Strahl awoke to find that few of the other mercenaries were awake. He was shown the washroom, and got himself ready for the mission later that day. Walking outside, he went to the practice field and unsheathed his sword, practicing while he waited for the sun to rise. As he did, he thought of how he always used to practice with his father. Cursing the thought of the bandits that destroyed his life, he swung with increasing fury. As his mind returned, he realized he had pretty much cleaved the training dummy in half. Seeing that the sun was over the horizon, he decided to return to the barracks.
Returning to the barracks, Strahl was annoyed to see Garth was the only mercenary still asleep. One of the rougher looking mercenaries came over to Strahl, saying "Looks like your brother doesn't have much discipline. We'll need to do something about that..." Strolling over to Garth's bed. He grabbed Garth by the shoulder and shook him. Garth made a pronounced yawn, and attempted to grab the man's arm.
"Just five more min-" he began, but the mercenary grabbed him by the hair and threw him to the ground.
"You shut up and get ready for the day, before I paint these walls with your blood idiot." He shouted.
Garth stood upright, putting a hand to his mouth. "Blood? Are you in-" He started again, but was silenced by a punch to the stomach.
"You WON'T talk back to a superior mercenary, and you'll do as I said and get yourself cleaned up!" The mercenary shouted again, violently kicking out at Garth, forcing him to crawl in the direction of the washroom. As the mercenary laughed and kicked Garth, he suddenly found a fist planted in his jaw. Falling to the ground, blood spilling from his lip, the mercenary looked up to see Strahl standing over him.
"You ever try to injure my brother again, you'll find yourself dead. Are we clear?" Strahl growled.
The mercenary stood back up, unbelting his axe from his back. "Let's test that theory now. No need to wait to kill an uppity pup." The mercenary spat.
The mercenary swung at Strahl before Strahl had even unsheathed his sword. Strahl jumped to the side, but wasn't quick enough to avoid the axe completely. The axe hit him in the side of the leg, maiming the leg completely. Falling heavily to the ground, Strahl unsheathed his sword, taking a defensive sitting stance. The mercenary brought his axe back to swing again. Strahl knew he couldn't defend against a full power swing from the large axe, and he had no chance of running. As the mercenary tried to swing the axe, he found it held from behind. Turning quickly, he lashed out with his fist saying "Whichever of you idiots stopped me is next!" His fist was stopped before it reached the person holding the axe. The mercenary seemed to shrink as he stared into the eyes of Urvan, holding both his axe and his fist.
"Really, I'm the one who's going to feel your axe next?" Urvan mused. He let go of both the mercenary's axe and fist. Drawing the two-handed greatsword that was strapped to his back, Urvan let out a deep laugh. "Come on then! I love a fight."
Garth had healed Strahl's leg by now, exhausting himself. Strahl helped him up, and watched the new encounter. The mercenary with the axe dropped his weapon and fell to his knees. "N..n...no, boss. I...I didn't mean you. I just...I thought" he stammered dumbly as Urvan glared at him.
Urvan spat at him. "You seemed pretty ready to swing at a man with no weapon drawn; fortunately for you I'm more honorable than that. Pick up that axe, or I'll let the rest of the company go for you, with a large reward on your head." The mercenary began to whine as he picked his axe back up. Urvan pointed to the door. "I hate being cramped in a fight. Let's take this outside, more room." The mercenary was shoved outside by the rest of the company, as Urvan strode out with his sword on his shoulder. He inhaled deeply. "I love that smell, the way the grass smells in the morning. Don't you agree?" He asked, looking to the axeman.
He nodded glumly, and then suddenly looked up defiantly. "I'll kill you here Urvan. I'll take this company as my own; any who don't join me will be killed. We'll be the strongest group of bandits this world's ever seen."
Urvan looked undaunted. "You seemed pretty pitiful before, almost in tears. What's all this about?" He asked.
The mercenary raised his axe. "I decided I'd rather take over this company by force than continue playing this stupid good mercenary game and killing you in your sleep." He answered.
Urvan held his sword out in front of him. "You're either delusional, or plain insane if you think you'll beat me." Urvan said in a dead serious tone.
They stared at each other for a few seconds, when the axeman rushed Urvan. Urvan just stood there watching him. The axeman jumped into the air, bringing the axe down as hard as he could, shouting, "I'll finish it with one blow if you're just gonna stand there!" As the axe came down, Urvan brought the sword up with far more speed and ease than he looked capable of. The blade of his sword connected with the axe head, stopping it dead. The axeman winced as his axe shook with the power of the blow, and fell to the ground dazed.
Urvan kicked the mercenary in the face, re-adopting his ready stance. "You want me to end this now? Or would you like to try again?" He asked. The mercenary stood back up, running at Urvan again. He tried to hit with a sweeping strike of his axe, but Urvan easily ducked the blow and slammed the hilt of his sword into the mercenary's stomach. As he stumbled backward, gasping for air, Urvan swung at his axe with full force. The axe flew from the mercenary's hand and landed a few yards away. Urvan brought his sword down on the back of the mercenary's leg, wounding it in much the same way Strahl's had been. "We're done." He pronounced, strapping his sword on his back once again.
Strahl and Garth were both in awe of Urvan's amazing swordsmanship. Running up to him, Garth assailed him with questions. "That was amazing! How can you move so fast with such a huge sword? Why didn't you kill him? How can you be so strong and fast, but look so average?"
Urvan laughed, and turned to Garth. "That beating didn't take much out of you did it? To answer your questions, I've trained with greatswords my entire life. My skill is second to none. I didn't kill him because he's learned; he's nothing more than a crippled example now. As for the last question, I'm not sure myself. I've always been stronger and faster than almost all my peers. Not by much, but noticeably. I train four hours every day, but that doesn't constitute for all of it. There's a rumor going around the camp that I've got elven blood in me. Pah."
Garth nodded as Urvan told him all this. "In all seriousness, thank you Urvan. I don't know why that guy flipped out and started hitting me, but I'm glad you stepped in to save Strahl from the mistake I made."
Urvan nodded. "He's always been...off, but I never suspected he'd snap in such a way. I apologize, but he was easily the worst among this company. Now, if you don't mind, I've much to do and you have a mission to prepare for. He was supposed to be on your team, but I guess now I'll have to send someone else..."
Strahl and Garth said goodbye to Urvan, and turned back towards the washroom. "You didn't have to step in Strahl, any second there I was gonna encase his head in a block of ice." Garth said.
Strahl laughed. "After he kicked your stomach out through your mouth. You should have seen you, almost crying."
"Ah, I was just putting him in a false sense of security. I was about to spring, honest." Garth assured him. They both laughed at Garth's obvious lie. "Alright, I'll go get ready for the mission then. Meet you in the mess hall for breakfast." Garth said, and ran off towards the washroom.
Strahl walked towards the mess hall, and thought about the morning's events. As he did Urvan walked past again. "Strahl, that help I gave, it wasn't free. I want to test your skills. Right now." He said, drawing his sword. "I'm not going to injure you; I just want to see what you're capable of first hand. Don't hold back, I'm confident I can take it." Strahl drew his sword, and smiled. "You just may be surprised." With that, Strahl leapt at Urvan.
As Strahl had expected, Urvan countered with a swipe of his sword, sending Strahl to the ground. As Strahl hit the ground, he fell to his hands and kicked out at Urvan's leg. The simplicity of Strahl's initial attack had left Urvan underestimating him, and unprepared for such a maneuver. Urvan awkwardly jumped over Strahl's attack, and was met by a hilt to the chest. Urvan stumbled backward, smiling. "Very clever, but I won't underestimate you again." He declared, resuming his ready stance. Strahl grasped his sword with both hands, feinting low and swinging for Urvan's torso. Urvan leapt onto Strahl's back, leaving Strahl utterly dumbfounded. Urvan then dropped to the ground behind Strahl, and gave him a kick that sent him sprawling. Strahl rolled back to his feet, lashing out at Urvan's shins. Urvan jumped again, as Strahl had expected. Strahl brought his sword directly up, trying to hit Urvan as he jumped. Urvan spun in the air, swatting Strahl's sword to the side as he did. Completely caught off guard by such acrobatics, Strahl was disarmed.
Urvan waited for Strahl to retrieve his weapon. "Not bad, you certainly know how to use that sword. With more work, you'll become a truly formidable opponent. Now, I've seen how strong your blows are, I've seen your attack strategies. I now intend to see how well you can defend. Prepare yourself..." Strahl got into a defensive stance, intent on forcing Urvan back this time. Preparing himself for what he considered anything, Strahl waited. Urvan just calmly stared at him. Just as Strahl began to wonder if he was supposed to make the first move, Urvan dashed forward and swept his sword in a huge arc. Strahl jumped back, not even bothering trying to block the massive sword. Urvan flowed from his strike into a string of blows, never stopping. Strahl leapt and ducked, rolled, and dived. Whatever Urvan threw at Strahl, Strahl avoided. There were a few close calls, and Strahl ended up with his coat slashed, but Strahl never lost his focus. Urvan stopped swinging, putting his sword on his shoulder. "Well done. I trust you'll find your way quickly up the ranks. I may even train you myself once you get back."
Strahl laughed. "No, I'll best you right now. I've been observing your movements. I think I get it now."
"If you think you can, one last go." Urvan challenged, putting his sword back in front of him.
Strahl ran forward, going for Urvan's feet again. Urvan leapt the blow, bringing his sword down for a swing of his own. Strahl rolled out of the way, and swung up for Urvan as he was landing. Urvan countered by jumping into the air and doing the spinning slash again to try to disarm Strahl. Ready for it this time, but still unable to get his sword out of the way because of Urvan's unreal speed, Strahl simply let his sword go. Without the expected resistance of Strahl's arm, Urvan completely overpowered his swing. Strahl's blade went clattering off into the distance, and Urvan spun wildly faster than he wanted to. While Urvan was trying to recover, Strahl went back with all his might, and brought his clasped hands down on Urvan's head in an axe swinging motion, knocking him to the ground.
Marveling at what he'd just done, Strahl knelt beside Urvan. Urvan sat up, holding his head. "That...that was brilliant. Granted it only worked because of my careless showmanship, but you effectively used my weakness against me. I have to take back everything I said; you are already a skilled tactician. You just need to work on power and speed. Consider yourself my equal." He said, a hint of annoyance in his voice. "I must work on my showmanship, it gets you killed. Thank you Strahl." He said as he walked away, muttering to himself.
Garth walked up to Strahl, awe plain on his face. "I only saw the end, but that was amazing. How did you... Anyway, I'm starved. Let's eat." Strahl nodded, sheathing his sword, he followed Garth into the mess hall. The two brothers ate in silence, Strahl occasionally acknowledging the compliments of someone who'd seen the match with Urvan.
After the meal, Strahl and Garth met with the rest of their squad. Nolan was there, as well as two other mercenaries they didn't know. One of them introduced himself as Yaird, when Garth pressed him for further information, he simply said "I'm not from around here..." and nothing more.
The other mercenary was quite a bit more open. "The name's Dekk. Dekk Alloway. I'm Urvan's younger brother. I favor the more...dexterous side of life." He said amiably.
"So, you're a thief?" Strahl said flatly.
"Now, I don't like that word. I'm not some common thug. I'd call myself...a liberator of pricey trinkets." He countered.
"So just a longer word for thief..." Strahl muttered.
"BESIDES the liberating, I'm also quite skilled in the information gathering field. Not a bad medic either, though not near as good as Mr. Magic over here I guess." Dekk responded dejectedly.
Strahl sighed. Though Strahl found Dekk annoying, Garth found him immensely pleasurable to talk to. When they had all prepared thoroughly, they left the encampment, figuring they could make the town of Thistle before nightfall. Garth and Dekk chattered incessantly about the plight of rodents in the plains. After listening to them for the better portion of 2 hours, Strahl started discussing what they would do in the event of an ambush and other such strategies.
As the sun began to set, Strahl and Nolan decided it would be best to camp outside of Thistle for the night, seeing as bandits were in the area, they didn't want to risk being caught unaware in the dark. Garth and Dekk were openly opposed to this, and argued until Strahl threatened quite seriously to use Dekk as a club to beat Garth with. Dekk declared himself in charge of dinner at the least, since he had the most knowledge of herbs and spices he could use. Strahl and Nolan agreed, Yaird didn't say anything as usual, and Garth offered excitedly to help.
Yaird, who had been sharpening his knife, stood up saying "I'll collect wood for a fire." He then immediately headed towards a small thicket to the south.
Nolan and Strahl offered to go fill the canteens, and headed towards a stream that wasn't too far west. Yaird was the first to return, setting down the fire wood he stared off in the distance toward the town of Thistle. "It's quiet. I don't like it." He said.
"Oh come on, you're just being paranoid. Maybe they're all inside already." Garth said offhandedly. Yaird just grunted and began cleaning his axe he had belted to his side.
"Good talk..." Dekk chuckled, turning back to the fire he had started. "I think we'll have a stew tonight. What shall I put in it Garth?" He pondered.
"Oh, I was thinking of a way to make it, and our night, particularly exquisite." Garth responded.
"I think I'm going to like this night." Dekk said with a smile.
When Nolan and Strahl returned, they found the stew waiting for them. The sun had almost set by this point, casting an orange glow on the landscape. Garth and Dekk made a huge show of serving everyone, making wild boasts about their cooking talents. No one really cared, as they had all taken to ignoring the two, but they were all ready to admit that the stew was delicious. Garth and Dekk beamed as the rest of the group ate, reveling in the compliments. "You two aren't eating, why?" Yaird asked accusingly.
"Oh, we figured you guys had to do all the real work, so we figured we'd let you eat your fill, then we'd have the rest." Garth answered in a very motherly tone.
"Bull, what's in this Garth? I know you better than that." Strahl asked, glaring at Garth.
"I didn't put anything in it, Dekk was the cook, I just made some suggestions..." Garth responded dejectedly.
"I just made stew. Meat, potatoes, whatever vegetables I could find around. Nothing special. The herbs though, they're the coup de grace. A special blend, known to most all herbalists and practitioners of medicine. Has side effects though." Dekk said proudly.
"Side effects like what Dekk? Don't tell me, knock out herbs? It's not poison is it?" asked a very nervous sounding Nolan.
"No, I'd never do anything like that to you guys. It's just a simple laxative, Garth's idea, one I really enjoy." Dekk responded. The others stopped eating, and silence invaded the camp.
"Which one of us gets to kill which one?" Strahl asked.
"I'll take Dekk; I've been waiting to hurt him quite a while." Nolan responded.
"I wouldn't if I were you guys, Dekk put in just enough that the effects of the herbs would be apparent once we reached Thistle. You waste time beating on us; you don't make the town of Thistle before it kicks in. Wouldn't you like to...be humiliated in the comfort of an inn at least?" Garth asked quickly.
Before any response could be made, Yaird stood up and started walking toward Thistle, stating "I test my blade's sharpness on one of your tongues tonight. I'll let the two of you argue who gets to do it." Strahl got up and followed, Nolan not far behind. Garth and Dekk exchanged a look, and trotted along behind the group.
It was dark by the time they reached the town, and no house had any sort of light in it. The only building with any sort of light outside of it was the exact one they were looking for. "I knew this was a bad idea, this is obviously a trap. Be on your guard, bandits could be waiting anywhere." Strahl said in a low voice. They all drew their weapons, Yaird watching their back as they made their way towards the inn. Though they heard something moving a few times, they were never attacked, eventually reaching the door of the inn.
"White Oak Inn, huh? Sounds fancy." Garth joked.
"They must be waiting inside. Nolan, Yaird, see if there's a back entrance. Garth, you go to the opposite side of the inn from me. The west one. Dekk, you go through the front door on our signal. If this is a trap, this is where they want us to go, though why they would wait this long is beyond me." Strahl commanded, heading towards the east side of the inn, Nolan and Yaird following Garth.
"Alright, I'll just go through the front door then, straight into their ambush. Me, the non-large fellow, who fights with daggers. And isn't cut out for prolonged combat. No problem..." Dekk lamented as they left.
After a short time, Dekk heard a sharp whistle. He opened the front door quickly, hiding behind it in preparation for arrows or slings. When nothing happened, he peeked his head through the crack. It was almost pitch black inside, but he thought he saw one person behind the desk. He walked slowly in the door, paying attention to his surroundings. Indeed, there was what appeared to be a man standing behind the counter, though it was too dark to make out if he was the owner or a bandit waiting for him to get closer. "I'd be dead by now if he wanted to kill me I suppose." He thought as he walked in. Seeing no one around he spoke to the man behind the desk. "Hey pal, it's kinda dark in here. Can't see my hand in front of my face, or your face for that matter." He said, putting away his daggers. The man remained motionless, standing against the wall.
"Right, well, I'm just gonna go find a light." He said as he walked into another room. He met up with Stahl, and they called out to the others, who also couldn't see anything. Making their way into what they assumed to be a bar, Nolan tripped over someone lying on the floor. "Nolan, don't go tripping over drunks. Garth, give us some light so we can see here. Make your hands shiny or something." Dekk said casually.
"I've got a bad feeling these guys aren't asleep..." Garth said as he made a motion with his hand, which began burning lightly.
The glow of Garth's fire illuminated a grisly scene. The entire bar was filled with corpses, in different stages of mutilation. "By the Four... This isn't the work of bandits. These bodies still have all their belongings, and most look like they've been eaten." Nolan gasped.
"Speaking of eating, I suppose now isn't a good time to tell you we were lying about the laxatives..." Dekk said, sounding woozy. "The innkeeper! There was a man standing by the desk when I came in. He must be a bandit or...something else!" Dekk cried, drawing a dagger, he ran for the desk. Rounding the corner, Garth was still too far behind him for him to see the man clearly, but it was obvious he was still against the wall. "You've got guts to still be here, now die!" He cried, and threw his dagger at the man's throat. A slightly wet thok noise told him he hit his mark. Garth ran around the corner about then. Garth was almost sick on the spot. Pinned to the wall by his head with a very crude looking sword was the innkeeper, Dekk assumed, sporting Dekk's dagger in his throat as well now. His entire torso had been torn down the middle, allowing his internal organs to spill out upon the floor. "Oh, Havak...I uh...I guess you don't...have guts..." Dekk stammered, trying to keep his revulsion from showing.
Strahl and the others ran in about then. Strahl cursed loudly when he looked at the wall. "Yes, demonic runes...written in blood." Yaird said, seemingly unphased by the gore around them. Nolan gasped, begging the Four to save them.
"Enough Nolan, we need to secure this building. If there are demons about, we aren't safe. Garth, you and Yaird, guard this door. Anything tries to get in, make it think twice. Nolan and Dekk, you're with me. We're going to clear this place top to bottom. Once we've finished, we're all going to work to board things up. We'll come out in the morning, once we have light, return to camp and tell them that bandits weren't the cause of these disturbances." Strahl ordered.
"But...but we were supposed to..." Garth started.
"We aren't going to take out a roving band of demons by ourselves Garth. We need to report this to Urvan." Nolan responded, regaining some of his composure. The three left Garth and Yaird to guard the door, doing a thorough sweep of the inn. When they returned, they had encountered nothing, and work started immediately to board up windows and the stairs. Once it was done, Yaird was assigned to guard the main door, Garth and Strahl the bar with all its windows, Nolan the west side and Dekk the back door.
"It's going to be a long night..." Garth sighed, sitting down to watch his assigned portion of room.