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  Warforged Artillerist CS (UA Warforged)
Posted by: frenzied67 - 02-16-2021, 11:03 PM - Forum: Off-Topic - No Replies

Character's Name:  Sawbone
Class and Level:  Artificer (artillerist) 1
Background: Soldier
Player's Name: RLS
Race: Warforged, Envoy (original UA)
Alignment: Lawful Nuetral
Experience Points: 

Strength: 10 modifier:  0
Dexterity: 14 modifier:  +2.  +1race
Constitution: 16 modifier: +3.  +1race
Intelligence: 16 modifier: +3.  +1race
Wisdom: 10 modifier: 0
Charisma:modifier: -1

Saving Throws: Str- 0 |Dex- +2 |*Con- 2+3=+5 |*Int- 2+3=+5 |Wis- 0 |Cha- -1
Armor Class: 13 AC Chain Shirt +2 Dex.Mod. +2 Shield +1 racial= 18 AC
Initiative: +2
Speed: 30

Hit Dice: 1d8+3   
Hit Points:  11
Temporary Hit Points: 
Death Saves- Successes __ __ __/failures __ __ __ 

Personality Traits: 1) War has stolen friends of both flesh and steel from me, why should I give you time when you might die tomorrow?  2) I can create a device to deal with any of life’s situations, just give me a few moments.
Ideals: You do you, I do me; no need to fight about it.
Bonds: Any being who fights at my side deserves my eventual respect, and maybe a gadget that’ll help me test them.
Flaws: Distracted easily, sometimes it lives in it's head when it is supposed to be keeping an eye out.  It's quirk of muttering to itself and working mentally on projects is a sign that Sawbone needs to be returned to the here and now.

Acrobatics: (dex)  +2 
Animal Handling (wis) 0
Arcana (int)  2+3=+5 
Athletics (str) 2+0=+2 
Deception (cha)  -1 
History (int)  +3
Insight (wis)  0       
Intimidation (cha) 2-1=+1 
Investigation (int) 2+3=+5   
Medicine (wis)
Nature (int)  +3       
Perception (wis)  2+0=+2 
Performance (cha)  -1 
Persuasion (cha) -1 
Religion (int)  +3     
Sleight of Hand (dex)  +2 
Stealth (dex)  +2     
Survival (wis)  0 
Passive Perception:  13 

Proficiencies and Languages: +2 Proficiency Bonus.  (race) read, write, and speak Common.
Specialized Design- gain 1 skill Proficiency (Investigation (int)), 1 tool set Proficiency (Woodcarver's tools), and 1 language (Sedaran).  Integrated Tool= I have woodcarver’s tools integrated into my body, I double my proficiency bonus for any ability checks I use with these tools.
(class) Proficient with light armor, medium armor, and shield.  Proficient with simple weapons.  Proficient with thieves tools, tinker’s tools, and armorer’s tools.  Saving Throw Proficiencies= Constitution and Intelligence.  2Skills= Arcana, Perception.  (background) Skills- Athletics, and Intimidation.  Tool Proficiency Healer’s kit ???(instead of game set proficiency) Proficiency with land vehicle (wagon). 

Attacks and Spell casting: 
Weapon-  Attack bonus- Damage, damage type.

Spear- +2- 1d6, Piercing; versatile(1d8), Natatorial, Thrown (20/60)

Copper Pieces: 9
Silver Pieces: 3
Electrum Pieces:
Gold Pieces: 1
Platinum Pieces:
Gems and Jewels:

Item-  Price-  Weight-  Properties-  ||  Item- Price-  Weight-  Properties-

Arcanist Pack- 35gp- 8#- backpack 5#, 5candles 0#, tinderbox 1#, ^scroll case w/arcane diagrams 1#, ^wand 1#, ^and arcana lore book 5#.- |
Shield- 10gp- 6#- +2AC ||
Spear- 1gp- 3#- || Thieves’ Tools- 25gp- 1#- ||
Chain Shirt- 50gp- 20#- ||  ^Smith’s Tools- 20gp- 8#- ||
Smock/Apron- 1gp- 4#- || Chalk- 1cp- _ - ||
Candle Lantern- 2gp- 1#- || 50’ string- 1sp- 1#- ||
Mule- 8gp- self propelled cargo hauler (Items with ^ symbol are on mule- || ^Bit and Bridle- 2gp- 0.5#- ||
^Saddle Bags- 4gp- 8#- || Bottle of Ink- 10gp- - - ||
Parchment x5- 5sp- - - ||

Total cost_150gp__.  Total Weight Carried_42#_.  Carrying Capacity_150#_.  Push/drag_300#_.

Features and Traits: (race) ASI +1constitution.  Warforged Resilience- I have advantage on saving throws against being poisoned, and I have resistance to poison damage* I am immune to disease* I do not need to eat, drink, or breath* I don’t need to sleep and don’t suffer the effects of exhaustion due to lack of rest, and magic can’t put me to sleep.
Sentry’s Rest- When I take a long rest, I must spend at least six hours in an inactive motionless state, rather than sleeping.  In this state, I appear inert, but I am not rendered unconscious, and I can see and hear as normal.
Integrated Protection- (House Rule) Integrated Armor follows Ebberon Rising From the Ashes rules for integrated armor instead of UA rules (all other racial features follow UA guidelines)  +1 to AC.  Armor takes an hour to integrate and I have to be proficient with that armor, doffing that armor also takes an hour.
Subrace= Envoy- ASI= two ability scores of my choice each increase by +1 (Int and Dex)
(Class) HD= 1d8 + con.mod.  Magical Tinkering- (pg 12 TCE) make small items that can((1) snow globe) shed 5’+5’ light*((2) velvet ring box) emits a 6 second long recorded message that can be heard 10’ away* continuously emits a sound*((3) a small hand mirror that has Cora's face) a static visual effect; can indefinitely imbue a number of items equal to my intelligence modifier (3).  Spell casting- Tools Required= Use woodcarver’s tools as spell focus. Cantrips= 2 cantrips from artificer spell list.  Prep and casting of spells= can memorize a number of spells equal to Int. mod. (+3) plus ½ of my artificer level (minimum of 1, round down) (1) (3+1=4 spells.)  Can renew or change spell list after a long rest.  Spell Casting Ability= Intelligence is artificer spell ability.  Spells save DC= 8+ Proficiency bonus (+2) +Int.mod. (+3) 8+2+3=13.  Spell Attack Modifier= Proficiency bonus (+2) + Int.mod. (+3) 2+3=+5 to hit.  Ritual Casting= If I have a spell with the ritual tag memorized, I can cast that as a ritual spell without expending a spell slot (additional 10 minute casting time).
Warforged Quirk= Always muttering to itself and taking notes, seems confused or unhinged while talking about “her”.
(background)- Soldier- specialty = Healer/support staff (Sawbone was designated a special combat medic when they were not sure how to heal Warforged troops.).  Feature is Military rank- Master Sergeant! 

Description: A shallow brow ridge makes it look especially artificial, the glowing blue eyes look large and alien.  Sawbone has a slender build for a Warforged, but is not skinny.  It’s mass is brick red in tone, but the joints and highlights, even the sigils and magic symbols it sports, are bronze in color; somehow Sawbone’s color coordination looks off, the red and bronze clash.  Long creepy fingers seem to always be in motion, with spidery movements.  It may clean itself before resting, but within a few minutes of rising, it is tinkering and getting greasy and dirty.
Age: 5.5 (this model was an early design constructed while the siege was ongoing)
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 280#
Eye Color: Electric Blue
Skin: Red with bronze highlights.
Hair color: No hair
Looks: Sawbone’s oval face lacks so much definition that it seems alien to most living creatures.  It’s eyes dim or brighten to express emotions, but other than opening or closing it’s mouth, Sawbone cannot offer expressive cues as to it’s state of mind.

Infusions Known- 0
Infused items- 0
Spell Casting Class(es): Artificer (artillerist)
Spell Save DC: 8+2+3=13
Spell Attack Bonus:  2+3=+5
Spell Slots- 1st=2
Spell-  pg.- Concentration or ritual ||  Spell- pg.-concentration or ritual ||
(0) Fire Bolt- pg222 PHB- - ||(0) shocking Grasp- pg253 PHB- - ||
(1) Tasha’s Caustic Brew- pg115 TCE- C- ||
(1)Expeditious Retreat- pg218PHB- C- || (1) Detect Magic- pg212PHB- C,R-
(1)Alarm- pg192 PHB- R- ||


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  Warforged Challenge Accepted.
Posted by: frenzied67 - 02-16-2021, 10:27 PM - Forum: Off-Topic - No Replies

Irik was uncertain whether to include the Warforged race into Erath, he asked for a compelling backstory.  I have not asked him if he is considering the new Artificer classes in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, but this seemed to be a great place to meet his challenge for "compelling backstory".  Wink

Backstory of the Warforged Artificer (Artillerist)

The Siege of Wizard’s Peak
Two men in robes carted a third figure on a stretcher, two women in sigil embroidered robes fluttered one before and one behind the conveyance.  All but the bloodied wizened man on the stretcher flinched when a boom echoed through all the halls of Wizard’s Peak; the injured man only moaned while he tried to hold his own innards in; a lot of blood stained his clothes and the stretcher.  Another explosion from the fighting outside reverberated through the mountain.

“We must hurry!” the woman in the lead intoned, her voice calm despite her eyes darting for signs of danger.  This wizardess even sprinted a few steps ahead to open the door for the stretcher bearers and their stricken charge.  Limbs of metal, torsos of steel, and craniums that shone with metallic resolve dangled off of racks or were stacked in bins in this room.

Chains dangled from the ceiling of this chamber, hovering over a series of four tables that sat side by side in pairs.  One table had a completed figure of red and bronze metal laying upon it, it’s lifeless blank face staring at the ceiling with quartz eyes.  Sweating under their hoods, the two men shuffled up to the empty bed next to this lifeless robotic figure.  With a graceful gesture and muttered words, the woman who had trailed behind the pack made the injured wizard float up out of the stretcher to be laid gently down on the empty bed.  As tender as the motion had been, the man’s pain was such that he moaned again; suffering quavered in his once robust voice.
Both women came to the bedside, the woman who had followed grabbed the gutted wizard’s shoulder.
“You are dying, Tremain, your death would be a loss to Wizard’s Peak.”  Just like her twin sister, this woman’s words were calm and reasonable; tears flowed from her eyes as though defying her serene tone.  “We can not let you fade entirely.  I doubt if you can hear me, but I am going to put your soul into this Warforged body.  You will forget who you were, but at least you will still live... and still serve.”  All four able wizards raised their arms, spells were sung as though by a mad chorus.

3 months later, the siege continues
“Welcome!  Welcome, students, gather around!” the medic instructor called out.  Five freshly minted Warforged individuals milled uncertainly for a moment, then they shuffled over to form a line like the drill instructor's liked.  Unlike the Warforged troopers marching by their little tableau, these constructed life forms were slender; even their anodized red bodies were different from the regular soldiers, less armored and bulky, they all had a flying red raven painted on each shoulder with numerical designations stenciled on beneath.  The fighters had red swords on their shoulders, and more often they had their chosen names inscribed where the numbers used to be.  Between the students and their cheerful Elven instructor was a table sporting leather aprons from which smith’s tools were suspended.  Slender Elven hands indicated the forging equipment, urging the Warforged students to assume possession of the tools.

One student who had been constructed with a vestigial nose hesitated in picking up it’s laden apron.

“I thought we were supposed to be trained as field medics, the application of basic first aid, then the extraction of the patients from the fighting?”  The Elven male’s smile deepened at the question, he hid his hands inside the voluminous sleeves of his robes.  The Warforged who had the designation Envoy 1228 painted under the outspread wings of the red raven held the tools uncertainly, the blue glow of it’s eyes darkened a little; that was how a Warforged squinted in suspicion.

“We are training you to apply aid to your own kind,” the Elf stated proudly, as if that idea had sprung from his superior head.

Gesturing at the aprons again, their instructor urged them to don the smith’s equipment; his hand disappeared back up the sleeves again as though that pose were natural.  “You are a new life form who is constructed by hand before the spark of life is administered.  The powers that be here in Wizard’s Peak believe you should be in charge of learning how to care for the wounds your kind will receive.  After all no one knows how you heal yet, if you Warforged can be healed.”  Envoy 722, a Warforged who had flared flanges where a meat creature usually had ears, raised it’s hand.

“Do they think we are like golems then, who need to be hauled into a body shop when repairs are required?”

That question stole away with the instructor’s smile.  As the Elf struggled with uncertainty, possibly for the first time this century, Envoy 1228 tried to fit a three pound hammer between it’s armor plating.  It showed the instructor the witchroot musculature under it’s armor then it demonstrated that many of the tools would not fit.

“I could not weld this witchroot under structure or hammer it out if it were cut, and placing a series of rivets to keep myself from bleeding to death would actually kill off portions of my organic body… any of our bodies,” it stated gesturing to it’s fellow Warforged.

For almost a minute, the elf glanced at each Warforged while licking his lips, then all of a sudden the smile resurfaced; the confidence coming back brighter than before.

“I bet you’re going to have an interesting name when you get around to choosing one.  See, we’re already learning something.  Can any of you tell me what equipment you think you’ll need out there?”  Feeling as if it had struck a blow for Warforged everywhere, Envoy 1228 waited for it’s companions to start issuing suggestions and ideas.  Instead they milled around looking at each other, as lost as the Elf had been moments before.

Shaking it’s head in disbelief at both it’s fellow’s lack of imagination and the Elf’s superior patience, Envoy 1228 glanced outside of their little training area.  Soldiers of both the flesh and metal sort hustled from here to there, Wizards of all abilities slowly made their way as individuals or pairs.  Trotting along with some units of fleshly soldiers were some priests or priestess’s of Melwen, more rarely representatives of Andrin were attached to units.  Holding up it’s hand as it saw a squad with a Melwenite trotting their way, Envoy 1228 plucked the shears out of it's apron and broke from the training group.  Walking after Envoy 1228 with curiosity manifested in the lights of their eyes and their supposed instructor trailing, the mass of Warforged followed.

The young priestess’s eyes grew enormous when she realized that Envoy 1228 was waving it’s arms for her attention.  Like a pedestrian fearing a jay walking charge, the girl stopped and shuffled nervously keeping a safe distance back.

“Pardon me, we are conducting experiments over here.  I was wondering if you could spare a minor healing spell to help us out,” it asked the acolyte.  It was as if it had given the young woman magic words, her timidity was smoothed away at once.

“Is someone hurt?”  the Melwenite’s eyes automatically darted to the Elven instructor, a fact that Envoy 1228 did not appreciate.

“Not yet,” it answered.

Even it’s fellow Warforged gasped when Envoy 1228 stabbed itself in the upper thigh with the sheers it had.  It had deliberately missed the metal plating guarding the rest of it’s leg and it had not stabbed too deep.  The girl cringed back placing both hands over her mouth as a horrified look crossed her mien.  “There seems to be a question as to how we Warforged heal.  My companion of flesh thinks we should be treated as a golem would for our medical care.  I would like your help in testing my counter theory out.  Could I impose upon you a very minor healing spell for my leg?  If I am right then we should see my witchwood tissue knit from your divine ministrations.”  Hesitatingly the girl reached out her hands.

Studying Envoy 1228’s features did not inspire the priestess’s confidence, it could not feed her the expressions another flesh being could.  The invocation for the goddess’s aid produced a light in the girl’s hand, and even Envoy 1228 could feel the heat, like bottled sunlight, soak into it’s leg.  Even the instructor gasped as they all watched the light draw the root like material of Envoy 1228’s thigh together and sealed the hole closed.  Only a smear of fluid remained behind, smelling faintly of ammonia and amniotic fluid.  The Elven instructor nodded at Envoy 1228 when their orbs met in a glance, it had impressed the male with it’s display.  “Thank you young lady, now we have a better idea of how to treat our Warforged injured.”  She gave the lot of them a quizzical look before she hasted off to find her squad of soldiers.

Drawing itself up Envoy 1228 turned upon it’s peers and the Elf.  It deliberately began untying the smith’s apron and tool set from around it’s waist.  “I remember the diagrams I was shown right after I became aware of myself.  Our Warforged circulatory system is just as complex as the one you were born with.  Our healing procedures should be pretty close to yours, even if our metal exoskeletons are harmed they would heal given time.  We Warforged change our protective surface almost every night, which means we should be able to seal up rents and gashes in our metallic exterior in time.”  Grinning widely at Envoy 1228, the Elf raised an eye.

“Unlike a regular sawbones, you figured that out real quick.  Put that apron back on, Envoy 1228 you will still be required to take twenty seven hours of smith crafting, as I am required to teach you those twenty seven hour over the next five days….”

After medic training, six months since soul transfer
As he did every twelve point eight seconds, the half Orc medic it was training under brushed his mane of ropy hair back; up ahead the twin wizardess’s opened the salley port door, soldiers began to hustle through the cracked aperture.  Envoy 1228 could imagine the troops spreading out over the mountain’s slope as they sought their positions.

“I don’t know who you are, tin man, but Cora and Cory asked for you personal like,” the half Orc grunted.  How he could grunt while whispering was beyond how a normal flesh creature operated, or so Envoy 1228 thought.  It shrugged when the creature looked back at it, as the tusked male swept his unruly black hair back again.  How could he give an answer to something that mystified him as much as it did his training officer, he did not know the mage girls.

From the rattle that started up, Envoy 1228 realized that the juggernaut Warforged were next in marching out onto the mountain; so far all they were hearing was the whispered conversations of those waiting and the rattle of their own equipment on this spoiling raid.  The Scarred Hand had an annoying habit of ambushing sorties as they happened, maybe this time Wizard’s Peak might be able to strike a blow that would help unravel their enemy’s grip.  “Come on, Tin Man, start moving forward,” it's half Orc superior commanded shuffling three steps up before he had to stop due to traffic; it swept its hair back yet again.

“The name is not ‘Tin Man’,” it stated matter of fact, slightly annoyed by the poor manners of it’s companion.  More medics moved up to fill the void they had left behind, they moved ahead five more steps.  “There is very little tin used in my composition, Corporal.”

Grinning over his shoulder, the half Orc grunted at Envoy 1228.

“I know you junk heaps like to give yourselves ironical names based off of the shit you go through.  I was just thinking that ‘Tin Man’ was one hell of an ironic name.”  As though his bangs were one massive lock, the half Orc’s hair flopped over his eyes on cue.  Annoyed, Envoy 1228 let the light of it’s eyes dim to dangerous levels, what it would give to be able to sneer at it’s tormentor.

“One point of a Warforged’s naming exercise is ignoring idiots who want to bestow what they consider irony on it.  That’s your irony, not mine.”  One thing about being Warforged, Envoy 1228 was discovering how much inflection it could put into it’s voice.  The bored exasperation it had inset into it’s words were enough of an insult that the half Orc started to chuckle appreciatively.

Cool flowing air began to blow across Envoy 1228’s exposed witchwood parts, unlike it’s armor, the root like structure had sensation.  There were less stoppages in their advance the closer they got to the door, the regular troopers were dispersing at an increasing pace.  That is when Envoy 1228 realized what it was doing.  It was just about to step out into a brewing battle without weapons.  It was going to have others expect it to rush into each little fray to pull out those who were too damaged to fight.  Again, it thought of the fact that it was doing this without being armed, and it was greatly disquieted.

Turning back one last time, the half Orc corporal grinned at it.  There was a fever in the creatures eyes that looked like glee, this half Orc male actually seemed eager for the chaos that was about to ensue.

“Get ready, Private junk heap, we’re next!”  With that Envoy 1228’s boss swept his hair back and surged up and out of the fake stump salley port the two wizard women were holding open.  Both women’s eyes locked onto Envoy 1228 as it clambered out after the other medic, one of them even started to reach out for it as it started to move to the west.

“No, Cora, he is gone.  This is not really Tremain anymore,” the one wizardess who had not reached for it claimed mysteriously.

Both women watched him go as if they were sending a child of theirs off to the army.  The first flash and boom started before the half Orc and it moved up to the tree line a mixed company was currently infiltrating.  More spells started to detonate from the left and right, even from down hill of their position.  Once again the Scarred Hand had anticipated the great spell caster’s of Wizard’s Peak.  The sisters separated, magic flowing off their staves as they moved to support their troops.  Someone was already crying for a medic as they reached the tree line, from a position slightly downhill of where the half Orc and Envoy 1228 were.

The half Orc with his slightly superior rank gestured Envoy 1228 on.

“That’s our cue, rattletrap!”  After that insulting name it let it’s eyes flash and dim in agitation.

“Right, pig face”  A black arrow zipped between the two of them, and the half Orc began to laugh almost merrily, whether it was the insult or the battle erupting all around them that caused this jovial eruption was not known to Envoy 1228.  A Warforged behemoth and a tall Human man protected a fallen half Elven comrade with interlocked shields, both of them gestured the two medics too them even as a flurry of crossbow bolts punched and lodged into the metal faced shields.

Both It and the half Orc knee slid in the dirt as they came up on their patient.  With happy gestures, the corporal gestured at Envoy 1228 to get to it.

“Let’s see what ya got, spitfire.”  At least this time it could not find an insult in the half Orc’s nick name.  “Where’s your healer’s kit?”  Rib bones showed themselves between the welling blood of a deep gash in the half Elf’s torso.  Envoy 1228 continued to visually evaluate the stricken male as a compartment opened up in it’s thigh, many of the gauze pads and coagulant unguents of a healer’s kit were revealed.  Other tools of this trade were secreted in other hidden places within it’s body.  Just as it started to splash healing powders that stopped bleeding into the wound, another soldier fell twenty feet away, skewered by an overlong arrow.

Seeing that Envoy 1228 was applying the bandages correctly, it’s superior grunted.  “Looks like you got this, get this soldier prepped for a stretcher, I’m going to see what’s up with dumb fuck over there.”  Even though the half Orc was supposed to remain with Envoy 1228 and evaluate it’s work, the corporal ran over and began to see too the skewered man.

“I didn’t know we had golem doctors in this army,” the human commented to it’s Warforged companion.  The big juggernaut with the name ‘Blunder’ chiseled into it’s shoulder glanced at Envoy 1228, the light in it’s eyes expressing embarrassment.

Showing calm lights in it’s eyes, Envoy 1228 displayed to it’s fellow that it was not scandalized; Blunder let it speak for itself.

“Not all of us Warforged are juggernaut specified creatures.  Some of us, like you fleshies, are designed to do other things.”

“Oh shit!” the human exclaimed with astonished orbs wide, almost breaking the overlap in their personal wall of shields from his startlement.  “Sorry doc, I never expected a Warforged sawbones to be working for us.”  For an apology, that was not half bad, the human man actually looked contrite.

Another flurry of bolts embedded their heads into the two soldier’s shields or wizzed over them.  Blunder brushed itself off as though that attack had dirtied it.

“What I want to know is what Wizard’s Peak is doing for us Warforged, I notice they have you patching up the fleshies, but who is going to fix us?” Blunder asked.  Pulling the folding stretcher of it’s back, Envoy 1228 looked at its bigger batch mate.

“We figured out that we heal pretty much like our flesh friends, Blunder.  Other than hammering twisted armor back into place, we Warforged can be sewn up, bandaged up, and medicated just like everyone else.  Healing magic works for Warforged just as effectively as it does other creatures, and if we can’t find a priest, time will also allow us to recover.”

Glancing at each other, the human male dipped his head at Envoy 1228 in appreciation for the information.

“Sorry I thought our bosses weren’t looking out for us, sawbones.  If I live through this shit mission, then I’m going to tell the others.  I wasn’t feeling too good about this war until you told me that, and I know this news is going to put some heart into some very dejected metal lads.”  Blunder also inclined it’s head at Envoy 1228, the light of it’s red eyes blazing forth with a beauteous joy.  The half Orc corporal skidded under a curtain of missiles to stop at the foot of the stretcher.

His eyes probed the injured half Elf’s bandages before he turned his attention to Envoy 1228.

“Dude was croaked before I got to him.  You did a good job, but you’re taking the tail end of the stretcher.  You’re shielding my ass as we get this guy out of here.”  The light of anger in Envoy 1228’s eyes just was not a sufficient enough expression to impinge upon the tusked faced meat monkey’s minor brain.  “On three.  One.  Two.  Three.” In unison they heaved the injured Elf breed onto the stretcher, then the half Orc conducted another three count.

As the two of them churned back through the trees to the false stump salley port, an arrow bounced off the Warforged medic.

“They should design a back plate for us medics, or allow us to sling a shield across out tail side” Envoy 1228 complained, feeling a point in it’s armor digging into the witchwood under its shoulder plating.  It had a ding for sure.  Someone had taken the time to design this raid well.  Envoy 1228 and it's training officer were met by stretcher bearers who relieved them of their injured half Elf at the false stump.  After they communicated the soldier’s injuries, they were given another folded stretcher and sent back to aid more soldiers.  The two of them managed to treat over a dozen injured fighters before the twins sounded the retreat, that was four more than any other medic team on the mountain that day.

That night, Envoy 1228 was pulled from the book it was writing by a small host of soldiers and medics.  As the beings of flesh danced and celebrated around bonfires for the little victory they had won that day, Envoy 1228’s Warforged brethren hauled it aside for a special celebration of their own.  They gave it the “Rite of Turpentine”.  Burly juggernaut Warforged soldiers used rags soaked in the paint stripper to rub the paint off Envoy 1228’s armored shoulders as a host of metallic voices chanted “Take a name, take a name, take a name…”.  It cried out a word/name that suddenly felt more than significant than at any other time in it’s short life.  One by one, Warforged Juggernauts, Envoys, and Skirmishers stepped up to rest their heads brow to brow with it’s in a moment of solidarity, even as a dented Skirmisher named Ink chiseled the name “Sawbone” into it’s shoulder.

The next day
Drunken revelers began to twitch and make those restless motions and noises waking beings tended to make as they struggled to remain asleep.  From their positions of resting watchfulness, the eyes of Warforged began to blaze alight.  Those illuminated orbs ran through a rainbow of electric colors depending on the individual Warforged.  It was the Juggernaut models and Skirmishers who shed their motionless states first, they waded into the sleeping men and women flesh creatures waking them as gently as they could one by one; the medics had different demands placed on them, flesh and metallic medics had dispensations from having to hurry up and wait in the morning.

Even though it’s witchwood under frame did not require stretching, Sawbone still rolled it’s shoulders this way and that.  Over the course of the last six hours in stasis it’s living armor had popped out the arrow ding it had suffered the day before.  That slight dent was a minor injury, but Sawbone saw watching itself and it’s fellow Warforged injuries as part of it’s job.  Their species had not existed a year ago, someone had to begin cataloging their injuries and the remedies that were required.  Maybe it should allocate one of the many mini pockets built into itself to hold tools as a place to store a notepad and writing instrument, books would have to be written.  That made Sawbone wonder for a moment if Wizard’s Peak would ever let it’s people have the secrets of their creation.  Why should the flesh beings be in charge of generating the next Warforged generations?  Would they even craft further generations after this war?

That thought process vanished like clouds over a desert sky when it saw one of the Wizard twins walking towards it from across the parade ground.  Why did Sawbone feel a sudden surge of pride for the woman well up from deep inside upon seeing her?  Ascertaining that the spell caster was indeed intent on it alone, Sawbone took a few steps forward then assumed an ‘at ease’ military stance, head held high.  Shorter than it was, the woman swept up to Sawbone and peered up into it’s glowing blue sensory organs.  Here was one of the noteworthy leaders of Wizard’s Peak and she was interested in it.  Now which one was she, Cora or Cory?  For several moments she studied Sawbone’s features before a look of uncertainty flitted just under her careful mask of control.

She was a stranger too him but that show of confidence lost, ephemeral though it seemed, made a pit open in it’s guts.

“It is our inexpressive features I believe,” Sawbone opened up.  The woman blinked and frowned.

“Excuse me?” she asked with knitted brows.

“You people of flesh made our form similar to yours, but our faces cannot express emotion.  That omission is a great percentage of why you flesh beings dislike being around us.”  It gestured to some of the drunkards still laying out in this underground courtyard.  “These fine soldiers are exceptions to that rule.  Facing death together allows them to form those bonds that all living beings crave, no matter what form their comrade takes.”

Instead of illuminating the woman so she could prepare for the difference it's lack of facial facility created, the woman seemed even more confounded.

“Tremain?  Is that you?”  Her question threw it off for a moment, a moment of familiarity came and passed like a flitting revenant repeating its last moments of life.

“No, I am sorry but I do not know any crafted being by that name.”  Shaking herself like a wet dog the woman stepped back, then she glided up uncomfortably close again, rising up on her tip toes to peer into it’s eyes.

Sawbone could feel her breath creating condensation on it’s neck plates.

“I heard you took a name last night.  You call that the Rite of Turpentine, right?” The woman reached up and began to trace it's mouth ridges with her forefinger, as though it were a show model in some showroom.  Resenting her over familiarity, Sawbone stepped back before it answered her.

“I did, my batch mates considered my deeds in the skirmish worthy of recognition.  I took the name Sawbone.”

Nonplussed by it’s sudden retreat, the wizardess dropped back to the soles of her feet and studied Sawbone from that distance.  She was definitely searching for something from it, but Sawbone had no clue what she was after.

“Amazing, you sound like him, and you share many of the same mannerisms….”  The woman sounded like she was talking to herself, an observation that was confirmed by the way she just trailed off.  “You sound very educated for a Warforged, not many of your people have realized that our communication problems stem from our need for expression cues.  You talk just like someone I know- uh knew.”  Her eyes narrowed as she again drank in it's features.  This woman was definitely seeking something.

As suspicions began to trigger Sawbone’s imagination, seeing the worst in this stranger, it wanted to break off this conversation.  She was it's superior in rank in every respect of that word though.

“Ma’am, which one are you?  Are you Cory or-”  She did not let it finish.  Again the looks she gave it after she said her name made Sawbone realize she was seeking some reaction.

“Cora.”  After a moment of not getting what she secretly wanted from it, she continued on.  “Dammit, that was stated just like him, but you really aren’t him anymore.”

Now it was Sawbone’s turn to feel it’s head reel in confusion.

“Excuse me?”  Instead of answering right off, Cora glanced around to make sure no one was close.  She stepped up close again to make sure it could understand her whisper.

“Do you know how you Warforged are made?”  Everyone had their theories, the most obvious one was what most people of metal or flesh tended to gravitate toward.

“They say it is a secret, but most of us think that there is a hidden room here in the mountain where we are assembled.  After we are put together magic is infused into us so that we become sentient beings.”  It shrugged to show that even this answer felt incomplete to it.

Cora was shaking her head even before it's shoulders settled from that shrug.  She glanced around again and again found no one kibitzing on their talk.

“We put your bodies together, true, but magic can not create life.  Magic only creates a semblance of life.  Do you want to know how we do it?”  Despite itself, Sawbone found itself nodding after wondering if this were a trap.  Even as it made the gesture it noticed this woman’s twin sweep out onto the parade ground from the same distant side tunnel.  Just as Cora had done, Cory made a bee line straight toward it.  It’s glance over Cora’s shoulder alerted the spell caster that something was happening.  She glanced back and cursed as though she were less than pleased by her sister’s approach.

With desperation flaring in her human eyes, Cora turned back to Sawbone.  “We infuse the souls of the willing into your Warforged bodies.  You forget who you are- were, but….  Shit.  Please don’t speak of this with anyone, we will have to talk later.”  scrapping her feet back so that they were no longer as close, Cora assumed her boss mask.  What she said next was produced in a stage voice, her eyes begged Sawbone to play along.  “Congratulations on making yourself noteworthy too your peers, Sawbone.  I hear the Rite of Turpentine is a noteworthy occasion for you Warforged.”  For a moment Sawbone wondered what it should do with this supposedly taboo information Cora obviously wanted to hide.

Cory who was just now taking up a stance next to her sister would probably be forced to turn Cora in if it blurted the wizardess’s secret out.  But that might create problems for Sawbone.  Who knew how deeply this secret knowledge ran?  Would the leaders of Wizard’s Peak seek to silence Sawbone permanently if they knew it knew this secret?  Reading it’s right Shoulder, Cory made an impressed face.

“Social rituals denoting some right of passage is one sign that beings are sentient.  Your name choosing is a moment of pride for you and your people right?”

Cora was still making an appeal to Sawbone with her eyes, she had missed the decrease in it's eye’s brightness that was supposed to show her it had chosen to remain quiet.

“Any excuse to party, ma’am.”  Cory was surprised into delighted laughter, like a woman taking delight in the tricks of a dog, while Cora continued to seek expression cues from it’s static face.

“Yes, any excuse to party is a good excuse to make,” the twin said, just before storm clouds settled on her features.  Cory turned on Cora, displeasure marring once friendly features.  “I hope you have satisfied your curiosity, sister.  This Warforged called Sawbone is not the reincarnation of your dead lover.”  A weight like certain doom settled over the whole of the courtyard.  Waking party goers were hastening out of the underground parade ground as fast as their hang over’s would let them.

Collaboration and love affairs of the mind
After a few weeks of trying, Cora still could not spark ‘past life’ memories from Sawbone.  Cory worked in tandem on her sister’s memory project and with Sawbon in compiling data on Warforged health care.  Although it never remembered life as Tremain, a human wizard of noteworthy power, the Warforged medic did discover that it found comfort in the company of both women.  The medic confessed to noticing several episodes where a mysterious pride was felt when seeing Cora from afar.  A friendship with both women began, and although Cora did not find her former lover, she admitted that she too felt an emotional calm in Sawbone’s company.  All three of them had great intellects, and their curiosity and interests often aligned so that collaborating on each other’s projects became an every day occurrence.

11 months 3 days since creation
Wellborne Huxley accepted Sawbone’s drawing and gave it a glance, which prompted a double take as the wizard’s attention returned to the page one more time after that first cursory glance.  Instead of dismissing the medic’s idea right off, as the man had many times before, he gave the rendition a closer perusal.  Unfortunately for the Warforged, Wellborne drew away from the pictorial production with furrowed brows and a puzzled look.

“Is this really your idea of what future medic’s should look like?” the wizard asked.  Drawing itself up to answer the man, the spell caster suddenly continued showing that the former question had not been rhetorical, Sawbone had to wait out the diatribe.  “What is with all this armor… and are those wands firing various evocation spells?”

Just like a dejected flesh creature, a Warforged could feel a sinking sensation where it’s stomach would have been.

“Sir, I’ve been doing this for three quarters of a year.  Each and every battle we get in, I feel vulnerable because we go out unarmed.  People all around us medics are striving to kill each other, and we get picked off because we have no means of fighting back, and no one covers us so that-”  The dapper wizard flicked the drawing with his offhand fingertips, making the paper crack out loud.

“Fight back?  Medics are not supposed to fight back, Sawbone!  How many times do I have to tell you, leave the fighting to those trained to do so!  Why in the nine hells should we expend resources to turn you into spell blasters?  You would spend all your time getting into brawls rather than taking care of our injured!”

Jabbing the piece of paper back at the medic, Wellborne seemed eager to dismiss the entire subject.  Sawbone was not ready to concede this fight though.

“Sir, we can’t treat the wounded when we ourselves are dead.  Perhaps we could dedicate certain units to grant us medics covering fire as we sprint out into the battles?  Were you aware, sir, that medic casualties are approaching fifty percent of each unit dedicated to a fight?”  Pain flashed through the wizard’s eyes, but the stern cast of his face did not crack.

“Casualties are up with each and every type of unit we field, Sawbone.  Our combat units are suffering higher death rates than you medics are lamenting.  We are cut off from all of Erath right now, we have no allies and we have no new resources coming to us, except those that trickle to us through the Well.”

Although the wizard’s words had been practically hissed at Sawbone, it knew there was no real animosity in the human male towards it, but there was a heap of frustration in both of them.  Holding it’s drawing with all the carefully written notes, Sawbone grasped at the only idea it had.

“Sir, every since I was made a corporal I’ve been tasked with trying to think up ways to improve the medic corps.  We have to believe that we have friends out there, we have to have faith that Wizard’s Peak will be relieved.  We may not be able to work on my ideas at this time, but peace will have to return some day.”  Wellborne Huxley’s eyes softened at those words, and Sawbone knew that the wizard wanted to believe, with all his heart he wanted to believe.

The Moment That Defines
Looking back at the Slight Dragonborn female it was training, Sawbone felt the same old trepidation come over it.  As they trotted down the tunnel, hugging the right hand wall so that fighters of all races could pass them by down the center of the tunnel, and the wounded could trickle out along the left wall, fear began to mount.  Too many times Sawbone had entered battle without the arms to defend itself; deep down it knew it could better serve Wizard’s Peak if it had some means to knock the enemy on their heels.  The medics could retrieve the stricken better if the warlocks of the Scarred Hand had to keep their heads down.

Today, as it had for too long, they were fighting in their own tunnels, the enemy was now demanding that Wizard’s Peak surrender the Well of Worlds to them on a daily basis.  Up ahead where this tunnel bent, lights like a malevolent aurora borealis played on the walls and reflected off the battered armor of the soldiers.  Her white scaled face was showing her fangs with a draconic grimace, the young medic could not hold back the fear filling her.

“Take hold of that fear, Xathsiss, remember your training and let the fear fuel your moves,” it told the Dragonborn girl, Sawbone was wishing it could believe it’s own words as it once had.

“Seesseesaiya, I will ssir,” she vowed, her saurian eyes wild.

Rounding the right hand turn, the two of them had to shield their eyes as a brilliant white light made silhouettes of those fighting fifty feet ahead of them.  As there was a lull in troops streaming too the fight, Xathsiss moved up next to Sawbone with an arm up to shield her visual organs; she halted when he did.  When it could see again, Sawbone noticed the trail of bodies between itself and the raging fight where the light still flared.  That indicated that Wizard’s Peak forces were pushing their enemy back.  When had that happened last?  It felt that lifetimes had passed since their last victory.  Eagerly, Xathsiss pushed ahead, Sawbone saw her reasoning.  Instinctively she believed that getting to their first patient would mean they could clear out quicker.  Sane people didn't linger in battlefields.

The girl only made five steps before the right hand wall exploded outward, showering her with dirt and shadowy shapes swinging swords.  After hacking the hapless Dragonborn girl down, several of the Scarred Hand mercenaries turned Sawbone’s way; the rest poured out of the new hole and streamed down the corridor where overworked Wizard’s Peak soldiers strove oh so valiantly.  This was it, this was the moment Sawbone knew had been coming, and it had never had a chance to convince it’s superiors to arm it or it’s medics.  Knowing it for a futile gesture, Sawbone pulled a chisel out of it’s left arm tool compartment; then it posed hoping to take at least one of it’s killers down before those blades ended it’s life.  What an ineffectual tool.

“Sawbone!  Get down!” a familiar woman’s voice called from behind.

Even as Cora called out, Sawbone heard Cory run through a scale of words that sizzled with menace.  It dropped, rolling back while holding the little wood carver’s tool up like a diminutive holy symbol brandished to halt hungry vampires.  Seven blue darts buzzed like enraged hornets over Sawbone’s head, slamming into the enemy soldiery.  Half a second later five bursts of fire wooshed over it, turning the three mercenaries into human candles who danced and screamed.  Then they all floated or fell down as ashen chunks and coal bits.  Then the twins were quartering around the Warforged medic sergeant, working their magic in tandem to slay their enemies then seal the new made tunnel closed.  Knowing that if it did not say something, good soldiers would die, Sawbone looked Cora in the eye.

It’s almost spindly arm pointed where the white light was subsiding.

“Most of the enemy are going to flank our fighters!” it shouted, hoping it’s voice would carry over the tumult.  Cora glanced at her sister as though seeking permission.  Cory nodded, taking over melding the stone plug they had crafted to block the counter tunnel.  Sawbone's best friend sprinted off to save Wizard's Peak fighters.  As it watched Cora sprint down the hall, arcane energy playing up and down her staff, Sawbone gathered Xathsiss into it’s arms.  The Dragonborn girl showed no signs of life, she was merely rags of meat with a head attached.  Here was another of his failures, another life lost because it could not push it’s idea’s upon it’s superiors.

Cora was wading into the surging heaving skirmish going on down the hall, Cory was half way to the scrimmage readying herself to hurl magic.  A bright blue jagged light blew formations apart, followed by a burst of fire that engulfed the living and dead alike.  Voices in mid cry ceased as one, a synchronicity that shot alarm through Sawbone’s body.  When it’s eyes cleared of the flash dazzle, Sawbone could not see a single standing figure; friend nor foe.  Cora’s face swam up, and it started to see scenes of them together that did not come from memory… not it’s memory.  Cora, Cory!  Sawbone’s friends!

Something was keening into a tin can.  It stumbled forward already feeling the holes in it’s spirit, as if heat were blasting glass too thin to hold consistency.  The reverberations of the person crying were bothering Sawbone, it wailed over and over the same wordless denial.  What bothered the Warforged medic more were visions of Cora and himself straining together in a physical embrace they had never shared…. Had they? it/he saw a phantom face in a memory mirror, and reality completed its double recurve inverse.  It was a face of flesh.  It’s.  Not his.  What?

Gentle hands grabbed Sawbone while it stood over the blackened remains of Cory.  The soldiers had to pry his hand open so they could recover Sathsiss’s body.  Horrified for having dragged the Dragonborn girls corpse around like a toddler trekking around with a favored blankie, Sawbone started wiping the blood off his hands spasmodically.  Horror started to inflect in the voice of whoever was crying out, then it realized that the mourner was itself.

Aftermath, the heartbreak of steel
Healers and medics alike fell into each others arms with tears in their eyes, cheering just was not enough of a display to release over a year’s worth of fear and anxiety.  This injury ward was still too full of injured and maimed defenders, a fact that kind of offset Wellborne Huxley’s good news.  Sedaria was rising up against the Scarred Hand, and the siege of Wizard’s Peak had been broken.  Seeing the injured drove home the fact that the fighting hadn’t really stopped; it just was not on their front door anymore.  Yet for a majority of the people Wellborne had informed of this shift in fortunes, they acted as if the strife were over.

Plucking at his sleeve, Mother Superior Aspenspire inclined her head toward her office door.  Letting the Melwenite Priestess lead the way, the wizard was surprised that she shot her question over her shoulder before they reached the seclusion of her study.  She was usually much more circumspect around those she was in charge of.

“Do we have any idea why the Scarred Hand seems to have lost their power or drive?”  Like Wellborne, the priestess seemed to realize that the war was far from concluded.

When the woman looked back, he inclined his head toward her office to show that his news was not for public consumption.  Only after she had shut the door and was rounding her desk did he choose to answer.

“We don’t have any definitive information on what was behind all this, but it seems our good fortune stems from some adventurers in Mhor.”  Mother Aspenspire froze in the act of taking her plush leather seat at the mention of the dead city.  “We believe something from an alternate temporal past rose to challenge the Divine Concordance.  It seems that this power from history was trying to do unto Erath what had happened to the Dead City centuries ago, create a land of death that faintly mirrors life.  This entity did change reality so that conditions were favorable for it, yet some people who should not have existed at all plummeted out of the fractured timeline to save the world.  These heroes have now ascended it seems.”

Completing the act of sitting, the Melwenite Priestess started to nod her head in a thoughtfully slow manner.

“The gods were affected by this, then?  Does that mean the rumors going around about people turning into devils and demons are true?” she asked.  Wellborne noticed the subtle narrowing of the Mother Superior’s eyes.  Of course this would be of grave interest to many priesthoods.

“Almost all our Scarred Hand prisoners have transformed, but they are not fully demonic, nor are any of them truly angelic… yes these changes are revealing the touch of outer world beings of all sort.”

Wellborne Huxley sat in silence for a moment, hiding his curiosity about what conclusions this ally might come too.  He did not have to wait that long.

“Are you saying that bloodlines that carry the flavor of the gods and devils are being revealed?”  He smiled at the woman who had been heading Wizard’s Peak’s medical services since the siege had begun.  A few days ago, when it was evident that the Scarred Hand’s forces were dispersing, he had feared that the Melwenites would leave in a mass exodus back to their monasteries.  A lot of character was being displayed, these men and women had not even paused for a moment in aiding the Peak.

Seeing questions without end piling up in Mother Aspenspire’s eyes at his nod, the wizard immediately began to think of an evasive mechanism that would prevent a prolonged question and answer session.  As she had many times before, the priestess surprised Wellborne.  Even though she wanted to pursue her curiosity she innately realized that not many answers were yet available.

“Master Huxley, you did not come down hear to just give us your news.  What other reason brings you into this makeshift hall of healing?”  He had to acknowledge both her restraint and perceptiveness, so he inclined his head to show her his respect.

After that he hesitated due to the nature of the request he was about to make.  There were aspects of continuing pain that would flavor this subject.

“You have in your care a former medic who is Warforged.  It was driven insane in the middle of a battle last week, I was tasked with finding out what I can about this being’s care?”  His query caused the Mother’s head to tilt to the side, again her curiosity was peaked.  This time she felt she had to indulge that inquisitiveness.

“You are speaking of Sergeant Sawbone?  Why would a person of your position be curious about this creature?”

Knowing she would see past his caginess, he still had to go with the official cover story; Wellborne could not reveal that the Warforged were fueled by souls that had once been housed in flesh bodies.  Clergy men and women tended to become testy and possessive when speaking of thinking creature’s life forces.

“This Warforged had taken it upon itself to study Warforged physiology and health care, plus we had ordered it to brainstorm ideas on how we could improve our medic training and first aid practices in the field.  Sawbone had some ideas on how to improve our medic’s battlefield survivability that my superiors are interested in implementing."  Plus they wanted this Warforged to front their publicity policies for revealing these crafted beings to the world, but he could not admit to that yet.

Studying him with a frown, the Mother Superior almost seemed inclined to send Wellborne off.  She could see that he was not being up front with her, but she was also almost used to the secrecy pervading every aspect of Wizard’s Peak dealings and activities.  Frowning at herself for giving in to his request, the priestess reached down and unlocked a desk drawer.

“Sawbone is not really insane, you know,” she stated pulling up two tomes and a notebook.  None of the writings had a title on their covers.  Wellborne raised an eyebrow at that information, inquiring after more data.

Sliding the books over, she indicated them with her eyes.  “This Warforged creature has suffered a terrible shock to it’s psyche that has left it scarred on the inside.  Yet it requested that I pass these books and notes on to you and the healers of Wizard’s Peak.  It is cognizant enough to know that it’s previous work has to be… matriculated among the learned, which is an act of a mind capable of caring for others; a mind that is bent but not broken.”  Wonder filled the wizards heart, this was great news.  Wizard’s Peak would better be able to introduce the artificially created Warforged to the world without generating the expected bad visceral response from Erath’s many people; showing that these beings could be harmed and healed as all other creatures would negate a lot of negative impressions.

Gating in the Dragonborn had caused a stir, but that stink had been from the same minority groups who already hated magical practitioners.  Revealing the Warforged would stir many more hornet’s nests.

“This is good news, Mother Superior Aspenspire, Sawbone’s work has been invaluable!  Tell me, when will it be able to resume it’s work?” Wellborne requested leaning back.  Looking troubled, the Melwenite priestess set the notebook aside, then opened the top volume of Sawbone’s treatise.  Upside down drawings, supported by neat handwritten paragraphs revealed the healing techniques that Sawbone had compiled, but the Melwenite stopped half way through the book and turned it so that he could read.

Instead of carefully drawn representations of limbs and organs, a shakily drawn cartoonish golem was shown with shoulder mounted ballista.  Where once the writing had been scrupulously neat, in a flowing hand, the jagged words almost resembled ink spills.  ‘All the shes needed me, I couldn’t help!  They wouldn’t let me save the shes too many!’, at a tilt to the spine the next section read, ‘Empty, so empty’, then written upside down ‘Cora loved even the not me, me!’.  Chills on spider legs stalked Wellborne Huxley’s spine, he knew who Sawbone had been before the transferal, and the relationships that man had while as a man.  He also knew that Warforged never remembered their past lives.  This was a clear statement that something was askew.

“I do not think that is what it wishes to do with it’s life,” she stated with concerned eyes.

Swallowing hard, he glanced at the priestess wondering if she suspected Wizard’s Peak’s secrets.  Wellborne did not surprise any look that might have indicated she suspected the truth, but he did not like the way her eyes probed him; that look seemed to ask him to spill that which shadowed his soul.  “Maybe you should talk to Sawbone, itself.  It will be better able to tell you what it is thinking than I can.  The visit might even do it well.”  Intrigued, and feeling slightly guilty for the data he was hiding, Wellborne found himself nodding at the Mother Superior’s suggestion.

Sawbone’s cell door was open, further down the hall where the doors were closed, someone howled in a manner that was not human, nor was the sound animal.  A neatly made bed had been pushed into the corner next to the door, a night stand was on the mattress to get it out of the way of all the chalk drawings on the wall.  From the smudged floor to as high as Sawbone could reach, diagrams, magical formula (some seeming legitimate), and notes had been made in many colors of chalk.  Doodle covered pages of paper would have seemed randomly scattered, but the Warforged patient was currently fidgeting over the placement of a single page among the diagrams on it’s floor.

Finding the right angle to place the paper sheet, Sawbone stood up as it’s eyes grew dim; it began to use its finger to scribe something in the air.

“The seeming is more than the sum of its parts, but pewter has nothing to do with any of it,” it said as it worked it’s mystery problem out.  The Halfling girl who had led Wellborne into the dungeon that now housed Wizard’s Peaks mentally challenged, knocked on the Warforged’s door.  It’s finger began to scribe feverishly in the air, as though Sawbone was trying to complete it’s work in the next two moments.

“Sawbone… Sawbone, you have a visitor.”

Hanging it’s head as a man would have if his thoughts had been derailed, the Warforged creature’s hand stopped tracing in space.

“Is it living?  I’m tired of seeing the dead,” Sawbone inquired.  Smiling proudly, the girl nodded.

“Yes, it is a living man here to see you, Sawbone.” At that, the Warforged’s eyes brightened.

“Thank you, saint fleshling, you are always so kind,” it said turning it’s head.  Then, “oh.” as it spotted Wellborne.  It’s voice fell an octave as it’s eyes dimmed a little.

Leaving the aperture free for Wellborne, his guide turned about and walked back the way they had come.  He started for the door, but Sawbone waved him away from entering the room.  Evidently it thought it’s doodles were more worthy than manners.  As it tip toed through the notes and caricatures, Wellborne Huxley decided to feel out the Warforged.

“Hello, Sawbone, how are you?”  In response the artificial creature barked a short bitter laugh.  It chose to let that sound stand for It’s explanation.

“Are the rumors true, Mister Wellborne, is the siege lifted?” it asked.  Feeling the tentative smile come over his face, the wizard nodded; he also noted the lack of it referring to him as 'sir'.  It had greeted him as a civilian would have.

It hopped to the clear floor space around it’s door, then as though they were equals in rank, Sawbone offered its digits for a handshake.  Inadvertently, Wellborne looked down at that hand.  Although the Warforged was slender for it’s kind, that hand looked more like a tool for crushing than a living hand ever could.  The hesitation was noticed, but not commented on.  Aside, the wizard was again astounded at the warmth in the metal fingers that Warforged somehow generated when he did shake Sawbone’s hand.

“It’s true, Sawbone.  The mountain was declared cleared of enemy forces earlier today,” he informed the former medic.  Still trying to feel the constructed life form out, he added, “Many places in Sedaria are still under the warlock’s control though, so the fighting hasn’t stopped.”

Blue lights flickered in Sawbone’s eye, which somehow made the creature seem uncertain.

“Are you trying to tell me that my work as a medic isn’t done?”  Surprised that Sawbone had been so direct, Wellborne nodded.

“We won’t send you back out into the field, Sawbone, we still need you to work on your medical treatise.  The day is coming where we will have to reveal you and your people to Erath, and we think your work will go a long way in helping your folk be accepted.”

Blue eye lights flared, dimmed, then flickered, and a hollow moan escaped Sawbone.  After making mourning noises for a moment, it plaintively said one word.

“No.”  Wellborne immediately wondered if he was causing the Warforged more anguish.  “No.  I can’t serve you as you want me to serve.  Too many end up dead that way.”  It’s words firmed up as it spoke, though it did tilt it’s head as though expecting a military style rebuke.  Sawbone evidently still half acknowledged Wellborne’s rank in Wizard’s Peak defensive forces.  Even though he now realized that Sawbone was not insane, he still pitied the Warforged’s fragile state; and he felt his responsibility for that collapse.

Instead of pointing out it’s obligations to Wizard’s Peak, duties that had not been discharged, Wellborne inclined his head.  He still remembered who this had been, and that had been a man he had respected.

“How would you serve then?”  Almost instantly the lights in Sawbone’s eyes seemed to brighten with fervent intensity.  Half pivoting out of the way so it could show Wellborne it’s work, Sawbone gestured inside as if presenting the crafts of a genius.

“I’ve argued for this before, but I think our soldiers, especially our medics, rush into battle with a deficit in firepower- or- or some form of protection.  If they had something or somebody laying down evocation spells to keep the enemies head down, they could get into position without suffering so many casualties.  And the same could work for our aid units-” As if it knew how feverish the pace of it’s words were getting, Sawbone cut itself off with a slight dimming of it’s eyes.  “I know you’ve heard this before.”

Noting that resigned tone, Wellborne studied the Warforged for a second.

“Don’t you want to help your batch mates gain acceptance in civil society?  Don’t you think that is a worthy goal?” he asked it.  Its head was bowed, but it again indicated it’s room, this time for a different reason.

“I would like that very much, but isn’t it obvious I’m not the Warforged-for-the-job anymore?”  It held up it’s hands in a pleading gesture.  “Can’t you find someone else to do that job?  There are a lot of heroic Warforged with great personalities who could present us in a good light, could you ask them?”  It knew it was not the same person it had been before, Sawbone was declining because it knew it’s new obsessive personality would turn people of all races off.

Nodding his head, Wellborne conceded that point to Sawbone.  He would indeed begin to search among the Peak’s Warforged population for a new spokes person, it had been a fantasy to consider that his former human friend could shine out from this Warforged beings personality for the duty he had been asking of it.  Still, he wanted to do something for the being this Warforged used to be, for what it had done for Wizard's peak before it's collapse.

“What are your plans for providing this protection or fire power?  Do you think any of your ideas are viable?” he asked it.  Sawbone, brightened again, figuratively in mannerisms and physically with it’s eyes.

“I don’t have anything concrete yet, but I’ve progressed from those ideas I proposed before.  You know I thought about arming people with wands with spells imbued in them.

“Then I thought of golems that fielded artillery.  Both idea are expensive and would require us to establish industries requiring wizards to work in assembly lines.  Not effective ideas, I know, because the population of wizards has suffered.  So I thought about turning myself into someone who could buff up a unit and make short lived contraptions that could hurl magic-” it saw the doubt in his eyes, but then Sawbone stated something that made this madness seem suddenly feasible.  “No, wait.  You’ve heard of that artificer fad that has sprung out of the alchemist guilds?  Those guys are tinkering around with devices that allow them to brew potions on the road.  They may not produce the fantastically powerful droughts as the standard alchemist does, but they are making their mark nonetheless.  As a force out in the field rather than days behind the front line.”

Pausing to ponder it’s next words, Wellborne tried to visualize what Sawbone was trying to propose; none of the drawings on the wall had anything to do with alchemy.  “A woman from Errod has emerged with a suit of armor that she produces each day, she claims that she uses the art of the artificer to defeat proven warriors while wearing her charm infused carapace.  I would like to learn this artificer art, which seems to fuse an artisan’s know how with magical practices.  Boy, did Wizard’s Peak set me up with artisan skills.”  Wellborne found himself astounded.  Sawbone was proposing to learn a new form of fad magic to support Wizard’s Peak with.  How in the nine hells was he supposed to respond?

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Posted by: frenzied67 - 02-10-2021, 02:07 PM - Forum: The Judge's Podium - No Replies

In other iterations of D&D polearm weapons had reach as well as an inability to attack foes within 5'. In 5E I see that the lance is the only reach weapon that has a disadvantage on adjacent (5') creatures. No other polearm states that in their information blocks, so does that mean they can be used at both 10' and 5' attack ranges? Thank you in advance for your time.

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  Brother of the Sword Chapter 8
Posted by: frenzied67 - 02-02-2021, 08:29 PM - Forum: Off-Topic - No Replies


Chapter 8
The Road North, 1533 Imperial Calendar

“Why, dearest sibling, why deny us what is our right?” Brother Sword implored. Brother of the Sword waited, watching the conspiracy of four shuffle out of his room. Each of them cast one last look back at him before stepping out of the door. Her green eyes imploring, Star Iris trailed after the others; her last glance back was the hardest for him to bear. The gentle way the door clicked shut was more of a recrimination than slamming it would have been. “Fellest of the fell, for a wizard to reap we really should services sell!” Never had his sword sibling ever been so upset before, inside Brother could feel Brother Sword tugging at his emotions trying to make his blood boil at the prospect of removing another magic practitioner from the world. Deep down he did want to take up the crusade, then he thought of all the soldiers he had killed the last time he dealt with a wizard.

The problem with having a mental and emotional connection with another sentient being was that it could sense his argument just as he was forming one. Brother Sword was broadcasting scorn on Brother’s idea even as he stated it.

“I was made to kill too many people who were innocent just taking out a divinator… a divinator, Brother Sword!”

“Innocent’s you say! Many more Krendiel would kill, even to this day! His waste would mount, the bodies beyond count, would our hand had been stayed. Think, brother fell, and you could tell. An opportunity to hunt and be paid, sheath me not, let not my will be betrayed.” Brother grimaced at the sword’s steely obstinacy, he had never felt Brother Sword worked up so much before. It tugged on their ties of creation trying to increase his blood lust to match it’s own, it’s words sharp reprimands.

Exasperated, Brother of the Sword turned and placed his hands on his hips while glaring at Brother Sword propped up against the chest of drawers.

“They said it themselves, they were greedy and stupid. Instead of calling in the experts, they compiled their stupidity. This is not our fight.” Brother was not prepared to hear Brother Sword use his own voice to fight back with, this tactic affected him like a slap in the face.

“A sword should be used to stop trouble, Sheriff Dade Cartin, that is why I carry mine,” the thinking sword sent, reminding Brother of his first conversation with Mudpie’s law man. “Blame should fall upon their head, brother fell, yet your guilt grow if they become dead. A fate not earned nor deserved though bad acts they disturbed.” Though Brother Sword had stopped shouting in his head, there was a firmness in these last arguments; Brother had the impression the blade had drawn it’s line in the sand, it’s mind made up and firm.

“Choose one, sword. It’s either the Witch Garmev, or this Dragstar dickhead!”

For close to a minute Brother Sword did not share a sensation or send a thought. Brother of the Sword gave a slight smirk and moved to break their connection through the ether.

“Childish you’ve become, yourself you did not master! That which you did not wish, passes. You’re now a monster!” Even as those words scalded Brother of the Sword, he felt a pulse burst from the pommel of Brother Sword. The blade severed their link to the ether.

“What have you done?” he asked Brother Sword, trying to push the thought through the ether. He felt diminished on the inside, exposed and wrong, also unjustly maligned. Yet, Brother Sword had not been completely incorrect. His arguments to stay apart from Mudpie’s problems had stemmed from his guilt over killing all those guards while trying to get to Krendiel. He was also responsible for all the people who had been killed by the fey giant in Galen Falls. Everywhere he went it seemed good people died, and now that Brother Sword had repudiated him Brother knew himself as a monster. The destroyer of innocence.

From far away the wave of some impulse thudded into Brother of the Sword’s psyche. For several moments he thought it might be the returning ripple of whatever energy wave Brother Sword had cast out into the world. Then he felt the difference between the two ripples. Brother Sword’s energy had felt like an angry call to war, this return wave reeked of madness and malice from something that wanted to punish the world for it’s many transgressions. “You son of a bitch!” he growled at the sword. It had sent a challenge to Esper Dragstar, and that provocation had just been answered. If Brother ran now innocent people would definitely die, Brother Sword had not only tied his hands, it had taken Mudpie’s options away as well. “You son of a bitch!” he said again as desperation filled Brother with a sensation like panic. His words were as potent against the sword as the plate he flung at it, no impression at all was made.

Flying down the stairs was not as entertaining as the last time. Brother’s one stumble made him leap the last steps rather than struggle to reestablish his running pattern. From the second story he just skipped treading on several steps to increase the speed of his flight down. Stumbling onto the ground floor, Brother of the Sword careened into a middle age couple slow dancing to the jig the atrocious band was playing. He had to catch both the man and woman so that they were not bounced off the floor by the violence of his inertia. Their protests were wind in the air, Brother was looking left and right to find any of the people who had just quit his room. The four were all seated at the table closest to the bar, engrossed in pointing fingers at each other. He abandoned the couple without answering ‘who the hell he thought he was?’.

Despite all the dancers smacking the floor boards with fun fevered feet, it seemed everyone could hear the patter of Brother of the Swords running steps; Mudpie’s four leading citizens turned on him before he reached their table. Wide eyes met his as he skidded to a halt next to their table.

“How fast can you get everyone out of Mudpie?” Due to his wild actions, the musicians had chosen to stop playing at the exact moment Brother’s question boomed out. Dancers and drinkers alike began to mutter in protest to the weird eyed stranger’s question. The querying look that Cyrus adopted plainly asked if he had been dealing with a mad man this entire time. Dilane Shunt narrowed his orbs in suspicion, while Sheriff Dade merely looked confounded. For her part, Star Iris seemed to catch Brother’s alarm, her eyes grew large in sympathetic distress.

“We could get everyone cleared out in a few days, a week at most. We sent most of the wagons back to our old town for the next group to be resettled. What’s wrong?” the law man asked.

That was not what Brother of the Sword wanted to hear, his grimace seemed to affirm his lack of sanity to Cyrus.

“What in the blue blazes are ye on aboot?” Dilane demanded, clapping a hand over his money pocket. The business man plainly thought they were about to be gamed for money this very moment. Only Star and the sheriff seemed ready to treat Brother on face value.

“Brother Sword just challenged your wizard, and the wizard accepted! He’s coming tonight!” even as those words slipped out, Brother knew he sounded as crazy as Cyrus currently thought him to be. Even Star stopped believing in him that moment her eyes showing disappointment.

“How did you challenge Esper? What are you talking about?” at least Sheriff Dade still thought he was coherent enough to answer questions.

Oh gods! Am I supposed to explain Brother Sword and myself to these people? Could they ever believe me? They were all leaning back to create as much distance as they could from the wild man accosting them, at Brother of the Sword’s back he could hear boots shuffling up behind him as the townsfolk began to form to defend their friends. Taking a deep breath to still his beating heart and firm up his wits, Brother gestured a plea for the four to bear with him as he gathered himself. I have to show them, then tell them, I think. Reaching back behind himself he sought a connection to Brother Sword through the ether, even as he began to speak.

“Sheriff, I didn’t contact Esper Dragstar, my sword did. My blade is truly my brother, and it wanted to help you when I did not.” Though he had half feared that their argument had been so severe that Brother Sword would no longer acknowledge Brother, the blade did complete the circuit and teleported to Brother’s hand.

“Fuck me!” Cyrus and Dilane had evidently known each other so long that they mimicked each other’s response by swearing and tipping their chairs over as they scuttled back.

The men and women ranged behind Brother of the Sword also gasped out four letter exclamations, their boots and shoes made a racket as they surged away. Star froze like a deer in sudden lantern light her eyes huge, shooting up, Sheriff Dade went for a sword he was not wearing. They’ll listen to me now, he thought feeling brutish with his methodology.

“When I turned you down, Brother Sword got mad at me. It felt I should have helped you, and when it got mad it sent the wizard a psychic challenge. The challenge was answered, which means that your enemy is coming.” All four of the conspiracy glanced passed Brother to see how the people of Mudpie were reacting to Brother’s words, the flinching in their features indicating that this was a secret they had wanted to hold on to. Star Iris studied Brother of the Sword as if just meeting him, this time she seemed horrified by what she saw; her distaste spurred on by memories of her seductive attempts with him no doubt.

I’m not a man, this is proof that ‘simulacrum’ is another word for monster! his thoughts flagellated him, Star’s response scourging his emotions. Pushing on passed these thoughts and back onto the task at hand was hard, he had been avoiding this self reflection for too long. “My hands are tied now, I have to fight your fight for you, but it will be harder for me to do that if these people are in the way!” From behind Brother of the Sword, a man called out making the three men and Star flinch.

“Who is this man? What enemy is he talking about?” There were also a lot of comments back there about his sword, or words about Mudpie dealing with an obvious sorcerer. That made Brother start a little, being accused of being a wizard did not sit well for some reason.

Just as Brother of the Sword was about to shout at the group in front of him to break them from their spell of gaping, Sheriff Dade bent over and started righting the two overturned chairs from the sudden exodus Dilane and Cyrus had made from them. Of the three men he had been the only one not to knock his seat over when standing. Star was still in her seat with seemingly distasteful thoughts marring her exquisite features; Brother began to avoid looking at her, she was all but shouting the accusation of monster at him.

“Where would you want to meet him, what ground do you want to fight on?” the lawman asked him, then whispering over his shoulder he addressed the card player. “Cyrus, can you handle the good people’s questions? Things might turn ugly for us if you don’t.” Skirting wide around Brother, Cyrus watched Brother as if he were expecting more madness to manifest such as more magic swords or extra limbs. Star finally stood up and backed away to stand next to Mister Dilane, both of them watching the conversation as if expecting something to blow up.

Before Brother of the Sword could formulate his answer to Sheriff Dade Cartin, the lawman whispered at him. “If Cyrus plays this right you may have volunteers lining up to help you defend this town.” Brother felt his mouth gape wide.

“I don’t want anyone to help me. Once the wizard shows up and kills just me, you would still have a few days to pack up and leave. If these people are seen supporting me, then this Dragstar fuck might forget his time table and start carving you guys up right away.” Sheriff Dade’s expression proclaimed that he found Brothers reasoning laudable. “Is there a place you can gather everyone that will be out of the way? Plus, which way is Esper Dragstar’s lair?” Pointing to the hills to the west, the law enforcement officer showed Brother where Esper lived as he answered the sword man’s other question.

“We could roust everyone out and have them gather here or in the mill. Which would you prefer?”

Mister Dilane suddenly stepped up to rest his hands on the back of the chair he had sat in.

“We should send ‘em to the mill, sheriff. The boat out back ain’t big but we can shuttle people acroos in shifts,” the heavy set man declared pointing east. When their eyes sought him out, Brother gave a nod to their plan. It was a sound idea in what felt like a sea of chaos. Fear started to depart from Star Iris’s gaze as she suddenly became more animated than her statue like stance had been.

“I’ll have my staff start knocking on doors. Dilane, you should have some of your employees start lighting the way to your mill, that road is dangerous in the dark.” Behind Brother of the Sword’s shoulder Cyrus must have had half an ear bent their way. He went from exhorting the twenty or thirty people into being calm to asking them to volunteer to knock on doors or hold lanterns to illuminate the rutted road. “After the evacuation starts rolling along on its own, we should meet back here for a last strategy session.”

Star’s addendum was addressed to her male friends, her eyes avoided Brother of the Sword as if he were an ugly canker on reality. As everyone transformed from indecision to incarnations of certain action, he was left alone with his thoughts. He noticed that people were taking extra precautions to maintain as great a distance from him as they could. Why should they come close, even I know I am a monster. Death follows me everywhere, maybe I should let this Esper Dragstar take me out. The world will be a better place without this simulacrum messing it up. Feeling sorry for himself, brother stepped out of the inn. He walked around the building to the tall grass on the inn’s western side. Baby trees and flowers in several score terracotta pots sat in double rows along the inn’s west facing wall. Someone had been planning a scenic garden to add to the inns reputation and desirability.

Mudpie was in a definite stir, darkened houses had lantern bearing citizens suddenly beating on the doors or calling back and forth to one another asking after misplaced neighbors. Thin though the moon was over Brother of the Sword’s shoulder, it still provided enough light that he could see the mound like hills to the west; but he could not differentiate the hills from the trees growing upon them, they were silhouettes against a starry backdrop.

“Look what you did, Brother Sword, you’ve turned these peoples lives over so that you could have your way. There’s a good chance that most of them will be killed after we are done away with. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to run from this fight, but we should have had the time to learn the terrain and the enemy we fight. You stole that away you asshole piece of steel.” Brother’s recriminations were met with silence from the sword.

For a moment Brother of the Sword thought about casting Brother Sword away into the tall grass or into the river, yet he knew he would summon his sibling the first time trouble raised it’s head. Then Brother fantasized about breaking Brother Sword over a boulder or melting it in a forge. After his second revenge scenario played itself out he began to feel another wave of self loathing come over himself. His feelings were hurt, but that did not give Brother the right to dream of murdering his stubborn brother, no matter how wrong headed the sword was acting.

“Brother? Brother of the Sword, are you back here?” Star’s voice barely carried over the distant shouts of her neighbors moving off to the dubious safety of the saw mill. Her call was the last thing Brother thought he would ever hear.

“Over here,” he responded, turning her way confused.

A black blob moving in the deep shadows of the three story building proved to be Star. Evidently she could see him because she stepped up to Brother of the Sword’s side without asking for directions; the bell of her dress touched his leg as she stared out at the same hills that fascinated him.

“Most of the town has moved into the mill and we have two boat loads of people on the eastern shore… maybe three by now. Cyrus and the sheriff just got back which means that Mister Dilane will soon be here.” He grunted to let her know he had heard her. Instead of moving away immediately, Star chose to stand with him in the dark for a few moments. “Brother of the Sword, did your sword really call out and challenge Esper Dragstar? The wizard is hours away?” Brother knew his reluctance in answering stemmed from his fear of further reprisal.

Having to clear his voice twice almost led Brother of the Sword to try changing the subject, he knew his face was screwed up in dread when he did answer.

“This is the first time it and I have ever fought over something. Normally Brother Sword just makes suggestions or feeds me ideas, and it is content to let me choose our course in things. This time I didn’t want to involve myself in your problem because the last time I fought a wizard close to twenty imperial soldiers and several score civilians paid the price. I don’t think those tolls are worth the fight, Brother Sword thinks differently. It stole our options away to force my hand.” Surprisingly Star did not shift nor move away from him, she was silent for several moments though.

“I’ve never heard of anything this crazy in my life. I for one am glad your sword is making you help us. I would have lost everything if we had been forced to move back to Tarin’s Feather, that is a place where women aren’t allowed to have power or make their own decisions. It’s a place where dreams die faster than the people do, Brother of the Sword, and a lot of people die in Tarin’s Feather. I’m sorry you got dragged into this mess, but I want you to thank… what is it… Brother Sword for me. It’s been a while since I felt hope.”

Satin rustled in the dark, then Brother felt her hand fumble against his shoulder. Following the contours of his shoulder and neck, Stars hand reached behind Brother of the Swords cranium and pulled his head down. Her other hand rose to cradle his cheek as her kiss lingered so sweetly that tears sprang to Brother’s eyes. “You are such a beautiful man, Brother of the Sword. I hope we get to have some time to love each other after this crazy stuff is over, I want that so bad.” She kissed him again, pressing herself against him so that he knew she was arching her back to contour herself against his stoop. Breathing heavily Star broke their intimacy and stepped back. “We’ll be waiting for you inside. Don’t take to long.” Her voice was soft from breathlessness. His tears spilled over as she walked away.

She was good too me? Why? Brother of the Sword wondered as his body relaxed with the relief flooding his being. His answer was ready in his mind. Star Iris would not have come back around, she would not have renewed their intimate tie if she really found him to be monstrous. As Brother’s self doubt melted away he silently rejoiced. Having other people judge him fit was more potent than the way he and Brother Sword had been criminalizing his thoughts and deeds. Still, all the people that had died weighed his conscience like large lead chunks in a small small boat, Brother was starting to realize that he was not the sole author of those tragedies. Vibrations coming up from the soles of his feet alerted Brother first, his tears stopped welling forth as he set his eyes to trying to pierce the night’s veil. He opened his senses to the dark trying to feel or notice anything, his senses recognizing possible trouble.

Those vibrations were like a horses hooves drumming against the earth, but the cadence was too fast and the time between drumming was spaced too far apart. No sound associated itself with what his feet were telling Brother; yet he knew it was trouble hurtling his way. There… was that sound coming from the north west? An inhuman shriek sundered the night, like a panther using a megaphone while it also scratched a chalk board. Raising Brother Sword, Brother of the Sword started to trot in that direction; he fully intended to put himself in between the inn and the wizard. Before he made three steps he saw the chrome flash of a huge feline shape zip through the air as fast as a shot arrow. In over thirty feet, the cat creature’s paws only touched the ground once before it crashed into the side of the inn like a giant’s fist fired from a ballista. Broken lumber crashed through the entire building and out of the south facing windows, hurled by the metallic creations juggernaut momentum.

“Gods no!” The beast was now inside the building and he was still under the night sky. Star and her friends were in there!

Knowing he was closer to the hole the monster had blasted into the northern wall than the door or shattered window, Brother of the Sword sprinted in the direction of the creatures entry hole. The people inside didn’t have that long, they were already screaming at what was confronting them. Brother had to crawl through the hole that was four feet up the wall, the floor of the inn was elevated over the ground outside. Sheriff Dade stood between the beast and his friends, his slender sword in hand. Cyrus was bolting for the main door while Mister Dilane shielded Star Iris with his bulk against the bar; she was was crawling over the barrier tugging upon the mill owner’s sleeve encouraging the mill owner to follow her over the counter. Seeing the creature of Esper Dragstar helped Brother realize what Cyrus had meant when he had described the thing as a beast of metal and bone.

Almost as big as an imperial cavalry horse at the shoulder, Esper’s creation had the skeleton of a great cat who had curved teeth over eighteen inches long. Filling out and resting in the bones were mechanisms of chromed steel, gears, tubes, and wires. Symbols and sigils adorned the metallic surfaces, the writings would glow red or grow quiescent with each of the creatures moves. Before Cyrus reached the swinging half doors the construct pounced, claws of bone, steel, and mystic energy raked the man’s flesh away even as he was pinned to the ground. The card player’s screams were a thin sound attesting to the loss of hope the man felt as his life was ripped away. Sheriff Dade Cartin’s sword shattered when he thrust through the beast’s ribs, there was a grinding noise, then the ‘spang’ of breaking steel. Shards of the rapier chimed while bouncing over the inn’s floor boards. Almost too fast to see, the metal thing lashed out with a single paw.

Flung back as though kicked by a horse, the sheriff landed on a table which broke under his weight. He didn’t even try to roll with the breaking of the table, shards of wood stabbed into Sheriff Dade who was screaming and trying to keep some purple blue ropy thing from spilling out of the gashes in his midriff. Spurred by the knowledge of what he was seeing, Brother of the Sword clumsily climbed to his feet calling a challenge to the artificial creature; this monster of sorcerous artifice. Having gutted men before, Brother knew the law man was in a great amount of fear as well as pain; he could read that in the sheriff’s bugged eyes and tortured screams. Ignoring Brother, the cat monster crouched over Cyrus’s corpse while magic symbols began to glow up the thing’s tail, from it’s hips to the tip of the tail each spinal disk lit up in a racing ripple. Sprinting and screaming, Brother continued to try and distract the construct. He might as well had been in another country as far as the monster cat was concerned.

Stabbing like a scorpion’s tail over the metal filled cat’s skull, the monster’s tail lashed out and spat a stream of beet red lightening. Punched into the racks of hard alcohol bottles, Star Iris’s bones appeared as shadows under her glowing flesh; an arch of red electricity sparked from her hands, one arc knocked Mister Dilane down behind the bar even as glass sprayed from Star’s impact into the racks. She dropped out of sight too fast, too limply. Then the beast spun on Brother of the Sword even as he reached the thing’s flank, red glowing orbs filled the cat skull’s malevolent eye sockets. Claws sheathed in red energy, black bone, and shiny steel flashed at his gut, but when Brother Sword slashed into the cat thing’s shoulder the glow in every sigil cut out momentarily, and it froze in place as if time had been stopped for it. His blade had carved through steel and bone alike to reveal hidden gears and wires, but he heeded his instinct to step away. Red energy flared anew as the beast’s paw flashed through where Brother had stood a half second earlier.

Stepping back and then away again, Brother of the Sword struck it in the side of the head then in the same shoulder he had hit before. Each time Brother sword came in contact with the wizard’s creation the blade would cut through bone and steel alike, and the monster would freeze for a fraction of a heartbeat. With it’s eyebrow cleft and its left shoulder thoroughly mauled the creature was still quicker than Brother who himself was faster than most. His fourth cut missed entirely as the thing of bone and steel bounded backwards onto Sheriff Dade. The lawman had passed out mere moments before, but when the rear paw of chrome and ancient bone stepped into his stomach he came back screaming. Even in his horrified death throes, Sheriff Dade thought to grab the beast’s leg when it tried to lunge at Brother; he left a five foot long smear of blood and guts as he was dragged. Still the construct was held back from pouncing on Brother.

Impeded as it was, Brother of the Sword slid to the side and brought his glowing sibling down right where the feline cranium joined bone and gear spinal parts. It shied away from Brother, snarling and grinding in a weird manner as its head vibrated oddly. Dragging it’s left front paw, the creature’s left eye stuttered on and off while sparks played among the newly exposed wires and gears; the sheriff fell off the magical construct’s rear paw, an inert castoff. Shrieking like an enraged panther the beasts tail suddenly lit up and stabbed Brother’s direction. Brother Sword yanked his arms down so that it was interposed between the lightening bolt and Brother’s body; his sibling had never done that before and it was evident that it cost Brother Sword a lot of energy, it’s glow dimmed considerably. The pale blue energy that flowed up and down the sword ceased as the electric red bolt struck the folded steel of Brother Sword; it vibrated as it sucked the energy down, then flared with renewed blue vigor.

As an actual big cat would have finding itself facing a superior foe, the feline skull glanced this way and that trying to determine the best way around Brother of the Sword. It feinted for the doors where Cyrus’s rent corpse stared into infinity, then it spun about and started to flow up the stairs. Trying to split the old bone hips and their steely gear like supports, Brother ended up burying Brother Sword into the fourth step up. A foot long section of chrome and ivory tail writhed and sparked like a sundered serpent next to the magic blade. Shrieking in pantherish indignation, the wizard’s creation continued streaming up the steps, and Brother chased after intent on not letting his prey get away. When he reached the second story landing he saw the monstrous construct turn about and start running straight down the hall sitting between rooms; at the end of that straight shot was a window, the creatures goal.

“Throw me!” Brother Sword commanded, as excited for the kill as Brother was.

Tumbling once through the air, Brother Sword miraculously hit the speeding juggernaut beast right in front of it’s rear left leg. The hurtling cat had been gathering itself for the leap through the window when Brother Sword’s glowing blade pierced its gear box guts. Just as with Sheriff Dade’s rapier there was a grinding noise. This time the monster burst apart scattering metal and bone parts up and down the inn’s hall. Glass smashed outward as the fore half of the magical monstrosity flew through by inertia alone, it’s back legs and hips skidded into the vase stand Star had as decoration under that window. Brother of the Sword gasped, in the wreckage he could not see his sibling. When Brother of the Sword stepped into the hall he saw the pale blue energy of his sibling under shards of chrome and fossil fragments.

“Are you alright,” he asked the blade as he swept it up.

Flowing wood grain style patterns slowed down and began to flicker as Brother Sword started to go quiescent.

“Brother most fell, I do fare well,” it declared, exuding more than a bit of satisfaction. That emotion dimmed and fell away as sorrow welled from the blade. “As you warned, as you said. My actions rash, innocent lives were shed.” Brother of the Sword only felt a slight moment of victory before he remembered what he would find downstairs, his sibling’s apology making his sense of guilt rear up anew.

“Yet you were not entirely wrong, Brother Sword. If we had walked away more people might have died. That monster cat thing could have killed everyone in Mudpie because they had nothing strong enough to fight back with.” After a momentary lull in their conversation, Brother Sword, who still felt distraught, reached out to Brother in the ether. A mental and spiritual hug that was both an apology and an acceptance of the familial love they shared. Silently Brother knew that the blade would never again go as far as it had this night, and he knew he would never set Brother Sword’s advice aside so easily in the future.

Glancing out the broken window, Brother of the Sword made sure that the cat beast was not trying to crawl away to seek repairs. Chrome parts glittered in the light of the moon and the lantern light filtering out through the hole in the inn. No sigil nor eye glowed with red energy, no limb twitched with the memory of artificial life, the wizards killing machine was shattered and dead. Taking the stairs down, Brother walked slowly; he did not want to have to see the people he had failed to save, even Cyrus whom he had never warmed too. On his side, dead eyes facing the floor, Sheriff Dade Cartin’s trailing intestines vied with the puddles and smears of his blood for which was more gruesome. Cyrus just lay in his own gore staring through the ceiling, his face and chest split with four parallel grooves that had gone to the bone. A man’s sobbing pulled Brother passed those horrible sights.

In the narrow walkway behind the bar, Mister Dilane cradled Star Iris in his lap, tears spilling down to splatter on the dead woman’s hand which he held in both of his. The hole in the satin dress was as blackened and burned as the charred flesh behind the clothing; Stars lovely face held a look of surprise as if she had seen something unexpected at her moment of death.

“She was the best of us, Broother of the Sword, she should hae been spared this,” the mill owner stated between the gulping noises he made while weeping. Brother of the Sword knelt down next to the two, he gently closed Star’s beautiful green eyes. They did not look right without the vitality of life animating them. “did ya stop Esper’s beast?” Brother swallowed hard finding that he had tears left to spill.

“We killed it, Brother Sword and I. We are going after Esper Dragstar next.” Mister Dilane did not say anything to that vow, but he did grab Brother’s free hand and pinned it over Star’s already cooling digits with his warm palm.

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  Brother of the Sword Chapter 7
Posted by: frenzied67 - 01-27-2021, 10:30 PM - Forum: Off-Topic - No Replies


Chapter 7
The Road North, 1533 Imperial Calendar

Rejoining the river had been a welcome change in the day, but reaching the nadir of this small hill to see a village below was more than unexpected. Brother of the Sword stopped like a wary creature trying to determine if there was a threat ahead. No signs had indicated that there would be a community in his path.

“Three times, fell brother, has the Witch Garmev tried to slay thee and me. A threat she does pose, a threat of which we should dispose,” Brother Sword stated yet again, as it had for the past three days and nights at moments of the sword’s choosing. The village was small, consisting of over a score of houses, a saw mill, a combination tavern and inn, a store, and the skeleton structure of a pier system being built at the water’s edge. Brother gave his sibling the same answer he had been giving the blade.

“There are no signs along the road declaring where the Star Elf kingdom is, and nothing showing us where fairy is. No one we’ve met has had that knowledge either.”

Without a sense of frustration, Brother Sword shared the concept of Brother taking the time to find these things out. “No, not yet,” he answered back. Meanwhile he tracked the short side road of dirt that branched off from the gravel way. Almost all the side roads leading to other villages, towns, and cities had been made of gravel, only farmsteads had driveways of dirt and mud. Until now. Turning his head to judge the sun, Brother of the Sword guessed that he had five more hours of sunlight left in this day; but even as he determined that, his eyes longingly settled back upon the little village's inn. A bed and a meal cooked by a person! Those were potent lures to Brother, whose last real interaction with sentient beings had been to fight spell warped cavalry troopers. He had killed eight of them, and their horses, then he had simply walked off before they could transform back into their true selves.

Not realizing that he had made the decision, Brother of the Sword began crunching down the road intending to take the mud puddle filled dirt track to that little village. As he did, Brother took a little more time to observe the small municipality. Most of the residences were built away from the ‘business’ district, they had an acre or two of land dedicated to vegetable gardens, and all the shingles on the roofs were new. Even the boardwalks built in front of the business’ were made of new wood, which indicated that all the buildings had been constructed recently, though some were concealed with paint. From a small building attached to the store, a person came out and set a telescoping glass to their eye looking directly at Brother. A woman coming out of the store with a small crate in her hands followed the direction of the man’s gaze. Seeing Brother coming off the hill, she hastened across the street to the inn/tavern, half a minute later three people came out and surrounded the man with the optic device; a woman in a lacy red dress, a stout man in overalls, and a man in a gray suit and bowler hat met the man with the eyeglass who had a purple shirt and wide brimmed hat. The little crowd was definitely interested in just him.

After passing the looking glass around, they had a brief discussion; a few fingers were pointed in Brother of the Swords general direction. Then, with a few speculative glances cast his way, the group broke up and began to disperse. The man with the spy glass returned to that small building adjacent to the store, the man in the suit and the only woman returned to the inn, the last man ran too the pier site to mingle with the workers there. Grass whispered under the breezes influence, and the little village pretended to dream on oblivious to Brother’s advance. When the grade of the road leveled out, Brother considered using his remaining daylight to put this little town and it’s curious residents far behind him. Yet where the dusty path to the village butted against the gravel way, his feet automatically turned to take it.

Although Brother of the Sword no longer had the vantage of height to aid hid view, he still saw the man who had the looking glass come riding around his building on a brown horse. Without haste the man rode out to intercept Brother, swaying in the saddle like a veteran rider. He wore a wide brimmed hat of tan, a tan leather vest over a purple long sleeved shirt, and ox blood red pants that were half leather and half stretchy material; just like Brother’s pants except in color. This man had a crossbow resting on the horn of his saddle and wore a sword that could have been a saber or rapier, or something in between the two blade types. In his middle years, this man had weathered features with well defined crows feet around his faded blue eyes. His physique definitely held more muscle than fat, and his gestures still held the fluidity of a fighting man still up on his training and exercise.

Reining his horse in at fifty paces, the man seemed content to study Brother as he advanced to within twenty paces. There Brother of the Sword halted and gave the man an expectant look. Just resting his hand on the crossbow, the man gave the silence a few moments to mount before he spoke.

“Welcome to Mudpie, stranger. I hope you ain’t here to cause problems?” Mudpie? What an unusual name, Brother thought, developing a smile unconsciously.

“I was hoping for a meal that wasn’t made of pouch rations, and a bed that didn’t zip up,” he said deciding that pursuing the villages name may hurt someone’s feelings.

“From up there it looked like you were cartin’ an imperial great sword, but I guess your swords not quite that big. I’m Sheriff Dade Cartin, and the people of this town are under my protection. We have your food and bed here, stranger, but your sword makes it look like you want trouble. The people of Mudpie don’t deserve any sort of trouble. Not from any source.”

That was not a question, but Sheriff Dade sure looked like a man who wanted an answer. A woman stepped out of her little house just a little ways away from the Sheriff and Brother, she started to beat the dust out of her welcome mat before she noticed the two men in the road.

“A sword should be used to stop trouble, Sheriff Dade Cartin, that is why I carry mine. I’ll just be here for one night, then I will return to getting to Lake Talenchan.” Sheriff Dade lifted his hand off the crossbow and he actually smiled; the lines in the sheriff’s face seemed to deny the man ever did that voluntarily.

“That’s a healthy outlook about your weapons, stranger. Welcome to Mudpie. I guess you already picked out our inn, we have a mercantile that your free to use, and if you have any problems, my office is right next to that store. Enjoy your stay.”

As the sheriff made his welcoming speech, he plucked the bolt out of his crossbow, then he braced the weapon against his saddle horn and eased the tension off the string. After making the show of peace, the man tipped his hat then turned about and cantered back to pass by his office. Before he started walking again, Brother of the Sword ran through the whole encounter in his mind. Though the whole episode had ended in a convivial manner, there was something that felt a tad bit off, and it was frustrating not being able to identify what was making him feel this way. Wondering if he should just turn about and march away, he looked around again. The woman who had stopped beating her welcome mat against the front rails of her porch gave Brother a wave, then she began to slap the mat again. Such a normal thing to be seen in a small village.

Growling at the stupidity of his move, brother of the Sword started walking the rest of the way into Mudpie. Wagon tracks in the middle of the road had been turned into a puddle of churned mud through continued use after the last rain storm a night back. Brother had to leap over those deep ruts and a few other water filled depressions to get to the raised board walk of the inn. Swinging half doors gave entrance into the tavern’s dim interior. Several windows spaced around the exterior helped keep the place from becoming too dark, so that after a few blinks of his lapis lazuli eyes Brother could actually make out the bar room’s lay out. Three quarters of the floor space was dedicated to nearly a dozen round tables in an ‘L’ shaped room, each table had six chairs set around and each table cloth looked extra absorbent. A stair case in the middle of the room led to the rooms for rent on the second floor; another set of stairs up there led to the third story’s rooms. Too the right of that stair case was the narrow bar with racks of alcohol in bottles and other drinks in barrels, and the kitchen room had one tall set of swinging doors hiding it away behind that bar.

The woman in the lacy dress made of red satin was polishing shot glasses behind the bar, the gentleman she had been with sat at a central table in front of the bar; he was shuffling cards. He wore a suit with blue gray pants, a gray and green vest, with a white long sleeve shirt underneath. The gray bowler hat he had worn on the street was hanging from a nearly empty hat and coat rack next to the entrance. No one else was evident. After glancing up from what their hands were doing, they gave him a single look before returning to their tasks. Why does this feel staged? Brother of the Sword asked himself. Making sure the man was not primed to go berserk, Brother approached the bar. Despite pretending to be engrossed in his hand of solitaire, the man studied Brother from under his brows.

“How much are your rooms, and meals?”

Taking a deep breath, and showing an impressive amount of cleavage where the bone white lace spilled forth from the breast region of her dress, the woman pretended to be fully engrossed in wiping out each sparkling clean shot glass. The thumb of her rag hand jabbed back at a board hung behind her, and as Brother read the three menu items, she informed him.

“Room will cost you five silver and the meal’s cost depends on what you order.” Hesitantly she glanced up into Brother’s eyes and froze transfixed. “By the gods….” she whispered. Her interest drew him away from reading the board. She had green eyes as a counterpoint to auburn locks that were artificially curly. Light freckles splashed the woman’s nose and spilled out onto her cheeks. She had a fresh oval face with pale skin, her eyes were narrow rectangles and dangerously verdant in hue. Desire flared up within him, and he could see a backdrop of light in her eyes that made them glow. She had to be in her late twenties or early thirties, she should have known better than to smile at Brother in the way she did.

Just to be able to breath from the sudden tightening in his chest, Brother of the Sword forced his attention back onto the board. The stew was three coppers, the lamb chops dinner with spring veggies was eight coppers, and the steak and potato dinner was one silver and 1 copper. Each meal came with one complementary tankard of beer or ale. An arrow pointed to a smaller board that had the prices of the beverages written on it. Trying to concentrate on fetching coins from his pocket, Brother found the woman actively trying to catch his eye. Her smile was deliciously knowing.

“I’ll- uh, I’ll have the meat room,” he stammered spilling too many coins on the counter. The woman’s lips curved into a pure pleasure smile.

“The meat room? Do you think you can hire me that way?” Brother scrambled to count coins while wishing the blood would return to his brain.

He knew that she would be soft where she should be soft, she would be firm to his touch where a woman needed to be firm, and she would be savage and sweet in bed. Those were ideas he did not want to be stuck thinking at this moment. Her teasing smile did not help. Not at all.

“The steak dinner and a room,” he stated in a moment where he found momentary control. Her smile grew as if she knew how hard that moment had been for Brother of the Sword, his struggles a sure source of amusement. “No man should be able to afford a beauty such as yours.” That quiet sentence caught the woman by surprise and for a moment it was her that struggled for words. Brother was able to stack up the right number of coins, an act that helped him recover his equilibrium. Lacking the delight in his discomfiture, her pleased smile now held a gentle quality, as did her voice.

“That was classy, mister. Uh- we run a clean place here, so that means you get a free bath and shave. Well it looks like you just shaved, but if you want I can have the lads start heating your water?”

She was studying his face as though trying to memorize it, and when Brother stopped trying to avoid her gaze her seeming pleasure grew.

“A bath?” he asked making his eyes grow large in feigned wonderment. Brother of the Sword was glad he could think and act freely now. Her coquettish nod played along with the act he was putting on. “I’ve heard of this wonder of civilization and I am greatly interested in seeing what this bath thing is all about.” She laughed at his cleverness, or in the unexpected manner it had been expressed, she had a rejoinder in mind, but for some reason she stopped herself. After her mouth clamped down on what she had been about to say she did force herself back to business.

“Mudpie is all about the wonders of civilization, mister. If you give me a minute I’ll get the boys started on warming your water, then I’ll show you your room so you can rest up until your bath is ready. Hey, I know a lady that could sew up those holes in your shirt and launder your clothes if you like?”

Startled he looked down at the lance slice that had parted his shirt three days back, he could even feel a slight breeze on his back where the other hole was. Brother Sword had sucked away his blood and the gore splatters on his shirt three days ago, what the sword could not do was remove dirt. His once bone white shirt was now nearly gray from all the soils and dust he had encountered since leaving Mudberry by the Water.

“How long would all that take, I only have this one outfit?” His admitting to owning only these clothes brought the mischief back into the woman’s eyes. He could not read her thoughts, but his imagination was taking him places a good boy did not linger in.

“It’ll take about three or four hours, we have robes you can lounge around in while you wait.” Again she seemed to want to express ideas she thought better of, even he thought she had been about to say he should roam about nude. “It will also cost you another silver for both the wash and patch job?” Brother of the Sword nodded to show that would be alright, he even began to fish for another silver from his pocket. He would have to delve into his tent if these costs kept on mounting.

The lace at her cuffs caressed his wrist as she accepted the coin from his hand, her green orbs sought his again.

“You wait right here for a minute, mister. I have to roust them boys out from wherever they’re malingering, then I’ll come right back to show you your room.” She sounded like a woman trying to extract a promise from Brother, as though it was important for him to wait for her. His nod seemed to suffice, but she did check on him before she ducked into the kitchens just to make sure he was not running away.

“Money.” Brother of the Sword started when the man behind him said that one word. He turned around to see what the solitaire player was up to. The man’s hands were sure as they picked up cards then sought a pile to set them in. “Everyone likes money.”

Without gestures or expressions the card player still managed to create a dramatic moment with his pause.

“I guess so,” Brother answered feeling somewhat reluctant to engage this man.

“All I had to do to get your attention was to say that word, sir. Lo and behold, you turned around right quick.” the man in the gray suit laughed a little as if his jest were worthy of amusement. “I see you carry a sword, sir, have you ever hunted monsters? Or do you know people who hunt monsters? There's pay in it.” His pate was bare of hair, but the fringe that ringed his barren crown was dark and healthy growth. The card player had a slightly large hooked nose and brown eyes, he only glanced at Brother at odd moments, never seeking to catch and hold his eye.

“Sheriff Dade wondered if I were a monster for carrying Brother- uh, it,” he answered. This caused the man to hesitate in picking up his next set of cards. He was too intense with his next question.

“If the price was right, would you hunt monsters with your sword?”

For some reason, this question bothered Brother of the Sword, so he put some warning into his voice when he brushed the enigmatic question aside.

“I find that some people are quick to slap the label of monster on any person but themselves.” Krendiel called me a simulacrum, he said I was not a true person! Does that make me a monster? That memory still stung, and it still haunted Brother of the Sword. The card man caught the tone Brother had used, but he nodded as if he agreed with Brother’s assessment. Though he did not speak again right away, he did begin to look up and study Brother as if he were an odd specimen he needed to judge.

“Money. Hear us out, then make up your own mind and money could come your way,” the man said as he stood up. He then tipped an imaginary hat at Brother and walked over to retrieve his bowler. The swinging doors stopped swaying in the gentleman’s wake when the beautiful woman in the lacy dress returned.

The woman’s first glance was at the table still holding the half completed solitaire game, then over to Brother of the Sword.

“Did he say anything to you?” Her question was the least expected thing in an unusual day, he felt a deep reluctance to give her an answer.

“He spoke of money and monsters. I wanted silence.” Her clear complexion was disrupted by the grimace that crossed her face, then she put on a false smile. Behind her, a clatter of pots and pans became a riotous noise from the hidden kitchen.

“Well, I’ll show you your room then. Follow me please.” She swished to the stairs then turned back to try a sizzling smile on him, just to see if he were still interested. Knowing that there were ulterior motives going on around him kept Brother from trying to stoke the woman’s fires. Her smile fell into a disrupted uncertain thing, so she merely inclined her head to encouraged Brother to follow her up.

She led him up to the second story then bee lined for the stairs to the third level. At the foot of the second set of steps, she indicated an open room to the left of the stairs. “This is where you will bathe, mister, but your room will be up there.” Her eyes wore worry when she looked at Brother, and her smile was perfunctory; she started up the steps. At the landing she tried to engage him again, her eyes darting from his right orb to the left and back. “I set you up here because we stay open late. I’m hoping the noise don’t come up here and keep you up…. Though your welcome to come down and drink and dance with us if you want.” She smiled at Brother of the Sword’s non committal grunt as if she had heard a welcoming sound come out of him. Her smile held promises backed up by the sly wink she offered as spice. She walked over to a door that stood by itself, apart from four other rooms that made up the third level.

The lady held the door open to a very spacious room, holding a key up but very close to her bosom. Inside he saw a stand with a beige porcelain water filled basin that had pink chrysanthemums painted across it’s surface, a stand mirror was bolted onto the stand. Vines of some fanciful sort were engraved upon the stained chest of drawers that stood just north of the basin. Also beige with pink floral designs, the canopy over the bed made the sleeping furniture seem more like a queen’s pavilion. Too the right of the bed was a set of glass doors that opened out to a railed balcony overlooking Mudpie, a small bar stained and engraved to match the chest of drawers kept the west wall from looking barren. An open door closet filled the southern wall just left of the entrance. “In civilized lands they would call this the honeymoon suite, this is as much of a treat as the bath will be, mister,” she said pulling the key back from his reach so that Brother had to step closer to her to try collecting it.

When his fingers did grab the key, the woman in red did not relinquish it right off. Brother could feel the heat off her body and his desire started to flare anew, even though he was annoyed at her actions. Staring up into Brother of the Swords eyes her smile grew in confidence as she saw the flush rising in his cheeks and neck. “My name is Star Iris, mister, you will NOT regret staying at my place.” She let go the key so that she could grab him behind the neck to pull his head down. Her lips were soft and inquisitive, and her tongue slipped past brothers lips to dance with his in his mouth. This was something new… wild and invigorating. Star released him as he reached out to gather her in, and against his quick reflexes she managed to elude his hands and lips with a fey little laugh. “No matter what happens later, the stuff between us is going to be for pleasure. I promise.” Skip dancing out of Brother’s reach, Star Iris retreated to the stairs while giving him a look that dared him to chase her.

After a still born start, Brother of the Sword held himself in check standing in the doorway of his suite. Her teasing grin grew in magnitude as if she were congratulating him for his self restraint.

“I am Brother of the Sword, Star Iris,” he called after her. That wild and merry laugh drifted up the stairwell as her feet tip tapped rapidly down the steps.
“What the fuck?” he muttered to himself as he turned about. After closing the door behind himself, Brother shrugged out of his back pack and set that on top of the chest of drawers. Mentally visualizing the events of the last hour, from his traipse down the hill, meeting the sheriff, all the way up to Star’s kiss, Brother fed those memories into Brother Sword. “What do you think, Brother Sword? Are these people setting us up?”

For several minutes the sword gave him the impression that it was thinking on the matter.

“I believe they wish us to like them, fell brother, our sympathy they crave. Unified as their mission is, indeed, their unity is questionable as they all would be in the lead. Yet there is one, fell brother, who has not put himself forward as of yet. I wonder what words and persuasions that one would use upon us.” The sword seemed curious and open to hearing more, which confused Brother more than a little.

“You don’t get the sense that we should slip away from this town? I feel that they are setting us up to deal with a problem that is not our concern.” Amusement oozed off Brother Sword.

“Oh fell brother, it most certainly is not our concern…. Yet. They would concern us through varied means if they could. You will have to decide if we should, fell brother, on that we should wait.” All he could do was shrug, wishing his brother had felt different. One perk though, would be the wanton play of Star. How had he become so lucky where women are concerned? Did other men have as many women come to them as he did?

Again Brother Sword sent a wave of amusement through the ether. “Oh, fell brother, why do you ask why? Do you not know that we are creatures of sex and death? In your hands I take lives and sup sanguine wine, in your hand doth the mortal woman succumb to joy. We were designed thus, fell brother, so love her well, this victim of your allure; the power we gain will be necessary for tomorrows unknown.” Brother of the Sword reeled over and dropped his weight onto the bed.

“Do you mean that I didn’t attract the maid and Lalia?” he gasped to his sword.

“fellest of the fell, a lure you are,” Brother Sword affirmed with what amounted a mental chuckle.

“No, I mean did I draw them too me, or did they like me because of something crafted into me. I- we are a simulacrum, false creatures, was I designed to draw women to me like flies?” Confusion wavered through the sword, and it was hesitant in it’s response.

“Though you were designed thus, does it make you an image empty? The woman named Star Iris, fell brother, her breeding and her youth makes your heart beat so. Is she built false?”

As an argument, Brother Sword had spoken well, then Brother of the Sword found a hole in the blades arguments.

“She was born of man and woman as the gods decreed, we were crafted in a wizard’s lab. As Krendiel said, we were made artificially.” Giving off a sense of satisfaction for being countered, Brother Sword felt as though it were withdrawing from the ether out maneuvered by it’s flesh sibling, then it stopped and contacted Brother’s mind again.

“Brother fell, don’t you think we are crafted well? Our creator, not divine though they be, put us together using what all thinking beings contemplate at all times dire or dear. Is not all they do derived from a desire to procreate and avoid death? Are we not crafted from the mold so near? I believe we hold ourselves dear, fell brother, to prove worthy to the gender fair, and stave off unknown fate so dire. We are as they, do not mistake otherwise.”

Bathing had felt so good that he did not grow annoyed with Star’s frequent visits while he soaked or scrubbed. First she had come to gather his clothing, then she had brought his robe, ‘oh no she had forgotten his extra towel’, and a little later she wandered in to see if Brother needed help scrubbing his back. That last offer, though declined, had seen her giving him another kiss while she dodged his soapy grasp. Though she did not increase her natural sway while walking away, she did seem to like his delighted laugh. She didn’t need to exaggerate the movement of her hips, her other charms did not make that necessary. Self confidence in herself and her looks made Star Iris twice as desirable as the other two women he had slept with; the little games she played with Brother were little tests of his self control, and a dare for him to ignore or dismiss her.

His robe was made of the same material as the towels had been, thick, absorbent, and pristinely white. Though Brother of the Sword expected Star to accost him on the stair or in the hall, he met no one when he slipped from the bathing room to his suite. For a few moments Brother considered moving out to the balcony to dry in the sun, but a slight draft up the bottom of the robe made him hesitate. Standing out on that balcony would possibly give everyone in Mudpie a chance to see up the robe. Star Iris may possibly be the only person in this little village who would invite such a chance, the other denizens of Mudpie might form lynch mobs. Tying the curtain of the bed’s canopy aside on the window side, Brother flopped himself down on the mattress and closed his mineral orbs. Intending to rest his eyes as the sunlight played across his legs, Brother did not expect to fall asleep while waiting for his clothes to be returned. He was out in mere moments.

A touch on his thigh awoke Brother of the Sword, tickling fingertips traced his leg up to his manhood. Shock kept him from bolting up, but the invading fingers were gentle as they manipulated his genitalia. Lifting his head he found Star kneeling at the edge of the bed, her arm up his robe. Her face was flushed with her daring and desire, she grinned at Brother inviting him to lose himself to the primal tides infecting her. Even though his body was responding to her soft touch, Brother also felt the frustration of his situation suddenly overflow. These people wanted to use him! Sitting up suddenly, Brother snatched her hand away from it’s caresses to prison her arm by the wrist.

“This may be a game to you, but I’m not going be pushed to do whatever violence you think you can trap me into doing, Star. Knock this shit off and leave me alone.” As part of his warning, he threw her arm back at her forcefully, but not with enough strength to make her think she were facing real retribution.

Shocked she rose and backed away from Brother of the Sword. Confusion played over her seductive features, the doubt looking foreign to Star Iris’s emotional state. The anger that began to simmer forth was just as potent a force as her sensuality had been.

“You dumb ass!” she hissed, “We may need your help, but I told you that you and I were just going to have fun! This isn’t supposed to be tied up in that!” Star’s voice never rose over the offended rasp she reprimanded him with, but she looked like someone ready to throw heavy furnishings at Brother’s face.

“I don’t even know what ‘that’ is, lady, so that makes what you’re trying a manipulation. Your Sheriff Dade wanted me to see a wholesome town full of decent people worth protecting. That asshole with the cards offered me money. As I see it you only want to sleep with me to make me soft when you actually get around to aiming me like a brain dead arrow. It ain’t going to work, Star.”

Reverting to acting like a thwarted teenage girl, Star Iris stomped her foot and stormed out with fury quivering in the arms she held straight at her sides. She uttered a single vulgar word before Brother heard he light steps fly down the stairs. Gods, she may be right. I may be a dumb ass for not letting her have her way with me, a regretful inner voice asserted, trying to force him to chase after the inn’s owner to win her back. Another inner voice, small but reasonable pointed out another fact. Star had the chance to tell me what is going on to prove that her advances were free of entanglements, yet she left without even giving me a clue. As Brother of the Sword sat there, that one voices opinion grew in importance until he no longer regretted missing out on the woman’s charms.

Sighing as he set the internal debate aside, Brother of the Sword glanced out to the balcony trying to get a gauge on the time. A few hours had passed he judged by the change in the railing’s shadows. Wondering where his clothes were, Brother stood up feeling a charge of alarm shoot through his system. Would these people of Mudpie hold his garb hostage to get their way with Brother? Sitting on top of Brother Sword on the chest of drawers, next to his back pack, his neatly folded clothes were stacked looking pure and new. After closing the door to his room, Brother grabbed his freshly laundered and patched garb and threw himself into them. After dressing in feverish haste, he checked himself in the mirror. Though he could see the new stitching on the breast of his poet’s shirt, Brother realized that he could only make it out because he knew it would be there; a stranger would only see the sewed area if they closely observed the shirt.

Knowing that the patch job was well done made his unruly hair stand out in Brother’s reflection. Dry now, the locks of Brother of the Sword’s hair seemed to point in every direction in an unpleasant manner. Grabbing his pocket money from the dresser drawer where he had stashed it before his bath, he counted out his one gold, three silver, and seven coppers back into his front left pocket; his tent hid more cash. That store has to have a comb, Brother stated to his reflection. Or a hat. Going down the stairs surprised Brother of the Sword. He fell into a rhythm with his feet, a dance like kicking pattern that felt challenging as one near misstep taught him; his fast pace down was a thrill because of the danger. Voices caught Brother’s ear before he landed at the ground level of the inn.

Five men in wet overalls and holding glass mugs of ale or beer stood or sat at the tables talking to each other or the two townswomen in their company. As he danced off the last step the entire room went silent as all eyes turned his way. The peoples open curiosity strolled with him across the common room floor but stopped at the half doors he flowed through, those dialogues resumed right where they had left off. Star Iris had been behind her bar pouring shots for one man with wet pants. Outside, Brother of the Sword had to wait for a few moments as an empty flat bed wagon struggled through the ruts that had been carved from the saw mill to the pier project. Men in workers clothing, wet up to their waists, were meandering away from the watery construction site and into their town as individuals or small groups. Many of these men, and their wives who were walking to meet them, paused to watch the stranger in their midst. No eye held animosity, just a healthy curiosity. No person seemed speculative or gave other indications they were aware of what Star Iris and her friends were up to.

To get to the store, all Brother of the Sword had to do was cross the street. The mud puddles were considerably drier than they had been when Brother had first wandered into Mudpie, but the wheel ruts were deep. He gave the sheriff’s office a good gander as he made his way to the entrance to the “Mudpie Mercantile”, Brother did not see Sheriff Dade Cartin through the one window the office had; he did see an empty cell made of iron bars though.

“Hello, young man,” an old man’s voice greeted him when he stepped into the store. Unlike the other two merchants Brother had met prior, this old man still had all his hair. Other than that, he looked like a clone of the other two men. He was a short, thin, sour faced old man who looked like the smile he wore pained him.

“Do you carry combs or hats,” he asked as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim space. He found a finger pointed down the middle isle of the three rows of merchandise this store held. As Brother started down that row, he noticed the sheriff in front of a wrack of eating bowls with examples of two ceramic dishes in his hands. Indecision wracked the older man’s features as he peered at one then the other.

Ten feet from Mudpie’s law man, Brother of the Sword found jars full of combs from the bottom wrack to the top. Hundreds of combs of all sort seemed to be mingled in each jar, and most of them were designed to appeal to women. He had to resort to lifting out each jar so he could finger through the women’s utensils seeking one that was designed for his gender.

“Have any of the others talked too you yet, stranger?” Sheriff Dade asked, suddenly appearing at Brother’s side. The man looked both worried and resolute at the same time. Brother of the Sword paused in pushing the long handle of women’s combs out of the way so he could see the other combs deeper in the jar.

“I’ve had offers to do something, though no one has told me what it is. I feel like you folks are playing games with me… games I don’t appreciate, Sheriff.”

Grimacing to himself, the law man fought down a moment of anger, with Brother he seemed to begin pleading though.

“My friends are heavy handed, mister, please don’t judge us because they have poor people skills. All we really want is for you to hear us out… tonight, we are all planning to get together. Please, mister, just give us a little time to fill you in?” Between Star Iris, the card player, and Sheriff Dade Cartin, the sheriff seemed the most sincere; yet he too was not cluing Brother of the Sword into whatever game they had going. Having that remain a mystery was not sitting well with Brother.

“My name is Brother of the Sword, Sheriff, and I am not interested in getting involved in your problems. I am going to buy a comb, eat my dinner, get a nice long nights sleep, and then I am putting your fucking little village behind me when I leave tomorrow. Can you respect that?”

Seeing that Brother was well and truly annoyed, the sheriff stepped back with raised hands, just a man trying to be inoffensive.

“Brother of the Sword, all I’m asking of you is to hear us out tonight. Give us a chance to change your mind. It won’t cost you nothing to do that. Let us speak our piece and then we’ll leave you alone.” Brother felt his ire wane at Sheriff Dade’s mannerisms and appeal. Of all the mysterious intimations he had received this day, the law man’s had been the least manipulative and the most genuine.

“What is it that you people want of me? What if I’m not equipped to deal with your problem? You could be wasting your time- no you ARE wasting your time thinking I’m something I’m not.”

Smiling, even though his rugged face did not seem lined to accomplish that expression, Sheriff Dade looked Brother up and down.

“We’ll tell you tonight, and if your half the soldier I think you are, you will be better qualified than anyone else in a hundred mile radius to deal with what we have on our plates.” caught unprepared, Brother of the Sword shook his head and looked at the law man. What?

“I’m not a soldier,” he declared, confused. This made the older man smirk knowingly.

“I was a soldier at one time, just a run of the mill grunt. We spear pushers learned early on how to pick out you special forces types, you would use us grunts to mop up the bars with when the fights started, then you would pull our bacon out of the fire if we got caught behind enemy lines. You’re exactly what we need.” Without letting Brother deny that assumption, Sheriff Dade tipped his hat then walked out of the Mercantile without purchasing any bowls.

Gods dammit, I’ve been singled out because some old timer thinks I used to be a soldier? This is going to be fun, Brother thought, laying the irony on thick. Eventually he found a short, thick handled comb that was shaped for male fingers. The merchant remained friendly even though the act of smiling was killing his digestion; the comb only cost three coppers. More people were out now in the short span of Brother’s conversation with Mudpie’s sheriff. Even as he stepped off the mercantile’s boardwalk, a young couple entered the inn’s tavern room. When Brother of the Sword entered the inn he found the number of patrons had doubled, this time the conversation just quieted down at his advent, but did not stop. As he started for the stairs to the upper rooms, Star Iris moved to intercept Brother’s path; her eyes sought any sight but his face though. Lips tight, she had to hold up a hand to sign him to a halt, Brother would have beat her to the stairs easily.

“We’re opening the kitchens now. Are you ready for your steak, and how do you want it prepared?” Star’s voice was as tight as her mouth.

Even now she was heart breaking in her beauty, and that cooled the simmering anger roiling in Brother’s guts.

“Sure, I’m ready for food. Could I get that medium rare, and a beer, please?” Whatever Star had been prepared for, she had not been ready for Brother to speak in a conciliatory tone, nor use manners while speaking. She accidentally looked him in the eyes to see what was really going on, she froze again as she had the first time they had looked at each other.

“Damn!” she whispered captivated by his unusual lapis lazuli eyes again. As her face softened towards him, Brother thought he should use her as his messenger; she was the best suited to get his words to her co conspirators.

“Star, tell your friends I’m not a soldier. I have never been a soldier, your sheriff is wrong about me.”

Star saw the plea on his face, and she seemed to forget about the anger she held towards him, her nod was as good as a promise that his words would travel to Star’s friends ears. Her delicate hands caught Brother’s sleeve as he turned to mount the stairs.

“Do you want to eat down here with us, or would you like your food served up there?” she asked, her mannerisms like a girl seeking her father’s forgiveness; timid and hopeful at once. Earlier in the day, before he had met any of Mudpie’s residents, Brother of the Sword had daydreamed about mingling with this town’s night life. He had thought there might be music and dancing, or tales told over mugs of beer. After his day, he now craved nothing but solitude.

“It might be best for me to be on my own, if you don’t mind?” By seeming to ask her permission to eat in his room, Star’s eyes blazed up with invitation.

Though he started to turn away rather than grant her license to flirt again, Star held onto Brother’s shirt keeping him there for a moment more.

“I’ll bring you a lantern before your food is done. It should burn all night and through most of the day tomorrow,” she offered before letting Brother free. Her smile grew even though all he did was smile back and nod an acceptance of her gesture. Turning about, he found a thick man in workers clothes leaning against the wall next to the stairs. Beer foam made a mustache on his upper lip as he saluted Brother with his nigh full mug. This was the fourth man of the conspirators trying to bind Brother. Words did not pass the man’s lips, he just caught and held Brother’s attention until Brother reached the stairs. That encounter made Brother realize that despite his message, that group of four were going to continue pestering him. They were going to insist on that damn meeting.

Despite telling Brother of the Sword that she was going to bring him a lantern, Star sent a little blond boy who seemed a decade old. With exaggerated care, the boy carried the illuminated lamp to the chest of drawers, but when he arrived he seemed at a loss. Brother Sword, and Brother’s back pack dominated the furnishing's top. Brother hastened over and cleared his things away to assist the boy.

“Thanks, mister,” the boy said looking relieved. All the evidence was there to tell Brother that the boy was not comfortable carrying the flammable device, that had to derive from some past incident.

“Sure thing. You’re doing a good job.” By saying that, Brother hoped he was encouraging the boy’s confidence. The boy’s pure smile was a decent reward. Just as the kid left the room, a heavy set of footsteps announced another person climbing up to the third floor. Youthful mutters at the top of the flight was an exchange from the lantern bearer and whoever had been climbing up.

Looking like an older and uglier copy of the boy who had brought Brother’s lantern, the boy who hauled in his folding table and chair was at least twelve. White heads and pimples afflicted the young man’s features, a slightly hideous counterpoint to the freckles he had been born with. An omen of things to come for his younger brother, who was still cute in comparison though they both had the same pug nose, bushy eyebrows, and dimpled chins. At first this lad struggled with unfolding the legs of the square little table, but he waved Brother of the Sword away when he tried to assist; he ended the ordeal adroitly after the first two legs had been locked into place. Unfolding and locking the chair down was a simple process, then without once looking at Brother, the young man left; the table and chair set so he would have a view out the glass doors towards the eastern hills. Brother would have to actually stand on the balcony to see his river, though, unfortunately the table was wider than the doors and balcony combined; he would have liked to have dined in the fresh air with a grander view. He switched the chair around so his back was not to the suite’s door.

Ten minutes later, Star and an older blond woman swept into his room. Star had his silverware, napkin, and tall mug of pilsner in hand. Time haggard and plumping up with age, the blond woman wore similar features to the two boys who had brought his lantern and dining furnishings. She carried a ceramic platter painted in the same hues as the basin and the bed’s canopy. Trying to catch his eye as she set his table, Star Iris seemed to wish this to be a grand display rather than simply delivering his fare. Possibly having the other woman with her was the reason behind Star’s restraint. Trailing the boy’s mother out, Star Iris looked back at Brother with a question written across her features. Keeping his own features schooled was a test for Brother of the Sword, Star’s beauty teased a primal part of his make up that did not want to be held in check. Still she did not receive the signal from him she was fishing for.

As the meat melted in Brother’s mouth the strains of poorly played music filtered up from below, the poor tuning could have been an effect of distance though Brother doubted that. To Brother of the Sword’s ear, the band lacked skill but not enthusiasm, but of course he was a couple of stories over them. In the lantern light, he ate his meal while a part of him wished he could mingle with the people of Mudpie. The sun had set mere moments before Brother stepped out onto the balcony. Below a couple walked arm and arm laughing at the new in their love, they offered him a wave when they spotted him reclining against the railing. The two stopped to make out halfway to the wood mill, and in a few more minutes they faded into the background as the darkness truly ruled the night sky. Only a few clouds were out to obscure a minority of the stars that glittered overhead, after a few more musings on Brother’s part, the nail paring moon started to rise from a distant eastern horizon.

After a while, Brother of the Sword realized he had been contemplating the night for well over an hour. That realization came just before a knock upon his suite’s door. Star Iris walked into the room then stopped to search for Brother, he opened himself to the ether and touched his sibling while thinking about laying into the conspiracy blade first. Brushing past the woman in red satin, Sheriff Dade carried two folding chairs, he was followed by the card player, and the thick set dock worker who carried a chair apiece. Nodding too Brother as he leaned his chairs against the bed, the law man seemed to have located Brother before Star who had become almost frantic when she had not caught sight of him out on the balcony. Sighing heavily when she did locate him, she accepted the unfolded chair Sheriff Dade Cartin handed her. The card player set his chair next to Star, followed by the dock worker, then the sheriff set himself up next to the bed, they were seated in a nice little line. The heavy set working man gestured for Brother to come in and join them, they all were on the far side of the little table that held the remains of Brother’s steak dinner.

Reluctantly Brother of the Sword closed the balcony door behind himself after he entered the lit room. The card playing man tipped his bowler at the coffin born man, his smile seemed more of a smirk too Brother’s jaded eyes than a thing of greetings or pleasure.

“I have never been a soldier, and I don’t have a clue what ‘special forces’ are,” he stated to the sheriff, before he tried to hammer that impression into the others observing him.

“Brother of the Sword, I get it. You’ve done your time, now you just want the peace you think you’ve earned. We claim the right to try to change your mind.” Sheriff Dade made his demand sound more like a request, and from the flinches the other two men made, they thought the law man was being soft.

“Brother of the Sword, I am Dilane Shunt, and I’m an important man ’round here,” the working man stated, speaking with a slight brogue. “That importance won’t mean shite when the people of Mudpie start dyin’. I worked hard to get where I’m at, and I won’t let me wealth and reputation dribble away because I din’t do enough for me neighbors.”

Star sat at the right end of their line of chairs trying to be a statue, one frozen while gazing at Brother’s face. Clearing his throat, the card playing man made his bid for attention. Of all four people arrayed against him, Brother liked this man the least. For no apparent reason.

“All four of us are important, Dilane. Brother of the Sword, we are the four most important people in Mudpie. We run the show around here whether it’s through business, financing, or keeping the peace, we are the people who the citizens of Mudpie look too when there’s a problem. And when the fucking full moon comes around again we are going to have a real deep problem on our hands.” This man scowled at Brother as if he were trying to overawe him. Sitting down across from the four, brother raised an eyebrow at the card player.

“Not. My. Problem.” He said it slowly, drilling his gaze into the man before he spread his certainty about to the others in the room.

Harrumphing as she rolled her eyes, Star gave the card player a hard look before leveling an appeal at Brother of the Sword.

“Cyrus, stop being an ass. Please, Brother of the Sword, listen to us first. We may be the important people in Mudpie, but we’re also the stupidest. We stepped into trouble while we thought our shit didn’t stink, and now a whole bunch of innocent people are about to pay the price.” Her gaze practically begged Brother to pay heed, and her words did have an impact. Dilane and Cyrus both gave Star dirty looks before they noticed Brother mellowing from his hard eyed denial. Sheriff Dade nodded an encouragement at the inn’s owner. Even through the link in the ether he had established with Brother Sword, the blade gave off the impression that it was now intrigued.

They all stared at Brother, knowing the ball was now in his court.

“Tell me,” he demanded, almost hating himself for allowing things to progress this far.

“While we were still seeking a grant to relocate, we learned certain things aboot this region of the river. We read a book that claimed a wizard had been buried here with his treasure horde,” Dilane Shunt started, working hard to keep his accent from creating miscommunications.

“We all thought this treasure would keep us from fallin’ into the red with our finances when we actually moved our people here. We thought this lost lore would help make moving from the border successful. We didn’t read the story as closely as we should have….” The sheriff looked like a man who really wanted to kick himself. Cyrus the card player observed how his friends tact was working on Brother of the Sword.

Sighing at what he was committing himself too, Cyrus took up the narrative.

“Of the four of us I’m the only one who had seen pre-imperial coins, and the mention of this old boy’s treasure made me blind to what the tales told. I only had visions of gold coins twice the weight and purity of Arxantum coinage, and my greed made me talk the others out of their caution… and wits.” since the three men all turned to Star Iris at the end of their line of seats, Brother also turned his orbs her way. He liked how she looked him straight in the eye and admitted her faults without prevarication. Her pure features also helped him pay attention.

“The legend we read said the wizard was locked away, that his enemies had buried him where they had froze him. Because they suspected a trap with all he owned they buried him with all his possessions. We convinced ourselves that those old time historians had really meant the old wizard was dead, I mean he had to be gone after all these centuries. Plus we translated possessions to mean treasure-"

She seemed reluctant to admit the last part of their tale, so Sheriff Dade interrupted her where she was having difficulty. Star and the law man were the most honest of the four it seemed.

“We deliberately ignored the translation of those old words that meant the wizard had been locked away in stasis. So when we started surveying the land to set up the first buildings of Mudpie, the four of us set off into the western hills looking for treasure,” Sheriff Dade grimaced and shrugged. His face had visibly paled as his mind replayed the events he had been revealing. Whether Cyrus was grimacing over the tale or the reluctance of his partners, he didn’t say.

“After some searching and digging we found the old boy’s lair. What we didn’t know was that all it took to break the old monster free was to crack the damn door open-”

“The blighter had nae gold in stacks like we imagined.” Dilane interjected, also looking Brother in the eye.

Exasperated, Cyrus resumed their tale.

“Esper Dragstar’s treasures consisted of his lab, his lore, and the machine monster he created to work his murderous will. This thing he made is a beast of metal and bone, and Esper’s rivals didn’t have what it took to destroy this creation.” With growing excitation, Star took up the narrative while losing the pleading quality of before.

“We have a theory that Esper’s only power comes from controlling that monster of his. If we got rid-” Clearing his throat, Sheriff Dade quelled the woman’s hopeful words. He had to give each of his companions a warning look before turning his attention back too Brother of the Sword.

“When the wizard… Esper, caught us looking for gold, he demanded that we bow down and serve him. He threatened us with his construct and made us tell our tale. When he found out that we were moving a whole town of people into this region, Esper demanded that all of us obey. He gave us half a year to make up our minds, and if we didn’t agree to serve him, he would have his beast start killing people until we do bow down. We’re a week away from that deadline… about the same time as the next wave of settlers show up.”

Tilting his head as he looked at the group, Brother of the Sword felt his belief in their story shrink. They were not lying, but they were admitting they had been given ample time to fix this problem. What had they squandered this six months of time on?

“Six months is long enough for you to have appealed to the Empire, they have the resources to deal with this sort of thing. Plus they won’t like someone setting up their own magical enterprise inside their borders. Why didn’t you go to them?” Cyrus bit back harsh words as his defensiveness flared, Star Iris ducked her head to avoid giving an answer, Even Sheriff Dade looked sheepish. After several moments of looking his companions over, Mister Dilane offered their lame answer.

“One hint of our treasure seeking an’ the Empire would hae canceled our charter. We would have lost our-”

On the verge of admitting greed was the reason they had stayed, Cyrus broke in over the hefty man.

“In a couple of days we will admit our wrong to the people of Mudpie, which means all these families will have to abandon what they have made for themselves. We will have to march over a thousand miles back to the rest of our people who live on the border. Then we will have to defend ourselves from barbarian raiders, dark sorcery from Kuriselm wizards, and strange plagues from the diamond mines our forefather’s played out.”

“We’ve hired others, over a dozen groups of mercenaries. Brother of the Sword, you’re our last chance to start a good life here in the interior. I know you were special forces, which means you have experience fighting in wizard war conditions-” the lawman started, his eyes glowing with hope and appeal. They all started to lay on their appeals, talking over each other in their haste to be the one to convince the dupe.

“We’ll pay you well,” Cyrus shouted. Brother slapped the fold up table hard.

The ceramic platter danced on the surface as the fork and steak knife scattered from where they had rested on the plate. His violence silenced them just as their clamor became cacophonous.
“I am not special forces! This is not my problem! Get the fuck out of my room and leave me be! You had the chance to do the right thing and you played the idiots twice over! Get out!” Four sets of owl eyes stared at Brother of the Sword, calculations being weighed and discarded as fast as thoughts could formulate. Silently Sheriff Dade stood up and folded his chair to make it easier to carry out. His silent action made the other three give up on trying to devise arguments and persuasions, as if Brother’s fierce face wasn’t forbidding enough to have stopped them.

“Fell brother, most unwise, we should kill wizards no matter what guise!” Brother Sword protested with it’s blood thirstiest mental voice.

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  Brother of the Sword Chapter 6
Posted by: frenzied67 - 01-22-2021, 12:33 PM - Forum: Off-Topic - No Replies


Chapter 6
The Road North, 1533 Imperial Calendar

She is going to kill me! Hunt me down and kill me! Krendiel the former Assembly Arcanuum wizard thought as he reeled through the orchard. All night and through most of the day he had been running… well staggering mostly, fear hounding him more than any physical pursuers. By now his perfidy would be known to the empire, his likeness being dispensed to bounty hunters and soldiers, his crimes being bandied about to his former fellows in the Assembly Arcanuum by communication spells. How was my magic countered and negated? That man shaped creature hit me with some spell that stole my magic away. How?

It did not matter how, what mattered was that he had failed Garmev the Witch. She was going to kill him, and she would make it a very painful death. She had that reputation, plus she had implied that killing lesser Assembly Arcanuum spell casters was something of a habit. Of course the Assembly Arcanuum dispatched search parties to hunt her down, dead or alive, but after a century of claiming to have the Witch Garmev on the run, she continually harassed the empire and neighboring kingdoms. What could Krendiel do to stop something or someone that implacable?

Physical exhaustion and the terror of his impending death conspired to steal Krendiel’s strength away. Collapsing into some sort of nut tree, the divinator turned assassin slipped down the trunk to recline in a sobbing heap against that tree’s trunk. Although it was not the life he had dreamed about in his idealistic youth, his career of working for the Assembly Arcanuum had been both comfortable and safe. Not like this, not like fleeing through the night feeling forces moving against him ready to call him traitor… willing to cut him down for his disloyalty. His new boss, Garmev the Witch, would probably be the one to find him, the first to cut his throat…. I could complete the job she set me, I could kill the simulacrum. I could keep her, at least, from tracking me down by proving I’m still useful. If only I could show the empire that I could still be their man.

Even beyond Mudberry by the Water, the road still ran parallel to the river. To Brother of the Sword, for each hour he traveled there was a bridge servicing a side road. An equal number of roads branched off heading in westerly directions too, the signs proclaiming the distances to small towns and villages. As the cobbler had warned Brother, farms, ranches, and groves butted against each other without gap or change for hours. Unlike his walk through the foothills and valley before reaching Mudberry by the Water, the farmers and farmhands Brother saw responded to his waves or nods with courtesy, seemingly pleased to see a stranger acknowledge them. Seeing mounted patrols of soldiers canter by, almost on an hourly basis, had to be the reason why the locals remained friendly. The homeless were being policed and watched, and those unfortunates were all too willing to give Brother a wide birth.

One thing that bothered Brother of the Sword was the signs that said Lake Talenchan, sure they pointed him down the route along the river, but unlike the signs to towns, there was no distance given. Vintage Grove, the road west, claimed to only be fifty six miles away; the lake was just an arrow directing him on. When the muddy looking waters of the river narrowed to a point where he could only throw a stone half way across, Brother found a farmer and her family tending a tall fence where pea vines were growing. Her teenage son stopped tending the plants to gather up a crossbow when Brother hailed the family; the mother, daughter and youngest son continued to weed or secure the flowering vines, the laconic bees bothered no one at all as they sought out flowers to crawl across.

“Hello! Pardon Me!” he called, very aware of the boy stationed so he could shoot Brother if he proved aggressive.

Barely looking up from her work, the mother gave Brother a hooded glance before she returned her attention to an extremely long vine that had ignored the latticed fence designed for it to grow along. That at least let Brother of the Sword know that they could hear him. “Do you know how far Lake Talenchan is from here?” For a moment Brother thought the family was about to ignore his question, even though some of the children were pausing to weigh him silently.

“No idea,” the mother eventually answered, using the least amount of language possible. Grudgingly she did offer a small token more. “Two weeks is what I’ve heard, some say three weeks.” No one seemed inclined to advise Brother as to which time span was most accurate.

“Uh, thank you.” The crossbow did not come off his back until Brother was nearing the extreme limit of the weapon’s range.

Leave it to me to find the most unfriendly lot of farmers I’ve seen since leaving the city to talk too. Everyone I’ve waved at today looked like they wished I would stop and talk, except for those people. One of the rare hills his road crossed began to rise before Brother of the Sword, and as he began the climb he heard the horses from the other side of the earthen pimple. From the way the horseshoes chimed against the gravel, Brother realized this was going to be another cavalry patrol, so he moved to the right side of the way. These cavalry soldiers had light blue pants and white tops, brass buttons and chains criss-crossed the chests of all the horsemen and women, the only sign of the imperial navy blue came from the right sleeve of each trooper. Their lieutenant raised his hand to gesture the cavalcade when he spotted Brother.

Using the front two horses to block the eastern half of the gravel way, the other soldiers spread out to flank and surround Brother of the Sword.

“Greetings citizen, have you been bothering the farmsteads around here?” the young officer challenged. Brother of the Sword did not like the trapped feeling that came over him, which almost made him call upon Brother Sword. Then he remembered he was not guilty of anything.

“I carry my own food, and the means to buy more,” he answered, dispensing with his winning smile. This information did not produce a change in the officer’s demeanor, though it was the right answer for Brother to issue.

“Have you seen a tall man in his early thirties, wearing the gold bordered navy blue robes of an Assembly Arcanuum spell caster? He would have dark hair under his hood and will be traveling in this direction.”

Ransacking his memory, Brother of the Sword thought back on all the stranger’s he had seen through out the day. Then his brain connected with the events of last night. Fingers traced the bandage on his head, as the shadows of the previous evening were reviewed. They’re after that wizard, what’s his name… Krendel- no Krendiel. How did they get a description of the guy out so fast? Seeing the light come on in Brother’s eyes, the lieutenant cocked his head expectantly.

“I saw this wizard last night when he ran from his crimes.” Brother of the Sword’s claim caused most of the soldiers to take extreme interest in him, even the lieutenant’s eyes flew wide. He knew what the soldier would ask before the young officer even opened his mouth.

“What happened? They only gave us the criminal’s description and told us he might be in the region of our patrols.” Brother had been prepared to deliver the news raw until he heard the request, then he wondered if his information would bring doubt and fear to his audience.

Several soldiers watched the struggle that went on behind Brother’s features.

“C’mon man, spill! What did this asshat do?” a female lancer demanded, brandishing her slender spear as though offering defiance rather than frustration.

“He transformed a platoon of city guards into monsters, then had them burn the business’s along the Emperor’s Way, and then they killed the people trying to escape those fires. I would be careful if I were you, this wizard is very dangerous.” He could see by the paling visages of many of the troopers, including their leader, that he had not done them a favor. Many faces turned on the lieutenant with expressions that asked him what they were supposed to do against this wizard if they did find him. The poor junior officer looked at a loss, his eyes darted around seeking inspiration. When the lieutenant’s eyes fell back upon Brother of the Sword, he chose to commit to stalling tactics; he did not address his soldier’s concerns.

Clearing his throat and drawing himself up tall in his horses saddle, the junior officer inclined his head to Brother of the Sword.

“Thank you for letting us know, citizen. Be on your way then.” The soldiers behind their leader rolled their eyes or wore expressions that spoke of rebellion, but they parted before Brother to let him go on his way. An argument broke out in his wake, but the insurrection was conducted in whispers Brother could not hear. On reaching the far side of the hill it occurred to him that he had lost a chance to ask how far away his lake lay from here. Temptation almost made the coffin born man turn about to make his inquiry, then Brother reminded himself how upset he had made those horse soldiers. Wisely he kept on trudging.

Having that stark reminder that Krendiel remained on the loose and was gunning for him, Brother of the Sword began to watch the terrain ahead more closely. The nut groves became places of dread for him, passing the acres and acres of established trees made him see navy blue hiding behind each and every trunk. Brother could feel unfriendly eyes dogging each of his steps, plotting against him and weighing the chances of confronting him. His only moments of security came when mounted patrols passed him by, in the late afternoon he remembered to call out to ask for Lake Talenchan’s distance. When the number seven or eight hundred miles was called out, Brother almost stopped there and then. That was a daunting distance, he did not have enough pouch rations to get that far. Did he?

No I don’t, but there are several towns in my path, I have enough silver, now, to buy more. I might even buy some food that I can cook over a fire with all the pots and pans I’m hauling. Discovering a solution to his worries helped defray the stress of watching for wizards, Brother’s steps became lighter and he soon began to notice swathes of grassland breaking up the plethora of crops, vineyards, and the various vegetable and grain farms he passed by. Also the sun was on its late afternoon decline, bringing warmth to the left side of his face. Still sore from his fight, and weary from hauling the extra weight of his back pack, Brother stopped an hour earlier than normal.

Erecting his tent was an easier proposition than he had thought, once he understood the instructions. What Brother of the Sword did lack was wood for a fire. There was a single lone oak tree on a distant hill, and Brother had learned from his time gleaning firewood in the forest was that it took a lot of trees to offer enough dead fall for a single nights fire. Rather than walk all that distance for the opportunity to be disappointed, he ate a self heating meal as the last rays of the sun found a hilly horizon to slip behind. Tarp and oilcloth smell filled his tent, but inside his sleeping bag and wrapped in blankets, Brother found himself quite toasty. Without the wind and ground stealing his warmth away, he did not miss not having a fire at all. All that comfort actually made some difficulty for Brother when he attempted his new healing meditation, he almost fell asleep a few times before he found the ether.

Crickets and frogs were still pulsing their love songs into the night when Brother of the Sword woke up. His warm blankets were as cozy as a real bed so he could not understand why he was suddenly back in the world. He was still tired enough to know he needed sleep, so why was he wide eyed and listening to the competing choruses of night creatures?

“Anthel, what if he wakes up when we’re trying to get into his tent?” The voice was a whisper that came along with the hiss of tall grass being pressed down.

“We do whatever it takes, I ain’t starvin’ to death without fighting for my chance to survive. Are yo goin’ to give up?” Evidently the man questioning this Anthel made some gesture to affirm he was still in on the robbery game, Brother could still hear the careful movements of two bodies crawling up to his tent.

Rolling out of his sleeping bag, Brother of the Sword physically drew Brother Sword from it’s sheath rather than call through the ether, then he hesitated to see if he had proved more stealthy than the unemployed robbers creeping up on him. Their noises kept on closing on the front of his tent. I bet I can easily surprise these guys and kill them or drive them away, he thought, trying to formulate a plan of attack. Wait a minute, do I really have to engage these guys to get rid of them? Smiling because he knew those who were stalking him were about to make ridiculous surprised faces, he settled on scaring them away instead. Feeding some of his energy into Brother Sword, he made his sibling of steel manifest it’s glow, lighting up his tent with pale blue illumination.

Instantly the grass stopped making slight noises.

“My sword complains of hunger, and low and behold two low life burglars come to feed it. Please remain where you are as that will allow you to die with less pain and fear,” Brother stated aloud. He began to tug on the tent flap zipper, making sure the aperture made as much noise as possible.

“Fuck! Run!” Anthel shouted. Before Brother could poke his head through the flaps he could hear the two moving away rapidly, all thoughts of stealth cast aside. Smiling at the effect he had caused without ever having to lay eyes on his attackers, Brother thought about calling something after them, a taunt or insult of some sort. He did not as better sense afflicted Brother, making him take the time to think things through instead. Will they stay away?

This time Brother of the Sword had woken up, but in the foothills he had awoken only after a robber had grabbed up Brother Sword. People could sneak up on him in his sleep proving that he was very vulnerable in that state. In the foothills his brother had sent an alarm when it had felt the touch of a foreign hand, what if they brought their own weapons the next time? He could be killed while he still dreamed. As the light of Brother Sword slowed its heartbeat like pulse, then faded, Brother of the Sword was beset by fears that were already preventing further sleep. Sensing Brother’s turmoil, Brother Sword sent an image of them hunting the two homeless men through the tall grass. It’s idea of a solution was to carry out the killing Brother had shied away from originally; images of Bother Sword drinking down blood smeared on it’s surface was not the enticement the sword thought it was. At least Brother Sword did not react negatively when it’s idea was rejected, it just quieted down to await Brother of the Sword’s will.

Brother realized he needed someone to watch as he slept, then he realized that he would never get anywhere that way. Whoever watched him at night would need someone to watch them in the day while they slept. If Brother Sword had external senses it could watch him, the blade never slept. However the living weapon only sensed the world around it when in someone’s hand, and that someone had to be awake and aware. Feeding Brother Sword blood back in Mudberry by the Water allowed it to talk to me mind to mind. Could feeding it more blood grant it area awareness? He sent that thought to his sibling, and Brother Sword was greatly amused, but it asserted it would never manifest a power like that. However, Brother Sword did send the image of the pots and pans toppling over at the tents entrance, stacked so they became an alarm when someone entered.

Yes, an alarm! Brother almost felt like cheering out loud as he thanked Brother Sword for it’s idea. However setting up his pots and pans to fall over and clatter at some disturbance was a bit of a chore. Leaning the cooking accouterments against the door flap failed under the pressure of a gentle breeze, plus it depressed the tent fabric; a dead give away that an alarm was there. He next tried to prop a skillet against a skewer fork, but the structure would not stand on its own, not even with the assistance of his bowl and plate. Nor did his regular fork and spoon aid in any way. Almost frustrated, Brother of the Sword attempted his first idea with propping his cookware up with the skewer fork again. This time he attached a string to the door’s zipper, strung that through the leather lanyard loop of the fork, and he was able to suspend the long fork in an upright position with the slight counter tension of the string running to the zipper. Then he was able to lean his skillet against the fork, and lay the pots so they would be hit when the skillet fell. Opening the tent flap would tug the skewer fork away from supporting that skillet, and the resulting clatter would yank Brother from dreamland.

Pleased with his solution, he lay down and knew no more until he rose in the morning. Taking an early evening seemed to have had many benefits for Brother of the Sword. His bandage had unraveled while Brother slept, which caused some worry at first, but probing the wound with his fingers showed him that he was almost too the point where new hair would begin growing. The gash was thoroughly sealed and showed itself as a slightly indented crease over his ear. On top of that, when he broke camp and began his march, his back and legs barely noticed the new weight of his tent. His body was already adapting to hauling the additional bulk and weight. He began to laugh as his feet hit the gravel road, in Brother’s mind he felt so good that it seemed the morning birds were singing his joy out for him; their jubilation at life such that their song matched his mood.

An hour into his jaunt, the river parted from the gravel road’s side, curving off sharply to his right to bend around a small hill to the north east. The water frothed to white as the river bed narrowed into a channel choked with boulders and battered storm washed timber. The road itself bent a little more towards the west, climbing into a series of hills that sported crowns of wild maple and cottonwood trees; a small orchard of hazelnut trees was nestled before those foothills, three hundred yards or more away from the road. Far, far beyond the little white house trying to hide behind the nut trees, Brother of the Sword saw distant movement. From his experiences the day before, those distant brown splotches were likely herds of elk or deer taking a wilderness route to the north west.

Hoofing uphill too the trees took a longer time than Brother of the Sword thought. Whoever had built the road had made their path go partially up one hill, then down into the trough between mounds, only to ascend part way up yet another earthen climb. As if tiring of the road builders vacillation, one grand hill rose to force the road up and into the treeline. Now the gravel way seemed to remain up along the ridge line or along the flank of this grand sprawling geological feature. Around noon, the trees to Brother’s left plunged down a sheer hill face to grant him the sight of his river. The flow arched away for scores of miles, but far to the northeast it curved in to rejoin his road many days journey away. Granted this perfect view, Brother sat in the middle of the road and watched the sun craft sparkling gems off the water as he ate his lunch.

Cow elk began to make their bird like bleats when Brother began to brush biscuit crumbs off his lap, he could hear some of the females and their young begin to crash through the trees to come out onto the road at a low point forty yards before him. That which had spooked the big animals was not Brother of the Sword, he could see the matron of the herd pause to take him in then continue on her way with the younger elk females. She had not increased her pace or added to the calls she had been making, he had just been someone near their flight path who had not provoked any more fear. Far away he could hear more animals angling away from his point on the ridge line, he could not hear those animals give guiding calls to their comrades over the thrashing brush of the nearer beasts. Those nearby elk were not stealthy in arching south to circle back behind him.

Shaking his head at the wonder of it all, Brother of the Sword hefted his pack and took his next step on his journey. Though he knew the ascents and descents were slowing his progress, Brother hoped that this leg through the trees would last awhile. He preferred the forest to the grassy valley floor. He even liked the living creatures up here better than those in the low lands. In the wilderness the animals were fey and elusive, rare and precious. In the low lands they were all domesticated and uninteresting, far too numerous to be counted. Unfortunately his long sprawling ridge did come to an end in the middle of the afternoon, and the road became one long descent that bobbed over a few uneven undulations of the land. Brother almost turned around to offer his farewell to the oaks and maples as the road left the woods.

West, the hills continued bracketing the valley. Their crowns of trees drew Brother of the Sword’s spirit, his short time clambering around the hills had bolstered his morale immensely. There was nothing wrong with the valley except for the exposed feeling he had, where it felt like anybody with a vantage could see what he was doing. Just as lacking in privacy as this hillside he was on. Somewhat hazy from distance, Brother could see the hills making another stab eastward. Their heads hairy with trees, the hills attempt to make it to the river seemed held back by the farms laying at their feet. All this was so distant that Brother knew he did not have to worry about those remote farmers possibly seeing him. Yet he felt something watching him, or someone his imagination was crafting

All that time that Brother of the Sword felt he had lost while traipsing along these hills was being regained with the pace gravity was giving him down the gravel roads long grade. Each of his steps felt twice as wide as a normal walking span…. To the west a large flock of birds took to the air, their far off calls sounding panicked. Mounted riders angled out of the western hills heading in his direction, though they were a mile off, the galloping pace they had set themselves seemed uncannily determined. An inhuman cry, redolent with pain and loss bugled from behind Brother, and a look back showed him two cavalry soldiers sitting atop ungainly caricatures of horses; these riders were less than a half a mile from him, and they too were warped from true. They were definitely placed to cut him off from returning to the sheltering trees above. One bug eyed beast of burden trumpeted its agony from the ridge line, its dangling tongue wagging and dancing unnaturally from a mouth overburdened with fangs. Though these riders were still distant, he thought he saw forward facing dew claws on their mount’s altered hooves, hooked spurs of bone or antler.

At a walk the two nearest lancers began to move toward Brother of the Sword, and he was able to see the light blue pants, and mostly white uniform jacket of the empires’ cavalry. One rider’s head lolled limply, jolting around as if there were no neck bones to hold the cranium in check to the lurching gait of the horses. The calm walk of the troopers behind Brother only added on to his mounting fears, the rapid gait of the cavalry too his left felt like an assault about to happen. How am I supposed to fight mounted men, including the two at my back, there are ten of them? Brother Sword was as alarmed as he was and reached for him through the ether, becoming an eager waiting presence in Brother’s head as he bid the blade to wait. Maybe the spontaneous teleportation of Brother Sword to his hands would scare these strange soldiers. The horse behind Brother screamed again, a sound that begged for the surcease of pain.

I have to find terrain that limits their ability to charge me en masse, Brother of the Sword decided, using his eyes to seek out such territory. He was already on such a feature, the gravel road was slightly elevated from the remainder of the slope. All Brother would have to do is drop down on the east side of the road and he would be out of immediate eye sight of those fighters coming from the west. Of course the two at Brother’s back would still be able to see him, but they would have to try charging their horses across a drop off slope that would slow them or see them lose their riding beasts. That would only give him so much advantage though, their numbers would soon negate any maneuverability he stole from them. Almost as bad as figuring out how to limit how many of them could come at him at once, was the fact that they were already getting too close; a mile was not a great distance for a horse to cross.

Calling Brother Sword to his hand, he turned about and began walking towards the nearest two. Brother of the Sword realized that if he could deal with those nearer foes before the other eight joined the fray, then he would be better able to exert his will on the battle instead of having it dictated by his enemies. Looking as though their flesh was shaped by round blister like musculature, the bug eyed tongue lolling riders reigned in the lumpy distorted horse creatures they rode; the horses also had bulging orbs and skin that looked of pustules layered upon pustules.

“Shield me!” That command came from the distant tree line over a hundred yards from the gravel road, which was twice that far from where Brother of the Sword now walked. Krendiel, the wizard assassin! All the troopers were now closer too Brother than Brother was to the key to stopping this mess. If I can get close enough to Krediel to stop his magic, this crazy fight ends!

Leaping their horse creatures off the western verge of the road, the two controlled soldiers spurred their mounts into climbing back up to where their master crouched behind a maple trunk. Glancing over his shoulder before he broke into a climbing trot, Brother noticed the other eight horse riders were gaining ground rapidly, even though they were now forced to struggle uphill to get at him. Brother had lost this race even before he knew it was supposed to be a race; now all he could do was figure out how to string them out or create angles that prevented them from bringing their numbers to bear. All he could do was glare his frustration up at Krendiel as he remained upon the road; going for the renegade sorcerer now would allow the spell warped lancers to work in unison against Brother; as hard as the climbing was, those eight beast riders would catch him before he reached the wizard.

Foam frothed off the bouncing limp tongues dangling from the horses and their riders mouth’s, the grade just steep enough to rob all the steam from their charge. All eight of the pursuing riders chose to parallel the road, rather than risk their mounts hooves and shoes against the hard stones and gravel of the gravel way. Just shy of being in reach of the lead rider’s slender lance, Brother swerved over to the eastern side of the road. Brother of the Sword clambered down the flank of the road, using its raised bed to deny his opponents a view of his person; not even Krendiel could see him. Laboring just as hard as the distorted horses, Brother raced through the grass next to his road. When he heard the ringing of steel shoes striking stone, Brother flattened himself against the raised road’s stones, climbing back up them while trying to remain unseen. Jumping or bounding down, the eight cavalry creatures plunged off the road where Brother had made his climb; at first the oddly bulging things did not see him, but when Brother dashed back onto the road they all bayed like imitation hounds.

In full view of Krendiel and his two spell slaves, Brother of the Sword dashed straight across the road and down onto the western side. Again he followed the roads flank listening for the sound of horseshoes beating across stone. Stepping out from behind his tree, the former Assembly Arcanuum divinator pointed an indicting finger at Brother just as the eight riders brought their mounts back to the roads flat surface. Flipping the wizard the bird, Brother began scampering up the roads side, several of his pursuers leaped their mounts onto the western grasslands to begin churning his way; shod hooves still sang against rock indicating that a few warped riders were still up top. Wearing the rank insignia of a lieutenant, the nearest spell altered trooper lowered his lance when Brother gained the road. Silvered spurs dug into the caricature horses flank over and over, urging a speed the devolved animal could not make. Twisting at the hips to aid his parry, Brother swatted the spear aside, stepped towards his attacker, then uncoiled at the hips to strike the horses neck.

Even mangled by whatever magic it was enthralled too, the horse tried to rear back from the blade that killed it falling onto and crushing it’s rider. Spilling in front of the hooves of the following riders, the thing that used to lead the patrol now hindered the other three horse creatures; including the flailing hooves of the dying mount the three bad guys on the road were thoroughly blocked for the moment. That gave Brother of the Sword the brief respite he needed to run over and clamber down to the eastern side of the road. This time he duck walked down hill when he was out of their view, but they began to leap their mounts over him rather than scamper up the hill to where he had gone down. Surprised by the first jumper, Brother did not hesitate when the second trooper leaped down. His cut eviscerated the sailing horse, and he used a big lunging step down the slope to clear himself from the blood spray, viscera discharge, and tumbling limbs; the third horse creature rode up to the roads edge and tried to lunge down at Brother with it’s lance.

It was clear that the three warped men had not known that Brother of the Sword had been moving downhill, even as Brother was parrying and dodging the third rider’s lance, the first one was peering up the flank of the road trying to spot Brother. Despite the second rider having been rolled on by her gutted horse thing, she rose drawing her saber, one bulging eye seeming to suck into the bruised flesh where a flailing hoof had stricken her. Darting away form the spear point trying to stick him from above, Brother sprinted out of that lancer’s reach by closing with the unhorsed rider. Biting upon her own tongue with her misshapen fangs, the female being screeched like a banshee trying to make up for lost haunting time. Without a thought for it’s own safety, the lumpy creature used an overhand stroke to kill Brother. Using power over control allowed Brother to easily step aside, she was unable to recover and block Brother Swords counter attack. Her head bounded down the grassy slope and just seemed to keep on gaining rolling momentum from the grade.

Slow to the uptake, the first rider finally turned about to spot Brother, and the third trooper gathered it’s tumorous horse to jump down off the road. Slurping down the blood on it’s surface, Brother Sword gave off a sense of satisfaction for the violence. Breathing heavily from all the climbing and running, Brother sprinted over to the road as the third rider sailed from the raised gravel path. He had to parry the first rider’s spear once before he rolled onto the sloping road out of the lance’s reach. Clambering like over weight mountain goats, the other four riders were just now climbing to the road from the western side. Cursing because he had hoped for a moment to gather himself, Brother scrambled to his feet and began to sprint for the western edge of the road above where the altered soldiers were now climbing; he had to throw Brother Sword at the lead rider from ten feet away over the head of it’s lance

As though punched by a giant fist, the distorted rider flew from the saddle back to the western side’s grassy area. Riderless, the horse lunged at Brother of the Sword with it’s teeth, and when those failed to clamp down, it reared and pawed the air trying to rake with the claws nature had never meant it to have. Brother had to reach through the ether and recover Brother Sword, the flashing blade made the unnatural animal shy back; it wanted nothing to do with the glowing steel. When the riderless beast veered it blocked the path of the second rider who had climbed onto the road, this trooper and it’s mount had been trying to ride around to bring it’s weapons to bear. Both the rider and its twisted mount cried out like victims being stretched on a torture rack, long drawn out wails that sent shudders down Brother’s back even as he bounded off the bedrock boulders of the raised roadway.

Chased by the ringing of horse shoes on the stone way above, Brother raced up the side of the road watching the wizard gesturing his creatures towards the attack.

“Get him! Get the simulacrum!” Krendiel called pointing with both hands, his voice rife with disbelief. A heavy thudding behind Brother of the Sword told him that a horse and rider had leaped off his side of the road. Clattering hooves on the gravel paved way attested to the fact that the warped cavalry were gaining on Brother. I have to create angles with these guys now, I have to keep a single horse and rider between me and the bulk of this unit. With a bound, Brother bounced away from the road, then he pivoted and jumped back to where he had been. Razor pointed steel passed through where he had just been, the grass bound lancer began to recover from it’s thrust while turning wide insensate eyes upon Brother. It also tried to wheel it’s horse thing around. Hopping again, Brother’s lunge crunched through the riders ribs; it’s eyes never registered pain or regret, it just slumped in the saddle and dropped the lance, the fever leaving it’s eyes as they caught sight of that which lay beyond.

Just as feral as it’s rider, the malignantly twisted horse did try to twist about to bite Brother of the Sword, his second lunge caught the former horse in the neck just below it’s jaw line. Four riders and three horses dead, he thought while thrusting hard. Automatically, he had been counting those he struck down and those remaining, just as he had done back in Mudberry by the Water. It dawned on Brother why he kept track, it was to keep from underestimating what they could bring against him. Two were guarding Krendiel hundreds of yards away, two were on the road lances ready to intercept him from climbing up to their level, and the last two were downhill from Brother springing down to the grass and arranging themselves in a line. One riderless beast had forgotten the fray and was racing back down hill screaming as though it were on fire.

Each horse panted as though a marathon had been raced, Brother of the Sword himself gasped for air. While the two cavalry creatures to the down slope north positioned themselves, he shrugged out of his pack; which he threw towards the still kicking blister bubble mount bleeding out near its dead rider. Fell brother, if you capture a warped beast I may be able to help you control it, Brother Sword suddenly stated.

“Hey, you can talk again.” Brother of the Sword’s spoken words made the two riders on the grass spur their horses to a walk, one rider had one arm a foot long, while the right arm seemed to be double normal length. Rider and mount had their blank bulging eyes fixed on him, their attention so focused that their lolling tongues did not bounce around like tassels at a music festival. You will have to fight all four of them if you do not plunder for yourself a direful mount, most fell brother.

When he started walking toward the two, they heeled their creatures to a canter. On the road, the two riding sentinels mirrored his movements, their lances held cross body but still very much threatening.

“How am I supposed to do that?” he asked his blade. Brother pretty much received the impression that Brother Sword was shrugging, it did not offer him an answer. Hoof claws tore up grass as the twisted horses were spurred to the charge just yards away from Brother. He knew he could not angle towards the road because of the two lancers up top, and running too far away from the raised gravel strip would make the same two troopers come down as they would have the space to keep him away from the roadway. The four all together would be able to keep him from gaining the roads temporary shelter when that happened. Yet he could not remain where he was and allow two to attack at the same time.

Darting to his left, farther out into the grassy slope, Brother made it so the warrior with off kilter arms could not strike at him, effectively pinning that one between it’s companion and the gravel road. Nearly at the same moment the two cavalry creatures on the road forced their mounts to ping pong down the side of the road then they swept a little downhill to keep Brother from the road. His nearest foe thrust out powerfully with it’s lance, then it swerved it’s horse out of Brother of the Sword’s return attack, Brother could only slash the flank of the unhealthy looking animal. Screaming in distress, the former horse began to kick out with it’s rear hoof claws, forcing Brother to dive to the turf to keep his head from being stove in. Bucking savagely, the horse began to strike out as it circled around and around like a wild bronco, it wanted to strike anything and everything in a three hundred sixty degree angle. It’s third kick struck the belly of crooked arm’s horse, and crooked arm’s leg, tossing horse and rider down in a thrashing screaming heap next to the gravel rise.

Clinging like an expert, the warped thing riding the stricken animal, arched and swayed at each lurch clinging tight to the saddle; it had been forced to toss it’s lance to get both hands choked up on the reins. The troopers fresh from off the road were already oriented on Brother of the Sword, but the downhill most rider was blocked off by it’s forward friend when that one couched it’s lance and charged. Standing as if he did not see the razor edged steel point aimed at his heart, Brother posed with raised sword until the lead lancer was close enough. Grass flew from the hooked hooves of the mount as the slope hampered the creatures movement, yet it would still be able to assist it’s rider with the weight of it’s body if that spear hit Brother. Once again he threw Brother Sword. Rotating once as it flew, Brother Sword intercepted the riders ulcerated face point first, rolling the rider over the horse things haunch. The sibling of flesh reached for the sibling of steel, and they were reunited in an instant.

Pouncing like a cat on wriggling string, the riderless warped horse tried to pin Brother of the Sword with the raptor like claws of its fore hooves. Those hooks would have split Brother from chest to mid thigh if he would have stayed still. Instead he glided to the side, and as the beast moved through his former territory, Brother grabbed the saddle horn and swung himself up. As warped and distorted as it was, the animal beneath him immediately freaked out, screaming and bucking in a clockwise circle. Razor sharp steel raked across Brother of the Sword’s back from the following lancer, and Brother’s instinct was to block the next thrust with Brother Sword. Touch this tainted beast on it’s flank with my body, fell brother. My nature will sting the arcane influence within this creature dour. Instantly he slapped the flat of Brother Sword to the animals side, but even as he did he had to lean back from the lance trying to pierce his rib cage. This time Brother was cut from under his right pectoral muscle to over his solar plexus, a deep stinging slice.

Shrieking as if hell were nipping at it’s heels, Brother’s indignant mount sprang into a downhill sprint. It ignored Brother of the Sword sawing on it’s reins, but under Brother Swords instruction a touch along it’s jawline turned the distorted horse uphill; aimed at Krendiel. Still trying to face it’s horse downhill, the lancer who had cut Brother did not expect to find Brother racing by heading uphill; It confused it’s beast by reining back the way it had been facing. Having controlled and calmed it’s altered mount, the creature riding the slashed horse drove it’s animal straight at Brother; both animal and rider howled like beings trapped in a furnace. Goaded by rump swats delivered to it’s backside, Brother of the Sword managed to pass that rider by, all it could do was brandish it’s saber with it’s long arm and continue to howl. This is good, fell brother, the wizard sets his last two protectors against us now. It is our hope that we draw close enough to eat the wizard’s magic before you are spit on their weapons.

Just as Brother Sword had observed, Krendiel had set his two lancers loose. They were charging downhill howling as though just learning they were damned. What was bothering Brother of the Sword the most, though, was the hooves beating over his left shoulder; glancing back did not show his closest pursuer gaining on him, but Brother could not help but hear the shrieking horse gaining on him. Doubting that he could reach, Brother laid back in his saddle and took a swing with the blue glowing blade. Brother Sword did not touch flesh, but the thing that used to be a horse shied away as though stricken. Despite retaining his seat while the animal had bucked earlier, the rider was now thrown; the other trooper chasing Brother was much further back and would not become a factor for some time.

Just as Brother of the Sword was doing, the magic blade was trying to figure out their options to close with Krendiel. They needed at least half a hundred yards for Brother Sword to be able to negate the wizards disgusting spell, but it was looking doubtful that the downhill speeding cavalry would place second in this particular race. Veering around those two was no longer an option. All Brother could hope to do was get lucky and block both lances when they thrust at him. What he had not counted on was that both riders tilted their weapons down, piercing and destroying the mount he rode. The weight of two horses stopped his malformed mount dead, inertia threw Brother over the former horses head to land between both enemy riders. Brother was not the only one to be surprised by this turn of events, but his foes were still bulldozing his horse downhill, inadvertantly mucking up their lone uphill facing companion; it had to brake instead of wave it’s saber about.

Back pedaling into the tree he had once hidden behind, Krendiel’s face registered disbelief and more than a little fear. Knowing he was still in a race, Brother of the Sword rolled to his feet and set himself churning up the slope; he did not take the time to glance at the horse like thing he had rode to see how poorly it had fared. So close, fell brother! I pray the prey does not flee before us! As if stealing the idea from Brother Sword, the wizard whirled about and tried to dash back into the woods. Over Brother’s shoulder he could hear the huffing breath of a horse and the wail of the rider, the enemy had closed faster than he had hoped. Under the branches of his tree the wizard suddenly dropped to his backside, his blue robes tangling with branches and shrubs; to Brother’s eye it looked like the man had smacked into a branch that could not be seen from his vantage.

Whether it was psychosomatic or real, the thudding of hooves at his back felt close enough to vibrate the earth below Brother of the Sword’s feet. Surely his toes were only making the briefest of contacts with the earth, he could not possibly be feeling his pursuer like this? Holding his head, Krendiel labored to his feet and cast a wide eyed look back. Now, fell brother, now! Brother Sword felt just as desperate as was. Fearing he would feel a saber thrust into his back, Brother swung the magic blade and pointed it straight at Krendiel. A sword shaped light blue bolt shot out and hit the wizard in between his shoulder blades, Krediel’s wail matched the sounds of despair his surviving victims made. Still in mid stride, Brother of the Sword jumped and spun in the air, swinging his sibling hard in an uppercut. Brother Sword smashed through the lower jaw and out the top of the horses snout, snapping it’s head up forcefully even as it plowed chest first into the earth. As it fell the rider catapulted through the air.

Flesh that looked as though blisters had layers of other blisters below, writhed, but Brother did not check himself from chopping the trooper in it’s flight. Down the gradient, Brother of the Sword watched the trailing two riders and their horses collapse. Their painful transformation back into themselves sounded as hellish as their enchanted existence had been, but the screams were back to back instead of intermittent. Wanting to collapse and suck in all the oxygen the world could supply him with, Brother forced himself to remember the assassin wizard above him. Krendiel was already back on his feet again, crashing into tree trunks drunkenly on legs of rubber.

Almost sobbing with the effort now, Brother of the Sword, made his legs climb, the muscles of his calves felt like they wanted to cramp up. He was only a score of yards behind Krendiel when he entered the tree line. A few steps later, the spell caster looked back and spotted Brother.

“No!” that cry reverberated with the denial of the inevitable. Krendiel tried running on, but he turned back too often to track Brother, he stumbled and fell almost every single time. At a dozen steps away, the wizard spun around and fell against the trunk of a maple, his hands held up in either denial or supplication. “Don’t kill me! You can’t kill me!” the wizard demanded, fear bugging his eyes out. Brother continued advancing, his soul riding a self righteous anger.

“Why not, you tried to murder me? Twice.”

Holding his hands up as if those fleshy appendages could stop the wrathful steel of Brother Sword, Krendiel tried his justifications.

“It’s not murder, you’re a simulacrum,” the wizard said, sounding as if he was well within his rights.

“I’m a what?” Brother found himself asking as he stomped to a halt over the man, Brother Sword held raised.

“You’re a simulacrum… a false man,” Krendiel explained, then seemed amazed that Brother of the Sword did not seem to understand. “You were created in another wizards laboratory. You were made to kill off his competition.”

Knowing the wizard was just trying to gain extra moments, Brother still lowered Brother Sword a little so he could learn some more.

“Who made me?” he asked. Looking like a man who had just found the means to his salvation, Krendiel lowered his hands and peered up at Brother.

“I don’t know who made you, the Witch Garmev never told me, but if you let me live I might be able to get her to inform me.” Brother had heard that name before. With a memory that was almost two weeks old, Brother was easily able to summon the moment forth. The fey giant he had faced up in Galen Falls had practically bragged that it had been paid and ensorcelled by a notorious witch of that name. So, this was her second and third attempt on Brother’s life.

“Who is the Witch Garmev?” Sighing in relief, Krendiel lowered his arms all the way. He even had the temerity to smile up at Brother as though he had already been forgiven or something. Brother Sword was urging him to strike now, this moment!

“We in the Assembly Arcanuum consider her an arch wizard class spell caster. She has chosen not to take any side but her own. When she wants something, she usually has the power to take it, unless that brings her up against someone as powerful as she is. We don’t know too much about her, but we think she has set her residence up in fairy.”

Thinking hard, Brother of the Sword tried to recall what he knew of fairy. The sense he got was that it was a realm within and without this world and weird creatures existed there. Elves were tied to Fairy as much as they were tied to this world, though no one could truly fathom what that implied.

“How do I get to fairy?” he asked Krendiel. Smiling as if they were friends the wizard began to push himself upright using the maple tree as a brace.

“I’m not sure where the actual gate is, but you must ask the king and queen of the Star Elves for permission to pass.” Trying to keep his distaste off his face he asked one last question of the divinator.

“Does being a simulacrum make me a lesser being?” he asked feeling a pang of disquiet. Frowning at the sudden tack of the question, Krendiel was slow to answer.

“You’re not real… well, you’re real but not really human. I imagine that your emotions and thoughts are but the product of enchantments placed on you to help you mimic being alive.”

For a moment Brother of the Sword studied the renegade wizard’s self pleased smile. The man actually thought his reasoning was sound. That self satisfaction evaporated like water in hell when Brother exploded.

“I’m not real? My fear is simulated? My blood is a travesty, because you choose to spill it?” his shouting alarmed Krendiel, but the wizard still did not expect the speed in which he swung Brother Sword. Jetting blood from the stump of the neck, Krendiel’s body dropped limply to its knees and continued on to spill soddenly into the leaves. The head bounced off the maple then down to ricochet off it’s own shoulder, only to roll to the small of his body’s back. After a few moments, Brother of the Sword began to lose the justified feeling he felt looking at the corpse.

Fell brother, your clothing is stained by the lives taken. Wrap me in your shirt, then wrap me in your pants. I will deplete the vital fluid that stains thy garments, Brother Sword stated still audibly slurping Krendiel’s gore into itself.

Surprised, Brother looked at his sibling blade.

“You can still talk?” Amusement rippled as glowing highlights in the layered steel. Oh fell brother, I was depleted when we struck the wizard’s magic down. Still I had been fed much blood and vitality before the bolt flew, and you fed more blood into me after the magic was negated. As small as this wizard was, he still had much magic vitality for me to nourish myself with. We both grow, fell brother, from each experience we have. Both of us have increased in ability since we woke in that sarcophagus not so long ago. Please, your garments can be made nigh pristine again if you let me take the vitality that sprayed upon you from your sweet violence, fell brother.

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  Brother of the Sword Chapter 5 pt.2
Posted by: frenzied67 - 01-09-2021, 06:40 PM - Forum: Off-Topic - No Replies

Chapter 5 pt.2
Ripped Away Will
From Mudberry by the Water to the Road North 1533 Imperial Calendar

With the tents extra weight, his travel pack was not as fun to carry as it had been.  At least that is what he told himself as he left the tavern for the bright outdoors, then he tried to remember a time where carrying his backpack had been enjoyable.  Nope, most of his pleasurable moments had occurred despite the carrying container, or with it off his back.  For the first hour his pace seemed to match the strolling gait of the other pedestrians headed in his direction, he yawned continually while thinking about finding a place to take a nap.  An hour later, Brother of the Sword was yet again impatiently taking to skirting the boardwalks to pass slow travelers; energy incarnate.  After the bells tolled three, Brother was being cursed by folks forced to skirt around him.  That damn back pack felt like it was sucking the life out of him.

By the time the twin gated exit of Mudberry by the Water came into Brother of the Sword’s view he was dragging, sweat stained, and weary.  With the gate’s guardians still looking like far off specks, he stepped into the street and looked for an inn.  One ramshackle two story and two swanky three story establishments proclaimed they were inns; the run down place was closest.  In Brother’s rented room was a musty smell that came from the walls, the blankets on his bed had many patches and were begging for many more.  Grime and ripples occluded the window so much that Brother could only catch movement on the street below, there was no telling if it was person or beast that made the dark wavering motion on the pale cobble stones.  Dropping his pack, Brother flopped onto the bed and let his legs twitch and shake from all the hours of labor he had put them through.  His new boots had not rubbed any raw patches on his feet or lower leg, but his calves felt spots where digging leather had pressed into his flesh.

Sighing made the box springs protest as he allowed his back and neck muscles to relax.  Even his following yawn made the bed creak.  The mattress reminded him of the forest floor of the mountain with odd lumps and impressions, but despite that he drifted off.  Starting awake, Brother of the Sword noticed that the light drifting through the window had hardly moved.  Grumbling, his stomach let him know what had pulled him from the restorative slumber his body craved.  I worked hard today with the extra weight on my back, I worked my lunch off and then some.  I won’t regenerate properly unless I have food to fuel myself.  Groaning, Brother sat up and then lingered on the edge of the protesting bed, reluctant to put weight on his tired feet and legs.  For a moment he thought about breaking into his traveling pack rations, then he realized that would be all he would be eating for many weeks ahead.  Like it or not, this would be one of the last civilized meals he would have for a long time.

Making the noises of protest he thought his body parts would make if they could vocalize, Brother of the Sword forced himself onto his feet.  His next act was to sponge bath his face, neck, and torso using the basin of water the inn supplied; one of the few amenities they did provide.  After wiping away his dried sweat, he then made sure Brother Sword was tied securely to his pack, he double checked to see if he had everything together.  Tucking the key to his room in his left pocket, he found himself skipping down the stairs suddenly not as wiped out as he had thought.  I’m going to say this is because that pack is off my back.  As jaunty as his wave and grin were, the tattooed inn keeper glared after Brother as though he had made rude gestures at the man.  When checking in, Brother had been offered and refused to have the inn keeper send him up a hooker, the proprietor had stopped pretending to be friendly.

The sun was half framed by the highest roofs and steeples of Mudberry by the Water when he hit the boardwalk.  Shadows from those buildings were creeping up the eastern faces of all the houses, businesses, and other buildings in the city.  Closing his eyes he let those fading rays warm his face.  Letting his senses open, Brother of the Sword tilted his head back and began to sniff the air as he basked.  Close to the gate he could smell two buildings across from each other that had kitchens working with multiple foods, too the south east there were other establishments that were making meals, but they were far away.

Plus there was a woman wearing lavender perfume that was the nearest of all.

“I love the sunset in this city too.”  Her voice was rather young sounding, and Brother could smell recent sex on her person.  Cracking his eyes open, Brother of the Sword rolled his head over to see who was talking to him.  The girl did not need the make up she wore, her complexion was naturally porcelain and flawless.  Her face held the unworldly stamp of the Elven, but she was not purely of that race.  The Human stamp of her genes had given her a button nose to go with her exotically slanted eyes, which threw him off because she looked more doll than living being at his first glance.  Slightly pointed ears peaked from her straight dark red tresses.  Low cut to show a slight amount of cleavage, the young woman’s dress was meant to show off her female curves rather than hint at them.  Her eyes held boredom but her mouth smiled with invitation.

Stymied because of all the mixed signals he was getting, Brother of the Sword tried pleasantries in order see how he really felt about the woman at his side; or what she truly felt about him.

“The last rays always feel so pleasant, but I was actually trying to smell where the nearest eating place was,” he admitted pointing a thumb over his shoulder towards the gate.  This actually sparked real interest in the girl, she did a double take.  Her brows furrowed as a more genuine smile came to her full lips; the shape of her mouth and the fullness of her lips were another human trait.

“I don’t smell anything.  We’re not close enough.  There is a tavern and a restaurant over there, and another restaurant back that way about three blocks.”  Without thinking he nodded to show he knew the information she had just shared.  “I’ve never seen you around here before, are you traveling through?” she asked, her empty invitation coming back to her show smile.

Still uncertain to why she was there with him, Brother of the Sword, tried one more time to see if this being was seeking a connection or not.  If she had just wanted to talk to someone he would have sensed that, she was half signaling him that she did not actually want to be in this place with him at all.

“I’m on my way to Lake Talenchan, do you know how far that is away from Mudberry by the Water?”  Shrugging his question away, she stepped a little closer to him, uncomfortably close.  She may have been lovely but she did not want to be doing what she was doing.

“I think it’s a long way from here.  A very long way.  Do you want to party with me before you go, this could be the last time you get some action for quite some time?”

Now Brother of the Sword realized what the girl was really after, she didn’t want him, she wanted to earn the few coins he had left.  For the first time in his short life, Brother found himself stepping back from a desirable woman; the nature in him protested against what he was doing.  His brain told him the opposite.

“I was robbed this morning, I don’t have enough coin to keep your interest,” he said trying to be polite.  Annoyance wanted to color his voice, but she did not deserve his becoming negative towards her.

“Well fuck you too, asshole!  Why go around in your fancy clothes if you can’t afford a good time?”  Well, so much for being polite.  Shaking his head he just turned around and began walking across the Emperor’s Way.  One of the two places he had scented smelled slightly better than the other.    For that, the hooker cast aspersion on his penis that could not be true.  The two sexual encounters Brother had before now proved to him that functionality was not a problem he had.

Tallow, and lantern oil flavored the air on the boardwalks.  Though not all of the business’ on the street had lanterns that burned oil or candles, a large majority of them did.  Even in the shadows it was evident that the sun was still up, so the store owners currently lighting their outside lights were doing so as a courtesy for would be customers.  Glancing through shop windows did give Brother of the Sword a surprise, there were more shoppers in each place he passed than he had seen in any single establishment earlier in the day.  Using deduction, Brother figured it out after seeing a few shops closed for the night; many workers only had time to acquire their supplies after their day of labor.  Discovering that people of all sorts had solved problems long before he had come to be made him smile and shake his head in admiration.

A brightening of light ahead of him and screams pulled Brother of the Swords attention off of the nearby store fronts.  The tavern across the street from the restaurant he was aiming for suddenly had tall flames licking through a shattered window.  Men and women were trying to dash out of the front doors, but the timber of their cries changed when they ran into shadowy figures who cut them down with swords or spears.  Coming from the guardhouse, a figure dashed across the Emperor’s way with an open flame of some sort in their hand, they threw what proved to be a flaming bottle through the windows of a stationary store.  Brother was so shocked that he froze on the walk, helplessly he watched the arsonist kick the stores owner back into his own shop, directly into the flames climbing the window frame.  His intended restaurant flared up, while dozens of capering figures in armor set themselves at the exit, hewing unarmed refugees down as they tried to escape the bursting fires.

Brother of the Sword saw that all the figures wore the armor and uniform of the local soldiers, however none of them were Human, Dwarf, Elf, or any of the other creatures from Mudberry by the Water.  They were lumpy and twisted, long tongues lolled out of mouths full of nail like fangs, bulbous eyes spoke of agony and malice working in brains blind to coherent thought.  Not one made a sound, a call, or barked an order, they just naturally moved into position to hurl Molotov cocktails then carve up the helpless creatures scrambling for some sort of safety.  Horrified he instinctively called through the non space ether for his sibling, and found Brother Sword proclaiming that magic was near.  Gripping the magic sword in both hands Brother charged forward finding a simmering anger heating up his brain.

Heeding the sounds of chaos growing in their city, people began to check the street to see what was transpiring.  Eyes wide with terror those people began to push out of the shops, turned to the south east and ran.  In moments the boardwalk became a seething mass of people trampling each other to get away.  Swerving from that growing disaster Brother of the Sword did a one arm vault over the walk’s railing to hit the Emperor’s way, which was still fairly open.  Escapees who did make it to the wide cobbled street veered out of Brothers way, they saw his all out sprint and the light reflecting off of Brother Sword so they stayed out of his way.  Letting a burning man flail by them, two of the cursed figures pounced on a brunette woman who stumbled out of the same theater.  They grabbed her and raised their weapons to strike the girl down.  His wordless challenge made the creatures take their attention away from their captive for a moment.  Without looking, they stabbed the woman then began to spread out to receive his charge, their blades dripping gore.

Instead of pelting into the gap they had created between them, Brother swerved.  He caught the striking sword of the his victim on Brother Swords edge then plowed full steam into the twisted figure with his shoulder from a lowered stance.  Shrugging to assist the lumpy monster’s flight, he flung the thing over a dozen yards over the rail and through the unbroken window of the theater.  Trailing a wake of broken glass, the figure disappeared behind a wall of hellish flame.  Long tongue wagging from the things distended mouth, the other monster tried to slash Brother of the Sword, only to have its long sword swatted aside with force enough to make it stumble.  His brutish follow up swing crunched through the chest cavity of the uniform wearing nightmare, shattering ribs and spine in that one swing.

“There he is!” a voice called from the densest formation of warped figures.

Far too distant for Brother of the Swords taste, the shrill whistles of patrolling guards began to summon aid.  Nearer, all the hellish guard caricatures stopped hacking and burning the innocent.  With that one command they all turned crazed bulging eyes upon Brother and his glowing and flowing sword.  Evidently the creatures blood was good enough for Brother Swords taste, it began to make slurping sounds after they carved into the nearest ghoul figure, who tried to tackle Brother of the Sword’s about the waist.  Then he had to start flowing and moving as he was forced to fight three of them at one time; only his speed, footwork, and superior strength allowed him to down all three in a count of five.

Oh fell sibling, there is that among the twisted ones who is the source and director of the evil I/we feel.  Find that one and I/we can end this fray, it shall be the only being with natural form.  Instead of impressions and ideas, Brother Sword spoke to him mind to mind.  A first for both of them.  In the chaos of fiendish creatures rushing him it was hard to pick out details.  Some of the warped beings loped, some bounded in prestigious leaps, while others were so twisted that they had to use all four limbs to make awkward lurches his way.  Side stepping a spear point, Brother split the head of that assailant then began an angling walk to his right that took him out of line of the main rush of attackers. Through his bond with Brother Sword, he could sense something like a sigh of satisfaction as blood soaked into the flowing blue pattern of its blade.

Throwing the next monstrosity into the spear of one of it’s friends, Brother of the Sword continued his rightward semi circle keeping the creatures from being able to fall on him in a large mass.  However, he was slowly being circled by the twenty or so remaining hell beings.  They both saw the lone human at the same time, a healthy middle age man who looked to be an inch or two over six foot; about Brother of the Sword’s height.  Patterns on this man’s dark robes held insignia that aligned him with the guards, it was an Assembly Arcanuum uniform.  One last lumpy thing threw itself at Brother of the Sword, it’s spear tip probing like a prize fighter using jabs to size up their opponent.  He made a three hundred sixty degree spin, his first slash taking the tip off the ten foot pole arm, then with the momentum of his last whirling step he dashed the wretched creature to the cobble stones; one arm bouncing away from the deeply sliced torso.

Though they had numbers, the wizard made a circling gesture.  The spell caster’s creatures did not close with him, but they rushed to complete the ring of twisted forms around Brother of the Sword. Do it now, fell brother, I implore thee!  Without drawing energy from him, Brother Sword built up it’s charge.  With a swing, Brother of the Sword pointed the blade at the wizard.  A pale blue sword shaped energy discharge flew at the man with the speed an arrow would envy.  Unable to dodge aside or block the energy, the wizard cried out in dismay.  This man’s fevered look of impending victory turned to wide eyed dismay as his magic and ability to craft spells ceased, blasted away by Brother Swords spell eating power.  Writhing in agony, all the twisted ghoul like creatures began to tumble to the ground.  For the first time sound issued from their throats as the limbs of their bodies spasmed and flowed unnaturally.  Shocked anew, Brother Sword and Brother of the Sword watched the soldiers agonizingly start turning back into men and women, of many different races.  They screamed as their bone and tissue warped from the forms their bodies now held, their pain daunting.

In the moments they took to witness the horrific reversion, the wizard had almost made it back to the gate’s barracks.  Dancing through the bucking horde of soldiers caught in the brutal agony of their transformation, Brother began to sprint after the robed figure.  That man dashed into the three story tall, block long military hall, slamming the black doors closed in his wake when Brother was still half a block away.  When he burst through that door, Brother heard a crash coming from above them, with his eyes on the stairs and murder in his heart he skipped steps flying around the climb up.  On the second floor, it was a cooler air flow coming from the right that drew him in that direction.  A room meant for an officer had its door flung wide, but it was the alchemist set on a big table in the middle of that room that told Brother whose room it had been.  The back window facing the farmlands beyond Mudberry by the Water was shattered, blown outward by the fleeing wizard.

A small wooden casket that looked like a jewelry case and a draw string pouch of blue leather lay on the floor before the broken aperture.  Rushing to the window Brother of the Sword looked out and found that he had not gained any ground on the wizard, the man was still about half a block away rushing into an orchard in the dim light that remained.  Even at this distance he could see how the villain clutched a bundle or bag to his chest, his personal effects too precious to leave behind perhaps, or treasures rare enough to cling on to.  Tired from his hike, aching from his fight, Brother of the Sword abandoned the idea of jumping out of that window to continue chasing the man who had been trying to kill him.

Turning about to return to the fires and transforming soldiers, Brother recalled the two items below the window frame.  Kneeling down he picked up the purse and felt coins filling the bag; this pouch was smaller than the fey giants ox blood purse but it was larger than what many of Mudberry by the Water’s citizens carried.  A quick peek showed him silver.  Having a hooked clasp and little brass hinges, the little wooden casket easily opened to show Brother a cameo necklace.  The womanly silhouette at the end of the bronze chain did not look at all familiar to him.  An inscription read ‘Your Mother will always love you, Krendiel’.  He tossed the box and necklace aside then walked out of the room without further exploration.

A twisting, spiraling hose of flying water soared over the eastern wall to pour itself upon the stationary store.  Bucket brigades formed living chains between buildings not touched by current fire, all coming from the river a block behind the eastern shops.  A slight figure wearing the robes of an Assembly Arcanuum wizard struck a pose near the still writhing guards.  Sibilant words called out like a bard setting his spirit into an aria, another spray of water flew over walls and buildings from the river, to spray the tavern on the western side of the street with gallons of water.  A pair of hale soldiers tending their stricken comrades noticed Brother of the Swords exit from the barracks, they stood as he neared, hefting their spears defensively.

“You think you can kill nine guards and get away with it!” the woman soldier challenged, her male counterpart simply charged with his spear point aimed at Brother’s belly.

Stopping far short, Brother of the Sword spread his arms to show how inoffensive he was.  He still had to parry the spear aside to keep from being skewered despite his show of surrender.  Even though they were of similar height and weight, the male soldier could not escape Brother’s grip when he slipped through the spears reach and grabbed him up.

“I didn’t… I- uh…!  They weren’t people when I killed them!”  Right after the words left him, Brother knew his argument would never have swayed these two.  His captive began to throw himself about with enough vigor to stagger Brother, he had to twist about to keep from falling.  Watch whistles began to shrill away nearby, as other nearby soldiers moved in on their struggle.  Before Brother could interpose her partner between them, the female soldier struck with a shriek of rage.  Pain in his head, followed by a bright all pervading light, erupted from within and without Brother of the Sword’s cranium; for a time he knew nothing.

Firelight flickered over Brother of the Sword’s eyelids.  Hundreds of voices stabbed into his swollen brain, only the nearest people could be understood.  He wished they would all shut the hell up, Brother knew he needed to heal and his regeneration worked best when he slept.  Brother Sword even got into the act, without words it showed him images of nearby wizards pulling water to fight fires with.  Scrunching his eyes tight, Brother tried to shut it all out, but his betrayer senses started to hone in on the outside stimulus instead.  It can’t talk too me anymore, Brother Sword used up it’s power so it can only show me images and concepts again, that thought wormed out from the throbbing inside his skull.  A gash running from his right temple too just passed his ear was the center of all his head pain.  Brother also let his ears focus on the nearest conversation, because it was a discussion and not a series of shouted orders.

A woman seemed to be asking questions, and two men and another woman were dishing out information too her.

“You say he came out of our barracks over there?” this woman, though not loud, spoke with authority.

“Yes ma’am, he came at us with that long blade in his hands.  He was the only armed person in the street who wasn’t a guard,” a man claimed trying to make himself sound concise.

“I knew he was the asshole who killed our people, ma’am.  That’s why we took him out.  With your permission, ma’am, I’d like to finish what we started before you showed up.”  This woman sounded like the female soldier who had hit him in the head, she had hurt him badly and sounded like she wanted to dish out more cruelty.

Another man spoke, and he did not sound like he was deferential at all.

“Dammit, listen to me, this man was the hero, not the bad guy!  These soldiers you have laying around were monsters, and I mean twisted savage monsters that didn’t look at all like they look now.  Your soldiers were torching these buildings and killing the people that were forced out by the damn fires.  I was in the theater, and if this man hadn’t of charged into the beast’s your guards were at the time, I would be dead.  His sword was glowing with a light blue-”

“His sword was glowing?” the authoritative woman queried, interrupting the one speaker.

“This is bullshit, ma’am, we don’t have-” the angry woman silenced herself with one short admonition from the leader.

“Hold yourself, soldier.  You, you’re the second person who has told me that this sword is magical.  What did this sword do?”

Brother of the Sword groaned and opened his eyes and looked up at the four people, three of whom were in uniform.  The lone civilian responded as all four of them looked down at his movement.

“There was a lone soldier in wizard’s robes among all the creatures, this man shot the blue glow  at that man.  Immediately all the creatures fell down and started screaming and turning back into people.  It was scary and horrible, but this man charged off after that wizard when that man began to run away.  They both ran into the guards building over there.  This guy came back.”  Flicking her eyes to the male soldier, the woman captain tried to verify what the civilian had claimed.

“Did you see any of that?  Was his sword glowing when you two saw him?”

“No ma’am, we showed up and started to see to these injured troopers, there was no sign of this guy or the supposed wizard.  As the bucket brigades started into the Emperor’s Way, this man came loping out of the barracks with just a regular looking sword.  We had seen the dead guards among the dead civilians and came up with our own sums, ma’am”

Bending over to get a closer look at Brother of the Sword, the officer addressed him as he tried to roll over onto his side; she looked as if she was catching a rancid smell from him.  The world swam before Brother’s eyes and nausea twisted his guts when he tried to sit up, he toppled back onto his back.

“Is it true?  Are you and your sword magic?”  When his eyes stopped rolling, Brother met the officer’s probing orbs.  He wanted to bite the world, not answer too it.

“Hate magic, we eat magic,” he glared, trying to will the woman to step closer so he could hit her.  Even the idea of standing up hurt, now if only Brother could get the world to line up for it’s ass kicking.

“Did you catch the wizard who did this?” the demanding captain asked, motioning Brother to remain still, momentary compassion flitting across her normally stern visage.

Realizing that the captain’s sour look was for the situation and not just for him alone, helped mollify Brother’s foul mood a little.

“No, he got away through a second story window.  He dropped a cameo locket from his mother on his way out.  His name is Krendall or something.  He was prepared to slip away after….”  Brother of the Sword realized almost too late that he should not tell anyone that he had been the target of this attack.  “After his attack,” he finished, swallowing his near confession down with a grimace.

“Krendiel?” the male soldier asked, eyes going wide as if Brother’s words did not make sense.  That man turned to his superior.  “Ma’am, Krendiel is only a divinator, he doesn’t have magic to warp these soldiers.”  After that protest, the civilian man drew himself up looking annoyed.

“Someone did it!”  Both soldiers ignored the man, waiting on the dark haired captain to indicate her thoughts.

She chose to study Brother of the Sword for a moment, then looked at the barracks, and then she spun about to look at the carnage around herself.

“I believe these civilians, but I’m also inclined to seek verification.  You,” she declared pointing at Brother, “I’m going to have these two watch you while I investigate this shit.  You two remain here and don’t let this man leave.  He better be in good condition when I get back, understand?  You, thank you for sticking around to help people and tell your story.  Can we call on you if this goes to the magistrates?”  That last question was aimed at Brother’s fellow civilian.  That man nodded, seeming to suddenly understand he was being addressed by a bad ass warrior woman.  “Good man, give Private Garbelia your contact information.  I’ve got to find corroborating evidence.”  For several moments the captain let her daunting gaze fall on each person in turn, saving Brother of the Sword for last.

Giving the woman his own baleful stare he reached for Brother Sword who felt as though it were almost a block away from him.  Brother Sword teleported into his right hand as he pushed himself up to a seated position.  Everyone jumped back, the female soldier who had knocked him out squeaked from fear.

“Yea, I’ll wait for you to check things out,” he said trying not to show the physical distress from his movement.  Not as sure as she had been a moment before, the captain studied Brother Sword, then Brother.  This time she really did not like what she was seeing, she turned and left before deciding to do something rash where Brother was concerned.  Stepping well back from Brother of the Sword’s position, the two soldiers and the man kept on glancing his way nervously as they took the civilian’s information down.

For a long time Brother sat still trying to will out all the outside stimuli, but at first his eyes instinctively followed all the motion and commotion, so he closed them.  That made him able to tune the world out, and after a while it was just himself and Brother Sword drifting in a place that whispered like waves over sand.  Weakly his sibling offered to send him healing energy, but Brother Sword had used up a lot of it’s stores canceling the spell caster.  This is part of the ether isn’t it? Brother of the Sword asked.  Waves of approval emanated from the steel thing that was his brother, and he was given the impression that Brother Sword was drawing strength in this drifting nowhere.  As the blade was doing, Brother opened himself up to the ether and let something in… it felt like solace.  That feeling of peace entered him and wove up his spine as a serpent climbing a tree, a moving spiral that left a physical wake of coolness in and on his body.  It gathered in his head, soothing the heat of his pain. When the ether energy faded, or was absorbed, he found himself aware of the world again.

Although the all pervading pain was still hammering in his skull like a titan’s hang over, Brother of the Sword still noticed a marked improvement.  Rolling up to his knees did send stabbing pain into the depths of Brother’s gray matter, but nausea and dizziness did not strike him with any debilitation.  Groaning he pushed on up to achingly take his feet.

“Hey, whatcha doing?” the female soldier demanded, stepping back as though thinking of bolting.  While Brother of the Sword had been meditating the civilian had departed.  There was no sign of the man who had stuck up for Brother.  Pale faced the woman’s companion held up a hand demanding that he halt.  They wouldn’t stop me if I decided to leave, he realized, then wondered what to do with that knowledge.

“I’m standing up, dipshit,” he growled, using a vulgar descriptive for the first time.  He found the word fit his mood, this meant that other appellations like this were viable for his future use.

Staring at the two guards seemed to unnerve them, then Brother of the Sword realized that he was standing with his shoulders hunched and his head down so that he was peering at them form under his brows.  Predators stared at prey that way, no wonder the pair were pale faced and swallowing oh-so nervously.  Knowing that his head pain was partly responsible for his stilted posture, Brother turned to watch the nearest sorceress at her work; he tried to stand straighter but could not maintain holding his spine that way for long.  Her spout of water was not as thick as before, and as she let the spray move over to the last fire on the western side of the Emperor’s Way her gestures seemed labored.  Not understanding why he felt a little delight at the arcane weaver’s difficult movements, the exhaustion so clearly trying to hamper her magical abilities, he seemed to be willing her to lose her spell and fall spent to the cobblestones.  When he understood that Brother Sword was urging him to stalk and kill the woman, he thought it best to look upon another sight.

Some of the soldiers who had been transformed were being helped to their feet, while a majority of them still lay tumbled where they had fallen.  A medic helping the newest risen soldier wrapped their charge with a blanket, then assisted them over to the eastern boardwalk to sit with four or five others in front of the smoldering remains of the tavern.  Slender and fit though she was, the captain did not look womanly questioning one of the blanket wrapped survivors, even from across the wide street she looked nothing but militarily capable.  The man she was question kept on shrugging or shaking his head no as he tried to avoid the potent stare of his superior.  Behind Brother of the Sword, other soldiers were lining up bodies and parts of bodies on the cobblestones; they were even pulling out the carbonized remains of men and women who had not been able to escape the infernos.  Only small flames flickered in the last fire damaged building, the two fire brigade wizards were done flying water from the river, so the flagging bucket brigades were left to tamp out those little flickers and embers that clung tenaciously to the building’s saturated parts.

I still haven’t eaten yet, Brother of the Sword realized as volunteers laid out another pyre stiffened corpse.  He shuffled around again to see the city walls and the barracks that guarded the gates.  A wizard in the imperial uniform of a wizard led a squad of soldiers into that building, while another squad took up station in front of the doors.  Those men and women seemed devoted to the idea of keeping other people out of the quarters of their comrades.

“Hey, whatcha doing?” the female soldier demanded again.  Wondering what he had done, Brother turned around only to find that the challenge had been given to a military medic.  More otherworldly than the dark haired Elves of Mudberry by the Water, this Blond Elven male pushed by his fellow soldiers with eyes on Brothers bloody head, his long hair had three braided locks.

Without a backwards glance at the pair guarding Brother of the Sword, the soldier/healer answered over his shoulder.

“This creature is injured, I intend to do my job.”  Even though the Elf was engaged with the world, his voice came off as detached and far away; an opium dreamer speaking to a world he was not in anymore.

“He’s dangerous!” the male human guard warned.

“He is also severely out numbered,” the Elf countered, smiling suddenly into Brother’s eyes.  When he halted in front of Brother, the perfect seeming creature took several moments to study him.  “Your height will make it difficult for me to examine your wound, would you mind bending down or seating yourself?”

Awed in spite of himself, Brother of the Sword dropped down into a squat, then further into a seated position.  He felt as though an angelic power were taking an interest in him, it’s motivations too lofty for his mortal understanding.  Using a pale finger the Elf began to trace around the gash in Brother’s scalp, he even squatted to bring his eyes closer to the wound.

“I didn’t expect to receive aid from the guard tonight,” Brother said, trying to read the Elven man.  Still sounding as if his mind was on other things, the Elf seemed to have dispensed with facial expression to portray his thoughts or emotions.

“We may have to hang you tomorrow, but the empire will not be judged cruel for not seeing to your comforts, creature.”  This news shocked Brother of the Sword, his start interrupted the perusal of his wound.

“They’re going to hang me?”  Even in this serene being’s company, he found his heart hammering with extreme dread.

Laying a calming hand on Brother of the Sword’s shoulder, the Elf smiled an apology.

“I actually do not know your fate, thing, I made an assumption because you are under guard.  Did you do some self healing on yourself?  Your wound, other than the new blood, seems a day older than it should.”  As was becoming his practice, Brother tried to think of a lie to tell, but then he realized this Elf had already seen and commented on his oddness without becoming distraught.

“Brother Sword showed me a short meditation that assists our natural regeneration.  I just learned I could do this tonight.”  As potent as a gasp, and as dramatic as pulling away with an emotional display, when the Elven man arched an eyebrow he was expressing a lot of astonishment.  He glanced down at Brother Sword sitting naked in Brother’s lap.  His eyes narrowed then darted for Brother of the Swords lapis lazuli eyes.

It was not his imagination, the Elf’s eyes were wide.

“Creature, the material that makes up that hilt is the same as your skin!  You share a bond of life with your sword!”  Brother of the Sword nodded to show that the Elven male’s statement was true.

“You keep on calling me creature and thing.  Why are you doing that?”  Wetting a cloth with water, the Elf began to wash the blood out Brother of the Sword’s hair around the wound.  As that man started dabbing it was obvious to Brother that the Elf was formulating his thoughts, that was the reason for the hitch in their conversation.  His words still seemed as something meant to drift on smoke and wind.

“All life was created by the gods.  Their touch is evident to us who were created first, an ability we never suspected the younger races to lack.  You may be a living, breathing, thinking, feeling creature, much like a Human man, but no god had a hand in your creation.  Arcane magic is what crafted you.”

Not knowing why this information was as a slap in the face, Brother of the Sword shook his head trying to negate the medic’s summation.

“We hate magic, and those who use it!” he hissed his eyes hot with denial.  For the first time, the Elf sounded like a person in and of the world, engaged and focused.

“You do not!  All life is magic!  Most of the arcane is good and beneficial and there are those spell casters who unselfishly use magic to better the world we live in.”  This shut Brother up, he sat in silence trying to correlate his experiences with magic and magic users to see where he really stood as the elf wiped away the caked gore on his head.  Drifting away to the lands where dreams were manufactured, the Elf’s voiced sounded normal again.  “I use magic, but I sense no hatred from you because of that fact.  Why is that?”

Finished with cleaning his wound, the Elf began to break bandages out of the satchel he carried.  He started applying the gauze before Brother of the Sword thought his answer through.

“I didn’t know you were a mage until you told me.  We didn’t sense the gift in you,” he admitted feeling sheepish.

“I have an idea that you only sense arcane workings when they are being used around you, you only act when those magical crafts are used to bring harm.  Hold this.”  At the end of his little speech, the Elf directed him to hold the end of the bandage that was wrapped around Brother’s skull.

“You have never seen us in action, how would you know this is the way we act?” he challenged the Elf.  Chuckling lightly as he applied adhesive strips of some sort to hold the bandage that was holding the gauze, the Elf took a moment to answer.

“There were wizards working with the fire brigade all around you, thing.  Why didn’t you strike them down with your all consuming hatred of all things magical?”

He caught the Elven man’s eyes as that individual rose, his work done.

“I wanted too.  Brother Sword really wanted me to do away with them, it kept on pointing out their proximity to me.”  Nodding to Brother of the Sword, the Elf parted from him leaving a single query to haunt Brother’s thoughts.

“But you did not.  Why is that?”  Pondering that fact made Brother feel nauseous again because he realized a truth in the Elf’s words.  Sickened at the death of his assumptions, Brother closed his eyes and tried to capture the ether again.  He craved those moments where his mind was silent, and he wanted to heal a bit more to stop the ache in his head.  His brain and skull still throbbed ferociously from the wound.  Almost exuding sympathy Brother Sword informed Brother that the healing meditation would not return until he had slept a deep healing sleep.

The Assembly Arcanuum wizard exited the barracks with his squad hustling to catch up with him.  That man crossed over the cobbles and saluted the woman captain.  Their discussion seemed to take hours with many head shakes, nods, and both of them taking turns pointing in Brother’s direction.  Bored with the show, and still troubled by the ideas the Elf had implanted, Brother of the Sword once again closed his eyes to seek a meditative state.  Instead of seeking healing, Brother reviewed the ecstasy of his night long sexual encounter with Lalia.  She may have ripped him off, but she had left an impression in the way she had coaxed all that extra stamina out of his body.  Realizing that his breathing was starting to quicken at those memories, he hastily opened his eyes.  The captain was walking toward him, with Brother fixed in her gaze.  He would never think of this woman as he did Lalia or the waitress from earlier this day.

Before she stopped to loom over Brother, the captain gestured the two guards over to support her.  Her eyes flinched off of Brother Sword when she did come to a halt.

“Are you planning on staying in Mudberry by the Water?” she asked Brother of the Sword, her face screwed up from a frown.  Her usual look it seemed.

“I plan on leaving tomorrow, unless you’re holding me for some reason.”  His expectant look wrangled a sigh from the woman, making it seemed she were regretting the words she was about to speak.

“Your story pans out.  Even though these gate guard don’t remember anything about it, too many other witnesses affirm that they had been transformed, somehow, into vicious monsters.  They set the buildings on fire and killed close to sixty seven people, as the count now stands.  You were justified to intervene and the nine guards you killed were slain in service to the city and empire.  You are free to go.”  the captain’s sour face began to turn away, then she glanced back down.  “I’m glad your leaving and I hope Mudberry by the Water never has to suffer your presence again.”

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  Brother of the Sword Chapter 5 pt.1
Posted by: frenzied67 - 01-09-2021, 06:38 PM - Forum: Off-Topic - No Replies

Chapter 5 pt.1
Ripped Away Will
From Mudberry by the Water to the Road North 1533 Imperial Calendar

Images in the mirror wavered like water awash from a single tossed pebble, the wizard watched his reflection fade to be replaced by an image of a young man trudging down a hill road, a great mountain at his back.  Shuddering from the proximity of the being at his side, the wizard watched the man in the mirror.

“Observe, Krendiel, memorize this man,” Garmev commanded.  Again her voice sounding in Krendiel’s head as well as his ears.  A glance from the side of his eye surprised the flank of a snake moving within her hood.  A face should have been there, not the rippling of serpentine motion.  Fear almost undid the scrying spell he had in effect upon the mirror, the man’s image rippled and shifted momentarily to waveringly show their own reflections, then the brown haired traveler, and back again.

Fighting to control his spell and tamp down the terror threatening to unman him, Krendiel silently vowed not to look at the Witch Garmev who stood too near him.  “Concentrate!” she put some snap into her voice.

“Who is this man?” he asked immediately, breathing a silent prayer to any power listening that he kept his scrying spell from escaping his mental grasp.  A low chuckle that sounded like an Orc’s laugh came from that black hood, he ignored the urge to see if serpents writhed where a face should be.  Her voice sounded human enough when she answered him.

“This is not really a man.  It is the creation of a wizard who… well he wants there to be fewer practitioners of our art in the world.  This is that wizard’s tool.”

Interested in spite of himself, Krendiel made the mirror show a close up image of the creature so close to looking like a man.  The only tell-tale that this thing was a simulacrum was the mineral quality of its darkly blue eyes, everything else screamed real though, including the back pack and sword hung on his/it’s back.  With boy like wonder expressed on the creatures face, the target of the scry stopped to watch a vulture wing by overhead.  The marvel the creation expressed in features and attitude were extraordinarily real seeming.

“Your opponent is quite the craftsman,” he stated emboldened without realizing it.  “I take it you want me to monitor this creature as it moves through Mudberry by the Water?  How do you wish me to contact you to give my reports?”  When Garmev had arrived on her flying carpet, Krediel had feared the worst, now he understood why she had come to him.  He did have a local reputation for being a divinator of some repute, that had to be the basis of her interest in him.

Another low chuckle came from the Witch Garmev’s unsettling hood, this time it was a high pitched goblin’s mirth, complete with those creatures sinister malice.

“No, Krendiel, I want you to kill it as it tries to leave your city.”  Despite himself the wizard spun on the powerful figure at his side, his mirror rippled then showed what was in his lab.  He was taller than the Witch Garmev, yet he cowered away from her unnatural figure.  She was a titan compared to him in magical power.  Black scaled snakes crisscrossed over each other in the hood’s space, making Krendiel’s stomach do somersaults.

“How, the Assembly Arcanuum ruled that I was insufficiently talented to learn killing magic?”

No sounds of mirth issued from that fell hood, but Krendiel sensed that the witch was laughing at him.

“You should declare your freedom from that moribund body, Krendiel, they only hold you back.  Think of how much you could grow your power if you did not have to answer to such venal creatures as the Arcanuum?  I can introduce you to magics you have only dreamed of, spells that could launch you into those avenues of research that lead you to study magic in the first place,” she made a sweeping gesture with her hand, as though her offer were a physical thing all too willing to fly away if he did not accept in time.  Gods, how he wished there was less pressure from the Witch Garmev’s presence.  If only he could think about this for a while.  Without having to use a spell to read minds, Krendiel knew this offer would not be dangled before him for long.  But the Assembly Arcanuum was not a power to be trifled with either, and they had already judged him and placed him where they needed him.  What was a wizard to do?

She began to close her black glove covered fingers one by one, showing him that the deal was fading away.  “You could be your own man and not an Arcanuum puppet, their reach is not universal, Krendiel.”  Two more fingers closed leaving but her pinky and thumb to fall.  Years of frustration suddenly welled up in Mudberry by the Water’s appointed wizard; for decades he had not been allowed to follow the research that called to him, had not been allowed to grow his knowledge and power as he saw fit.  It was always what the Arcanuum thought was for the empire’s best interests, what he studied and learned.  The pinky closed and the thumb was halfway into the act of forming the Witch Garmev’s fist.

“What will you teach me?” his voice rushed out, and in that instant he realized he had not freed himself, he had only changed who his puppeteer was.

Again an Orcish rumble of malevolent merriment issued from the witch.

“Very good, very good indeed, Krendiel.  The Assembly Arcanuum would have swept your murder under the carpet as they have done so often before.  It is ridiculous how many death’s have been hidden because they fear me so.” Shrill goblinoid mockery came from the diminutive woman’s figure that would have been too close to him at a miles distance.  Krendiel began to shake as he thought about his betrayal to the Arcanuum and the implied promise of violence from his new master.  “How would you like a spell that would allow you to have others kill for you?”  She laughed in her own voice this time, and neither the Goblin’s voice nor Orc’s had held so much evil and madness.

“If you don’t tarry or deviate from the Emperor’s Way, you should reach the tally gate out of Mudberry by the Water by four or five this afternoon,” the cobbler of the Heavy Step informed Brother of the Sword.  Absently rolling his ankles within his new boots, the man from the coffin thought with a sinking heart.  That means I might have to stay one more night in this damn city!  Ever since he woke up to find that Lalia had absconded with the bulk of his funds, Brother had wanted to put this city well and truly behind him.  Five O’clock seemed like the time he had been stopping to make his camp while tramping down the mountain, though he had just learned that the days grew longer in the spring and summer months.

He smiled at the cobbler to show his appreciation of the news given, but his saddened eyes did not fool the gentleman in the least.

“Are there places I can camp outside the walls?” he asked, trying to come up with an alternative to finding an inn.  Regret filled the smaller man’s mien before that man began to shake his head.

“Too many farms to the west.  You’ll have to walk another day in order to leave civilization behind.  I hear the farmers hate folks pitching a camp on their property, too many crops getting trampled by strangers or something.”  shrugging with a face that seemed sincere in it’s regret, the cobbler looked on helplessly at Brother of the Sword.

Standing up from the fitting chair, Brother smiled down at the cobbler.

“Thank you, you have been more of a help than just making these boots for me.  All of your information and advice has been spot on,” he said causing a pleased smile to grow on the older man’s still healthy round faced features.  He could not hold his own smile back as he jokingly added on to his praise.  “I’m sure the women will come out of the wood works because of my sexy new boots.  Maybe a few of them will leave my money alone.”  Not knowing if he should even address this sort of topic with a customer, the cobbler’s smile evaporated away.

“If that is what the cards have in store for you, sir.”

By becoming non committal, the proprietor also seemed to be indicating that it was time for Brother of the Sword to leave his shop.  Offering one last smile, Brother turned and retrieved his back pack.  Patchwork green canvas dangled below the pack, adding what felt like twenty pounds to the entire packs weight.  He hefted the load onto his shoulders and felt the straps start to dig into the junctures between his shoulders and arms immediately.  The Heavy Step’s bells tinkled for Brother of the Sword one last time as he stepped out onto the boardwalk.  He immediately had to plaster himself against the cobbler’s door so a pair of mothers could pass by, pushing their infants in strollers.  Those women proved slow walkers as they were too tied into their own little conversation to worry about the foot traffic building up behind them.  Seeing one man about his seeming age abandon the walks to trudge the Way around the women made Brother start.

At the next set of stairs he too stepped onto the Emperor’s Way to pass around the women; he became part of a crowd of pedestrians eager to pass the strollers and their gossip, this kept him from being able to open up his long legged stride.  Riding along with the clot of mostly Human traffic, Brother had to wait for the group to finally break up before he could make the pace he was used to.  However, every time his feet touched the boardwalks, the legal path he was supposed to tread, he quickly met foot traffic going both directions that impeded his progress.  Wondering why more people didn’t take to the streets, Brother of the Sword noticed a pair of guards ambling down the Way.  Those soldiers picked him out of the crowd due to Brother Sword’s presence on his back.

I guess that is a sign that I should stick to the boardwalk, I’m sure they would halt me and ask me a lot of questions if they caught me on the Emperor’s Way with them.  Those watchmen’s scrutiny felt like a physical weight on his back as he moved passed them, over a block ahead another pair of guards were headed in the same direction as he was.  Two more south bound patrols passed by and the bells tolled the hour once by the time Brother drew abreast of those north facing soldiers.  A wagon offloading into a grocery store barred all traffic on his eastern side of the street and Brother of the Sword crossed to the western side of the street with many other travelers.

“Hey you!” some voice called out behind Brother.  A dark haired green eyed Elven man stopped so abruptly in front of him that he almost careened into the man, he followed that male’s eyes back to the pair of north bound guards.  One of them was pointing directly at Brother of the Sword, a fact that made his heart begin to thump in trepidation.

Peeling away from the trickle of crossing traffic, Brother of the Sword sidled up to the soldiers.

“Yes?” he inquired.  Both the male and female guard looked at Brother Sword’s hilt sticking up over his shoulder.

“Why do you carry your sword on your back instead of at your side?  Doesn’t that make it hard for you to get to it if you’re attacked?” the girl asked.  Her male companion smiled predator like, proving their only interest in him was just to mock or tease him.  Relief stole into Brother’s inner realm, he had thought he had transgressed the laws these two were supposed to uphold.  Despite the nasal guard of her helmet, the girl was good looking, though she had more weight in her center than Brother liked.

As he had discovered with Madam Teraker back in Galen Falls, he tried his smile out on the pair hoping to disarm their ill will.

“Brother Sword is too long to carry at my side, and the harness is designed for carrying across my back not my hips.”  The man scrunched up his face, he obviously thought giving a tool a name was weird.

“That doesn’t make sense.  What if someone was going to attack you, what do you do then?” he asked Brother.  Knowing that admitting he could summon Brother Sword through the ether would scare the pair, he tried to think of some other story to feed them.

“Why, I would call you guys,” he prevaricated, trying to ingratiate himself to the guards with his quick wit.  Neither of the two seemed inclined to harass him as they had intended at the start, this had become a real discussion.

Brother could tell this even as the woman soldier rolled her eyes at his words.

“You’re not going to be in the city all that long, buddy, so how do you defend yourself out there beyond the walls?” she asked sweeping her arm to indicate the wide world beyond Mudberry by the Water.  Again he mentally scrambled to preserve his secret.

“I- uh, I carry the harness differently out there, so I can reach B- uh, it.”  I’m sorry Brother Sword, I’m with people who have weapons that don’t have living tendency as you do.  Their weapons don’t have names.  Not bothering to respond to his apology, Brother Sword showed Brother of the Sword his indifference towards not being named.

“So you carry like that in the city to make us think you’re a total dumbshit?” the male guard asked, his sneer coming back.

At first he wanted to take umbrage at the soldier’s mockery, then he remember Brother Swords example.  Why should he care?

“Why yes, that’s exactly why I do it,” he started, smiling pleasantly.  “The more you think I’m an idiot, the less likely you are to think I’m a potential threat.  Is it working?”  The male watch man narrowed his eyes wondering if he were being mocked in turn, but the girl soldier set his mind at rest.

“Yup, we know you for a dumb ass hick now.  You don’t have to convince us further.”  She actually laughed, finding amusement even though they had not been able to get truly nasty with him.  Her male companion motioned Brother along his way, their sport with him not so ruined and no longer worth pursuing.  He joined the western side boardwalk and discovered that traffic here was just as slow.

Trying to analyze that random encounter with the local guards, his nose distracted his thoughts when a meaty smell wafted by.  As he progressed forward his nose kept on catching that savory scent, he identified pork and tomato as the smell grew bolder.  His belly was doing acrobatic tricks to gain his attention as his mouth watered at the aroma he now knew he was following.  Those city bells had not yet announced noon, but he followed that smell to a tavern with a sign showing a set of dice and a cooked chicken leg tumbling out of a dice cup.  Even though he found the aroma enchanting he found only one other customer in the tavern, and that old man was practically unconscious from drink.  The dim light in the interior required Brother to slow to a halt for his eyes to adjust.

Before Brother of the Sword could blink his vision clear a woman’s sultry voice sounded very near.

“Hello, sweet thing, why don’t you take that load off your back and find a seat, I’ll be right with you.”  She was blond, possibly twenty years older that Brother, definitely someone’s mother, but her beauty had not faded through her years of life.  As with so many women in Mudberry by the Water, her dress was belled out from her hips by layer upon layer of petticoats, and as she walked away that bell swung too and fro in a manner that made his imagination ring.  Laughing because he was already so interested in yet another woman, he marched across the tavern so he did not have to smell his fellow patron’s stale beer smell.  Only having the time to shrug his pack off, then pull his seat out, the woman was swaying back his way, a foaming mug in her hand.

Taking his seat just a moment before the tankard landed in front of him, he tilted his head to look up at the blond woman, his eyes quizzical.  Smiling with knowing she decided to explain herself.

“You remind me of my husband when he was young, so this mug is for free.  Any others are on your bill though.  Is there anything else I can get you, sweet thing?”  There was enough mischief in her eyes that he felt emboldened to flirt.

“You’re married?  Does that mean your off the menu?”  Having dealt with this thing many times before, she put a hand on her hip, arched an eyebrow at him, and put on a stern face.  Her eyes danced though, enjoying the attention he was paying her; it also made her chiding somewhat a lie.

“I am happily married, and I expect you to respect that.”

“Well that dashes all my fanciful dreams,” he said shaking his head in mock regret.  “I guess I’ll just order whatever is making that wonderful scent then.”  Satisfied that he was not really hitting on her, her smile grew in proportion to the pleasure his flattery brought her.

She turned and took two steps, her hips doing female magic, then she stopped and turned about.

“You have coin right, only the first beer is free?” she asked with a troubled frown sparking into existence, bringing out lines on her face that tried to steal her remaining glory away.  Brother of the Sword stood up to access the pockets of his new pants, he had been forced to dip into the treasure pockets of his tent.

“I do.  How much will this run me?”  Relief flooded back with the full effect of her charming smile.

“A silver, the beer is three copper if you order anymore,” she admitted.  The woman’s brief flirtation with fear caught at Brother’s curiosity, and as he produced his silver he decided to question her.

“You’ve had problems with customers who don’t pay?”

“Yea, a little.  Some people who’ve been displaced from their jobs still have decent enough clothes, and since Varinny, my boss, insists that the customers pay after they eat, a lot of people have taken advantage of that.  Varinny takes it out of my pay if it happens to me, but he’s been had a few times too.  You don’t have to pay now, but it’s nice knowing that you can pay.”

She used her hands in a warding gesture to have Brother of the Sword keep his offered coin until later.  After their exchange she resumed her swaying hip walk and made sure he was looking before she ducked behind the bar to place his order.  That left Brother alone with the beer.  He looked at the beverage, knowing that he was uncertain where the beverage stood within his scent test.  Not knowing what to do with the head of foam that proved a barrier to the sip he wanted to try, Brother tried to wipe the foam over the edge of the tankard.  When it fizzed into a liquid puddle down the container’s side to pool at its base, he realized that his action was not how one parted the foam.  Fortunately a cloth napkin wrapping the tavern’s silverware was set at his table, he used that to clear away the mess he had made.  As he did so he wondered why the handles of the silverware had the initials S&B engraved upon them.

The bitter flavor of hops made Brother of the Sword make a face on his first taste, and he set the beverage down hastily.  Then other flavors overtook the bitter, building on it or subverting it in contrasting/ complimenting ways to create a rich aftertaste that impressed the young coffin born man.  He took another sip just to experience the journey his tongue took.  This time he felt it in his stomach and he knew it was creeping through his veins seeking his head.  There was something wrong!  Was there poison in the beer or was the beer a type of poison?  Trying to scoot his chair back, Brother of the Sword felt the hairs at the nape of his neck trying to stand at the fear besetting him.  Still tied in it’s sheath, Brother Sword began to calm him.  Assuring him that the alcohol was such a mild poison that it would take many tankards to prove deadly, his sword assured him that he should drink sparingly and not too quickly.  The poison was meant to dull his wits while increasing his pleasure, unless he paced himself.

Knowing Brother Sword could never steer him wrong, Brother took another sip then let his senses track what the beer was doing to him.  I will learn my personal limitations with such beverages as this, he thought to himself, glancing over at the other man in the common area.  The old guy would occasionally look up and around seeing nothing, then would lay his head back down muttering his part in a conversation only he could hear.  It looks like some people don’t know when to slow down with this.  After backing through the little swinging door at the near end of the bar, the blond woman swung around with a dancer’s grace balancing his plate of food on a tray of pewter.  She smiled because he seemed pleased to see her, and she made her moves flourish as she presented his fare before him.

“Man, that is a classy display of service.  That almost lifts me from the deep depression I fell into when I found out you were taken,” he flirted, pleased when her blushing smile told him she was soaking up the praise.

This time the woman put both hands on her hips as she smiled through her fake umbrage.

“Now what did I tell you, before?” she demanded.  His smile let her know that the flattery was going to go on just as heavy as before.

“You told me that you were a classy, unattainable lady, who deserves to be worshiped by the men she brings food and drinks too.  Am I close?”  Her laugh was a beautiful thing to hear, and he felt slightly humbled that he had been allowed to let it loose.

“Not in the least, although you did get the worship thing right, sweet thing.  I hope you enjoy your meal.”  Swaying away, she could not help the merriment that came over her with aftershocks of laughter.  Gladdened, Brother of the Sword took his first bite of the sauce covered pork chop.  He sighed in delight as the flavors played across his palate the first time.  Still savoring that first bite he read his body, that one bite was already soaking up the beer in his belly, countering the poisonous effect of the alcohol.

I can increase the pace of my drinking a little, he told himself taking another bite of food so he could chase it with a swallow of beer.  He discovered that the hops bitterness was less pronounced under the cuisine’s influence, and after giving both the bite and beer a few moments to do whatever they did in his stomach, Brother of the Sword found that the intoxicating quality of his drink was not going to be an issue.  I wonder what it takes for a person to stop caring what their body tells them when they introduce mild poison’s into themselves? He wondered looking at the drunk man across the tavern’s floor.  Then another thought welled out of nowhere to bother his brain.  Can they even tell when they are being poisoned, do I have another ability like ether calling Brother Sword?  That idea made him squirm a little bit, there was already so much about himself that spurred people towards fear and hatred.

Half an hour later, Brother of the Sword pushed his plate aside, the only thing remaining on the platter was the bone and streaks of the sauce he had not been able to spoon up.  Feeling satiated he chanced downing the last eighth of beer from his mug and found that he was only slightly loosened from the alcohol’s effects.  As if she had a means of seeing inside the common area, the blond woman appeared from the back.  Her smile seemed to be anticipating what he would say next.

“Would you like anything else, sweetness, or will this be it?”  With a theatrical sigh and a half smile he pretended at regret.

“Alas, the only other thing worth having in this life is unattainable.  I am left to wander this world seeking a pale imitation to make my life feel a little less lonely.”

Waving a finger of warning at him, the woman sparkled in the dim tavern light with her smile.

“If you weren’t so talented at flattery I’d have you stop that sort of talk.  Do you mind settling your bill, you silken tongued rogue?”  Brother nodded to the woman and scooted his chair back.  He felt twice as heavy as himself as he stood up, which told him that he was indeed full.  That beer was proving to be as filling of a meal as the solid food had been.  He pulled out the silver coin and six coppers, the blond woman’s smile faded as she made a warding gesture at Brother.  “No you don’t have to buy that beer, that was a gift because your smile is so nice,” she tried to insist.  Fighting the languor of a full stomach, he smiled lazily at the woman.

“Yea, I drank that free beer and liked it, that was a pretty nice present.  No this extra is a tip for having to put up with me… and to defray the pay you lost because of those… not so nice poor people.”  For a moment he had almost used the word ‘assholes’ to describe the homeless men and women who had scammed a free meal out of the tavern.

Almost shyly the blond woman studied the coins in her hand.  She seemed to be addressing those coppers as she did not look up at him.

“You went out of your way to make me feel special, and you didn’t take my playing along with you as a sign that I wanted to play around.  I don’t meet a lot of men- uh, customers like you.”  Yea, well you were nice to me first, Brother of the Sword thought, almost speaking that rejoinder aloud, but she was well and truly serious.  She deserved to have him treat this moment just as seriously as she was

“You felt a connection to me because I remind you of your husband.  A connection, any connection between thinking creatures is a rare thing.  It doesn’t have to be a muddy thing because I am a man and you’re a beautiful woman, it just had to simply be.  That was what I was responding too, I guess.  Thank you for treating me special and letting me be able to treat you in kind.”

She looked up at him with dawning wonder, which was the wrong thing to do in that moment.  “You’re probably the only woman who will ever respect me when I leave.”  At least she joined in laughing with Brother after he ruined the magic of that moment.

“Nope, you just killed your chances of that, sweet thing.”  Holding up the coins she caught his eye one more time.  “Thank you for this, times are tough and looking to get tougher.”  She did give him one more glance before she trooped off behind the bar and into the hidden kitchens.  Where did I learn that stuff about personal connections?  Sometimes I just know so many things, though I can’t remember where I picked it up.  Most of the time I feel like I am incomplete because I know so little, then at other times….  Do I have a past?  Brother of the Sword grimaced like a teenager asked to do chores while he worked his heavy back pack into place.

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  Brother of the Sword Chapter 4 pt 2
Posted by: frenzied67 - 01-06-2021, 01:07 AM - Forum: Off-Topic - No Replies


Chapter 4

Robbers Abound
From Galen Falls to Mudberry by the Water 1533 Imperial Calendar

Unlike Galen Falls, the people of Mudberry by the Water wore many colors of clothing, and the non human people had fashions more mind boggling than any Human fashion to Brother of the Sword's untrained eye.  Within minutes he began to feel a slight inadequacy in his pre-owned garb towards many of the fashions represented.  His clothing was not threadbare and patched up like some people’s, nor was it course and unseemly to the eye… yet it did draw disapproving sniffs from many passersby.  At first Brother could not name why his all brown ensemble should be considered inferior to the clothing of others, then he realized that he lacked the flare of some fashions.  Rarely did people here sport variations of the same color in their upper and lower garments, also none of his clothes were new; especially his boots.

I am not representing myself, the way I feel and look at the world, he realized watching other people walk by.  Who am I, and what do I represent though?  What Brother of the Sword did not know was how these other people made their purchases, did they have an idea before they went to the clothing store or did they figure that out while at the store?  Two blocks down the Emperor’s Way had brought him this crisis of conscientiousness, and half a block later he read a sign that said “Heavy Step Cobbler”, that had a picture of a boot descending on a colored egg. Why not?  I can at least see how much a pair of sturdy boots made to my exact size will cost.  If it is too pricey then I just buy food and a tent before I move on.

While the cobbled road was wide enough for twenty people to walk abreast, most of the people used the covered wooden walkways that passed every store front; others only used the street to cross from one walk to the other.  One exception were the soldiers who strolled at a languorous pace down the middle of the road in pairs.  Despite their bored expressions, those soldiers watched everybody, but they locked onto Brother of the Sword until he paused outside of the cobbler’s shop.  Brother Sword may have caught their eye, but obvious shoppers may have had a free pass from their suspicions.  Looking through the glass framed door showed Brother of the Sword an older man with a bald spot sewing a leather corset on a frame designed to look like a woman’s slender torso.  The fringe of the mans hair was trimmed short and peppered gray in color, he was slight of frame but very well dressed in some sort of suit that demanded a jacket to complete it.

A jangling bell announced his entrance into the shop.  Spinning around with wide eyes, the older man spread his arms to hide the form at his back.  He showed every sign of a man who thought his life was about to end.  Brother of the Sword did not know what to do, he had no idea why the man was acting as he was.

“Uh… hello?” he tried.  Looking as though the idea of bolting for the back room was on his mind the old man answered back.

“I’m a cobbler, really.”

“Sir, that is why I came in.  Your sign says you are a cobbler.”  To show the man that all was innocent, he raised his hands up to his sides with the palms out to show him he meant no harm.

Calming somewhat, but with a face splotched with shame, the cobbler used a thumb to point back at the corset on the form.

“Times are slow, I have to take work from Madam Bosquerez to get by, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to make shoes.”  The cobbler’s defensiveness came out in his voice and with a resentful look in his small brown eyes, as if it was Brother’s fault for catching him in the act.

“Sir, if you can sew leather with finesse, doesn’t that show you can do well if not better with stiffer hide?”  His question caught the craftsman from the blindside, he could only blink at Brother for almost a minute trying to get his mind around the whole situation.

“What an enlightened way to look at this situation,” the cobbler admitted while looking for signs of subterfuge.

Although he thought that Brother of the Sword was about to break out and ridicule him, the man did relax, tugging on his vest as if it had ridden crooked.

“How much would a pair of boots cost me, and what is the proper procedure for doing this?  I’ve never bought boots and clothes before.”  For one moment the cobbler froze as he tried to digest Brother’s words, the man chose to ignore what he had heard as he continued to restore his dignity through straightening immaculate clothes.

“It depends on the type of boots you require.  What is the intended purpose of your footwear?”  At first this question stymied Brother, then he remembered the distant great lake.  Lake Talenchan!

“I need something for travel, I do believe that I will be doing a great bit of wandering,” Brother decided.

Since there were no real wrinkles for him to brush out of his pants, the cobbler finally looked Brother in the eye.

“I have a personal pattern for a mid calf height boot that laces up the front.  I can do them in black leather, oxhide red, tan, or-” the man looked like his list would be long.  Cutting him off seemed like Brother of the Sword’s best bet to expedite the procedure.

“Do you have dark brown leather, or a color that takes dust and mud and still looks decent?”

“I do have some steer hide of oiled brown that would suit.  My next question is how sturdy of a sole do you want.  I can do normal hide with an alchemical adhesive treatment, that sole will cost you five gold coins and last you for over a year, or I can do a plain hide sole for no extra cost, and you take your chances on longevity or…? Well, then there is the enchanted sole that has a decade long lifespan for twenty extra?”

The cobbler’s dramatic pause before listing the magical foot bottom was deliberate, and Brother of the Sword knew he wanted that sole for his boot before he thought about it.  Seeing the man’s tactic only made him hesitate for a few moments though.

“How much all told with the enchanted sole?”  The shoe maker was good, his smile did not show any hint of triumph, but Brother knew the man had to be dancing on the inside.

“Twenty two gold, half now and the rest twenty four hours after I take your measurements.  Young sir, the process of measuring your feet is an… intimate procedure.  I will have to request that you bath and wear clean socks and clothing before I measure you.  If you insist that I smell your days upon days of travel, I will have to double my price.”  Though he was a business man, the cobbler tilted his head back slightly to show his haughty mien.

Looking down at himself he found there were still fir and pine needles festooning his shirt, as well as dirt and leaf bits, and other less identifiable stains.  He also saw a display of socks and stockings near the stand showing a woman’s high heel shoe done in shiny black leather and red lace.

“Will these boots be comfortable?”  Brother’s question seemed to hurt the man’s pride, his eyes drew down as if he could not understand why that question would ever need to be posed.

“They may be stiff for a week or so, but after they are broken into your way of walking they will feel like snug gloves for your feet,” pride rode behind the man’s hurt so much so that Brother had to take off his back pack and begin rummaging for the fey giants coin purse.

“Okay, sold,” he proclaimed.  “Do you know if the inn down the Emperor’s Way has a bathing facility?”  He received a suspicious nod from the proprietor.  “In that case, I will pay you in full now.  Tomorrow morning I will come in to be measured, then I will pick up my boots the day after tomorrow.  How does that sound?”

Looking like he was wondering about Brother’s sanity, the cobbler slowly answered.

“Customarily you should only pay half when the job is started and the rest upon completion.  That keeps all parties involved honest in such exchanges.”  Leaving his pack on the floor Bother of the Sword stepped over to the socks and stockings display and began to finger through the men’s socks.  Over his shoulder he made his statement.

“You want this job as badly as I want these boots, so we will both be honest.  That tip about cleaning up first is information I find valuable….  How much for these socks?” he asked holding up the prized pair.

“Those are on commission for three copper a pair.  A local widow makes these and I sell them for her in my shop, that is why they are a bit pricier than normal.”  The stiff and proper shoe maker had a face that dared Brother to mock him, and that was because speaking about the widow made the older man’s eyes soften for the briefest of moments.

Taking the time to properly study the socks he had chosen, Brother of the Sword tried to see a reason to ridicule the man or challenge him in any way; he could not find a decent reason to do so.  The stitching and thread count seemed quite good in the socks.

“She does quality work.  I only have two coppers on me, can you make change?” Either his question or his comment struck the cobbler as favorable.  Smiling pleasantly the businessman nodded to say he had change.  Coins were counted out from both men, then Brother of the Sword promised to return in the morning hours to be measured.  On his walk to search for an inn, he also kept an eye out for clothing and mercantile stores.

Measurements took up Brother of the Swords morning.  At the Heavy Step Cobbler’s, the man had taken an hour and a half to measure every aspect of his feet.  Even though Brother had his Galen Falls clothes laundered at his inn, they still seemed to draw forth everyone’s disdainful looks, especially from the cobbler and the tailor when Brother entered that man’s shop.  At the tailor’s he was measured for everything but his feet, after he had chosen sturdy pants and a loose shirt to represent what he wanted.  His limbs were measured for length and girth, his hips and waist, even his chest and shoulders on top of his neck’s thickness were looped about with measuring strings.  The only difference with the tailor’s shop was that he only had to wait a few hours before his clothing was completed, but then again, the tailor employed a small army of people, each with a specialized job.

After taking lunch at a nearby restaurant, Brother of the Sword weighed his coin purse.  He was now down to sixty gold coins, five silver, and eighteen coppers.  Today had been an expensive day.  Even though he had the directions to a nearby mercantile, and he needed traveling supplies and a tent, Brother held off on that shopping trip due to the fact that his clothes had but an hour left before he was supposed to claim them.  Still, he had paid for another night at the inn so he really was not pressed for time.  Exploring the local area was much more fun without tramping around with his back pack and Brother Sword on his back.  Watching people going about their business did not draw quite as many return stares too, though there were those who did seem to go out of their way to sneer at him and his country garb.

Somewhere… from several places deeper in the city, bells began to chime; calling out different songs at different tempos, but all of them pausing in near unison before they chimed once… twice.  Brother of the Sword had heard this the night before and earlier in the day, evidently several people thought it convenient to knell out the hour with big bells.  Or were they paid for this service?  He did not know for certain, all he knew was that his pants and shirt should be sewn up to his specifications.  The tailor was taller than Brother, but more slender, and just like the cobbler he wore a suit with a cravat, a white long sleeved shirt, covered in a vest color coordinated with his slacks.  In the morning the ensemble had a shimmery light blue jacket that tied in with the pants and vest though the colors contrasted oh so slightly.  That jacket was now hung on a rack near the door.

On entering the tailor’s store the man turned about from a conversation with a portly woman who may have been his wife; she had a fancy dress of maroon with layers and layers of petticoats.  Clapping his hands together and holding them at his chest the man tilted his head as if he were transported with joy.

“Ah, you are prompt, sir, which is a grand feature for such as yourself.  We have just concluded our work on your behalf mere moments ago.”  The man’s voice was flute like in quality and pitch, as though he were trying to sound like a woman.  Only Brother of the Sword could tell that this was the man’s natural voice and not an affectation, like so much else in this individual’s mannerisms.  “I am sure you will be most willing to pay your balance once you have donned our attire.  As I said this morning, we guarantee the fit of our clothing.”

Nodding her head and beaming, the woman in maroon silently supported all that the thin dapper man was saying.  She still had a sewing thimble upon her thumb, its green color at odds with her attire.  Each store he went into, the proprietors all fawned like this, or so it seemed.  Even the cobbler had lost his defensiveness and acted as though he lived to serve this morning, and Brother of the Sword was growing slightly uncomfortable with this behavior.

“I am eager to see and feel how it all fits together,” he admitted, hoping everyone would start acting their genuine selves with him.  He felt just as false as they were while trying to make them feel comfortable around him.

Pivoting expertly on his heel, the tailor gestured him towards the back of his shop with a bow and flourishing arm.  As Brother of the Sword was passing by the man and woman, he wondered what their reaction would be if he called Brother Sword too him.  Would they still be so obsequious with him, or would they soil themselves and run?  What I should be wondering about is if I have to change in front of them?  I hope this is not how the people of this city act with each other.  Laid over the back table that separated the front shop from the back area hidden behind red curtains, Brother saw his blousey bone white shirt and dark brown half leather breaches and brown oiled leather belt.  Too the left was a folding screen that had a slight gap between itself and the heavy red drapery.  Under the hem of the partition he could see short thread scraps, bent pins and needles, and scraps of fabrics of all hues; residue from the shop's interior.  A lot of women were carrying on half a dozen different conversations behind that red screen.

In his wind instrument voice, the tailor handed him his clothes and delivered instructions.

“You may change behind that screen, and once you have, you may come out and use our convenient series of full length stand mirrors to check our work,” he was told as the tailor indicated a set of tall mirrors just left of the outspread screen.  Using a hook on a pole, the large woman was retrieving a dark lantern down from where it had been dangling.  Evidently they were planning on lighting then rehanging that light over the sets of reflective surfaces for his future use.  Seeing that his concerns had already been addressed made him turn about and sketch a short bow to the couple.  They were not used to that sort of respect so early in an exchange, he eased behind the screen as they tried to sort their confusion.

There was a low candy red leather padded bench against the curtain for his use, it was wide enough that he could lay his clothing down and sit at the same time; with some space left over.  Before Brother of the Sword began to disrobe he took a moment to examine his new clothes.  Naming his shirt a ‘poet’s’ shirt, the tailor had claimed the bone white fabric would be cool in the summer, and warm in the fall.  He had to turn down the offer of a jacket or coat to fill out the “ensemble”, as the tailor had called it.  None of the coats or jackets in the store looked sturdy enough for extended travel.  His new pants were dark brown leather on the back half and at the knees of the garment and some gray brown stretchy fabric at thigh and shins, the cuffs were supposedly cut to fit inside boots.  He had chosen the leather and fabric because he believed it would match his boots, and live through long travel.

Running his hand over the materials that made up his ensemble for a few moments, Brother of the Sword let enthusiasm build to a crescendo before he set the new clothes down and began to race his way out of his hand-me-downs.  He slowed down as he fit himself into his new attire, donning each piece as though going through a ritual.  Glancing down at himself, Brother tried to get an idea of how the pants and shirt hung or clung to his frame; what he saw only made him want to view himself in the mirrors all the more.  Not wanting to ruin any part of the vision, Brother strode out without putting his used boots back on, they were not likely to flatter the effect he expected to see.  Turning around from propping the hooked pole near a fabric cutting table, the fat woman turned around and gaped with huge eyes.  The tailor turned at her expression, he too froze with heightened eyebrows.

As their looks turned to something resembling thoughtfulness and outright admiration, he stepped into the ‘U’ stand of mirrors.  Pondering, Brother of the sword turned this way and that catching his reflection in one mirror then peering deeper to catch the rear side of his form.  His shirt was loose and slightly billowy, and working his arms through some cut and parry exercises, did not restrict his ability to fight.  His pants, though not snug, still fit his legs and showed his leg’s muscular definition, brother was able to crouch and bend without the clothing grappling against his moves.  He liked how he looked in that mirror, tall and long limbed, his wild brown hair swept back from his face.  Now he knew why people reacted to his eyes.  No Human or Elf had such visual organs, not from his limited experience anyway.  I may have to buy a comb, I still look like something from the wilderness.

Knowing that the tailor and his team had earned it, Brother of the Sword stepped out from under the lantern and returned to the screen.

“I have never been a fan of the ‘rakish’ fashions, but I have to admit that you pull it off most admirably…,” the tailor tried to engage him, but he plowed on by.  When he stepped back out he was already counting out the seven gold coins he owed.  Worried eyes crinkled into relief and satisfaction when they saw the money; the fat woman was craning to look around her husband or boss to catch a glimpse of Brother.  Counting the coins back out onto the merchants hands, he finally spoke.

“You called this a rakish fashion, what does that mean?”  The Tailor did not glance up from the coins piling up on his palm.

Once paid the man could not stop beaming, the tailor stepped back and indicated his own suit.

“I once thought that a suit was the ultimate form to flatter and conceal a man until today,” his flute like voice intoned, then he motioned to Brother.  “Rakes are people who use the sword and underhanded means to earn or steal their pay, they like clothing that does not… hinder their ability to get away.”  Grimacing a little and raising his hands, the tailor seemed to be apologizing for implying that Brother may be a rake.  He grinned at the man, his joy in his new clothes would not be dampened; his smile eased the man back into his own pleased expression.

“You have done a wonderful job, I feel like these clothes suit who I am, or who I will become, even if I do not become a rake.  Thank you.”

In a few more minutes, Brother of the Sword was stepping out of the tailor’s shop with a bag holding his old clothes.  As the clothing merchant had promised, there was a used clothing store across the street from his own shop.  Brother bee lined it across the wide thoroughfare and came out with seven silvers for his old attire.  Looking up and down the street, he found the reaction too himself had not improved with the random person on the street… well maybe there was more blind eyes than open sneers now. I guess that is an improvement.  I should stop fishing for reactions and get the rest of my shopping done.  I don’t want to spend an extra night in Mudberry by the Water, this place just has too much that glitters in my eyes.  My purse is getting light and I have a long way to go.  Heeding his inner voice, Brother turned to the north west and followed the Emperor’s Way toward the mercantile he had located the night before.

In Galen Falls, Brother of the Sword had thought that store had a lot of items to entice him, this mercantile could swallow two or three shops of that size.  A lot of the items on display were marked as military surplus, even the row upon row of lantern oils in cans, jars, flasks, and other containers less obvious as containers.  Brother was part way through the offerings of lamps, lanterns, and braziers when someone cleared their throat right behind him.  This shop keeper could have been the twin brother of the mercantile shop owner from Galen falls.  He too was a wizened old man, slight of frame, balding with a fringe of close cropped white hair, brass wire spectacles, and faded blue eyes that held suspicion.

“Can I help you, young man?”  At least this man was not fawning all over him, but he did not like feeling as though he may be kicked out of the establishment before finding the merchandise he wanted.

Smiling, because that stopped animosity sometimes, Brother of the Sword nodded.

“Your store is huge.  I was wondering what sort of small tents you may have and what sort of preserved travel rations you had.”  The old man peered up at him as if trying to come up with a suitable punishment, then sourly he passed by Brother and motioned for him to follow.  At the back intersection of the store were boxes and piles of tenting of all sorts, the boxes had drawn pictures showing the tents set up within pristine environments. 

“You travelin’ by yourself, or are you part of a group?” he was asked.

“Just me, sir,” he responded.  His courtesy drew a sharp look that slowly melted at the edges after a few moments.  With less antagonism, the merchant pulled him two steps too the left.  Most of the tents here were in boxes, and a majority of these were the tramp line style tent that had a clothes line attached to two short poles, the tent draped over the line.  However the merchant pointed to a pair of boxes that were different.  The drawing showed tents that had framing that the spell treated tarp stretched over; both boxes claimed “easy set up and water free”.

Tapping the boxes with his age pruned fore finger, the merchant looked up at Brother of the Sword.

“I wasn’t going to show you these because they’re rare, and a bit more expensive than these cheap ass tents to our right.  These guys almost got a government contract for their tents but were just a bit more pricey than their competition.  The canvas on these have been spelled so they don’t take water and…” the man paused to build drama, “they have treasure pockets in ‘em.”  Brother felt his eyes widen in appreciation for this feature, those pockets sounded very desirable.

“What are treasure pockets?” he asked in a breathless husk.

Smiling like a fisherman about to set his hook, the merchant responded.

“Do you see the window vents in the drawing?  Under each of them is a zippered pocket.  A feller can put his excess coin in those pockets and when the tent is rolled up, no one can see, hear, or feel those coins.  If you get held up out there, the thieves won’t get all your money.  They don’t hold large items, unfortunately, but they can keep a feller from getting wiped out in one go.  These used to have a ten year leak free guarantee, but the boys who made them went out of business when the government didn’t give ‘em a contract.  Still, this tent should be sturdier than these others.  Interested?”  Brother of the Sword looked over at the other tents in their piles or stacks.

“Mind if I open the top here to get a feel of the canvas?”

Chuckling to himself the old man partially pulled the rectangular box out and revealed that the boxes top was already opened.  The heavy canvas fabric did give off a sense of sturdiness to Brother’s touch, and it was died in multiple colors of green; that alone made it a better tent than the pale off white or teal blue of the other tents.

“This will run ya twelve gold, while these others are only four, but this one’s well worth it.”  That tone of warning was skillfully used to increase Brother’s desire to own this particular camping gear.  Still he had questions.

“Is there a way to carry this on my back pack?”

Pursing his mouth, the mercantile man made a low sweeping motion of his hand.

“Are there tie straps at the bottom of you pack?”  Now it was Brother’s turn to think a little, not for long though.

“That is where I tie my bedroll and blankets.”  His answer made the merchant smile.  His response was so reasonable that Brother wondered why the solution had not occurred to him.

“If you center your bed and blanketing inside the tent, you can roll it into one whole rather beefy bundle, but it should tie to your pack just fine.  If not I have bundling straps for a few coppers over yonder.”  In response, Brother of the Sword pulled the tent box off the rack and cradled it in his arms.

“Where are your rations?”  Smiling broadly and shaking his head, the mercantile man took the lead heading across the back isle of his shop.

Just before reaching the northern flank of the store, the old man turned to the left and began heading towards the front of the shop in the second to last aisle.  At the mid point of this row the merchant stopped and waved at rack upon rack of canned goods, packaged goods, goods in foil, food in every conceivable packaging created by thinking creatures.

“Why don’t I take this tent up front with me, so your hands are free to go through my selection?  Just bring up your choices when your done looking and we’ll ring you up, young feller.” the old man stated taking the tent box from Brother’s arms.

For half an hour, Brother of the Sword tried to read the advertising on each food item, discovering that not all ration packs were equal.  Many of them did not use magic to heat themselves up, forcing the owner to cook them over a fire or eat them cold.  Glancing at the front of the store he started to see that the buildings outside were supplying their own shade most of the way across the street, a sure sign that the day was almost spent.  He had not eaten since one in the afternoon, and going through all these meals was stimulating his hunger.  Not knowing what half the food items were, Brother quickly picked out a score of the cheaper self heating meals and carried the stack up front.  The mercantile man widened his eyes a little at seeing Brother’s selection, but he did not hesitate in reaching under the counter to pull out a big enough wooden crate that could hold all of Brother’s treasures.

Fortunately my inn is only half a block away from this store, Brother of the Sword thought to himself as he lifted the crate box.  He was well and truly laden with his merchandise almost cutting off his forward vision.  The old man hastened ahead to open the door for him, a problem he had not thought about until that moment.  How would he be able to get into the inn without help?”  Peeping to the right, then the left around his purchases, Brother crossed the street, accidentally cutting off two guards who had not intended to hide behind the pile of his possessions.

“Hey, watch yourself, citizen,” called a gruff voice.  Stopping his feet, Brother pivoted around until the soldiers came into view.  One was grinning because he found comedy in the situation, his partner glowered as though the idea of violence were a lure not readily withstood.  “Shouldn’t be carrying so many things that you can’t see, dumbshit.”

This made the angry man’s partner have to hold back a laugh, a task he did not seem to have perfected as his snorts drew the ire of the man at his side.

“I thought I would be safe crossing the Way, mister.  I guess I was wrong.”  The laughing soldier burst out unable to hold his merriment back.  Rolling his eyes, the upset guardsman stomped off in such a manner that his armor rattled impressively.  Shaking his head and trailing his laughter the other soldier followed after his partner, clearing Brother’s way.  He adjusted his tactics so that he walked slower and twisting around more than before, to make sure he was not walking into his blind spot.  A spring powered hinge kept the inn’s door from being propped open, so Brother had to set his possessions down, then drag them through the aperture as he held it open with his other hand.

In his room he tossed the crate full of goods on his bed and turned to leave, then Brother hesitated.  Looking back over his shoulder at the tent, an idea began to take shape.  He pulled the rolled up tent out of it’s box and laid it on the floor, the frame and instructions were within the first layer of the canvas roll.  Brother of the Sword laid those items aside and quickly unrolled the whole contraption; it took him a few moments to identify the zip up door.  Inside he found the canvas flaps covering the ventilated cloth that acted as the tent’s windows, just as the second mercantile man had said, there was a zippered pocket that was part of the screen’s seam.  A person who did not know to look would likely never notice such a pocket.  On a whim he placed fifteen of his gold coins and seven of silver in that hidden pocket.  Rolling everything back up, including the instructions, Brother set the tent back inside the box.

After placing his room back in order, Brother of the Sword let his hunger pull him completely out of the inn.  Once in the street though, he hesitated.  Two taverns had presented themselves to him through the day, one was to the north west near the restaurant he had lunched at, the other was back near the cobbler’s store.  Both had offered exotic scents to his nose when he had neared, and now he could not make up his mind which had smelled more enticing.  Again hunger pulled the chains of his decision making.  The establishment to the south east was two and a half blocks away, while the other place was a block nearer.  Setting his feet northward, toward the steps at the nearest alley opening, Brother ignored the creaking of the worn boards of the boardwalk as he set a fast walking pace.  He found himself leaping back onto the lowest step at the space opened for the alley while raising his fist to defend himself when a short figure bounced off of him.

Another kid caromed off the first one which prompted a healthy curse from the first boy, laughing the second boy made a triumphant declaration.

“Your it!”  He set off down the middle of the Emperor’s Way.  Still cursing the first boy set off in pursuit without offering Brother of the Sword an apology.  A girl pelted out of the shaded alley with curly dark hair bouncing and a smile of pure pleasure adorning her face.  She was forced to skid to a halt in front of Brother, her smile closing down as her eyes widened at his raised fist.  Struck immediately by the young woman’s beauty, Brother opened his hands palm out and stepped back, tying to take back the aggressiveness of his initial stance.  Her dark eyes flicked for his face as he made himself seem as inoffensive as possible.

“Sorry!” she gasped even as he spoke.

“Sorry!” he said stepping back.  His hand dipped for his coin purse which was still in his pocket and tied to his belt, the coins creating a decent enough bulge.
Laughing at their nearly in unison apologies, the girl seemed about to offer another apology when she froze.

“What is wrong with your eyes?”  It was her turn to shy away, putting a hand over her heart as if to keep that organ from leaping out of her chest.  She had really dark brown hair that was straight on top to her ears, tightly curled from her small ears to the nap of her swan long neck, then those curls relaxed from there to just below her shoulder blades.  Her face had a wide forehead that tapered down to a narrow chin, like the shape of a kite shield; he could not tell if her eyebrows were naturally grown or if the girl had to pluck them to remain at their medium width.  Wide set eyes that seemed huge in her delicate face framed a medium length straight nose, high cheek bones set off the smile lines around her generously wide mouth and her medium thick lips.  Her face was made for smiling, and her teeth seemed a little large for her mouth, which in truth only added to the delightful daintiness of her features.  Her frame was very slender where only her breasts and hips showed enough contour to promise that she was not of an age with the two boys she had chased out of the alley.

She is young… but how young? Brother of the Sword asked himself, drawn to her despite the nebulous state of her age.  When the young woman realized that he was struck speechless by her, she lost her fear of him and began to acquire that knowing smile that women got when they themselves were trying to figure out if they were interested in turn.  Shaking himself, Brother remembered that she had asked a question.  She was wearing a slightly dirt smudged olive green dress that had red diamond panels making rows down her slight figure; she had on red tights under the shin length dress.

“I- uh… I was born with them,” he admitted, then added on what others had told him.  “They say my eyes look like that mineral zapist zooly, or whatever it’s called.”

She smiled as if amused by how he had wrecked the pronunciation of lapis lazuli.

“Well, they definitely are pretty.  Are you sure that you didn’t have a wizard or sorcerer place a vanity spell on you?” she asked, grinning at his open admiration of her; her voice sounded like she may be of an age of majority.  Not being able to tell the girl’s age was getting to Brother, but her last question did spark his brain into working.

“No, no spells have touched me… except for your beauty, and the only thing that could make me vain are your compliments.  Please let me encourage you to lie to me some more by inviting you to dine with me.”  He could not take his orbs off of her features, the girl even blushed far-too-prettily.

As the city bells began to chime the six o’clock hour, the two boys came back down the road hugging the railings of the boardwalks.  She was studying his face as if torn in making a decision on whether to accept his invitation or not.  As a courtesy he pointed passed her with his chin to show her friends were back.  Those young boys looked like they were eleven or twelve years old, blond and oh-so-serious, if she was closer to their age then Brother was making another great big blunder.

“Lalia, whatcha doin’?” the bigger of the two boys asked.  Before she turned about to answer the kids, the girl named Lalia gave Brother a big promising smile with wiggled eyebrows; a familiar expression that made his heart race with hope.

“This fetching young man has just asked me to dinner, I think I’m going to go with him to see if he keeps smiling at me like I think he will.”

The boys shifted their scrutiny onto Brother of the Sword, one boy studied him then grinned, the other boy only let a glower grow on his face.  He was the one who spoke next.

“What about us?” the boy asked his voice sullen.  A shift in her posture made Brother imagine her becoming indignant, her voice confirmed his guess.

“I see you and Allien all the time, sometimes I would like to spend some time with someone my own age.  So if you don’t mind, I’m going to go see if I can keep this man’s interest.  Why don’t you go and tell Blasser what I’m up too.”  Still grinning the one boy started to take off, heading for the alley mouth across from the one he and his taller friend had come from.  With a deeper glower the one boy stood his ground seemingly wishing ill fortune onto Brother of the Sword with his blue eyes.

Suddenly he pointed at Brother.

“I don’t like him,” he said, settling back onto his feet as if he were about to challenge Brother of the Sword to a fight.  Lalia flapped a dismissive hand at the kid, turning back around to face Brother.  A knowing smile growing into existence on seeing his attentive stare.

“I do like him.  Quit being a brat and follow Allien.”  After dismissing the boys the entire weight of her scrutiny fell upon him, he had her interest and then some.  Impotently Allien’s friend tried to impose by trying to catch Brothers eye, and failing that he stood for a few more moments making fists and frowning with the might of the thwarted juvenile.

“Do you use that smile to collect a lot of men of all age groups, am I going to see someone’s grandfather coming out of that alley declaring their eternal love?” he asked broadening his smile.

Seeing his teasing smile told Lalia that he was not being serious with his question, she blushed a little though as she laughed.

“I think it is the other way around.  You seem like the type of guy who has at least three lovers pining for him in up to a dozen different cities.”  To Brother of the Sword, who had only successfully seduced the girl with ill fitting shoes back in Galen Falls, Lalia’s declaration boggled his mind; for a moment he wondered if people really did collect lover’s in their travels, then he realized she was just building upon his compliment game with her characterization of him.

“If I have other lovers, I can’t remember them.  You have me too dazzled to have a memory.”  Her delight tinkled out in a half laugh half giggle as she play punched him in the gut.  Stepping in close she put her hand over the region she had hit, as if trying to cancel any accidental harm she might have caused.

That laugh faded away as she looked up at him with her dark eyes.

“Well said.  Masterfully played.  I think you should take me to dinner before I start kissing you here in the street.”  There was a huskiness to her voice that set his animal instincts to boiling, the seriousness that came to her face demanded his love.

“Oh gods, I think that would make me forget I’m hungry,” he groaned out with longing.  Her smile returned taking on a degree of confidence at his intended flattery.  “Do you know if the food is good at the Three Marching Pigs tavern, or should we go to another place?”

“The Three Marching Pigs is good, but if you really want to show a girl she’s special, you should take her to the Legacy of Lights restaurant three blocks up,” she declared pointing in a sweeping northern direction.

That morning, Brother of the sword dreamed of the brief interlude when Lalia had drawn him into an alley a short ways from the Legacy of Lights.  She had pressed herself into him with vigor, urging him to squeeze her bottom as she drew his will away with her lips.  The world had whirled and spun at the wash of endorphins they had to endure in each other’s arms.  She had seemed equally week kneed finishing their trek to food.  Then all through their dining experience they had continued to flirt and introduce double entendres into each other’s words.  The passion had not abated, and he remembered little of bringing her to his room at the inn.  Their love play had lasted until false dawn, as satiation eluded the hunger they had for each other.

Grinning happily, Brother of the Sword rolled over and reached for the sexy young woman, romance stirring in mind and body….  Only Lalia was no longer in the bed with him.  Sitting up, the first thing he saw was his new pants laying near the door with their pockets pulled out.  There was no sign of the fey giant’s coin purse.

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  Brother of the Sword Chapter 4 pt1
Posted by: frenzied67 - 01-06-2021, 01:06 AM - Forum: Off-Topic - No Replies


Chapter 4
Robbers Abound
From Galen Falls to Mudberry by the Water 1533 Imperial Calendar

Brother of the Sword discovered that he could not sleep through the cold, shivering seemed a barrier between himself and the healing dreams he needed.  His left arm did not want to move, his hammer bruised ribs twinged so much that he could not roll over; and his back fairly screamed from the older wounds he had.  Trying to turn just made him whimper out loud, a sound that bothered him for no known reason.  That sound came out naturally, why do I feel lesser for making it?  Opening his eye, Brother confirmed that he was face down in the pine loam, his sleeping bag kicked off some time in the night.  From the little movement he could coax out of his head and neck, he was able to see that his fire had burned out far too long ago; the mercantile man had said he wanted to make a fire that would still be embers in the morning.

Another whimper stuttered from his lips as he tried to at least roll over onto his side.  Deeper pain surged so abruptly that tears filled his eyes.  Now he really was ashamed, and it was still his natural reflexes at work.

“Brother Sword, I tried to heal the right way.  My injuries are proving too extensive,” he beseeched the blade he could sense bound up under his discarded sleeping bag and blankets.  Images filled Brother’s mind, telling him what he had to do.  He groaned at the prospect, but did not ask for another way.  There would not be another alternative to what he had been shown, except to lay there helplessly for many days.

Gritting his teeth did not stop the eruption of pain that beset Brother of the Sword as he forced himself on to his side.  Tears flowed freely as unmanly sounds blubbered from his lips, yet he forced himself to sit up oh so near the blankets and coverings he needed to keep warm.  I did not hurt this bad last night when I left Galen Falls.  I did not expect my muscles to stiffen up this much through the night.  After he took a few minutes to grow used to his new discomfort, he reach/called Brother Sword too him.  Carefully, with many winces and whimpers he turned the blade about so the tip faced the earth.  Hesitating for just a moment, he stabbed Brother Sword into the earth just beyond his crossed leg.  That motion seemed to tear a few of his wounds open, especially along the long wound in his back.  His cry echoed back too him, taking on a tone of mockery as it rebounded back to him.

While fighting the fey giant, Brother Sword had drawn upon his life force to gather it’s magic eating powers.  This time Brother pulled upon his steel sibling’s life, the blade had to utilize it’s connection to the earth to draw replacement energy to counter the vampiric exchange.  Muscles unkinked, abrasions scabbed over and lost their angry red swelling, bruises lost their livid purple colors to take on greenish blue hues.  Lacerations drew together, filled in, and became paler lines of skin barely showing that a wound had ever been.

“Gods, that’s better.  Thank you Brother Sword.”  Blue lights rolled down the striated blade, faded, became normal high carbon steel in color.

Wiggling a bit to test his back and ribs, Brother slowly introduced other light torso stretching exercises until he felt able to turn around and grab his bedding to wrap up in.  When some vestige of warmth broke the chill on his flesh, he grabbed Brother Swords sheath and re-homed his sibling.  Should I make a fire or should I eat? He pondered, fighting the urge to just lay back down and sleep the day away. I could do both? That idea made him consider the pain and stiffness still remaining in his body, and while he was grateful for the gift of limberness and mobility Brother Sword had given him, he knew taking on more work than necessary could undo the good that had been done.  Abandoning the idea of a fire to fight the morning chill, Brother spent a few moments working himself up to going for his back pack and the food it held.  Food would speed up his regeneration.

The air held frost, yet birds sang and flitted through distant trees.  Brother was thoroughly chilled by the time he made it back to his bedding.  He changed from facing his cold fire pit to facing downhill to overlook the road he would be walking soon; he found it was easier and more comfortable to sit this way.  Maybe that is why I became separated from my sleeping bag while I slept.  Maybe I will try to find a flatter place to lay down on tonight, so I don’t roll out of my bedding.  That thought was well and fine, but as he bundled up he could not see anyplace in the woodlands around him that was not sloping one way or another.  After he felt as though he faced the world from a cave of cloth, Brother grabbed the ration package he had pulled from his pack.  ‘Beef strips on rice, brown gravy.  Arxantum Imperial approved food packaging.  Dillium and Brothers Produce, inc.’ he read on the paper cover.

Tearing the packaging away revealed a thin tin cover on a slightly more robust tray of the same metal, a pull ring was built into one corner of the lid.  A tag of sticky paper was attached to the flush ring, with small printing on it.  “Lifting this ring will start the heating process.  Do not lift until necessary,” he read aloud.  He blinked at the message for a moment then grinned at the ration pack.  “This is necessary,” he declared to the meal before lifting the ring from it’s flush position.  When the magic began to manifest, Brother of the Sword felt his lips pull down as an anger began to manifest.  He had to shake himself physically as he reminded himself it was a food pack.  “Not all magic is bad,” he had to enforce his memory.

He did not know what he had been expecting, but he ate the savory food with a sullen mood riding his back.  Having food in his belly made Brother of the Sword better able to stave off the morning chill, that and the spring day was warming up despite the sun being blocked off from this angle of the mountain road for the time being.  The harness for Brother Sword’s sheath proved to be a decent barrier for his injured back, and his new back pack.  Only his bedroll rocked from where he had suspended it from the pack, but it only bounced off the small of his back where he had no injuries of note.  Not that the pinioned sheath did not press into wounds, it just didn’t rub or smack at each step.  That steady press was easier to block out than the swing and thump of swaying gear.

Soon Brother of the Sword was into the walk, his eyes witnessed all around himself as an artist’s masterpiece scene made for him alone to appreciate.  Hawks riding the breeze, their eyes seeking for something to eat that would elude his eye; deer bounding across the gravel road as he rounded a bend, the cervidae surprised by the lone human uncannily in their domain.  Trees and shrubs in their own unique take on their species abounded in numbers beyond count, flies and bees crossed the gravel way before and behind him, summoned by flowers in hues that captivated Brother’s astonished orbs.  After watching a five foot long snake slither across the road, fleeing into the weeds to avoid the two legged predator it saw, Brother noticed that the valley below him and mountain side above had relatively short trees.

Jagged blackened stumps and fallen coal skinned lumber had dominated the landscape possibly the spring before.  Tender looking pale green sprouts on seedling brush high trees were taking the old burn wound over, the fir trees, though short, had grown enough to start declaring their independence from the old tragedy.  A pale white flower on some sort of vine also grew here, he thought it was some wild squash like plant.  A south eastern bend in the road and mountain brought Brother of the Sword to a halt.  Below him he caught a far vista that needed a moment of wondering approval from him.  Below, the mountain’s sheer walls began to mellow into hills burdened with leafy trees, a road, possibly his road, could be seen wending the flanks of mountain and hill leading to an unknown city.  Beside the city a wide river curved to the north and maybe a little west.  Way off, way way off, that river seemed to meet a larger body of water.

This lake had to be huge because it looked weeks and weeks away from where he stood at this moment.  Brother had felt his eyes widen when they beheld the city, but the lake on the horizon captivated him.  He wanted to go there… no he wanted to be there now, and he had no reason for this feeling.  Still.  Absorbing every vestige of that view took Brother a few moments, but eventually his feet began to take the first steps on his new quest.  No matter what, he was going to that lake.  Too soon for him, the older taller growth of forest land that had not burned in that old fire of a few years back blocked his gaze from studying those far lands between himself and his lake.  Rounding yet another bend, the road and terrain started to climb again as it sometimes did, this was not his favorite change of experience though.  Climbing tired him.

Stepping out on the road from a boulder that had tumbled from some high reach, a big man with a big pike strolled forth, dropping into a casual martial stance with the weapon pointing at Brother’s heart from thirty or so paces.  Not knowing what the man wanted, but feeling wary, he began to reach for Brother Sword with his hand.  A scuff in the gravel behind him presaged the tip of a fighting spear settling on his right shoulder.  That razor edged spear blade was right next to his jugular and other sensitive parts.

“Easy there fellow, cooperate and you might make it,” a male voice informed him from behind his ears.  Long black beard waggling for a moment, the man in front of him drawled forth.

“Look at all that new kit you got!  Whoo, I bet that cost a pretty penny.  Hey why don’t you drop that pack and sword and let’s have us a little discussion?”

Instinctively, Brother of the Sword immediately did not want to cooperate, yet he was not in the best position to facilitate defiance.

“What is there to talk about?” he asked, wondering if there was a way to shift this encounter to his favor.

“Where’s the rest of your coin?”  Blackbeard’s face drew down as all semblance of false friendliness died.  That friendly mercantile man told me that you don’t talk about what money you have with people.  He said that was a temptation.  These men have already fallen into the temptation of taking my money.  As Brother was thinking that, the spearman behind him pressed the shaft of his weapon down trying to dig a warning into his clavicle.

“He told you to take the shit off your back.” he was warned.  They can’t stab me outside the reach of the weapons… and the same goes for being within the reach of those weapons.  That reasoning dawned on him like the sun rising on a beautiful day.

Hopping backward so that the spear shaft remained at the juncture of his neck, Brother of the sword rolled his shoulders as if he were trying to elbow his warden in the face.  When his feet hit he immediately began his pivot into the man behind him, using his arm as a means to sweep the spear and the warding hand of his foe up.  Instinctively the man leaned back to keep from being hit in the face, so Brother engaged with his left hand, planting it on the spearman’s upper chest.  Kneeling suddenly he pressed down with his full body weight, and despite the tearing sensation in many of his partially healed wounds, he slammed the man down with so much force that air left the robbers chest in a whoosh as his back slammed the road surface.  His eyes rolled and tried to look in different directions from the way his head had bounced off of the stones.

Inertia wanted to roll Brother of the Sword back down the hill, but he let himself raise to his downhill foot with its influence instead.  Brother Sword eagerly bridged the space between them, teleporting from it’s sheath into his hand as their minds touched in the ether.  Reversing Brother Sword in his grip he knelt again, plunging the blade’s tip into the downed man’s sternum.  This man sported a brown beard, and brown eyes.  Those eyes bulged, the dying man’s impulse to scream impossible without air in his chest; his mouth just gaped mutely as the eyes caught and held sights from some beyond place; the body relaxed from it’s futile strain.  Gravel scuffed as Blackbeard back pedaled.  That robber had started to charge in to join the mix, but when he saw Brother Sword just appear in Brother’s hand he had severe second thoughts.  The big man reversed his facing and began to race away uphill, casting worried glances over his shoulder at Brother of the Sword.

Heartsick and feeling the renewed ache in his body, Brother of the Sword just watched the black bearded robber flee; the blood on his sword sucking into the steel as though an industrial sponge were soaking up a spill, glowing blue metal pulsed until the gore was gone.  Without knowing where he had learned the act, Brother knelt and began rummaging through the dead spearman’s belongings, looking for valuables.  Other than the spear, the dead man had nothing valuable enough to entice Brother of the Sword into taking it.  That spear though….  He just did not have the means to carry it, not even if he removed the tip from the wooden shaft.  Sharpened metal tended to cut at anything next to it if it did not have a sheath as a cover, plus Brother had no space in his pack.

Hating the waste and the necessity of the act, Brother stabbed the gravel at his feet, breaking the spear’s tip on the larger rock of the road.  If I leave this to lay around, that black bearded guy will grab it up and give it to another accomplice. That weapon would have been used to rob and possibly kill other people, he thought, mourning the waste of a perfectly good spear.  He walked away from the body without a backward glance, following where black beard had ran.  Uncomfortable because of his wounds, but knowing this was not a good place to call it a day, Brother strode the road warily with Brother Sword in hand even after the road began to descend again.  After a time he found the game trail the surviving robber had raced down leaving the road.  He strode warily by.  For many hours he walked thus, probing the trees and scrub for his enemy, his eyes drawn to every flickering bird taking wing, every swaying branch caught by a breeze; making sure he would not be taken unawares again.

Many miles had been trod by the time evening began to manifest it’s signs.  Still feeling wary, Brother of the Sword left the roads edge following a deer path, he climbed and made his way for half an hour until he found a loamy shelf that was relatively flat.  Gods, I would love a fire right now, I can feel the cold stealing away the day’s warmth.  But I am camping on the side of a mountain, the light will become a beacon and I just discovered not all the varmints are friendly.  This time he did not resent the magic that preserved and heated his food.  Eating while snuggled in his sleeping bag and blankets did not prove a challenge, and in some ways it felt natural.  Discovering that his head was subtly angled downhill when he laid down to sleep was a problem though.  Lumps and roots dug into him when he tried to find a more comfortable position.

Eventually he settled on the least problematic angle on his small shelf, and despite the discomforts he perceived, Brother soon passed into healing slumber.  Bundled up as he was, and not having to fight a slope, he slept comfortably warm.  Though it was chill when he woke, Brother of the Sword found the cold air invigorating when he slipped out of his sleeping gear to grab his breakfast; he did not dawdle in bundling up to eat though.  His fight the day before with black beard and his late friend had not been as strenuous as his bout with Jary, and a lot easier than being slammed around by a fey giant.  Aches and pains were discernibly lessened from yesterday, and wearing Brother Sword on his back bothered him hardly at all.  Waking up the third morning showed Brother of the Sword that his bruises were all but gone, his abrasions were mostly flaked off and showing new skin.  His cuts, those that had not been healed, were no longer as wide or long as they had started out being; his flesh was knitting together well.

On the Fourth day of his exile Brother of the Sword officially noted that he was no longer on the mountain.  Meandering though it was, the road now wended between or over hill after hill skirting a stream that grew almost by the hour.  Many seasonal creeks were feeding the flow below, fed by the snow slowly melting on the range of mountains at Brother’s back.  Many painted wood bridges began to appear in the road, crossing many of the more persistent little streams.  These constructions felt sturdy as he crossed them, yet many patches of flaked paint proved that nature fought people’s trespass into this realm.  At the top of several of the higher hills the road crested he began to see that city by the river he had noted at the old burn.  As tall as these hills were, they were not high enough to show him his lake; sometimes he glanced up the mountain he had just descended, moved to climb back up to catch that grand view one more time.

As the afternoon of that fourth day began to herald evening, Brother peaked one hill and saw the track of his road joining that not so distant river.  Like a smaller companion, the road meandered through forest and hill at the river’s side until the glassy surface bent out of view behind taller land features and was lost.  Loam in this part of the forest was coated by fallen leaves rather than brown dead fir needles, maple and oak leaves mingled with a few alder and cottonwood cast offs to form a carpet that hid roots and dead fall alike.  Brother of the Sword still chose to hike into the forest rather than camp right next to the road, but tonight he decided to chance a fire.  Most of the fallen branches he found were dried enough to catch fire and not produce inordinate amounts of smoke.  He slept without feeling thrashed and abused by undulating roots and small malicious rocks.

Disquieted feelings from Brother Sword presaged a sharp blow to his flank, shocking Brother of the Sword out of sleep.  A dirty man with a patchy beard posed above him holding Brother Sword high into the morning sun as if about to strike down at him.  Dirt caked black and white striped pants were held up by a belt that had not been oiled enough, the black leather was cracked, and starting to tear along some creases.  A furry jacket covered whatever shirt the man wore, the fur was so caked in dried mud that Brother could not tell if it were animal fur or just teased wool or cotton.

“Wake up dipshit!  Where’s the money?” the man demanded, his mean eyes glittering over a smile that showed teeth almost green with plaque.  All of Brother of the Sword’s belongings were strewn over the ground, showing that this man had gone through the pack before kicking him awake.  “C’mon, where the hell is your money?  Tell me now or I’ll split you with your own fuckin’ sword!

The dirty man tensed trying to make Brother think he was about to swing Brother Sword.

“In here with me,” he said while looking at the oxblood colored pouch laying half under a skillet the mercantile man had sold him.  Somehow, the robber had missed the coins that had ridden in his back pack.  Dirty man stepped back and gestured for Brother to get up with Brother Sword’s tip.

“C’mon get yer ass up, I ain’t got all damn day!”  Tied behind the dirty man’s back was Brother of the Sword’s white canvas pack of pouch rations.

“What happened to you, did you fall into a mud pit or something?” he asked as he slowly stood up out of his sleeping gear, hands held up in surrender.  His eyes flickered over to Brother Sword to help bring about their rapport.

“Pickin’ mudberries, what’s it to ya?  Where’s the fuckin’ money, boyo?”

Feeling his anger rise because someone was yet again robbing him, Brother of the Sword let his eyes go stern.  Yet he smiled at the dirty man, who did not like the defiance he was seeing.

“Want to see a trick?” he asked the squalid individual, a ploy to make the man hesitate.  By the sudden rapid blinking and confused expression, Brother knew he had succeeded.  He called Brother Sword to his hand.  Before the dirty man’s eyes reached the nadir of their wideness, Brother of the Sword flicked his blade twice with wrist rolls, tip cutting his foe.  Dirty man clutched at both parallel wounds in his neck, trying unsuccessfully to stem the gush of blood that spilled from between his fingers.  Falling to his knees, the mud smeared human looked up at him trying to make one last emotional connection with a similar being.  His last vision was of Brother glowering into his eyes, his glowing sword slurping at the blood on it’s surface.

Kicking his bedding aside to keep blood off of his things, he let the body fall twitching face first into the leaves.  Crimson spread and filtered between the leaves of the shuddering corpse.  Brother decided he would let the man bleed out a little before looting him.  Instead he began to gather up his tossed gear and tried to stow it as nicely as it had been installed in his back pack before.  The dirty man had been still for a long time before Brother took the time to retrieve his pack rations.  Despite the stench he went through the corpse’s pockets and checked for non existent jewelry before letting the body drop back into its bed of bloodstained leaves.  Nothing.  Grumpily Brother of the Sword set off, following the deer trail back down to the gravel road.  His mood remained sour until nature reminded him what was important to pay attention to.

His warning was a subtle whuff from among the trees.  Turning his head, Brother of the Sword beheld a bear with brown hair staring at him from roughly forty or fifty yards away.  Judging from it’s size, Brother suddenly felt dwarfed.  This animal was possibly four times his size, or maybe five times.  Even the fey giant he had fought would have seemed not so big compared to this beast.  Swiveling its head, the animal watched him walk by… let him walk by.  If the impressive animal had wanted, Brother would have easily became a mid morning snack for this hulking ursine.  Rounding a corner never felt like such an accomplishment before this day, yet he set off jogging when he could no longer see that big old bear.

Trotting until he was tired, Brother would slow to a walk for a mile or more, then run at a moderate pace for a time.  Not even crossing two bridges during the day could make him feel secure from the bear.  That night, when Brother of the Sword camped he insisted on a fire.  Even though he thought that lone brigand had tracked him because of the thin trickle of smoke his last fire had given off, that beast or another like it might be too near and fire would scare them off.  Seeing a fallen log between him and the distant road gave Brother the idea to build his fire near enough to the long fallen timber that it would block the revealing light of the small blaze some.  Proud of reasoning out a solution to his fire’s beacon like quality, Brother of the Sword soon realized that his wood craft was still under par.  Somewhere in the middle of the night it began to rain.

Not only was his fire put out, but his bedding seemed to suck up every drop of water that fell.  Scrambling around in the dark, Brother of the Sword discovered a tree where he was only beset by droplets instead of a near downpour.  There he huddled against the trunk wrapped in one damp blanket shivering and miserable.  After hours of feeling sorry for himself, the man from the sarcophagus did fall asleep.  A sullen sky frowned overhead when he woke at some unknown time in the morning.  Still shivering due to the morning chill and the dampness of his clothing, Brother looked at his dripping sleeping bag and two blankets.  I have to get dry and I have to dry my things, but it looks as though it might start raining again any minute.

Struggling with his indecision, Brother of the Sword fell back on the one thing he did know for sure.  Eating would help keep his body warm, a little.  He watched the sky as he snuggled against the tree trunk and slowly ate.  By the end of breakfast Brother thought that the clouds did not look as dark as they had.  I’ll keep an eye on the sky while I gather wood.  I have to do something to banish the wet from my gear and clothes.  I’ll suffer for it if I don’t.  Last night’s wood supply was wet, which meant he had to glean fuel in a damp forest.  Most of the fallen branches were also wet, but Brother soon discovered that wood in the downhill lee of a fallen log had been sheltered from the rain.  The sky was definitely lighter when he delivered his first armload of dead fall to his sheltering tree.

Each trip out took longer and longer as Brother had to range farther to find dry fuel, dead trees just did not congregate where it was convenient.  Several hours passed before he thought enough wood had been gathered.  Before he struck a match to his fire wood, he tied his bedding in a partial square around his new fire pit from the tree’s convenient branches.  When the fire ignited and took off the heat and smoke were channeled up his hanging cloth; soon steam began to waft off of his bag and blankets.  He ate his lunch standing up close to the flames, trying to dry his clothing on his form with the tree at his immediate back.  The idea of stripping to hang his clothes made him feel too vulnerable, those ruffians and that bear hovered in his mind like a promise of bad days to come.  Why are there so many poor people, with robbery on their minds, running around this mountain?

Though he had not discussed any of the outer world with anyone in Galen Falls, Brother of the Sword knew that so many homeless men skulking around did not happen when a nation or empire was at war.  Could all these guys be draft dodgers? he pondered.  Maybe this was a little policed region in the Arxantum empire, criminals of every sort would congregate where the law did not….  If that idea had been true, then Galen Falls would have had a professional watch instead of a trickle of volunteers doing a walk through of the town at night to stave off the criminal element.  Why would I know things like this, but not know who I am?  Or why?  One of these days I’ll figure me out, I will learn why Brother and I are connected, I will know why we have no idea of anything prior to waking up in the coffin.

Getting sidetracked made Brother of the Sword growl at himself.  Figuring out why there was a surplus of unemployed men who were desperate enough to rob and kill was what he had to figure out.  Turning so his back was too the fire, Brother pondered for a while.  Are these people escapees from a prison?  No, those types of people scattered rather than drifted in the same direction.  Unless they were prisoner’s of war who escaped, he argued with himself.  Then they would not have had an accent similar to the people of Galen Falls, they would have sounded more foreign.  Admitting he was stuck mentally, Brother stuffed more heated food in his maw before feeding the fire.  Steam still drifted away from his bedding, and clothes, but the lower portions of bag and blankets looked dry.

Without knowing the proper procedure for fire place drying, Brother of the Sword debated on whether he should turn his bedding or flip it.  In the end he flipped it around.  After several hours his blanket’s seemed to dry as fast as his clothes, but his sleeping bag had to set next to the heat until the sun was well into its early evening decline.  Those clouds above also seemed to darken over time, building towards more unpleasantness.  Back in Galen Falls, there had been a few items that the mercantile man had suggested that Brother had refused to buy.  Among those items had been a waterproof tarp that seemed to have weighed as much as a teen age boy, and a small two man tent that also had a drag-you-down heft to it.  Now he was wishing he had invested in at least one of those items.

Instead of getting a mile or two of hiking in, Brother decided that he would take the time making a protected camp to weather another night that was threatening rain.  While gleaning wood, he had noticed how one side of a log was damp and the other side was as dry as could be, including the dead fall gathered in the log’s leeward side.  Also, certain trees, like the one he had slept under, had a thicker lattice of leaves that would break the drizzle up and shunt it away from the trunk.  While collecting more wood for his evening fire, he also scrounged up a lot of wrist sized green cuts of wood and the boughs of leafy trees just like his sheltering growth.  Brother of the Sword’s attempt at a lean too was more or less successful; in the morning, while drying his slightly damp bedding, he examined his successes and failures in his crude shelter.

He had placed boughs of leaves over the cracks in his lean too structure, those had become heavy with wet and had simply slid away from their emplacement.  He would have to figure out how to hang those boughs so they did not fall or slide away along the slope of the lean too.  There had to be a better way to bind the structure together, also, if he had string enough, Brother could have woven all the sticks into a solid wall that could be leaned against a pair of supports.  His stick structure had been stabbed into the ground at a slant.  Integration had been a problem that had helped the leaves slide apart or away.  Fortunately, his sleeping bag dried before noon, so Brother of the Sword was able to leave that same day.

Crunching through the gravel, around noon the sun began to peep through the clouds.  Shortly after eating his mid day meal, Brother of the Sword could see those blue patches becoming more frequent; and later expanding in size.  Even as he started to hope for the sun, the road’s path began to wend in such a manner that the river could be seen when not dipping between hills.  On his second sighting of the water, Brother noticed an object bob into view, traveling in the same direction.  He knew what boats were, but actually seeing one being directed on the surface by people struck him.  At this distance he could not make out details, but the humanoids in the craft used their oars to keep their craft riding just on the inside of the fastest current.  His breath caught as he watched an oar dip when a curve in the course threatened to drop the boat out of that current.  With two strokes in concert the boat made the transition with no slowing of speed, then the oars paused waiting for the next course correction.  The craft was half way down the spur of the river Brother could see, before he remembered his own feet and purpose.

A dip between hills blocked Brother of the Sword’s vision for five minutes.  Cresting the next rise, he was able to witness the little boat maneuver around the far bend of the river and become lost to his view.  However, on land to his left an odd patch of trees pulled his attention.  After all the wilderness he had passed through, his hair began to stand on end when he discovered this lot of trees were evenly spaced.  In his world experience, nature did not have perfect angles or perfect spacing as nature was a perfect expression of chaos exploding.  This was unnatural!  This was not…!  Relief began to bleed the fear away that had threatened to rush through his entire being.  Half hidden by the perfectly aligned trees was a house, which explained how that growth looked so tidy; this was a nut tree grove, a creation of thinking beings.

In two more hills Brother found a farm.  A man was riding a plow being drawn by a big burly, but distraught looking horse.  The grassy earth folded over like caked waves, the tilling blade bounced and dragged through the mud with an inhuman amount of effort.  No wonder the man was cursing so much and the horse looked so unhappy.  Even though he waved, the hard working farmer only had a suspicious eye to cast Brother’s way, his stream of curses cutting off as he watched the wanderer like a hawk.  More farms began to appear in his path, every man and woman giving Brother the hooded gaze of distrust; one farmer even cradled a loaded crossbow until he had passed from easy sight.

Clouds were making the horizon frown as the sun started its drive for distant western mountains.  In a patch of wilderness between farms, Brother of the Sword started to follow a path away from the gravel road when smoke scent caught his nose.  A glance down showed him many footprints in churned mud.  People had recently walked this way.  Suddenly wary, Brother backed up looking for trouble in the tangle of brush.  Though the light was not as good, the game path he found after passing the next farm had not been trod by anything but deer.  Well away from the road he did find signs of people though, an old camp site that already had a lean too built under a tree.  Small cut boughs had been woven into a crude mat on the floor that proved to make a soft place to bed down.

Gleaning wood did not take as long as Brother of the Sword had feared, whoever had built this sight had left a relatively nice pile of seasoned branches already piled up.  This allowed him some time to study how this sturdier structure had been manufactured.  Whoever had come before him had arrived with nails and the means to drive them into wood, but Brother did note the crossbeams and reasoned out how string or rope could be used to bind a lean too frame together.  Lightening and thunder did awaken him in the mid of the night, and for a while he watched the flash and heard the rumble overhead.  The noise, though dramatic did not infringe upon his snug state for long.  Not one iota of water seeped into his bed that night.

Last night’s storm had spent it’s fury before false dawn teased him about the day ahead, clouds were breaking apart and the day was already threatening to be warmer than any other day Brother of the Sword could remember.  As he ate breakfast, he gave the lean too another study, taking mental notes for the future.  Feeling wiser than the night before, and with a full belly, Brother rejoined the gravel road.  Descending in general, though he often had to climb the flank of a hill, the river drew closer and closer as the day went; before lunch the road drew abreast of the water overlooking the flow from hundreds of feet above.  When Brother did pause to eat, the river was only fifty or so feet below the road, he kicked his feet, perched on a boulder and watched several boats roll by.  One fancy boat drifted by that caught and held his attention all the way to the big bend.

It was a light looking craft that rode high in the water, made of a white wood that had fanciful flowing lines that made it seem a wave rising up out of a floating leaf.  At the stern, where the boat seemed most leaf like, the being at the tiller glanced up at him and stared for a moment.  A female stepped from ‘the wave’ at the craft’s fore to add the weight of her scrutiny on to Brother.  Both had pale hair and ears that came to a point out of their straight tresses.  An unearthly beauty seemed stamped into their visages as though the gods had taken the time to set these beings apart; they made no answering gesture to Brother’s wave.  For some reason, he did not think the Elven couple rude for not acknowledging his gesture, it felt natural for them to be moving through the world as it was without becoming a part of it.

Two hours later, his steady descent ended.  The road was now at the water’s side, except for slight height variations; many trails had been cut or pushed into the trees and bushes going to the water’s edge.  Out of curiosity, Brother of the Sword started down one of those trails.  When the leaves he stepped on started to slip over the mud beneath them, he stopped and peered down that little trail.  Several yards closer too the water, the path became a morass of mud.  That clay heavy soil looked like it would coat everything that touched it, and take on layers at each touch until a person or animal became weighted down.  Grimacing at how muddy he might have become, Brother turned back to his safe gravel road.  Across the river he watched a boat stop close to the far bank for a while, and at first he could not fathom what the people were doing with the bushes they seemed to be focused on.

They are picking berries! He discovered, becoming overly excited.  The idea of gleaning food from nature struck Brother as an ideal, a way of living that was more pure than other modes of existence.  When those boaters exhausted the series of bushes they had worked over, they raised anchor and floated down river for a dozen yards before setting anchor before another set of bushes.  Those shrubs the boaters were at were of a kind he had not seen in his inland roving, as a matter of fact, Brother of the Sword had not noticed them until this very day.  Growing only near the river, those berry bushes were still mostly a mystery to him.  Even when the gravel way seemed nearest the river, those bushes were still too far away for him to carefully study.  I may have to remedy that ignorance.  Again he remembered the mucked up off road trail.  Attempting another of the numerous paths leading to the water’s edge gave Brother the same result, super slick clinging mud, and he had no wish to fall into that goop, he tromped back to the gravel way with boots that seemed pounds heavier than normal.

Hoping that he would have a better opportunity to see those bushes and their berries later, Brother of the Sword stuck to the road letting the clay harden then fall away from his foot apparel.  Farms were scarce along this space of road he found himself on.  Even though the road meandered along with the river, the eastern side of the way was sheer hills; almost a cliff as though the mountain had resumed.  Voices, made dim by the curve of road and hill, alerted Brother that people were ahead.  Not knowing what was before him, he hoped that he was coming across a farm or orchard, maybe some merchants.  Mud beings blocked the gravel way.  Six or seven men, two women and three children, all covered head to toe in drying cracking clay, sat or stood in the way stuffing berries into their mouths heedless of the dirt their digits smeared upon the dark blue clusters of their food or the blanket those berries laid upon.

Transferring the odd berries to mouths stopped as heads craned about to take Brother in; full mouths did not stop the process of mastication.  Avarice began to spark in all those eyes as those skinny berry eaters took in his back pack and bedroll, dirty men and women began to leverage themselves to their feet.

“Hello stranger, got any alms for us poor?” one woman asked before laughing shrilly.  Her comment extracted a few low, mean chuckles from the men.  They all began to form a semi circle in the road, indicating they would fall on and surround him if he tried to walk through.  Brother of the Sword’s face twisted with the inevitability of what was coming.

One of the smaller skinnier specimens of a man pointed at Brother Sword poking up over his back.

“Sace, he gotta blade on ‘im.”  The biggest man did not glance at the speaker, but his sneer broke off some clay clinging to his cheek.

“See it.  Ain’t shit.  Guy don’t touch it, he keeps if for show.  See how pristine that hilt is,” he said, sharing his observations to spur the lot of them on for the crime they wanted to commit.  The dirty big guy started addressing Brother of the Sword as stick cudgels began to manifest in people’s fists.  “Save yourself some pain, just hand your stuff over so we don’t have to beat it outta ya.”  Brother did not like the reasonableness the big one was trying to project.

Mentally reaching for Brother Sword, he found the blade reaching for him, the ether was bridged in an instant.  Leveling the tip of Brother Sword at the big man, he did not wait for the gasps and shocked faces to fully come into being.  Not even these people were immune to the effect of a miraculously appearing blade.

“My brother and I work very well together!  The first one of you too me is the first to die!”  Seeing the hesitation coming into being, Brother of the Sword could not help but come up with a follow up challenge.  “Volunteers?”  Abandoning their cloth full of berries, the mud people began to part before him.  With his knees bent so his upper body did not bob and shake, a flowing weapons platform, he started a stalking walk between their ranks.  Reading each cracked mud face as he moved by, he could see most of the men trying to determine the odds they had against him; the women were shielding the kids, the only ones in the group sensible enough to be afraid.

Wincing a little, the big mud man noted how Brother of the Sword turned about to walk backwards as he passed through their ranks.  That muddy brigand knew his initial evaluation of Brother had been terribly wrong, that expertise of the big man’s was what the other would-be-robbers were relying on.  They were waiting on an order to attack that was not going to be given.  Walking backwards with a bent kneed step was not harder than walking forward; Brother of the Sword kept the group in his sights until he was well out of missile range.  He kept an eye on his back trail for several miles after the incident with his steel sibling clutched in his fist, earning worried glances from farmers as he strode by when the landscape turned less sheer to his left.  Many of them felt the need to lay hands on the arms they kept at their sides because of him.

Stopping at one place that did not seem to have the family working land near the road, Brother of the Sword finally stopped to home Brother Sword; an effort that required him to take his back pack off first to reach the sheath.

“Why you runnin’ around with a drawn sword for?” a male voice manifested so close that Brother yelped as he jumped.  Though Brother Sword had almost been fully sheathed, it was now leveled at a farmer ten paces away.  That man leaned away before taking one more step to create space, his crossbow already had Brother of the Sword in it’s cross hairs.  Hard eyes met his, yet when this man sounded reasonable, he actually was.  “Sorry, didn’t mean to catch you unawares.  Why don’t we lower these killin’ tools and talk some, like decent folk.”  Though the man didn’t point the quarrel away from Brother, he did let the point drop just a smidgen; pointing the weapon at Brother’s chest instead of at his face.

Heeding the invitation, Brother of the Sword lowered his weapon slowly so the man could easily see each of his movements.  As if trying to synchronize himself to Brother’s motions, the farmer raised the bolt thrower until it was pointed up in a safe direction.  Both of them still held their tool at the ready though.  “You ain’t covered in mud like the rest of them wanderer’s, which means you ain’t stealin’ food from us locals after raidin’ the mudberries on the river.”  Tight and wary with the look in his eyes, the man stopped to wait for a response.

“Some muddy fools back that way tried to take my things, that is why we are armed.  Are those people the reason why you farmers look at me with suspicion?”  His question seemed to ease some of the land owner’s anxiety, he lowered his weapon so it rested on his hip; a ready enough position that did not offer immediate threat.

As the man formulated his answer, and because the farmer had deescalated the stand off voluntarily, Brother resumed sheathing Brother Sword.

“Yea, the homeless are becomin’ a bother.  First time the empire ends a war and doesn’t help folks build new industries to employ the excess of veterans coming back home.  Most of the soldiers are getting their old jobs back, but the kids and women that filled those spots are getting’ laid off.  They ain’t got nothin’ to fall back on.  I’d almost feel sorry for them if they weren’t trying to break in and eat my reserves.”  This man was now smiling, though his visual organs still probed as though waiting for a hint of betrayal.

“You know your weapon, and you know how to walk quietly.  Are you one of those veterans you were talking about?”

Another layer of tension bled off of the man when he chuckled quietly.

“That’s somethin’ another soldier would see.  I got out five years back.  Did most of my tour before the fighting began, and because I had signed up three times before, they couldn’t hold me.  My neighbors and I thought it was becoming dangerous just to live on our land, never thought how dangerous it could be to travelin’ folk until you pointed it out.  How much bother are you getting’ on the road?”

“I left Galen Falls about….” Brother trailed off to consider, “eight days ago.  I fought a pair of men with spears the first night, killed a man with striped muddy pants three days in, met a bear that same day, then today I bluffed my way through a dozen people just two miles or so back that way.”  Pointing back the way he came did not move the farmer to look.

That ex soldier had grimaced when Brother of the Sword had admitted to killing someone,  his eye brows drew together as devastation moved through his brown eyed stare.  I wonder what look this farmer would get if I admitted to killing one of the spear men?

“I would never have believed that they would take to trying to kill folk.  Around here we just have to show up armed, and those homeless creeps run off,” the veteran claimed before losing himself to some thought.  “You weren’t eggin’ them on, or callin’ them names, or somethin’ to get them to fight you?”  This question caused Brother to hesitate, deep down he knew that behavior was not really a legitimate way to interact with other beings.

Shaking his head, drawing back, and blinking rapidly seemed to answer the farmer’s question even before Brother of the Sword enunciated his denial.

“No, that sounds like it would cause more harm than good.”  Brother was being beamed at as though he had pleased the man immensely.

“No it’s not reasonable at all, but I had to ask… just to be thorough.  Now I know you ain’t trouble.  I have a proposition for you, stranger.  Would you be willing to help me carry a few bags of carrots down to the river?  If you help me, and you have a couple of silvers, I may get you a boat ride to the city.  You are headin’ to the city, ain’t you?”

Brother of the Sword felt his eyes go wide at the thought of floating on the water like so many of the vessel’s he had watched the last few days.  Again his expression informed the farmer before his words came out, the man was happiness incarnate at Brother’s evident eagerness.  Unfortunately, Brother began to remember how untrustworthy people seemed to be, and he hesitated.

“Why would you want to help me?” he asked, studying the farmers face and mannerisms.  The man nodded as if the question were fair.

“Well, one, you’re helpin’ me get my goods to the boat on time.  Little Hannar works hard but doesn’t make a lot of money runnin’ her boat, so your coin will help her some.  You want to avoid trouble, which is a sensible way to live, so you’re willin’ to do a little work and pay a little coin to steer clear of that trouble.

“That’s why I’m makin’ this offer.  It’s a cycle of folk helpin’ folk is all.  Hannar usually doesn’t haul people, but she’ll make exceptions if I vouch for you.  If you walk to Mudberry by the Water it’ll take you two- three more days, and you’ll be dodgin’ the homeless every day.  This way you won’t get killed, nor will you have to get blood on your blade.  It’s always the best day, them days that your weapons shed no blood.”

Watching the farmer’s face showed Brother of the Sword a man who worked so hard that the effort of lying would be the straw breaking the mules back.  A simple man who was no body’s fool, nor  one inclined to lie or turn his back on others.  In a matter of a few more minutes, brother was carting six very heavy bags of produce down to a dock built on the river.  Several other farmers with just a few bags each were already waiting for Hannar’s boat, they seemed pleased to be in his company when the farmer claimed Brother of the Sword to be a good guy.

“No, no!  Put the carrots in the Elf’s cart and the potatoes go in the man in blue’s wagon!” Hannar barked at him.  Brother of the Sword was having a hard time concentrating.  Bells were ringing on boats five times larger than Hannar’s vessel or two times smaller, scores of piers ran down to the river and hundreds of people of all varieties strolled down the docks.  And in a beautiful cacophony, everyone seemed to be yelling at each other, every emotion vocalized at the highest volume manageable towards or from the hundreds of vessels moored there.  Some river ships seemed to be offloading, as Hannar and he were doing, while other ships were loading or stowing cargo; the number and variety of goods too numerous for his eye to catch with just one perusal.

When he had agreed to help Hannar take in the farmer’s produce coming down the river, and promised to help her offload, the older heavy set woman in her layers of dark garments proclaimed she would haul him to Mudberry by the Water for free.  Brother of the Sword was beginning to wonder if he should have demanded some pay, he had not known the woman would collect close to half a ton of preserved vegetables along numerous stops.  Also, she had neglected to state that every sack, jar, bag, crate, barrel, or whatnot had to be broken down into dozens of lots for each buyer that came along.  His feet had hit the dock two hours ago, and he had yet to explore that big city with all it’s enticing colors beckoning too him; obligation keeping the mystery out of his reach.  They still had half the boat to offload, the sun was meandering to late afternoon, and Brother was hungry for both food and visions to match his imaginings.

Passing by with a jar of small pickled cucumbers, Hannar grumbled at him, her voice low.

“You act as if you ain’t seen no city before, boy.”  Her tone was making it clear that she was not pleased with his free labor.  Waiting for their paths to cross as he carried twenty pounds of onions to a twitchy batch of Dwarves with paranoid eyes, he answered Hannar with his voice pitched as low as hers had been.

“I’ve only seen one really small town before today.  I didn’t know people could make buildings so tall,” he said pointing at Mudberry by the Water’s enticing interior with his chin.  Gaping a little, the older woman pivoted to watch Brother pass.  Her reflection in the water shrugged then continued to the boat to pull forth an order from another Dwarf shouting a request for carrots.

A lull occurred after the carrots had been delivered, Hannar practically hauled Brother of the Sword back to the boat.  Pulling a big jar full of pickled eggs from under her boat’s rudder seat, Hannar asked him to open it so she could fish out a string of sausages.  Her knife cut a pair of links from the chain, one of which she offered to him in exchange for the jar.  Thankfully he bit into the dried sausage and found the meat was saturated in some sort of hot pepper, Hannar dropped three pickled eggs into his lap as he panted from the spice burning on his tongue.

“The pickling helps with the pepper burn, boy.  Take a bite of sausage, then immediately chase it with a bite or two of egg,” she advised him.  While wiping the tears from his eyes, and sniffing back his suddenly running nose, Brother took Hannar’s advise.  That bite did cool the searing of his taste buds, but the pickling blended with the pepper’s tangy flavor and transported it into a taste sensation that was beyond anything he expected.

Grinning at the animal sounds of gustatory savor he could not hold back, Hannar swallowed her own hasty bite.  “You have a handy grin there, kid, so I assumed you were city bred.  I guess a country boy can develop a bit of polish, though you’re the first I’ve seen it on.  I’m going to give you a bit of advise.  Don’t be too eager in this big ol’ city.  She may be pretty, but she’s got an old whore’s black heart.  There’s some that will grin at you in your face just before they cut you from ear to ear, and others that will pounce on them folk just to be the first to go through your pockets.  Over there is the Emperor’s Way, the main road through every city in the empire.  Here in Mudberry by the Water it’s best to follow the walks along the Way.  Every thing you want can be found, and I mean everything, as the Way cuts through the districts.  You get off the Way, it could take you days to find your way back… maybe even weeks.”

Her serious expression and leveled look seemed to be asking something from him, and as he hastily swallowed she tilted her head to emphasize that request.  Hannar wants me to promise to only follow the one road, I wonder why she would want to extract such a promise?

“Will I be able to find a mercantile that sells small tents and travel food along this Emperor’s Way?”  Old Hannar’s eyes narrowed when he asked a question without giving his promise.

“There’s a good store three- four blocks in, boy, and a decent enough inn one block passed that.  If you plan on staying in Mudberry by the Water, base yourself near the Way while you do your learning of the city.  You see, the farther you get away from that straight stretch the more the roads and alleys turn into a maze… a maze with killers stalking the shadows.  The watch doesn’t dare go down certain roads, boy, even they’re afraid of what they might find.”  Again she leveled expectant orbs on Brother.

With regret he glanced at the sausage and half egg in both his hands.  Brother of the Sword debated with himself first, reluctant to let another choose his path for him; he had to weigh that against the concern of this well meaning woman.

“I am not planning on staying in the city for long.  I saw a great big lake from the mountains, that’s where I want to go.  If the Emperor’s Way is the safest way for me to get there, then I will follow that route.  Do you know anything about that lake?”  She smiled at his good sense and bit into the peppered sausage, her nod informed him that she would share news on his lake in a moment.  She did not follow her bite up with any pickled egg, and his eyes grew wide when Hannar did not show signs of spice distress.  Envy and admiration warred in his young heart at her feat.

As he plied himself to his food she seemed about to speak, but a glance back at a human walking their way made her grimace first.  They were moments away from having to go back to work.

“Lake Talenchan is possibly the biggest lake in the world.  It is the north eastern border of the Arxantum Empire.  On the far side of it is the Talenchan wild lands, where the wild non human tribes run rampant.  I got this one, boy, you keep on eating.”  She rocked her boat getting out of it to meet her newest customer.  Behind the man she was dealing with, a dark haired Elven type began to roll a wheelbarrow their way.  Stuffing the sausage and eggs into his mouth as fast as he could, Brother of the Sword watched other people aim their steps towards Hannar’s boat.

Despite the steady stream of customers it took Hannar and Brother another few hours to finally sell off her purchased stock of vegetables.  What little produce that was left over easily fit under the middle rower’s seat in the middle of Hannar’s boat, with another couple of pickled egg jars and a hemp sack spilling smoked sausage links; Hanar’s stash of favored foods.  After rinsing them in the river, Hannar handed Brother of the Sword a handful of carrots.

“That ought to see to your snacking for the next couple of days, boy.  Thank you for working so hard… most folks would have complained and left cause I can’t afford to pay them.  You are a man of your word, and I admit I took advantage of that.  I wish I could do right by you-”  Seeing Hannar with her eyes down turned, refusing to give him her no nonsense look disturbed him a lot.

Interrupting himself in hoisting his pack onto his pack, Brother of the Sword waved his carrots under her nose disturbing her apology.

“The farmer wasn’t kidding when he said that taking the road is dangerous because of all the homeless.  In eight days there were three attempts to beat and rob me from different people.  Getting here without having to fight, that is better than pay, Hannar.  I thank you for the transport, the experience, and the advice… I am glad to have been able to work that away with you today.”  That was better, her bold gaze had returned, and she was looking at him as if he had ulterior motives; her usual look for most of the trip down river.

After studying Brother for a few moments, her distrust eased into a wondering smile.

“Not many folk see things that way anymore.  More and more the people want and demand coin, even the Elves….  By the way, what is your name?  I been calling you boy most of the day to try and wind you up, but you just took it.”  Finishing hoisting the packs straps around his shoulders, he pondered the older woman’s confession.

“My name is Brother of the Sword, and in many ways I am still a boy though I have a grown up body.”  As he had half expected, Brother’s words caused Hannar a bit of confusion.

“Ain’t that name a bit ostentatious?” she queried, trying to wrap her head around the fact he seemed serious.

“It’s the name I was… born with.”

At first Brother of the Sword thought he should launch into a short explanation of himself and Brother Sword, then a reluctance came over him.  He had discovered that people did not like things they could not explain, and his few days of life was beyond the comprehension of all the human’s he had met.

“Guess your parents didn’t like you much,” Hannar wrinkled her nose to show her distaste of his name, and that tickled Brother’s humor.  If only she had known his short past.  “Well your honest, and that’s something rare.  Brother of the Sword, all men are just boys in grown up bodies, and If I was still a young hen, I would have seduced you and thought it was my idea.  You got a dangerous grin, boy.  Women won’t want that to walk away from them.”  She smiled and nodded to him as he stepped off her boat.

After two steps, Brother of the Sword realized he was walking away from someone who thought well of him, a rarity in his life.  He turned back.

“Hannar, thank you for getting me here.  I hope the river never brings you harm and always brings you coin.”  Her cheeks colored a little and she offered an uncharacteristic shy grin.

“You got mud between your ears, boy.  You travel well and safely too.”  When their eyes locked for the last time, there was a moment of study, then a mutual nod of respect.  Brother turned and aimed his feet for land, he imagined Hannar in her layers of somewhat worn clothing watching him go.

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