Chapter One: financial Trouble.
It was time to look for a new line of work.
My current one, of evil and generally malevolent ruler of the town of Cheshirewick had come to a somewhat abrupt end when I found that my accountancy and legal department had made a deal with my security detail and buggered off with several king's ransoms in cash. Along with the rest of my staff.
(Kings ransom being defined by the book of treasure, wealth and opulence as being a measure of gold equating to approximately 230000 ten gram pieces. Standardized measurements really speed up hostage negotiations. )
I have about Three days before the Reapo-men arrive for the tower, considering I now no-longer have a treasury to pay the installments.
Before then, the village having seen several score goblins and orc's making off with all my antiquities, carrying heavy sacks marked with 'swag' and a brace of ponies, had decided to forcefully hand me my walking papers.
So I needed a new job, preferably one which didn't include getting speared on the end of rusty pitchforks on the top of my Black Tower of Dread. Unfortunately I was all out of ideas. Five men advanced on me, pitchforks in hand.
Trying not to sound nervous I backed up a little more "Guys… guys, just, let's think this through. What have I ever done to you?" The leading man held his pitchfork in one hand and scratched his head with the other, his blocky features creasing in the agony of thought.
"Not much to be honest. You were a pretty benign one. You did ask me to work on the morning of my son's birthday." Evil for the sake of it has never been my strong point.
I looked at him imploringly " You didn't tell me about that, and I gave you double time when you told me; wasn't I a fair ruler?" Not exactly what the academy had intended, but whatever works.
The men seemed to exchange glances. A tall thin man with a straw hat leaned against the parapet of the tower with nonchalance "The thing is, y'see, you Gots to overthrow your ruler when his dark forces decide to desert him. Traditional like." He picked up his own pitchfork.
The men nodded "Yeah, it's all traditional, you either scream defiance at us and jump, or we impale you and parade you round the village. I think you could become a folk tale with a little work."
I was more than a little puzzled by this "how so?"
"Well m'lord… or not as may be the case, the thing is, you really weren't that evil. Which is why your men, well goblins and orcs decided to push off. So I guess it would be a bit more of a fable like, why you should never do thing's by half-measures." Again. Not my strong point.
The other peasants nodded approvingly.
"So we've got to spear you now. Or you jump. Either way make it quick, we're all late for tea; and I don't know about you fellows but my wife is something terrible if I let it go cold."
"So if you could just hurry it up then, we can go on home."
I was a little stressed in the face of this logic " What if I don't particularly want to die?"
"Well, Pardon me for saying so sir, but none of them other ones did. Come on, a little defiant scream, a nice long drop or a stab and we can all go home. Even a little one would do."
I had a flash of inspiration.
"How about disappearing in a puff of smoke accompanied by some spine chilling laughter? Facing down someone who did that would be very brave wouldn't it?"
The men went into a huddle. They came back out and the self appointed spokes-person shook his head.
"Sorry, but screaming defiance it has to be. Swinsly village down the way had an evil overlord that disappeared like that and they got clamped down hard by the subservient village association for littering."
"Littering!" I said in disbelief. He nodded solemnly "Evil overlords are non-biodegradable see. A danger to the ee-coo-logieecal balance of our local bio-sphere. Very important that." The other men mumbled assent.
"It's getting late, so I guess we'll go with the stabbing and be done with it then."
They charged. I jumped.
I have to get into a new line of work.
Chapter two: You and the Pegasus you rode in on.
My landing if it could be called that, was very, very, very, very, unpleasant.
Not only because I had just jumped off a somewhat tall tower, but because I landed in the stable manure pile.
I searched for a horse, hoping to find one before the villagers decided to come down and make sure I was dead.
I found that there was only one pony left. It was clear why my security had neglected to take it.
It was pink. Thinking back, it must have been that play the village decided to hold a few years back.
The horse had been purchased for the event and later I'd taken it as an installment on a loan; only to find that it was a very light shade of red indeed. I don't know why I kept it. Right now, I was just thankful that it was there.
As I got closer I saw that someone had left a sword on the ground. Involuntarily; the hand was still attached.
Being pink, this pony had developed a temper and homicidal inclination to bite to compensate for his less than impressive appearance.
I decided to take the sword; It had been an Orc's with a overlarge blade and about as much finesse as a meat-cleaver.
I had to kick the scaly green hand to make it let go.
The horse snorted above me, trying to decide if it was worth biting someone quite so odiferous as I was.
I haven't really been that good with horses in the past, so I decided to try and negotiate.
"Look here. I don't care what color you are, but I need you to help me get away. And you need me."
The horse shook his head, as if to say:
'Why do I need to take orders from a man who smells like manure. Fear me.'
Fortunately I had a counter argument "Well, It's either see me clear of this village or you end up doing plough-work until you kick one too many people and end up as a rug and a community dinner."
The Horse quieted down. I didn't bother to try saddle it. I just swung over onto its back clumsily and undid the tether that held it to the stall. The result was immediate.
He practically leaped forward and galloped round, charging at the stable doors and head-butting them; causing the latch to burst open and the doors to swing out, clobbering the two villagers who'd come to investigate.
He galloped off; I did my best to stay on and keep my new overlarge sword from stabbing myself or the horse.
Progress went smoothly as me and my horse, (I decided to name him killer, it matched his temperament. I think he liked it because when I dismounted and tied him to a tree, he only nearly broke my ribs when kicking me in the chest.)
The rub was that progress ground to a halt when I found that the rough track which I'd stumbled onto, was in fact a toll road. The kind with alternative payment schemes, namely your money or your life.
The bandits had crossbows. I don't like to argue with those, they can't be reasoned with.
The leader came forward and grinned a grin with a twenty four carat molar nestled between his yellowing incisors. He chortled throatily and demanded in no uncertain terms that I, being A. A traveler on his road and B. rich enough to own and dye a horse= C. Pay up because I was a rich nancy-boy who could afford to be left stripped of my possessions.
Upon finding out that I both had no money nor any property worth taking, they hauled me off killer, stripped me down and tied me up. Killer was led away, sedately as he was smart enough to recognize that failure to comply would make him both dinner lunch and breakfast for the better part of a week.
Meanwhile I was thrown into a stone cell. The bars of rusting iron shed brown flakes as they were slammed shut.
Kind-while… well, in reality very-meanwhile, Killer was lead into the ramshackle stalls with a sedate precision. Observations ran through his simple mind.
I have been named truly. I am Killer. He was lead to the stall at the end and closed in. The person didn't even bother to place a rope around his neck. He just closed the wooden half-door of the stall, leaving the somewhat diminutive pink pony next to the bandits big bruisers. Juggernoughts of horseflesh who rode down from the hills to break through convoy's; kick open carriages and send shock and awe amongst those under their assault. These new horses sized him up. Bays, Rowans, two black and white stallions and a Clydesdale all snorted in amusement at this garish and undersized newcomer.
Will these new puny slow handpaw's let me keep the title I have earned, that I deserve?
What will my ancestor's say I f I do not pass on with a name befitting of my ferocity….
Grandmare Finger-theif would have my accursed pink hide if I was still He-who-chews-sugar or The One From That Awful Play. How else will I ever hope to gain the respect I disserve.
One of his neighbours edged closer, hoping to see if he could get the new boy to submit with merely a single bite. His head crossed over the line between the stalls. Pink ear's twitched. The invader edged a little further in. A blur of pink whirled before his eyes and he found himself muzzle to muzzle with a pink face which was all bared teeth and wild wide eyed rage. Horses should not snarl. This one did. Horses should not pounce. This one might. The bay backed down as far as he could into his stall, shrinking into the corner.
The other neighbor made the mistake of choosing that moment to pull the pink ones tail.
No-one was there to hear what happened next.
After a while, a pink horse nudged the door of one of the stalls open and ignoring the cowering equines who shank back at his passing, went to drink in the trough for the other side of the room. Tendrils of red washed away from his pink muzzle. He looked over at the rest of the rooms occupants, taking the opportunity to snort derisively, before dipping and washing off both sets of hoofs in the same manner.
None of the horses on the other side touched the water there after that.
Killer clopped back along the rows, feeding directly from the bags beside the door before going back to his stall to wait patiently.
A conventional hero would have chosen this moment to loose his ropes and then regain his gear, free the other prisoners and escape all while the bandits were busy with their drunken carousing.
I am not a hero.
I am an evil mastermind who is supposed to send his henchmen and flunkies to do all of that heavy lifting.
I guess I'd better look for a new career path. Fugitive isn't really working out well.
I found that I had a cell-mate, well he found me and I found out about him. He rolled me over and held his fingers to his lips while whispering "I am a noble barbarian, fear not gentle peasant; you can return to your stable as soon as the man returns to give us food, for I shall knock him out, regain my gear and free you and the rest of the prisoners while these bandits busy themselves with drunken revelry."
Having been given a gag in addition to the rest of my bonds I could only roll my eyes.
The large and muscled man rose from his crouch to sink into the shadows by the door.
With an excellent sense of timing, a man came along whistling, carrying an oil-lamp and crossbow.
"Grubs up. Got to keep you in shape for the slave-market."
"Havat thee-urkglll" The gurgling sound would be a man being shot in the throat by the crossbow of the man standing over-watch on the guard bringing food after punching the latter in the throat.
"Well more grub for you eh prisoner number two?" The man picked himself up and rubbed his flabby throat. I was only able to utter intelligible sounds of protest. "Mufle foof mrm!" How very eloquent. My teachers would be proud.
"Pardon me now? Oh the gag. Silly me. Didn't want you screaming your head off earlier. Nobles do that."
"I was renting that horse I'm not a noble I'm…" I paused, mind racing; I hit on a profession that had been on my mind quite a bit recently. "An accountant. So could you untie me a bit please."
Professional villains don't have a pleasant history when dealing with their self appointed counterpart.
I would not endear myself had I revealed my actual… former career path. I'd better get used to paperwork again.
"Accountant hey… Any good?" "Well, I'm excellent at finding tax-deductable and work related expenses which you can count against your earning's, for a lower duty rate across the board."
The goaler seemed surprised. He untied the rest of my ropes. "Accountants are harmless, see? And no hero's gonna come up with falsehood like that now issee?" He winked hugely " 'cause they're all idiots now aren't they."
I frowned " Isn't that the meaning of the word hero?" I was being serious.
The jailer burst into spontaneous laugher. "Oh you're a card you are. Just wait here and eat something while I go see the boss-man okay?"
The door clanged shut, dislodging another snowstorm of brown metallic flakes.
Rather than eat I paced around the confines of my cell. At the back in shallow alcove which blended In with the shadows around it, I found something both useful and slightly discomforting; a skeleton still dressed in leather and mail. It's outline was blurry in the darkness, but I know a skull when I see one.
Considering my own dark robes (such as they were, which was not very after all they'd been through recently) had been taken, I decided to claim habeus corpus over the cadaver; stripping the skeleton of its possessions and dressing in them.
Surprisingly, they were well made. Very nicely made in-fact; the mail was embedded in the black hide and the entire thing was as flexible as a second skin. Which it had been for the corpse that was lying there. I undressed him, thanking whatever god that might even bother to smile upon me that he'd been there long enough that only dust remained inside. Other than the bones that gave it shape. Putting it on, I had to tighten the leather buckles that adorned the outfit, adjusting the fit for my slighter frame. It was well made, cured with a much stiffer carapace laminated over the first layer to protect the chest, forearms, shinbones and spine. It had a hood tucked into an inflexible section at the back of the neck. I slipped it on. There was something over the eyeholes. It felt smooth to the touch, but I had gloves on and wasn't about to take the suit off to check what it was.
I wondered why it hadn't been taken from the dead man. I doubted these bandits had enough scruples to actually respect the dead. Anyway, he hadn't been buried; that definitely wasn't the answer.
The chief returned with his guard, who after blinking a bit, opened the cell. Slipping the hood back into its cover, I paused.
I stepped forward and held out my hand to the bear of a man that was the chief. He could only be inadequately described as having the frame of an outsized grizzly.
"Hail to you man." Said I, trying not to sound nervous.
"What? Accountant. Oh. There you are. Didn't see you for a moment."
"I'm right here. Ready to sum things up for you." The man-bear grinned. He was seven foot two and heavily muscled. His handshake practically crushed my fingers.
He lead me out, babbling about how much there was to organize, booty to count, divide and sort out.
"But first, we welcome your eh, with strong drink!" He pushed open the ramshackle door to the compound where his men sat with barrels of booze on tap with a pile more up in the corner where they could be conveniently rolled down with a minimum of effort required to keep the alcohol flowing, a carcass on the spit and a cage of frightened looking peasants in the corner. Realizing they were all comely females, I revised the summary as 'wenches'. Involuntary frightened ones anyway.
Sitting down by the fire the chief came next to me and handed me a leather tankard heavy with something that smelled like it had been fermented from rat's rather than grain. The fumes were eye smarting.
The chief downed his in one gulp and laughed uproariously. "It is good yes! Hyou drink, Be merry little accountant. Ah HA HA!" I looked at him and nodded weakly, having just taken a sip of the vile concoction; which was the strongest I'd ever tasted. To a palette used to decantered wine… or would be if I wasn't allergic to grapes, it was unbearable.
I tried to smile while keeping the drink down hoping to throw the rest into the fire at the very first opportunity.
Then disaster struck, although at the time, the hand of fate was helped by the rather more meaty digits of the leaders own hand, slapping me on the back vigorously.
Strong drink sprayed out of my mouth; in the direction of the very person I was looking at.
I need to look for a new line of work.
The Chief roared, his thick and matted beard as well as the rest of his face now dripped with the pigswill equivalent of an alcoholic drink.
He lifted me up by the back of my collar and threw me over the fire; landing in the ring, I felt something crunch in my shoulder.
"Little accountant, numbers man. You do the wrong thing!" The chief advanced.
Even if I tried to reason with him, an insult like that would destroy his ability to rule by fear… unless he decided to break my arms and legs or just kill me outright. With one shoulder feeling like it had been dislocated, the taste of strong liquor burning my sinuses, the cramps of hunger gnawing on my stomach, I reviewed the situation. Well, not that there was any need for it; I'd just summed up my net worth nastily. I had to think , okay, villainy one oh one; your mind is your greatest weapon.....
My recollection centered on the days of my counter-heroism classes, I could hear old Vlad 'imp-paler' Damascus the lecturer talking as clear as if he was across the clearing.
"When facing heroes who have breached your dark fortress, mauled your guards and sliced your security, there is only one way of fighting when escape is impossible. Use their honor, Force them to fight you one on one and on your turf; they won't be able to press the advantage because their morals will prevent them from protesting a reasonable request if you back it with tradition or some halfway good facsimile of a worrier code."
These weren't heroes, but I could just reverse the reasoning.
I may not be able to beat an entire camp of bandits, but before they attacked, I could level the playing field.
"I accept your challenge." My call was in my best impressive Dark Lord voice (I got a B for it in malicious gloating and rabble rousing.) "And as the challenged I may choose the weapon for our single combat!"
The chief hesitated. "What are you babbling about?"
"You struck me, and as leader of the tribe have challenged me. As the challenged I may choose the weapon and manner of combat." I couldn't sweat. No fear.
"Accountant, why should I even waste my time when I could be wenching, to fight something as puny and tiny as you!" He tried to laugh it off, but I could see my un-logic was winning some of the others in the camp over to my side.
Leaning on a post that had been hammered into the ground, I smiled disarmingly. "Really, So you need an entire battalion of brilliant bandits to back you, the big boss up in a battle with me?"
There were murmurs of assent from the other members of the camp.
I smiled for real now. The leader couldn't back down without looking weak. And one on one, weapon of choice, I would be one thousand percent more likely to emerge victorious.
The barrel chested desperado chieftain stepped forward with murder in his eyes.
"Well, little numbers man. You want to fight? I will not do it with your math-eemat-ical problems, I do it with steel!"
"Of course. I choose remember? And I choose..." pause for dramatic effect, three seconds, as recommended on page seven of professional dramatics for evil doers. "... the rapier! Will someone let me borrow one? I promise I'll give it back once I'm done." This got a few sniggers, and it wasn't even very funny.
"Well, are there a few foils that we can use? Or are you too insecure to face someone as powerless as me?" The chief ground his teeth. My arm hurts. I'm sure it's dislocated. I really need a moment to fix that. It's pretty important to me.
Some lackey rushed up and plonked down a barrel of sharp objects.
"Rapiers, epee's or foils... No broad, short, bastard, great or flanged swords nor claymore, scimitar, kopash, katana, Daishido, wakazashi, Daikatana, sword-chuck, sabre, blade, shiv, gladius, Kiris or swrdbreaker." With swift one handed grace I threw him one of the long thin silver blades.
It was like a toothpick in his hand. Someone at the back of the crowd chuckled as the leader engulfed the handle with his fist. Dropping into the guard position I waited for his attack.
'En'gaurd.' The now uncertain outsized ruffian ringleader looked more than a little unsettled.
"What you said... little man." He settled into a boxing stance; River dodger style. Only really effective if you're facing an opponent whose consumed his own weight in intoxicating beverages.
I sized him up for the first time. Fur and mail covered his frame. He was large and overly muscled, but I doubt he had an actual physical exercise regime. It was very unlikely he'd have even the barest trace of agility or indeed a whit of grace about him.
He lunged, intent on skewering me with the first strike. It was a simple matter to sidestep, stab and to pirouette to face his back as he lumbered forward. I'd pinked him in the leg, painful and sure to slow him down. He swung round and springing off his uninjured leg, attempted to batter my sword aside. Stepping out of range of the blade, I tried a short disarm. He was holding it in his fist, so the move which should have twisted his wrist failed utterly. He grinned, thinking that my first strike had been luck and took the opportunity to grab me with his free hand and throw me over-arm the length of the field.
Slamming into a thick wooden stake, black dots danced in front of my eyes with a wave of dizziness that threatened to engulf me.
I heard a 'pop' and relief rushed through my right shoulder. I stood somewhat shakily " 'touché', Excellent hit. Again." Dropping back into the guard position I waited for his rush. I didn't need to wait long. He began to run, and I started a moment later. He stabbed and I ducked and slid between his legs, making an attack of opportunity at his calves. The slash glanced off the mail beneath his leggings.
Before he could lumber round, I recovered from my slide to make a pair of lightning fast jabs to his shoulder-blades. He turned grinning. Evidently my strikes had been glancing blows only.
I grinned as he swiped and putting his weight behind the blow attempted to force me down.
"What? Why are you still smiling?" "Because there is something about me you don't know."
"I am not left handed."
With practiced precision I slid away from his clumsy attempt to push me into the dirt, switching hands and slashing at his sword-arm between the end of his leather glove and the sleeve of his leather and mail jerkin. He let out a yell and blood began to run steadily from the cut. He swung sideways. I blocked, forced his sword down and stamped on it in one smooth motion. The boot's with the outfit I'd removed from that cadaver were up to the task as I snapped off the blade at the hilt.
Shoddy craftsmanship. I levelled my sword at him. He chuckled. My curiosity was piqued.
Cautiously I asked "What's gotten into you?" "You don't know something about me as well."
"What would that be?" "I cheat." He grabbed at my blade and almost managed to wrench it from my grasp before I pulled away, slicing through is gloves and part of his hand. Something blurred on my right. I ducked and almost felt the air above me whistle to the song of his speeding steel.
He rose, only a little shakily. I hadn't landed any really serious hits on him yet and now he had ditched the rules and grabbed a claymore; full sized, it was about a meter and a half of blade which he held one handed with little difficulty. Unfai... Hang on. I'm a Villain dark take it! Not some poncy worrier who needs to follow rules!
He swiped downwards, moving outside his swing I slashed at his other wrist, driving the point home and forcing him to drop his new blade. He tried to hit me with a roundhouse swing, which I ducked; using the opening to make two quick slashes at his unprotected face. Rather than wait for him to recover as was 'proper' I made another pair of quick strikes, one to his Achilles tendon and the other to his kidney's. He made a grab for me, but with blood obscuring his vision , all he did was further unbalance himself and topple over slowly; ending up kneeing one knee.
I decided to finish the fight, stabbing first at his heart and only managing a glancing blow off something underneath the uncured fur that adorned his shoulder blades and upper chest. He tried another muzzy swipe at me with his gloved hands. In response I leapt up and punched him with the pommel of my blade, breaking his nose.
"Yield. Please." He croaked. I stabbed him through the throat.
"I'm afraid not. You had your chance, should have taken it." My word were soft. I could see the fear in the dying man's eyes. I knew what he wanted to ask: "You've were killed by Sidney. Sidney hack'n'slash. Professional villain. Major in overlordship and malicious theory."
I kicked him in the shoulder and with that little sigh which marks the seamless transition from warm human body to slowly cooling meat, the bandit chieftain slid away.
The rest of the encampment stared at me, half frozen in the act of cheering the fight on. Somehow unable to comprehend that I was the victor.
I really do try, but disarming volatile situations has never been my thing.
"Next time, lead with your right, and then you might still have a leader left.... No?" Someone in the crowd threw his tankard. I dodged.
The moment to force them to back down was gone. Diving at a hole in the boards which divided clearing from the rest of the bracken and brush of the forest, a crossbow bolt hummed over my head and lodged in the boards. Without a second thought I tacked and dived behind a stack of barrels. Another bolt soared through the gap in the wall which I'd been aiming for.
Leaning against the barrels I heard a faint 'slosh'. They were still full of that foul liquor. I'd die with that stench... in .... my... nostrils. Looking up, I grabbed the reed torch that provided flickering illumination to this far corner of cleared area. Grabbing an empty barrels wooden lid and gripping it by a pair of knotholes I came out from cover, swiftly pulling the spigots of the closest barrels.
Two bolts thunked into my makeshift shield. The third hit with enough force to jar it from my grasp.
Pulling out one last stopper I dived back into cover, as a fourth bolt glanced off the chain links in my stiffened shin-guard. Despite that, it still hurt; as did my shoulder, my back.... Actually, I just hurt in general. All over. Except my eyes, ears and nose, those are fine.
Blocking out the pain I touched the torch to the liquid now streaming out nearest to me. It caught almost immediately. I heaved. The precariously stacked barrels rolled chaotically away, down the shallow incline to the fire where most of the ruffians were still clustering. The careening cylinders scattered the outlaws.
Some of the barrels were extinguished; but only momentarily, as one still corked rolled into the clearings bonfire. It scattered hot ash and embers.
Burning alcohol spilled around while in the bonfire, the brew began to boil in its barrel.
A bolt whistled out of the rising smoke to clip me alongside the earlobe.
I scrambled. Whatever was in these barrels, it was strong. Strong alcohol doesn't boil long.
A plume of flame blossomed outwards, splashing everyone with scalding liquid which ignited on contact with the burning ash that now fell steadily downwards. It had been thrown upwards with the ignition of the barrel's contents.
Crouching down, I remained still; hidden by the smoke which had begun to fill the clearing once the spreading flame had reached greenwood. My ears were ringing from the blast, eye's streaming from the smoke and sinuses stinging from the same. Well, so much for not hurting completely all over.
I really need to go into a new line of work. Being a lone ranger isn't working out.
A few half-hearted attempts were being made to beat back the flames, but there were few men who hadn't been burned and who weren't quickly exhausted by piling earth on burning wood. What little fresh water the camp had wasn't enough to douse the flames; the drink of choice was on tap, not only tasting better than what came out of a slow moving creek or limpid pool but being marginally less likely to make you violently ill.
I was going to make my getaway when a hand grabbed my shoulder. I flinched, about to counter attack when I heard a whisper. Bandits didn't need to whisper. I looked up, and saw that I had been crouching right next to the cage where the female captives had been kept locked up. Presumably, my pragmatic side observed, for easy access.
Why does someone evil have a pragmatic side? To counterbalance my wonderful and sunny nature, now stop being nosy or go suck a piece of brimstone.
At the present I busied myself with the task of extricating the prisoners from their cage without the people in the camp noticing. I couldn't leave them, they'd raise up such a fuss I'd get recaptured and knocked off without the chance for single combat this time.
I tried the padlock it was thick and probably had less tumblers than a one man travelling show.
However I had no picks. I knew it even before I patted the side of my boot.
"Have mine." Someone said behind me, slipping a velvet roll into my searching hand.
"Thanks.... Oh . Am I allowed to turn around or will you execute me now?"
"I'm not going to kill you. I'm may be a rouge, but that's just a job description. Your signal fire was pretty easy to spot; even for malitherius for all that he wear's those idiotic enamel spectacles." I realised that the voice behind me, in addition to being in a perfect position to perforate both my lungs and leave me for dead, was in fact soft, low and pleasantly female.
"I guess I'll just get busy with the lock then... Actually, you do it, I haven't needed to open a door I didn't have a key for.... for a long long time." I stepped sideways and back, handing over the picks to the woman. I didn't get a good look at her then, being more concerned about making sure that no one sneaked up through the slowly clearing haze to skewer us both. I could hear yelling now, emerging from the side of the clearing that was still smoky and filled with burnt banditoes.
There was a click from behind me, and the sound of some hinges that hadn't even heard of the concept of lubrication. Or if they had it was only through whispered campfire stories about the mythical and elusive supernatural being known as hinge-oil.
I half turned and began to cough. The breeze that was running through the camp had been blowing away the smoke, but it had changed direction abruptly. Remembering the hood tucked into the nape of my neck, I pulled the covering up and over my face before addressing the person who had just made short work of the bandits primitive padlock. She was ushering the prisoners out of the cage, directing them to move, if they could, back to the road and away from the danger of stray bolts. Glowing figures flashed briefly across my vision. I blinked. Was I seeing thing's or....
Turning round, she walked straight into me. I over-balanced and she stumbled back.
I was about to make an acidic comment about looking where she was going, when I realised that she was looking round with a mixture of puzzlement and confusion on her face.
I pulled up the hood to speak. "Down here. You walked into me."
She looked down. "Oh. Right. Didn't see you there..." She frowned. "Are you a mage?"
"No, not as such." I smiled weakly "If I could do magic, would I be here?"
She grinned toothily. "I take your point. So, what happened-" Background screaming. Disconcertingly close. "-Here."
I thought for a moment, trying to come up with a convincing cover story.
"Well. Do you want the believable or unedited version?" "Unedited."
I sketeched out the circumstances leading to my capture, excluding the loss of my dark robes.
"They believed you were a wandering accountant." "Yes." "On a pink horse."
"I will one day locate and do unto the man who dyed it while I wasn't looking."
"Then you sprayed pigswill mead on the man in charge." "In a nutshell, yes."
"So he threw you over the fire, dislocating your shoulder and giving you the opportunity to ask for single combat." "In essence"
"So during the fight, you relocate your shoulder, disarm him and kill him when he breaks the rules and picks up a claymore, despite him being... what, seven foot two?"
"The corpse should still be there... Of course I have been having difficulties with my lifestyle lately. I could very well be insane."
"Moving on, you dived behind their stores of alcohol, rolled them down and set them on fire; providing you with a distraction to free the people in the cage."
"You could put it that way."
"Would you like to join up with us? You seem like a pretty good person to have around." She spoke with a light-hearted inflection now.
I considered it. I think that recently, I decided I needed a new line of work.
"I'll think about it. To be perfectly honest, I don't know where I'm going or what I'm doing anymore.... I'm surprised you believe me. About the whole killing the chieftain and all." She was about to respond when a yell came in loud and clear from nearby.
"Hah, Havat thee!" the sound of metal on meat filled the air. Curious, I followed the woman over to investigate.
A man in full plate-mail dressing was hacking at the chieftains corpse. "Hah! You've come just in time. I just bested this beast of a man, when he tripped me up and attempted to- What are you doing Cecilia?"
She knelt by the body and examined the next. "You didn't kill him. He was already dead."
"What! Do you dare question my integrity?" "Give up the show. All the hostages have left. I know you only wanted the bounty."
The man slumped visibly.
"Who actually killed him then?" "The fellow behind me. he stabbed him through the neck with a rapier. The wound is still there and unlike you, he didn't have any other chance to attack this man than before we arrived. Thus, he killed him and gets the bounty."
"Who are you talking about?" He asked, puzzled.
She reached back and grabbed my shoulder "This guy Garth! Are you blind?"
He blinked. "Apparently. Ah, well. Who is this noble personage that killed the bandit king?"
"I'm not noble. Just happened to be here at the time. Secondly, he was more a boss than a king. A big boss , yes. But a boss. Hence the lack of a shiny hat."
"It could have been taken by a fleeing lackey! So that he might be able to gain supremacy in another region of the land. With its intense magical-" "-Shiny-ness? Give it up. We'll go back to the nearest villages with the noggin of this largish fellow and make them recognise the favour. The rest of them that got away from Garth can go hide and regroup." Cecilia commented dryly, unamused by the dramatics.
Sidney looked between them "I thought we were going to kill all of them? It seems like the prudent thing to do, capitalise on the attack and all."
Cecilia and Garth looked at me, Bemused and condescending.
"You haven't been doing this long have you? Always leave work for tomorrow. Next time we come here there'll be some new band of bandits ready and ripe to be looted. Right now all we need to do is gather up, split and pocket the proceeds before going to the village and declaring the camp destroyed. You kill everyone, then next time we won't be needed for anything more than wulves or maybe a Coppers'kin. They turn up from time to time around here; unlike bandits, they don't get you much in the way of bonus payments and the villagers expect you to bring back wulf meat to boot."
"Or rather, too mouth." "too right Garth." I looked at them both.
It was a surprising display of reasoning from a pair of people who obviously spent their time Bludgeoning 'baddies' over the back of the head for their daily bread.
A thought struck me.
"What... Qualifications do you guys have?"
Garth thumped his breastplate with a saucepan sounding clang. "Five years, four for the master's and one in graduate school. It's skilled labour and you had to take a humanity with it."
Cecilia looked at him quizzically "You never said anything about a humanity; you just told me you did a combined major in mythological pest control and commerce, marketing."
Garth shrugged, "I don't really use it often. I learned carpentry, lumber-jacking and horticulture. It came under 'woodwork DIY'. Most people did survival cookery or Damvrin language; but since one consisted of a list of condiments, mostly mustard and their applications I think I got the better end of the deal."
I was curious "I heard Damvis was a lovely place, nice climate, friendly people."
"Where've you been? The Dark December moved over there; practically everyone in the general populace was turned into jigger hive's." ".... When was this?"
"December. Hence. Dark December, don't you know about these things? It's been happening all over, each year an entire country get's infested and only a few make it out to tell other's that it's a no-go area until the crisis is over."
Suddenly I remembered the last postgraduate bulletin I'd received. Summer seminars had never really been my thing, so I hadn't actually kept tabs on what my fellow evil overlord's had been festering.
Perhaps I should have.
"Assume I've been settled and haven't heard the news for the last four years or so."
"Well, Jiggers seem to use human bodies as hives, they burrow breed and multiply until you're nothing but a shell of flesh. Parasites. Kilev's Ruling Archon Doimages got contracted to stop the first one. The rub was that the solution they found only worked on January first. They turned time in the area back. The fact only countries are affected makes it easier. Problem is, no one knows where jiggers come from. So they keep cropping up. And with them, dense black clouds tend to form. Hence why it's a dark summer or December."
The sound's of battle continued nearby. "Maltherious and Alarick should be back soon; having a proper mage around make's thing's easier."
"Shall we help?" "Do let's."
I'd found a new job, at least for the time being.
I think I'll give being a hero a try.
Want more of this? Ask and I'll write the rest.
Or just check my profile. It has stuff in it. Although I can hear the electronic tumbleweeds rolling by due to lack of visitors.