Kyo

The Call of Kings

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Caspar. The City of Fortune. 

 

The streets were filled with a mixture of exotic scents, from Agrinian spices to roasted wild boar. The aromas blended well with the colourful environment. The buildings were constructed from sand and stone, and the streets were filled with stalls. Merchants and traders from all over the continent had flocked the this city. All of them in search of riches. Over the years it had become a multicultural hub. Despite being a settlement of man, Dwarves and Orcs were not an uncommon sight, nor even the Tryll who usually kept to themselves. 

 

However Caspar was unlike any other city in Rhaegal. In a sense it was free. While Lords were normally appointed by the King from noble bloodlines, Caspar was ran by the Merchant Guild, who has bought their place in the sun with coin, rather than inherit it. This attraction was often what brought foreigners here. In Caspar the laws were enforced by the merchants, and so in such a city a merchant was free. However, there were laws, and danger lurked with those who broke them. 

 

Men dressed in the green and red uniform of the Merchants Guard were moving through the busy streets at a brisk pace. Ahead of the men was their Captain, dressed in the same ornate uniform, complete with gold embroidery on the chest and back. Around his waist was a red sash, a scimitar fixed at either side of him. The dark haired man wore a red turban around his head and had a thick moustache. He looked irritable as she shoved his way through the crowds. 

 

"Finest sea salt from the Dwarven Crag!" a merchant yelled through the marketplace.

 

"Carpets! Rugs! We have them here! Twenty percent discount for today only!" another called. 

 

"Grain! Get your grain here! Finest in Caspar!" called a third. 

 

"Move!" The Captain snarled as he pushed past the grain merchant and ducked in to a narrow alleyway, his faithful guardsman following closely behind. As he moved further down the alleyway the scent of incense and hot oil became more prominent. Finally they found their way in to a back street building. The inside walls were decorated with intricate silks, with detailed cushions and pillows littered over the floor. There were a few men inside, enjoying the company of the beautiful woman who were fawning around them, stroking them gently and feeding them fresh fruit. After a moment a short and unimposing man came to the Captain and bowed. 

 

"Good Afternoon, Captain!" the man said mid bow. "Welcome to my humble establishment. Can I fetch you and your men anything to drink. Perhaps some company? My girls would be happy to sit with you."

 

"Be quiet." The Captain snapped sternly. "I am not here for pleasure. I am looking for a man. An Agrinian, have you seen him?"

 

"Many of our patrons come from Agrines, Captain." the owner replied.

"This one is a new arrival. Red of hair." The Captain responded irritably. "He is wanted for crimes against the city. They call him Krios Hakar." the Captain began to wander around the room, staring at the men, trying to find the one he sought. "Several men in the marketplace report him coming here."

 

"Well as you know our patrons are offered a certain level of...confidentiality. You understand, do you not?" the owner asked. 
"No I do not!" The Captain barked loudly. "This man has commited a crime against this city. He is a treacherous dog who has pissed all over what we hold dear! He has broken our tenets and so he must pay. Do you understand?"

"Y-yes, Captain but..."

 

As the discussion went on a man gently shushed the two giggling women who lay with him. They hid behind the silk curtains of an opposing room, the man was wearing only his trousers and his red hair was the length of his shoulders. A wry smirk crossed his face as he turned back to one of the women who was caressing his chest, particularly a large scar across his abdomen. 

"And how did you get this one?" She asked

"Ah yes, that one." The man replied in a hushed whisper. "One of my brothers did that to me when we had a fight. I had made him quite angry at the time."

 

"You have brothers?" The other girl asked. The man shook his head. 

"All men are my brothers." He responded simply. 

"And are we your sisters?" one of them asked. The man smirk and shook his head hesitantly. 

"I try not to think that way in situations like this..." he said before peeking back through the curtain. The Captain had finally had enough of the owner and had shoved him to the ground. His men were now searching through the private rooms. 

 

"What about this scar?" he heard behind him. 

"Another time I am afraid." the man said with a soft smile as he got up and began to dress himself, pulling on his crimson tunic, and the dark leather pauldrons over that. He reached to his side and pulled out a large bastard sword, and strapped it to his side. He reached into a pouch of gold coins he was carrying can put a few in the hands of the two women he had been lying with. "It's time for me to go. Now remember, no one was here."

 

"Of course." One of them replied. "Will you be back, Krios?"

"Probably not." he replied. "but rest assured I will think of you lovely ladies when I set off to distant lands. This moment will live on in my heart." he rolled his eyes as he said it. Both of them had giggled. Did women like that really believe such nonsense? Or perhaps they were just very good at staying in character. He waved them off as he pulled a curtain by the window out of his way and climbed up on to the sill. With one last look at his gorgeous companions he gave a wave, and crawled out of the window and on to the street. 

 

--- --- --- ---

 

Krios l gave himself a quick dusting off before striding forward through the streets and away from the guards who were searching for him. He was quite fortunate that the owner of that brothel had the good mind to hold his tongue. He had no idea what he had done to cause the guards to come for him, but he suspected it had something to do with the goods he was carrying. He had tried to be careful, but apparently not careful enough. Caspar was full of watchful, beady eyes. He would leave as soon as possible. But first he needed to meet the man he had travelled all of this way for. One of the few merchants with the coin the procure the goods he was carrying. 

 

He felt in the pouch he was carrying. He had spent the last of his coin in the brothel. What remained in the pouch were black scales, the scales of a dragon. While they were not dangerous by any means, it was forbidden to sell them. At least in Rhaegal it was. All dragon scales were to be donated to the King, to forge dragonsteel for his personal guard. However that had only meant that for those who would ignore the law would pay a pretty penny for such items. The man he had arranged to meet was near. A man called Faze. 

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Cloaked in a robe of dark blue with silver trim along the hood, the mysterious figure stalked the stalls of the market. Long, grey-black hair fell over a mask that obscured his face. It was white, shaped like a man's but relatively featureless save for a marking scratched over the left eye and filled with red ink so that it stood out. Slits had been carved for the eyes, nostrils and mouth, but this shared little of the man's features. His skin however was a greyish white, clear from his neck and hands, of which had black claws rather than nails, as did his feet which lay exposed underneath his dark blue robe. The two most striking features that could not be hidden by his mask, however, gave away the identity of his race, at least. A pair of black horns just above his mask stretched back, tightly over his head and a long prehensile tail at least the length of his six foot tall body, if not longer, swished behind him. He was a Tryll.

 

This strange, faceless observer, walked through the crowd with the sort of ease and happiness of a man who either has a lot, or knows a lot. He seemed uninterested in the wares of the merchants, however. Instead, he made his way through the busy street and at his first opportunity, turned into a back alley. The loud, vibrant nature of the city was lost here. It was far quieter, unsettling in the extreme, but he strode down the alley without a care in the world. A few eyes turned and followed him as he walked, keeping an eye on the newcomer, until at last he came before a solid wooden door at the end of the alley. He brought his hand up to the door and knocked on it three times.

A few moments passed in silence. The masked stranger turned to look over his shoulder and saw that several of the back-alley vagabonds had converged behind him, so that there was nowhere to run now. Without alarm, he faced the door and waited patiently. A minute later, a slot in the door opened and a pair of eyes stared at the masked man.
"You're late." The eyes grunted on the other side of the door, squinting at the mask as if trying to penetrate it.

"Am I?" The masked man replied, in a tone of surprise. His voice was light and pleasant, "I'm terribly sorry," He added, "You see, I had to make a few stops before seeing your master. Though I hold him in high esteem, it was to his benefit that I made these stops. If you would, I would greatly appreciate it if you opened the door, and allowed me my appointed visitation."
"You've got some flowery words." The guard grunted, as he opened the door. 

"I keep the best for special occasions." The masked man said with a chuckle, "After all, how else can I express myself but with an eloquent display of vocabulary." He said, running one hand over the solid white mask that covered his face.
"Yeah, well..." The guard opened the door further and stepped to one side, but even then he left little room. The guard was almost seven feet tall, and built with a great deal of what seemed like almost unnecessary muscle. His hair was long, black and matted into thick dreadlocks and he was dressed in black leather, "... i'll go get him."

"Very good." The masked man replied cheerily and looked around the room, taking in a deep breath to enjoy the scents of spice and oil. The room was pleasant enough, if a little barren of decoration. He noted a large - if a little plain - table, and took a seat. He brushed off a couple of hairs from his robe in a fastidious manner and then laid his arms on the top of the table, the flared sleeves of his robe spreading out as he laid them down. 
"You're late, Faze." A man called, as he entered the room, accompanied by his hulking giant. The man had short brown hair and was dressed in a fine robe, embroidered with gold and his large gut strained the fabric in the centre.

"So i'm told!" Faze, the masked man, replied, "But it couldn't be helped, i'm afraid, Torren."
"It's Lord Torren." The man corrected.
"Oh?" Faze sounded surprised, "They made you a Lord?"
"Yes." Torren's face cracked with a smile.
"I never realised the situation in Caspar was so desperate." Faze replied, with a hint of humour, yet his comment never-the-less ruffled the man's feathers. A few seconds of uncomfortable silence filled the barren room.

"So," Faze broke the silence, "Who's your friend?" He pointed to the guard.
"That is Romel, hired him a couple of years ago. It's important to have good security." Torren made a hand gesture and Romel clapped his hands. From the next room, two women walked in and served them each a metal goblet full of wine. Faze turned and looked at the two women, who were barely dressed. The most notable thing about them were the metal collars clasped tightly to their necks, so tight in fact that their skin had scarred from the rubbing. 
"They're quite lovely, y'know." Faze commented, pointing a claw at the slaves, "You're doing rather well for yourself, Lord."
"I get by. Now... enough small talk, Faze. You talk a lot, but you say very little. What have you brought me?!" Torren took a large gulp of his wine and watched as Faze brought the goblet to the lips of his mask and drained the goblet within a few seconds.

 

"Lovely, quite lovely." Faze made a sound as if he had licked his lips and then from his robe, he drew a large red gem. "I have several more, if you're interested, of course." He placed the gem on the table and leant back, enjoying the warmth of the wine in his stomach. His tail swished back and forth, hovering just a few inches above the ground.
"Yes..." Torren grunted, picking up the stone, "And I think i'll have the rest."
"What shall we say then, twelve hundred gold pieces for a dozen gems?" Faze opened his palms with a hug-like gesture, "You can't do much better than that, hmm? A price, for an old friend - and a Lord." He added, with a laugh.

"I think less." Torren replied, looking at the gem curiously, and then at Faze.
"Oh"? Faze bobbed his head, "I suppose, then... one thousand even. That is more than fair, don't you think?" But Torren remained silent. The message was clear. "Ah..." Faze sighed, "I see..." He looked down at the table, and tapped a claw off the wood as he thought. "So..."
"So..." Torren parroted.
"Very well then, Lord Torren. I'm sorry to say that our business has come to a close." Faze turned his attention to the slaves and sighed again, "Well, nevermind!" He laughed and stood up, making Romel immediately draw his sword in response.

 

"Calm down, Romel. I'm a humble merchant." He bowed to the giant, "However, Lord Torren, the problem with slaves is they don't get paid very much now, do they?" He laughed, "And, do you know, one of your slaves happens to know a little about poison. Poison of all things, would you believe it?!"
"What are you talking about, Faze?!" Torren barked, but then winced. He stood up and pointed at Faze and moved his lips, but his eyes were rolling about in his head. Then, he began to sway on the spot as the two slave girls took a step back and Romel stared in confusion at his master.
"Y-you poisoned him!!" Romel roared, as Torren fell to the floor.
"Me?!" Faze held a hand to his chest in mock disgust, "I would never do such a thing, what would I know about poison?!" 
Romel raised his sword over his head and charged the masked Tryll, bellowing a battle cry. But when he was just a few steps away from his target, something whipped across the ground faster than could be followed, and the giant lost his footing as he tripped on something that was no longer there. 

The mass of muscle flew forwards and his face connected with the corner of the table with a loud crunch and he joined his master in death. "Oh dear..." Faze tutted and walked around the side of the table, picking up the large red gem. "Poor, clumsy fellow." One of the slaves screamed at the sight of the blood pouring out across the floor, while the other remained frozen in shock. "Ladies, would you kindly alert the guards of the man that just broke his way into this establishment and assaulted these two fine gentlemen." As he spoke, he threw a small coin purse across the room to the slaves and it landed just in front of them. After a moment's hesitation, they picked it up and ran.

"What a terrible mess..." Faze muttered sadly, "Ah well, accidents are bound to happen in such a profession." He said to the room and then stepped over Romel's body and walked out the front door. He turned to face the door, shut it and then promptly raised a leg and kicked it open with such force that it splintered into a dozen pieces. Faze then brushed himself free of a little stray dust and left the establishment. Within the hour, he heard the merchant guards were looking for a human with short blonde hair and a scar across his right eye.

 

"Busy busy busy..." Faze muttered to himself as he strode through the crowded street and found a quiet inn. He paid for his room and closed the door, stretching his arms and tail with relief and then fell into his bed and waited. A few hours later, the door opened and a man with red hair strode in. Faze assessed the man for a few seconds. While the red-haired man was not quite the towering mass of muscle that Romel had been, it seemed clear that the two were likely cut from the same cloth.
"Good morning!" Faze said cheerily, "Please, come in, come in. Close the door behind you, after all, we wouldn't want any spies, would we?!" He chuckled and waited for the man to close the door and then he stood up and crossed the room. "Greetings, good Sir, you may call me Faze and I am here at your request. I believe you have something for me..." 

When the man reached for the pouch at his side he found it missing, just as Faze let the pouch drop from his prehensile tail into his waiting hands, "Dragon scales then, hrm?! Fascinating..." He said excitedly, pulling one out and examining it, "But then, awfully illegal, wouldn't you say?" The red-haired man remained quiet as he watched the Tryll. "Strong silent type, perhaps? Very amusing, I like you already. But then, I like everyone." He laughed and replaced the dragon scale, tying the pouch with it's drawstring once more. "Well then, how much would you like for these? I'm willing to pay a premium, as I recently came into some unexpected funds." Faze added with a tone of amusement, his masked face betraying nothing of his expression.

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It had been three days since Alivia first entered the city, yet the sights and sounds still amazed her. And the smell was a lovely jumble of every kind of scent possible, all mixed together until her head swam with delight. So far she had seen humans of every kind, soldiers, nobles, common men, ladies and lords, each with their own foreign skin color and accent. Yet the humans were the lesser of her interest, whenever an orc or dwarf came into sight her heart started beating faster, she had never before seen any of the other races and here there were a bunch of them. She had seen a dozen if not more of both kind, though she had to admit she might have seen some of them more than once without notice, they just looked so terribly alike. She had even seen a Tryll once! Though it walked around the corner just as she noticed it, so she hoped it really had been a Tryll instead of just a strange looking human. All the amazing sights were secondary to her quest though, rumor had lead her here, rumor of a great mage searching for a rare item, although the item he searched varied from tale to tale. A traveling merchant told her the mage searched for phoenix feathers, an inn keeper was convinced that it was the claw of a minotaur and a bard a village further on shook his head and explained it was dragon saliva. Whatever the details of the story or who told it though, they all agreed that the mage was traveling to Caspar.

 

It had been four months now since he had left her home and this was the first solid lead she had found, so she would follow it until it was exhausted. She wasn't quite sure how she was going to convince the man to train her once she did find him, though was something she would have to deal with then. If the man was unwilling, she would either convince him with money, land or something else he desired, everyone had their price, the trick was to find out where it lay, a trick her father had taught her quite thoroughly. Even if the man truly refused to help her, he might be able to tell her about other mages or witches. However, before he could do that she needed to find him, and so far her efforts in the huge city had been unsuccessful to say the least.

 

The land her father owned was not small and Alivia had traveled to several of his cities, yet they all paled to the sheer size of Casper. It must be wonderful to be lord of such a city, the taxes would be phenomenal. Some merchant had told her that the merchants guild was in charge here, yet that seemed unlikely, what did they know about ruling a city? She had met a few of the guild members in her father's halls and they seemed smart and steadfast in mercantile matters, yet when it came to ruling a city they would embarrass even the youngest lord. She wondered who truly ruled the city, but figured that asking such questions would only mark her as somebody of important nobility, something her father has pressed to avoid, and would not bring her closer to the mage, so she let it rest.

 

It was within this huge city that she started asking around about any rumors of a mage in the city, inn keepers and merchants all shook their heads or told tales of mages come and gone months past. A few times she had to use copper or silver to loosen some tongues, yet none had heard of any mage recently entering the city. Maybe the man had hidden his identity, his ability, for whatever reason? After three days the closest she had come to anything useful had been a witch which was supposedly locked in jail for selling love potions, hardly a suitable tutor! After hearing tales and rumors for three days in a row, she figured she had to change her method somewhat, she was asking the wrong questions, so on the fourth day she tried her new method.

 

"The claw of a minotaur?" The merchant shouted loudly, throwing his head back in laughter. Alivia made sure to give him her deadliest stare, yet he failed to notice it, and after a full minute of laughter he settled down somewhat. "Girl, there haven't been any minotaur sighting in my lifetime or my father's. I don't even know if the things truly exist." He said, laughing again, seeming to forget she was there anymore. She sniffed loudly and turned around, striding away, towards the next stall, it had been the fifth merchant laughing at her over minotaur claws and the seventeenth today. She stroke off minotaur claws from the list of possible things the mage could have been looking for. She straightened her dress, a common wool today, way to common for her taste yet Graegor said it would help her more than wearing silk, which she was inclined to believe.

 

She sighed and looked around, she was getting nowhere at this pace, the mage might have found whatever he was searching for and left the city while she was here walking in circles. As she was searching for the next merchant to ask she saw a man bumping into a woman and running into an alleyway, it wasn't until the woman had fully recovered from her fall that she felt her ear and started screaming, apparently her earring was taking, it would be much too late to chase the man though. Alivia sighed, every city had it's share of thieves and thugs -even her father's lands had some-, there was nothing you could to about them, they were attracted by riches likes flies to dung, or so the saying went. 

 

She stared at the alleyway the thief had run through and smiled, an idea had just popped into her head. She walked into the alleyway and further down into the streets, searching for places with the least riches and the most peasants, if the respectable merchant couldn't help her, perhaps the less respectable merchants would. Graegor walked closer behind her now, looking left and right, as if expecting an ambush. As she turned into another dark street, darker than the one she left the man gave a small cough, a sign they had agreed upon when he felt danger close. She tapped her thigh twice with her index and middle finger, meaning she understood him but had to keep going for now.

 

The faces she saw grew darker with every street she crossed, depression and insanity plain on peoples faces, some walked as if drunk and one man even emptied his stomach, right there on the street! Often eyes would shift between her and Graegor, confused and scared, though only after they saw Graegor did fear enter their eyes. Filthy louts probably would have tried to touch her if Graegor hadn't been there, and she feared some even thought about it now. Shivering at the thought she walked around the corner and noticed a faint light further down the street, with muffled music and voices coming from the same direction. She looked over her shoulder at Graegor and he shook his head, to which she frowned and walked towards the sounds. She had never been into a tavern before, yet supposedly they were a great source of information, at leas the kind of information she was looking for right now.

 

As she entered a damp rancid smell filled her nose and she coughed at it, she couldn't quite place a name on what it was yet it disgusted her. The place was a mix of every kind of furniture, wooden benches, stools chairs, no two alike and none undamaged, the walls were covered in faded paintings and strange trophies, there actually was a crutch on the wall. The men were talking or shouting loudly, some of it might have been an attempt to sing along with the girl on stage, who sang of the many men she took to bed, which was indecent even before she started describing what she did with them in that bed! Alivia felt her face turn red and tried to ignore the words of the song and walked over to the bar. The man behind the bar raised and eyebrow and whistled at her, smiling widely so she could count the amount of teeth he had lost. "How may I help you girl, are you looking for a job?" He said in a slow sluggish accent, as if every word he said came with great effort.

 

Alivia frowned at him, what job could a girl possibly have in a place like this? Before she could ask her question, it was answered by a girl walking out of the door next to the bar, carrying a platter with some food. The clothes she wore just barely covered her shoulders and exposed not only her ankles but even her knees! How indecent! The girl took her to four men at a table against the corner or the tavern and barely managed to avoid getting pinched and getting her bottom slapped. Why would any girl agree to work in a place like this was beyond her but Alivia ignored the girl and looked back at the man. "I'm looking to acquire something not normally bought in the market." She said plainly, it seemed like a normal question to her yet the man's eyes went wide and darted around the room looking for anyone who overheard her. "Are you crazy?" He whispered, though he nearly shouted as he whispered so the volume was hardly any softer than normally. "Don't go asking around questions like that, you might get yourself arrested if your lucky, killed if you less so. Not even mister giant over here can save you if any of these men suspect you of being a merchant guild spy." He said and he looked around again, then nodded towards the door the girl had come from. "Come".

 

After Alivia followed the man into the back of the bar and the man started explaining, again, that such questions could get her killed or arrested. It wasn't until minutes later that Alivia finally managed to steer the conversation back to it's goal, and the man admitted to knowing someone who could help her. A tryll merchant who dealt in all kinds of things which the guild masters didn't agree upon, whether they be rare or less legal. Alivia couldn't believe she would actually meet a thug without getting him killed or arrested, it felt uncomfortable and a betrayal to her sense of justice. After getting directions to the merchant's location she paid the tavenkeeper three silver coins, to which his eyes widened a second time and his mouth actually hung open as he saw them. She wondered if she gave too much, but it was too late now. She left by the back door and walked towards the merchant's location. 

 

The house the tavernkeeper had described loomed before her not a quarter of an hour later and she tried to shrug the uncomfortable feeling from her body, but the hairs on her neck kept standing, she looked at Graegor, who once again shook his head, yet his eyes told her he knew she was not going to back down now. She knocked on the door twice, and waited for the door to open. After what seemed like an uncomfortable long time the door opened to reveal a tryll, an actuall tryll! The creature was wearing a mask and looked down at her, the mask hid any facial expressions and he didn't say anything. "Greetings... sir. I am looking for a friend who might have been looking to acquire certain items, I had hoped you might have met him. If you help me find him I'll make sure to reward you appropriately."

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Krios examined the man stood before him. Faze seemed quite polite and well mannered, but Krios didn't have much trust for a man that hides his face. However the man seemed ready to make a deal, so he would have to give him the benefit of the doubt. He gave a nod and finally cracked a smile. 

"Do not think me a merchant, brother." he said to Faze. "I want only enough gold to surround myself with female companions and let drink flow freely for a few months, before I return to my home. If you can make that happen then you have yourself a deal."

 

"Well," Faze replied, nodding his head, "I'm quite sure I can make that happen, yes." Holding the pouch of dragon scales in his clawed hand for a moment, feeling the weight in his hand, Faze turned and crossed the room. As he reached the bed, he leant next to the headboard and pulled aside a loose board and pulled out a bag of coin the size of a small grapefruit. Pulling it from it's resting place, Faze held it up, considered it for a moment and then threw it to the red-haired man. "There. An ample sum, and so I believe our transaction is done. Unless you have another request that I might facilitate?"

 

"Not unless you have a pair of warm thighs and a barrel of ale under that board as well." Krios said with a smile. "Well, brother, it has been a pleasure doing business. I am afraid I must take my leave though. Certain...events..." Krios paused a moment, "...have meant I have to leave Caspar right away."

 

"I could check?" Faze replied with a humorous chuckle, "Anyway, you may take your leave, but should you need anything in the future, you have but to ask and I will attempt to assist you, should the opportunity arise. Enjoy your day, and your coin." With that Krios reached out and shook Faze's hand, before making his way for the door and stepping outside. He walked up the street as a young girl passed him by, knocking on the door he had just left from. 

 

--- --- --- ---

 

Further up the road Krios was walking through the crowd. He needed to find a stablemaster on the outskirts of the city. The coin he had procured was more than enough to purchase a horse. As he walked he pulled a battered old map from his pocket. Avelyn was off to the west, but the trail looked long, at least a week of travelling. He would need a few days just to prepare for such a journey. Solace was the closest city, only about a 2 days travel, and there was a homestead not far from the road, he might be able to take rest there. Solace it was, then. 

 

"Halt!" the order was barked as a man shoved him roughly in the chest, distracting him from his map. Krios looked up and raised his brow at the man. He was the Captain of the Guard who he had evaded earlier. And his guardsmen were stood behind him. 

"Can I help you, brother?" Krios asked. 

"I am not your brother! I am the Captain of the Casparian Guard, Ludo Venitas." He replied. "You are under arrest!"

"Am I now?" Krios replied with a smirk, stepping back a few paces. "On what grounds?"

 

"Possession of illegal goods with the intention to sell-" Ludo replied. 

"You'll find no such wares on me, brother." Krios replied with a smile, holding his arms out to be searched. 

"...and also for the murder of the Lord of Caspar!" Ludo snapped. "Seize him!"

The guard to the right of Ludo came forward slightly ahead of his partner, and Krios' hand moved like a blur, gripping the hilt of the bastard sword and pulling it from it's scabbard, he lunged forward and skewered the guard through the chest before he could react. As he pulled out the blade, dripping with blood, the guard fell and Ludo went to react, going for his own scimitars, but Krios kicked him in the chest and sent him crashing to the ground, before pointing his blade at the remaining guard. 

 

"Draw your sword." he growled. "Come on...fight me fair!" he goaded. The guard, panicked, held up his hands in surrender. 

"P-please...mercy!" he stammered. 

"Mercy?" Krios repeated mockingly. "I've never heard that word before. Is it the declaration of a coward with no balls, perhaps?"

"Y-yes...I'm a coward!" The guard squeeked. 

"No honour in killing a coward." Krios replied. "So I reckon you better just run, coward. go on."

 

The guard didn't need telling again, and scampered off down the street. People were looking on and staring now. Krios turned as Captain Ludo was getting to his feet. and before the man could gather himself he poised his sword at his throat, causing him to freeze in terror. 

"Now then...normally this is where you die, brother." Krios said angrily. "However, I might need your tongue to keep flapping a while longer. Who gave you your orders? Who accuses me of a crime I did not commit?"

 

"Caspar is run by the Guild!" Ludo replied, his tone quite calm and strong for a man with a blade at his throat. he may have been a pitiful fighter, but he was brave, Krios had to give him credit for that. "Lord Torren may be dead, but Brinley Farrow, the Keeper of Coin, has taken charge until a new Lord is officiated. Lord Farrow has seen you himself, so do not deny your crimes!"

 

"Your Lord is a bloody liar, and a man who follow the dishonourable has no honour at all." Krios snarled. "I have seen more honour from crooked merchants and whoremongers than I have from your City Guard." Krios pressed his blade closer, so that it's tip cut in to Ludo's throat. "I reckon your time is up, brother."

 

"I reckon not." The response came from up high. Krios tilted his head but only slightly, to address the figure who was perched on top of the building. Then he slowly turned around, realsing he was sorrounded. Guards were stood on the rooftops, armed with bows, arrows poised and trained on him. Begrudgingly he removed his sword from Ludo's throat. 

 

"Do you yield?" The guardsmen from the roof asked. 

"Never." Krios responded. "But for now I'll walk with you. I won't be relieved of my sword, though. I want a word with your master, dog."

"These terms...they are agreeable." The guard replied. "Come, allow Captain Ludo to show you the way." 

Krios turned to Ludo and glared at him. Then he sheathed his blade and nodded. "Come on then. Let's go see what Lord Farrow has to say for himself, eh?"

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Ondine lead Azu – her terabou – through the streets of Caspar. There were more people here in this one location than she’d see all year back home. Her first task was to offload some of her heavier furs and leathers that were only a bother in this weather, not like the frozen tundra she was used to. The problem was she really didn’t know the value of things, she was used to bartering for what she needed, coming to an agreement that both parties were happy with, but here everyone worked with gold. For a while she just lingered about, watching other transactions, but nothing ever seemed to make sense to her, one piece of cloth would go for a couple silver, another would go for an entire gold coin.

 

She sighed, running her hand back through her hair, a layer of sweat on her brow, it was hot, of course, everything was hot to her. A young human girl and a large male, even larger than herself - being an orc - passed by, looking for a ‘minotaur claw’ the merchants laughed pretty cruelly at the girl, which really wasn’t fair at all, just because they couldn’t obtain the claw didn’t mean they needed to be jerks. She specifically remembered the girl watching her with wide curious eyes. Ondine had smiled pleasantly, but then quickly corrected herself, remembering that though her fangs were normal among orcs, among humans they sometimes came off as menacing.

 

Briefly she’d visited the tavern but wasn’t sure if she’d brave leaving Azu there, even though Azu wasn’t fond of allowing other people to handle him. Many of the merchants eyed her exotic mount with greedy eyes, and some of the shadier parts of town she knew they wouldn’t be above ambushing her for him.

 

When a fight broke out, Ondine stood by the wayside watching as a red-haired man made a fool of the guards. She grinned, an honor bound man, it seemed, but he could afford honor, the man he claimed to be a coward certainly could not, not if he wanted to live anyway. Honor was an interesting code among humans, she found the concept a bit queer, unless a man sought death, who would stick to this code when it is a matter of survival? The man found himself outnumbered though and the guards took him away.

 

Now that could be an interesting lead, if they had any work for her, that is. Generally, she didn’t care for the organization of these parts, there was definitely an air of ‘superiority’ about those that got to call themselves guards, but at least they were more respected and hopefully less likely to cheat her. So she followed the guards as they lead the red-haired man away. She veered off as they came upon the barracks, outside were dozens of men sparing. If she were of any other race she might have trouble being respected as a female warrior, but no such worries came with being an orc.

 

Most of them didn’t bat an eye at her, those that did glance her way were more interested in Azu than a female orc wondering through their training arena. In the far corner was a man of much finer regalia than the fatigues the others wore. As their eyes met briefly, she calculated a hardness there, and she started to second guess her intentions, but it was too late now – he headed towards her.

 

“Ma’am?†He asked with a voice of someone who didn’t care for small talk, or possibly talking at all…

 

Ondine put on her hardest expression and answered with a matched cold tone, “Looking for work, need any extra hands?â€

 

He gave her a once over, looking over her haphazard clothes, her weaponry that looked more like artifacts, and as always, Azu, before returning to her face. “I’m sure I can find something useful for you to do.†There was definitely a hint of condescension there, but she wouldn’t be belittled by this man in his prissy attire.  She crossed her arms, and raised her brow, waiting, with an impatient air about her. Humans seemed to respond better to rude and snobby mannerisms than to kindness. After another long pause, as if he were waiting for her to melt under the sun, he finally turned and led her away. Azu was stabled with the horses, he towered over many of them, and the stable boy looked deathly afraid of the terabou. Ondine grinned, which only brought more fear to the young boy’s eyes. With a roll of her own blue ones she headed after the guard.

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“You’re late,†barked a nameless man in uniform as Krellin sauntered up to a pile of rocks – his work for the day. He was dressed in extremely tattered rags – a gaping hole exposed a dirt-stained back, bones poking through the skin – and deliberately so. He probably had better-looking clothes if he tried – his father would sew some of them up for him – but he meant to defile the look of the city in the eyes of the upper class. Let them see a young, haggard man carrying rocks to the Grand City Dome under the hot sun, for some “reconstruction and beautification†that was probably not even necessary, funded by the taxes of the working people. Let them feel the discomfort of making people do work they would not want to do.

Not that he suspected, even for a moment, that they would feel so much as a twinge.

The man in uniform – all of them looked the same, and didn’t bother to learn the names of the workers anyway, so why should he expend effort telling them apart? – pointed out the rocks he needed to carry, and the work he needed to do afterward. Krellin saw sadder men than he, some without even a shirt to shield their coarse skin against the sun. Some were even bound in chains. Their heads were down, burdened by fatigue and more importantly hopelessness. Unlike Krellin, these people would never be “lateâ€, because they would never stop working to begin with.

Fortunately, his father was a carpenter, and thus earned some prestige to inch the family slightly up the social ladder. He still needed to do this laborious work, because he wouldn’t (and grudgingly admitted, couldn’t) take over his father’s carpentry, and Rhaegal wouldn’t allow people to roam the streets with no labour. Unless, of course, they were rich.

For most of his childhood Krellin had been seeking the answer to why people were treated differently. He had since resigned to the fact there was simply no answer.

~~~

After a hard day of work, Krellin decided that it was time to rest for the day, and abruptly dropped whatever he was doing and walked off. Initially some soldiers had tried, fruitlessly, to catch him and flog him, but eventually it turned out to be quite a waste of time because he would never learn, and would only loudly protest and make an ugly scene. It was one of the many things they put up with him for, simply because he was too insignificant to bother with.

In the afternoons he liked to visit Caspar. It was the only city in Rhaegal where people wouldn’t round up on him and ask him to do work (or at least, if they did, they would pay him). He would mooch around in the darkest alleys of the city, basking in the company of people just like him. He felt right at home.

~~~

You can smell them from a distance. No matter how much they tried to hide their “wealthinessâ€, they still unconsciously gave off the aura of not fitting in. They would walk with a certain pride in their step. Instinctively shudder when the smelliest of the downtown folk walked past a bit too close. They would dress in humble clothing, plain white wool for instance, foolishly thinking this was enough to identify them with the common people. This one even had an obvious bodyguard behind her, who didn’t seem to see the need to hide his disgruntlement with the inhabitants of the dark alley they were trespassing into, affectionately known as Home by the homeless.

Krellin scoffed.

He continued watching the two outsiders, a dark shadow creeping over his eyes. They were walking with a definite air, so this was no sightseeing trip, “a learning journey to experience the lives of the wretchedâ€, or some such pretentious nonsense the upper class came up with. He saw them slip into a tavern cautiously. Really, why come here if you’re scared?

The question only made him genuinely curious, though. He hurriedly followed them, broken slippers tramping on the dirty ground, dirt-stained fingers absently rubbing against his stubble. The tavern was crowded. It always was, simply because some people had taken it into their heads to make it their permanent abode, and the barkeep was hard-pressed to chase off a bunch of perpetually drunk men. Even the officials of Rhaegal could do nothing to enforce order when the poor just kept multiplying, and therefore over the years an unsaid compromise had been reached that they could do as they pleased as long as they kept to this dark alley. Caspar was property of the Merchant Guild after all. If the Merchant Guild believed in foolish ideals like freedom for all people, they had to be responsible for them.

He spotted the woman amidst the rowdy crowd just in time to see her disappear through the back door with the barkeep. He unceremoniously shoved the singing whore aside (at just the right position for a good accidental grope, of course) and padded to the door, pressing a tactless ear against the rotting wood. Lucky for him, the barkeep seemed to think that as long as he talked in a breathy voice he wouldn’t be heard, and the woman saw no need to lower her voice at all. It took only a small amount of concentration to understand the conversation.

So she was looking for the claw of a minotaur! Krellin had no idea why she would want something like that, and not, say, the entire head of a minotaur, which would arguably fetch a higher price. Nevertheless, a surge of excitement coursed through him as the barkeep told her the address of a merchant who dabbled in such illegal goods. Despite having stayed in this area all his life, Krellin had never known where these money-making goods were kept. He only knew of them from rumour, that old Alfie, for instance, was actually hiding a stash of mermaids’ tears in his room, or that the newcomer Jagger was a smuggler on the run, and had pulled out his teeth one by one in order to hide his identity. He knew better than to believe some of these nonsense (though he did keep a closer eye on Jagger’s barren mouth when he talked, from then on). This information, however, was real. Imagine what he could sell those goods for if he managed to swipe them from the merchant! He was already flexing his bony fingers, imagining the feeling of piles upon piles of gold. What a man would do if dreams could come true.

He darted adroitly to the side as the door opened and the two strangers came out. He cast a shrewd eye at the bigger fellow. Human, thankfully, but didn’t seem to talk much and had a watchful look in his eyes. Such people were the most dangerous foes. Krellin knew it firsthand, having displayed a poor sense of judgment by challenging one such person to a brawl. Was there some way he could steal the supposedly legendary minotaur’s claw right under this man’s nose? No, not with his lone effort.

He decided to hold back and observe for now.

The two of them walked down the path, pausing every now and then to determine the route. He was careful to stay as far away as possible. That guard might be human, but as they always said around these parts, “when you think some people can’t be more annoying, they always find a wayâ€. Not much of a saying, but he took it to mean that one shouldn’t underestimate people’s abilities. And he was by no means going to try underestimating that brute’s ability to sniff out stalkers.

A couple of times he lost them, and needed to rely on his memory to find the right route. Not very much time had passed, though, before he turned a corner and suddenly spotted them in front of a house, talking to a tryll merchant, his impassioned face – mask, rather – staring at them. Would he admit them? Would they barge their way in if he didn’t? Krellin forgot about his ambitious purpose for the time being and eyed them like an eager boy anticipating a good show.

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It wasn't long before there was a knock at his bedroom door. Faze turned and stared at the door for a few seconds in quiet contemplation before he crossed the room and listened. A few seconds passed, and he finally opened the door to see a young girl and a large bruiser of a man stood beside her. As she introduced herself, Faze smiled beneath his mask and inclined his head.
"I see," Faze replied, musingly. "So, what then, are you looking for? The man, or the items?" Faze stepped back as the large man entered his room and stepped to one side, looming over him. He turned to look at the man for a moment, assessing him, before he returned his gaze upon the small girl.

 

"I do not know the details of his appearance, I have been told he is a wizard though he might have hidden that fact. He might have been inquiring after items such as Minotaur claws or Phoenix feathers."

"I see..." Faze repeated, tapping the bottom of his masked chin in thought, "Well, I have not met such a person, and to my knowledge, Minotaur are a myth. Oh, don't get me wrong, you're as sure to find a Minotaur's claw in this town as you are to find a whore, but, well..." He paused and chuckled to himself, "If you were to believe these claws were real, then we would have a mountain of dead Minotaur in town."

 

"Oh, I... see." Alivia muttered, looking down in thought and dissapointment. "Have you heard no rumors concerning wizards or witches lately? I'm looking for one, and if this particular man can't be found, another might as well help me." She quickly glanced over to her guard before looking back at Faze.

Rubbing the tips of his clawed fingers together, Faze shook his head, "Well, if you're looking for any old mage, I could direct you to one, but I doubt that they would assist you in spending time searching for a mythical item... why would you want a Minotaur claw?"

 

She shook her head. "I don't, it was my only lead to finding this mage, but if you could direct me to another mage, whether he be young or old, that'd be great. though I'm inclined to inquire about your rates first."

"My rates?" Faze laughed and giving one last cursory glance to the large man, walked past the girl. "If you have to ask, you cannot afford me." And he started down the stairs of the inn.

"Pah you obviously don't know wealth if you see it." She said before turning around, nodding at her guard. "Let's see if the Lord of this city will help us."

"Not all that glitters is gold, my lady." Faze retorted, stopping at the bottom of the stairs to look back up at her and her companion, "And I think you'll find that the Lord...? He will not help you either. Good day." Faze bowed and stepped outside. Honestly, he thought to himself, how long does it take for the city guard to circulate the Lord of the town's murder? He shook his head but had only taken a couple of steps when a man came running up to him. He recognized the man in question almost immediately. He was out of breath and his cheeks were pink with exertion.

"Well?" Faze asked.

"T-the guards..." The man huffed.

"Any time now." Faze added, his tone, if not his words, remained calm.
"A man... saw a Tryll leaving... the building..." His informant took a breath to collect himself, "... sooner or later, they will link you to the murder."
"Wonderful." Faze sighed, putting one hand on his hip as he considered his options.

There was really only one choice left to him, when he finished exploring his options. He couldn't stay in town any longer, there was too great a risk he would be arrested, or at least suspected, and being under suspicion would be... difficult, for his line of work. Yes, he was sure. He had to leave town.
"I want you to get arrested, Jakke. Y'know, say you were assaulted, or something, by a tryll."
"Alright...?" His informant, Jakke, frowned at Faze's instructions.
"And then, when they ask you where I am, don't tell them at first, be reluctant, but then let slip that i've gone into hiding in the city." Faze began rifling through the pockets on the inside of his robe as Jakke pondered his new orders.

 

"But... I haven't been assaulted?" Jakke narrowed his eyes, looking at Faze peculiarly.
"Oh, quite right." Faze nodded, and quick as lightning, pulled a small blade from somewhere on his person and stabbed Jakke in the shoulder. The young man howled and collapsed to the ground as blood dripped onto the dirt beneath him. "Sorry about that." He added, and tossed a small bag of coin onto the ground beside his informant. That would keep him loyal, at least, as loyal as such a person can be. Even if he eventually let spill the truth, he was sure it would buy him enough time to get clear of the city and be well on his way.

Leaving the scene, quickly but calmly, Faze made his way directly for the southern exit from the city and while he was questioned by the guards on duty, it didn't take much convincing for them to let him past undisturbed. He carried on him just a simple backpack with his goods and a few supplies, and the clothes on his back. It was all he'd need, for now. He had heard tell of a red-haired man being arrested for the crime, and supposed that it was possible, maybe even likely given the rarity of the hair colour, that the man they had arrested had been the same man he had done business with just hours earlier. If so, then at least that one individual could describe him in detail, in as much as he could. But that would be enough. Still, he was on the road now, and he suspected that he would not be seeing anyone any time soon. Faze chuckled to himself as he pondered his next business venture. Now that he had a handful of dragon scales, there were many more options available to an industrious 'merchant' such as himself.

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Away from the busy streets, Krios was marched across the courtyard of city's keep, striding confidently between an entourage of guardsmen, his pleat swinging from side to side at his back. They ascended the steps of the courtyard and under the archway, crossing the threshold in to the building itself. Inside the large hallway was dark but lit by torchlight, and decorated in the brown and gold banners of the Merchant's Guild. At the other end of the grand hall, a man sat on a regal throne, closely guarded by men with swords and lances. 

 

"Ah, Mr Hakar" The man spoke, his tone sarcastic but warm. "I see you have decided to grace us with your presence."

"Next time perhaps you won't send weak men to their graves in order to get my attention." Krios replied, as his entourage came to a stop. 

"You are in the presence of Brinley Farrow, Keeper of Coin, and Voice of the People of Caspar." The blonde haired guard who had spoke with Krios on the rooftops explained. 

"Lot's of titles..." Krios mused, "That still doesn't tell me who the fuck he is, or why I should care."

"And what of your title, Blood Scale?" Farrow asked from his throne. "What does that tell me of you?"

"My name is Krios Hakar, and that name holds more weight than any title." Krios replied, folding his arms, growing impatient. "If you wish to know who I am then grasp blade and face me in battle. Or you can sit on your arse and tell me what you want."

 

"Hmm. A man who does not stand on ceremony. I like it." Farrow said with a smirk. "As I'm sure you are aware, you have been accused of the murder of our Lord. Such crimes award hefty punishment, and your attitude does not help your case. Tell me, would you like your head removed?"

 

"I'm quite fond of my head where it is." Krios replied, "But if your insistent then refer to my previous offer. I'd like to see a pampered prick like yourself take it from me." Farrow only smiled again. Clearly he was not a man who was quick to anger. His politeness and diplomacy were his weapons of choice. 

 

"What if I were to tell you that this has all been somewhat of a misunderstanding?" He began. "You see the killer of our beloved Lord has thus far eluded us. Such negligence cannot be tolerated in the eyes of the people. We must set an example. You are a foreign man who has entered our walls to profit from the selling of illegal wares. I should not think many would mind seeing your head on a pike. What matter is it if we...embellish a little about your crime. All that would change is that we set an example for the people of this city. Do you agree?"

 

Krios chuckled, shaking his head. "I'm not surprised to see lies flowing out from the rulers of Rhaegal, a land of entitled cowards and tyrants." Farrow's amusement was beginning to fade. He clasped his hands together and leaned forward, staring down the hallway at Krios. 

 

"We can't all be barbarians, Agrinian." Farrow replied. "However, we of the Merchants Guild are no strangers to bargaining. You could earn your pardon and walk free from here if you were gracious enough to allow us one small favour."

 

"You have the balls to offer me the freedom you have taken from me?" Krios smirked. "Is there no low you people won't stoop to?"

"Perhaps not, but that is the situation you are in." Farrow replied sternly. "Would you prefer the gallows?" 

 

Krios paused for a moment, glaring at Farrow. With a heavy sigh he cracked his neck and resumed his gaze. "I'm listening..."

"Good." Farrow replied, clapping his hands together again. "In that case I will explain. The man you have had business with, the masked Tryll known as Faze. We wish you to find him. Bring him to us and we will make sure he pays for the murder of our Lord."

 

"That man has done me no wrong." Krios replied. "I will not let another man hang in my place, even if I am wrongly accused."

"It is true, perhaps he is not the true killer either. However he is a thorn in our side. We have our reasons for treading this path, and I assure you that Faze has done plenty to earn this conviction."

 

"That may be so, but he has not done so to me." Krios replied.

"Then I shall sweeten the deal." Farrow said reluctantly, growing tired of Krios' reluctance to obey. "Bring Faze to me and we will match the coin he has given you. We will even bestow you with the title of Warden of Caspar, there is no higher honour for a foreigner of this land."

 

"I care not for titles." Krios replied. However he was already sensing that Farrow was not going to let up. If he was to walk away from this keep alive then he had to at least appear compliant. "But the coin will do nicely. I'll bring you Faze." Krios turned to leave, but the guard behind him drew their swords. 

 

"One more thing, Agrinian." Farrow replied. "I trust you understand but...considering your initial reluctance I am not so foolish as to let you walk away alone. For a foreign man like yourself it would be no trouble to simply flee and never return. We had anticipated this. And so If you wish to undertake this task, you will have a companion, who will ensure you do not stray from purpose."

 

Krios turned around to see someone entering the room. The frame was large, but as it drew closer he realised it was feminine. The female orc was small by her people's standards, but she was hardened and formidable all the same. "Krios Hakar, this is Ondine of the Orcish Nomads of Jogrund. She will be accompanying you on this mission."

 

"Fine." Krios replied. "We'll search the city until nightfall, and then we will take rest. If Faze has not shown his face by first light tomorrow then we ride from Caspar. I'll need a horse prepared just in case. A work horse preferably. If Faze has fled the city then we will need a beast with stamina to catch him up."

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Alivia snorted in anger as the arrogant man walked away from her. How dare he implore that she was poor, just because she could pay whatever he asked didn't mean she wanted to. She trembled in anger as she watched the tryll walk away, wishing she could throw a rock at his head. Graegor simply looked down at her, those cold eyes turned accusing, he seemed to know what she was thinking, and she felt herself turn red in a mix of shame and anger. Angrily she turned around. "Let's go back to the inn, I need a change before meeting the lord." She said and walked away, trying to hold her temper down.

 

She got lost three times on her way to the inn, she hadn't even noticed how far into the slums she had gone, but when she finally reached her room she sat down on her bad, letting out a scream of frustration, the long walk back hadn't done much to ease her annoyance at the arrogant man. Graegor stood by the door, seemingly gazing out through the window across, though only a fool would think he let his attention drop. "You know, I'm glad I hadn't told him we might have been followed," Graegor had used one of their hand signals to convey the message during her conversation with the tryll "Let his wealth get stolen and his location revealed for all I care!" Graegor only gave a small chuckle in response and she knew she was being stubborn and childish, which only made her feel worse.

 

After a small rest she walked out of the inn, wearing a red silk dress embroidered with gold. It was one of her best dresses, made just so that it revealed a tiny bit of skin on her bosom, covering enough to be decent of course yet just enough to be increase her charms. The dress also had a way to neatly stick to her hips, so she made sure to walk with just a little extra sway to attract eyes, this was a dress to be seen in, a dress to charm, yet decent enough to prevent dark thoughts. Her aunt had thought her all about how a woman could attract the eyes of the men she wanted, how to get noticed, a useful tool, if used sparingly.

 

She easily found her way to the palace, where the so-called leader of the merchant guild was located, she didn't approve of him denying his title as lord, but she could see his reasons. It might keep the people feeling free and prevent rebellion, which was a good thing if they were for the right reasons. If he was keeping them happy just to fill his own purses, it would be another thing all together. It was just another gray moral area, one of the many that lords had to deal with each and every day. She wouldn't judge him until she met him and even if she found him intolerable, she'd not voice her complains. 'judge a lord in his hall, and he will judge you in unfair trial' her father had once said, powerful words and they rang true.

 

As she walked up the white steps towards the entrance of the hall she noticed guards rushing past her, going in both directions. There was shouting and servants huddling together, either crying or frantically whispering. She raised an eyebrow at the sight, wondering what happened that caused such a ruckus. She walked up to one of the guards on watch, moving slightly out of the way of running servants. "Greetings man, I'm Alivia al'Karenmosa, daughter of lord al'Karenmosa of the south western provinces, I'm looking for a meeting with the lord of this city." She didn't often use her full name and tried to keep her identity hidden, not only to prevent kidnappers and enemies of her father from finding her, but also because she wanted to see how she would fare without her father's influence. 

 

The guard hardly seemed impressed though, he seemed to hold more respect towards Graegor than her. He probably had never heard of the al'Karenmosa family. The guard simply shook his head. "We have no lords in this city m'lady, and our leader who lived here has been murdered recently." He said simply, trying and failing to keep all emotion from his voice, letting hints of anger slip through. Alivia waited for him to continue, but he kept silent. She sighed. "I am sorry to hear that, I'm sure he was great man. I hate to ask you this, but who manages the city now, until a new... leader is chosen?" She didn't want to entice the man any more by calling their 'leader' a lord. "That's ok m'lady," he said. "That would mister Farrow, the keeper of coin."

 

Alivia thanked the man and walked off towards the keep the guard had pointed out. Climbing another set of stairs she walked into a giant hall, lined with banners she had seen all over the city, she wondered what lord the banners indicated. She wasn't the only one in the hall though, there was a small cluster of guards surrounding a single man, she could easily overhear the conversation echo through the halls.

 

She couldn't believe what she heard though, the master of coin knew that the man wasn't guilty, yet he might blame the man before him just so he could feign justice? Lords often dealt with gray areas when it came to morals, it was often hard to separate right from wrong, yet this clearly was wrong. There was no excuse for it, she heard her teeth grinding together before she even noticed doing it. She took a few deep breaths and calmed herself. 'judge a lord in his hall...' She muttered quietly to herself as the conversation came to an end, the innocent, or rather, the not-guilty, man being bullied into hunting down a masked tryll.

 

A masked tryll... suddenly it clicked inside her head. "And I think you'll find that the Lord...? He will not help you either. Good day." she heard the tryll say again inside her head. She just stood there perplexed as a giant orc lady walked in. She had spoken with a murderer! She knew he had been shady, but this was inexcusable! It wasn't until the man was lead out of the hall until she calmed down a bit again. She hated to admit it, but it had little to do with her. She took a deep breath, making sure to not sigh as she released it before walking up to the lord.

 

"Greetings sir," she started. "I'm sorry to have been informed of the passing of your lord, such news is rare yet hard to hear. My condolences." She gave a small bow and didn't introduce herself, she didn't want this man to know her true name, her father had no use for immoral lords. "Thank you my lady, this is a dark day for all of us. Yet let such matters not impede your business, how may I help you?" She was amazed by his ability to show emotion yet keep to the point at the same time. She wondered if this was the first time he had to deal with tragedy, it seemed like had experience.

 

"Yes, thank you. I have been lead to this city by rumors of a mage. Although now that I'm here no trace of him can be found. I seek to employ one for a service, yet they are rare and seem to move around a lot. I wondered if you have heard any rumors of mages or witches lately? I fear the rumors I followed were just that, rumors." She said smiling, making sure to seem just a little off-edge, as if she was nervous. Her dress no doubt revealed that she had money, which often meant associations with power, but if she acted nervous perhaps he would think of her as being a merchants daughter or maybe a minor lord's wife.

 

The man scratched his chin, muttering something deep in thought. "Ah I fear not my lady, most mages make sure to visit our lord during their stay, but I have heard of no such visits. There are no doubt a dozen or more rumors going around the city, yet I have heard of none which could be of any help to you. I'm sorry for disappointing you." Alivia sighed in disappointment. "Maybe you could stay in our city and I'll send word for you if I find anything of substance?" He continued but Alivia shook her head. 

 

"I've tried to do just that about a month ago, I stayed for three months in Port Rosa, but to no avail. I fear I'm better off seeking. Mages seem to spawn rumors and stories as they travel, I'll just have to find the origin of such stories. Thank you for your offer nonetheless." She said with a bow, she had never been to Port Rosa before of course, yet she didn't want to name her father's capital. "The city will lose some of it's beauty with you gone, may you find luck in your search." the man responded. Alivia smiled and exited the building. She wondered where to go next, she didn't have to leave immediately of course, but now that she had made up her mind to leave, she was eager to be on the road again. Although she felt a stab at dissapointment at not finding anything in the city, yet it also increased her determination to continue her search and find a teacher.

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Krellin watched from his crouched position behind the rubbish heap of Faze the Merchant, as the girl, Alivia, and her bodyguard walked off in disappointment. He had heard the entire conversation unnoticed from his vantage point – there was always an advantage to blending well into garbage. And speaking of that, the garbage of a Tryll contained very interesting items indeed. He was sure he had seen what looked like sheathing claws in there.

He was about to stand up and brush the dirt off his shirt when he saw Faze come out of his house. A panting man ran up to him. Krellin plopped himself down again in a hurry.

It was only when Faze had walked off and the man, stabbed on the shoulder, was lying on the ground unconscious did Krellin dare to get up again. His eyes sparkled as he considered his own options. Faze didn’t look like he would be back anytime soon, so Krellin could break into his house and steal his treasures. He took a look around him. There was nobody about. He tiptoed up to the door and tried the doorknob. A painful pulse shot up his arm, causing him to let out a grunt of alarm. He should have known, that crafty dealer had set traps around his place!

Which made sense, of course, if one had anything important to steal. Krellin gloomily passed the unconscious man, paused to look at him, and with a shrug picked up the bag of coins. It was foolish to leave money there for anyone to take anyway. If Krellin didn’t take it, he’d be an even bigger fool.

~~~

Alivia’s conversation with the Lord of the city had taken a shorter time than he expected. When he reached the establishment, he could already see the two of them walking off. He cleared his throat, rubbed his hands together and smirked. How he did love playing pranks on the rich, and this was his best opportunity. He put on an expression of grave solemnity and walked up to them.

“Miss… Alivia,†he said confidently. “You are Miss Alivia, are you not?â€

He waited until he had fully captured their attention and curiosity.

“I hear you are looking for the man who was searching for the claw of a minotaur? And that you visited the Lord of the City. I believe he has not helped you?â€

Obviously he hadn’t. Anyone could tell from the gloomy look on Alivia’s face. Krellin pressed on.

“I know the man. I know where he is now. I can take you to him.â€

He held out a crystal ball from under his tattered shirt.

“Because I am the prophet, Krellin.â€

~~~

The prophet, Eustamus, looked up from his crystal ball. He was an old man with a long white beard that he would wave over his crystal ball in a clockwise motion as he mumbled incantations. His magic was rumoured to be most potent at the tips of his hairs.

The Duke and Duchess Alandor of Raeghal looked anxiously at him, not daring to speak.

“I have seen your future,†Eustamus broke the silence first. “You have a lost son, do you not? A son you left behind… 21 years ago.â€

The Duchess wept into her husband’s shirt.

“Yes we do,†admitted the Duke of Alandor. “But he has likely died. We lost him during a tussle with some bandits of the lower class.†He scoffed as he said it. People of the lower class, who had caused them to lose their precious son.

Eustamus nodded slowly and stroked his beard.

“The truth of the matter is,†he said slowly and calmly, “that he is still alive. And I foresee that in the future, he will return to you.â€

The Duchess let out a gasp and held her hand to her mouth. She turned uncertainly to look at Eustamus.

“You’re saying,†she said haltingly, “that our Petey is alive? Where is he now? What does he look like?â€

“You will not recognise him when you see him,†answered Eustamus, a hint of impatience in his monotonous voice, as if this was a matter that should be clear to everybody. “And I do not know when he will come to you, or where or who he is presently. The crystal ball has only told me these. It will not tell me any more.â€

“Thank you, thank you very much, Eustamus,†said the Duke, holding out a sack of gold in his trembling hand. When the old prophet had taken his leave, he turned to his wife, who was looking out the window. Her face had turned pale.

“We have to trust in him,†he said, wrapping his hands around her thin waist. She had not eaten or sleep well since the disappearance of their baby, and even after two decades of hoping and waiting, she had not quite returned to her past figure. He looked out the window as well, his brows furrowed. If his son was really out there, he was determined to find him.

And if Eustamus had been lying, well, he would pay the price for agitating his wife again.

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They were taking her to do menial manual labor, which was just as well by her standards; it was easy, mindless, and honest work that she’d get fair compensation for. Things never went so simply though as she was ordered to follow the guard captain back into the main building where she was offered a different proposition.

 

“We have in our custody a Blood Scale known as Krios he’s given us quite a bit of trouble. We need you to… accompany him while he seeks out another target we’ve had our eye on.†The guard captain looked at her with an air of mistrust about him.

 

“Why am I accompanying him? He seems capable enough.†Ondine saw through him, he obviously wasn’t sharing information, but he didn’t have to Ondine’s ears could pick up on the conversation through the door. Her eyes narrowed as she listened in, the guard captain seemed to realize something was amiss when Ondine turned her head so her ear was towards the door. “Oh, I see, insurance, am I? He beat the crap out of your men so you’re sending someone disposable.â€

 

For a moment awkward silence stretched between them, Ondine crossed her arms, not expecting the man to admit it, but then he shrugged, “You’ll be paid half up front and half upon Faze’s capture and return.†From his belt he pulled forth a sack of coins, it even looked heavy and when he tossed it to her she was just as amazed by the weight. Loosening the draw string she stared at the many glittering coins, even if she didn’t succeed this half was more than she’d need to last her for months. She wasn’t in the business of money, but money was what this society functioned off of.

 

It didn’t take her long to make her decision. She had no reason to fear the Blood Scale, he wasn’t going to give her trouble if she didn’t give him trouble. She pulled the draw strings and tied the sack of gold to her belt. “Alright then, let’s meet him.â€

 

The doors were opened the dim light flooded into the almost black hallway she’d been lingering in. The man named Farrow introduced her, she found it mildly disturbing how quickly word spread, but remained silent. She had no further interest in speaking to any of these lowly men.

 

Ondine looked across the room staring into the eyes of the red haired man, searching his eyes for darkness or hatred, but he was as she expected. He was blamed for a murder even Farrow didn’t believe he committed, and yet they were willing to place it on his head nonetheless. Originally, she was going to refuse the job, it just felt wrong to help in their unjust ways, but then they started talking money, she needed that, and if she helped him catch Faze she could help free the innocent man.

 

So she now walked across the room as Krios accepted the proposal, Farrow agreed to the horse, though Ondine wondered if any of their horses would be able to compete with Azu. She had no further interest in speaking to them; the half they paid her would carry her quite a ways. If they came back at all she’d be surprised, there was nothing in this town for her, and the lull of more money wasn’t enough.

 

Since she was apparently playing guardian she took the lead, walking out ahead of Krios. This entire job seemed strange to her, why ask a foreigner? Why not one of their guards? Of course, after what she’d witnessed maybe all the guards were too afraid to try and keep Krios in line, whereas Ondine didn’t believe Krios needed to be ‘kept in line.’ He seemed pretty orderly to her, especially under the circumstances. Ondine would have lost it if someone tried to falsely accuse her and was aware they were accusing her falsely.

 

They left the building and Ondine stopped just outside the grand doors, “Where first, Krios?†She turned to face him, speaking casually enough. 

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Alivia raised an eyebrow, obviously skeptical of the man before her. "A... prophet... And I'm supposed to just believe that? That somehow the planets aligned and our paths have crossed and that despite the fact that nobody in the whole city has heard from this mage, you know where he is?" She crossed her arms underneath her breasts and took half a step back.

 

The man gave a deep booming laugh and spread his hands out. "You probably have not understood the power of a prophet yet," he said gently, keeping a shrewd eye on Graegor. "There is no such thing as chance. I foresaw that you would come here, and so I came as well to find you. Nobody here knows of the mage because he does not exist to them. To them, he is only an ordinary being. Only I saw that he had magical powers, and recognized him as a being worthy of notice. And you too." He pointed at directly at her, she was surprised by the sudden movement and heard the clothes of Graegor rustle ever so slightly. If the man had done anything slightly more provocative he would have lost his hand, though Alivia didn't expect him to know this. "You too are a magical being, did you know that? I can see in you... undeveloped potential. You may turn out to be a powerful mage yourself." Alivia narrowed her eyes, she wondered how he knew such a thing, she hadn't showed her powers in the city so far. How long had this man been following them? Before she could respond she was interrupted.

 

Graegor gave a loud laugh, rough and challanging while he eye'd the young man up and down. "I've heard all the scams across the country, every trick has been tried and failed on me and though I must say yours is quite original, I'd prefer you you'd leave us alone. There is none for you to gain here conman, nothing but the end of my blade." He said, pressing his voice to be as dangerous as possible. Alivia failed to suppress a smile, she knew the voice and she knew the effect it had on others. She took half a step forward. "Aye, we won't pay you, though I must ask, how did you know I was a 'magical being' as you say?" she smiled friendly yet keeping her face firm, she didn't believe the story he was telling her.

 

The man seemed to be getting slightly annoyed, his smile receding. "Miss Alivia," he said, his voice ripe with irritation. "I knew that you would not believe me. We prophets are doomed to a life of discrimination and suspicion. However, I ask that you trust in yourself. You will awaken magical powers later, powers far greater than any mage has ever known." Alivia's eyebrows raised again, she couldn't believe the stories this man told her, he didn't even seem to try and make it reasonable. Before she could respond though he continued. "These powers will help you to better find the mage. And if you need proof of my identity..." He rummaged in his pocket, Graegor stepped forward, his hand on his blade. Though the man simply produced a gleaming metal pendant, with something that looked like a crest with a gryphon on it.

 

"You are an aristocrat, and may be able to tell that this is an authentic crest. This represents the Gathering of Prophetic and Psychic Men in Algaia, and I am a genuine member."

 

Alivia frowned at the strange man's story and looked carefully at the crest. It wasn't anything she recognized, some crests were known to be used in scams, but this one wasn't one of them. "I can't say that I've seen that crest before, nor have I heard of this gathering you're talking about. Though let's say a moment that I believe you, you are telling me that I will find this mage after I unlock my great magical powers, how would you be able to help me in my current position then?" Graegor sighed behind her, muttering something she couldn't quite make out and taking a slightly more menacing stance. Aliva shook her head at the tightness of the man, she understood him yet she would like him to relax every now and then.

 

The so-called prophet took an instinctive step back from Graegor and said, "You will need my guidance to find the mage. Your awakened powers may help, but I cannot foretell when they will awaken. In the meantime, I can simply take you to him. I know where he is."

 

Alivia glanced up at Graegor, who returned a firm look. She smiled a sly smile and nodded at the man. She didn't believe the man, who would with such a tale, yet she also didn't think she was quite in danger, he didn't seem the violent type. "You must understand that I cannot truly trust you yet, but I'll indulge you for a little while. Take me to this mage but know that Graegor is quick to pull his blade, so no funny business." She smiled friendly and followed the man as he lead the way, making sure to take note of every street they passed, mapping the layout in her head. She would know how to get back to the lord's place if things did go awry. After a minute or so in silence she looked at the man, making sure to keep half a step behind him. "So how do you get into the um... prophecy business?" They seemed to be entering a more shady part of town, though the tryll's place had been worse, yet people here crawled back in doors when they saw her, some even blatantly ran away as if she would attack them. She shook her head, wondering what got into them.

 

Er," the man said, visibly stumbling over this question, "well it has always been an inborn thing. Ever since I was a kid I could foretell the future. So it was natural that I'd grow up to become a prophet. As prophets, however, we are persecuted by society. My family has been kept in a cold, dark cellar in the basement of government buildings, and I am unable to save them. They ask me for a hundred pieces of gold as ransom to free them, but I cannot even spare one..." He sighed and shook his head dejectedly.

 

Alivia raised her eyebrow at the man when he hesitated. Her eyes narrowed at the mention of a hundred gold pieces. So that was his goal, scam her into paying their 'ransom'  "I... see. I'm sorry to hear that, tell you what, once I find this mage I'll go have a talk with whoever holds them, maybe I can make them see reason."

 

"Sure," said Krellin, though he wore a strange look on his face, as if he was debating something with himself. Eventually, though, he said no more and guided the two of them down the alleyway. Alivia nodded and slowed down her step a bit, walking behind the man and next to Graegor. "So... what is this place?" She said, noticeably uncomfortable, she wondered if she truly had been a fool to trust this man. Graegor placed a hand on her shoulder to calm her and to push or pull her away from danger, his other hand eased his sword in it's sheath.

 

Her ears twitched at a peculiar sound she hadn't heard in a while, it took her two heartbeats to recognize it. Hooves on stones, something rarely heard in a city where horses weren't forbidden but terribly inconvenient. She spun around just in time to see three riders block the side of the alleyway they just came through, and as she looked back she saw four others block the northern side mere moments later.

 

She cursed softly to herself as Graegor drew his sword and held it with two hands, he stood rather unsteadily on his feet and it took Alivia a moment to realize what he was doing. If they knew he was a master swordsman, they would charge them at the same time, maybe he could challenge them now to take him on alone. It would give him an easy kill before the others realized the truth. The man in the middle of the three at the southern side of the alleyway addressed her. "Ah, miss Alivia, what trouble you have given us. We've been searching for you for a few days now, ever since we heard you were spotted in the city, but you never seem to be where we expected you. Well I must say, we never expected you to be walking in my side of the city." He laughed loudly and the men next to him, both big and bald, presumably brothers, wearing the same face, eyes wide and mouth open as if they were confused by everything they saw, followed his laughter.

 

She glared at the man and took two steps backwards, the so-called prophet stood looking perplexed at the men. He might not be a horrible conman, but he was quite the actor, she almost believed those eyes. In a flash she grabbed the prophet and tackled him, slamming him against the wall and placing a blade on his throat, she placed her knee between his legs on his delicate place, applying a small amount of pressure. She hadn't been trained in open combat, and would probably lose against any of these men, but she had been trained in self defense. It might just save her life if an assassin ever came for her, so she could move quickly.

 

"All of you leave now or I'll kill your associate!" She screamed at the leader, who responded with a booming laugh, throwing his head back. His companions laughed at the same time, she looked at them confused and crossed eyes with Graegor, who nodded at the so-called prophet. She looked at the man she was holding and noticed his eyes, terrified and confused, he really didn't know what was going on. Hesitantly she let go and brought the man back to his feet. "I'm sorry" she whispered genuinely.

 

The laughter died down, slowly and the leader rode forward slowly, menacingly. "Now, be a good girl and come with us, your papa will pay us and we'll let you go again. No need for anybody to get hurt." He said smiling. She faced him, her knuckles white as she gripped her dagger, shaking with anger and fear. Graegor was an amazing swordsman, but facing seven men on horses while trying to protect her would be near impossible. She shook even more as she started to lower her weapon, they could not win this fight. She would have to surrender.

 

Just as she opened her mouth to speak she heard the sounds of hooves on stone once more, a horse charging forward, followed by a scream and a loud thud. She looked back towards the northern side of the alleyway, one of the four men there had tried to charge Graegor and lay bleeding on the ground. The three men stood perplexed for a heartbeat before two more charged Graegor. 

 

The leader shouted at them to stop, in vain. Graegor dodged sideways, unhorsing another rider. The second rider continued it's charge towards Alivia, who nimbly dodged aside, pushing the prophet aside. The rider cursed and awkwardly tried to spin his horse around. "Up!" Graegor shouted as he mounted the horse of the first man he had felled. The second rider's horse had taken a few more steps before stopping, confused to where it's rider had gone. Alivia grasped the prophet's hand and pulled him towards the horse, mounting it in a swift move and pulling up the prophet behind her. "Hold on tight!" She shouted at the man.

 

The leader and his two dumb lackeys charged towards her, in between them the third man who had charged Graegor. She nimbly turned her horse around and charged after Graegor, who swung his sword at the last man at the northern exit. Although the man could dodge the deadly blade, his horse could not. The creature screamed horribly as the blade dug it's side, rearing wildly before falling down, still screaming. Alivia's own horse was clearly dismayed at the sight but she pushed it forward, jumping over the dying horse and it's screaming rider, his leg caught between the stones and his mount.

 

At the exit she spun her horse eastward, roughly in the direction they had come from, towards the wealthier district. Graegor rode beside her, his sword in one hand the reins in the other, looking in every street and alleyway they passed. Together they rode like madmen for nearly an hour, weaving through the streets, a dozen city guards following them. It wasn't until she recognized the hall, where the lord had been killed earlier today, that she dared to slow down her horse. She was breathing heavy, she had ridden her horse to near exhaustion and still her heart pounded in her chest.

 

"By the order of the lord-commander of the city guard I command you to stop!" A guard shouted as he reined in before her, quickly followed by two dozen other guards. She slumbed down in the saddle, hugging the neck of her horse, it wasn't until now that tears came to her eyes. She never should have left her father's castle, it was a fool's adventure she was on and she was a fool for insisting on going. She closed her eyes and softly started to sob, she had made a mess of it all. 

 

---

 

It wasn't until next morning that she saw daylight again, standing in front of the guardhouse, the two guards at the door glaring at her. Her eyes red from tears and lack of sleep, her clothes rustled and her hair messy. They had split the three of them up and interrogated her throughout night, asking the same questions over and over, at least five different men and two women had questioned her. She had told them everything, who she was, why she was here and what had happened. Again and again, explaining it was her fault for being a fool and following the prophet.

 

She described where she had been, what she had done during the day, which were easily confirmed with the lord. She had described the face of the leader and the men who had attack her, told them roughly where it had happened. She had explained it all, a dozen times, all night. It took them hours to find the alleyway, nothing left there but fresh blood, though a fight was confirmed by the people of the neighborhood. Two bodies and a horse had been loaded upon a wagon roughly two hours before the guards had arrived, yet even after this confirmation they pushed her, asking her again and again.

 

At the end, after hours of interrogation she had broken down and cried, begging them to believe her, to release her, to let her sleep. Soon after that they had pulled her from the interrogation chamber and took her to a white polished room, lined with the city flags. The room was empty for a single high desk behind which a city-official stood. Graegor stood before the desk, looking more ragged and rougher than usual. His face was lined with new bruises and his lip was split, but he looked fine other wise. Alivia escaped the grip of her guard and ran towards Graegor, pressing her face against his chest and holding him tightly. He placed his arms around her comforting. She wanted to cry again, yet the tears would not come, she had cried too much already. She stood there for a little while, long enough for them to bring in the prophet without her noticing.

 

The city-official coughed and she reluctantly let go of Graegor, straightening her clothes and hair, trying to look presentable. The city-official addressed her and Graegor first. "Graegor Buhran and Alivia Al'Karenmosa, I speak for the law and I will judge your actions during the events of yesterday. You have been charged with the endangering of the common man, with fighting within the city walls and the murder of two, yet unknown, men, the slaughtering of one and the theft of two horses." Alivia felt herself weaken at the accusations, it took all her strength to remain standing as she was.

 

"On the accounts of murder, slaughter and theft, based on your three separate accounts and the accounts of witnesses I judge you innocent, for I believe these act were done in self-defence. On the accounts of disorderly conduct with the endangering of the common man I judge you guilty. I hereby sentence you to banishment from Caspar for the duration of ten years. You shall be escorted to your location of residence in the city to pack your belongings and horses before you shall be escorted to the nearest gate. Your names and descriptions shall be distributed to the guards and any attempt to enter the city without explicit from the highest official present within the city at the time will result in a prison sentence of ten years." Alivia sighed and slumped against Graegor, this would be horrible if her future husband ever wanted to have dealings with Caspar, and it would sully both her name and the name of her father, but she was allowed to live, they both were, and that was all she cared about for the moment.

 

"And you... Krellin... I judge you innocent on all previously named accounts, yet judge you guilty to conmanship and fraud. I banish you from the city of Casper for the duration of two years, your residence and belongings shall be confiscated by the state except for what you wear on you at this time. You shall be escorted to the nearest gate, you too face prison if you step within these walls during the next two years. This is my judgement, deemed fair and lawful by the grace of the merchant's guild."

 

As soon as they stood outside, escorted by half a dozen guards Alivia looked at Krellin. "Krellin, I'm sorry to get you pulled into this." The guards pushed the forward, Krellin in the direction of the gate and Alivia towards her inn. "Meet me outside the gate! I'll make this up to you, somehow." She shouted before she lost sight of him.

 

At her inn she quickly packed her things, she wanted to take a bath, to change, to sleep, yet the guards actually stood by her door and watched her pack, arms folded and faces firm. Occasionally Graegor glared at the man holding his sword, though he had been promised to have it returned once they were outside the gate. As soon as she was set they got their horses from the stable and rode towards the gate. Alivia looked back at the city, she couldn't explain why she felt saddened by leaving, she had nothing but bad memories here, yet it felt so final.

 

Once outside the guard silently gave Graegor his sword, stepping back hands on their weapons as soon as he took it. Graegor simply took it and fastened it to his belt and lead his horse away from the guards. Alivia followed him, scanning for Krellin. She quickly found him waiting at the side of the road, looking as horrible as she felt. "Please travel with us for a while, I'll find a way to compensate your house and belongings, I feel responsible, though your conviction wasn't related to our... offenses, you would not have gotten caught had I not pulled you up on my horse."

 

They tried to maintain a focused conversation, but silence always snuck in after a minute or so. All three of them were weary to the bone and broken from the rough night. After half an hour they stopped for a drink and some food, after which they continued, trying to find the next inn. At noon, with the sun at the highest in the sky they came upon a fork in the road, one leading south, towards Solace and beyond that her father's lands, the other leading east, towards Amerus or Elisee. 

 

Graegor looked at her questioning, she knew the question on his mind, and she knew the answer. She sighed weary, and turned her horse south, it was time to head back home. Before she could move her horse forward however she saw half a dozen riders approaching her, they rode hard towards her, weapons drawn. Her eyes opened wide and she looked at Graegor, who sat straight in his saddle, slowly shaking his head. "No" he whispered, sounding weary. Alivia looked back and dismayed as she saw four riders riding towards her. She recognized the thug's leader, a grin wide on his face.

 

Graegor pulled Krellin on his horse and they turned their horses towards the eastern road. They spurred their horses over the road. "What fool would attack someone on a cross-road!?" She shouted at Graegor, looking back, trying to judge the distance between her and the thugs. Graegor frowned for a second then raised his hand, stopping her. "Follow me" He whispered, sounding on edge. He turned his southward, off the road and into the forest. "What are you doing?" She asked confused, He hushed her. "Ambush." He whispered and she grunted. She should have seen that, it was obvious, she really must be bone-weary to miss anything that obvious.

 

A hundred paces from the path they found a river running parallel to the road. After following this river for no more than two minutes it curved northward, within the bend they found a man resting his horse and taking it for a drink. He was armed and rugged, he opened his mouth as soon as he saw them, Graegor took him down with a single swing of his blade before he could make a sound, the man's horse spurting across the river into the woods beyond. Hopefully his companions would not find him for a little while longer, they needed every advantage they could get.

 

And so they rode for half an hour before returning to the road, the thugs out of sight. They dared not slow down however, they rode hard for next few hours, occasionally walking beside their horses to rest them before mounting and riding again. A warrior's tactic or so Graegor said, useful for long distance chases. They crossed dozens of merchant wagons, farmers or other travelers, yet they dared not stop to rest. They rode until darkness began to fall across the lands, casting long shadows across the road, hiding treacherous pits and rocks which might break a horse's leg quickly followed by a rider's neck.

 

As the last of the sun dropped behind distant mountains a distant fire caught the eye of Alivia, a camp fire. She looked at Graegor, who sat slumped in his saddle. "They could either rob us or protect us, yet without protection I fear we might not last the night..." He said, reading her thoughts. She nodded. "let us hope that the gods haven't forsaken us completely then..." She replied and they road towards the camp. 

 

Two figures sat by the fire, it took her a while to recognize them as an orc and a human. She rode up to them and dismounted. It wasn't until she stood before the two, hands free from her dagger that she recognized them as the man who got bullied into following the tryll and his orc guard. She didn't expect them to recognize her. "Greeting fellow travelers, I have a strange request to make, we rode hard all day and haven't slept for the past two days. We are weary and wish to sleep, yet fear to sleep alone, we were hoping you to be noble souls, allowing us share your camp. We shall share our food with you and I can compensate you if you so desire." She stumbled on her feet, unable to keep standing for much longer. 

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