbed another nearby potion, and poured it all into the first vial. A green flash emanated as both liquids came into contact with each other, turning from deep blue and glossy yellow into bright, neon green.
“What is that?” Basil questioned. He was genuinely intrigued by the mystic science going on around him.
Bartholomew, while not annoyed by the interruption, was trying very hard to focus on what he was doing, and made his answer brief and to-the-point. “It’s pure nutrition. It tastes revolting, but when you drink it, you have no need to drink or eat for the next ten days. Cuts down food costs.”
Basil imagined it did. Now that was a useful invention. Still curious, but realizing he’d get an explanation of nothing else while his host was busy, he sat down and waited for the scholar to finish.
The gladiator finished his meal with his first full stomach in a while. Ever since taking down the criminals in charge of Cinerem, he’d been back on the run, eating when he could, but never very much. Hunting wasn’t one of his limited skillsets, and he was glad to be back in civilization, where with enough money, one didn’t have to make or find his own food.
He left the establishment without a word nor a tip. Gratuity was one thing he’d never spent money on, especially in the ramshackle places he usually found himself.
What looks like the best place to find a job? he wondered, scanning the ghetto for a shady bar or store that looked like a mercenary haven. Nothing. Walking down the street, he found crammed houses squished between each other, all run-down and worn, their paint peeling, and if they had shingles, few were left, never covering the holes in the roofs. It looked like a place that once had money, but had long since run out, and now provided lodging for the town’s more - coarse - inhabitants. Waste and worse was piled up near the street's gutters, if they could be called anything but trenches, and overhanging second floors sometimes came so far out into the street, that often the sun would disappear from sight. This certainly was one of the most filthy towns he'd ever been in, and that was saying a lot.
After a good deal of walking, Rak found no difference in the streets he wandered, and realized he was lost.
He managed to find an empty, broken half of a barrel laying on the side of the street, and sat down upon it. He was going to wait until someone came by, and just follow them out of this maze-like neighborhood.
Sitting there gave him his first real moment of peace since a few weeks ago, when he had never heard of the Conclave, never slain Dracus, and never met... her.
Memories he hadn't had time to sort through flooded back into his mind, starting with when they'd met in that city on the edge of the map, joined up with the mercenaries, and ended up taking pity on a dragon egg. Had it really been so short a time since then?
His mind kept going, remembering how she'd been the only other survivor, and he'd taken a liking to her fighting ability. Bandaging her burned hands had been the first event of that week which had brought them together. Fighting against the odds, saving each other's lives, and how she'd brought him safely to a doctor in time after his injury.
He'd actually cared about what happened to her.
Why had he left? She wasn't like anyone else, who ended up dying shortly after meeting him. She'd been a strange one, with a troubled past. Pyre had told him some of it, but it didn't matter to the mercenary. She'd cared about him, too, accepted him; and there was, for the first time in his life, someone he could call a friend. But if she were to die, as anyone who associated with him did, it would have been unbearable. The Conclave was after his blood, and she would have just gotten caught up and killed. He- he couldn't have that happen. Not again. Not ever.
His hand clenched up, and he blinked back a tear, absolutely refusing to think back over what had happened so many years ago. It was so painful. He had to find something else to think about. Anything at all.
He got up, determined to find his way out. Even if he couldn't, it was better than thinking of the awful past.
“These are Baba Seeds,” Bartholomew said, gesturing to a bowl full of off-brown seeds. “If they touch the ground, they instantly grow into massive, four-foot tall plants with large mouths full of teeth, and a hungry taste for meat. Lost a dog to one once, when I first started developing them.”
Basil followed him around, fascinated with each new item the Alchemist showed him on their tour of his laboratory. The man’s knowledge covered virtually every subject available, and he’d performed at least one experiment for everything Basil could imagine. It was akin to a child in a candy store, but one owned by a naïve and unsuspecting proprietor.
Continuing on, Bartholomew pointed out a circular medallion with a yellow gemstone in its middle. “This is a thunder medallion,” he said. “It allows whoever wears it to become a more effective conduit of electricity. Personally, I’ve tested it during a thunderstorm, and was able to survive multiple lightning strikes with no injury to my person.”
The mage’s eyes grew wide and greedy behind his host’s back. He could only imagine what possibilities such a device might hold for him. But he couldn’t just take it now; he needed to know what other valuable objects lay in this secluded trove of the arcane arts. Wouldn’t want to grab the wrong thing on his way out.
“Here is an interesting study I made once,” the Alchemist said, holding up several pieces of parchment paper and turning around. “Each paper has a rune inscribed upon it. These runes are not for spells or seals, they only work on rocks. They are, in fact, Golem runes. If placed upon a large enough rock, one could potentially gain a temporary mindless servant, but they don’t last long, and oftentimes a boulder will only work for a few minutes before crumbling to dust. I need to continue this field. I never got far enough to make powerful ones that could animate mountains…” He set the papers down, and turned aside to a brewing potion.
Basil figured he could swipe these with ease right now, and slipped them into his overcoat. Within moments, Bartholomew turned back again, but didn’t notice anything amiss, and motioned for the peddler to follow. “Pardon my interruption, a healing potion was turned up too high.”
Oh… I am most definitely taking everything I can find. Basil thought.
“May I show you the pinnacle of my studies, Mr…”
“It’s a nickname, but I prefer it. And yes, yes, please do,” Basil said, smiling in the most kind manner he knew how. His ego was stroked by the fact that someone finally got his name’s true meaning.
“Alright then, Mr. Basilikos. What I’m about to show you, I don’t know if anyone else has ever discovered before. I’ve created a mind template crystal.”
“Mind template crystal. In layman’s terms, when used, it replaces the victim’s mind with a determined mindset and characteristics. I’ve tried it out on some homeless bums before, with quite successful results. For instance, my first one gave a man the full mindset of a dog. He lives at the sanitarium now, happily. My second made a man think he was a respectable gentleman, and he turned his life around into one that now resides as the city judge. Unfortunately, I was never able to create a crystal that allowed for the process to be reversed, or other magical elements to be added to the transformation, such as clothes or other items, until recently. A loophole in the inherent makeup allows for some… tinkering, in the process of crystal formation, and…”
The remaining part of his ramble, Basil didn’t hear. The thought of what was possible with such a tool was incredible. What an amazing device for deception! Why, he could have someone else do the rest of his work forever! Salesman, bodyguard… pack carrier.
Bartholomew’s voice came back into his mind, done with the ramble and resuming talk of practical matters. “The only way to reverse the process on these crystals, is to shatter the host's crystal while it is functioning. This only works in my newer models, where the object actually remains attached to the body, rather than being absorbed into their blood. However, there is no getting around the fact, that it remains linked to the mind it was used upon, and reforms in their possession when de-activated. Thus, it is technically a one-time use item, though it can be re-used indefinitely upon the same subject, who cannot break out of the substituted mind on his own, since his real will has been replaced until such time as the effects are revoked.”
Basil’s mouth dropped. This was better than he had even hoped for.
The Alchemist was greatly pleased by this response. Finally, someone appreciated his genius! The attention this man was giving him overruled his better judgment, and he wanted to show his guest everything he’d done.
“Come here, let me show you then.”
He led the peddler over to a stand with an ovular case resting atop it. Bartholomew fiddled with a handle and lock for a moment, before opening it, releasing a bright pink light. Inside lay a huge pink crystal, in the general rough shape of a rupee.
“This is by far my greatest accomplishment,” Bartholomew excitedly said, knowing his work was recognized by this surprisingly intelligent peddler. “It contains a very difficult mindset to construct, one I did from scratch. The mind of one whom this crystal is used upon will be replaced by one of pure rage and anger. It is the highest form of berserking possible, and it will attack anything the user does not expressly wish to be protected. It can be controlled, just barely, by the person who uses it on the subject, and of course, the person can change. A couple improvements I added in were armor, strength, and magic shielding. I want to make it the ultimate bodyguard, but I’m afraid such a destructive person would be difficult to keep restrained from day to day.”
“Wow,” was all Basil could utter. He was astounded. And very greedy.
When Orion left the restaurant, the dysfunctional duo had resumed arguing. Each thought the other had stolen the pouch. Neither of them where clever enough to pick a pocket, but why let that minor detail get in the way of flying accusations?
Orion didn't really care who had or hadn't taken the wallet, he got his lunch. And it was a good lunch. The cook and waiter may think each other thieves, but they could still run a successful lunch counter at the same time.
Multitasking is profitable in the business realm. I wonder if someone actually took it, or they just lost it. Who cares? I'll never see anyone from this town again.
While he was thinking this, Orion had walked out the door and taken a left. He had seen everything there was to see on the one side of town, and now wanted to see the other half.
A ten minute walk brought him from the nice area of the town to the run-down, dumpy slums. In almost every doorway and alley there were suspicious-looking characters. Through a seemingly empty alleyway, Orion saw a small kiosk with interesting looking blades. Unable to resist his curiosity and love for weapons, Orion started walking down the alley.
About halfway through, he heard two sets of footfalls behind him. A second later, three men blocked his path from the front. Orion knew he was surrounded and a shadow of a smile flickered across his face for the second time that day.
"Give us everything you have on you. Money, weapons, anything of value. Now. Do it now and we won't hurt you... Too much." Orion marked the one that had spoken. He was wearing a green scarf draped over his shoulder and his chin was held high.
He's cocky. Won't back out. Pity. That means he'll pay with his life.
"If you attack me, I will kill all of you. Green scarf boy last." Orion said with a chuckle in his voice. The bandits were obviously just petty thieves, judging by their stances and nervousness. Three of them had shaking hands or knees. Scarf boy was relaxed, looking prepared but not shaken up.
The last thuggie was thick and bald. His fists had fighting wraps on them, and his poise suggested a little bit of training. As Orion sized up his would-be assassins, he pulled a small parcel from his satchel and began to unwrap it.
"Green scarf boy! I am the leader of the Needler gang!" Scarf boy spoke angrily and indignantly.
"Oh, nice title choice. Explains your... Accessory. Knitting needles are kind of important when you make scarves, aren't they, Scarfie?"
Scarfie's face turned so red that, with the green scarf hanging down, he looked like a very upset rose. It didn't really encourage the threatening idea. "What would happen if I cut that smirk right off your face!?" Scarfie yelped.
"It would be extremely painful. For you." The cloth Orion had been unraveling fell silently to the floor. The contents gleamed dangerously as Orion put them on. "I haven't used these yet. Consider it a privilege to have your blood spilled by them."
The pair of saber claws was enough to make one of the thugs whimper. The big bald guy cuffed the whimperer on the head. "Stop that, you coward. All we have to do is kill him. There's five of us and only one of him. How hard could it be to kill one stupi..."
The sentence was never finished. The bald thief fell to his knees, holding his slashed throat and gagging on his own blood. His eyes glazed over and he fell into a puddle of warm blood. Orion had shot forward when the bald thug hadn't been paying attention and slit his throat. The whimperer's eyes became the size of saucers. He stared at the body of his fallen comrade, then looked up at Orion.
The coward turned and ran for his life, dropping his weapons and tripping over himself. The other two thieves ran at Orion with a short sword and a spear. The bounty hunter whirled and dodged, but didn't strike. He was toying with them. Their slashes become wild and desperate. One of the two swung and then fell, right into Orion. The thug was dead before he hit the ground, his sword lying next to him.
Orion grabbed the spear of the second and hauled it towards him, brining the wielder into close range. The spearman let go of the spear and backed up hastily. He reached behind him and pulled two cheap knives from his belt. Orion chuckled and threw the spear behind him. He swiftly feinted a step towards the thug. The thief flinched and almost dropped one of his knives.
Orion noted his footing was unsure and was calculating his next move when he looked at the thief's eyes. They flicked towards the left, behind Orion and then shot back to the bounty hunter. Orion whirled to the left and saw Scarfie had picked up the spear and had quietly crept up on him. Scarfie lept into a run and thrust the spear at Orion's midsection.
Orion quickly blocked with the saber claws and slid the spear along them and past him to the right. There was a jerk on the spear and it stopped sliding. It had run the other thug through. The thief fell to the floor, too shocked to cry out. Scarfie released the spear, pulled out a sword, and started slashing madly at Orion. Orion blocked and covered, waiting to strike. Scarfie slashed at Orion's right side and then stepped close. In his left hand was a knife that Orion hadn't seen.
Scarfie's eyes narrowed and his face had a nasty smile on it. He slashed across Orion's chest, right over his heart. Orion gasped and took a few staggering steps backwards, then fell to his knees. He dropped the claw in his left hand and moved it over his chest to cover the slash.
"Scarfie, was it? Well, let's see if you can even say the word 'scarf' when I'm through with you!" the gang leader spat. Orion was staring vacantly at the ground, so Scarfie grabbed the bounty hunter's chin and repeated the statement louder. Scarfie dropped the sword and prepared to dissect Orion's face when his leg gave out and he stumbled.
When he looked down, his hamstring was slit and his leg was useless. Scarfie looked up in disbelief as Orion smiled at him and stood up. There was no blood on his jerkin.
"How did you... But I... I don't understand. I killed you. You're supposed to be dead!"
"Never heard of wearing armor under your shirt, Scarf boy?"
Scarfie let out a growl of anger and lunged with the knife. Orion grabbed him by the throat and kneed him in the stomach. All thoughts of stabbing the bounty hunter vanished as the air shot out of Scarfie's lungs. The knife fell harmlessly to the floor.
"I told you I would kill you last." Orion brought the saber claw up to Scarfie's throat and slit it. The bounty hunter took the emerald green scarf and pulled it on, Scarfie's body sliding to the dusty ground. Orion took their wallets and continued down the alley to the shop. He reached the doorway and read the sign.
Hey, this is a tailor's shop and a blade shop. How convenient.
Orion addressed the small man behind the counter. "Do you think you could sew up this gash in my shirt while I browse your weaponry?"
"Oh look, this is almost done," Descran observed, taking a vial of some strangely colored liquid off a burner. "Stay here, Basilikos, I only need to let this cool outside for a moment."
The Alchemist left the peddler standing in the middle of the room, with the entire array of mystical objects and artifacts at his fingertips.
He cracked his knuckles together, grinning evilly with anticipation.
It was the perfect moment, and as soon as Bartholomew had gotten down the stairs, Basil began grabbing everything within reach, stuffing it into his pack with little care for its safety, aside from putting corks on the bottles and potions. Within moments everything he'd been shown, and quite a few more things, were gone. He hefted the pack onto his shoulders, when he remembered the pink crystal, glowing brightly in the center of the room. Greedily, he snatched it from its pedestal, wrapping it in nearby cloth, and tucked it away.
With a cackle of satisfaction, he half sneaked, half fell down the stairs, trying to maintain his balance on the creaking, rickety stairway, carefully looking around the bare lower floor for any sign of the Alchemist. When there was none, he made a break for the front door, though the old boards protested his swift movements loudly.
Reaching the door, he tried to open it, but it wouldn't budge. Putting both hands to it, he tried twisting with all of his might, but still it held fast.
Suddenly, it sounded as if another door had opened on the other side of the house. The Alchemist was done cooling off his potion! Basil could hear him as he ascended the stairs, choosing to stay silent until the man was on the second floor.
"Basilikos? Where are you, my friend?"
The peddler went at it again, with haste born of desperation. The handle began making clacking noises due to the sudden stress, and Descran's footsteps sounded out through the wood, coming back to the top of the stairs.
"Is that you down there? I seem to be missing a few things..."
Basil started beating the handle in frustration, hoping for something to budge. Anything. Throwing himself against the door-
With the sound of a poorly made lock breaking off the door against his weight, Basil broke through, tumbling into the filthy street. Barely managing to keep his balance, he stumbled, but remained upright, and sprinted as fast as he could down the street.
"Come back! Come back! Basilikos! Thief!" Bartholomew's horrified voice rang out from the broken doorway. He began the pursuit, hoping to catch the overburdened peddler.
Rak did his best to keep the painful memories out. He needed a job, a contract to keep his mind focused. The longer he lived, the harder it was to keep them repressed. Opening himself up to a girl hadn't helped at all, and now she was gone too. He really didn't know what he wanted, it seemed he couldn't bring himself to stay with someone for any length of time, but he couldn't deal with the emptiness being alone brought.
No, he could. He just needed distraction. A person like him, with the things he'd done, didn't need to drag anyone down with him. He could steel himself and get rid of the past.
"Help! Stop him! My research!" A distressed voice called out. Rak saw a funny-looking man in blue, with a massive pack on his back, go running by, as if his life depended on it. Seconds later, an exhausted, scholarly man, gasping for breath and looking completely worn out, stumbled out of a run, leaning up against a house to rest.
"You... there... in the green..." he called out, between labored breaths. "If you can... get my research... back... I'll pay you... as best I can."
Rak nodded. Nothing more needed to be said. He took off after the odd man in the scholar's stead, catching a glimpse of him rounding a corner farther up ahead. With that pack on him, there was no way he'd be able to outrun or hide from the famed Phoenix of Yaevin.
Orion paid the tailor and walked out of the shop. He admired the perfect stitching for a moment, noted how there was not even the slightest indication of a gash in the jerkin, then continued down the alley towards what looked like a huge and very busy marketplace.
The buzz of voices and yelling shopkeepers increased as Orion neared until the din became a roar. Colchester meandered around at the edge of the marketplace, eyes dancing from person to person. Orion heard a faint sound that didn't mesh with the general uproar, but it did not register in his conscious mind.
In a few moments, the sound that didn't match was right behind him. Orion's mind processed the noise in a half-second and recognized it as racing footsteps. The bounty hunter whirled just in time to be violently careened into and pushed out of the way. Right into a cart of melons.
The one who had shoved Orion was the ridiculous man in the yellow vest with the enormous (and seemingly larger than before) pack. The heavily encumbered man was going as fast as his scrawny legs could take him and looking back over his shoulder as he hastily fumbled his way through the bustling crowd.
"Jerk! Watch where you're going!" Orion yelled in irritation. He was covered in melon juice and rinds, and was also very unhappy about it.
As he was yelling this, another running figure shot past. It was the man from the bar that had been sober. The man's green poncho trailed out behind him as he raced forward and his tousled black hair bounced around as he dodged people and carts.
"Bunch of weirdos," Orion muttered grumpily to himself. "Now my day's shot." As he carefully extricated himself from the melon wreckage, a short, balding man half-waddled, half-jogged up to him and leaned against the remains of the cart.
As the little man caught his breath, he gasped out, "The man... with... pack... thief... stole my... inventions... pay you if... catch him..." The little man slid to the ground and displaced a small cloud of dust, thoroughly exhausted.
Orion wiped the last of the melon from his face and clothes, then took off after the other two runners.