The war was over. The battle had ended, the war won and the Mage of Shadows defeated. The Three Kings had found their ancient enchanted weapons and had brought ruin to the myriad schemes the vile sorcerer had wrought upon the world. Those thralls not killed had felt the shadow lift from their minds and were themselves once more.
Of course, there were still the Shadow Guards to deal with. Those people that had flocked to the Mage of Shadows' banner by choice, fools that they were. But they were only in the hundreds, now, and would be easily dealt with by the Kings' Companions. The bulk of the Shadow Mage's forces were now either dead or free of his malefic madness.
Breena shielded her eyes as she looked towards the hill on which the Three Kings were giving their, no doubt, rousing victory speech. It was probably quite spine-tingling, but she had no care to hear it. Nor did she care for the night of celebration that was likely to follow. She had no stomach for it.
Instead, here she was, picking her way through the killing field. Stepping, with cautious, reverent movements between the bodies of the dead. Dead as far as the eye could see. Humans, Kannai, Dragon-Kin, Fae and Driadin. People of all the races had fought on the side of Rürazar, the Mage of Shadows (not that they had had a choice), but it was humans, for the most part, that had fought on the side of the Kings.
Oh, there were the odd few from the other races, but it had been a 'human war'. Meaning the other races thought if they had kept their heads down, the Shadow Mage would have left them be. He wouldn't have, of course.
"Breena!" Haavo, was one of those few of the other races. One of the dog-like Kannai brought up in the city of Orususk, Haavo's voice was deep for such a small man and his attempt at a hissed whisper carried louder than he wanted. "If the Kings' Companions see us they'll think we're looting and you know what they do to looters."
"I'm not looting. I'm looking for something. Someone." Breena pointed around them at various other people that were also moving through the bodies on the field. "Besides, we're not the only ones here."
"That's not the point and you know it." Haavo looked at the bodies around them and grimaced, sad and guilt-ridden. "We should leave them be, now the poor souls have found release. Who are you looking for, anyway?"
But Breena ignored him. She had found who she was looking for. There, right where she had left him was the young Dragon-Kin that she had killed. Little more than a fledgling. His scaly skin greying in the sun.
Breena squatted beside him, a great sadness filling her chest to bursting. So young. She had seen the fear in his eyes even as he had swung his sword with unnatural strength, slicing her cheek. She touched the scar. It should have been completely healed, but the healers had become overworked and tired throughout and after the battle.
There would be no healer for the Dragon-Kin boy, though. No coming back from the dead for him or any of thousands that had perished that day. But, yes, Haavo was right. They had found release from their enforced servitude. The shadows had left their souls upon the death of Rürazar, but they were still dead. Such a waste.
The boy's hand was clutching at something stuffed in his armour. Some kind of paper, folded tight and with scratchy writing scribbled upon it. Breena looked around until she saw what, who, she needed.
"Sergeant!" A squat, thick-set man, of indeterminate age, looked around at her shout. "Permission to remove something from this body, sir? It's not loot. I think it's a letter."
"Girl, I don't give a shit." The sergeant kept walking, stepping on bodies if that's where his feet landed. "War's over and I'm going home. Do what you like for all I care."
"Patrons preserve us." Haavo muttered under his breath, "The man has no sense of decency. Have you finished now? Can we go? Walking among the dead, it's just not right."
Breena, gentle, moved the boy's clawed hand aside and with care removed the letter. Then, as gentle, returned the boy's hand to his chest. She took one last, lingering look at the boy she had killed, one of the many that had felt the bite of her sword that day, before standing up and stuffing the letter under her breastplate, tucking it into the jack underneath.
"Aye, I'm finished." Breena heard the sigh of relief from her Kannai friend. "Let's go find Indri and Chisi. I've had enough of death for one day."
ii. Indri of Camerton.
Things were moving fast in the camp. With the war over, the Three Kings (or, most likely, they're stewards) were eager to demobilise the army and send them home as soon as possible. Not due to any sense of sympathy for their circumstances or a sense of well-earned rest, but because they didn't want to pay the army anymore than they needed to.
The Kings'man at the desk, flanked by a scribe and an accountant, acted like a well-oiled machine at this point. Hundreds had already passed through the process and thousands more were still to go through that same process.
Indri shuffled forward as the next in line moved up. At least she had managed to be among the first few hundred. She wouldn't want to be stood in the back of these lines. She only wished she'd managed to drag Chisi along, but Chisi was Chisi and she was apt to wander around in her own little world. Patrons damn that girl!
"Mages to the left, warriors to the right." The Kings'man repeated himself to the next in line, "Leave your armour, weapons and wands at the first tent, pick up your wages at the second tent. Next! Name?"
"Indri of Camerton." She watched as the scribe checked from his list, a large stack of papers.
"Indri of Camerton. Full service. Honours. Full entitlement." The scribe didn't even look up.
On the other side of the Kings'man, the accountant scribbled numbers on to his sheet of papers, then scribbled again on another sheet of paper before thrusting it towards Indri. Again, without even looking at her. It felt anti-climactic.
"Mages to the left, warriors to the right." The Kings'man shooed her away, "Leave your armour, weapons and wands at the first tent, pick up your wages at the second tent. Next! Name?"
Indri felt herself shoved out of the way by the next in line and she followed the momentum, turning to the right and starting to unbuckle her armour as she moved. She wouldn't miss the armour. It was poor quality and had never quite fitted well enough. She always swore that it skewed to the left. The sword, though, she would miss. Even though it's quality was as poor as the armour, she had become used to it. It had seen her through the entire three years of the war and always took well to sharpening.
She dropped off her armour and sword at the first tent, giving a little sigh as she released the blade for the last time. At the second tent, the paper she had received disappeared from her hand, grabbed by yet another accountant and, within seconds, a pouch of money landed on the table before her.
It was a hefty pouch. Satisfying in its heaviness, but she didn't count it. There was no point. She had earned what she had earned and it would be enough or it wouldn't. Either way, there'd be no arguing about it.
She followed the others leaving the area, circling around behind the tents. There she saw yet another Kings'man. This time taking the job of merchant trying to sell them the weapons and armour they had had taken from them. Many more than happy taking advantage of the offer.
Indri laughed aloud and stuffed the money pouch deep into the inside of her jack. Well, they had to pay for the war somehow.
iii. Chisi of Camerton.
She thought that lavender was the most comforting of smells, so that was the smell that wafted with her as she moved through the hospital tent. Some people thought roses had the best scent, but those people were wrong and she felt sad for them.
Chisi felt sad for many people. She was that kind of person. Giving. Friendly to a fault. As kind as the most kind person ever and then with extra added kindness. Everything and everyone was beautiful to Chisi. Everything and everyone was fascinating and precious. People were always asking how someone like her, that cared so very much about everybody, could possibly stomach involvement in a war, but those people could never understand her. She had involved herself in the war because she cared so much.
Right now, when she could be signing out of the army and heading home with her sister, Indri, she was here tending to the wounded. As a Forest Mage, her healing arts were stronger than most others. Admittedly, a Forest Mage's healing took some getting used to, what with mosses and mushrooms growing on the injuries until the healing finished, but it got the job done.
Many people could not get used to that kind of healing and usually made polite refusals of her help, but many, many more had come to appreciate the power of a Forest Mage's skills. Few weren't so polite in their refusals and Chisi would feel so very sad that they were so angry.
"Get your bloody wood hands away from me, Fae!" The soldier with the long gash in his leg slapped her hands away before they had even got close to him. If the wound wasn't closed soon, he would die. "Filthy bark skin! I'll not be letting something like you touch me!"
"But you'll die, Friend." Chisi didn't make any sudden moves, but she didn't move away, either. "Please let me help you."
Chisi had rarely seen anger like it. The man was furious that she was trying to help and she could not understand why he was angry. She considered channeling the healing anyway, despite his protestations, but he had risen from the cot he had laid upon, causing his leg to bleed even more.
"Then I'll die before have Fae scum infect me with their foul magic!" His eyes were bulging in his fury. His fists clenched and raised.
"You touch that girl, comrade, and I'll see to it you live, but you'll never feel a damned thing for the rest of your life." Chisi knew that voice. That calm, but commanding voice. She turned to see her friend, Breena, and clapped her hands in delight.
"Yeah?" The man spat at Breena's feet. "And you Eassfolk can bugger off too! You, the dogs, the bark skins, the lizards and the stone skins. All of ya. The war's over and you're not welcome here anymore!"
Chisi had never seen Breena display her anger often, only a succession of expressions that Chisi liked to call 'Frowny-faces'. This was Frowny-face number eight. She had only seen it once before and that hadn't ended well for anybody.
"Breena, it's alright." She stepped in front of the tall Eass woman, her head not even reaching the height of Breena's chin. "Please don't."
"Breena? Breena Silverhair?" The man, almost as tall as Breena blanched and stepped back. He looked around to see if any of his fellow Hathbadi humans were backing him up, but everybody seemed to find anything but him fascinating at that moment. The floor, the roof of the tent, their own hands had their attention more than what was occurring before them. "Aye. Well. No harm done, I say. Just a misunderstanding is all. I'd just like another healer, if it be pleasing you, miss."
Chisi remained in front of Breena as the Eass woman continued to stare at the man. Forcing him, by will alone, to continue backing away until he was sat back on his cot. She continued to stare even as a Hathbadi healer appeared, in a hurry, to attend to the man's wound.
"Come on, Chisi." Breena put a protective arm around the little Fae's shoulders, "Let's get signed out of this army and find your sister. You'd like that?"
"Oh, yes!" Chisi looked up at Breena, smiling as if nothing had happened, "Do you think I'll get to keep my wand? It's a very nice wand."
Breena didn't answer as she led Chisi out of the tent to join up with Haavo waiting outside, but her eyes never left the cowed Hathbadi man until he was out of sight. Only then did Frowny-face number eight disappear and that wonderful smile Chisi loved so much took its place.
"I don't know, my lovely." Breena answered after a short while, ruffling Chisi's hair and causing Chisi to giggle, "But if they don't, we'll buy you a new one. How would you like a hawthorn wand with your name carved into it?"
"Oh, I would! With tassels!"
iv. Haavo Estissi.
The Long Bear was the first tavern that they could reach from where the battle had taken place. Once, while the war had been ongoing, you could hardly find a place to stand, let alone sit, but now the place was only half-full as the army had soon disbanded and most of the former soldiers had already begun their trips home.
It was, most like, going to be the last time that the usual suspects would ever be together and they were making the most of it. Brigin and Soldir, the two Hathbadi lovers, Araman the Southern Driadin, Temoor the Larissan human from the western coast of the Inland Sea and, of course, Indri, Chisi and Haavo himself. All but Breena were loud, drinking themselves into oblivion.
Breena sat alone, her long legs taking up the entire length of the pew near the roasting hot fire, reading the letter she had found on the Dragon-Kin. She sucked on her pipe and allowed the smoke to seep from the sides of her mouth as she read the letter over and over, taking an occasional swig from the bottle of rum she had to herself.
"It's true, I tell you! That's why she has short hair now." Brigin shouted at them even though they were well within earshot, his finger tapping the table as he talked. "They couldn't find the Golden Sword, so she took her fine golden hair and forged a new sword from her tresses."
"Utter hogwash!" Haavo laughed and swilled down his pint of ale, waving the empty mug in the air towards Garith the tavern keeper, "That's not what happened at all."
"Aye, and what would you know, mutt?" It was a friendly insult between long-standing companions. If it had been anyone other than those at this table that had said that, Breena would have had their balls before they'd finished saying it.
"I was there! Breena and me. Ain't that right, Breena?" Haavo looked over at Breena, She looked up from the letter and nodded, "King Eissi came to inspect our observation post and, wouldn't you know it, we gets attacked by a bunch of Shadowed and Shadow Guards. Well, King Eissi slices and dices everyone in front of her until she gets knocked into a horse and, somehow, got her hair caught in some straps. Quick as you like, she swings her sword, lopping off her hair and carries on fighting. Like it was the most natural thing ever."
"Never!" Soldir slapped the table and then, seeing his lover's muted face, slapped Brigin's bald head. "She's a one, that King Eissi! What then?"
"Well, the horse runs off, King Eissi's golden locks flowing from the straps and Breena here only goes and ..."
"Haavo!" Breena had taken the pipe from her mouth, sat up and shook her head, frowning. She didn't have to say anything else. Haavo knew she didn't like talking about it, but the beer had taken hold of his mouth. Chisi, of course, didn't care.
"Oh! Oh! Breena received a Kings' Commendation!" She bounced from her chair and knelt at Breena's side, "Can I show them, Breena? Please?"
Chisi was, perhaps, the only person in the world, even among their tight-knit group of friends, that could get away with anything with Breena. It was rare that Breena refused the little bark-skinned Fae and, after frowning a little, she relented.
"Go on then, flower." Breena pointed with the lip of her pipe, "It's in the bag."
Chisi clapped that adorable, giddy clap of hers, jumping up from her knees and rushing to the end of the pew and Breena's bag. It took some rummaging, but, eventually, Chisi pulled out what looked like a lump of rags.
Returning to the table, Chisi laid the rags down and start unfolding them, slow and careful. Reverent, almost. There, on the table, was the most beautiful sword any of them had ever seen. Made from the finest Skareeshi steel, shining bright in the flickering light of the fire and the tavern's candles. The blade looked almost like silver, with thin waves of fine, noticeable black along its length. The hilt was fine turned with intricate engravings upon it. The grip had the softest white Fereer leather wrapped around it and the pommel was a pyramid with a crown engraved on each side.
"By the bloody Patrons, that's a nice sword!" Indri, drinking in silence (as she did) for most of the night, almost drooled over the weapon. As did most of the others.
"It isn't enchanted, is it? I can enchant it for you." Chisi looked over her shoulder at Breena who only shook her head, "I could make it sing like a sparrow, or make it smell of lavender. Breena likes lavender, like I do. All I need is a flower, some Bealias Oil, which I have, and a focusing crystal. But mine broke."
Haavo had no doubt that Chisi could enchant the sword, the beautiful, beautiful sword, but was sure Breena wouldn't want her to. Chisi was a deceptively powerful mage, even without a wand, when she put her mind to it. And, when she decided to do something, few could change her mind. That said, Haavo thought he should try.
"I really don't think that ..."
"I know someone who has a focusing crystal! I don't think they've left yet, either. I'll be right back." And she was away, pushing past people as she rushed from the tavern before anyone, not Haavo or even Indri could stop her. Chisi was Chisi.
"Right!" Breena stood up, folding the letter and returning it into her jack. She picked up her bottle of rum and pointed at the sword with her pipe, "Put that thing away for me, Haavo, please. I'm going to find me some young nubile bodies, take them to bed and destroy any chance they have of satisfying sex for the rest of their lives."
"The usual, then?" Haavo had to chuckle.
Breena took a swig of her rum and began walking through the crowd, her eyes searching for her prey and everyone around the table smirked. Breena always used sex to take her mind off things and they all envied, and somewhat pitied, the people who were about to receive her attention.